Whatever else Luke Donald may achieve this weekend, at the very least he could stand on the first tee at Sawgrass when the third round eventually began yesterday knowing he had already entered the record books. The Englishman became the first player in seven years to negotiate the first two rounds of The Players without taking a single bogey.
When one considers there have been almost 1,000 attempts since Jerry Kelly last kept his card clean to the halfway point, the difficulty of the Ponte Vedra layout becomes apparent. Sawgrass's idiosyncracies make faultless golf even more of a mirage, but such was Donald's good form coming into the sport's richest event it seemed more attainable than ever.
The last time Donald finished outside the top 10 was last September. This staggering consistency has taken him up to world No 3 and within one win of usurping his countryman Lee Westwood at the top of the order. With Graeme McDowell alongside him chasing David Toms, the scale of the task was still daunting, but with every passing week Donald's short game is becoming sharper and his conviction is following suit. "It's very satisfying," he said after Friday's 67 tagged on nicely to the opening 69. "It was a cruise control day. My play resembled my trousers – mustard!"
It was, he pointed out, a complete contrast from the first day which saw him sinking a range of long putts to avoid the blemishes. As ever with a professional, Donald took more pleasure from the grind than the cruise.
"I think grinding it out when you don't quite have it and you post a pretty good score is a sign that there's no give-up," said Donald, whose attitude has become noticeably harder since working with the performance coach Dave Alred. "Sometimes you're not going to hit it pure every day, you just need to rely on a good short game."
But one cannot rely on the weather, not even in the Sunshine State. A storm strong enough to uproot a tree on the 16th caused a four-and-a-half-hour suspension and the leaders had to resume the third round today. Peter Hanson showed what was possible with a six-under 66 to haul himself up from level par. Mudballs were the main fear and the greens were not as wet – and thus as receptive – as they might have been. Sawgrass had changed its examination yet again.