Wednesday, December 24

Water, water everywhere


CHASKA, Minn. -- A hard overnight rain at Hazeltine National Golf Club had officials scrambling Saturday to clear water off the course in time for the PGA Championship to resume.

Three inches of rain fell in the Twin Cities, pushing the completion of Friday's suspended second round back another two hours in the morning.

But by the time the third round began at 11:30 a.m. CT, grounds crew workers, other volunteers and Chaska firefighters had pumped about 60,000 gallons of water -- 2,400 gallons per minute -- off the course and back to Lake Hazeltine where it belonged.

The lake, which lies along holes 10 and 18, rose during the rainstorm and flooded some of the course's lower-lying areas -- most significantly around the front half of the No. 2 fairway and the eighth hole's water hazard.

Hazeltine superintendent Jim Nicol arrived shortly after 4 a.m., an hour after he woke up.

''My wife told me, 'I think you have a storm on your hands,''' Nicol said.

Some wet spots remained, most noticeably in some of the sand traps, but crews had cleared enough water off the course to satisfy PGA officials with about 45 minutes to spare before the third round started.

''They were very happy,'' Nicol said. ''It's one of those things you never plan for. But the fire department was huge. I think they had as much fun as we did.''

Star power
David Duval, Jose Maria Olazabal and Phil Mickelson barely made the cut, but the large crowd following the threesome Saturday didn't seem to mind their high scores.

Mickelson, who finished the third round at 10-over par 226, drew the biggest cheers. Mickelson just wished he could have played better.

Eyes reddened, Mickelson searched for an explanation to his recent poor performances. He tied for 66th in the British Open, missed the cut at the Sprint International and was tied for 29th at the Buick Open.

''I'm just not playing well,'' Mickelson said. ''There's no one to blame but myself.''

Mickelson applauded everything else, though.

''The whole week, I thought the officials have done a real good job of setting the course up, making it play fair. The community here has really supported this tournament. They're such nice people up here. The galleries here have been as nice as any other tour stop we've had, supportive of every player. It's been a wonderfully run event.''

Another delay
Forty-one golfers had to finish their second round on Saturday morning because of the storm, and those players waiting were in the same half of the field that was chased off for nearly three hours by Thursday's bad weather.

''It's pretty difficult,'' said Ernie Els, who shot a 3-over 75 and headed into the final round with a 2-over 218. ''I was getting ready for a 7:30 start, so there was a little waiting around.''

The wind was a bigger nuisance, but the delay was distracting, too.

Paul Azinger was one example. He was at 5 over and about to try a long putt for birdie on No. 18 when the sirens sounded Friday. Returning Saturday, he bogeyed the hole and wound up 6-over 150. A birdie would've gotten him to the third round.

Funk's friend
Wayne DeFrancesco, a club pro from Baltimore, shot a 16-over 160. But he had a good time tagging along in a group with Fred Funk, his friend and the leader for much of the second round who finished Saturday in third place at 211.

''That was very exciting,'' DeFrancesco said. ''I was a little overmatched by the course. I would have loved to have played better, but you've got to bring a really sharp game to a course like this. I'll be happy to get back to the guys I usually play against.''

Close encounter
Hazeltine's layout puts the ninth and 18th greens almost side-by-side with a bunker between them. From time to time, groups on the 18th find themselves waiting to line up their putts while a player is hitting on No. 9.

During the completion of the second round Saturday morning, Greg Owen, John Rollins and Shingo Katayama and their caddies stopped short of the green on 18 to wait for Brad Faxon's chip shot on 9.

There's the potential for distraction at the interchange, but the players didn't think it was much of a problem.

''It can be, but the players are very respectful about waiting to putt off on the other green,'' Justin Rose said.

Final notes
Stephen Ames withdrew after nine holes because of an arthritis flare-up in his left hand. Ames, a 38-year-old Canadian resident from Trinidad and Tobago, was 8 over. His doctor told him he should be able to resume playing in a couple days if the swelling subsides. ... With a strong left-to-right wind blowing, players struggled on the par-4 10th hole -- except for the threesome of Len Mattiace, Nick Faldo and Joel Edwards. With the pin placed at the rear left of the green, which rests on the south shore of the lake, the best approach was a dangerous carry over the water. The players each took the risk and wound up with birdies. Of 72 players, only 10 birdies were recorded on that hole Saturday.










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