On occasion, the barest possible facts have an eloquence of their own. For golf fans -- the sort who know who's who and what's what on the PGA Tour -- the scores from the second round of the Tournament Players Championship speak clearly.
When the birdies finally stopped plopping into cups at the Players Club this evening, Larry Mize and Bob Murphy held a one-shot lead over Dave Rummells. Their record-setting midway total was 10-under-par 134. Just two shots off the scalding pace were Brett Upper, David Edwards and Doug Tewell. Three of these men -- Murphy, Rummells and Upper -- shot 65, one stroke off the course record.
Those six leaders have won only seven events in the last 15 years. None has won anything more significant than a Heritage Classic or L.A. Open.
Defending champ Calvin Peete, Jack Nicklaus, Fuzzy Zoeller, Curtis Strange, Johnny Miller, David Graham, Hubert Green, Hale Irwin, Craig Stadler and Larry Nelson all failed to make the cut, which was at even-par 144. Hal Sutton and Bernhard Langer at 143 and Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw at 144 barely survived and are all but out of contention.
Before this week, speculation was that the TPC might be considered a "major" title before too long -- thanks to its fabulous field, infamously tough course and history of fairly prestigious winners. Nobody's talking much about that now.
Despite a field that is, almost beyond question, the strongest of the entire year, the scoreboard looks like something left over from the Buick Open.
The common denominator among the leaders is uncanny accuracy. Or a lack of visible muscles, depending on your perspective. Murphy, a tubby, genial 43-year-old, once endorsed watermelons because he always looked as if he were smuggling one under his shirt. Mize is slim and might pass for a 16-year-old choirboy. Rummells and Edwards could make welterweight on a humid day, while Upper and Tewell live by short-but-straight.
The big hitters and the great putters -- that's to say, the gents who usually end up in the Hall of Fame in Pinehurst -- are at a distinct disadvantage this week. This 6,857-yard course is a short "target" concept to start with and architect Pete Dye has built some holes where a straight tee shot actually is penalized if it goes too far. Hit it 300 yards down the center and you might be out-of-bounds.
In addition, the new bent grass greens are bumpy, which bedevils such flat-stick artists as Watson, who says: "The greens just aren't very good, yet."
If you have trouble hitting the ball 250 yards and love soft greens that will suck up a smoking three-iron shot as though it were a pitching wedge, then this is your chance. The meek shall make hay -- $900,000 worth -- this week.
Murphy was the day's biggest and most pleasant surprise. The popular TV commentator, who has been nearly invisible on the course in recent years, due to age and injuries (hand and back), was the first player on the course this morning and swept up birdies along with the dew.
Just a week ago, he had to withdraw from the New Orleans tournament with a pinched nerve in the neck that made him walk like a septuagenarian. "I had to get up at 4:15 this morning for a 7:15 tee time so I could kick-start my body," joked Murphy, who hasn't won in 11 years. "I came to the course in the dark and the fog and we caught the golf course asleep. I think I had the best of everything going for me. I haven't made a bogey in two days."
Watson has been working with Murphy on his full swing, but it was the putter that looked Watsonish this morning as four of Murphy's six birdies came on the sort of 15-to-20-foot putts that once earmarked Watson's game.
If Murphy, who'd only earned $12,113 this year, seemed like an unlikely scourge, then Rummells and Upper were even harder to grasp as 65 shooters on a course that, as recently as two years ago, wanted to be known as the Pine Valley of the pro tour.
After a double bogey at No. 15 (his sixth hole), the 27-year-old Rummells had six birdies in a row. The key shot came at the island 17th where Rummells overclubbed, ended up on the slender walkway inches from the drink, then chipped in from a dozen yards for a deuce.
Was Rummells appropriately amazed by all this? Hardly. "It could easily have been 10 in a row," said the man who, in his first Tour season, has missed six cuts and has an abysmal stroke average of 73.55. After missing two makeable birdie putts, Rummells canned two more birdies -- the last with a 50-foot putt -- to finish a streak of eight birdies in 10 holes.
"I've heard some horror stories about when the wind blows here," said Rummells. "The weather has really cooperated for us."
Meteorologists predict more warm, fairly calm weather. However, at sundown, dark clouds and stiff breezes moved across the swamp, dropping temperatures quickly and raising hopes of mayhem on the morrow.
After all, how many more days can the deities of the jungle here tolerate folks like Upper, who's never been in the top 60 money winners, saying things like: "I definitely had a good chance to break the course record today . . . I feel comfortable on the course. Everything is well-defined. You stand on the tee and it's just there -- there's your target. There are no open areas . . . I love it here. Sixty-five was about as high as I could have shot today given how close his iron shots were to the hole ."
Of the top half-dozen leaders, the only man with a pedigree comparable to the previous four winners here (Jerry Pate, Sutton, Fred Couples and Peete) is Mize, the sweet-swinger who grew up in Augusta, Ga., and once worked the scoreboards at the Masters as a boy.
"I'm just down every fairway and on every green. It's real exciting," grinned Mize, last year's No. 17 money winner whose top finish was a tie for second at the Kemper Open. "As full and nice as the fairways are and as soft as the greens are, you can just throw the ball right at the flag on every shot.
"You look at the scoreboard and say: 'Doggone, I'm five under at the Players Club . . . I'm eight under, I'm 10 under," said Mize. "You just don't want to think too much about it . . . 'cause it doesn't seem right."
But that's the way it is. At least for now.