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March 31 2012

2:08 AM

Notes from inside the ropes

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Fred Couples survived a 32-hole Friday at the Shell Houston Open.

By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

HUMBLE, Texas – Golf is not always a fair game. On Friday, the playing field was not even. Those who completed their first rounds on Thursday had a dry golf course, but those who played on Friday found “soupy” fairways due to heavy rain. Usually that would call for lift, clean and place, however because the morning wave of golfers did not have the advantage of preferred lies, rules officials could not invoke the ruling for the afternoon pairings.

The result was mud balls. Golfers hit drives in the middle of the fairway that would be coated with mud, affecting second shots into the green. The inequity happens a couple times throughout the course of the season when weather changes dramatically. Lift, clean and place was in effect for the entire second round. It’s hoped the course dries sufficiently to play the ball “down” this weekend. Sometimes golf, like life itself, simply isn’t fair.

Fairways: Brian Davis has completed half the tournament and has missed just a single fairway. He has found short grass on 27 of 28 holes. The tradeoff is distance. Davis has averaged 266.5 yards per drive which ranks 129th out of 144 golfers. Davis has sacrificed some distance for some accuracy, which is not the usual formula for winning the Shell Houston Open. It seems to be working this year, as he’s at 11 under.

Long day: Fred Couples is used to playing 54 holes over the course of three days in Champions Tour events, so he knew Friday would be difficult. He teed off at 7:30 a.m. and over the course of the next ten hours completed 32 holes. Couples clearly moved slowly over the last nine holes and appeared to be in discomfort from back pain. He still completed two rounds at 4 under and will play this weekend, health permitting.

Defending strategy: Phil Mickelson won the 2011 Shell Houston Open by holing out three times and playing the par 5s in 14 under. So how is that strategy working in 2012? In 36 holes, Mickelson had holed out once and has birdied five of the eight par 5s he has played. Despite drawing the worse end of the tee times, Mickelson is still in contention at 9 under.

Bank on it: Mickelson went for 15 of 16 par 5s with his second shot in winning the Shell Houston Open last year, so it was no surprise when he tried to hit the eighth hole with his second shot on Friday morning. The only problem was mud on the ball caused it to veer to the right, toward the hazard. It would have gone into the water had it not been for wet grass on the bank that kept the ball about a foot away from the hazard. Mickelson chipped the ball to within three feet and made the birdie putt. On that particular hole, things evened out. The wet weather caused mud on the ball which caused it to veer toward the hazard., then the wet grass prevent the ball from running down the bank into the water. Sometimes things do even out.

Lightning: There is a 50-foot pine tree just to the left of the 13th tee box that exemplifies how severe Thursday's thunderstorms were. Like an ugly scar, there is a rip in the trunk of the tree stretching from top to bottom. Lightning struck the pine during the storm and opened the tree just like a surgeon using a scalpel.

Light it up: When sunrise takes place a little after 7:00 a.m. and when the first tee time is at 7:30, you have a problem. The PGA TOUR solved it with some portable lights. Players started gathering on the driving range a little after 6:00 a.m. on Friday morning, and they found a series of portable lights that illuminated the range and allowed them to conduct their usual pre-round routines.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio and is inside the ropes this week at the Shell Houston Open. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.

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