Our intrepid on-course blogger thinks the weather will play a big role in how Friday's second round unfolds at Hazeltine. (Photo: Edward M. Pio Roda, PGA.com)
Auclair's Live Blog: Friday Reports from Hazeltine
Once again, PGA.com's T.J. Auclair has drawn the tough assignment. We're sending him out on the course all four days of the 91st PGA Championship to tell us what he sees, hears and thinks at Hazeltine National. We know, it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it. Say "thank you," T.J.
Got a question or a comment for T.J.? Send him an email out on the course at email@example.com.
5:40 PM CDT -- Sorry, folks, but that's all for today on the blog. I know Tiger still has several holes remaining, but it turns out my iPhone doesn't care about Tigermania after 10-plus hours of blogging and a couple of quick 20-minute charges.
It's about to die any second now, so it's time to leave the 14th hole and start hoofing it back to the media center.
Thanks for taking the time to read the blog today and all the great emails. It was so much fun, we'll try it again tomorrow.
Until then, I've got to go and apply the aloe. Goodnight.
Editor's Note: Oh great, now you're gonna try and expense a new battery for your iPhone? Fat chance on that, even if this live blog thingy has taken on a life of its own. And what's this I see about "we'll try it again tomorrow?" If you want a paycheck next week, buster, you darn well better be on the course bright and early Saturday blogging your little fingers off. And remember to charge your phone tonight. Now, get back to your real job and write some stories.
5:15 PM CDT -- From Tom Heisler in Owatonna, Minn.:
"T.J., What can you tell us about Club Professional Grant Sturgeon, he looks to have the third best score right now by an American!"
Tom, since I'm on the course an away from a computer, I can't see exactly what it is Grant's doing. However, I can tell you what I know about the Assistant Professional from Oakmont. Pa.
It's amazing that he's even here this week. At the PGA Professional National Championship a little over a month ago in New Mexico, Grant was looking for early flights home after an opening round of 78.
He free-wheeled it in the second round to the tune of a tournament-best 65 on the Santa Ana course in an incredible round that included a hole-in-one and a birdie on his last hole to make the cut on the number.
From there, Grant fashioned a top-10 finish over the final two rounds to earn his place at Hazeltine. It was a miraculous comeback story.
After what I witnessed in New Mexico, I can't say I'm surprised to hear Grant is making some noise here.
Editor's Note: A little more on Grant: He's 31 years old, was born in Cave City, Ky., has made four career aces -- the first coming at age 11 while competing for his high school team in his first-ever competitive match -- is a huge Louisville Cardinal fan and, like yours truly, is "folliclely challenged." Check out his scorecard and player profile.
5 PM CDT -- Tiger had a rare three-putt bogey to drop a shot at No. 10 and fall into a share of the lead with Harrington at 5 under.
He's clearly frustrated these last couple of holes and it carried over to the long par-5 11th hole, where he missed his drive way right and was forced to punch out. After a long third shot, he still managed to make a sensational two-putt par. That, along with a bogey by Harrington, and Tiger has his one-shot advantage again.
4:31 PM CDT -- I just spent a couple minutes chatting with PGA Professional Ryan Benzel while waiting for Tiger behind the ninth green.
It was a tough PGA for Ryan, who is currently at the bottom of the leaderboard, but he was still very positive and said he was out to watch Tiger play the ninth hole to see if he could learn something.
Ryan is headed home to Washington state and has his Section championship on Tuesday.
Among other things, we also talked about the turf war going on between the Met-Life and Goodyear blimps. Both were hovering above, something I've never seen before.
Ryan also told me that while it is windy out here, the wind was at least consistent throughout the round, which he said was important.
Moments later Tiger was upset about a lost birdie opportunity. Harrington made his birdie to pull within a shot of Tiger at 5 under.
Great theater as we make the turn to the back nine.
3:45 PM CDT -- From Ron on East Rush Lake in Minnesota:
"I saw on the highlights last night a guy watching one of the greens from a kayak. Is he security or what? Would watching a major from a kayak be another first in your blogging career?"
Ron, you saw right. That's gone on a couple of times this week just to the right of the 16th green. I saw it on Thursday, but was down there so early today that I don't think the kayakers were awake yet.
I don't think it's security. I think it's simply a case of some super ambitious fans looking for one heck of a workout. They deserve to take in some free golf just for paddling out there! That lake is huge!
As for a blogging first, I suppose it would be. It would actually be really cool to blog from a canoe out there. I'd need someone to paddle though. I need my hands free to blog.
On an entirely different note, I'm getting a kick out of what I'm hearing over here. I'm leaning against the structure for the giant leaderboard to the left and just short of the ninth green. About once every 30 seconds or so a spectator runs over to tell the scorer's that the scores are wrong. Most of the fans that ask don't realize that a player's posted score is in relation to par -- not what he actually made on the hole.
It's the small things in life that amuse me.
3:15 PM CDT -- OK, folks. After a break to knock out some other writing, I'm finally back out on the course and trying to track down Tiger, Paddy and Beemer.
For th time being, I'm hanging out behind the ninth green while I wait for the supergroup to make the turn.
I wasn't gone that long, but I really can't say enough about how the conditions have worsened out here. The weather itself is gorgeous, but not for golf on a major championship set up.
There isn't a cloud in the sky, but it's incredibly hot and humid.
While that huge gust of wind we get every 30 seconds or so feels refreshing, the players must hate it because of the indecision it causes with club selection.
This afternoon is going to be a test to simply hang around par. Anything better than that and you've had yourself an amazing round of golf.
Editor's Note: Just heard that J.B. Holmes has withdrawn because of a hand injury. He entered the second round 4 over par, then bogeyed three of his first four holes on Friday. That probably hurt as much as his hand.
2:45 PM CDT -- I'm going to answer a few emails and then I need to take a little break so I can track down Phil Mickelson for a story.
Gosh, a lot of you are more excited about the beverage cart situation on the course than the actual golf.
From Ron Markusson in parts unknown:
Anymore beverage cart sightings?
From Gary in Winnipeg, Canada:
Are the conditions favoring non-U.S. players? If you do the math, 87/156 (56 percent) of the players are from the U.S.; 40/67 (67 percent) of the players making the cut are from the U.S.; 3/10 (30 percent) of the top 10 are from the U.S. Is the course (style/length) or conditions (wind) favoring the non-U.S. players? Also, not only should you be able to claim the sun screen as an expense for being assigned such a dangerous job (sun burn hurts), but I think a couple of beverages from the roaming cart to remain hydrated should be covered too.
Well guys, yes, I have seen the beverage carts popping up in various locations out here. Pretty cool, right?
Gary -- let me guess. You were a janitor at MIT and there was this math equation on a blackboard that nobody could figure out, but you did ... and your best friend is Ben Affleck, right? You're really Matt Damon from Good Will Hunting, aren't you? Nice work with the math.
All I can say is this: Eight of the top 20 players right now are Americans, highlighted by leader Tiger Woods and U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover, who is tied for second. I wouldn't say the windy conditions or the style of the course are more favorable for non-U.S. players. Rich Beem won the PGA Championship here in 2002. He's American. And, the late Payne Stewart won a U.S. Open here in 1991. He, too, American.
Regarding the sunscreen and the beverages, I couldn't agree with you more, but I'm not going to push my luck!
Editor's Note: Not only had there better not be any receipts for sun screen on your expense report, you're in big trouble, Mr. Bloggeroni, if I see a receipt for "adult beverages" written in red lipstick.
From our good friend Cassandra Hutchinson in Oak Park, Ill.:
Good Afternoon TJ -- My question has more to do with the players and the balls that they hit on the practice range. I can't imagine that the players would not be using the same type of balls that they will play with during the tournament, sooooo, does the Tour provide a supply of practice balls for the players? If so, how does that process work when collecting the balls off the range and getting them back to the players? Thanks for the effort to find out.
Good question, Cassandra. And, by the way, I have a question for you: any relation to singer/songwriter Eric Hutchinson? Two buddies of mine back home -– Bryce and Brady –- discovered him for me a couple months back and I'm diggin' his tunes.
But back to your question ... The PGA of America, which conducts the PGA Championship (not the PGA Tour, they're two separate entities), typically supplies range balls of the specific make and model each player uses. You're right, players aren't going to practice with something other than what they play. The process of collecting balls off the range? As you can imagine, it's a tedious one. Tiger, naturally, wants to hit his Nike balls and Padraig Harrington wants to hit his Titleist balls.
It's also not uncommon for a player to end his practice session before starting his round by hitting a dozen brand new golf balls. I saw Mike Weir do this yesterday with a dozen Pro V1s. I guess it all has to do with feel.
Finally, there's this loaded email from angry Jorge Esguerra in parts unknown. I've condensed it because it was long –- don't be mad, Jorge!:
TJ: This has bothered me for years and I would like to hear your side of the story thanks to your experience: the fans have expectations on how good the players are. They play golf for a living, they get paid well, they hit over a 1,000 balls a day for practice and yet they go to tournaments and championships and are 4-5-6-8 over? How is that? If you did golf for a living, would you stink that much? In your current job, if you do not perform you get fired, why don't they get fired? If I could hit 1,000 balls a day and have trainers and all the rest of the people that manage the pros' everyday lives, I guarantee I would be consistently in the top 10, or 5, or be very close fighting for first-place the majority of the time ... What I'm saying is that I expect more from the pros that do this for a living and not to stink as much as Adam Scott at 17 over (I don't even play that bad), or Anthony Kim at 3 over, who is unable to get things done. Is he really a pro that hits balls all day long for a living? Shouldn't he be better at his job? Or Angel Cabrera at 4 over, what a disappointment! Is this the guy that won the Masters? He just got lucky that day he wore the green jacket? Or what about Zack Johnson? J.B. Holmes? Even Phil Michelson? I say that Tiger Woods is good, really good, but the reason he is always on the top is because the rest stink so much and do not really give a challenge! My take on the deal is to not allow them to play when they consistently do that bad, let them take a "Leave of Absence" until they figure it out.
Jorge, that's harsh man. It also sounds like you're pitching an idea for a new reality show! That said, I couldn't possibly disagree with you more.
Golf is arguably the most difficult sport in the world. The margin between a perfectly struck shot and a complete shank is a matter of millimeters -– believe me, I know.
Not to mention, a major championship provides the most incredible test of golf in the world and if you're struggling, the tournament is going to be demoralizing, like it's been for Scott. You make it sound like these guys actually have to put effort into posting big scores, when in reality, they're playing their tails off not to make a big number.
No offense, my man, but I think you need to give these guys a little more credit. And, keep in mind, if they don't play well they don't get paid. They must be doing something right if they're playing week in and week out.
Editor's Note: The next time you include in this or any other blog an email question as asinine as this one, you're going to find yourself working for someone like Jorge. "Another typo? What's the matter with you, Auclair? And you put a comma where? Why aren't you perfect? Get out of my sight, you scum."
12:50 PM CDT -- Vijay Singh is walking up to No. 8 right now and the two-time PGA champion is enjoying a fine round. At 1 under for the day, Veej has put himself just one off the lead at 4 under for the tournament.
With a pretty up and down from the rough left of the green on No. 8, it looks like Singh is in great shape to post one of the best scores from the morning wave.
12:20 PM CDT -- I just saw a beautiful tee shot by 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan at No. 8. The ball danced right by the hole, missing the cup by about a foot. Ryo could use the birdie too; he's 5 over.
Ryo's playing partner Adam Scott continues to struggle mightily. The Aussie was 14 over when he began No. 8. He hit his tee shot in the pond and with a triple-bogey 6, Scott left the hole at 17 over for the championship.
Ryo proceeded to dust up his birdie and moved to 4 under, while the third member of the threesome -- Anthony Kim -- cleaned up for par to remain at 4 over.
Clearly the early starters aren't going low like the guys who went off early on Thursday. They've experienced the tougher conditions, much of which has to do with the wind. It's the luck of the draw, right?
At this rate I wouldn't count on low scores this afternoon either.
12:05 PM CDT -- I just made it out to the gorgeous par-3 eighth hole, which is 178 yards over water. Charles Howell III, Darren Clarke and PGA Professional Ryan Benzel are approaching the green and -- as the scores show -- are struggling.
As they play this par 3, Howell is 1 over for the day and 6 over for the tournament; Clarke is 3 over for the day and 9 over for the tournament; Benzel is -- gulp! -- 10 over for the day and 19 over for the tournament.
It's got to be extremely difficult keeping your mind on the task at hand when you're struggling as much as these guys are. There's just no let-up on a major championship course ...
... It's another bogey for poor Benzel, who's now 20 over par.
11:40 AM CDT -- My apologies for the brief break. I had to run back to the media center to re-lather on more sun screen. Man, that sun is baking on Hazeltine right now! I guess that roaming beverage cart wasn't such a bad idea.
Setting out onto the front nine now.
Before I go, here are a couple more emails.
From David Gill in Ireland:
"Hi from a rain-soaked Ireland. Coverage starts here in about an hours time. My question is about Padraig Harrington. Is Padraig getting much recognition in the shadow of Tiger and how have the American crowds taken to him? Have a nice day."
David, the American crowds love Paddy. They recognize his accomplishments and shower him with the admiration he deserves. He's certainly not in Tiger's shadow. There were plenty of Paddy supporters out there yesterday and I fully expect I'll see the same this afternoon.
From Greg in Virginia:
"TJ -- Is the wind a more significant factor today and which holes are most affected. Additionally, is the course drying out faster with the wind and as a result are the greens and fairways running faster today? Thank you."
Greg, so far I've spent my morning on the back nine. From there, the wind is having a huge impact on the 11th hole, that beastly 605-yard par 5. I was there for a while this morning and didn't see anyone come within a sniff of the green in two.
The fairways don't appear to be rolling out as much as you'd expect with the sun shining, but that probably has to do with the humidity, too.
As mentioned in an earlier post, the greens are said to be running at a 13 on the Stimp meter. That's lightening quick.
Finally, a lot of people are asking about the John Daly withdrawal. He pulled out after Thursday's first round citing a recurring back injury.
Editor's Note: I'd better not see any charges for sun screen on your expense report.
11:10 AM CDT -- Dan Armfield checking in from Nashville, Tenn.:
Are the greens drying out? What's the stimp reading today?
Dan, the greens are drying out. Officially, they're calling the Stimp reading "Championship Speed." Unofficially, if you're like me, you're probably wondering what the heck that means. Well, I looked into that, too. According to the course info packet, the Stimp reading is 13 feet. So, they're slick. And, with the sun baking them out and the wind blowing hard at times, I wouldn't be surprised if they're already faster than the Stimp meter reading.
10:15 AM CDT -- Email from David Spencer in Calgary, Canada:
"Good morning T.J. Any sense of how the pros generally feel about the Club Professionals? Do they tolerate them but hope they are out of the way by the weekend (the "pro-am attitude") or do they think, as I do, that inclusion of the CPs is a tremendous feature of the PGA and these guys deserve applause and congratulations just for participating."
Excellent question, David. I certainly can't speak for the regular touring pros, but I sense that they most certainly appreciate the efforts of the 20 club professionals here this week.
Let's face it -- the club professionals played their way to Hazeltine every bit as much as the regular touring pros. Because of that they're highly respected and deservedly so.
It's not easy cracking the top 20 at the PGA Professional National Championship. I know, because I've been there to cover three of them.
How can you not respect guys who basically walk out of a pro shop, or off a practice range to compete in one of the four biggest tournaments on the planet? It's amazing regardless of what they shoot and they absolutely deserve to be here. It's one of many elements that makes the PGA Championship so special.
-- While I was answering David's email, I watched Justin Leonard drive the 14th green. That would be a 357-yard poke on the short par 4 according to the scorecard. Not bad at all. It should be noted that the tees are up a bit. He two-putted for birdie to get to 1 over.
Moments before that, Mickelson had a 3-footer that did a 360 around the cup and he walked off with a three-putt bogey.
9:30 AM CDT -- Our first email of the day comes from Deena in Lakeville, Minn., who writes:
"TJ! I can't find you! Are you blogging today? Or did you enjoy Minneapolis too much last night and you're getting a late start? ;) I loved reading your blog yesterday ... Not only did it keep me caught up with the Championship, but made my co-workers think that I might be kind of crazy from all of the "LOL-ing" I did throughout the day. :) Keep up the humor and wit and enjoy this beautiful day of golf."
Well, Deena, I did have a great time in Minneapolis last night. I hit up the media hospitality room at our hotel for about an hour and then I was back to the room around 10 and snoozing by 10:15, so I could wake up extra early to do this for you all over again today.
My editor on the other hand ... maybe he had a better time out than me last night. Rest assured the blog is alive and well. I know he's working on it. Perhaps he's just bitter about me getting the awesome assignment this week. Then again, not sure what his problem is -- he's the one who handed down the assignments!
My only other explanation would be that he's busy sifting through my iNfamous iPhone typos.
Is that what it is, JB? Feel free to weigh in for our readers!
Editor's Note: Unfortunately, the tardiness in getting your slacker piece -- I mean, blog -- posted this morning was due not to an over-the-top good time in Minneapolis last night (Suggestion: Never eat Mexican food in Minnesota), but was the result of a hung-over computer. Seems all the editing I have to do to your blog entries has caused my keyboard to revolt and melt. But we're fine now, so you can go back your, ahem, work.
9:10 AM CDT -- The massive gallery behind the 10th green wasn't there on accident. It was awaiting the arrival of three former PGA Champions -- Phil Mickelson, Paul Azinger and David Toms.
As the trio made its way to the green, there were several shouts of "Way to get it done at the Ryder Cup, Zinger!" and also plenty of "Go Phil!" chants.
No one will soon forget the magnificent job Captain Azinger did at Valhalla last fall to secure the first U.S. Ryder Cup victory since 1999.
As it is today, Zinger (3 over) and Mickelson (2 over) have some work ahead. Mickelson just missed a golden scoring opportunity at the par-5 11th. With not much more than 80 yards left to the pin, Lefty took an aggressive line at the flag. The ball danced near the cup before sucking back off the front of the green. He had to settle for a hard-earned par when he could easily have picked up a birdie.
As for Toms, the 2001 PGA Champ is holding strong at 3 under.
9:40 AM CDT -- I've had the good fortune of covering nearly 60 major golf championships in my 29 years of life.
I thought I had seen it all until just now. There is actually a beverage-cart girl doing her thing behind the 15th tee box!
She's got a variety of refreshing beverages, including the adult kind, which seems strange since it's about 9:30 in the morning here. It must be a safety precaution as it heats up.
Speaking of heating up, I'm hanging out behind the 14th green right now and just saw that Ian Poulter is 1 under and making his way up to the green.
I guess his golf ball is taking him more seriously today since he left the goofy clothes at home.
Of course, right on cue after I typed that last paragraph, Poulter made an incredible up and down from the rough just left of the pin to remain 1 under. Great stuff.
And one last thing about his clothes -- I'm just playing around. I actually prefer his goofy threads. They bring some character, fun and personality to the game, which I'm all for.
7:30 AM CDT -- The first round of the 91st PGA Championship is in the books and now it's time to keep the blog rolling into Round 2.
It'll be interesting to see what kinds of scores the boys throw up there today considering the conditions that are expected to wreak havoc on Hazeltine. In fact, all early indications suggest instead of calling this "Round 2," we can call it, "Havoc at Hazeltine."
But, we won't call it that. This is golf, not a Vince McMahon WWE production.
So, about those conditions ... Expecting plenty of sunshine with temperatures in the low 90s, but the problem is there will be abundant howling winds gusting around 20 mph this afternoon. If that proves to be the case, we can anticipate some super-slow rounds and much higher scores than the first round. Everything is magnified in a major and each stroke is priceless, so guys aren't going to hit until they're good and ready.
I had a lot of fun during Round 1 and look forward to more of the same today. Excuse me for a few minutes while I go soak in a tub of sun screen. I'll be out on the course shortly, so be sure to keep it on this page all day and refresh often.
Questions, comments, jokes? Pass them along and I'll try my best not to laugh in the middle of Tiger's swing. The email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sit back, relax and enjoy the blog. I know I will.
8:01 AM CDT -- My first stop this morning is the 10th tee. Among the early guys starting out on the 10th this morning are Vijay Singh, Davis Love III, Geoff Ogilvy, Anthony Kim, Ryo Ishikawa, Ernie Els, Steve Stricker, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink, Angel Cabrera and... Sheesh! As you can tell, it's a star-studded nine to start out on.
I'm going to bounce around to check these guys out.
The wind doesn't seem too bad just yet. I'm thinking if any serious scoring is going to be done today, it's going to have to come out of the morning wave, just like on Thursday, when the wind picked up significantly as the day wore on.
8:45 AM CDT -- Ian Poulter must mean business today. With a conservative outfit of a white striped shirt with black slacks and a red visor, Poulter has the distinct look of a professional golfer as opposed to that of a professional 70s-theme part crasher.
Then again, at even par to start the second round, Poulter is very much in the mix here.
- Cabrera has got to be one of the fastest players out here. No sooner did the starter finish announcing his name could you hear the noise of club smashing ball down the center of the fairway. Could that be the reason he was 4 over in Round 1? Probably not. And, he's actually 3 over now after a great birdie on No. 10 thanks to stuffing his approach to within 6 feet. Glover and Cink each made routine pars.
- I'm getting a lot of questions about the severity of the rough.
Since I've been walking through it inside the ropes all week, I'd have to say it's not as penal as you might think. Don't get me wrong, players certainly don't want to be in the stuff, but they're not going to have a terribly difficult time getting out of it -- except for around the greens. Over there it's brutal.
- Looking for a spot to take in the action if you're coming to Hazeltine this weekend? No. 10 would be perfect. The area around the green has filled in tremendously already. You look into the crowd and can't even see a blade of grass. Furthermore, No. 16 is right behind 10 green. So far, the relatively short par-4 16th is my favorite hole on the course. Very scenic.