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What's so wrong with starting earlier?

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 13, 2003

Johnny Miller couldn't believe it. Scott Hoch was saying it was too dark to putt a ball from 9 feet away, and he didn't want to continue. "I wouldn't have done that in a million years," Miller said to the NBC audience Sunday as the Ford Championship at Doral was halted until Monday morning.

Perhaps Miller was frustrated he had to get up early.

On Monday morning, Miller was back in the booth as a handful of people came back out to watch the conclusion of the playoff that Hoch won over Jim Furyk. ESPN carried it live, but it wasn't the finish wished by anyone.

Hoch was booed, but he did the right thing. It's Miller's bosses at NBC and the PGA Tour who deserve the blame. In fact, pick on all the television networks that insist on flirting with trouble in the name of ratings and money.

When the final round of a tournament is not delayed by weather problems, there is no way it should go to Monday. It happened because the tour and the networks insist on playing it as close as possible, ending the tournament at 6 p.m. EST, walking the fine line.

That's okay when events are played in the West, or even in the Central time zone. More daylight is available if the tournament runs long. But on the East Coast, when the sun is going down at 6:30, it leaves no margin for error. So they got burned.

There's such a simple solution. Instead of having leaders tee off at 1:50, as they did Sunday, why not move it up 20 minutes or so? So they finish at 5:30. Yeah, that's 30 minutes of potential air time to fill.

But it beats not getting done if there is a playoff. A 5:30 finish would have given Hoch and Furyk enough time to play four extra holes. A winner would have been crowned Sunday night.

Instead, the tour continues this trend for the rest of this month at the Honda Classic, Bay Hill Invitational and Players Championship. Each of the tournaments is scheduled for a late finish.

And next month at the Masters? By then, we'll be into daylight saving time. But the final round is scheduled to end at 7. The Masters hasn't needed a playoff in 13 years, but one of these days

NEW NAME: With Verizon stepping down as title sponsor of Tampa's Champions Tour event, the tournament will need a new name. That would, of course, go to a new title sponsor, if one is secured.

But tournament officials are proceeding as if they won't have a title sponsor in place for 2004. Pro Links Sports, the management company that runs the event, is prepared to fund tournament operations while a sponsor is sought. And there is a good possibility that the tournament will have to go without a title sponsor, instead using a group of presenting sponsors to pay the bills.

In that case, the event likely will be called the Suncoast Championship, according to tournament director David Porter. When the event started in 1988, it was called the GTE Suncoast Seniors before changing to GTE Suncoast Classic, GTE Classic and then Verizon Classic.

PUCKS AND PUTTS: The Chrysler Championship (formerly Tampa Bay Classic) has formed a marketing partnership with the Tampa Bay Lightning that will allow fans to buy tickets to the Oct. 30-Nov. 2 event at the Westin Innisbrook Resort through the Lightning ticket office.

The promotion also guarantees Lightning players and coaches will participate in a special Monday pro-am, Oct. 27. (The NHL has cleared the team's schedule for the event.)

The team will have a special hospitality area at the tournament while the tournament will receive promotional help at most St. Pete Times Forum events.

Advance tickets are $75 for a weekly badge, $15 for Tuesday-Wednesday, $25 for Thursday-Friday, $35 for Saturday-Sunday. The toll-free phone number for tournament tickets: 1-866-208-GOLF.

AROUND GOLF: Hale Irwin continues to amaze. He didn't win the Champions Tour event Sunday in Mexico, but his runner-up finish gave him 88 top-threes in 187 starts on the 50-and-older tour. Irwin has been under par in all 12 rounds this year. ... Furyk made four eagles last week at Doral; he had two all of last season in 85 rounds. ... With Hoch's victory, 12 of the past 14 Doral tournaments have been won by players with Florida ties. Only Australian Steve Elkington (1997 and 1999), who lives in Houston, broke the string.

LOCALLY: As part of the demo day on Saturday at Mangrove Bay, Wilson Golf is conducting the Velocity Matters Challenge from 9-2 p.m. Wilson representatives will use a launch monitor to register the velocity of golfers from all ages.

Those with the highest ball velocity off the club face in four different age groups will receive a Deep Red II driver, while anyone who tries will receive a free sleeve of Wilson True Staff balls.

Various companies including Titleist, Cobra, TaylorMade, Callaway, Ping, Spalding, Nike and Hogan will be part of Mangrove's 18th annual Club Day. For more information call (727) 893-7800.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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