September 21, 2009

Scuba Gear Not Included

Whoever wins the lucrative Tour Championship is going to have to overcome soggy conditions at East Lake Golf Club

This year's Tour Championship will look similar to the second round in 2007, when Tiger Woods and others had to contend with heavy rain.

This year's Tour Championship will look similar to the second round in 2007, when Tiger Woods and others had to contend with heavy rain.

ATLANTA -- What is the color of water? Green, blue -- something like that? Judging from the pond on the right side of the 9th fairway at East Lake Golf Club, it's brown ... deep, dark, milk-chocolaty brown, a shade caused by an unrelenting run-off from the torrential rains that have soaked the metropolitan area.

So here we are at the Tour Championship, which starts Thursday, by which time it's supposed to be raining again. The top 30 players in the FedEx Cup playoffs are here, trying to stay dry and attempting to divide the $7.5 million in prize money and $35 million in bonuses on a course that may seem like playing inside a washing machine.

Zach Johnson said he's ready.

"I've got one pair of rain pants right now and I think I might have to get some more," he said.

Meanwhile, the East Lake in East Lake Golf Club dominates the layout, basically dividing the front and back nines of the 7,304-yard course. On Tuesday, the driving range was closed until just before noon and the bunkers were reworked for the fourth time in a week. A SubAir air draining system under the greens that was in place for the first FedEx Cup finale at East Lake in 2007 is expected to help out.

That tournament was a lot different. Because of a 100-year drought, the greens were actually sort of browned-out. And now, the storms of the last week have brought on what's being called a 100-year rainfall, causing widespread destruction and misery, at least seven deaths, washing out roads, flooding homes, downing trees and felling power lines.

A golf tournament, even an important one like the Tour Championship, doesn't seem so important when it's viewed against such a devastating backdrop. But, weather permitting, it will go on as planned.

Padraig Harrington said he wasn't worried about the condition of East Lake because of the skills of the grounds crew. He's optimistic that the course will show well once the tournament starts.

"We've seen this happen so many times on tour, where a golf course gets flooded out in the practice rounds ... and the staff come out and ... get everything looking like it never happened," he said.

East Lake is the home course of Stewart Cink, who pointed out that there are no creeks to overflow and affect play. He said the fairways are going to be, well, soft during the tournament.

"It's not going to be a damage-type flooding situation if it rains here," said Cink. "It's just going to be a soggy mess. And they'll have to re-do the bunkers. I think that's the biggest thing for the staff. The greens . . . they're probably the best greens of the year, they're fabulous Bermuda greens, so that won't be affected."

Maybe, and the hope around here is clearly that the series of rainstorms that have punished the area are coming to a close. But then if you looked at Tuesday's front page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, there was this headline: "Is relief in sight? (Don't hold your breath)."

The Tour Championship is the last of four FedEx Cup playoff events. Tiger Woods is the points leader coming in, with Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Johnson and Heath Slocum filling out the top five. The way the points are awarded, anyone in the top five is assured of winning the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus by winning the tournament, with an additional $1.35 million in first-place prize money for the champion.

Woods, who was on the sideline Monday night in Miami to watch the Indianapolis Colts play the Miami Dolphins, has the last tee time of the day for Thursday's first round -- 2:05 p.m. EDT, paired with Stricker.