Running With The Bulls

The third round of the Justin Timberlake Shriner’s Hospitals Open is in the books and the TPC Summerlin continues to take quite a beating.

When PGA Tour Investments commissioned the course in 1992, they hired Fuzzy Zoeller to be a player-consultant. And Fuzzy “was committed to designing a course which could accommodate a major tournament and appeal to the average golfer.”

Translation? Fuzzy was hired to make sure that the course had enough of an edge to be a big-time tournament course for the PGA Tour, but as important, to make sure that the amateurs who played it the other 51 weeks of the year had a good time and would tell their friends about it. There is a certain cachet to the TPC brand: you know you’re going to get a good, eye-popping course that looks good and plays like you have a chance to score on it. That’s for the average amateur. For Tour players, it’s a massacre.

The course is ranked 48 out of 52 in difficulty on the PGA Tour in 2010. In the lush growing environment of Las Vegas, it’s all pristine Bermuda grass in the fairways and rough with Bentgrass greens shaved down to 11 feet on the Stimpmeter. In other words, “Watch Out, TPC Summerlin!”

What these conditions foster is a mass of world class golfers flowing over the lay of the land like locusts; they’re eating the place up. But there aren’t quite as many bunched together as yesterday. After the cut on Friday, there were 36 players within 5 shots of the lead. After Saturday’s round there were only 21. Still.

To give you a sense of how players can get run over by the thundering herd, it’s useful to look at Friday’s three leaders. Keven Na shot 5-under 66 and is still tied for the lead, now with Nick Watney who shot 7-under. Jhonattan Vegas shot a respectable 2-under—just not on this course—and fell 7 spots to T8. But poor Charlie Wi shot 1-over and fell 21 spots to T22.

But Wi didn’t have the biggest fall. Rookie Nate Smith began the day at 7-under for the tournament and T28. He shot 3-over and fell 40 places to T68. There were only 74 players left in the field after the cut.

On the flip side, Aussie, Nick O’Hearn shot one of the three low rounds of the day, 8-under 63 and shot up 54 spots to T14. The other two 63s were shot by Roland Thatcher who moved up 29 spots to T8, and Robert Garrigus who move up 16 spots and is tucked right behind the two leaders at T3.

So there is really no way to predict who’s going to win this thing. Even if Na and Watney shoot 5 or 6 under, any of the guys within striking distance could shoot 10-under and fly by them. Hunter Haas did that Friday. But he also shot 1-over today (going low back-to-back is one of the hardest things to do) and fell 36 spots to T43.

So for golf junkies bored with the same-old same-old where the field whittles itself down and a handful of guys could win, this won’t be that. Sunday will be like running with the bulls in Pamplona with everyone wary of getting hooked by the horns.

Now that should prove quite interesting.

But what will be far more interesting is watching to see which master will emerge from the chaos and demonstrate that he’s capable of just shooting at targets with good shots and ignoring everything else.

That’s what true mastery is all about.

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