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Quake shakes Japanese pros at Doral

3/12/2011 - Golf

DORAL, Fla. -- The world has become smaller because of things we take for granted: cell phones that call across oceans, Internet connections that allow for instant communication.

Except, of course, when those things don't work due to an unfathomable natural disaster that renders one helpless.

The scene inside the Doral resort Friday morning was surreal as more than 30 Japanese media members here to cover a golf tournament were frantically trying to reach family, friends and co-workers back home.

The earthquake that later caused a tsunami had rendered most forms of communication useless, not so much due to the destruction in the northeastern part of the country, but to an overloaded system that could not deal with the crush.

All of it made the golf Friday during the second round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship seem a bit pointless.

Hunter Mahan is leading through two rounds, and the world's No. 1-ranked player, Martin Kaymer, is just a stroke behind. Tiger Woods struggled again on the greens.

But three Japanese players in the field probably could not care less, somehow going through the motions while playing a sport that, certainly in this case, allows way too much time to think.

"I realize with the extent of coverage here, it must be a very grave situation in Japan," said the country's biggest golf star, 19-year-old Ryo Ishikawa, through an interpreter. "Many of the PGA players walked up to me, such as Ernie Els and Vijay Singh, and asked how was my family and showed a lot of concern. And I appreciated that.

"I tried my best to block everything out. But as you can imagine, it's a tough day."

Yes, we can only imagine.

As Japanese colleagues in the media center scrambled to try to make contact back home, scenes of destruction played out on a huge television screen sandwiched by the tournament scoreboard.

Nobody was much concerned with birdies and bogeys.

And yet, against that backdrop, Ishikawa completed his first round in the morning, a 7-under-par 65 that was his best score in a PGA Tour event. He disclosed that he had been able to reach his parents via e-mail. And then he tried to put up a brave front, saying that he "hoped to provide encouragement and hope for the people of Japan" by playing golf.

It proved to be a difficult task. Ishikawa shot 76 in the second round to drop to 18th place.

The other Japanese players in the 66-man World Golf Championships field are Hiroyuki Fujita, 41 (a 12-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour who is ranked 52nd in the world), and Yuta Ikeda, 25 (ranked 45th and an eight-time winner).

Fujita lives in Tokyo, which is about 250 miles from the worst part of the quake -- although the capital city still endured a 5.0 shock.

"When I saw the TV, it was so disastrous," said Fujita, who is tied for 34th after shooting 73 on Friday. "I couldn't believe it. It is not in this world."

Ikeda struggled to put the situation into words, even in Japanese. He received an e-mail from a friend in the middle of the night, "and from that time on, I was just watching TV and making phone calls," he said through an interpreter.

It made for a tough day, because Ikeda grew up in Chiba, about 200 miles from Sendai, the city nearest to the epicenter of the 8.9-magnitude quake. It also is where a huge fire ignited an oil factory after the quake hit. Ikeda's mother and grandparents still live there. And it is where Ikeda attended Tohoku Fukushi University.

"It's tough," Ikeda said. "It's my second hometown. I was born and raised in Chiba, but I went to school in Sendai, and to see what you had to see on TV was very difficult to take in."

More than two dozen Japanese media representatives surrounded Ikeda when he completed his round of 73 that left him tied for 53rd.

"It wasn't a nice way to start the day, to get up and see that," said Scotland's Martin Laird, who played with Ikeda. "You obviously feel for all of those people. He doesn't speak much English, but I'm sure his mind was not really on the golf tournament today. You can't really blame him for it at all."

As is custom with Ishikawa, he sat in a chair as he answered questions, with some 30 writers and photographers listening intently.

Typically, they ask him about every detail of his round, but Friday was far different.

"It is not possible to block out something of this magnitude completely," he said.

Whether his spoken words would get back to Japan via video, text, e-mail or any other form of communication Friday night was unclear.

Many of the Japanese media spent the day trying to do their jobs while also hoping to reach family and co-workers. Getting through to their offices, mostly in Tokyo, proved difficult.

Sonoko Funakoshi, who works for the Jiji Press wire service as well at the Daily Sports Newspapers, said her colleagues all were struggling to reach their offices. There was no one to receive their stories. Two Japanese television networks, NHK and Jupiter Sports Network, were there to cover the tournament, but the broadcasts were canceled.

To Funakoshi, it was especially ironic that Ishikawa, who has won nine times on his home tour but has had limited success in the United States, shot his best score ever on the PGA Tour and it meant virtually nothing.

"It's been a long day," she said.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.