PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The last time Vijay Singh started this well in The Players Championship was in 2006, when he was No. 2 in the world and still adding to his record of most PGA Tour victories in his 40s.
It felt like old times Friday when he got within one shot of the lead until a bogey on the 18th hole for a 4-under 68 to finish three shots out of the lead.
Chalk that up to practice, nothing new for the 54-year-old Singh. In this case, it was practice on the Players Stadium Course.
“I had quite a few rounds here before I left for Wilmington, so I was quite familiar with the conditions,” Singh said. “It was a lot firmer, but we knew that it was going to be really firm because of new greens. I’ve never played that many rounds before the tournament, so I was kind of familiar with the winds.”
It also helps that Singh finally won on the 50-and-older PGA Tour Champions, when he teamed with Carlos Franco to win the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.
“I came here feeling good about my game,” he said. “I was ready to play. I was ready to play well, too. I’m playing well and I’m excited about it.”
Singh won 34 times on the PGA Tour — 22 times when he was in his 40s — including two majors at the Masters and PGA Championship. But he rarely had a chance at The Players Championship in the city he calls home. His best chance was in 2001, when he was runner-up to Tiger Woods. He had only three other top 10s in 23 appearances.
One of the more celebrated figures in golf, there was one awkward aspect to his strong play. It was four years ago this week that Singh sued the PGA Tour, claiming it exposed him to “public humiliation and ridicule” during a 12-week investigation into his use of deer antler spray.
The case remains in a New York court.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” Singh said when asked about the lawsuit.
He was plenty happy to talk about his game, especially his putting. He rolled in putts of 25, 40 and 30 feet in his round.
“I’ve been rolling the ball really, really well,” Singh said. “And my caddie just got excited every time I got it on the green. It was sad I three-putted the last hole, but that’s a strong part of my game right now. If I keep putting like that, I’m going to be right there on Sunday.”
THE ISLAND: A back pin on the island-green 17th is no bargain, especially when the greens are firm. No need telling that to Zac Blair, who put three tee shots into the water and made a 9. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk celebrated his 47th birthday on Friday by putting two shots in the water, leading to a 7 that caused him to miss the cut.
There were 29 balls in the water on Friday, the second-most of any round since the tour began using ShotLink to keep track in 2003. The record was 50 balls in the opening round in 2007.
BAGS PACKED: Jordan Spieth missed the cut, and he didn’t seem the least bit concerned.
Spieth didn’t make a birdie until the 15th hole, and he was in position to get inside the cut line until missing yet again on the 16th from about 12 feet. The putt never really had a chance, at least not by his standards.
And then, he put his tee shot in the water on the 17th and that was that.
“It’s just been on and around the greens. I just haven’t quite figured it out,” Spieth said. “These greens get pretty crusty and, historically, whenever firm Bermuda greens are crusty to where it’s tough to set the putter down, I just struggle with my alignment and it just kind of throws me off. It happened again here.”
Spieth shot 76 and missed the cut for the second time in his last three individual events, the other one at the Houston Open. This was the first of four in a row for Spieth, who heads home to the Dallas area for the Byron Nelson and Colonial before going to the Memorial.
“Game’s in really good shape,” he said. “Historically, just haven’t really figured it out on these greens yet and so I’m just not going to think too much about it. This is probably the best I felt about my game after a missed cut after, so I’ve got three exciting weeks coming up.”
WILD ROUND: Justin Thomas went just over the back of the green on the par-3 13th, rolled it up to about 3 feet and knocked it in for par. This was significant for one very strange reason. During a 19-hole stretch that started on his 12th hole Thursday and ended with his 12th hole Friday, it was his only par.
The card shows rounds of 73-71 that put him at even-par 144.
“Even keel, very easy day,” Thomas said. “No, it was … I don’t really know what to stay about that round. It was so bizarre.”
Thomas ended Thursday with two birdies, an eagle and four bogeys. His opening shot from No. 10 on Friday hit a tree and dropped down 142 yards from the tee. His next shot hit a tree and that was the start of three straight bogeys. He followed that with three straight birdies. And then a putt from the front of the island green nearly went off the back and into the water, leading to bogey. He put his drive in the water on the 18th and made double bogey.
And then he started the front nine with three straight birdies.
“I’m not that pleased with even par after the amount of birdies I made, but I’ve hit a lot of really, really good shots,” Thomas said. “So I just need to just get those small kinks out that are causing the bogeys and I feel very confident.”
TEN CUP: Hitting shot after shot into the water at the TPC Sawgrass is painful enough, even more when it’s meaningful. And it was meaningful for Anirban Lahiri of India because he was 3 under for his round, even par for the tournament and only needed to get through the 18th hole to make the cut.
It took him 10 shots to get through the 18th hole.
Lahiri hit his tee shot into the water. He took a drop and hit the next one in the water, and then the next one. He wound up with a 75 and missed the cut.
The only silver lining? He was still one shot better than the worst score on the 18th at the TPC Sawgrass. Andre Stolz made an 11 in 2005.