The Players: Sam Burns waltzes around TPC Sawgrass, proving value of 36-hole cuts

To have a cut or to not have a cut? That has been a critical question golf fans have asked amid the PGA Tour and LIV Golf circus.

LIV prides itself on its 54-hole, no-cut events, ensuring everyone in the field receives a paycheck. The PGA Tour countered this by creating its Signature Event structure. Five of eight of these events do not feature a cut in 2024.

Nonetheless, at The Players Championship this week, the PGA Tour’s flagship event, 144 players teed it up on Thursday, with the top 70 and ties making the weekend.

One of those happened to be Sam Burns, who made the cut on the number at 1-under. He had a superb up-and-down on the par-4 18th hole at the end of his second round to earn a Saturday tee time. In doing so, he proved the worth of a 36-hole cut, as his desire to make the weekend became a competition in and of itself.

“I went after the round last night and worked on a couple of things with my golf swing on the range, and I was able to find a little something,” Burns, who played on the 2023 Ryder Cup team, said.

“It’s a crazy game. One or two swing thoughts here and there and clean up a couple of things, and you never know what can happen.”

Burns could have never anticipated the round he would have on Saturday. He shot a 7-under 65 to soar up the leaderboard nearly 50 places.

Sam Burns, PGA Tour, The Players Championship

Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

“It was a really good round,” Burns said afterward.

“Kind of struggled the past couple of days, but I knew if I could come out here this morning and post a really good number and get myself back in the mix a little bit, I don’t think I’d be close at the end of the day, but a lot closer than where I started.”

The former LSU Tiger started on a tear, eagling the par-5 2nd and making birdies at 4, 5, and 7. He then capped off his front nine with another birdie at the par-5 9th, going out with a 6-under 30.

“There’s not really a lot of risk when you start the day 13 shots back,” Burns reasoned.

“You’ve got to come out and make some birdies. I knew coming into today that we were going to play pretty aggressively, and we had nothing to lose. We were in 55th place. If we shoot 74, who cares? We might as well try to shoot a really good number.”

Three more birdies followed on the back nine, none more dramatic than the 38-footer he drained on the famous 17th. His birdie there was not too dissimilar to the one Tiger Woods made in 2001.

“Honestly, it was a pretty easy putt. You just had to hit it like seven feet,” Burns said.

“I was really looking to match up the speed and where I was playing it. I played it about a cup out to the right. I knew it would go left early and then kind of sneak back to the right at the end.”

Unlike his second round, Burns stumbled on the 18th, making his second bogey of the day. He ultimately sits at 8-under through 54 holes, a stark improvement from where he began the day: at 1-under.

But what Burns showed on Saturday was the value of the 36-hole cut.

He faced a pressure-packed situation late Friday evening, fought hard to make the weekend, and did so. Now, he has an outside chance at finishing in the winner’s circle on Sunday, as his up-and-down Friday gave him the momentum he needed.

Others faced similar circumstances, too, such as Ben Silverman.

After the second round was suspended due to darkness on Friday, Silverman sat at 1-over, two shots off the cut line. He was at the par-5 9th, and faced a 116-yard shot for his third.

Silverman decided to mark his ball in the fairway and head to the range—with only his 56-degree wedge. He practiced that shot over and over, hoping to replicate that swing in the morning with a hole-out eagle.

Alas, it was not meant to be. Silverman arrived at the 9th at the crack of dawn, and pushed his tee shot into the greenside pot bunker. He ultimately made a bogey and missed the cut by three.

But he still slept with a glimpse of hope, as the Canadian hoped to make the cut in his Players Championship debut.

That is what full-field events with cuts feature: hope.

They also create unique circumstances for players and fans, as fans everywhere are treated to even more drama on Friday. They create more intrigue. Having 144 players creates much more competition than only 70 or 80.

Hence, so many players refer to The Players as the strongest field in golf. And if golf fans want to see the best, strongest players in the world compete side-by-side, then why not take a page out of this championship’s playbook and apply it across the board?

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.

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