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1998 Mercedes Championship
Friday Notes
by Martin Olivera
 
"El Niño" Leads At 18 (Holes) Under (Water)

The big story today was the weather. "El Niño" showed his teeth and when wet conditions made the course unplayable, play was suspended until tomorrow morning at 8, with the leader, John Cook (10-under), putting for birdie from 20 feet on the 8th green. Only four of the thirty players in the field were able to complete the second round.

The first hint of what later became a reality happened at 10:22 AM, when play was suspended for the first time. The leaders hadn't even teed off yet. Play was resumed at 12:45 PM, after a 2-hour and 23 minute delay. But at 2:53 PM the drizzle became a steady rain and play was then suspended until tomorrow.

On TOUR, Saturday is called "moving day". It's the day when players, after making the 36-hole cut, try to position themselves to try to win the tournament. Well, at La Costa there is no 36-hole cut. All 30 players starting the tournament on Thursday will finish in the money on Sunday, barring a catastrophe, of course. So in this tournament there are two moving days: Friday and Saturday. And this year, due to the rain delay, we almost have both days combined into one.

After shaking the first round of the first tournament of the year jitters, players went out today to try to move up the leaderboard. Not surprisingly, the best incomplete round of the day so far was by Tiger Woods. "I was nervous yesterday", he said, and he must have been, to four-putt the second green from 15 feet and make a double bogey 7. But today was another day. "I just wanted to be in the same position I was here last year (7-under)", he said. And he may well be. His 6-under through 14 holes is the best of the day, although others have the chance to beat it. Phil Mickelson is in second place at 8-under (4-under through 8 for the day), and Stewart Cink is at 5-under tied for 5th (5-under through 12 holes for the day). Others "in the move" include Frank Nobilo, quietly at 7-under, 2-under for the day through 8 holes, and David Duval at 6-under, 2-under for the day also through 8 holes. Duval had an interesting round yesterday, hitting only 7 greens in regulation (ranked last), but making 6 birdies (3 of them on par-3 holes) and averaging 1.167 putts (ranked first). And then there is the leader, John Cook, who is solidly at 3-under for the day with lots of golf left.

"It was green light all day", Cook said, "with soft greens conditions and getting our hands on the ball we can shoot at every pin". However, he said he likes dry hard-green conditions. Cook missed only two greens in 25 holes, and the ones he missed (13th yesterday and 7th today) he chipped in for birdie. "My short game is good", he admitted, "but nowhere near what some guys can do out here. I can't take a full swing with a wedge and hit the ball 10 feet, like Phil (Mickelson) does". His short game may not be flashy, but it works when it counts (remember those chip-ins at the 1992 Hope to beat Gene Sauers in a playoff?).

Tiger Woods had a day in which momentum kept building. He birdied #2 (2 putts from 40 feet), #4 (from 2 feet), eagled #9 (driver, 3 iron from 255 yards, 4-foot putt). "I hit driver and 4-iron to lay up", Cook said of yesterday's 9th hole, when he played with Woods, "and still had 80 yards in. I had fun watching him play". Woods then birdied #10 (12 feet, uphill), and #12 (driver, 3 wood left, pitch to 8 feet). "But what kept my momentum going was the par putt I made on #7 from 8 feet", he said. With rainy and windy conditions the course will play really long this weekend. It will favor Tiger Woods, and he knows it.

The forecast is not very promising. Tomorrow ending up at the top of the leaderboard will be part of the strategy. If "El Niño" got a hold of a TOUR card and is here to stay, we may end up with a shorter tournament. 1997 deja vu. And Woods knows it.

NOTES

  • Eagle Count: 3 in the first round, by Davis Love III (#12), Phil Mickelson (#12) and David Toms (holed a wedge on #17). The count, so far, is 4 for the second round: Greg Norman holed his second shot on the 412-yard par-4 first hole, and Stewart Cink, Ernie Els and Tiger Woods made 3 on the par-5 9th hole.

  • Yesterday: Cink, Els and McCarron birdied all 4 par-5 holes. Duval and Price birdied 3 out of 4 par-3 holes. Price also had the best back-nine score with a 31 (5-under). Billy Ray Brown and Scott Hoch hit every fairway.

  • The Course: After one round, the scoring average was 70.60. The toughest hole was #5 (446 yards, 4.30 average), and the easiest was #12 (541 yards, 4.53 average).