Let’s call it the curse of Baltusrol. Or perhaps the Baltusrol blues. The US PGA Championship could be destined for a Monday finish upon its return to the New Jersey venue at which Phil Mickelson triumphed in 2005. Eleven years ago, the Wanamaker Trophy was handed over on Monday because of weather delays.
So here we are once again. The ominous scent of familiarity arose as play was halted at quarter past two local time with lightning in the vicinity. At 6pm, confirmation arrived that round three would not resume, or at least was not scheduled to resume, until 7am on Sunday.
Some 37 players had completed their 18 holes with another 10 – the leading group – of the 86-man field yet to hit a shot. Canoes had become more valuable than four irons.
For now, the dream scenario is this: the starting of the final round from 8.40am local time on Sunday, with the final group at 3.25pm. Rounds three and four will be played with identical pairings and partly in tandem. Weather radars provide an alternative outlook. “We do have Monday as an option, to continue into Monday if we need be,” said the PGA of America’s Kerry Haigh. “But our primary aim is to try and finish tomorrow [Sunday] evening.”
Notwithstanding the ease with which golf’s administrators can be lacerated, the PGA has left itself open to criticism. Forecasts were always grim for Saturday afternoon, meaning the opportunity to send players out for the third round as early as possible, in three balls and from separate tees, should have been taken as a precaution.
Instead, the PGA gambled and lost. “The forecast actually for the last three days has called for very similar weather; a chance of afternoon storms,” added Haigh. “It’s a major championship and we certainly try and look at starting from one tee wherever we can. Unfortunately the weather didn’t help us today. I think we have sort of a similar forecast for tomorrow. Our hope is that those showers or storms hit elsewhere. We feel it’s important for all the players, in an ideal world, to play from the 1st tee and play the holes in order.”
Several golfers privately bemoaned poor communication as they were consigned to the locker room for three and a half hours with rain battering against windows and areas of the course flooded. This does not mean they should be depicted as poor souls but the organisation of the tournament was undermined by the refusal to make an obvious and swift call to send everyone home.
With the weather outlook equally grim for Sunday and chunks of , the final major of 2016 is both a race against time and an unseemly muddle. The possibility of it concluding on Tuesday should not be ruled out.
For all Mother Nature’s ways cannot be altered, this whole tournament dynamic is suddenly skewed. A serious planning and numerical conundrum has emerged, made even worse by the high number of competitors who survived the Friday cut.
Maybe even Rory McIlroy, so wounded after bowing out at that juncture, could raise a smile in hindsight. Others of a certain humour type will curse the Olympic Games, in which golf’s return means the US PGA has taken on this particular calendar slot.
“It just means a 4am wake up call,” said Jordan Spieth, who completed one Saturday hole. “It looks like there’s a chance this could go into Tuesday so you’ve got be as patient as possible and when we get out, just try and take advantage when we can.”
Before chaos and head-scratching prevailed, Padraig Harrington had returned a 65 to blast himself into 10th place, a leaderboard jump of 51. The two-times winner of this event is now four under par, thereby one from the 54-hole but four from the 36-hole lead. Harrington returned an error-free scorecard, as illustrated by 13 pars and five birdies, but claimed that didn’t tell a proper story.
“I probably made the most of the round today,” he said. “I played average but made the most of it and took my chances.
“I hit the right shots at the right time and any of the shots that I didn’t hit well didn’t do me any harm. So it was one of those days. It’s nice when you score better than you play.”
Harrington’s fellow Olympian Justin Rose celebrated his 36th birthday with a 66. Some players got lucky, very lucky. Scotland’s Russell Knox raced to tap in on the 18th green just seconds before the horn was blown to stop play. Knox’s 67 leaves him inside the top 20. His playing partner, Marc Leishman, wasn’t so fortunate; the Australian was lining up a birdie putt on that final green when ordered from the course.
“I feel bad for Marc, 10 more seconds and he would have hit the putt and hopefully have made it,” Knox said. “It is a bummer for him but I am definitely happy and ready to go home.
“We had actually joked walking up to the last hole. We were saying, ‘Imagine if they call it when we are on the last hole.’ I was thrilled. I had a super-hard long putt from 65 feet and to get it that close was nice. I jogged up there a little bit and tapped it in.”
Knox is 18 holes from the finishing tape. Who knows how, but more pertinently when, he and 85 others will reach it.
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