Mastering Sawgrass proving difficult for Irish Major winners

Torrential rain late last week left the course under water

Tue, May 7, 2013, 02:00

The move to its current date in the calendar – positioned as it now is between the US Masters and the US Open – hasn’t done anything to inspire the Irish players when it comes to contending in The Players championship.

If anything, the exact opposite has been the case, with the results of Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Pádraig Harrington since since the move in 2007 to a new May date underpinning their collective inability to master the course.

The trio of Irish Majors champions competing in this week’s Players have endured quite miserable efforts since 2007. Of them all, McIlroy’s is actually the worst with a failure to survive the cut in any of the three occasions he played.

Missed the event
So unimpressed was McIlroy with the course that he missed the event entirely in 2011, at which point he described his dislike for the TPC course as, “it’s a Pete Dye course and I find it very awkward off the tee. You’re hitting across fairways all the time. It creates angles and visually it’s very tough off the tee.”

McIlroy did reappear there last year but, again, missed the cut. So, in three appearances at Sawgrass, the 24-year-old Ulsterman has been completely and utterly outfoxed by Dye’s design. Three appearances (2009, 2010 and 2012) and three missed cuts.

Harrington has fared just as poorly in recent times, missing the cut for the past three years. Indeed, since the change to a May date, Harrington has gone 52nd-MC-t-49th-MC-MC-MC which, like McIlroy, would give the impression that he simply doesn’t like the course.

Rather bizarre
However, that run of results is rather bizarre when compared to how he played the same course under softer conditions when it was played in March, in the run-up to the Masters.

In fact, the Dubliner twice finished runner-up – in 2003, when he finished tied-second behind Davis Love III and, then again, in 2004, when he was one shot adrift of Adam Scott - in the tournament when it was played as a build-up to the Masters. Since the move to May, when the course has played firmer, Harrington has hardly raised a gallop.

Of the Irish trio, McDowell has fared best in recent years, if not exactly setting the world alight.

McDowell finished tied-26th (2010) but led going into the final round in 2011 only to crash to a closing 79 that dropped him down to tied-33rd.

“This golf course is dangerous. If you get out of position, you will pay the price,” he had observed, rather prophetically, prior to that final round. Last year, McDowell – like McIlroy and Harrington – missed the cut.

So, none of the three Irishmen can head back to Sawgrass with too much of a strut, although McIlroy – who contended going into the weekend in the Wells Fargo tournament at Quail Hollow – sought to take some positives with him as he journeyed down from North Carolina to Jacksonville in Florida. “Some positives are I hit the ball very well from tee-to-green (in Quail Hollow) for the most part and I’m looking forward to The Players . . . tee-to-green, it was really good. I got a good feeling. I can take the good things into (Sawgrass).”

Take positives
Another player who sought to take the positives away from Quail Hollow, where tour rookie Derek Ernst was a play-off winner over Robert Karlsson, was Phil Mickelson. “I feel like I hit a lot of good iron shots. My game feels like it’s coming around . . . (at Sawgrass), there are very few drivers, so I’ll be hitting three-woods and hybrids off almost every tee. I’ll probably carry a driver but I just don’t know what hole you can hit it there. If I can hit the ball well off the tee shot like I did in ’07 when I won, I feel like the other parts of my game are there,” said Mickelson.

10 inches of rain
Torrential rainfall late last week – some 10 inches of rain fell from Thursday to Saturday night – led tournament officials to ban the public from the course for yesterday’s practice. Officials borrowed pumps from the Jacksonville Electrical Authority to help drain the course which, combined with the use of the suction system under the greens, enabled green staff to return the stadium course to pristine condition.

At one point of the deluge, the famed 17th green was transformed completely into an island. “Everything is on schedule and we’re ready for a great week,” tournament executive director Matthew Rapp confirmed.

Meanwhile, England’s David Lynn – who lost out in the play-off to Ernst, who climbed 1,084 places in the world to 123rd on the back of his breakthrough tournament win in the Wells Fargo – has intimated he will miss out on the US Open as he had booked a much needed family holiday.