A Fine Mess at The Tour Championship

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ATLANTA ' There was one constant Tuesday at the East Lake Golf Club: that squishy sound when sneaker meets mud, followed by a cry of frustration.
 
Mother Nature has more than compensated for the drought she wrought the area this summer. Nearly 13 inches of rain have fallen since mid-September at East Lake. It continued Monday and Tuesday, and more is expected before Thursdays opening round of The Tour Championship.
 
Its more than just a little wet. Its a quagmire out there right now, said 1999 champion Tiger Woods. Its going to be amazing to see if they can actually get this course playable so we dont have to play lift, clean and cheat.
 
PGA Tour and tournament officials havent yet said whether or not they will in fact play lift, clean and place ' as its more diplomatically known ' or lift, clean and replace.
 
The difference between the two is in the replacement of the ball once it has been wiped clean. In lift, clean and place, a player can replace his ball within one club length of the original position. In lift, clean and replace, the ball must be put back in its exact spot.
 
'I would be surprised if it got anywhere near dry,' said Phil Mickelson. 'It was playable (Tuesday), but it was playable at lift, clean and place.'
 
Woods is one who hopes the elite field of 30 will have the opportunity to play the ball where it lies.
 
I totally understand it, he said in relation to the tour implementing either version of lift and clean. I just think that if you get a professional with a ball in the hand, you know, the scores are going to be really low. It takes a lot of understanding and feel and talent to play with mud on your ball, and a lot of luck, too, by the way.
 
Scores have been particularly low the last two weeks on tour, primarily because players have been able to lift, clean and place.
 
The field got to do it while playing the Palm Course over the first two days of the Disney Golf Classic, where Bob Burns won with a 25-under total. Jonathan Byrd then won the Buick Challenge with a 27-under tally while playing all four days under those rules.
 
And even though a thick, wet rough will be present to penalize players this week, low scores are again expected.
 
The difficulty in the past with East Lake has been the pitch in the fairways, making it very difficult to hit; and then the ball goes in the rough and you have bunkers in front of the green that you have to carry out of the rough, Mickelson said.
 
You have to look at, well, about 3-under being par, and realistically, 5- or 6-under a day being about what you should expect to shoot, which would put the winning total around 20-under.
 
Mickelson isnt the defending champion, but he is the last man to win this event at East Lake. He came from behind to defeat Woods in 2000, becoming one of only four players ever to topple Tiger when he held a 54-hole lead.
 
The two will be paired together in the opening round.
 
Mike Weir won the tournament in a playoff a year ago at the Champions Golf Club in Houston. However, the Canadian is mired in 77th place on the money list and is sitting at home this go-around.
 
The $5 million Tour Championship is for the top 30 players in earnings. There are nine first-time participants vying for the $900,000 winners check.
 
East Lake, as a result of the event being sponsored by Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, is now the tournaments primary host. Champions Golf Club will again be the venue in 2003, but it will return to Georgia in '04 and 05, and possibly beyond.
 
East Lake hosted the event in 1998 (won by Hal Sutton) and 2000. Champions was the site in 1997 (David Duval), 99 and 2001.
 
This years venue is steeped in tradition and change. It is the home course to Bobby Jones, and the clubhouse is saturated with his memorabilia.
 
But over the years the course, which hosted the 1963 Ryder Cup, deteriorated along with its surroundings. As middle-income housing gave way to low-income renters locals literally feared for their lives while trying to play the haggard layout.
 
Stories of golfers being accosted and threatened at gunpoint finally turned to ones of inspiration when a local charitable foundation purchased East Lake in 1993. A year later, Rees Jones restored Donald Ross original course design. The East Lake Community Foundation was also formed to revitalize the neighborhood. All profits from the club, as well as charitable donations, support the foundation.
 
Statistical preview for the Tour Championship