POTOMAC -- Various species of the eagle face extinction if protective measures aren't adhered to. But there's no need to worry about the golf variety if play in the Kemper Open yesterday was any indication.
Ten, count 'em 10, eagles showed up on the cards of the 156 players and these served only as appetizers. No fewer than 72 sub-par rounds went into the books as the field left the impression Avenel's once-intimidating 6,904 yards was little more than a pitch-and-putt course.
"That's the way things are on the tour these days," said Hal Sutton, one of five guys a single shot behind leaders Bob Gilder and Scott Gump, who carded 65s. "There's so much good play these days, it's hard to get noticed. I've had two rounds over par in my last 23 rounds and I'm lost in the pack."
Worse. Imagine if the assault on the par-71 layout continues today and you're a guy shooting two rounds matching the card. You would be asked to vacate your locker because par wouldn't make the cut, which comes at the top 70 scores and ties.
"The pace of play was good, that helped a lot," said Sutton. "No matter how hot it gets, you're OK if you keep moving. And there were enough breezes out there to cool you off."
Gilder didn't have to worry about heat as he was the very first man off tee No. 1 at 7:15 in the morning. He was in with seven birdies in tow shortly after 11, expressing delight with how "wet" the course was.
Gump, who was a couple of threesomes behind Gilder, matched his 65 with the shot of the day. It had eyes, the 114-yard wedge shot, the eyes of an eagle. After missing the cut in four of his last five tournament appearances, Scott feels he has his problem figured out: "It's simple and boring, but you have to make putts out there."
Either that or show up with a game similar to Greg Norman's. The Shark was among a group of seven at 67 and spoke of "feeling like my old self" as the field sighed a collective oh-oh.
"I did some things out there today I haven't done in a while," Norman said. "I attacked a couple of flags, my old style. My feel was there putting and I made a lot of six-footers, which has always been my forte.
"When you think about it, there's no real negatives to heat. The ball goes farther when it's hot and with the soft greens you can really take a shot at spinning the ball up there close."
Norman did some scrambling to save pars, but he didn't see it that way. He's an aggressive player whose efforts sometimes go astray, setting up recovery shots. He loves trying to right occasional wrongs, calling them "fun shots, the kind you have to make."
Sutton, despite enjoying the riches of the PGA Tour, which sees him rapidly approaching $3.5 million in career earnings, said it would be fine with him if a touch of the good old days returned. "While this is the easiest time to make a living on tour by far, it's much tougher to stand out," he lamented.
"Nowadays, with the top 125 [money earners] qualifying each week, we don't have the old Monday qualifiers. Back when only 60 were automatic [qualifiers], guys used to have to worry about making the field on a Monday. Then they had to worry about making the cut on Friday. It was only then you could think about winning a tournament. The whole thing wore you out, but that's when you found out fast who the real champions were going to be.
"Today, you have every player in the field going for it [victory] from the start, because they know they're in next week's tournament. When Jack Nicklaus was building his great record, there were four or five guys who thought they could beat him. Now, every guy in the field thinks they can beat Norman, for instance."
The results are nearly a different winner every week and a constantly growing pool of good, but not great, players. It's an assembly line.
"I'd give more money to the winner," Sutton suggested, "and cut down on the prize money to the guy in 25th place. The money's so good deep down that players see it as a guarantee. Maybe they've become satisfied, setting a goal in the $300,000 yearly range.
"You know, I've never laid eyes on the contract that guaranteed anything out here. You had to earn what you got. I think if they went back to, say, 80 qualifiers instead of the 125, there would be a big difference in what you see today. Don't make it so easy for guys to find their comfort zone and you'd find out who the real players are."
Meanwhile, enjoy the weekly calvary charge where par golf may not make the cut and the eventual tournament winner is a guy who probably had to share a courtesy car earlier in the week.