Soggy conditions present new challenge at Senior Players tourney
This wasn't quite the Champions Tour welcome Colin Montgomerie had anticipated.
“I thought this was the easy tour, and I've been here 12 bloody hours,” he said with a smile after Thursday's rain-delayed opening round of the Constellation Senior Players Championship.
On this day, patience was almost as important as a good drive.
The soggy course played much longer than its length, and the wet rough was brutal at Fox Chapel Golf Club, where the 81-player field endured a delay of nearly five hours before the first tee shots. But the greens were soft and receptive for those who found them, allowing 43 players to finish at par or better.
With an eagle on his 16th hole, John Huston shot 5-under-par 65 to hold a one-shot lead over Fred Couples, Fred Funk, Duffy Waldorf and Russ Cochran. Huston, who started on No. 10, also had five birdies and two bogies in a first round that almost required a mulligan.
“After 3 inches (of rain) Tuesday night into Wednesday, the course was saturated,” said Brian Claar, who oversees the tour's competition. “It doesn't take much; we got four-10ths (Thursday) morning, and the place just puddled up like crazy.”
With most fairways muddy or at least soft, the first round was played under lift, clean and place rules. Tour officials also relocated a number of pin placements to higher ground. But some in the back were tough to reach.
With more rain in the forecast, concern remains.
“If we got another inch, I don't know what would happen,” said Claar, who praised the work of the golf club's grounds crew. “If we get some drying (Thursday night), it will be able to take a little but not a lot. Last year we didn't have any rain, so we didn't know how this course reacted to (water). But that Tuesday night/Wednesday morning (storm) was just devastating.”
A year ago, dry heat left this course hard and fast, and 20 players were under par after that first round. Those who were here then are left wondering where that course went.
“It's playing a lot longer, a great deal longer because the ball is not rolling anywhere,” said Joel Edwards, who finished tied with four others at 3-under.
“It's sad because every week we've been having golf courses in perfect shape, and Mother Nature comes in and throws a deluge on it and we can't get the firm, fast and tough conditions that the course was designed for,” Funk said.
Play was scheduled to begin with 7:29 a.m. tee times, but those were postponed until 12:20 p.m. The rain created a long wait, especially for those in early groups.
“I warmed up three times today,” said Edwards, who had been at the course since 6 a.m. “You warm up and you kind of have a feeling that you might not play, but you keep warming up. We got to the tee, and then they called it. We went back out, and they called it again. The third time was a charm.”
Tied with Edwards at 3-under were Jim Gallagher, Tom Pernice Jr., Mike Goodes and Michael Allen. Montgomerie, making his Champions Tour debut, was 1-under. Rocco Mediate was among 13 tied at even par. Defending champion Joe Daley was at 1-over.
Funk thought the course favored the long hitters, who don't rely on roll for extra distance. Yet the greens are kind for those hitting approach shots with long irons, he added, and harsh for those who use a lot of spin. Others thought it came down to swing style.
“The guys that are pickers, not divot takers, are probably going to play pretty good,” Edwards said. “The more shallow your swing is, you're probably more apt to play well in these conditions.”