PONTE VEDRA BEACH — What does a native of India do to keep himself busy for two days after carding a 67 in the first round of The Players Championship?
Watch cricket, of course.
That’s what Anirban Lahiri did at TPC Sawgrass during a series of rain delays and suspensions as he waited to get back on the Stadium Course to resume his improbable run at The Players. Of course, the 34-year-old Lahiri, who’s been a professional since 2007 but joined the PGA Tour in 2015, could have driven home to Palm Beach Gardens between rounds if he knew his Thursday would be the last golf he’d play for about 60 hours.
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Instead, cricket and some time on the range in the howling winds Saturday filled his time.
“We had a test match,” he said about the competition between India and Sri Lanka. “I love cricket. I grew up watching cricket. Most people do, who grew up in India at least. And it was convenient. It’s better than the alternative, which has been watching something else. I enjoyed myself.”
Lahiri had even more fun Sunday, making the cut (which came Sunday afternoon) with a two-day total of 4-under 140, which tied him for 11th entering the third round. Then, after starting Round 3 at 4:32 pm Sunday, he became the sole leader at 9-under with a 31 on the front nine thanks to five birdies.
“It was nice to get back into a good process and a good rhythm,” Lahiri said. “Made a lot of good swings today, just kept it in front of me, made good decisions. Yeah, it was a good day.”
Lahiri leads The Players Championship heading into Monday
When he returns to the course Monday, he’ll be 9-under through 11 holes and hold a one-shot lead over Tom Hoge and Harold Varner. Officials expect to finish the tournament Monday, despite three days of rain and wind, and then near-freezing temperatures Sunday morning. More than 4 inches fell on the Stadium Course before 43 mph wind gusts played havoc Saturday .
“Usually come Wednesday night all of us kind of go into a different zone,” Lahiri said. “Once you start playing the tournament you have the adrenaline and it kind of stays with you for four days. It never really leaves your system completely until after the tournament.”
Which must have meant for a very intense Lahiri while rooting on India and watching those beamers and LBWs on the pitch.
Lahiri has 18 international wins (none of the PGA Tour), the last coming in 2015 on the European Tour. That was one year before he and his wife, Ipsa Jamwal Lahiri, moved to the one area that is defined by golf as much as India is defined by cricket.
Lahiri certainly is not among the higher profile PGA Tour pros taking advantage of South Florida’s weather and world-class golf courses. But that certainly would change if he could become the biggest surprise ever to win the Tour’s marquee event.
Only two golfers among those who made the cut are lower in the world rankings than Lahiri’s 322 – No. 363 Jimmy Walker and No. 385 Chesson Hadley. Like most of those who were able to continue on late Sunday, Lahiri admitted he received a huge break by playing in the early Thursday tee times, which allowed him to finish his first round before play continued in the steady rain Friday and howling winds Saturday.
The proof: Of the top 15 players who made the cut, all but Doug Ghim had morning tee times Thursday.
“We got really lucky with the draw,” he said. And teeing off in bitterly cold weather Sunday – temperatures in the 30s for much of the morning – didn’t compare to Saturday’s conditions. That’s even if Lahiri said he was “numb” from the ankles down for the first three holes and started feeling his toes “around the 10th or 11th hole.”
Of course, Lahiri never had to deal with that since relocating the 9,300 miles from his base in Bangalore, India, to Palm Beach County. Lahiri first settled into the Bears Club, where Jack Nicklaus was “nice enough” to allow him membership.
Lahiri plays Honda Classic every year
Since, he has moved to PGA National, home of the Honda Classic. And unlike some of his more high-profile and talented peers, Lahiri makes it a point to play Honda every year. This was his sixth straight year in the field; his best Honda finish is 11th in 2017.
Now, it’s less than a four-hour drive up the interstate where Lahiri is hoping for his greatest accomplishment. Lahiri is making his 154th start on Tour and has one runner-up (the 2017 Memorial which was certainly pleased its host, Jack Nicklaus) and two third place finishes.
This season, though, has been a struggle. Lahiri has made 12 starts, missing seven cuts, including three of his last four events. Lahiri was 74th last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“Been working hard on trying to clean up my game,” he said.
That hard work really paid off on the par-4, No. 6 Thursday when he held out his 125-yard approach shot for an eagle-2. Lahiri had two eagles, 10 birdies and five bogeys through his first 45 holes.
“In golf, you always feel like you’re about to find something or you just found something,” he said. “But to be really honest, I think it’s been a culmination of the last four or five weeks just grinding away and chipping away and trying to remove the little, little things that creep in.”