Andrea Could Pack a Wallop at THE PLAYERS

By Associated PressMay 9, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 THE PLAYERSPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Tiger Woods no longer is the most daunting name at THE PLAYERS Championship. Someone named Andrea joined the strongest field in golf Wednesday.
 
That was the name assigned the first storm of the year, off the coast of northeast Florida and arriving just in time to rain on the PGA TOUR's parade. After all, one reason the tour moved its flagship event from March to May was to avoid the kind of wet weather that has caused the tournament to end on Monday three of the last six years.
 
'Welcome to sunny, dry, warm Florida,' commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday. 'We never said it doesn't rain in May. We just said the patterns are different, and it's not going to rain as much.'
 
Players won't be the only ones tested when THE PLAYERS begins Thursday with the deepest field of the year on a refurbished Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass for $9 million, the biggest purse in the golf.
 
Sawgrass is nothing like it was last year, when Stephen Ames blew away the competition by closing with a 67 for a six-shot victory.
 
Tired of a little rain leaving small rivers in the middle of the golf course, the TOUR spent more than $12 million to make the famed Stadium Course as close to indoor golf as the game allows.
 
Every fairway was stripped of its grass and replenished with soil that allows for better drainage. Ditto for the greens, which resembled empty pies shells as workers installed a vacuum under each putting surface and restored the original design, except for a few greens in which the slopes were made less severe.
 
And because the tournament moved to May, the common Bermuda grass was left alone.
 
'It looks very different,' said Woods, who last saw these conditions at Sawgrass when he was a skinny 18-year-old who won his first U.S. Amateur title here in 1994.
 
But that was after he played it in sunshine, before anyone realized Andrea would show up and shower the course. That means the TOUR's plan to build a course to withstand rain might get its first big test.
 
Even in the on-and-off rain, the fairways looked like carpet, minus some of the roll.
 
'The greens stayed pretty firm,' Justin Leonard said after playing the back nine. 'They didn't soften any.'
 
It probably won't be as firm, fast and frightening as some players predicted when they realized there hasn't been too much measurable rain over the last month, just the stench of smoke from wildfires in neighboring Georgia.
 
One other change is the mounding around the greens, which have been reduced slightly and in many cases mown down. Instead of hacking onto the green, players now have options whether to chip up the slopes or use the putter, much like at Pinehurst No. 2.
 
The one conclusion just about everyone drew was summed up best by former PLAYERS champion Adam Scott.
 
'There's going to be no faking your way up to the top of this leaderboard,' he said. 'Anytime it's soft, you can play bad and score pretty good. The ball won't run out of the fairway. The ball never runs into any trouble. Once it comes down to having to strike the ball well to get any spin on it to hold a green, that's when you see the guys who are playing their best.'
 
And who might that be?
 
If recent history is any indication, it could be anybody.
 
The list of champions have ranged from the long (Woods and Davis Love III) to short (Fred Funk), from great iron players (Ames and Hal Sutton) to remarkable short games (Craig Perks).
 
'Anyone can win here,' Woods said. 'That's the beauty of this golf course. There really is no advantage to taking out driver and bombing it down there because of the trouble, but also have everything pinches in. Over the years, we all hit the ball to the same area and just play from there.'
 
Still to be determined is the effect of the rough, which will be about 2 1/2 inches, about half as high as it was. But the nature of Bermuda grass is that players don't know how it will react, and the targets at Sawgrass can be awfully tiny.
 
'The rough is much more playable than it used to be,' U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy said. 'But that could turn out to be more difficult because you're going to go for greens out of the rough when you never used to, and you're going to bounce over the backs, and you're going to have some trouble that way.
 
'It's still Sawgrass, still a tough course. Just a little different.'
 
Woods is coming off a two-shot victory at the Wachovia Championship, his third of the year, and his ninth on the PGA TOUR over his last 12 starts dating to the British Open last summer. It wasn't his smoothest victory at Quail Hollow, not the way he was struggling with his swing, and coach Hank Haney again was at his side during practice rounds.
 
THE PLAYERS has a varied and impressive list of winners, the majority of them major champions. Still missing from that roll call are Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk -- both live near the course and spend most of their time in practice at Sawgrass.
 
Mickelson has tied for third in his last two tournaments since switching to swing coach Butch Harmon, although he didn't have a serious chance to win, either. He remains a work in progress, and his best finish at THE PLAYERS was a tie for third in 2004, four shots behind.
 
'I think it will take some time for me to feel comfortable and confident with a couple of changes,' Mickelson said. 'But I'm starting to see the difference. There's no little, quick fix to years of poor driving.'
 
About the only quick fix was to the golf course. Work began five days after Ames hoisted the trophy, and the course was open again about seven months later. Now comes the first test, likely to be observed in similar fashion.
 
From under an umbrella.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - THE PLAYERS Championship
  • GOLF CHANNEL Airtimes
     
    Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
  • Getty Images

    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

    <
    Getty Images

    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

    “Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

    “It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

    Getty Images

    Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

    What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

    Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    “I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

    McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

    He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

    Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

    “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

    Getty Images

    Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

    Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

    Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

    Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

    Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

    Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.