Emiliano Grillo has been in contention at TPC Sawgrass before.
Nearly seven years ago, Grillo and a young man named Jordan Spieth tied for second at the Junior Players Championship, losing by a stroke to Michael Johnson, a young man who went to Auburn and is now on the Web.com Tour.
The stakes are higher this time. Grillo’s 5-under 67 on Saturday surged him into contention at the adult Players Championship, putting him at 6 under just three strokes out of the lead.
And that is precisely where he wants to be.
“Hopefully we’ll be (just) a couple shots behind,” Grillo said several hours before the leaders finished their rounds. “It’s definitely easier to go from behind than with the lead going into Sunday. It really helps just being there in contention, going into Sunday with a chance. That’s all I’m looking for.”
On a day where there were more players – 49 – who carded a double bogey or worse than players who hadn’t done so, Grillo managed seven birdies and just two setbacks, on Nos. 5 and 8. His back-nine 4-under 32 was best among 82 competitors.
Where he picked up ground was on holes such as No. 14, a bulky par-4 made even more stout by a steady wind against. It took everything for players to reach the green in regulation, if they did so at all. Si Woo Kim, in contention at 7 under, used a driver off the deck from more than 250 yards out.
Grillo felt like his par save there was just as valuable as any of his birdies.
“The pin was along on the left and the tee was back, straight into the wind,” he said. “So it was a perfect drive and then I had 240 yards to the hole. I tried to hit a low 3-iron there and made a good up-and-down from the front of the green. That really helped my round a lot, not to make a mistake and keep it going.”
When he tees off Sunday afternoon, Grillo will see a group of players with respectable credentials but little starpower, save Sergio Garcìa (-5). Grillo, a former rookie of the year, has one win to his credit in 45 career starts but also has an impressive 17 top-25 finishes.
“This golf course beats you up and you just got to play well,” he said.
It doesn’t get any more straightforward than that.