Tour makes somber return to Bellerive

By Associated PressSeptember 3, 2008, 4:00 pm
BMW ChampionshipST. LOUIS ' Padraig Harrington cleaned out his locker at the TPC Boston, signed a stack of flags from the British Open and PGA Championship, then headed to St. Louis to play on a course that brought mixed emotions.
 
It had nothing to do with his golf.
 
Harrington was among the first to arrive at Bellerive Country Club, where he has to finish fifth at the BMW Championship to avoid becoming the first double major winner to be ineligible for the TOUR Championship.
 
Amid whatever pressure he might face, perspective comes easily.
 
A journalist asked me a few weeks ago to talk about the golf course, Harrington said. Even what little I remember, I cant even talk about that. Because it all relates to Sept. 11. How can I talk about the golf course when its all so insignificant? Yes, it will be awkward to go back.
 
The last time Bellerive hosted the best players in golf was seven years ago for a World Golf Championship, and the city was humming. St. Louis had not seen this caliber of tournament golf since the 1992 PGA Championship. The course was in perfect shape. The sun was blazing. Even for a Tuesday morning, grandstands were filled.
 
Harrington had left his hotel and was headed to the course. Tiger Woods was out early, as usual, playing a practice round with Mark Calcavecchia. Vijay Singh had boarded his private plane in Florida, on the tarmac waiting to take off.
 
It was Sept. 11, 2001.
 
As soon as I got to the course, I went to the locker room and someone said, Quick, come watch on TV. Something has happened, Robert Allenby said. The first plane had just hit the tower.
 
Golf never felt so meaningless.
 
The rest of that Tuesday, players sat in front of the television and tried to fathom what had happened. Some went to the practice range or chipping area to take their minds off it. PGA TOUR officials tried to figure out the next step. One day later, the American Express Championship was canceled.
 
For so many players at the BMW Championship, there always will be an emotional connection to Sept. 11.
 
It will be kind of strange, Allenby said. I think its good that were going back, primarily because its such a good golf course. But its sad were going back because of the reason we didnt play the first time.
 
Even for those who werent in St. Louis the last time, the golf still might be meaningless.
 
Singh has won the first two playoff events, in a three-man playoff at The Barclays and with a final-round 63 to win by five shots at the Deutsche Bank Championship. He has a 12,225-point lead in the chase for the FedExCup, and could wrap up the $10 million prize this week.
 
Its bad enough the drama is missing. So is the No. 1 player in golf.
 
Just their luck, a big event finally returns to St. Louis in a year that Woods has season-ending surgery on his left knee in June and is out for the rest of the year.
 
They saw him only briefly in 2001. Woods was on the course shortly after dawn. Joe Corless, the head of PGA TOUR security, was walking with Woods and Calcavecchia and giving them updates on the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon, and a fourth plane that mysteriously crashed in western Pennsylvania.
 
The whole day was pretty much a blur, Woods said earlier this year.
 
Woods was in the locker room after that practice round when he looked at his arm, filled with goose bumps. The next event on his schedule was the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in England, and so began a debate whether to postpone the matches. They were played a year later.
 
Also at Bellerive that day was Dean Wilson, the American hardly anyone knew. Wilson had been playing on the Japan PGA TOUR, and he finished high enough on its money list in 2000 to qualify for this World Golf Championship.
 
It was his second time playing a PGA TOUR event. It was his first tournament with no cut and a guaranteed check. The purse was $5 million, among the largest in golf.
 
The next day, after tour officials canceled the event, Wilson was in the parking lot, quietly loading his clubs into the trunk, wondering if he would ever get another chance like this.
 
I was excited to play in a World Golf Championship, be alongside all the great players, Wilson said. Then to have it come to such a weird ending, it was kind of surreal, being concerned with playing a golf tournament, then being concerned with what really was going on with these attacks.
 
Wilson earned his PGA TOUR card through Q-school later that year, captured his first PGA TOUR victory in 2006, and returns this year at No. 41 in the FedExCup standings, hopeful of making it to the final round of the playoffs.
 
Even now, he remembers leaving Bellerive, the future uncertain in so many ways.
 
What are we going to do now? We cant even fly, he said. Then I was thinking about what was happening in New York. I didnt have a clue to the magnitude of it all.
 
Harrington has no qualms about plunging from No. 4 to No. 44 in the FedExCup standings after missing the last two cuts. It has helped being at Bellerive so early, a chance to return his focus to golf ' trying to get into the Tour Championship, the Ryder Cup in two weeks.
 
But it will be hard to think about anything but Sept. 11, he said. There will always be that connection for us. There will always be a reminder that there are bigger things than golf events.
 

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    Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

    By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 pm

    Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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    J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

    By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

    CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

    Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

    ''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''


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    Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

    Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

    Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

    She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

    ''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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    Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

    By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

    Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

    ''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

    Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

    Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

    ''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

    It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.


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    Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

    Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

    The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

    ''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

    PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

    Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

    ''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

    It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

    He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

    ''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

    Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

    Later, he laughed about the moment.

    ''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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    Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

    By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

    Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

    Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

    The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

    “They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

    The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

    “Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”


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    Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

    “As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

    Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

    “Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.