Plenty of good cheer as Tour hits Boston

PGA champion Keegan Bradley after throwing out the first pitch at this week's Boston Red Sox game.

NORTON, Mass. – When last we saw our PGA Tour favorites, they were signing scorecards and going into a full sprint.

Planes were on the runway, courtesy cars at valet and a nasty predicament named Irene was bearing down. Indeed, from about 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. last Saturday at Plainfield CC in New Jersey, there was no hint of slow play with the PGA Tour’s finest, for they had a very slight window to seize onto and get out of Plainfield, N.J., before transportation routes would shut down in anticipation of the first hurricane to slam into the metropolitan New York area in more than 100 years.

Gary Woodland, who as a kid growing up in Kansas spent many frightening times underground in tornado shelters, got to experience his first hurricane at last week’s Barclays. Fortunately, he didn’t get the brunt of it, and for that he feels blessed to be in the position he was in. Along with the other players who live in the Orlando, Fla., area, Woodland had a private jet waiting for him when he finished his Saturday round.

But because Newark Airport was going to be forced to shut down operations by 2 p.m., the jets for the Orlando boys left out of Morristown (N.J.) Municipal Airport. Off the earliest in the split tee times, Woodland and Trevor Immelman got the first plane out. Off late, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter were in the last one. In between, Graeme McDowell and his party had the other plane.

Given their stature, the lads could have been home for an afternoon round at Lake Nona, had they so chosen, but it didn’t come without some anxiety. Flying southward out of New Jersey and into stormy weather – even going fairly wide – had Immelman telling Woodland, “I’m more nervous than when I was trying to win the Masters (in 2008).”

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Sergio Garcia practices with the MLS New England Revolution

So much of a scramble was leaving New Jersey in a rush that Jason Day and wife Ellie left their beloved motor home at Plainfield CC. “We flew private for just the second time this year,” said Day, a devoted bus man. Once home, the Days then had to fly to the Deutsche Bank Championship (commercial, this time) where they were reunited with their bus, which was driven here by a company they work with.

The travel audibles only added to what is a truism with the PGA Tour: its playoffs are so unlike the other major pro sports. In those postseasons, it is one and out, but with the FedEx Cup playoffs, players in the fifth year are starting to embrace the fact that it means upwards of four mega purses in four major sports markets, and that means a lot of money and a lot to do.

Nowhere has that shined through more than at TPC Boston, which is approximately halfway between Boston and Providence, R.I., so that means an abundance of terrific dining options. (Always important with this crowd.)

This week has been especially good for those who love baseball, since the Yankees were at Fenway Park three nights and you’d need a large sheet of paper and a few sharp pencils to write down the names of players who secured tickets, from diehard Yankees fan Lucas Glover to passionate Red Sox supporter Scott Stallings to Nick Watney, who sits squarely on the fence, being a Giants guy and all.

Most notable has been the pregame honors bestowed upon a pair of PGA Tour members. Keegan Bradley, the native New Englander who recently won the PGA Championship, threw out the opening pitch before Tuesday’s game, while Phil Mickelson was going to do that same duty Thursday night.

OK, so Bradley doesn’t deny that his Fenway performance fell far short of the scintillating effort he pulled off in the PGA Championship a few weeks ago.

“I got so nervous. Right before I went out there, I decided that I wasn’t going to throw it in the dirt,” Bradley said. “I said, ‘Just make sure you get it to him.’ ”

“Him” was Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, whom Bradley requested to catch the toss. When the team agreed, Bradley was thrilled, and while he soaked in the atmosphere, he knows his PGA Tour peers are riding him playfully. Word is, Bradley would have registered 30-35 mph on the radar gun.

“That’s awful,” Dustin Johnson said, laughing, and Bradley sheepishly has had to absorb a little ribbing from Mickelson.

“I hope he bounces it in,” Bradley said, smiling. “He’s been talking so much trash to me.”

The 6-foot-4-inch Johnson is widely considered to be one of the best athletes on Tour, a former basketball player who can still dunk. But he also played a lot of baseball and predicts Mickelson won’t throw harder than 50. Easily, Johnson said he would hit that, and hard.

As a pitcher, “I threw heat,” Johnson said, and he had a good time when he tossed out the opening pitch for his hometown Myrtle Beach Pelicans of the Class A Carolina League last summer.

But using Fenway as a stage is another dimension, and Mickelson, bless his heart, was going to step it up even further by taking batting practice and he confirmed all the particulars – he throws right-handed and bats left-handed.

Of course, all this baseball stuff is lost on Sergio Garcia, but don’t feel the Spaniard was left out of the fun. On the contrary, he filled his Wednesday dance card with several hours practicing with the New England Revolution, the successful MLS soccer team owned by Robert Kraft, who also owns the NFL’s New England Patriots.

Soccer? Baseball? Golf? It’s all part of the pre-tournament festivities at the Deutsche Bank Championship, though it was just another pro-am draw party Wednesday evening in Boston that tossed a little more buzz into Seth Waugh’s party. Tiger Woods – who is not here this week because he failed to qualify for the first time since the tournament became a FedEx Cup tournament in 2007 – flew in from New York where he had played earlier that day in Notah Begay’s pro-am.

“That means a lot to us,” said Waugh, CEO of the Deutsche Bank Americas and thus the guiding force behing this tournament. “We didn’t ask him. He asked us if it would be OK if he came. OK? Of course it would be OK.”

At the cocktail reception, Woods mingled with guests and stood to absorb some ribbing from Waugh and others. “He actually was funny about his own situation,” Waugh said. “But you could tell it was killing him to be here, but to not be playing.”

Proceeds annually from the Deutsche Bank Championship, which started in 2003, have been directed to the Tiger Woods Foundation, and in that vein Waugh has become friendly with the icon.

“I’m flattered as a friend,” Waugh said. “We’ve raised $20 million together – and I mean together – and I think what Tiger was saying by being here is, ‘I care.’ ”

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