Group of the day
The trio of Nick Watney, Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer, left, was the most star-studded group on the course Thursday. Kaymer's the No. 1 player in the world, and Watney and Watson are second and sixth, respectively, in the FedEx Cup standings. Watney is coming off a win last week at the World Golf Championships event at Doral. The three combined to shoot 11 under.
Birdies for Japan
Tampa's Ryuji Imada has pledged $1,000 for every birdie he makes at the Transitions Championship to help the relief effort in Japan, which last week was struck by an earthquake and tsunami. Imada, who had none Thursday, was born in Japan and moved to Tampa when he was 14. He also put copies of a handwritten note in players' lockers asking them to do the same. Imada's parents, brother and sister live in Hiroshima, far away from the quake's epicenter. Imada's caddie when he plays in Japan, Takahide Sasaki, was missing for four days before he was contacted in an evacuation area. "My family is fine, but Japan is not,'' said Imada, 34, who shot 3-over 74. "I was thinking about how I could help Japan. I can't go back there and help those people. So I thought I can play the best golf I can and hopefully give them something to cheer about. This is really not the time to be watching golf in Japan, but it's the only way I know how to help."
Gary Woodland is not a household name, but he is having a solid spring. Woodland has three top-10 finishes among six starts, including a playoff loss at the Bob Hope Classic and a tie for sixth at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens two weeks ago. This week, Woodland is in contention once again after shooting 4-under 67. "I'm healthy now, and that's the main thing,'' said Woodland, 26, who missed part of 2009 and '10 with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. "I've learned a lot in the last couple of years. I had nine months off rehabbing the shoulder and really learned how to do certain things. The game is starting to come together.'' Woodland played college golf at Kansas after a year on the freshman basketball team at Washburn in Topeka, Kan. This week he'll have one eye on his Jayhawks, who last year were eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. "Let's hope we can rebound this year and go get one,'' he said.
Doing the right thing
John Senden had a good day, shooting 4-under 67. It could have been better. On the par-5 fifth hole, Senden, in the rough, was preparing to hit his second shot when the ball moved slightly on his backswing. He still hit the shot and even hit his third on the green before talking to his caddie about the second shot. Senden then tracked down a rules official to find out what to do. He was told to add one shot to his score on the hole, which turned into a bogey 6. "I felt I needed to talk about it because it was bugging me,'' Senden said. "You have to do the right thing with this game of golf, right? It's about honesty, and I feel that with that particular incident, you've got to treat yourself well.''
Leonard sees hope
At last year's tournament, Jim Furyk, top left, ended a 21/2-year drought by winning, a victory that set the tone for two more wins and PGA player of the year honors. Good friend Justin Leonard, who hasn't won since 2008 and just twice since 2005, is hoping for similar results this year. The 1997 British Open champ opened his weekend with 4-under 67, good for sixth with nine others. "It's easy to go sometimes without winning golf tournaments because (winning) is not easy to do. But (Furyk) played real consistently throughout that,'' Leonard said. "I'm sure he was very happy to stop answering those questions here last year.'' Like Furyk, who needed a 60-foot chip to get up and down on his final hole of the first round last year, Leonard closed with a long putt to shoot his first sub-70 round since February. Leonard said he has been playing better after a tough 2010 — he was 17th two weeks ago at the Honda Classic. "I'm winning a lot of little battles. I feel like I'm getting ready to win a big battle,'' Leonard said. "My game's been very consistent, and Honda for four days was as good as I've hit the ball in 3-4 years. I would say I didn't get everything out of it, and that was a little frustrating. But my game right now is to be patient. If I keep doing the things I'm doing and putting the work in, rounds like (Thursday), I think, will become more frequent.''
Thursday began the 10th straight week of golf for Rory Sabbatini, who is near the top of the leaderboard after his 4-under 67. "This is definitely the first time in my career on tour that I've done that,'' he said of the continuous golf. "I think my rookie year, if I had the opportunity, I probably would have done it.'' The grind doesn't seem to be affecting his game. In the nine events he has played so far, Sabbatini has won once (Honda Classic) and finished among the top 25 four other times. After playing his first nine at 1 under, Sabbatini managed three birdies on a bogey-free back.
Rodney Page and John C. Cotey, Times staff writers