First-round observations from the Children's Miracle Network

November 11, 2010
Bob Stevens, special to PGATOUR.COM

PGA TOUR Network correspondent Bob Stevens will be offering observations this week from the Children's Miracle Network Classic. Listen to PGA TOUR Live coverage on XM 146/SIRIUS 209 or right here at PGATOUR.COM.

By absolutely no coincidence, Rickie Fowler and Troy Merritt are playing in consecutive groups the first two days and know exactly what's happening with their chase for the Kodak Challenge $1 million first prize. Fowler will play the Kodak hole, the par-4 17th at the Magnolia Course tomorrow afternoon just ahead of Merritt, who leads him by one shot. The two have developed a friendship during the Fall Series while chasing the Kodak million, and plan to at least begin the gamesmanship with Fowler telling me there'd be some Fantasia miniature golf with some of their pals on Thursday night. The putt-putt course is considered the toughest anywhere, and Merritt even scoped it out on Wednesday night, telling me he thought that after making some of the putts there, the putts at the Palm Course on Thursday were actually easier.

Someone ought to write a book about Fowler's last three weeks, a road trip unlike any we tried when we turned 21. Las Vegas to Singapore to Shanghai to Orlando, Rickie told me after his opening 66 that he's had no more than 4 hours of sleep in any one stretch the last three weeks. He admits he's on "auto-pilot" and that he's running on fumes, but if there's an upside, you can see there's very little tension in his game, that's for sure.

• At the other end of the spectrum are the guys grinding it out with whatever they can find. Woody Austin, No. 123 on the money list coming in, shot an opening 68, but told me he's doing it with "smoke and mirrors" and he is desperate enough to alter his ball position, putting it back in his stance farther than he ever has before. Its working so far, but I could tell Woody's not convinced, not that he's ever convinced. Cameron Percy, who lost in the playoff to Jonathan Byrd's ace in Las Vegas three weeks ago, also says he's just scraping it around, but says he's making enough putts to score better than he has all season. He'll try to translate an opening 66 into something magical on the Magnolia Course Friday to continue his charge toward securing his card.

• And no matter what happens the rest of the week, Rory Sabbatini is a winner. He and his wife welcomed a new son just a couple of weeks ago (the child is here and slept through the last birdie of Rory's opening 67) and Rory and 6-year-old Harley won their division in the Father-Child event, a trophy Harley will display in front of everything daddy's won on TOUR.