More delays at Players Championship as Monday finish looms

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, tries to stay dry on ninth green during the first round of play in The Players Championship golf tournament Friday, March 11, 2022, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
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AP Golf Writer

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The Players Championship was halted again Friday after only four hours as puddles began to form on the putting surfaces and the TPC Sawgrass couldn’t hold any more rain.

A Monday finish was looking inevitable, which would be the eighth since The Players Championship began in 1974, all of them in March.

Only 96 players from the 144-man field had finished the first round when play was stopped.

“We may be in a situation where, if we don’t get back out there today, we’re assured of a Monday finish,” said Gary Young, the chief referee of The Players.

The TPC Sawgrass received about 2 1/2 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, and the Stadium Course held up remarkably well to get in four hours of play.

Tommy Fleetwood and Tom Hoge finished on Thursday and each posted a 6-under 66. Brice Garnett holed out for eagle from the fourth fairway and was at 6 under with five holes to play.

Daniel Berger was among those at 5 under, and he was the first sign the conclusion of the opening round might have to wait. He was just short of the par-5 11th green when he called for an official because of water in the area where he wanted to land his pitch.

Out came the squeegees, and a delay waiting for them to move away the water. Jordan Spieth’s second shot into the 12th was in the middle of a puddle, and he stood over his mark as the squeegee crew cleared away the water.

“I don’t want to be high-maintenance,” Spieth said to the crew before asking to make another pass in the area in front of his ball.

Dustin Johnson had three birdies in his opening four holes and went out in 32 before the wet greens twice fooled him and led to three-putt bogeys — a 40-foot putt he left well short on the 10th, a downhill putt from 30 feet that ran 6 feet by on the 13th.Berger figured them out. He holed a 40-foot birdie putt from the fringe on No. 12 and, just as important, hit a beautiful lag putt from 50 feet on the 13th. He followed with birdie putts from 18 feet and 15 feet to reach 5 under.

Johnson was at 4 under when he walked off the green at the par-5 16th with the rain falling harder than it had all morning. Johnson is among the fastest players in golf (until he gets to the green), but not on this occasion. He took his time as he stared at the island green of the par-3 17th in a driving rain. He fiddled with his glove. He slowly reached into his bag for a rain jacket.

A horn to stop play was coming, just not fast enough. He finally hit wedge near the hole and was happy it spun back only 20 feet.

And then play was stopped before he putted. Standing in a tunnel beneath the bleachers, Johnson talked about his timing with having to hit the tee shot, but had no complaints.

“I will take that shot just where it is,” he said with a big grin.

Spieth illustrated why the island green is not really an island. His tee shot was a little long and a little left, and it caught the walkway and rolled down the slope as it hugged the edge. Because players can lift, clean and place golf balls in closely mown areas, he didn’t have to stand on the wooden frame to attempt his pitch.

He barely got it on the green, and chose to mark his ball until play resumes.

That wasn’t the only good break for Spieth, who was at 2 under.

He hit his drive on the 12th into the base of a palmetto bush, leaving no shot except sideways if he could even get a club on the ball. But it was embedded, so Spieth called for an official who checked the ball and determined the dirt had been broken. With one length of the club for a drop, he managed to reach the green.

Then on the 15th, Spieth went right and hit a tree, the ball plunking down in a small flower bush. An official was called in and determined it was embedded. Berger asked to make sure it wasn’t a sandy area because it was so near a bunker — in such case, relief is denied — and the official determined the area was dirt.

Spieth salvaged another par.

If the rain ever clears out, the worst of the weather was still to come. Young said wind up to 60 mph was expected as the front moved through, and the morning temperatures were expected to be in the low 40s at best.