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Leading ain’t easy, even on Friday

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By Zak Kozuchowski

GolfWRX Managing Editor

After the last putt drops – that’s when professional golfers want to be leading a tournament. Because despite how well golfers are playing or how good they say they’re feeling, leading a golf tournament does something strange to golfers – even the best ones in the world.

Martin Laird and Ian Poulter breezed through Round 1 of The Players Championship with matching 7-under 65s at the difficult TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. Both players said the right things in their post-round interviews. Laird said he was putting well, and happy with his new caddie. Poulter said he was relaxed, as he was finally able to move his family into his new home that took nearly three years of construction.

But what professional golfers say about their game when they are leading a tournament rarely impacts their play the next day. That’s the thing about pressure. It’s like a snap hook. There’s no talking to it.

Laird, a two-time winner on Tour, had the best chance of keeping the top spot at The Players in Round 2, playing his first 15 holes in 3-under par. That put him at 10-under, three shots ahead of a streaking Zach Johnson at one point, who was playing in the group behind him.

Laird’s day wasn’t perfect through 15 holes, but like most tournament frontrunners, he had found a way to make the most of it. He had given himself short birdie putts on the previous par 5s, Nos. 2, 9 and 11, and converted them all. Two of his bad swings were fairly benign as well. On No. 6, he chose iron off the tee, but caught it thin and off the heel of the club. Had he struck it solidly, the shot would have likely scampered into the rough, but to quote Laird, “Hit it so bad it’s alright.”

On No. 8, he hit another tee ball to the right, this time a high spinner with the driver that didn’t go very far. But it was one of the “good misses” that golfers love to tell their playing partners about. Helping Laird too was the fact that he’d scored an early tee time, which meant the wind was mild and the course was as soft as it would be all day. Also, he played his first 15 holes in relative obscurity – either most fans didn’t know who Martin Laird was, didn’t care to know him, or didn’t have their coffee before the gauntlet of holes Nos. 16-18. But the fans were there on No. 16, and murmuring about Laird’s low score.

“Did you see that,” a husband told his wife. ‘This guys is 10-under. He might win it.”

Laird launched a drive in perfect position on 16, giving him a good yardage with a 4 iron to attack the flag.

“I hit three of four great iron shots in a row right at the flag and kind of got a little greedy there,” Laird said. [I] tried to fade one into the wind to get it working down the green there to the pin.”

But Laird’s ball didn’t get working down the green. His shot never had a chance, splashing well right of the green in The Stadium’s famous lake. After that shot, Laird got working down the leaderboard.

Laird splashed another ball on No. 17 off the tee with a 9 iron. Tiger Woods said in his Tuesday press conference that he didn’t like the island green par 3 because at times good shots can go in the water. Laird’s shot was not one of those. It was thin, it was low and it was well short of the green.

On No. 18, Laird went the conservative route, hitting a 5 wood off the tee. For the first time in two holes, he made a good swing, sending it down the middle of the water-lined fairway. He bailed out to the right on his approach, leaving himself a delicate chip toward the front left pin location that he botched. And when his par putt didn’t fall, he had played his final three holes in four-over par and finished at 6-under.

Johnson, who shot 66 in Round 2, played his final three holes in even par, putting him at 8-under. In the span of three holes, Laird had gone from being in front, to being “in the hunt.”

Poulter took a less roundabout route to disaster. He teed off at 1:39 p.m. on No. 10, when the course had firmed up and the wind had achieved full strength. He promptly double bogeyed two of his first four holes, dropping him to 3-under, five shots out of the lead he once owned. He dropped another shot at No. 15, but unlike Laird, handled the pressure of Nos. 16-18 without fail. He birdied No. 16, parred No. 17, and barely missed his birdie chance on No. 18.

Poulter steadied the ship on the front nine (his finishing nine), but the damage had been done. Poulter only has one Tour win to his resume, the 2010 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, but he’s won 11 times in Europe. However, that’s pressure. It doesn’t care who you are or where you’re from – when golfers are playing well, it’s there. It will be felt by Johnson tomorrow, and by the weekend leaders, especially on Nos. 16-18. That’s why there will be thousands of people in attendance surrounding those holes on Sunday, and countless viewers watching worldwide. Pressure can make anything happen. Sometimes it helps a player, sometimes it hurts a player, but it’s always fun to watch.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum.

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Tour Photo Galleries

Interesting photos from the Zozo Championship

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This week is the Zozo Championship at Sherwood Golf Club, and with most of the worlds top golfers including Tiger Woods playing and prepping for the November Masters, there is a lot going on around the range when it comes to gear and testing.

As a reminder, you can check out all of our photos in the GolfWRX forums.

New Fourteen irons and wedges

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The irons are a throwback to a classic “channel back” style iron with mass positioned towards the top and bottom of the face to increase vertical stability of the blade while also maintaining feel.

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Justin Rose with Artisan lob wedge

The little shop from Texas continues to make big waves with more wedges spotted on tour every week including in former world number 1 Justin Rose.

Xander Schauffele’s new Apex irons and testing putters on Quintic

Xander’s prototype Callaway Apex irons look a lot like the newly released 2021 X-Forged irons but with obvious Apex branding. We also can’t forget about putting, and it’s cool to see a Quintic high-speed camera system on the practice green getting players dialed in to launch conditions just like how they would for a driver.

Ricky using older generation Cobra Amp Cell Pro Irons

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If there is one thing pros love, it’s a set of older irons—they’re the golf equivalent of putting on a pair of comfy broken-in jeans. For Ricky and his custom Amp Cell Pro’s with tungsten toe inserts, there must be some magic there because he has previously used multiple newer sets of irons but continues to gravitate towards these.

Shigeki Maruyama testing new Bettinardi putter

Shigeki isn’t someone to shy away from testing putters, and this week he was spotted testing one of the new Bettinardi putters that debuted last week in Las Vegas at Shadow Creek.

Pros are “just like us” – Justin Thomas and Mac Hughes edition

Yes, tour pros are just like us except for the fact that they are exceptional golfers, but even JT likes help in his long game and has a Titleist T300 3-iron in the bag, and when it comes to breakfast Mackenzie Hughes happens to like ketchup with his breakfast sandwich—although personally, I’m anti-ketchup when it comes to breakfast sandwiches.

Mickelson testing older X-Hot 3Deep

We’ve heard rumblings, of Champions Tour terminator Phil Mickelson testing 47.5″ drivers in the name of speed and distance, but as a way to also have a “fairway finder” it appears that he is contemplating putting his old X-Hot 3Deep in play. (Being able to identify a multi-generations old fairway wood from a distance based on its paint scheme is part of the reason we are WRX)

Gary Woodland testing Ping G425 driver

With the launch of the Ping G425 woods on tour a few weeks ago, it’s no surprise to see more players testing them in prep for the Masters, and for the fact that, they are the next evolution of the well-loved Ping G410—Gary Woodland is no exception.

 

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Tour Photo Galleries

Photos from the 2020 Zozo Championship

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GolfWRX is live from the 2020 Zozo Championship, which takes place at Sherwood CC this year following the cancellation of the tour’s Asia swing.

With a loaded field that features Tiger Woods, there is plenty of WITB intrigue, as well as a number of Japanese players, whose setups are always worth taking a look at.

Check out our 12 general galleries and a selection of special collections below, including plenty of Woods, Mickelson, and McIlroy photos.

General galleries

Special galleries

See what GolfWRXers are saying in the forums.

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Tour Photo Galleries

Photos from the 2020 CJ Cup

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GolfWRX is live at the relocated 2020 CJ Cup, which is being contested at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas after the COVID-19 pandemic made the PGA Tour’s Asian Swing an impossibility.

Our photo sampling this week includes four general galleries packed with imagery, in-hand looks at the new Ping G425 driver and woods, drool-worthy putters and more.

Check out links to all our photos below.

General galleries

Special galleries

Join the discussion in the forums.

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