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For Record Scores, All They Need Is Hope

Golf: Short courses, perfect conditions mean Durant's mark of 36 under might not last more than one year.

January 16, 2002|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LA QUINTA — Welcome to the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, where par comes to die. If your idea of riveting golf is to watch the best pros in the game slash and burn and lay to waste four poor, defenseless desert golf courses, then you've come to the right place.

What is the reason for such carnage? Curtis Strange said it's not really a mystery.

"First of all, the courses aren't tough," he said. "And they don't have a lot of length to them. Plus, the greens aren't fast and they don't mess up in the afternoon. Also, there's basically no wind and no weather conditions. And so you get to play courses with not any length, and you'll have guys hitting wedges all day long."

Let's make a mental checklist.

Easy courses: check.

Short courses: check.

Perfect greens: check.

Perfect conditions: check.

Big thing to pick up Sunday: check.

So what's this going to mean for actual scoring, as far as putting goes?

"Pick your number," Dennis Paulson said. "The ball stops six feet from the hole when it hits."

And everybody knows what that means. Mark Calcavecchia calls it a "birdie fest." It's the same every year. There will be more wedges hit into more greens by more players than at any other tournament in the country. An unending loop of short putts will follow.

This always means that the scores are going to be low. Last year, Joe Durant won the Hope with rounds of 65-61-67-66-65, which added up to a record 36 under par. No one had gone so low in a PGA Tour event. Durant broke Tom Kite's 1993 record of 35 under, set at the Hope, of course.

Jerry Kelly, who won last week at Hawaii, is sure that lower scoring will be in higher evidence.

"You can't say people can't shoot a score out here," Kelly said. "Believe me, they'll find a way. That record can be broken and it will be broken, maybe in a year or two."

Then there is the matter of the 59, matching the lowest score of any round in PGA Tour competition, shot by David Duval in 1999, also at the Hope.

It should be noted that there seems to be a strange convergence of coincidence today as the Hope begins its five-day, 90-hole trip through birdie country. The host course is the Palmer Course at PGA West--the same place where Duval shot his 59 and the home course location for the record-setting scores of Kite and Durant. Durant says he fully expects to shoot another 61 sometime this week.

Said Durant: "I'll shoot 61 every day ... it just depends what hole I'm on when I get there."

Last year, Durant says he almost got lost in what he was doing, which is understandable when he recorded his 11-under 61 at Indian Wells. Built in 1956, Indian Wells is making its 43rd appearance as a venue in the Bob Hope tournament rotation. It's the shortest course on the PGA Tour--6,478 yards--and its friendly features include four par fours of fewer than 360 yards and four par fives that are reachable in two, most noteworthy the 483-yard 14th.

Tamarisk has history, but not a lot of trouble. Built in 1952 as only the second 18-hole course in the desert (Thunderbird was first in 1951), you start with a 482-yard par five and lots of perfect greens and mostly flat fairways.

Bermuda Dunes is a shade under 7,000 yards and more susceptible to wind than its course peers, but it's also noted for good greens and even better scores.

All things being equal, the best way to succeed at the Hope is to beat up Indian Wells when you get the chance, then see how low you can go at the other three courses.

"It's just so short," Paulson said. "I have a tendency to hit everything pretty hard, so I have to swing differently with the three short courses we play. It kind of gets my swing messed up."

Nobody with a messed-up swing is going to do well this week. In fact, if you're not shooting five or six under every day, you're probably losing ground to the field. "These guys are good," Paulson said. "What can you say?"

How about 37 under this year? Is that possible?

"Nothing would surprise me any more with the scores," Strange said.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Bob Hope Chrysler Classic Facts

Site: La Quinta.

Schedule: Today-Sunday.

Courses: PGA West, Arnold Palmer Private Course (6,950 yards, par 72), Bermuda Dunes Country Club (6,829 yards, par 71), Indian Wells Country Club (6,478 yards, par 72) and Tamarisk Country Club (6,881 yards, par 72).

Purse: $4 million. Winner's share: $720,000.

Television: ESPN (today, 1-3 p.m.; Thursday-Friday, noon-3 p.m.) and Channel 7 (Saturday-Sunday, noon-3 p.m.).

Last year: Joe Durant broke the PGA Tour's 90-hole scoring record with a 36-under 324. Paul Stankowski finished second, four strokes back.

Last week: Jerry Kelly won his first PGA Tour title, beating John Cook by a stroke in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Notes: Phil Mickelson is making his first start since the NEC Invitational in August. His wife, Amy, gave birth to their second daughter in October. ... John Daly is also making his first 2002 start.

On the Net: www.pgatour.com.

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