Early riser Azinger able to avoid TPC's winds of change

March 31, 1991|By Tom Shatel | Tom Shatel,Dallas Morning News

PONTE VEDRA, Fla. -- D.A. Weibring stood on the sixth tee, and he liked what he saw: He was three shots behind the second-round leader, Paul Azinger, with four holes to go. And then the wind popped back up and all of that changed.

"The wind was blowing into us," said Weibring of Plano, Texas. "We couldn't stand up, and we couldn't see because dust and sand were blowing into our eyes."

With the winds gusting between 10-40 mph, without warning, Weibring was at his judgment's mercy. He chose a driver over a one-iron, "overhit" the drive to the left and into a water hazard and wound up with double-bogey six. So after being seven-under par with eight holes to play, Weibring (who started on the backside) later finished at three-under par 141 six shots behind Azinger, the leader of The Players Championship at nine-under 135 at a four-under-par 68.

And Weibring was one of the lucky ones.

The winds of Sawgrass played with the minds of the world's best golfers Friday.

One of the victims was Dallas' Lanny Wadkins, who made the cut by one shot despite taking a seven on the par-five 16th hole, on which he had an unlikely shank. Much to the amusement of the nearby snickering gallery, Wadkins' third shot, just in front of the green, went dead right into the water hazard.

"I can't remember the last time I shanked," laughed Wadkins, who was attempting to hit the green with a pitching wedge.

The winds began gusting just after noon and conditions grew increasingly worse. So, it was no surprise that the leaders Azinger, followed by Fuzzy Zoeller and Steve Elkington at 136 and Ian Baker-Finch at 137 played their rounds in the morning. Surviving the afternoon gales were Curtis Strange (68), Chris Perry (71) and Billy Andrade (71) at 139 and Bernhard Langer (70) at 140.

"Well, I'm glad I'm off the course," said Elkington, who walked off with a two-under 70 at about 1 p.m. "It's pretty dangerous out there right now. Disaster everywhere, seems like, coming in on the back nine. I'm glad I finished."

If the wind didn't, as Elkington said, "sort out the imposters," it certainly put some first-round leaders in their place. Bob Tway, who shot a seven-under 65 Thursday, was all over the place with a five-over 77 and made the cut by three shots. Bob Eastwood (74), Russ Cochran (78) and Peter Persons (75), who all had trailed Tway by one shot, followed suit.

Then there were the Europeans, having to fight the wind while reacquainting themselves with Sawgrass after a collected hiatus from the TPC. Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros just made the cut at even-par 144, while Ian Woosnam was six shots back with Weibring. Jose Maria Olazabal, the No. 2-ranked player on the SONY world rankings, left his first TPC with a 148.

Leave it to two Australians Elkington and Baker-Finch to hang tough in the wind. Both gave their Aussie roots credit on a day when the various facets of stadium golf mounds, waterways and trees made gauging the wind from the tees almost impossible.

"Two or three days a week we play in the wind, and the greens are a lot harder in Australia," Baker-Finch said. "So you get used to hitting different sorts of shots, and you have to work it a lot more at home. If the greens were as hard as they were last year, it would be impossible out there."

Indeed, target golf was made tolerable with the switch from bentgrass to a Poa Trivialis that holds good shots in any wind. Why, even course architect Pete Dye who has nothing to do with changing the course now was actually getting praise.

"Everyone knows how controversial this course is," Azinger said. "But I felt like in the past it was the kind of course where you couldn't knock the ball down. Today, I had every opportunity on every hole to knock the ball down, and I did. The course allowed for that and, you know, I think Pete Dye did a better job than we all gave him credit for."

Azinger had to knock down iron shots because he missed five of the first six fairways on the front side and only had one bogey to show for it. His four birdies came on holes 6-9 at the end of his day when the wind was just getting ugly.

"I felt like every shot I picked up was almost like picking up two," Azinger said.

One guy who didn't seem to mind was Zoeller, the carefree veteran who hasn't won since 1986 and is down to 15 events a year now. But if the wind keeps blowing, Fuzzy just might break through.

"It's kind of fun to stand out there and wonder whether you have the right club in your hand or not," Zoeller said. "Kind of a guessing game, and it puts everybody in the same position. It make for the spectators to see some unusual type of golf shots."

The forecast for Saturday and Sunday is rain, wind and more unusual type of golf shots.

dTC "The course this year is more playable, but playable doesn't mean easier," Strange said. "It's supposed to blow the rest of the week so anything can happen."

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