Turns out, the Big Easy was right.
Several players, including Els, Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh, had problems with mud clumps sticking to golf balls and altering shot flights Thursday at the TPC's Stadium Course.
Woods mentioned the glop four times during his brief interview after the round.
``I just tried to get by with some mud balls,'' said Woods, who shot a 2-under 70.
Rain hit the Jacksonville area Monday and Tuesday, drenching a course designed to handle the water. Still, the fairways were mushy, meaning second shots were adventures pros aren't accustomed to -- and certainly not at a tournament considered by many the fifth major.
Singh said he had a lot of ``suspect lies.''
``You can hit all the fairways you want in conditions like this,'' he said, ``it doesn't matter (because) there's mud on the ball.''
Singh overcame the problems for a 5-under 67, three shots behind leader Steve Jones.
On Woods' final hole, the ninth, he said he cut a shot he normally wouldn't to offset the mud on the ball's right side. ``It started out cutting and ended up hooking left,'' he said.
Woods made the birdie.
On Tuesday, Els cautioned that muddy balls could bring trouble. He shot a first-round 71.
``If we have mud on the ball, there is no way you can control it, period,'' Els said. ``And on this golf course, which is tough enough already, you hit it in the fairway, you want to have a good lie.''
Not everyone agreed. Fred Funk, who calls Ponte Vedra Beach home, said the conditions were better than he expected. ``It was surprising how dry it was for the amount of rain we had,'' he said.
Els won't sleep easy, though. He feels the worst is ahead.
``When they cut these fairways, I really think we're going to get some mud on the ball then because it's really going to compress as it hits,'' he said after his round.
UNCLE KNOWS BEST
If Brett Quigley succeeds this week, he'll know who to thank.
``My crazy uncle, for sure,'' said Quigley, referring to Uncle Dana, who's won nine times on the Champions Tour, including this year's MasterCard Championship.
The younger Quigley said his uncle pushed him to get off the range and onto the course during the winter. It must have helped. Quigley shot a 5-under 67 and stood three strokes off the lead at The Players Championship.
Brett typically takes four weeks off after the season and then starts his range work. His uncle challenged him to change this year. Brett listened and says it's paying off in an improved game.
``I probably only practiced two hours in two months,'' Brett said. ``Instead I played every day and hit a bunch of shots and learned how to score again.''
The fans gathered around the first tee recognized the face and the name of David Duval, who grew up in Jacksonville and remains a favorite in these parts. But he was introduced as being from Denver, where he moved last year after getting married.
And the game doesn't look familiar.
Duval won The Players Championship in 1999 to rise to No. 1 in the world, but is mired in a massive slump brought on my injuries and confidence. The only good part about his 76 was playing even par on the back nine, helped by a 20-foot eagle putt on the 16th.
``I'm playing good golf,'' Duval said. ``I've just got to do it out on the golf course.''
DO IT AGAIN
John Daly played the first hole twice Thursday.
He hit the ball down the fairway and had a two-putt par on No. 1. Then on the adjacent par-5 second, his tee shot went left into a tree, ricocheted left, bounced off a cart path and landed in the rough on the No. 1, about 20 yards away from his opening drive.
Blocked by trees, he figured his best option was to play down the first fairway. He went too long into the rough, then chip over the trees just short of the hazard on the second fairway, hit onto the green and made bogey.
``Always wanted to play the first hole backward,'' Daly said to himself after hitting the third shot.
Mark Calcavecchia shot 71 and called it a miracle.
His back has been bothering him all week, and a hard swing out of the rough on No. 4 nearly brought him to his knees.
Just his luck, the back specialist for partner Tommy Armour III was following that group and was able to work on Calcavecchia's back as he headed to the fifth tee.
``It's safe to say I played in the most pain I've ever felt,'' Calcavecchia said. ``I don't know if I can tough it out for three more days. I've got 23 hours to recover.''
Hunter Mahan, a college golf star at Oklahoma State two years ago, had a 68 in his first round at the Stadium Course. He had four straight birdies from Nos. 3-6. ... Luke Donald says he doesn't plan to leave Chicago, near his college of Northwestern, anytime soon despite the trouble getting in some rounds during winter. Donald says he's looking to buy a second home in Florida.
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