Robert Allenby Leads 2009 Honda Classic with a Heavy Heart

Robert Allenby of Australia and his caddie line up a birdie putt. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Robert Allenby of Australia and his caddie line up a birdie putt. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Robert Allenby is leading the Honda Classic shooting a 4-under par 66 in windy conditions at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Back in December down under at the Australian Masters, Allenby sized up the situation for what it was.

“I knew that it would be the last tournament and last shot that really she would ever see me hit.”

His mom passed about a month ago, and there is that sense of emptiness we all feel when our mother leaves us alone in this world. She was an inspiration to him and left him with some departing words that December day in Australia.

“There are more important things in life than winning tournaments.”

We all know that, but we all know we have to do what it is we do, even after our mom has gone on to a better place.

Allenby, a winner of four PGA Tour tournaments, the last one coming way back in 2001, is trying hard to win this one in his mother’s memory.

Playing in the sun with a heavy heart under adverse conditions such as wind, a dried out course due to southern Florida’s drought conditions, and slow play due to those adverse conditions, his low round of the day was fairly miraculous.

On the difficult par-4 sixth hole, he took off his shoes and rolled up his pants to blast one out of the muck. “I was going to take my pants off, but I thought about Ian Baker-Finch, that scene has been shown so many times, and I know I’ve got better legs than him.”

That incident was back in 1993 at Colonial. It’s funny how humor gets us through the tough times both on and off the course.

This 37-year-old professional golfer with 16 international victories on his resume possesses a brilliant mind with some solid common sense about the game of golf. When queried if his ability to go into the muck hazard was because of the dry conditions he replied:

“Well, if it was wet, then the ball probably wouldn’t have bounced in there. Because it’s dry, it bounced into the hazard. So it works both ways, really, when you look at it like that.”

Incidentally his last three international victories all came in 2005 at the Australian Masters, Open, and PGA. It would be nice, yet difficult to win one for mom.

In a six-way tie for second place one stroke back with 67s are Angel Cabrera (Argentina), Stewart Cink, Charlie Wi, Jeff Overton, Will MacKenzie, and Sergio Garcia (Spain).

Garcia and MacKenzie played in the afternoon where the wind was slightly stronger and the temperatures dropped considerable as the sun lowered in the sky.

Garcia’s 4-under front nine and 1-over back nine were indicative of the deteriorating playing conditions. But some of that was attributed to deteriorating patience on his part.

After birding Nos. 8 and 9 with putts of 12 and 32 feet respectively Sergio missed birdie putts of 7, 20, 30, 14, and 22 on the first five holes of the back nine.

His 5-iron on the par-3 15th hole, the start of course designer Jack Nicklaus’ “Bear Trap” was perfect in distance though 14 yards left of the hole in the bunker.

After hitting a reasonable sand shot to 7 feet the Spaniard stared it down as though it should have released and gone into the hole for a deuce.

With the frustration building from the greens to his sand game Garcia missed the 7-footer for his only bogey of the day.

On the next hole his approach shot from 171 yards into the wind and directly on line to the flagstick was short, caught the slope and rolled back leaving him a 38-foot lag putt versus a makeable birdie putt.

Frustrated with the playing conditions and the lack of birdies, Sergio did a twisting right knee kick into the wind and uttered the helpless “God” that we all do in times of distress. He finished off the back nine with two-putt pars from 21 and 39 feet.

In his brief post-round interview, he summed it all up and put the right media spin on it by saying: “I still felt like I played great on the back nine, and I shot 1-over. That tells you everything about this course, and the last four or five holes are quite tough. I was happy to finish 3-under, and it’s a good start.”

What does that comment tell us about Sergio Garcia? After seeing him win the playoff in last year’s Players Championship in a dramatic fashion on the TPC Sawgrass famous island green par-3 17th hole, he is destined to win his first Major perhaps this year.

Without a more refined sense of patience on the golf course, that looming Major victory is in doubt.

Angel Cabrera, winner of the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont CC by one stroke over Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, had a bogeyless 3-birdie 67.

Stewart Cink, a five-time winner on the PGA TOUR, is coming off a strong third-place finish at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship last week had five birdies and two bogeys.

Charlie Wi, winner of nine international events yet winless on the PGA Tour in 84 career starts, had six birdies, one bogey and one double-bogey in his opening round.

Jeff Overton, who turned pro in 2005 and finished 99th on the money list last year, had four birdies and one bogey in this his 85th PGA Tour start.

Will MacKenzie won last year’s Viking Classic and finished tied for twelfth at the season opening Mercedes-Benz Championship. Since then he missed four cuts in a row before taking last week off. The 34-year-old, who lives nearby in Jupiter, Fla., had five birdies and two bogeys.

Four players are within two shots of Allenby’s lead: Kent Jones from New Mexico, who tied for 18th at last year’s Q-School; Y.E. Yang from South Korea, who also tied for 18th at last year’s Q-School; David Mathias from North Carolina, who finished 14th on the Nationwide Tour last year; and Chris Riley from Las Vegas, winner of the 2002 Renoe-Tahoe Open who also finished tied for 18th at last year’s Q-School.

Defending champion Ernie Els shot a 3-over par 73.

Looking ahead to Friday’s second round, it will be interesting to see how Robert Allenby controls his emotions and if Sergio Garcia can stay patient enough to perform at top of his game.