5 Things: Tiger's awkward day; Stricker's detour; more
Friday, September 20, 2013
On any other week, it would hardly be a noteworthy entry to the PGA Tour landscape.
Late one day, early the next, at least so far as tee times go? It’s the routine. No big deal.
Ah, but at the Tour Championship if you tee off late Thursday and early Friday – even worse, if you tee off last Thursday and first Friday! – then something has happened that’s not very good. And for Tiger Woods, Thursday’s opening round of the Tour Championship was start-to-finish, top-to-bottom, jam-packed with not very good.
Start with this: He did not make a birdie.
Seriously, none. That’s like Bill Gates going a day without making a couple million dollars. Your thoughts, Henrik Stenson?
“That’s very unusual. It was one of those days. If you’re not making any birdies, then it’s going to be a bad day, simple as that.”
Of course, to offer the flip side of the story, Stenson birdied five of his first seven holes, made seven in all, and shot 64, nine better than his playing competitor.
It’s just the seventh time Woods has recorded a birdie-less round in his PGA Tour career and the first since the 2010 U.S. Open. Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be stunned, because three of those birdie-less rounds have unfolded here at East Lake Golf Club.
Woods’ round of 3-over 73 left him in 29th place out of the 30 competitors, just one clear of Jason Dufner, with whom he’ll be paired in the first tee time Friday morning. After hitting eight fairways and 12 greens and needing 34 putts, Woods is hoping that early tee time will go a whole lot better than the last tee time did Thursday.
Having come in atop the FedEx Cup standings, Woods was in position to merely win the tournament to clinch the overall title and $10 million bonus. But he finds himself miles behind Stenson after his worst opening round at the Tour Championship since shooting 75 in 1998. His average score in Round 1 in 10 trips to East Lake since: a tidy 68.1.
Oh, what Woods wouldn’t have given for that sort of score Thursday, but the fact that he has started so slowly is perhaps the biggest storyline from Round 1 of the 2013 finale. It’s not the only one, however. Here are 5 Things to Know from a sun-splashed day at East Lake:
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1. NO ELK FOR THEM: Steve Stricker is probably feeling a bit better about his decision to play this Tour Championship rather than go through with a prior commitment to join friends in an elk-hunting trip.
That’s what a round of 4-under 66 to stand just two off the lead will do for your spirits.
But Stricker did grimace a little when the elk trip was mentioned, seemingly torn by the tough choice, though he quipped: “Maybe my friends haven’t seen any elk yet.”
Now if you asked another avid hunter, Boo Weekley, he’ll tell you that East Lake and the Tour Championship vs. a possible elk-hunting trip is no contest. It’s golf at this 30-man field.
“I don’t do that,” Weekley said, when asked if he’d ever gone elk hunting. “That’s too much. We walk enough out here. Damn sure I ain’t gonna walk up and down a hill and chase a horse. Because that’s what (an elk) is. It’s about 1,500 pounds.”
Opening with a 70, Weekley might stand six off the lead, but he had a smile longer than the 223 yards that tested him at the par-3 closing hole. That’s because he’s playing in the Tour Championship for just the second time, six years after his debut. It’s been a long, adventurous road for Weekley, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the field who appreciates this berth more than him.
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2. THE HAT MAN: Julien Trudeau continues to gain friends as he works this PGA Tour circuit for one of the most consistent ball-strikers, Graham DeLaet. The former minitour player turned caddie, Trudeau took his boss’s advice and started wearing hats that represent the town where the Tour happens to be that week.
His most popular lid? “Had to be the Hartford Whalers,” he said of the hat that he donned during the Travelers Championship.
Last week at the BMW, Trudeau did not wear a Blackhawks hat, however – being a rabid Montreal Canadiens fan. Instead, Trudeau paid tribute to this former high school teammate, Paul Konerko, the first baseman for the Chicago White Sox and wore that team’s hat.
Born in Canada, Trudeau is clearly a hockey fan. So this week he went online and ordered an Atlanta Flames hat. Now the Flames moved from Atlanta to Calgary in 1980, but Trudeau’s move apparently struck a chord. “A guy came up to us and said he loved the hat, that he played for the Flames,” Trudeau said with a laugh.
What thrilled Trudeau, however, is that an East Lake staff member knew of the caddie’s routine and planned accordingly. “He ordered the hat and had it for me,” Trudeau said.
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3. TOO MANY SCENARIOS: Being 22nd in the FedEx Cup standings, Billy Horschel is not exactly a big favorite to win the top prize. For chuckles, however, he looked at a sheet that lists every player’s chance at the bonanza – but he didn’t study it for long.
“I saw that I needed to win and I saw about seven or eight other things in there that needed to go my way,” Horschel said. “I stopped reading at that point.”
Fact is, though, only one thing has to happen for him to win the Tour Championship in his first trip: Shoot the lowest score for 72 holes.
“I honestly could care less about the $10 million right now,” Horschel said of the prize that goes to the overall winner of the FedEx Cup. But he surely is warmed to the idea of taking home the $1.44 million that goes to the winner of the Tour Championship, especially since his opening 66 has him in the thick of things.
“I feel like a kid in a candy store to be here,” Horschel said. “My game’s in a good spot. I may have not played the way I would have liked the last couple months, but I’ve been seeing some good signs the last few weeks.”
Though he hit only nine of 14 fairways, Horschel hit 17 greens – his only miss coming at the par-4 seventh, where he made his lone bogey.
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4. LIFE OF THE PARTY: Don’t stick that label on Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard might have earned his way into one of the most elite fields in pro golf, a 30-man festival that has an $8 million purse, a superb golf course, great fans, warm and brilliant weather and some of the most fast-paced rounds of the year.
So why so somber?
“I don’t know. I’d love to feel a little bit different out there on the course,” Garcia said. “I’d love to feel a little bit more . . . energy. Probably what this tournament deserves.”
But at 25th in the standings, Garcia has very little chance at the overall prize of $10 million. And playing in his 17th PGA Tour tournament, he already has been here two weeks more than he'd figured, given that he still has a few more tournaments owed to Europe if he’s to maintain membership there.
Either way, and for good or bad, the 33-year-old looked like he had shot 78, not 68. He ended Round 1 in joint sixth, four off the lead, but it was easier to question whether he’d find the energy for the next three rounds.
“We’ll try to hopefully find an avenue to play decent the next (few) days and then rest up.”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: More than half the field – 17 of 30 – broke par. . . . The field average was 69.067. . . . If the line for eagles was one and you bet the over, pay up; no one made an eagle . . . . . There were only three double bogeys – at the par-4 third (by Jason Dufner), the par-4 seventh (Webb Simpson), and par-5 ninth (Gary Woodland). . . . The par-4 fifth and par-3 sixth were the toughest holes to birdie, each yielding but two. No surprise, given that he leads at 64, but Stenson birdied each one; Jordan Spieth had the other birdie at No. 5, Adam Scott the other birdie at No. 6. . . . Nobody went bogey-free. . . . Back in 2011, Keegan Bradley shot 64 in his first round at East Lake; he has not broken 70 in eight subsequent rounds. After opening with a 72, Bradley is 12 over in those eight rounds. . . . Scott’s 29 on East Lake’s back nine was one off the Tour Championship record, established by Nick Watney in 2010.