- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2003

Game off.

Yesterday’s heavy showers swamped the already saturated TPC at Avenel, forcing the postponement of third-round play in the Capital Open. Not a single shot was struck as the layout endured its 32nd day of rain since the start of May.

In fact, yesterday’s round of storms was so hard on the course, turning low areas into lakes and washing out bunkers all over the 7,005-yard, par-71 layout, that today’s third round isn’t scheduled to begin until 10:45 a.m. off both nines. That means the tournament will finish on a Monday for the second time in the last three years. Tomorrow’s final round is tentatively scheduled for a two-tee start at 7:30 a.m., which would put the last group off at 9:30.

Just as in 2001, when Saturday’s play was washed out and nine holes had to be completed Monday, Saturday and Sunday tickets will be honored today and admission tomorrow will be free.

In 2001, the only other Monday finish in the event’s history, tournament directors attempted to squeeze in 36 holes on Sunday (managing 27). This year, however, the course is far too wet to even consider a 36-hole day.

“We’re starting a little later to give the golf course time to drain,” said PGA Tour tournament director Mark Russell after assessing the course yesterday afternoon. “That will give the maintenance crew time to work on the bunkers. The bunkers are washed out. [Course superintendent] Dennis Ingram and his crew are ready. They’re bringing in a lot more personnel from around the area. Everybody’s going to pitch in.”

A busy day for the maintenance crew meant a boring one for the players, who spent all morning restlessly milling around the clubhouse until the decision to call it a day was made at approximately 11 a.m.

“You hate to see tournaments go through to Monday,” said second-round leader Rory Sabbatini (8-under 134), who has a two-stroke lead over the quartet of David Duval, Niclas Fasth, Notah Begay and Tom Gillis. “It’s going to be tough on the tournament and the field. … But Mother Nature does what she wants, and you just have to live by her rules.”

Many of the Capital competitors are qualified for this week’s U.S. Open but won’t be getting to the season’s second major until tomorrow night at the earliest.

“That’s a big deal going into the Open,” said Takoma Park native and former Maryland golf coach Fred Funk (2 under). “That’s not good, but they need to get 72 holes in. Two practice rounds for me at the Open is fine. But you’d sure rather get there on a Sunday night.”

According to Russell, the Tour does not take into account the next week’s schedule when it makes these decisions. And very few, if any, players are likely to pull out and head to the Open early. The 1999 St. Jude Classic was the last tour event to finish on the Monday before a major (the U.S. Open at Pinehurst). The attrition rate there was extremely low, and one likely reason is that a player who skips out receives last-place money that does not count toward his official earnings.

Former PGA Tour Policy Board member Davis Love (1 under) said both players and the tour are strongly against reducing the event to a 54-hole tournament (which has been done in the past).

“The board and the player directors and the pack have spoken in the last four or five years, and we don’t want a 54-hole tournament unless it’s the only option,” Love said. “And 36-hole tournaments are not an option anymore. We don’t want to cheapen our competition by saying, ‘Let’s just get out of here and get something done just to get it over with.’”

The bad weather also will make the Capital Open unusual in that the field almost certainly will play all four rounds using a lift-clean-and-place policy.

Love remembers at least one event at Pebble Beach where the players had ball-in-hand for all four rounds. But unlike the organizations that run the majors (Augusta National, USGA, Royal & Ancient Golf Club and PGA of America), Love feels playing the ball down at all costs can actually hurt the competitive integrity of the game.

“I don’t know why the USGA is so against it, because there’s less luck involved if you pick it up,” said Love, referring to the mud balls that result from playing it down on soggy tracks. “It’s like the way we played at Augusta [in the first round of the Masters] this year. By not picking it up, they put luck into the game. Obviously, it’s a game of skill, but it’s also a game of who gets the right bounces. Well, if you put 10 guys out of that are all equal golfers, and they all hit the same shot and it’s muddy, the results are not going to be the same, because some guys are going to get more mud on their ball than others. I hit some shots at Augusta that I just don’t hit — 8-irons that go flying off into the trees from the middle of the fairway.

“If you’re not going to play lift-clean-and-place, then let’s just wait. That’s fine. If you have to finish a U.S. Open on a Wednesday, so be it. We’ll wait. But let’s not play under the conditions we played under at the Masters or at Bethpage last year. It’s too important. We don’t have that luxury on tour, though, because we can’t back our events up. Obviously, you want to play it down. But if it’s pick it up or don’t play at all, I say pick it up.”

Notes — Love might have picked up some riding accessories in an attempt to kill time yesterday. The 17-time Tour winner owns two motorcycles and planned to spend the rainy afternoon searching for a Harley-Davidson store. Asked if he dons his signature Ralph Lauren garb on his hog, Love chuckled:

“I don’t know if I should say … maybe Polo jeans.” …

Eric Billings, co-chairman of first-year title sponsor FBR, made his first trip to the media center yesterday to address both the weather and his company’s future relationship with the Capital Open.

“I didn’t realize it was a swimming competition,” Billings said. “We’re still very excited about it. Obviously, we’re very disappointed with the weather. But it’s a great leader board, and having David Duval do what he did yesterday [shooting a course-record 62] makes for an exciting tournament the next couple of days. … I think we’re leaning heavily toward making it a long-term [sponsorship] commitment.”

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