Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
- Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth both made The Players Championship cut on the number and both shot 7-under on Saturday.
- Their turnarounds are a good reminder that you should never give up on talented players at the halfway point of a tournament.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — It was a pretty epic third round here at The Players Championship — and that was true a full 90 minutes before the leaders even teed off.
One day earlier, Tiger Woods posted a disappointing 71, then made the cut on the number, officially five-and-a-half hours after finishing, when Jordan Spieth bogeyed the final hole to reach the same fate.
Each had an early morning Saturday tee time here at TPC Sawgrass, and each posted 7-under 65s.
In the process, Tiger and Spieth might have retaught a few lessons, too.
I’ll start with Woods. The most poignant moment of his post-round interview session on Friday occurred when he was asked whether a second consecutive middling performance was cause for frustration or whether he was still taking each step of this comeback in stride.
“Both,” he replied.
He was neither hedging nor bucking the query. He was telling the truth.
I wrote about it earlier this week, too, but the fickle nature of today’s society has seeped into the world of golf, a sport that previously had mostly shielded itself from the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately disease. No more.
This notion came to mind as Woods was answering these questions on Friday.
Oftentimes, the back-in-the-pack post-round interview is viewed as last rites for a player before his hopes for the week are forever buried in a greenside bunker.
Here’s what much of the public either doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to understand: The first two rounds of a professional golf tournament are equivalent to the first two quarters of an NFL or NBA game. Sure, it’s better to be winning than losing, but one hardly renders the other an impossibility.
It also helps to explain why players’ mid-tournament self-assessments so often mirror the vague words of a coach walking toward the locker room at halftime. The outcome hasn’t been settled, but enough has taken place to understand which aspects of the performance have left room for improvements and adjustments.
Now let’s get to Spieth. Two days before his best-ever round at The Players, he sat at 4-over on the second nine of his opening round, following three straight years of missed cuts at this event.
Again, that fickleness reared its ugly head, with many suggesting that, at minimum, Spieth was slumping, and at worst, he was a mere flash in the pan. This, despite the fact that — as I’ve continually mentioned this week — he’s just a month removed from posting a final-round 64 at the Masters which was nearly an all-time great one.
On Saturday, Spieth posted birdies on half the holes at TPC Sawgrass, including three on the daunting stretch of final holes — a massive turnaround from his scoring midway through Thursday.
“My game is actually in a really good place right now,” he explained afterward. “Once I kind of get this putting set up there, I’m ready to win golf tournaments. I’m as good tee to green as I’ve been ever, this year; it’s just a matter of knocking in 6-to-20 footers and starting to get closer to that.”
Mediocre starts. Early weekend tee times. Way out of the tournament.
As it turns out, only two of those three things were true for Woods and Spieth. That doesn’t mean either one will match his 65 in Sunday’s final round — and even that score might not be enough — but it just means that nobody who makes the cut is out of the mix at halftime.
After his round, Spieth was asked whether he could be the first player to ever parlay an 8:20 a.m. Saturday tee time into a Players Championship victory.
“Sure,” he said. “Yeah, absolutely.”