Notes Verplank Off to Good Start

By Associated PressAugust 12, 2004, 4:00 pm
04 PGA ChampionshipHAVEN, Wis. -- Scott Verplank began the PGA Championship in 14th place in the Ryder Cup standings, but just 29 points shy of the eighth spot and a trip to Michigan to face the Europeans.
The top 10 plus two captain's picks will represent the United States at Oakland Hills.
'My goal is to make it on points and to play well here,' Verplank said after firing an opening-round 67 Thursday. 'My real goal is to give myself a chance to win this golf tournament, and the Ryder Cup will take care of itself.'
John Daly likely cost himself any chance of being a captain's pick when he had a quadruple-bogey 8 on the 18th hole to finish with an 81.
This is the last chance for the Americans to secure a spot on the team. Europeans have two more tournaments, the NEC Invitational at Firestone and the BMW International Open in Germany, to determine their dozen participants.
'It's in the back of my mind. It's been in the back of my mind for two years, since the last one was over with,' Verplank said. 'So, I'm not really thinking about it a whole lot more this week.'
Chris DiMarco is 15th, and he also had a good start, shooting a 68.
'I would rather be in sixth right now and not have to worry about it,' he said. 'Last week, I got myself in a position that I can at least see the others. This week is worth double points.'
Justin Leonard shot a 66, good for second place, but he's so far down in the points, he doesn't expect to catch captain Hal Sutton's attention.
'The only statement that I could make that would catch Hal's attention would be sitting in this chair Sunday afternoon' as the winner, Leonard said.
'Right now, I have plans on playing San Antonio and watching the Ryder Cup on television. Unless I do something wonderful these next three days, that's exactly where I'll be.'
Jerry Kelly, who entered the PGA one spot out of the top 10, shot a 76.
Verplank was happy with his 67. What thrilled him was being able to walk 18 holes without feeling tortured.
Verplank began to suffer from plantar fascists - a painful ailment in his right foot - just after the Masters, and there were times he wondered if he could finish the season, much less try to make the Ryder Cup team.
'It was all I could do to finish a round of golf,' he said.
Relief came in July, when Foot-Joy made a special shoe using a mold of his foot. Starting with the Western Open, he was able to walk a round.
'That first day, I could tolerate it,' he said.
Verplank is 14th in the Ryder Cup standings, and his foot problems are a serious issue. There are two rounds of matches the first two days at Oakland Hills.
'I wouldn't have any problem walking 36 holes,' Verplank said.
Winds of 20 mph prompted the PGA of America to shorten the course by 145 yards by playing the tees up on holes 8, 11 and 18.
That changed the official 7,514-yard layout to 'only' 7,369 yards for the first round.
The par-4 eighth hole was shortened by 39 yards to 468, No. 11 was chopped from 618 yards - the longest on the Straits Course - to 563, the fourth-longest. And No. 18 was trimmed from 500 yards to 449.
Some golfers would just as soon have played the back tees as they had during practice.
Tiger Woods didn't like playing 18 so close.
'That hole is playing downwind and with the tee up on a downwind hole, it just doesn't make sense,' Woods said.
First-round leader Darren Clarke said he loved the move, and others said they would have preferred something in between, maybe 15 or 20 yards closer to the holes.
Last month, the PGA downsized the course by 83 yards, deciding against using a new tee box on the par-4 first hole that would have made it play 491 yards.
The PGA of America is trying to get golfers to speed things up - as Steve Lowery learned. He was assessed a one-stroke penalty for slow play during his round of 80.
Lowery, who was in the first group that teed off on the back nine at 7 a.m., was warned to pick up the pace and received the penalty when he didn't heed the warning.
PGA of America officials couldn't recall another instance of a golfer being slapped with an extra stroke at a PGA Championship.
The PGA continued to warn groups that they were on the clock.
'This course is not easy and people can get behind,' Jay Haas said. 'Two guys make a double (bogey) or something, you're going to go behind. But I don't know that they were trying to make an example of anyone. ... If you're ready to play, no matter if you're making 5, 6 or 7s, if you're ready to go, you can play quick.'
Hale Irwin made the first hole-in-one in competition at Whistling Straits, sinking a 3-iron from 185 yards on the par-3 seventh hole.
It was Irwin's sixth career ace on tour and second at the PGA. He had one at Firestone in 1975.
His hole-in-one Thursday was the first at a PGA championship since 2001, when Nick Faldo, David Toms and Scott Hoch all had aces. It was the 32nd ace at the PGA championship since 1970.
Scott Hoch loves Wisconsin - he's a two-time winner of the U.S. Bank Championship, formerly known as the Greater Milwaukee Open. But he's no fan of the lakeside links-like Straits Course, where he shot a 76.
'I think it's the best course on the British Open rotation, to tell you the truth,' he joked.
Tiger Woods said it was very much a British Open atmosphere with the crowds far away from the tee boxes, fairways and greens, combined with the cool weather and whipping winds.
Woods also noticed little gallery movement.
'It would be brutal trying to walk all 18 holes following one person,' Woods said. 'Just because I think the chances of you getting hurt are pretty good.'
Flamboyant Englishman Ian Poulter, who wore Union Jack trousers in the first round of the British Open sported the stars and stripes Thursday. His left leg was blue with white stars with red and white stripes down his right leg. ... Dudley Hart withdrew after five holes with a back injury.
Related Links:
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  • Full Coverage - PGA Championship
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