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Golf

Back pain sends Palmer home; tee times moved up

By BOB HARIG and RODNEY PAGE
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 22, 2003

TAMPA -- Fans surrounding the first tee at the TPC of Tampa Bay on Friday morning were disappointed to learn Arnold Palmer would not be stepping through the ropes.

Palmer, 73, a longtime supporter of the Verizon Classic, was unable to play because of back pain that started bothering him this week. Palmer missed Thursday's pro-am, and withdrew after trying to warm up on the driving range Friday. He was replaced by first alternate Ted Goin.

"It came upon me on Monday," Palmer said in the locker room as he gathered his belongings before returning home to Orlando. "It's coming from my back on my right side. If I don't swing a golf club, it's not that bad. When I try to hit a golf ball, it aggravates it."

Palmer appeared to be in discomfort as he attempted to rise from his seat. He said the pain began when he was playing golf at his Bay Hill Club. He said he attempted to hit balls each day since.

"I was hoping it would go away, but it hasn't done that," he said. "Right now, it's not good. I thought when I woke up it was going to be all right."

Palmer has not had to withdraw from a tournament since the 1987 Bay Hill Invitation, which was his first appearance after prostate cancer surgery.

WEATHER WATCH: Because rain was forecast for this afternoon, the starting times for the second round have been moved up an hour with the hope that it will be completed by 3 p.m. Tee times will begin at approximately 8:20 off the front and back nines.

STILL A SPONSOR: While the 2004 Champions Tour event at TPC of Tampa Bay will not be called the Verizon Classic, Verizon said it will remain a sponsor for next year's tournament. The company committed an undisclosed sum to be a minor sponsor, but not the title sponsor. After next year, Verizon will not be involved with the tournament.

"Verizon's commitment to the Champions Tour is for 2004 only," tournament director David Porter said. "In 2005, the tournament will need to find one or more partners to replace Verizon."

Verizon, formerly GTE, has been a sponsor for 16 years. According to Pro Link Sports, the marketing firm that runs the Verizon Classic, a title sponsor must be secured by the summer. If not, the tournament could survive for a year or two with several minor sponsors.

A title sponsor must commit at least $2-million annually.

YOU'RE NOT ARNIE: Goin was on the practice green, waiting for a tap on the shoulder. As the first alternate, Goin would be the first selected to play if any golfer withdrew.

Palmer was that player, bowing out 15 minutes before his tee time with lower back spasms. Goin got the call, walked to the first tee and teed off with playing partners Hubert Green and Larry Nelson.

"I've got mixed feelings about it," Goin said. "I hate to see Arnold have to withdraw. Hey, I'm an Arnold Palmer fan just like everybody else. I'm sure there were people saying, 'That's not Arnie.' But on the other hand, I got in the tournament, even though I didn't play well."

Goin, in his third year on the Champions Tour, shot 8-over-par 79, tied for last with Dave Eichelberger. As an alternate, he had to show up early for Wednesday and Thursday's pro-am events as well as Friday's opening round in case there were openings.

"What's difficult is I play the course on Tuesday, but then not again until (Friday)," Goin said. "That's not an excuse, it's just nice when you can play a course as often as possible before the tournament."

NOTEWORTHY: Bruce Fleisher's 3-under 68 was his 12th straight subpar score on the TPC of Tampa Bay course in 13 rounds. ... Vicente Fernandez's run of consecutive holes without bogey ended at 59 when he bogeyed the par-5, seventh. After making bogey to start last week's ACE Group Classic in Naples, Fernandez didn't make another en route to winning the tournament. ... On the front nine, Eichelberger had a two, three, four, five, six and seven. ... Jay Sigel had four birdies and an eagle, and still shot 1-under 70.

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