Weekend Will Be Brutal

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If difficult conditions and high scores make you queasy, then you started getting a creepy feeling at this PLAYERS as early as Thursday afternoon. Thats when firm conditions and a persistent wind turned the golf course'especially the theater of the absurd that is the 17th hole'into a little golf shop of horrors.
 
I think it should be blown up, Ernie Els said of the island green after hitting one ball in the water and walking away with a triple bogey on the penultimate hole.
 
Then came Friday. Prior to hitting his first shot of the day, two-time PLAYERS champion Fred Couples was asked on the range if the course conditions for the weekend could get tougher than they were nine years ago when David Duvals winning total of 285 was the highest at TPC Sawgrass.
 
They already are, Couples said, surveying the blustery wind and dry, fiery turfgrass.
 
And whats so bad about that, said Andy Martinez with a devilish grin. Martinez caddies for Tom Lehman. His man is a solid ball striker and never minds taking his chances in the wind.
 
Now that 36 holes have been completed and the weekend is upon us, historians are nodding queasily and mumbling the word 1999 under their collective breaths. That was the year only two players finished under par after 72 holes. That was the year David Duval survived designer Pete Dyes delightfully-diabolical Stadium course.
 
I think Fred Klauk is a genius, said short-game guru Dave Pelz Thursday, referring to the course superintendent who, in his last year before retirement, has managed to groom Bermuda grass greens without grain and bring them to a playable speed while keeping them nasty firm.
 
Klauk, his critics said in 1999, brought the golf course right to the edge of playability. There were players who actually said he took Sawgrass over the edge. On the weekend that year there was only one round'Couples Sunday 68'below 70 on the weekend.
 
And remember, the course played at 6,950 yards in 1999. In 2008 its listed length is 7,215 yards. Par remains at 72.
 
In 1999 the average score for the week for the field was 74.672. The toughest hole was the par 4 18th which elicited an average score of 4.557 and bullied the field into 36 double bogeys and 15 triples or worse.
 
By the time the 1999 PLAYERS had ended you had the feeling that Duval was the only player with enough game, Tiger Woods included, to handle the conditions that week. Fittingly, he ascended to No. 1 in the world rankings the following Monday. He even birdied the 17th hole'the John Hancock of American golf signature holes--on Sunday for a cushion over runner-up Scott Gump with one hole remaining. Stylish.
 
So if 1999 at the PLAYERS was Scary Movie, the 2008 version could be Scary Movie II. This columnist for one will be fine with that if it develops.
 
We bemoaned the lack of roars at Augusta in April. But the biggest problem was a lack of excitement. If the roars are replaced by shrieks of disbelief at The PLAYERS this weekend, Ill be fine with that as long as there is excitement and at least a little bit of late Sunday drama.
 
The Stadium course almost always plays tougher in the afternoon than in the morning. Thursday the difference between the early and late starters was almost two full strokes. The weekend is upon us and the leaders will be the last off the first tee. They will face the worst of the worst.
 
Shrieks of disbelief, indeed. The winner will be the best, bravest and most patient. And I wont be at all shocked if he is also the youngest, 22-year-old Anthony Kim, alone in fifth but just two shots back of leader Kenny Perrys 6-under total halfway through the championship.
 
If Kim, who broke through for his first TOUR win at Wachovia last week, triumphs Sunday, it will be the exception that proves the rule: Youth isnt always wasted on the young.
 
He has a calmness about him, Kims coach Adam Schriber told me Tuesday. A real peace. And when hes playing well, he usually keeps it going for a few weeks.
 
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