Anirban Lahiri leads the Players Championship by 1 shot on Monday’s final day
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Anirban Lahiri showed up to TPC Sawgrass in the dark on Sunday morning wearing four layers of clothing — with a fifth layer just in case — to deal with near-freezing temperatures that he n ever experienced growing up in Bangalore, India.
He left the course in the evening darkness with a one shot lead in the Players Championship and still has a long way to go for a career-changing victory.
For him and anyone still playing, this week is unlike any other.
The Longest Week in Players has edged closer to a conclusion with little clarity amid the ever-changing names in the hunt. Sixteen players were within 4 strokes of the lead, and the third round wasn’t even over.
Tom Hoge and Harold Varner III each made their final hole at the par-5 ninth before darkness suspended play. That pulled them within one stroke of Lahiri, who moments earlier birdied from 30 feet on the 11th hole to reach 9 under par.
Lahiri and Hoge were among those who didn’t even start the second lap until Sunday morning due to rain that saturated the Stadium Course earlier in the week. They dodged the worst of the wind and were instead greeted by 35 degree temperatures.
“I was a little scared of the cold. I’m not used to playing in temperatures below 40, and I struggled a bit when I went out,” Lahiri said. “But it was good to get back to a good process and a good rhythm. I made a lot of good swings today, I just kept it in front of me, I made good decisions. Yeah, I mean , It was a nice day.”
Close behind was Sam Burns, whose heroism towards the end of the second round on Sunday – a 75-foot eagle putt on the 16th and an 18-foot putt on the final hole – gave him a 3-under 69 and a share of the lead from 36 holes with Hoge (71).
One more day, and still a long way to go.
Hoge opened with a 66 on Thursday with Lahiri one shot behind. They were among 27 players who went two days before hitting another shot that mattered.
“Honestly, I felt like I hadn’t played golf in a year,” said Tommy Fleetwood, who was 5-under on nine holes and still featured heavily.
The third round was due to end on Monday morning, followed by the final round chasing the $3.6 million prize money for the winner, as well as three-year exemptions for the Masters, US Open and Open Championship .
The Pete Dye design is notorious for favoring no one style of play, and that was evident on the final day of this marathon finish.
None of the six leading players, all separated by 2 strokes, has ever won a major.
Paul Casey has the most experience in pressure situations with his Ryder Cup experience. He was 2 shots down and faced a par 5-foot putt on the No. 10 as he tried to extend his incredible bogey-free streak at Sawgrass to 43 holes.
Casey started the championship with a triple bogey.
Lahiri and Varner, who won in Saudi Arabia a month ago, have never won on the PGA Tour. Hoge earned his first victory last month at Pebble Beach. Burns has won twice in the past year and is part of America’s burgeoning class of young stars.
Also at 7 under was Sebastian Munoz of Colombia with a PGA Tour title.
With so much golf left, the possibilities are endless.
The 16 players within 4 strokes of the lead included former resurgent British Open champion Francesco Molinari and his claret jug-holding successor Shane Lowry, whose turn was highlighted by an ace at a forward pin on the 17th green on the island.
Lowry spent a day on one of golf’s most famous holes. He played twice and only needed three shots, having birdied 25 feet in the second round earlier in the morning.
“On top of that, it kind of put me back in the tournament,” said Lowry, who was 4 shots down with four holes remaining in the third round. “So that was amazing.”
Doug Ghim, at 6 under par, held on despite the short circuit. He was the only player in the top 15 after 36 holes to start late-early and battle the worst of the fickle weather conditions, primarily the 35mph wind on Saturday.
“Obviously there’s been a lot of talk about the waves. And yes, there’s a big difference,” Varner said. “But that’s not my problem. I didn’t make the tee times.”
Lahiri, the 34-year-old son of a military doctor, prepared on Saturday afternoon by going to the bottom of the firing range and trying on warm clothes to see how many layers he could withstand and keep his mobility. He found the right combination.
Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler can count themselves among the lucky ones. They finished the second round on Saturday at 2 of 146 and were close to missing the cut with the bottom two groups finishing the round.
And then Scott Piercy, who looked safe at 2 under par, hit two shots in the water on the 17th green on the island and made a quadruple bogey 7 that knocked him down at 2. Piercy bogeyed the 18 and missed the cut.
Others did not get off so easily. The strongest squad of the year won’t include three of the top 10 players in the world – Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele.