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How to be on the road when you're at home

Glen Hnatiuk lives an hour from Innisbrook but never had played there until Thursday.

By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


PALM HARBOR -- You would think Glen Hnatiuk could step up to the tee box at the Westin Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead course, close his eyes and still hit a solid drive. After all, Copperhead easily could be his home course, a mere hour's drive from his Weeki Wachee home.

But, before this week, Hnatiuk never had played Copperhead, and he started his Tampa Bay Classic opening round Thursday looking like he hadn't.

Hnatiuk (pronounced NATCH-ik) triple-bogeyed his first hole, the 445-yard par-4 No. 10, but recovered nicely to finish 1 over at 72, eight strokes behind the leaders. He birdied No. 11 and then blazed through his back nine, scoring back-to-back birdies.

Hnatiuk, a native Canadian whose home course is World Woods, said his opening bobble had nothing to do with any unfamiliarity with the course.

"I just had a bad hole," he said. "It's a real straight-forward golf course. It's really good. I love it."

Hnatiuk's opening hole was "bad" from the start. His drive sailed to the right, landing among a group of trees. With no clear shot to the green, Hnatiuk conservatively tried to chip into the fairway, but hit through it into the left rough.

His third shot, a mishit sand wedge, landed in the front bunker. His shot out was hit thin, sailing 20 yards past the back of the green. He chipped his fifth shot on, then two-putted for seven.

To his credit, Hnatiuk dismissed his shaky start almost immediately. He drained a nice birdie putt on the next hole and had only one other miscue, bogey on No. 16, en route to a front-nine 38.

Feeling loose and confident, he improved greatly on his back nine, getting birdies on No. 2 and No. 3 to shoot 34. Only a handful of competitors posted better nine-hole scores.

Just think: If Hnatiuk had shot back-to-back 34s, he would have only been four strokes off the lead.

"It was a decent round considering the way I started," Hnatiuk said, "but I just didn't make enough birdies. I didn't get the ball close enough. It's tough to make long putts out here."

It's especially tough for Hnatiuk, whose putting admittedly leaves a lot of room for improvement. Coming into this event, he was No. 137 on the PGA Tour in putting average, which is particularly frustrating when you consider he is ranked seventh in hitting greens in regulation.

His putting typically kept him from scoring better even with his rocky start. He missed only a few greens and had birdie chances at Nos. 8, 9 and 1, but couldn't make the putts, all which were far from gimmes.

"It's not that I'm a bad putter. It's just that I want to become a better putter," he said. "It's more short game actually. My bunker game is the weakest part of my game. So, I definitely need a lot of help with that, and just my short game, in general."

Hnatiuk, 35, probably won't stress too much about it this week. He is wrapping up his most successful PGA Tour season after qualifying for his tour card last year by finishing eighth on the Buy.com money list with $176,085.

He has won $470,712 this season, good for 96th on the money list, which all but assures he'll carry his tour card into the next season for the first time in his career.

Plus, he has his own gallery of fans, friends and relatives, including his wife, Julia, following him this week.

"I've got my own army," quipped Hnatiuk, who has been spending the night at the resort and at home this week. "It helps to have them there, whether it's eight of them or 8,000."

Now, if they can just help him keep his opening tee shot out of the woods today ... "I wasn't happy with the way I played (Thursday)," he said, "but if I can play (today) mostly like I did, with the exception of a couple of swings, I'll be all right."

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