Pettersson Sensational at Sunrise

By Associated PressMarch 11, 2004, 5:00 pm
04 Honda ClassicPALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- All those worried about tough greens and high numbers in the Honda Classic must have wondered whether Carl Pettersson played the wrong course at Mirasol.
Pettersson was in the right place Thursday, and conditions could not have been better. The result was a 9-under 63, giving him a two-stroke lead and leaving everyone else thankful that PGA Tour officials went easy on them with the way the Sunrise Course was set up.
'It wasn't playing as tough as it could have,' Pettersson said. 'They've got the pins in slightly easier spots. They could put them in ridiculous places. Glad they didn't.'
Mark Hensby, who faced slightly stronger breezes late in the afternoon, birdied four straight holes late in his round for a 65. Steve Flesch, Jesper Parnevik and Rory Sabbatini were another stroke back.
Sunrise wasn't the pushover that the adjacent Sunset Course was last year, when the cut was a record 6 under and 13 players finished at 20 under or better.
But it played so difficult during the pro-am round Wednesday, when a strong wind came out of the opposite direction, that some players were bracing for the worst.
John Riegger, among those at 67, played only nine holes during a practice round, called his wife and asked if she could bring the kids down for a vacation. His oldest daughter is in driver's education, so he had to stick around.
'I didn't see that kind of score, put it that way,' Riegger said. 'I think the only reason the golf course was playable today was the tour officials did an outstanding job of setting up the golf course.'
The 246-yard third hole played from a forward tee at 158 yards.
Most hole locations on PGA Tour courses are four paces from the edge. There were only three such placements in the first round, which helps because the elevated greens drop off severely on all sides.
That was no accident.
'We're trying to err on the conservative side,' rules official Tony Wallin said. 'The course is young. It only opened in November. It's hard, dry and fast. And if you err on the non-conservative side, that's when you really get in trouble, because then things can just go crazy.'
Pettersson went crazy in a good way.
The 26-year-old Swede, who moved to England when he was 10 and to North Carolina as a teenager, matched his best score on the PGA Tour with a bogey-free round.
After saving par with a 20-foot putt on No. 10, he holed a 40-foot birdie putt on the par-3 11th - another tee that was moved up 23 yards to play at 208 yards - and closed out his round with a 7-iron into 6 inches on the 18th.
'I obviously made a lot of putts to shoot 9 under,' he said. 'I've played better rounds tee-to-green, but I made the putts, which is a huge difference.'
Fred Couples, who predicted Wednesday that 75 would only be a mediocre score if the pins were tucked, shot 30 on his back nine and was in a large group at 68 that included Brad Faxon and Robert Allenby.
Davis Love III was cruising along at 5 under until he missed the green four straight times, and only got up-and-down from the collection area three times. He wound up with a 69.
'It's a little fun, but a little bit frustrating,' Love said.
He wasn't the least bit surprised that Pettersson shot such a low score, and had so much company.
'They talk for two to three days about how hard it is, and someone goes and shoot 7 or 8 under,' Love said. 'It happens all the time.'
The players got some help from the PGA Tour, but that can change.
All it takes is a little wind - 'I can take the Kevlar vest off today because the wind isn't blowing,' Wallin said - and a few more tough hole locations.
'I'm quite comfortable as it is,' Sabbatini said. 'I don't think they need to set it up any harder.'
Flesch wasn't sure which direction the breeze was blowing, only that it was favorable. Players had help on the long par 4s and most of the par 5s, allowing them to reach in two.
'Let's hope it stays that way until Monday,' he said.
Divots:@ No one had a rougher start than J.P. Hayes. He started at No. 10 and hit his first two drives out of bounds. Both times he had to walk back to the tee, and he finally took a quadruple-bogey 8. Hayes finished with an 80. ... Former Ryder Cup captain Curtis Strange made his '04 debut with an 82. ... Mitch Knox, the caddie for David Duval, is working at the Honda Classic for 20-year-old Kevin Na, who opened with a 67. 'I got fired from Wal-Mart, so I had to do something,' Knox joked. Duval, who got married Saturday, has not played on the PGA Tour since October and has not said when he will return. ... Mark Calcavecchia, who has been dealing with a rib injury, withdrew after nine holes.
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    Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

    By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

    “I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

    Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

    “If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”

    Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)

    Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

    Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

    “He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

    As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

    "I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

    Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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    McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

    The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

    McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

    “If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

    At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

    And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

    “I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

    “The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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    Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

    No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

    Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

    With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

    “This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

    Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

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    Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

    Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

    Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

    Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

    McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.