|Appleby claims one-shot lead after round one at SHO - April 20, 2006
BY ED FOWLER
Bubba Watson, the broad-shouldered thumper from Bagdad, Fla., watched his tee shot soar on the 204-yard 16th hole. He saw it get tangled in winds going more directions than testimony in the Enron trial and wobble to earth on the front of the green, a half-day’s march from the hole. Watson plucked his tee out of the ground and fired it at a trash receptacle for perhaps his best shot of the day.
A lot of guys from Bagdad are in a foul humor these days.
The PGA Tour said hello to the Tournament Course at Redstone Golf Club on Thursday. At 7,457 yards, it is the longest track they have encountered this year, but, of course, every course they play is growing. Watson’s emotions reinforced one of golf’s eternal truths, however; a par four can play 380 yards or 500 but at the end of every one are a chip and a couple of putts. So it is, anyway, for a guy shooting 2 over, even if he is the tour’s longest bomber at 319 yards per blast.
Overall, the field found the facility most agreeable. Stuart Appleby, the 1999 Shell Houston Open champion, showed the way with a six-under 66, a shot better than Jerry Smith and D.A. Points. Mathias Gronberg bogeyed the final hole to drop out of the tie for second and into a group two shots off the lead. Vijay Singh, bidding to become the first player ever to win the event in three consecutive years, opened with a 69 and par took a good thrashing on a bright, hot day.
Appleby and the other early starters had the best of it as the wind didn’t arrive until noon. “Conditions were quite easy in the morning, no wind blowing,” Appleby said, “so if you weren’t too intimidated by pins being sort of four yards from the edges you could go at a lot of them. The greens aren’t too hard yet. A six-under score had to be out there for somebody, and I sort of like the way my game feels right now.”
Immaculate greens didn’t hurt. When the wind showed up, it was a capricious character, lying down at times and gusting into two-club range at others. Appleby, who also has a second in the SHO to his credit, figures the experience he and his fellow Australians have in playing in the wind serves them well.
They have certainly enjoyed themselves on recent visits. Robert Allenby followed his countryman’s success with a victory in 2000. One Aussie who found the place to his liking on Thursday was Aaron Baddeley. Coming off a victory the previous week at the Verizon Heritage, he shot 68. For the opening 18, 75 players shot par or better. Irishman Darren Clarke shot 68 but withdrew to return home help his wife determine her next round of cancer treatment.
As in the tournament’s first year at the original Redstone layout, now called the Members Course, rough that has not yet grown into a luxurious mess of green linguine allowed players who missed fairways to gun for pins nonetheless. The three-inch growth did give a few players pause, however. John Daly, a fixture at the SHO and still one of the longest hitters on tour despite the influx of young guns, said he pulled his driver on only half as many holes as in previous years.
“I hit probably six two-irons, a couple of three-woods, probably six drivers,” Daly said. “The fairways close in to 10 or 15 yards 330 or 340 off the tee and they’re kind of hard to hit. But I do like the course. It’s an awfully good golf course. If we could just stay somewhere for a while it would be nice. Either this one or that one, but let’s stop moving.”
The SHO doesn’t figure to flee the Rees Jones-designed Tournament Course, sculpted especially to host it, for many years to come. Daly and his colleagues can go ahead and settle in.