In an attempt to go out in the ornery, inconsiderate style that always has befitted her, Sawgrass kneed the Tournament Players Championship in the stomach again today.
The final round of golf's richest event was postponed until Monday by rain, wind, thunderstorms and tornado warnings. No worse blow can befall a golf event than cancellation of a Sunday round that is scheduled for a two-hour national network TV ratings. What it needs least is a final-round washout. So naturally, Sawgrass lashed the TPC with an excellent imitation of a one-day hurricane.
Monday's final round, with rabbit Barry Jaeckel, at five-under-par 211, leading John Mahaffey, Jim Simons and Dan Halldorson by three shots, will begin in the morning and should end around 3 p.m. It will be shown on a one-hour tape-delay on CBS from 4 to 5 p.m. That telecast, however, has no hope of drawing a fraction of the viewership that Sunday's final promised.
In fact, Monday's forecast promises no piece of cake: colder, winds higher than either Thursday or Friday, when gusts reached the high 40s, and perhaps even rain lingering into the morning with tee times scheduled to start at 9 a.m.
Perhaps the only people happy with the weather are the handful of big-name proven players, like Lee Trevino and Bruce Lietzke at 216 and Jack Nicklaus at 217, who keeps saying that the worse the conditions, the better their chances of coming from far behind against a shaky, inexperienced group of leaders.
In its five years at Sawgrass, the TPC has endured every sort of inclement inconvenience at this seaside links layout that has become a legend for its bad manners. A year ago, the tour thought it had seen the last of the witch of Sawgrass with the new $4 million Tournament Players Club due to host the event. Sawgrass knew better. Greens at the new club died or were washed out. For a year, the weather was either too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. So, the TPC, grudgingly, had to come back to this hag of a course.
All Sawgrass needed to be the worst spectator eyesore imaginable was a few more homely under-construction condominiums beside the course, a case of severe fairway death and a rash of arsonists in the vicinity. So, that's what this TPC got.
Out-of-control brush fires, which have destroyed millions of dollars of timber, have burned on the horizon here all week. Each morning, the sooty smoke has been so heavy that eyes have watered and Sawgrass has smelled like a barbecue pit. In recent days, two tour officials have had to hie to the roofs of their homes with hoses to douse the buildings with water in case winds should waft sparks onto their property and burn their houses to the ground.
All this TPC needed as a special added attraction was a mass case of food poisoning or severe intestinal virus (nobody can say which for sure) to run through half the field. But that's what happened. Some say it's a bug. Some say it happened when most of the better-known players on the tour had a seafood dinner together with their families on the eve of the tournament.
Whatever the cause, Tom Kite was so sick by Thursday that he withdrew, despite shooting a 66 in the pro-am and having the added inducement of a $100,000 prize if he won here as part of the Florida bonus gimmick. Others, like Andy Bean and George Burns, withdrew. Nicklaus and many others have either been sick themselves or have had their members of their families become ill.
Every sort of curse has struck the TPC. This was to be the grand showcase opening of a new electronic, course-wide, message-style scoreboard system that would give spectators huge amounts of biographical and statistical information about the players in the group they were watching.
Unfortunately, nobody realized that the new boards failed to let the players know who was leading the tournament. All week, players have come off the course perplexed at having no idea where they stood. "Where am I?" Jaeckel asked for two straight days, not knowing for she he was leading.
"The new boards are good for the fans," said Trevino, "but useless for us."
Since the new system is scheduled for every future tour event, it's no small issue.
Jaeckel may be a beneficiary of both the massive illness and the new scoreboards. He wasn't a good enough player to be invited to what may have been the "Special of the day: poison" dinner that has turned much of the cream in the field sour. And he hasn't been distracted by scoreboard watching because nobody can make head or tail of the new boards at first glance.
Pros are divided on one central topic here: which do they hate more -- Sawgrass or the new Players Club? Of Sawgrass, David Graham said, "The day we leave, they ought to bulldoze this golf course into the Atlantic Ocean and build some nice houses here." Police have arrested several suspects in the Sawgrass arson cases; as yet, none have been tour golfers.
Now, if the tornados pass, the thunderstorms stop, the wind stays below gale force, the temperature doesn't drop below freezing and all the leaders don't withdraw because of illness, the TPC finally will have its last Sawgrass champion Monday.
That is, if anybody can figure out the new scoreboards and decide who has won.