Heat Causes FedEx Fiasco on Atlanta Greens

By Associated PressSeptember 9, 2007, 4:00 pm
2006 The TOUR Championship presented by Coca-ColaLEMONT, Ill. -- Not having Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson at all the PGA TOUR Playoffs no longer seems like a big problem compared to the situation next week at East Lake, which doesn't have grass.
Record heat over the last month in Atlanta has caused so much damage to the greens at East Lake that PGA TOUR officials canceled the pro-am at the TOUR Championship and told players they would not be able to set foot on the greens until the first round Thursday.
It was an unprecedented move to essentially eliminate practice before one of the tour's showcase event, and it could spoil the finale of a FedEx Cup competition that so far has produced riveting golf.
'They don't need this to be an issue,' Geoff Ogilvy said. 'It's a shame.'
TOUR officials posted a two-page notice on everyone's locker Sunday morning at the BMW Championship, where the top 30 in the playoff standings will advance to East Lake for the TOUR Championship.
'All greens were impacted to varying degrees, and several greens are and will remain in poor conditions through the tournament,' it said.
Players will be allowed to hit tee shots on every hole but the par 3s, and second shots only on the par 5s, as long as they don't reach the green. The notice specifically said players and their caddies could not walk on the greens, putt on them or hit any shots to them.
The practice area will remain open.
The TOUR said Atlanta reported record temperatures of 90-plus degrees for 28 days, including 10 straight days at 100 degrees or higher. The area also went without rain for 25 straight days, and the combination proved lethal to the greens.
'In two weeks, we went from very, very good to very, very bad,' said Henry Hughes, chief of operations for the PGA TOUR.
It likely would be one more layer of distractions for the FedExCup, which concludes with four straight tournaments through the TOUR Championship. Whoever has the most points wins a $10 million bonus, the largest single prize in sports.
The format has been criticized in recent weeks when all the top players didn't show. Woods skipped the first playoff event in New York, and Mickelson decided to stay home from the BMW Championship. There also has been grumbling about the $10 million prize being deferred compensation.
The golf has been some of the best of the year, with Steve Stricker winning in New York and Mickelson going head-to-head with Woods for three days when he won outside Boston.
It culminates at East Lake with the TOUR Championship, where even the ever-optimistic TOUR is painting an ugly picture.
Players began hearing about potential problems at East Lake days ago, and most were stunned to find out they won't be able to play the course until Thursday.
'I've never heard of anything like that before,' Woods said. 'Certainly in my years on tour and my years in amateur golf and junior golf, I've never heard of it being canceled with good weather. This will be interesting to see.'
Just because the pro-am has been called off doesn't mean the players can go home to catch their breath.
They are obligated to be at East Lake on Wednesday for what amounts to a substitute pro-am, in which players will take part in a Q&A, conduct clinics on the practice range and have lunch with their amateurs.
The tour's agronomy staff has been at East Lake the last three weeks trying to restore the greens, and with slight cooler weather in the forecast, officials hope the greens can at least be reasonable for the TOUR Championship.
'But the overall conditions of all the greens will not come close to normal expectations,' the tour notice said.
Ogilvy found it a coincidence that the East Lake greens were in such bad shape because 'that's the best part about that course.'
Other players felt as though the tour should have abandoned East Lake when they realized there was a problem, moving the tournament to another course in the Atlanta area. Hughes said they would have had only three weeks to find another course to hold the tournament, which he said was not enough time. Plus, he said officials remained hopeful they could fix the East Lake greens.
Some players who make the 30-man field, such as Woody Austin and Hunter Mahan, have never played a tournament at East Lake. Boo Weekley said he has been there about 10 times and tried to qualify for the U.S. Open one year at East Lake.
'It's part of golf, man,' Weekley said. 'You can't help the weather.'
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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

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