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By MARK LONG
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Charley Hoffman could have expressed a number of emotions after his first hole at The Players Championship.
He chose to laugh.
One day and 35 holes later, he was still able to smile about his quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 10th Thursday. Of course, it helped that he had moved considerably closer to the leaders.
Hoffman shot a 3-under 69 in the second round Friday and moved to even-par 144, five shots behind leader Phil Mickelson. It was quite a feat given the way Hoffman opened the tournament.
“If you would have told me I would be even par after making 9 on the first hole, I probably wouldn’t have believed you,’’ Hoffman said.
Anyone watching probably felt the same way.
Hoffman pulled his tee shot left, hit a tree limb and plugged into a bunker. He tried to blast his second shot back into the fairway, but bladed it across the green. But neither Hoffman nor the 25 spectators could find the ball, so he had to take a penalty.
He tried to reach the green with his fourth shot, but it hit a tree and ricocheted 50 yards left, stopping just short of another hazard. Still, he had to punch out from there.
His sixth shot landed in a greenside bunker – another plug – but he managed to chip onto the green and two-putt for a 9.
“I was happy I didn’t make a 10,’’ Hoffman said.
The hole could have ruined his round, his week, even his return trip home. But the 30-year-old, long-haired Californian simply laughed it off.
“I wasn’t too disappointed,’’ he said. “I was actually pretty much just laughing. It took me until the next tee to figure out what I made.’’
Hoffman stayed calm the rest of the opening round, finished 3 over, and then got to 1 under before a bogey on his final hole Friday.
“I think it got me focused and got me ready to play the next 35 holes,’’ said Hoffman, who won the Bob Hope Chrysler Championship in January for his first PGA Tour title.
WATER WOES: The famed island green at the TPC Sawgrass was less daunting Friday – wind gusts near 40 mph on Thursday subsided considerably – but the par-3 17th was still troubling enough to break the tournament record for water-soaked shots.
After a record 50 shots landed in the water in the opening round, only 21 found the murky lagoon Friday. Still, the two-day total of 71 broke the tournament record of 67 set in four rounds in 2005.
First-round co-leader Rory Sabbatini and Chris Couch each hit two balls into the water. Sabbatini made a quadruple-bogey 7, the only one of the day.
“I didn’t feel like I hit that bad of a tee shot,’’ said Sabbatini, who shot 79 and was seven strokes off the lead. “It trickled off the green and into the water. I compounded the mistake by hitting poor shots from there.’’
JOHNNY AND NICK: Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo brought their broadcast rivalry to the Golf Channel booth Friday, and it didn’t lack for entertainment.
Miller has long been considered golf’s top golf analyst for his blunt talk, and he’ll be working the weekend for NBC Sports. Faldo has shown to be his equal with the savvy insight of a six-time major champion. He works for CBS Sports, but handles the Thursday-Friday coverage for the Golf Channel.
Miller came to the booth late in the second round and rambled on. Faldo took out a pair of scissors and said, “I found a way to stop him talking, get him to shut up.’’
Phil Mickelson played a long bunker shot on the 11th, and Miller noted that he must have caught a tiny pebble because the ball bounced past the hole and into the fringe.
“You can see that from here?’’ Faldo said.
Miller said it was obvious because of how the ball released.
“I just thought he carried it too far,’’ Faldo said. “I’ll make a note of that folks – rocks in the bunker.’’
Mickelson later said the shot merely came out fast and without any backspin. But he stopped short of saying Faldo won the on-air debate.
“Technically, you could say it looked like it hit a rock,’’ Mickelson said. “Maybe it did. I didn’t see it. I would call that even.’’
TURNAROUND: Jose Maria Olazabal was asked the difference between his first two rounds.
“Twelve strokes,’’ he replied, and he wasn’t kidding.
Olazabal matched his worst score ever at The Players by opening with a 78. He followed that Friday with a terrific run along the signature holes, including a 50-foot birdie on the par-3 17th and four consecutive birdies when he made the turn.
“I didn’t hit the ball much different than yesterday, meaning that I didn’t strike the ball all that well,’’ the two-time Masters champion said. “When those putts go in, it makes the difference.’’
The chips went in, too, such as the 45-footer from off the green at No. 3. He finished his big run with a 30-foot birdie on No. 4, then finished with all pars for a 66, matching the best score of this tournament.
Better yet, it put him in contention on a course that he has never felt comfortable playing. One reason he feels that way is because there is no room to bail out, and Olazabal doesn’t always hit it where he’s aiming.
Maybe the 66 will give a little more peace. Or maybe not.
“I have to be realistic,’’ he said. “The game of golf is a game of feel, and how you feel with your swing. That’s what counts.’’
DIVOTS: Defending champion Stephen Ames shot 77-79 and missed the cut, becoming the sixth defending champ to miss the cut and the first since Nick Price in 1994. Calvin Peete (1986), Sandy Lyle (1988), Jodie Mudd (1991) and Steve Elkington (1992) are the others. … Hunter Mahan holed out from 227 yards on the par-5 11th, recording a rare double eagle and the first in tournament history. He didn’t enjoy it for very long, though, because he missed the cut. … Tom Lehman ended a streak of 55 consecutive tee shots at No. 17 without hitting the water.