It’s fair to argue that Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth will be playing for second when they tee off at the Players Championship today. They’re 11 shots behind provisional leader Webb Simpson, too far behind to gain enough ground over the final 18 holes. Even if they manage to recreate the third-round magic that catapulted them from their place in the cut line to the first page of the leaderboard, they know they’re better off going after more reasonable goals at TPC Sawgrass.
Granted, golf is, if nothing else, most susceptible to the complexities of competition. Anything from nature to luck can change fortunes. On the other hand, there’s a reason Simpson is a full seven strokes ahead of playing partner Danny Lee, and it’s not because he’s due for a monumental collapse. As thrilling as the runs of Woods and Spieth yesterday were, his second-round assault on the course was even better, the double bogey on the always-dangerous island-green 17th notwithstanding.
That said, Woods and Spieth certainly had the Ponte Vedra Beach crowd buzzing early yesterday. Taking advantage of the soft greens that held their aggressive approach shots, they put on a sterling display of shotmaking that underscored their pedigree. By the time they saw their respective balls fall on the 18th cup, they had moved up a whopping 60 spots to eighth. And it’s a testament to how well they played, and how harder the layout became as the day progressed, that eighth is where they still found themselves when the smoke cleared some six hours later.
In any case, Woods and Spieth figure to build on their momentum in an effort to go low yet again. This time, they will be showing up on the first tee just 40 minutes ahead of Simpson and Lee — good because they can reasonably estimate the impact their strides make, and bad because the ground will be harder and subject to quirky bounces. Will they get close? Or will they pull off the improbable and truly contend? Only time will tell, but if they end up with anything less than a podium finish, it won’t be because they didn’t try.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.