Remember that recurring line from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?” Butch and Sundance finally created so much mahem in the Old West, that the unrelenting lawman Joe Lefors mounted a posse and began the chase.
Butch and Sundance had a pretty good lead, but every time they turned back to look across the expanse of the open prairie, Lefors and his posse’s trail of dust grew closer. They tried all sorts of evasive tricks to throw them off but to no avail. All through the chase and finally as their straights grew desperate, Butch kept saying to Sundance:
Who are those guys?
After the first round of the Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Florida, we have a similar sort of situation. The rest of the field looks at the top of leaderboard and says, “Who are those guys?”
The staff at pgatour.com puts together the “Experts Picks” each week, the ten players in the field most likely to win the tournament. After the first round, it’s not pretty.
Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson performed the best, but they’re T37 at 1-under, 6 strokes back of the leaders (leaders to be named later).
Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy are T55 at Even par.
At T100 and 2-over are: Hunter Mahan, Graeme McDowell, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.
At T121 and 4-over are: Justin Rose and Steve Stricker.
And while the Pete Dye-designed track requires precise plotting to get through on optimum lines, it wasn’t so hard for the guys at the top and they made plenty of birdies:
Ian Poulter and Martin Laird both shot 7-under 65, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Poulter had 8 birdies against one bogey and Laird had a pure 7 birdies.
Unknown, Blake Adams, was alone in 3rd at 6-under. He had 8 birdies and 2 bogeys.
Kevin Na (who finally won for the first time just last year) and Ben Crane were T4 and 5-under. Na shot out of the gate with 6 birdies on his front nine and 3 on the back, but he also had a double and 2 bogeys on the back. Crane was 6 and 1.
And I guess the thing I found so disheartening is that these latter players all played great and worked hard to get there, but their accomplishments were watered down by the continuing news that the top players didn’t play well.
At one time, one of the commentators said, “Yeah, so-and-so played great today, but do I expect him to win? No.” It wasn’t that he was being dismissive of the leaders, he would probably say that he was just being realistic.
When I first caught up with the broadcast, Kevin Na was having his way with the course and I was pleasantly surprised to see him at the top of the leaderboard. He is a gutsy, scappy player who worked eight long years to get his first win in Las Vegas last year.
To be fair, the broadcast did go to some lengths to profile some of these lesser known players. Blake Adams it turns out is a physical wreck due to his early basketball and other sports injuries. For example, over the years he’s managed to break all ten fingers and had rotator cuff issues in both shoulders.
Everybody wants to know how the stars did, what they have to do to get back in the tournament and what got them into this predicament. And I certainly wouldn’t quarrel with what the market wants. Do you want to hear about Phil and Tiger or some guy named Blake Adams. I get that.
But I would like to see a little more celebration over the breakthrough accomplishments of unheralded players, even if they prove to be just shooting stars that fade quickly.