Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. - It’s hard to find players who carry a 2-iron anymore, because hybrids have replaced them. Tiger Woods carries the club, though, and so does Graham DeLaet. The Weyburn, Sask. golfer has a big game and he launched a 2-iron into the middle of the final green Thursday at the Honda Classic, and then two-putted for a closing birdie. After DeLaet tapped in from 18-inches he was the clubhouse co-leader after his opening round at five-under-par 65. South African golfer Branden Grace was on the same mark. Grace won four European Tour events last year.
DeLaet’s only bogey came on the par-four 16th hole, where he said a combination of a poor read and a bad stroke led to the lone blemish on his card. Other than that, he played impeccably. He did say he got a lucky break on the 13th hole, where he drove into a sand-filled divot. DeLaet, 61st on the PGA Tour’s money list with $223,824, would have had a funky shot from there, but the PGA National’s Champion course was so squishy from recent rain that the golfers were playing lift, clean and place. So that’s exactly what he did. DeLaet hit the green and made par.
Unusually for a tour pro, DeLaet doesn’t have a swing coach. He does work with former PGA Tour player Gabriel Hjerstedt on his short game. They worked together last weekend at the Doral and La Gorce clubs in Miami, and at the TPC Eagle Trace in Coral Springs as well.
“I felt I was in good control,” DeLaet said after his two-putt birdie on the last hole had followed his towering 2-iron to the green. “I played really nicely.” He added that he made a few birdie putts early, and that he played mostly conservative golf most of the day. DeLaet didn’t short-side himself or put himself into awkward positions. That’s how a golfer shoots five-under and gets into the clubhouse lead on a tough course.
DeLaet, 31, must be one of the most easy-going players on the PGA Tour, although his manner does camouflage his fiercely competitive nature. He is happy just to be on the PGA Tour, given that he had back surgery just over two years ago and played only two tournaments that year.
“When you go through an injury, you realize how lucky you are to be out here,” DeLaet said after his round. “You just cherish it.”
DeLaet was playing in the morning wave a few groups behind Mike Weir. I followed Weir for his entire round, while checking out DeLaet here and there. Weir birdied the last hole when he made an 18-foot putt. He shot 71, and he was feeling hurt all the way. He popped up his opening tee shot into the lake to the left, and felt a twinge in his lower back right away.
“I’m not feeling too good,” Weir said after signing his scorecard. “I saw a chiropractor [on Wednesday] and then had a massage. I felt tight this morning. Maybe it was the (morning) cold, and I’ve also hit a lot of balls.”
Weir had hit balls for eight hours on Tuesday, and practiced hard on Wednesday as well. He was moving gingerly throughout his first round. Lorie Kane, the PEI native and LPGA Tour player who has won four times there, was following Weir with her caddy Danny Sharp. She noticed that Weir was in pain as soon as she saw him in the middle of the front nine.
She also noticed that Weir was still trying to play hard after two opening bogies. “I love that in him,” she said, “that he’s a fighter.” He had to fight, considering how he was feeling and the awkward places some drives put him.
Weir managed to hit some very good iron shots to set up birdie opportunities, especially on the difficult par-three 15th and 17th holes over water. His tee shot on 15 turned left to right toward the hole that was cut on the right side of the green, and finished 10-feet short of the hole. He didn’t make the putt, though. He had a 12-foot birdie putt on the 17th, but also missed that. Still, there was that closing birdie to send him away with a decent score that at least didn’t put him out of range of making the cut or even advancing deeper into the field.
“I told him to hang in there,” Danny Sahl, a former Canadian Tour player who is caddying for Weir, said. “He hit a lot of good short shots.” Weir’s short game is definitely intact. He saved par on the ninth hole from a downhill, sidehill lie in high grass just outside a bunker. Weir’s 40-yard shot finished three feet from the hole.
“I figured if I could fight through the round, I’d have the afternoon to rest,” Weir said. “I felt the pain in my lower left side, like sciatica. I could swing the irons okay, but with the driver and 3-wood I was just trying to swing 50-to-60-percent.”
Both DeLaet and Weir now have a long wait until their afternoon starting times in the second round. DeLaet said he prefers to go late/early than early/late in the opening rounds.
“Guys play 36 holes in between when you go early/late,” he said. “You find yourself looking at the scores. “I’ll try not to do that.”
Whatever happens, he’s posted an excellent opening round. DeLaet could win his first PGA Tour event anytime. Somebody said last year that he’s the best unknown player in the game. That’s changing, and will continue to change. His talent is obvious to anybody who watches him, and to his fellow PGA Tour players.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein