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Copperhead, and the pros best suited for it

BY RODNEY PAGE | Times Staff Writer

PALM HARBOR

Innisbrook's Copperhead Course, home of this week's PODS Championship, has left many a PGA Tour player shaking his head. It requires accurate drives to narrow fairways. Approach shots that must be placed on the right tier of often sloping, slick greens. And a putting touch on greens that sometimes have double breaks.

"You have to bring your whole game," defending champion Mark Calcavecchia said. "You have to drive it well. When you do miss the greens, a lot have a lot of slope to them so you have to chip well. You have to have all aspects working. You don't have to shoot 22 or 23 under par. If you can get around in 2 under every day then you'll have a chance come Sunday."

Every day the course requires golfers to bring their A games. We take a look at some of the best drivers, iron players and putters in this week's field and where to watch them at their best.

Strive to drive

Accuracy off the tee is a must. Copperhead has too many tree-lined fairways and too much hilly terrain to be off-line. A drive that doesn't find the fairway is likely to be stuck behind a tree, laying on pine needles, or buried in thick rough. With most approach shots going to an uphill, undulating green, being in the fairway is a must.

"You need to put it in play and hit great iron shots," 2005 winner Carl Pettersson said. "You've got to drive the ball well there and if you don't you're going to struggle. You can't miss the fairways because then you can't reach the greens. There's too much trouble out there."

Who to watch: Scott Verplank has hit nearly 85 percent of fairways this season. Olin Browne, Joe Durant and Corey Pavin are also in the top 10 in driving accuracy. "You have to drive it well on every hole," Browne said. "If you don't there are some holes that reach up and grab you by the throat."

Where to watch: The best places to watch tee shots are the first and 18th holes. The tees are adjacent, and pros will hit driver on both. The fifth hole is a long (605 yards) par 5 that allows pros to boom their drives. The 16th hole, the most difficult on the course, also requires an accurate drive to avoid water on the right and rough on the left.

Greens in regulation

Getting the ball in the fairway is key, but equally important is a good approach shot. There are no straight putts so placing fairway shots on the right level is a must.

"It's all about hitting the right shots into the greens," J.B. Holmes said. "You have to stay below the hole because there's a lot of slope to the green."

The previous six winners at Innisbrook had good ball-striking weeks (combining total driving with greens in regulation). In the years they won, John Huston (2000), K.J. Choi (2002, '06), Retief Goosen (2003), Vijay Singh (2004), Pettersson (2005) and Calcavecchia (2007) had one of their five-best ball-striking weeks of the year.

Who to watch: Calcavecchia (second), Stewart Cink (third), Charley Hoffman (fourth), Verplank (sixth), Hunter Mahan (seventh), John Senden (ninth) and Joe Durant (10th) are in the top 10 in greens in regulation.

Where to watch: Holes with long approaches will be tricky. The third hole slopes downhill and pros will hit long irons into the green. Any shot long will cause some long, slippery putts. The sixth also requires a mid-iron approach shot from a fairway that slopes to the left. The par-5, 14th could also see a few fairway woods into the green from those who decide to go for the 590-yarder in two.

Putt for dough

The greens will be at their quickest this week. There are no straight putts on this course, which makes it unique on the Florida Swing.

That will favor players who like slick greens and can put their ball on the right tier. Justin Rose believes he is one of those players.

"I do feel like I've become a good putter," Rose said. "I think the advantage to me is I feel like I'm a good putter on fast greens, i.e. Augusta. I won a tournament in Australia on really quick greens, and I felt in the past that was a weakness of mine. I've worked hard on that."

Who to watch: Luke Donald and Eric Axley are the second- and third-best putters this year, so if they are close to the hole in regulation, birdie is likely. Shane Bertsch (fourth), James Driscoll (fifth), John Mallinger (sixth), David Toms (seventh) and Nathan Green (eighth) have also been accurate putters.

Where to watch: The first hole can be tough with a severe downhill putt for any ball above the hole. The seventh and ninth holes also have plenty of slope. The 18th is a fun place to watch putts, especially on the weekend when the pressure is on.

Rodney Page can be reached at page@sptimes.com or (727)

893-8810.

>>Fast facts

PODS Championship

When/where: Today-Sunday; Copperhead Course, Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, Palm Harbor

Schedule and ticket

information, 6C

Copperhead, and the pros best suited for it 03/04/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 4, 2008 9:47pm]

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