Notes TPC at Sawgrass Getting Face Lift

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PGA Tour (75x100)PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- A pile of dirt was all that remained from what used to be the TPC at Sawgrass clubhouse. The driving range looked more like a dirt bike track. There was a shovel in the middle of the first green, not a flagstick. The island green on the par-3 17th resembled a pie shell, ready to be filled with pumps, pipes, gravel, dirt and grass. (Demolition Photo Gallery)
 
It was enough to make PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem take a deep breath.
 
'I was up there the other day looking at the stuff and said, 'Oh my goodness,'' Finchem said. 'We're going to have The Players Championship a year from now?'
 
17th green at the TPC at Sawgrass
The putting surface has been stripped bare on the famed 17th green at the TPC at Sawgrass.
Last week was the date of next year's tournament, as the PGA Tour's crown jewel moves to May. And while Sawgrass looked like an abandoned municipal course, the overhaul is right on schedule.
 
'When you do it all at once, it looks a little daunting,' Finchem said.
 
Also daunting is a new tee being built on the 219-yard eighth hole, making it play closer to 240 yards. David Pillsbury, chief operating officer of the tour's golf course properties and the man in charge of the TPC project, said the new tee on No. 8 is among five holes that will be lengthened by a combined 75 to 100 yards. But that's not to say the tees will be used.
 
'The winds will be different in May,' he said. 'This gives us flexibility for setting up the course.'
 
There were other subtle changes, beyond reconditioning the fairways and greens. More than two dozen oaks, pines and palm trees have been planted on the left side of the par-5 ninth fairway, making for a difficult escape. Pine trees have been added to the right of the sixth, seventh and 10th fairways.
 
The slopes on four greens -- Nos. 4, 13, 15 and 17 -- are being reduced by an inch.
 
And the practice range is all dirt, although Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk and others are not at a loss. The ninth fairway has been transformed into a practice area for PGA TOUR pros only.
 
'I was skeptical at first,' Furyk said. 'I actually don't mind it. When you're on a driving range, you're limited to one spot. Here, I can move around the fairway, hit back toward the tee, get some different shots.'
 
Pillsbury said the next month is critical for planting grass on the greens, although the weather has been favorable. The only concern is whether the Mediterranean-style clubhouse is completed on time, much of that depending on hurricane season, although Finchem said the tour has a contingency plan if it's not ready by The Players Championship.
 
'That's going to go down to the wire,' Finchem said. 'Everyone tells me we can do it. We've put a solid plan together. If we don't have a clubhouse, that would be a disappointment. But we need to plan both ways.'
 
But while the course remains a work in process, there were other signs that brought optimism. Finchem played in his club championship at Pablo Creek over the weekend, and couldn't help but notice the blue skies and bright sun.
 
'I told everybody that's the weather we can expect the next 10 years,' Finchem said. 'Then I was on the beach the next morning with my daughters, and porpoises were up and down the beach. It reminded me that our guests will have a good time.'
 
LURING TIGER
When the International was created 20 years ago, organizers wanted a date that would draw the best players from around the world. Now that the PGA TOUR produces an international field every week, the Colorado tournament has the same goal as everyone else.
 
Get Tiger Woods.
 
In a gambit to lure Woods back to Castle Pines for the first time since 1999, the International will move to the week of July 4 beginning next year. The date is currently occupied by the Western Open, an event Woods always plays.
 
'We certainly studied Tiger's playing pattern,' executive director Larry Thiel said. 'We found out he was very comfortable with that date and he played it consistently.'
 
NEW YORK STATE OF MIND
Padraig Harrington left Winged Foot nine years ago and felt like quitting golf. Instead, it made him realize he needed to change his game.
 
The '97 PGA Championship was his second major championship in the United States, and his short game was no match for a course set up like a U.S. Open, with deep rough lining the fairways and around the green. He didn't hit it far enough or straight enough, and the Irishman shot 77-71 to miss the cut by two shots.
 
'I went home from Winged Foot being absolutely, totally trodden on,' Harrington said. 'It just took the life out of me when I was there. ... I thought every course was like Winged Foot. I didn't realize it was a beast in its own right. But it's definitely the catalyst for me changing everything in my golf swing so that I could probably compete better in the U.S. Open.'
 
The next time Harrington played a major in New York was at Bethpage Black in the 2002 U.S. Open. He played in the final pairing Saturday with Tiger Woods, and wound up in a tie for eighth.
 
ON THE CLOCK
Winning the Byron Nelson Championship came with a one-of-a-kind perk for Ted Purdy.
 
He went to a Salesmanship Club of Dallas meeting late last year and started asking around how he could get a piece of woodwork that Nelson creates in his shop. Nelson's wife, Peggy, told him it was only a hobby and that Nelson didn't sell the items, he just gave them to family and friends.
 
'Lo and behold, probably a month or two later, I got in the mail a wooden clock that Byron had made for me,' Purdy said. 'It's really neat. He's got this stamp that says, 'Made by Byron Nelson.' He put it on the bottom of the clock. I wish he had just stamped it right on the face. That's going to be displayed.'
 
DIVOTS
To get a clear picture of how the new Ryder Cup points system emphasizes current form, consider the last month. Brett Wetterich, who had never finished higher than fifth in his career going into the season, is now 10th in the U.S. standings after a five-way tie for sixth in Houston, a three-way tie for fourth in New Orleans and winning in Dallas. Chris DiMarco, a runner-up at the Masters and the NEC Invitational last year, started 2006 at No. 4 and now is No. 15 in the standings. ... Annika Sorenstam has gone five stroke-play tournaments without winning, her longest drought since 2001.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK
Karrie Webb has won 31 percent of her LPGA Tour events (10-of-32) by at least five shots.
 
FINAL WORD
'I ache a lot more.' -- Jim Furyk, asked the difference between himself as a player in 1995 and 2006.
 
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