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Savor chance to attend PGA event at Innisbrook

K.J. Choi, teeing off at No. 6, is one of the prominent golfers you can follow at the Tampa Bay Championship.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

K.J. Choi, teeing off at No. 6, is one of the prominent golfers you can follow at the Tampa Bay Championship.

PALM HARBOR

The little things. That's what you notice. That's what sticks out.

When you're this close, you hear the conversation between a golfer and his caddie. You feel the power of the monster drive and marvel at the finesse of a delicate chip.

You see the grains of sand litter the green as the golfers blast out of the trap and hear the kerplunk of a ball plopping in the water.

These are the things you appreciate when you walk the exquisite Copperhead Course at Innisbrook for the Tampa Bay Championship and watch some of the best golfers on the planet. These also are the things you cannot fully grasp watching a tournament on television.

To attend an event in person is to not only see it but feel it and hear it in a way that even the biggest and sharpest HD TV cannot provide.

If you're heading out to Innisbrook this weekend, here's what you might want to look for.

And if you're not attending, here's what you're missing. Call it a viewer's guide to the Tampa Bay Championship.

The driving range

You could spend an entire day at the driving range, and it would be well worth the time and money.

Anyone who has ever picked up a club and played a decent round has thought, "Hmm, I bet if I could quit my job and do nothing but practice my golf game, I could be a pro."

Then you watch the pros hit balls at the driving range and you realize you would need 170 years of practice to make it.

Their worst shots on the range would be among the best shots you've ever hit in your life.

Jason Dufner, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour and the 2011 PGA Championship runner­up, at one point Thursday hit five consecutive short-iron draws, and all of the balls would have landed in the same Hula Hoop about 120 yards away. That's how precise these guys are.

Meantime, you watch the players scoop balls off the ground with their clubs until it's time to practice their drives. At that point, the caddies carefully hand balls to the golfer, taking extra care to make sure they don't touch the ground.

Why? Golfers are paranoid that even the smallest speck of dirt on the ball could scratch their drivers.

You don't see that on TV.

The fifth hole

Speaking of drives, one can stand against the ropes behind the tee box at the 605-yard, par-5 fifth hole and practically reach out and grab the driver during the golfer's backswing. Here is the perfect spot to watch the pros put on their big boy pants, grab that oversized driver and hit the ball as far as they possibly can.

And just how far can they hit it? Consider: Eric Meierdierks blasted his drive on No. 5 some 319 yards right down the middle of the fairway. And this guy was an alternate; only in the tournament because someone else dropped out.

The other cool holes

My personal favorite standing spot is at the tee box on No. 16, close enough to hear the golfers sigh as they try to figure out how to navigate their way around a sharp dogleg with water on the right and plenty of trees on the left.

This brutally tough hole saw 11 golfers send their tee shots into the drink Thursday. If you like watching golfers reduced to mere mortals, hang out at No. 16, which yielded only 13 birdies but forced 36 bogeys and nine double bogeys.

For a change of pace, sneak back just a few yards to the 15th green, where you can watch the golfers teeing off toward you on the 215-yard, par-3.

Then again, try this spot: the intersection of the 17th green, 11th fairway, 18th tee and 10th green. And between all of it, you see something you wouldn't normally see on a golf course — Hooters girls serving wings.

"They probably won't have that at the U.S. Open," golfer Brendan Steele said. "But they might think about it. You never know."

The golfers

The leaderboard Thursday was filled with names you probably have never heard of. Shawn Stefani? Harris English? Tag Ridings? Chez Reavie?

But there are still plenty of "names" to watch: K.J. Choi, Vijay Singh, Adam Scott and Luke Donald. All are within five shots of Stefani, the leader.

You could also follow around John Daly, the Happy Gilmore of the tour. Or Sergio Garcia and Jim Furyk.

Yes, you can see many of golf's big names.

Or, at the very least, you can enjoy all of golf's little things. Actually, that might be the best part of all.

Tom Jones can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.

Savor chance to attend PGA event at Innisbrook 03/14/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 14, 2013 10:51pm]
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