Sergio Garcia called them the fastest putting surfaces he could recall. Nick Watney referred to them as extreme. More than one player suggested the course was unplayable Saturday in The Barclays, certainly late in the afternoon as the sun baked out the public course on Long Island. And yes, there were references to Shinnecock Hills, the private club on Long Island where the greens were out of control on the final day of the 2004 U.S. Open.
Garcia managed them just fine.
With no bogeys over his final eight holes, he turned a three-shot deficit into a two-shot lead over Nick Watney with a 2-under 69. Such were the conditions that Garcia was the only player among the final 18 to finish who broke 70.
“The course is extremely firm,” he said. “The greens, just probably some of the fastest greens I’ve ever played. Just one of those days where you knew it was going to be tough and you have to hold on very tight, and just kind of hope for the best.”
Garcia went four years without winning on the PGA Tour and now has a chance to make it two in a row and return to the top 10 in the world. He was at 10-under 203, and only four players were within four shots of the lead.
Watney, who made five putts over 15 feet, went after another one on the 18th hole and this one cost him. The ball raced 10 feet by the hole, and he missed it coming back for his only official three-putt of the round. That gave him an even-par 71, though still in good shape to make a run at his first win of the year.
“The course just kind of beat you up,” Watney said.
He got one small measure of revenge by making a 35-foot putt on the par-3 17th for the only birdie of the round. By late afternoon, the green was so firm that shots landing near the front pin settled in the rough or fringe behind the green.
Tiger Woods, who started the third round three shots out of the lead, three-putted for bogey three times on the front nine alone. He had another three-putt on the 14th hole, this one from 15 feet, and had a 72 that put him six shots behind.
“I don’t remember blowing putts by 8 to 10 feet,” Woods said. “So that was a bit of a shocker.”
He knew what to expect on the first hole, when he watched Gary Christian lean on his putter and nearly fall over because the club had no traction.
Kevin Stadler played early, when the greens still had some moisture, and had a remarkable round of 65 without any bogeys. He moved up from a tie for 42nd to alone in third place, three shots behind. Brandt Snedeker started strong and closed with nine pars, which was equally impressive, for a 68 that put him four back.
Phil Mickelson might still be in the game. Twice a runner-up at Bethpage Black – both times in the U.S. Open – Mickelson played early Saturday and had a 67. That eventually put him in the large group at 4-under 209 that included Woods, Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood and Charl Schwartzel, an impressive collection of players who have either won a major or been No. 1 in the world.
Slugger White, the tour’s vice president of rules and competition, disputed the idea that course was nearly unplayable.
“Players always want firm and fast,” he said. “It seems like when we give them firm and fast, they don’t want firm and fast.”
Watney didn’t entirely agree.
“There’s firm and fast, and then there’s this,” Watney said. “I mean, this is pretty extreme.”
Snedeker not only boosted his chances for a second win this year, it might be enough for him to be a Ryder Cup pick. He had four birdies in seven holes, and equally impressive was finishing with nine straight pars.
“Just got on a run with the putter,” Snedeker said. “Was on the edge all day. Got some lucky breaks out there. You just can’t hit greens out there, I don’t care what anybody says. The greens are pretty much unplayable for the most part. You can’t hit them. Just really, really a tough test.”
And this from a guy with a 68.
The compliments were far less flattering down the leaderboard.
“The worst course setup I have ever played in 13 years on tour. They have ruined what is a great course, greens like concrete stupid pins,” Ian Poulter said on Twitter after his 76. He followed that with another tweet: “played poorly today & no excuse for my play I was rubbish. but I do know my job & trade & the golf course today was borderline unplayable.”
Most extreme was the turnaround at the top.
Watney had a three-shot lead walking off the 10th hole. Three holes later, it was gone.
With his first poor swing of the day, Watney went from the middle of the 11th fairway to the right bunker and made bogey, while Garcia holed a 20-foot birdie putt. Watney followed with a tee shot well to the left to set up another bogey, and the lead was gone. And on the par-5 13th, Garcia made birdie to take the lead.
But it wasn’t easy.
“This will tell you how fast it was,” Garcia said. “Usually when you are putting on fast greens, you have an idea where the ball is going to stop. And today, you didn’t. You thought the ball was going to stop 2 feet behind the hole, and it went 6. It was pretty much as simple as that.
“Was it unfair? I wouldn’t say it was unfair,” he said. “It was borderline. It was very close. It felt like the greens were very close to Shinnecock Hills at the U.S. Open.”
Ernie Els might have summed up the day better than anyone. He finished his 72, sat down for lunch and said, “The boys out there are going to have some fun.”