PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA | “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” gave us one of the great mantras: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
Cameron Smith on Monday was the man who shot at the toughest flag on the 17th green with a two-shot lead at the Players Championship and lived to tell about it. The golf world was ready to embrace and print the legend of his dart to 4 feet until the man with the mullet admitted, “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t push it a little bit.”
Let’s stick with the legend, because it turns out Smith needed that birdie and every single one of his remarkable 10 birdies on Monday to beat a pesky Anirban Lahiri and take home the $3.6 million winner’s check in one of the most volatile final rounds you’ll ever see. His scorecard also included four bogeys and 13 one-putt greens – three of them when he desperately needed to save par on 14 and 15 and get up-and-down from 54 yards for bogey on 18 after punching out of the trees and into the water.
The way Smith putts and chips, you get the distinct feeling we might be seeing his hair spill over the collar of a green jacket very soon.
It was a long, strange, exhausting yet interesting week at PGA Tour HQ, and the scorecards were wild:
BIRDIE: Anirban Lahiri. Ranked No. 322 in the world (119 places lower than Craig Perks was in 2002) is not the résumé one expects of a 54-hole leader and runner-up. He’d had only three top-40 finishes and 13 missed cuts since MC at 2021 Players. Good on him.
BOUNCEBACK BIRDIE: Harold Varner III. He was cruising at 7-under through 16 holes before being the only player in the field to hit the water Thursday on the infamous island 17th to make triple. But credit him for fighting back to finish T6 and pretty much lock up a top-50 invite to his first Masters.
BOGEY: Keegan Bradley. He did such nice work to recover from a two-shot penalty on Saturday after a gust of wind moved his ball off his marker only to fritter a winning opportunity away with a three-putt on 17 and snapped approach into the water on 18 to make double.
BIRDIE: Paul Casey. Starting the Players with a triple bogey on his first hole (No. 10) is not ideal. But going 45 consecutive holes without a bogey (but 11 birdies) through some of the worst conditions possible at Sawgrass is a great way to turn disaster into opportunity.
RUB OF THE GREEN: Casey. After a beautiful drive on the par-5 16th with a chance to possibly catch the leader, his ball rolled snugly into a deep ball mark in the fairway and prevented an opportunity for him to go for the green from 209 yards. Instead of an eagle or birdie chance, he settled for par. Terrible luck.
ACE: Shane Lowry. The Irishman had quite a couple hours on the iconic 17th hole Saturday, making birdie to help ensure making the cut and followed it in the third round with an ace from 123 yards that sprung him into contention. It was the 10th ace on 17 in 40 years at the Stadium Course.
ACE: Viktor Hovland. Not to be outdone, the affable Norwegian aced the stern par-3 eighth later in the same round Monday morning. Having two of the most photogenic and demonstrative players in golf joyously celebrating lightning strikes was a gift to all the fans who endured this marathon.
BOGEY: Hovland. For all of his immense skill and unwavering grit, chipping is the young man’s Achilles heel and it was exposed late Monday when greenside gaffes at 12 and 15 cost him a great chance to win.
BIRDIE: The Squeegees. The crew that worked tirelessly trying to keep up with the more than 3 inches of rain that fell on the course in the first 48 hours deserves some credit for keeping this event from bleeding into Tuesday. They kept it playable for just long enough Friday.
OTHER: Xander Schauffele. The Olympic gold medalist will not be sending any postcards of the 18th hole, which he played in 7 over on Saturday with a quad-triple combo. He played the rest of the course in 1 under.
BOGEY: Rules compromise? Daniel Berger vehemently disagreed with Monday playing partners Hovland and Joel Dahmen about where his ball crossed the hazard on 16. PGA Tour chief referee Gary Young brokered a “compromise” between the dramatically different perspectives. Nobody was happy.
BIRDIE: Ian Poulter. He’ll never be mistaken for Usain Bolt and he’s clearly lost a step in 11 years, but at age 46 the dapper Englishman looked pretty fit running the 17th hole to make the 4-footer for birdie and tee off the 18th in time to let his group beat the darkness and get a good sleep Friday night.
Speed golf. 🏃@IanJamesPoulter with the fastest birdie you'll see on 17.
He's racing the sunlight and wants to finish. pic.twitter.com/gWvFohgEJs
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 10, 2022
ALBATROSS: Russell Henley. Anybody can start a round 1 under through two holes, but it takes a rare gift to get there by going double bogey-albatross (from 240 yards) as Henley did to start the final round on holes 10 and 11. He got Yahtzee! on his Monday scorecard with double bogey, bogey, par, birdie, eagle and albatross.
BIRDIE: Bulldogs. This seems to be pretty much the case every week, but Georgia golfers keep littering leaderboards. In addition to Sunday surgers Kevin Kisner, Sepp Straka and Henley, Dawgs who made leaderboard cameos at Sawgrass included Bubba Watson, Keith Mitchell and Brian Harman. Woof!
PAR: Bubba Watson. The lefty’s non-linear beautiful mind helped him paint a brilliant bogey-free 68 in the worst winds on Saturday. In relatively sublime conditions Sunday, he shot himself out of it with a 78.
BIRDIE: John Tillery. The golf coach had to step in to pick up Kisner’s bag when ironman caddie Duane Bock had to leave because of illness after six holes. A couple of bogeys after the switch knocked Kiz back from T3, but he rallied strong to finish fourth. Split the check?
BOGEY: Back-door bandits. Dustin Johnson was irrelevant until his course record-tying final-round 63 earned him a back-door top 10. Rory McIlroy was even less relevant after three straight 73s before his closing 66 brought him middle of the pack.
QUAD: Emiliano Grillo. The young Argentinian woke up Saturday morning 2-under par. He finished the last four holes of his first round in 7-over (including a quad on 17) and turned around to play the same back side in 10-over 46 after another quad on 18.
BIRDIE: Sam Woods. Her father gave a nice speech upon induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame, but it was 14-year-old Sam who stole the show with her sweet, poised and polished introduction. Her spotlight turn was nice after little brother Charlie had already had his on the course.
BOGEY: Golden Boy. The graphics person who created (and the TV exec who approved) the featureless statue stepping off the Players trophy pedestal to take digital swings should rethink careers. As bad as my own swing is, I wouldn’t trade it for that clunky computer-generated hack.
BIRDIE: Jay Monahan. The commish sure seems bullish on his tour’s stance regarding rival leagues and Phil Mickelson. In his first press conference since September, he projected confidence and strength tackling both issues head on. Good luck Shark and Lefty.
BIRDIE: 17. Say what you will about the contrived and over-hyped nature of the infamous “island” par-3, but it never fails to entertain. Point-missers like Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee can rail all they want about it. If the world’s elite can’t hit a pretty generous dart board from 120 to 140 yards, that’s their problem.
BOGEY: Tournament logistics. Opening gates for fans simultaneously at noon Saturday when play resumed was a disastrous decision. Some folks were stuck in traffic up to three hours as everyone tried to show up at the exact same time. A perfect storm of chaos.
BIRDIE: Stadium Course. It doesn’t get enough credit from architecture nerds. But 40 years since the Players first moved to Pete Dye’s made-to-order home, Sawgrass stands up as one of the most interesting tests in golf. One of the most enjoyable venues in the game.
BOGEY: Ron DeSantis. The Governor’s entourage motorcade led by 10 motorcycle officers and a string of about 20 oversized SUVs made a conspicuous and noisy exit from the Sawgrass clubhouse just as the leaders were teeing off Sunday on the nearby first tee. Someone wanted attention.
BIRDIE: Séamus Power. In what epitomized the disjointed week, the Irishman needed parts of four consecutive days spanning 68 hours, 40 minutes and temperature fluctuations of 40 degrees to complete two rounds and make the cut at 2 under in the bad half of the draw.
Top: Cameron Smith on the 17th hole during the final round. Photo: Keyur Khamar, PGA Tour via Getty Images
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