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All due respect, of course
Despite some individual conquests, Innisbrook is regarded as a challenge.
By BOB HARIG
Published October 27, 2005
PALM HARBOR - The folks at Innisbrook are understandably proud of their golf course, home to this weekend's Chrysler Championship. It is considered an honor to host a PGA Tour event and have the world's best players attempt to make their way around your venue.
For much of the past five years, since the Tampa Bay Classic came to town and later the Chrysler Championship, the course has received rave reviews. Players like coming here, they like the $5.3-million tournament that begins this morning, and they especially like the Copperhead course, one of four on the Innisbrook grounds and the only one used for the Chrysler tournament.
But there was definitely some surprise last year when Vijay Singh toured the Copperhead in 18-under-par for 72 holes, turning the place into his own personal playground in a victory that looked stunningly easy.
On a course that has developed a reputation as being one of the best in Florida, if not on the PGA Tour, well ... 18 under?
"You have to make an awful lot of putts, and the greens were perfect," said Jay Overton, the director of golf at Innisbrook who has been at the resort in some capacity for 25 years. "You have to hit the ball straight because of the severity of the rough. We had about five guys doing that and if you do that, there is no golf course in the world that is able to stop you if you are dead on your game.
"It's not the U.S. Open in terms of the pressure. And if you get on a roll, it's a great golf course to score on."
"Do I think 18 under was a total accident?" Overton said. "You betcha."
Before believing the 7,340-yard, par-71 course in northern Pinellas County is suddenly vulnerable, take into account a few things:
Singh's winning total of 266 won by five strokes over Jesper Parnevik and Tommy Armour. They were among just seven players who made it to double-digit under par for the week. And Singh and Parnevik were the only players to shoot all four rounds in the 60s.
Jeff Sluman, who opened the tournament with a course-record 62, never broke 70 again. And during the final round, 33 players shot over par, with two in the 80s.
And then you have to consider Singh himself. His victory at the Chrysler Championship was his ninth in a year and saw him set a single-season earnings record.
"Nowadays, we are able to birdie every single hole out there," said Singh, who enters this year's event with four victories and is second to Tiger Woods on the PGA Tour money list. "The way the tour is right now, if you're playing well, which I was doing last year when I arrived. ... I had so much confidence. I almost won the week before at Disney. I was so much more confident than any other guy who was there. I just felt like I was on cruise control. And I was putting well."
Retief Goosen's winning score in 2003 was six strokes higher, and he won by three over Singh. In 2002, when K.J. Choi won the Chrysler Championship in oppressive September conditions, he shot 267, just one stroke higher than Singh's winning score, but he won by seven strokes.
So the course can yield some numbers - just not to everybody, unlike last week at the Funai Classic at Walt Disney World, where the winning total was 23 under par and the 36-hole cut was a PGA Tour record-tying 6 under par. There were 64 players who finished the tournament at 10 under par or better.
"We're not going to see what they did at Disney, where they stretched the (Magnolia) course to 7,500 yards," Overton said. "Length isn't everything. Character, undulation. ... you get fooled on a shot to the greens here. There is more going on here than just length and severity of the rough. It's not going to rain so the greens will firm up.
"The best players in the world can take it to double digits (under par) and that's fine. But if you get to 18, 20 under, you question if the course is set up properly. I don't think you're going to see an awful lot of guys in that number here."
Dan Forsman shook his head when he considered Singh's score. He has been coming to Innisbrook since the days of the JCPenney Classic and once said they didn't name it Copperhead "because it's a pet reptile."
"It's synonymous with as good of golf as you're going to find," he said. "Championshipwise, this is certainly one that is right in there and doesn't take a back seat to anybody."
Davis Love won the first JCPenney played at Innisbrook in 1990 with LPGA pro Beth Daniel and has put the Chrysler Championship on his schedule each of the tournament's three years.
"It's a pretty traditional golf course," he said. "It's funny, the more traditional and old-school-looking the greens are, the more players like the golf course. If somebody says you could hold a major on these kind of greens, then players seem to like it. I think it's kind of a throw-back design and it's a good, quality golf course.
"It's one of the best we play, really, on tour. ... That means it's probably the best one in Florida that we play on tour. This is definitely one of the players' favorite."