That round was almost 30 minutes longer than the four hours 45 minutes USGA executive director Mike Davis on Wednesday had estimated the lead group’s rounds to take and Putnam’s time was as quick as it got during the first round.
By the time the fourth group reached the 17th tee, play had slowed to such an extent that its members — Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, and Angel Cabrera — were forced to wait around 10 minutes before playing their opening shots on the par-3 hole.
Two-time Masters champion Watson was frustrated by the experience and was forced to endure another lengthy delay as he waited to play his second-shot approach to the par-5 18th, a microphone picking up the Floridian muttering: “This is pathetic professional golf.”
The marquee grouping completed their round in five hours and 20 minutes with Watson posting a level-par 70 despite two double bogeys and the disruption to his momentum.
Of course, the time a round takes is not just about the minutes to play holes from tee to hole, there is also the distance between holes. Davis’ estimations are not guesswork and the USGA set-up man said it was impossible that pace of play could be consistent throughout the field. “It mathematically doesn’t work,” he said. “What we try to do is keep those lead groups moving. And we think 4:45 is a very reasonable time.
“There’s a lot of research goes into this. We have this year 21 minutes worth of walking time between greens and tees.
“Put that in perspective. Last year at Pinehurst we had 13-and-a-half minutes; Merion the year before, 11 minutes. So we had to add some time to that (estimate).”