'It's playing like a major championship. The greens are firm. The ball is running through the fairways. ... It's going to play a lot tougher than in the past,' Roberts said Wednesday after a practice round in the pro-am. 'I like it.'
Roberts would know.
He lives near the course and has missed the St. Jude Classic, which begins Thursday, only once since the PGA tournament moved here in 1989. He also hopes the harder greens will put a premium on putting and play to the strengths of the 'Boss of the Moss.'
'Obviously, you know I'd like to win this tournament more than anything outside of a major,' Roberts said.
An eight-time winner, Roberts hasn't won on tour since the Valero Texas Open in 2002. His best finish this year is a tie for 10th at the Nissan Open, and he tied for 12th last week at Colonial.
Knowing this course hasn't helped Roberts before. He hasn't really been close to the victory he wants so much, with his best finish a tie for fifth in 1984 followed by two ties for seventh on a 7,103-yard course that caters to big hitters.
'The way the course is set up now everyone's in the ball game,' Roberts said. 'I've never seen it play so firm and fast.'
This is the tournament known as a scorer's paradise, a place where golfers shoot at the pins on usually soft and receptive greens. John Cook shot 26 under in winning here in 1996, while Jay Haas went 21 under in 1992.
The course record is 61, shared by Jay Delsing (1993) and Bob Estes (2001), while 10 others have shot 62 on this forgiving course where avoiding the water really comes into play only on the par-3 11th, whose green is a smaller version of the 17th at the TPC at Sawgrass.
But tournament organizers, who finally have the May date they wanted to escape the sweltering days of summer, are preparing to make it even tougher in an attempt to attract the tour's top players who have bypassed this event yet again.
Starting next week, the course will be shut down to replace the bent grass greens with Bermuda, par will be reduced from 71 to 70 by turning the par-5 5th to a par-4, at least four new tees will be built, bunkers moved and trees planted to tighten fairways to put the emphasis on accurate shots.
Roberts said that might attract a stronger field.
'Good players like to go play where 69 is a good score,' Roberts said.
Even with firmer greens, that doesn't include Memphis this week.
None of the year's top 10 money-winners are here. Ernie Els and Vijay Singh are playing in England at the Volvo PGA Championship. Haas, who tied for ninth here last year, chose to make his debut on the Champions Tour for the Senior PGA Championship.
That leaves defending champion David Toms and Fredrik Jacobson as the only golfers among the top 30 in the world rankings at this event sponsored by FedEx. Tournament officials luckily have local favorites in Roberts, John Daly, David Gossett and PGA champion Shaun Micheel to provide some star power.
Micheel said boosting the purse of $4.7 million like Charlotte did for the Wachovia Championship earlier this month might help, and the tour could consider rules requiring golfers to play each event every few years. He said he also could lobby his fellow golfers for Memphis.
'They're doing the right thing by starting with the golf course,' Micheel said.
Daly, who probably needs to finish in the top three here to move into the top 50 in the world and qualify for the U.S. Open, said any wind will make it even tougher.
'The par-3s are playing real hard because they're not holding, and it's tough to judge the distances out there,' Daly said. 'And a lot of these holes you can't land the ball short to roll it up either, so it's going to play three or four shots harder this year than it has been.'
Divots:@ Jacobson, No. 22 in the world rankings, was a late entry into this event where he finished tied for third last year. He thought he might have to bypass this tournament because his wife was expecting their first child this week, but she gave birth to Alice Sofia the first week of May.
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