Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Rest gives Dade City's Garrett Willis early edge at PGA Tour's Transitions Championship

PALM HARBOR — After two dismal rounds at the Honda Classic two weeks ago, Garrett Willis just wanted to get back to Dade City and plop on his couch.

Willis made the cut in Palm Beach Gardens, but he shot 80-79 on the weekend and couldn't wait to put his clubs in the closet.

The week off has clearly helped.

Willis shot an opening-round 65 on Thursday at the PGA Tour's Transitions Championship to grab the lead by two shots over six golfers, including defending champion Retief Goosen, rookie sensation Rickie Fowler and last-second entry Jeff Maggert.

The round ties Willis' lowest of the season (first round at the Bob Hope Classic), and it is the first time this year he has been alone atop the leaderboard.

"I was looking forward to a week off prior to this tournament," said Willis, who attended East Tennessee State but moved to Dade City in 2001. "I knew there was going to be a lot of pulls on my time. It's a little bit of a long commute, but I was really prepared mentally coming into this week knowing I had a week off to prepare."

Willis, 36, finished 12th on the Nationwide Tour money list in 2009 to earn PGA Tour status. But his standing before the Transitions was not good enough to get him into the field. He is in the tournament only because of a sponsor's exemption.

Willis is a classic journeyman, bouncing on and off the tour since 1996. In fact, unlike most players, Willis doesn't have a sponsor on his hat. He wore a USF hat instead.

"I figured I might as well support the home team," said Willis, a member at Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club in Dade City.

Willis prepared for this week by playing 27 holes on Innisbrook's Copperhead Course with PGA veteran John Huston of Palm Harbor.

The local knowledge seemed to help. After bogey on the third hole, Willis birdied four of five holes from No. 8 to No. 12. Then he birdied the 14th and 16th holes to shoot 5-under 30 on the back nine.

"I really haven't capitalized on my play this year," Willis said. "I put myself in position a couple times and slipped back. I've been playing well; I'm just ready to put four rounds together."

Willis does have one PGA Tour victory, the 2001 Phoenix Open. He has played five times this year and made four cuts, but he has finished no higher than a tie for 26th, at the Bob Hope in January.

While Willis is a surprise leader, it is no surprise Goosen is lurking. He is the defending champion and won in 2003. He played a bogey-free round, with birdies on the first, fifth, 16th and 17th holes. At one point he had 10 straight pars.

"I played terribly last week," said Goosen, who was celebrating his grandmother's 100th birthday. "I wouldn't say I played great (Thursday), but I got it up and down probably six or seven times to save par. That saves quite a few shots.

"I see the shots well out here. It's narrow and I can see the shape out here a lot better than most courses."

Former champion Carl Pettersson (2005) shot 4-under 67 in the afternoon to get into contention. Jim Furyk, a 13-time winner and No. 9 player in the World Golf Ranking, is two shots back as well.

They are all chasing Willis, who has an afternoon tee time today. Until then, he'll be enjoying some home cooking.

"More or less as soon as I leave here," he said, "I'm going to lay on my couch."

Rest gives Dade City's Garrett Willis early edge at PGA Tour's Transitions Championship 03/18/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 19, 2010 3:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Life sentence for man convicted in killing of brother of Bucs' Kwon Alexander


    An Alabama man who shot and killed the 17-year-old brother of Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander in 2015 was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday, the Anniston (Ala.) Star reported.

  2. Rays journal: Blake Snell continues roll in win over Cubs (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was still a game in the fifth inning when LHP Blake Snell walked the leadoff batter, then allowed a single. One swing by the Cubs' Ian Happ (22 home runs) could put a dent in the Rays' three-run lead.

    Blake Snell allows just two hits in pitching seven scoreless innings.
  3. Remember him? Numbers prove Ben Zobrist is one of greatest Rays of all time

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The first foray back to the Trop by the best manager the Rays have had obscured the second return visit by arguably the second-best player in franchise history.


    Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) grounds into a double play to end the top of the third inning of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.
  4. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Wednesday's Rays-Cubs game

    The Heater

    One success story of this lost season is the emergence of LHP Blake Snell as the frontline starter the Rays projected. After a rough start and two demotions, he has been rolling, Wednesday's solid seven innings making him 4-0, 2.57 in his past eight starts.

  5. Rays at Orioles, 7:05 p.m. Thursday, Camden Yards, Baltimore

    The Heater

    Tonight: at Orioles

    7:05, Camden Yards, Baltimore

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM; 680-AM (Spanish)

    Probable pitchers

    This is a 2017 photo of Matt Andriese of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team. This image reflects the 2017 active roster as of Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017 when this image was taken. (AP Photo/David Goldman)