After feasting on soft conditions for the first two rounds of The Players Championship, many players bristled at the firm and fast layout that greeted them for the third round.but don’t count Ken Duke among that group, though.
Duke is one of the shortest hitters on the PGA Tour, averaging only 276 yards per drive, and he struggles to keep up when conditions are soft. But when the course is slick and dried out, as TPC Sawgrass was on Saturday, Duke can’t help but grin.
“I think this is our championship, The Players, and it should be set up as difficult as possible,” he said. “The conditions today, it shows it. You have to play your best golf around here, and obviously the best players in the world are here.”
While the field averaged 75.8 shots for the round, Duke bettered the average by more than 10 shots. His 7-under 65 included only one dropped shot, while he reeled off five straight birdies on Nos. 3-7.
It vaulted Duke – who didn’t even start his third round on the front nine – from a tie for 56th into a tie for second, four shots behind Jason Day.
It was a round that Rory McIlroy estimated was better than the 63s shot earlier this week on a softer golf course by Jason Day and Colt Knost, a sentiment echoed by the tournament leader.
“What course was Ken Duke playing today? Can anyone tell me? Was he playing across the road?” Day said. “I mean it was just, to be able to shoot that score is better – I think that should be the course record. It was just an absolute joke.”
“I looked up on the board and saw Ken Duke shot 65, and I was like, ‘What?’” added Russell Knox. “That’s the best round of golf ever, probably. It was incredible how hard it was out there.”
For Duke, the low round couldn’t have come at a better time. He is playing off a medical exemption after breaking his wrist in September, and his lone top-50 finish in nine starts this season came at the Honda Classic, where he finished T-37.
“I’ve been putting some good rounds together, but not putting four good rounds together,” he said.
Duke had even missed his last four cuts at TPC Sawgrass, but he played the third round alongside James Hahn – who showed last week in Charlotte just how quickly a player’s fortunes can change.
“That’s golf for you. We all know that,” Duke said. “You see it every week out here on the Tour. The big guys play good every week, but there’s those guys that put it all together.”
Duke appears to be among that latter group this week, and he now has a chance to add a second title to his resume after winning the Travelers Championship in 2013.
At age 47, Duke still feels he has plenty of game left, but he also expressed gratitude to simply be healthy and back inside the ropes and playing against the game’s best.
“I’m just thankful that I can play out here, and compete, and enjoy the ride,” he said. “I’m thankful for what I have and what this game has given me, and I just enjoy it.”