Ben Crane plucked his ball out of the cup at the famed 17th, smiling the whole time, and then heaved it into the gallery.
It certainly was a lucky souvenir. A battered and scuffed one, too.
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2011 PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP
This year marks the 30th in which the Players Championship has been played on the famous Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
Crane got two huge breaks at the treacherous island green during the opening round of the Players Championship, taking advantage of fortuitous bounces off the surrounding wood frame to stay on the leaderboard. He shot a 4-under 68, four strokes behind leader Nick Watney.
Afterward, all anyone wanted to talk about was his woodwork at TPC Sawgrass.
“My ball has a lot of marks, but it’s not wet,” Crane said. “So I’ll take it, I’ll take it.”
Crane’s tee shot at the par-3 17th flew over the green, hit the wooden planks outlining the fringe, bounced about 50 feet in the air and landed on the other side of the murky lagoon. If that wasn’t crazy enough, he chipped back across the water from a poor lie, hit the wood in nearly the same spot and landed well below the hole. He two-putted from there for bogey, maybe the luckiest one of his career.
“It’s a crazy day, a crazy game, but I actually enjoyed myself,” Crane said. “It wasn’t like I hit it in one place going and then another place coming back. It was like within 6 inches. It was probably the same dimple mark both times. Anyway, an impressive way to play 17. I know you didn’t see it that way, but you can draw it up any different way and put a 4 on the scorecard, so I’ll take it.”
He believes it might be historic, too.
“I don’t think anyone in the history of the PGA Tour has played -- you know what, in the history of this golf course -- has played the hole that way,” Crane said.
Crane wasn’t done, either.
His approach shot on the par-4 18th hit another wooden pylon next to a water hazard, bounced high into the air and landed beyond the hole. He made another bogey, but it could have been worse.
“I definitely deserve the nickname Woody,” Crane said.
CLARK RETURNS: Tim Clark’s first round of golf in more than a month went about like he expected.
Some good, some bad. Some pain, some progress.
Clark shot 2-over 74 in the opening round, a mostly trouble-free day that came as the South African tries to return from an elbow injury so severe he went three months without playing and only teed it up at the Masters in April because he was stubborn. He had rounds of 73-73 and missed the cut.
He felt considerably better at Sawgrass.
“For the most part, it’s getting better, so I’m encouraged by that,” said Clark, the tournament’s defending champion. “It’s better than I expected it would be two weeks ago. If you asked me two weeks ago, I didn’t even know if I would be able to play. So it’s improved a lot.”
Clark was runner-up at the Sony Open in January, but upon returning home noticed a problem in his elbow. Despite pain, he played in the Masters, but only because it’s a major. He took out his clubs Saturday for the first time since Augusta and returned to defend his lone PGA Tour victory.
“You’ve got to at some point test it to see where you’re at,” he said. “You’ve got to come out and play. There’s always a possibility that by actually playing and doing stuff that it gets better. At some point I would have started to play and this just kind of fit right around the right sort of time.”
He made two birdies and four bogeys Thursday, and had one club slip out of his hands. After hitting his tee shot on the par-3 No. 13, the club soared from his grip.
“You’ve got to hit a divot and dig it in,” he said. “It wasn’t a massive amount of pain, but I’m cautious of it. I’m scared to dig it in.”
He ended up 50 feet left of the hole and made par. It was one of several awkward-feeling shots during the round.
“Every now and then, I have a good swing and it feels good,” said Clark, who hasn’t decided whether he will play in next week’s tournament in Fort Worth, Texas. “But there’s a few swings that hurt.”
CARRYING ON: Martin Kaymer and Matt Kuchar had a large gallery following them around the front nine Thursday. They had a considerably smaller contingent on the back.
Kaymer and Kuchar certainly noticed. They didn’t mind, though.
After playing partner Tiger Woods withdrew at the turn, Kaymer and Kuchar carried on without the PGA Tour star and enjoyed the twosome.
“Yeah, you can chill,” Kaymer said. “You can walk very slow, your routine, you have plenty of time and you’re still waiting. Obviously it would have been nice if we wouldn’t play in the heat; that would have been better. But it’s always nice to play in a twosome. You don’t have to wait. You just play your game. You have time to think about your shots sometimes if you need to. Nobody is rushing you.”
Kaymer shot a 5-under 67, two strokes better than Kuchar.
They will play together again Friday -- without Woods, who withdrew with leg injuries after his worst nine holes at the Players Championship.
“Obviously when he’s around, it’s a little bit different and more people,” Kaymer said. “Usually when you play a threesome or a twosome on the weekends, you know how many people are following you. But with Tiger there are more cameras, more media people inside the ropes, so it would be nice for me, as well, to get used to those things more often.”
CHEER THE BEARD: Lucas Glover’s beard has received so much attention recently that it now has its own Facebook page.
Glover, who won the Wells Fargo Championship last week, was on the leaderboard again during the opening round of the Players Championship. Glover shot a 7-under 65.
Glover had a larger-than-normal gallery following him, with some even cheering for his beard.
“I don’t really care as long as they’re hooting and hollering for something,” Glover said. “I hope it was because I was making birdies.”
He also insisted that he’s not superstitious about his facial hair.
“No, the ball doesn’t know what I’ve got on my face,” Glover said. “But it’s just something to do. If I get too hot and start itching, I’ll shave it. If not, I won’t. One of those things.”