PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Brian Harman, the first alternate, made his debut in The Players Championship and shot 73. It was a round he won't easily forget, for reasons not the least bit related to his score.
In a bizarre situation that no one could recall happening before, Harman was assigned a separate tee time and had to play as a single Thursday because he could not be found when D.A. Points abruptly withdrew on the first tee because of back spasms.
Ordinarily, the alternate would not get in if he were not around. But this was no ordinary case.
Points, whose back was bothering him on the range, was announced on the tee when he took a few practice swings and realized he couldn't make it. Harman, who had been on the practice range all morning, said he called officials and told them he would be in the clubhouse. He was playing ping pong with his caddie when they called.
By then, it was too late.
Carl Pettersson had already teed off. Points told the starter he couldn't go, and Robert Garrigus was announced and hit the next shot.
"It happened very quickly," rules official Mark Russell said. "We didn't have time to react. But once we were able to sit down and get our heads around this, figure out exactly what the situation is, we decided Brian Harman had done everything we asked him to do."
Garrigus said he looked back toward the tee, expecting to see Harman. Even after hitting his second shots toward the green, he figured Harman would be joining them. But they completed the first hole, and they were on their way.
"It got botched by everybody," Garrigus said, though he said it was the right decision to let Harman play.
Alternates typically know the players who might have to withdraw. Harman said he knew of a few, but Points was not one of them.
"I saw him on the range and he looked fine," Harman said.
Most players will let the alternate know if there's a chance they can't play so the alternate can be ready. Points, however, did pull out before hitting a tee shot and thus did not keep the alternate from playing.
Garrigus said it was a long day as a twosome playing in a field of threesomes, which wasn't easy. Harman said it was so quiet out there it felt like a practice round.
For Russell, it was the second straight decision he had never made before. At the Wells Fargo Championship last week, Tiger Woods lost a ball on the fifth hole of the second round and it was never found. He was not penalized because some in the gallery said a fan had taken his golf ball.
And now this.
"In my 31 years on the golf tour, I can never remember a player withdrawing right before he's supposed to play," Russell said.
Harman originally was supposed to be first out Friday morning as a single. But when Paul Casey withdrew Thursday, he agreed to take his spot in that threesome.
WILD DAY: Sunghoon Kang was distraught after opening with a 75 — not because of the score, but how he got it.
He opened with a quadruple-bogey 8, going long of the green into an area of bushes and taking a couple of hacks to try to free his ball. Ten holes later, Kang was 1-under par. But he finished with four 5s on his card, including a ball in the water on the island-green 17th hole for a double bogey.
"I'm right back to where I was after the first hole," he said to his caddie, Steve Hulka, as he walked in the tunnel of the clubhouse.
Not quite, but point taken.
It was an amazing comeback from an 8, and it was helped by an unusual pep talk from Hulka.
"We walked off the green and Steve said, 'There's a big elephant, and we're going to eat it one bit at a time,'" Kang said.
On the par-5 second hole, Kang hit a 4-iron to 15 feet.
"I told him, 'You just bit off the toe,'" Hulka said. "And when he made the putt for eagle, I told him, 'There goes the leg.'"
Alas, the elephant returned by the end of the round, which concluded with a three-putt bogey. Kang headed for the range, trying to remember that there was some pretty good golf in the middle of his round.
FALDO TALKS BACK: Tiger Woods was sarcastically dismissive of comments from six-time major champion Nick Faldo that Woods has lost his self-belief.
Faldo, an analyst for CBS Sports and Golf Channel, made the remark in a conference call Tuesday for The Players Championship. Woods looked bemused and said he finds it interesting to hear such comments because "they're not in my head."
"They must have some kind of superpower I don't know about," he said.
During the telecast Thursday, Faldo defended his opinion because of his experience.
"I hated it when analysts and commentators were saying, 'He's thinking this. He's thinking that,'" Faldo said. "But this analyst here, I've walked the walk. I've been there and the bit I'm trying to describe is self-belief. I've had self-belief when I was playing my best and I also lost self-belief, and that's obviously when you get to the end of your career. I can generally recognize when a player is on the range, striping it, which Tiger's been doing basically all season.
"But for a player, if you cannot walk from the practice ground to the first tee ... for me, he doesn't have the self-belief he really needs."
SCHWARTZEL IN SOUTH AFRICA: Masters champion Bubba Watson skipped The Players Championship to bond with his newly adopted son. Dustin Johnson is recovering from a back injury. As for former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel? His agent said he simply didn't want to come all the way from South Africa.
Chubby Chandler said Schwartzel faced a trip halfway around the world to Florida, and then would have to go to Spain next week for the World Match Play Championship. After that Schwartzel is playing the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, then Memorial. After a week off, he has the U.S. Open and then the Travelers Championship.
To be at Sawgrass would mean six tournaments in seven weeks and an itinerary that went South Africa-Florida-Spain-England-Ohio-California-Connecticut.
SHRINKING FIELD: The 144-man field at The Players Championship is shrinking even before the cut is made Friday.
Five players withdrew from the opening round Thursday, and only one of them (D.A. Points) did not start and was replaced in the field.
Angel Cabrera, who made a 9 on the par-3 17th, withdrew for "personal reasons" after a 78. Simon Dyson withdrew with a bad back after a 76. Hunter Haas only made it through three holes (he already was 4-over par) when he stopped with a bad back. Paul Casey withdrew with a shoulder injury after a 42 on the front nine. Casey injured his shoulder snowboarding over the holidays and missed the first two months of the season.
It was the second year in a row that a player withdrew after a 42 on the front nine. A year ago, that was Tiger Woods with a left Achilles tendon. Odds are Casey will play again before August.
DIVOTS: No one has ever won back-to-back at The Players Championship, a streak that looks to be intact after K.J. Choi opened with a 75 and was 10 shots behind. ... Gary Woodland, playing for the first time since he withdrew after the third round at the Masters with a wrist injury, opened with a 77. ... Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III shot 72.