The PGA Tour field staff looked upon the swamps of Sawgrass at drizzly dawn today, observed the steady winds climbing toward 40 miles per hour and the temperatures dancing in the chilly 50s and, for the first time, decided upon an act of mercy.
The starchy golf officials searched their hearts and decided upon the easiest possible pin positions. They fought down all their dastardly natural impulses and paced forward nearly 20 yards on every hole when planting the tee markers, shortening the 7,000-yard course by more than 300 yards.
It didn't do a bit of good.
When the wind blows, you can't take the teeth out of Sawgrass.
As though playing a practical joke, this brutal layout, which was once a perfectly good swamp, chose as its leaders for the first round of the Tournament Players Championship four of the humblest ballplayers on tour. Who really thinks this course doesn't have something special in store for Mike Morley and Dave Eichelberger, who shot 68 this morning? Or for Jim Dent and Barry Jaeckel, who had 69s.
Sawgrass has such mortals for brunch. And doesn't even bother it pick its teeth. All four have played in the four previous Sadomasochist Opens here.Their collective record: 13 missed cuts, one voluntary withdrawal, one tie for 65th place and one tie for 50th. Best finish: Morley's 304 total.
Yes, it's going to be fun charting what happens to these "leaders."
On a day when the greens were soft and the rough low, the field of 144 top golfers averaged 75.6 strokes. In the richest tournament on earth, more players failed to break 80 (20), than were able to break par (13). Among those lucky 13, the only name players were Johnny Miller, Gil Morgan and Tom Purtzer at modest 71. n
Gents like Tom Watson and Ray Floyd, at 72, or Lee Trevino and Bruce Lietzke, at 73, considered themselves well off.
Tom Kite, who was eligible for a $100,000 bonus here because of his Inverrary win two weeks ago, withdrew before the start of the round because of food poisoning.
Of the five TPCs held here, this was the second worst-scoring opening round. If history holds, nobody will have a four-round total under par. True, four players broke 70 today. But in 1977, eight guys were in the 60s after one round and nobody matched par for the whole event. In 1979, 17 players were in the 60s and only one broke par.
Even Jack Nicklaus, who shot 75, cried "uncle."
"What would we have shot if the course hadn't been set up easy?" he said, looking at such scores as: Lon Hinkle 86, Mike Reid 81, J. C. Snead 80, Gary Player 79, Fuzzy Zoeller 79, Lanny Wadkins 79, Andy Bean 78 and Seve Ballesteros 77. "I wish somebody would change the date of this tournament to six weeks from now when these fast-moving cold fronts have dissipated. This course under these conditions tests skills that nobody possesses.
"Jacksonville is a nice town," added Nicklaus. "It has lots of nice weather. Why don't we try playing in some of it? This tournament is never going to get to the stature Deane Beman wants for it as long as it's played in March. The fair ways aren't even green yet . . ."
"All these guys want to shoot 16 under and go home smiling," said Beman.
"I spent most of my life in North Dakota," said the 34-year-old Morley, "and there aren't many days this nice in North Dakota.
"My scores range from 68 to 80 on this course, usually back to back," added Morley, who sank the longest trap shot of his life (90 feet). "Sawgrass is seldom good to me. When I gobeyed the first hole, I thought, 'Oh, no, another one of those Sawgrass day.'"
I'm going to buy the entire field staff a drink," said Jaeckel. "They took pity on us. Even so, this was a survival round. We started in rain and cold. It looked like the heavens would open any minute. Then the sun broke through, but the winds came with it.
"Frankly, I was outstanding. I'm trying to set a personal mark here: make the cut. Every year, I've spent the weekend watching NCAA basketball games."
The perverse Eichelberger, who grew up in Kansas and Oklahoma, said "Gee, it was almost an ideal day, kinda calm. All I know is that when I stand on the tee and the wind's blowin' in my face, I just naturally hit it low." On the 14th, his drive into the wind was measured at 297 yards. "That one didn't get six feet off the ground," he beamed."These fairways may not be pretty, but they sure do roll."