Len Ziehm On Golf

PGA Tour braces for first Bay Hill tourney without Palmer

Tournament sponsor MasterCard commissioned this statue of Palmer, now a landmark for golfers.

ORLANDO, Florida – Tuesday is usually the quiet day at PGA Tour stops. It’s the time in between pro-am days when players have the course and practice facilities to themselves to get ready for the start of competition on Thursday.

That wasn’t the case at Bay Hill Club Tuesday, as players, officials and spectators braced for the first Arnold Palmer Invitational without Arnold Palmer. The golfing legend passed away at age 87 in September.

“It’s a very different week with Arnold not being here with us,’’ said Henrik Stenson, the Swedish star who now lives in Orlando and finished in the top 10 of the last four API events without getting a victory. “He’s meant so much to the game of golf, and this being his own tournament on his own golf course. He’ll be dearly missed, and we will do our best to make it a very successful week without him.’’

Bay Hill opened in 1961. Palmer played it during the height of his career, loved it and worked hard to eventually buy it in 1970. Now a statue of Palmer, measuring 13 feet in height and weighing 1,400 pounds, stands in front of the pro shop. With no golf to watch on the course spectators made it a gathering point for photographs and conversation on Tuesday.

Everyone had an Arnold memory. I certainly have mine, starting with my first interview with him in 1968. He was battling for a Western Open title at Olympia Fields that week but was eventually beaten by his long-time rival, Jack Nicklaus. Through the years Palmer has been the focal point for many more interviews, and we were guests at Bay Hill for a few days in recent years.

The tone for this Arnold Palmer Invitational is evident from this view at Bay Hill’s front gate.

It was at Bay Hill that you could get one of the best glimpses of the man who inspired an army. Indeed every golf fan on hand Tuesday was a member of Arnie’s Army at one tournament or another. At Bay Hill, though, he wasn’t just the athletic legend. He was a guy who dined with his wife and friends right along with the club’s guests. He played cards with them, indulged in friendly conversation and posed for what must have seemed like unending picture-taking. That’s what made Bay Hill a very special place.

Bay Hill is nice 27-hole facility in a comfortable neighborhood. In no way is it ostentatious, like the residential areas that so many athletes seem to prefer once they accumulate enough money to buy in.

No player has done as much to popularize golf as Palmer did, and the PGA Tour made sure that this week’s tournament will be a celebration of his extraordinary life rather than the start of a sad farewell for a tournament that could be in decline.

The PGA’s Florida Swing isn’t what it used to be. This year the four events that usually filled the March portion of the PGA Tour schedule were down to three. The stop at Donald Trump’s Doral in Miami was dropped in favor of a stop in Mexico. Not only that, but the PGA Tour botched the scheduling. Mexico was inserted in the week between the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens on the East coast and the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor on the West. The fields at both the Honda and Valspar suffered, as players struggled with awkward travel options.

That wasn’t the case this week. The Palmer stop was made more enticing with a hike in prize money and the availability of more FedEx Cup points. Still, three top ones missed it – leading money-winner Dustin Johnson and two of his most popular pursuers, Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth. That trio skipped the entire Florida Swing, feeling that might be the best way for them to prepare for next month’s Masters.

All golfers have their Arnie memories. Here’s mine, taken in 1970 during an exhibition at Rolling Green Country Club in Arlington Heights, Ill.

In an effort to offset Palmer’s absence the tour named five ambassadors for this year’s API – players Curtis Strange, Graeme McDowell, Peter Jacobsen and Annika Sorenstam and Tom Ridge, the former U.S. secretary of homeland security.

Wednesday’s speakers prior to the Opening Ceremony will include new PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, defending API champion Jason Day, current stars Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler and Sam Saunders, a PGA Tour member who was also Palmer’s grandson.

This is one of those rare sports events in which the 72-hole competition itself, which begins on Thursday, may well be overshadowed by the preliminary buildup. The players will have decals of Palmer’s umbrella logo on their golf bags.

Still, there is concern that Palmer’s passing will negatively impact both his small hometown of Latrobe Pa., as well as the annual tournament at Bay Hill. The passing of Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Dinah Shore led to the decline of their golf tournaments and keeping the Palmer atmosphere around Bay Hill won’t be easy.

It’s well worth a try, though, and for now we should just enjoy his tournament and be thankful for the memories he created.

Those colorful umbrella logos, Palmer’s trademark, were always in evidence at Bay Hill.

These bleachers at Bay Hill’s first tee will be packed once the tournament tees off on Thursday.

Palmer quotes were on display throughout the course — a good way to remember the man.

Past champs Donald, Streelman look to Valspar tourney for another boost

Luke Donald (left) and Kevin Streelman are already on Innisbrook champions’ wall. (Rory Spears Photo)

PALM HARBOR, Florida – The Masters, the year’s first major golf championship, is just a month away and the Chicago’s top two PGA Tour players haven’t qualified as yet. This week’s stop — the Valspar Championship on Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead course –figures to give both Luke Donald and Kevin Streelman a boost, however.

Neither are off to a notable start this season. Donald, the former Northwestern star, has made four of six cuts with $221,185 in earnings. That puts him 125th on the season money list. Streelman has made six of 10 cuts and has earned $505,886, good for 68th place.

To get into the Masters, though, they’ll likely have to either win one of the tournaments leading into it or boost their world rankings into the top 50 the week before the Masters tees off. Donald is No. 88 in the world rankings now and Streelman is down in the 134th spot. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that both have played well in Masters of the past, both are coming into Thursday’s start of the Valspar Championship well-rested and both have wins here. Those ingredients should count for something.

So could Innisbrook’s extraordinary connection to the Chicago golf scene. The resort’s owner, Sheila Johnson, is a University of Illinois graduate who grew up in Chicago, and all of the resort’s four courses were designed by the late Larry Packard, a Chicago golf architectural legend. All that should add to the comfort zone for Donald and Streelman.

In the case of both players, their victories on the well-regarded Copperhead layout had major implications career-wise. Donald’s victory came in 2011 when the tourney was called the Transitions Championship. He was involved in a head-to-head duel with Rory McIlroy for the No. 1 spot in the world rankings at the time and the win pushed Donald into the No. 1 spot, a position he held for 56 weeks.

Streelman’s win came the following year, the first in which Valspar was the tourney sponsor. It was the first of the Wheaton golfer’s two PGA Tour titles, though the second drew more attention. No. 2 came at Hartford in 2013, with Streelman making birdies on the last seven holes to claim a more spectacular victory.

Neither player qualified for last week’s lucrative World Golf Championship event in Mexico, but that may not be a bad thing. The PGA Tour substituted the Mexico event for the longstanding stop at Doral, in Miami, and it wreaked havoc with all the players’ scheduling.

Those who played in the no-cut tourney in Mexico endured some difficult travels. In the last four weeks the PGA Tour had tournaments in Los Angeles, then the Honda Classic in Florida, then Mexico and now it’s back to Florida. The dropping of Doral “destroyed’’ the traditional Florida Swing, according to no less an expert than Jack Nicklaus who said the schedule change “hurts all the Florida events.’’

The circuit goes to the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando after the Valspar. The quality of the Honda field was down slightly, and Valspar has just four players in the top 15 of the World Rankings – Henrik Stenson (6), Justin Thomas (8), Patrick Reed (12) and Bubba Watson (15).

Stenson, the reigning British Open champion, withdrew from the Mexico stop after 11 holes due to illness and admitted here that “I’m not 100 percent.’’ He was fourth at the Valspar in 2015 and tied for 11th last year when South African Charl Schwartzel won the title.

Stenson insisted the addition of the Mexico tourney didn’t affect the Florida events, but he was in the minority.

“It’s just a busy time of the year,’’ said Stenson. “It’s six, seven, eight good tournaments in a row. You’re not going to get all the guys playing the same weeks. It’s more down to scheduling and preferences, how many do you want to play in that time span. You can’t really be disappointed that certain players take certain weeks off, because that’s the way it’s always going to be.’’

HERE AND THERE: The Valspar field also includes two Illinois alums. Steve Stricker, now eligible for the Champions Tour, will compete after announcing his choices for assistant President Cup captains earlier this week here. Charlie Danielson made the field through the qualifying round on Monday.

Defending champion Schwartzl has already had a tough week. One of his playing partners hit a shot off a tree in Wednesday’s pro-am and the ball hit Schwartzel on the wrist. His hand went numb and he quit play after 10 holes. He was still hopeful of teeing off in Thursday’s first round.

Matt Kuchar, who will make his 10th appearance in the Valspar, generally likes the U.S. Golf Association’s recently proposed rule changes designed to simplify the game. “I have tons of friends that fudge here and there,’’ said Kuchar. “You want the game to be enjoyable, and simplifying the rules only helps make the game more understandable. It’s a good idea they are working on.’’

Allianz tourney draws big numbers for PGA Champions opener

Champions players will find the prettiest hole on the Old Course at Broken Sound as the par-3 14th.

BOCA RATON, Florida – This week’s first full-field event on the PGA Champions circuit couldn’t come at a better place. The Old Course at Broken Sound, home to the Allianz Championship, is one of the best courses on the 50-and-over circuit.

In its 11th season, the Allianz has been the Champions’ season-opening event every year since 2011 and no player wants to miss it. The 80 entries this year include the top 36 in last year’s Schwab Cup standings, eight members of the World Golf Hall of Fame and winners of a combined 317 Champions events, 346 PGA Tour titles and 17 major championships.

And this year’s field is even better than usual. Fred Couples is playing here for the first time. So is John Daly. European stars Paul McGinley and Jose Maria Olazabal will make their Champions debuts and David Toms will play on the senior circuit for just the second time.

“The best field we’ve ever had,’’ said tournament director Ryan Dillon. “There’s nothing like this on tour. We’re the envy of the PGA Champions.’’

Defending champion Esteban Toledo (right) and tournament director Ryan Dillon are ready to get the PGA Champions circuit going again.

Leading into this year’s tourney, Dillon announced earlier this month that Broken Sound had won the ELGA Award – the largest environmental stewardship honor available. The club is very into environmental issues. It has 13 acres of butterfly gardens, 22 beehives and 22 bat houses on its property.

The golf tournament is extraordinary as well. Though Esteban Toledo is the defending championship, the focal point in the 54-hole shootout that begins on Friday will be Couples, who is making his first appearance in south Florida since playing in the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic in 2006.

Couples missed most of the 2016 season with back problems, but he finished second to Bernhard Langer two weeks ago in a Champions limited field event in Hawaii.

Toledo endured 27 hours in airplanes to show up for the Allianz kickoff event last month. He won last year in a three-hole playoff with Billy Andrade. An interesting sidelight: Toledo has four Champions wins with three coming in playoffs, and all of them went three holes.

“I don’t know how I did it, but it was a wonderful experience,’’ said Toledo, who has an interesting background. The youngest of a family with 11 children he grew up in a very poor neighborhood in Mexico. The family’s house had dirt floors and no plumbing. Toledo fished golf balls out of a pond at a nearby golf course and sold them back to the club’s members to help the family survive.

The Old Course at Broken Sound may be the best-conditioned course on the Champions circuit.

He also took up boxing and was good at that, compiling a 16-1 record until an appendicitis brought an end to his time in the ring.

“I’m a better boxer than I am a golfer. There’s no doubt in my mind,’’ he said.

Golf didn’t come as easily as boxing did.

“I used to shoot 100 because I had to always borrow clubs to play,’’ he said. “Then I met an American guy from San Francisco who wanted to sponsor me.’’

That arrangement helped Toledo play on tour for 12 years and he emerged as a mainstay on both the PGA and Champions circuits. His win in last year’s Allianz Championship, which paid him $262,500, came on the same day as the 50th Super Bowl. That, along with less-than-ideal weather limited attendance for the tourney’s climax but the event still drew over 60,000 for the week and 20,000 were on hand for Saturday’s second round.

Broken Sound’s Old Course – one of two 18-holers on the property — was designed by Joe Lee for its 1978 opening and was re-designed by Gene Bates with help from Johnny Miller in 2004. In addition to a beautiful setting it has what Toledo says are one of the top three putting surfaces on the Champions circuit.

The tourney festivities include a members’ pro-am, Lexi Thompson exhibition and women’s pro-am on Monday; practice rounds on Tuesday; and pro-ams featuring Champions players on Wednesday and Thursday before three rounds of tournament play tee off on Friday.

Tee shots at the Old Course will present a variety of challenges for Allianz Championship players.

BMW Championship is one of PGA Tour’s most important events

Here is what’s wrong with the BMW Championship, which is coming up Sept. 8-11 at Crooked Stick in Indianapolis.

For one, it’s not Chicago based. When the Western Golf Association replaced the history-rich Western Open in favor of the BMW Championship in 2007 that ended a 45-year run for Chicago being an annual PGA Tour stop. Now it’s every other year, and this time Crooked Stick gets to host for the second time.

For another, being a FedEx Cup Playoff event, you’re never sure exactly who will be playing until a few days beforehand and some of golf’s most popular players are certain to be missing.

All that may sound on the negative side, but there are good reasons for things being the way they are.

The rotation of sites has been financially rewarding to the WGA’s Evans Scholars program – and that is the reason for holding the event in the first place. Rather than make an annual stop at the same course, the WGA freshened the event by playing it outside Chicago in alternate years. Markets that don’t get big-time golf events very often are more than receptive when the PGA Tour does come to town. Indianapolis is just one of those.

Bigger crowd, bigger profits, more opportunities for deserving caddies to go to college. It’s hard to argue with that reasoning, and the WGA is carrying that logic further. Next year’s staging will be the third and last at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, and the road show goes to Aronimink, a well-regarded club in the Philadelphia area, in 2018. After that the BMW Championship may be rotating among Chicago clubs on the alternate years as well.

That policy hasn’t been announced, but Medinah will be the site in 2019. Then, who knows? BMW’s contract with the PGA Tour is up after that event, opening all kinds of possibilities for subsequent years.

Time will take care of all those details, but firming up the field early for any of the four FedEx Cup Playoff event – much less No. 3 in the rotation – is impossible.

That’s not all bad, though. While some stars might not be there, one thing is certain: the 70-player field will be very, very good. The competitive format for the playoffs assures that.

Here’s how it works:

The top 125 players on the season-long FedEx Cup point race got into the first playoff event – The Barclays in New York the last week of August. They played 72 holes without a 36-hole cut for an $8.5 million prize fund and the top 100 on the point race afterwards got a chance to do it again.

Second event in the FedEx Cup is the Deutsche Bank Championship Sept. 2-5 at TPC Boston. It has the same format as The Barclays – 72 holes with no 36-hole cut, another $8.5 million available in prize money and the top 70 on the point list get to do it again.

That’s where the BMW Championship comes into the picture. The top 70 play for another $8.5 million in another 72-hole, no cut event at Crooked Stick.

Finally, the top 30 on the point list after the BMW Championship advance to The Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta for the final $8.5 million, 72-hole no-cut tournament. A lot of prize money is obviously on the line in September but there’s more to it than tournament checks. The winner of the FedEx Cup point race – and that’s not necessarily the winner of The Tour Championship – gets an additional $10 million bonus.

During the course of the FedEx Cup season there were 43 regular season tournaments to decide who would qualify for the playoffs. There were 247 players earning points towards inclusion in the playoffs and a good showing in the “post-season’’ would make up for disappointing showings in the four major championships by some of the game’s elite players.

In this year’s jumbled schedule the four majors – due to the inclusion of golf in the Olympic Games for the first time in 112 years – lost some of their luster. At least three of the top young players did, too. Neither Jason Day, Rory McIlroy nor Jordan Spieth won a major in 2016. Winning the FedEx Cup would at least help make up for that unexpected shortcoming.

The majors, in case you’ve forgotten, went to Danny Willett (Masters), Dustin Johnson (U.S. Open), Henrik Stenson (British Open) and Jimmy Walker (PGA Championship). McIlroy didn’t even challenge in any of those and missed the cut at both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

Day, the current world No. 1, made a great run at the PGA but came up a shot short. Spieth had a successful defense of his Masters title in hand until he took a quadruple bogey seven on the 12th hole of the final round. Of the Day-McIlroy-Spieth trio and the four major championship winners, only Stenson and Willett opted to play in the Olympics and only Stenson and Spieth are past FedEx Cup champions.

So, September is FedEx Cup time and this year reputations are on the line as well as financial considerations. With eight different winners in nine years, the Playoff has had a wide variety of champions and this year’s competition figures to be even more wide-open than previous years.

Only Tiger Woods (2007 and 2009) has won the FedEx Cup twice and he isn’t playing this time. The other champions were Vijay Singh (2008), Jim Furyk (2010), Bill Haas (2011), Brandt Snedeker (2012), Stenson (2013), Billy Horschel (2014) and Spieth (2015).

There is some strategy to winning the ultimate, $10 million prize. Some players have skipped events in which they qualified because they felt they needed the rest before the biggest purse in golf was on the line. Such decisions can impact the 70 coming to Crooked Stick, but rest assured the field will have the players who are playing the best at the end of the season.

That was the idea of creating the Playoffs in the first place.

“We needed to define our season,’’ PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said when the series was announced. The format underwent some tweaking but has been consistent since 2011. It did create – at least sort of – a climax to one season before the next one starts.

Are the Playoffs really a climax, though? After all, the Ryder Cup battle between the U.S. and Europe from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 at Hazeltine National in Minnesota comes on the heels of the last FedEx Cup Playoff event – and the Ryder Cup is the biggest event in golf.

So, what is the climax to the 2016 golf season? You tell me, and the fact that the subject merits some debate is a good thing.

Small walks his way to 12th Illinois PGA title

Mike Small, the very successful men’s golf coach at the University of Illinois, won another Illinois PGA Championship on Wednesday. So what else is new?

Actually Small’s record 12th victory in the 94th playing of the tournament wasn’t like any of the others except for the fact that it came on the South Course at Olympia Fields Country Club. Small, an honorary member at the south suburban private facility, has won the premier event for the state’s club professionals there three times. His 12 overall victories have come in just a 14-year span.

No. 12, though, had some unusual twists. It was the first time since the 1950s that the IPGA Championship was an all-walking tournament. Power carts weren’t prevalent back then, and most players have used them in the competition since at least the 1970s.

Carts weren’t allowed for any of the three rounds this week because heavy rains – 10 inches fell in the two weeks before the IPGA arrived – left the fairways too soft and necessitated the use of the lift, clean and place rule all three days.

The decision to ban power carts was made on Sunday night, and that created a last-minute demand for caddies for Monday’s first round. Almost half of the 137 entrants used bag-toters recruited by Olympia caddie master Jim Salvatore. Only two players withdrew after the walking-only rule was invoked.

Adding to the unusual nature of a walking-only tournament was the fact that the IPGA Championship’s main sponsor over the last 14 years, Nadler Golf Cars, is a provider of power carts.

And that wasn’t the only strange twist to the event. This Small victory was due as much to the collapse of playing partner Curtis Malm as it was to Small’s play.

“I was never in this one until the last few holes,’’ admitted Small, who opened with a 71 on Monday before finishing 67-68. His 10-under-par 206 score for the 54 holes resulted a two-stroke victory.

Malm, the head professional at White Eagle in Naperville, led most of the way. He took a one-stroke lead over playing partner Travis Johns, the Medinah teaching pro, into the final round with Small another stroke back.

Small didn’t make his presence felt until the 361-yard sixth hole, when he put a 3-iron shot from 203 yards to within a foot of the cup, setting up his first birdie. Then it became a two-man battle with Small not getting sole possession of the lead until Malm three-putted for bogey at No. 16. Prior to that Small needed birdies at Nos. 14 and 15 just to hang with Malm.

And then came the par-4 seventeenth. Malm, reeling from the missed three-footer that knocked him out of the lead, sent his drive far right into thick brush. He lined up to play the shot from there, but his hand got caught in a vine on a practice backswing.

“I wanted to see if there would be any resistance,’’ said Malm, who wound up with scratches on the back of his hand. “After that it was an easy call to take an unplayable.’’

That wouldn’t be the only penalty shot he’d take on that hole. Hitting three, his next shot hit a tree and went back in the brush. That necessitated another penalty stroke and Malm wound up with a triple bogey seven. Instead of contending, he was now in third place behind – Johns moved into second — three shots behind Small with just one hole to go.

“Curtis played great. I feel bad for him,’’ said Small. “But that’s momentum. There’s momentum in golf. We talk to our team about that all the time.’’

Malm battled back to make birdie on the finishing hole, and that put him in a three-way tie for second with Johns and Brian Brodell, the teaching pro at Mistwood in Romeoville. It was Malm’s third runner-up finish in the IPGA Championship in the last five years.

Small took $11,200 from the tournament’s $71,019 purse – both significant increases from a year ago.

Johnson outlasts Inkster in record 6-hole Legends’ playoff

Trish Johnson is the center of attention at The Legends Championship awards ceremony.

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – The longest playoff in the 16-year history of The Legends Tour and the first in the Legends Championship’s four-year run was an epic, no doubt about it.

England’s Trish Johnson battled defending champion Juli Inkster through six extra holes on Sunday before an Inkster letdown handed the title and $37,700 first prize to Johnson.

Juli Inkster takes a long walk to the clubhouse after losing six-hole playoff.

“I wish I could say I enjoyed that, but I really didn’t,’’ said Johnson. “It was a battle for survival at the end.’’

Indeed it was, just like the final round of a year ago when Inkster – making her Legends Tour debut – overtook Johnson with three birdies on the last five holes. There were some similarities this time.

Johnson and Inkster were in a three-way tie with Becky Iverson at the start of the day. Johnson’s early birdies gave her a three-stroke lead on the field, but she got nervous after three-putting at No. 6.

“I totally lost my confidence,’’ she said. “After that I didn’t feel comfortable at all.’’

Still, she retained her three-stroke edge at the turn and another birdie at No. 10 put Johnson up four shots with eight holes to play. The tournament was far from over at that point, however.

Juli Inkster (left) and Trish Johnson trudge down the 18th fairway for the last time in their six-hole playoff.

“Juli did the same as she did last year,’’ said Johnson. “She made three birdies in the last five-six holes, and I felt I should have done better coming in. I got a little defensive, and I knew what Juli was gong to do because she always does that.’’

Actually, despite her big lead, Johnson was in danger of losing the title in the regulation 36 holes when Inkster – playing in the next-to-the-last twosome in front of Johnson — made a 10-foot birdie putt at No. 18 to get to 5-under-par for the tournament. That pulled her into a tie for the lead and Johnson and to scramble for a par to force the playoff.

The 18th hole, set up at 480 yards on Sunday, was designated as the lone playoff hole – and Johnson didn’t like that.

“I love the French Lick Resort, but I hate No. 18. I can’t play it,’’ she said. “I’ve played it 20 times (in Legends Championships) and I never made a birdie. It doesn’t suit my eye.’’

Steve Ferguson presents the winner’s trophy to Trish Johnson.

Both players had their chances to win in the extra session. Johnson had a 12-foot birdie putt hit the hole and spin out on the second extra hole and Inkster had a 10-footer that did the same on the fourth.

Finally they got to the sixth extra hole, with spectators staying around to watch the drama from mounds beside the No. 18 fairway. After both players made pars on the first five holes Inkster cracked first. She hit he second shot on the dogleg right par-5 in to the heather and it took a small search party to find it.

Inkster took an unplayable lie, adding a stroke, and then made a bad drop. Her ball stayed in thick rough and she moved her first attempt to get out only four yards. Her next attempt – her fifth shot on the hole – hit the green, but Johnson ended the playoff by two-putting for another par.

Johnson and Inkster dominated the field for the second straight year. Both shot 71s in the second round to finish at 5-under 139 for the regulation 36 holes. Endland’s Laura Davies was three shots back in third place but Jean Bartholomew had the best round of the tournament – a 7-under-par 65 – in finished in a tie for sixth.

The Honors Division, for seven players 63 and over, again went to Jan Stephenson. She has now won the division in four straight Legends Tour events.

Jan Stephenson celebrates her win in the Honors Division with French Lick director of golf Dave Harner.

Another Inkster, Johnson duel at The Legends Championship?

The storm is coming, but Legends’ players kept on practicing after their rounds at Pete Dye Course.

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – Becky Iverson started fast, Juli Inkster finished strong and Trish Johnson’s consistency was critical. In the end they shared the lead after Saturday’s first round of The Legends Championship on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort.

Rounds started off both the Nos. 1 and 10 tees after afternoon rains entered the weather forecast and the last players putted out before the weather turned bad.

“We got incredibly lucky,’’ said Johnson, last year’s runner-up to Inkster in this, the major tournament of the season on The Legends Tour. “I thought we were going to get annihilated when we started hearing the storm on the 12th tee. Then it stopped. We got away with murder.’’

England’s Trish Johnson faces the cameras after gaining a share of the first-round lead.

All the 58 players in the field were happy to get the round in, and plans for Sunday’s final 18 call for all to start off No. 1.

Iverson was at the top of the leaderboard most of the day after making three birdies in the first four holes. All came off solid iron shots that left her short birdie puts and she eventually got to 5-under for the round before struggling in with a 4-under 68.

“I was pretty tired,’’ said Iverson. “Golf should be 14 holes. It would have been great if we had quit after 14.’’

Iverson, who works as director of golf at The Bridges course in Madison, Wis., was the only one of the leaders to begin play at No. 10 and her highlight came on a 40-foot birdie putt at No. 13. She showed signs of stumbling after a bogey at No. 7 – her 16th hole of the day – and she needed to sink 10-footers to save pars on her last two holes.

Inkster, beginning defense of her title, threatened to fall off the pace when she lost a ball on the par-5 fourteenth hole.

“But I made a good bogey there, and that was key. It kept my round together,’’ said Inkster, who bounced back with an 18-foot birdie putt on the next hole and then posted her 68 – good for a share of the lead — with a four-foot birdie on a left-to-right breaker at No. 18.

For Johnson, winner of the Scottish Open just two years ago, the key was steady play. Her four birdies came from six feet or less.

Defending champion Juli Inkster gets special attention after her closing birdie pulled her into a tie for the lead.

“It’s an incredibly difficult golf course but, like anything, if it suits your eye you seem to play well,’’ said Johnson. “Who knows why?’’

Johnson was the first-round leader last year but Inkster, then making her debut on the circuit for players who have reached their 45th birthday, made birdies on Nos. 13, 15, 17 and 18 in the final round to beat Johnson by two strokes.

In today’s final round they’ll also have to battle with perennial contender Rosie Jones and Michele Redman, the University of Minnesota women’s coach. They’re just one shot back and Wendy Doolan and Patty Sheehan trail the leaders by two.

A repeat also looms in the seven-player Honors Division, whose players who have reached their 63rd birthday. Jan Stephenson has ruled the Honors category at the last three Legends tournaments offering that competitive category. The string started last year at French Lick.

Stephenson, who shot 74 for a three-stroke lead over Shelley Hamlin, wasn’t happy with her putting. She had three three-putts.

“But this golf course does fit me,’’ she said. “I love the trophy. I love winning playing against the girls I grew up playing with I’ve got no shot against the others, but I know I can shoot low out here.’’

Just an optical illusion, but Rosie Jones look like she’s putting down the cart path on the 18th hole.

Moore’s steady play makes a big difference in the John Deere Classic

JDC director Clair Peterson lauds champion Ryan Moore (right) as Paul Scranton looks on.

SILVIS, IL. – This was one strange John Deere Classic.

First there was the PGA Tour’s decision to schedule the 46-year old tournament opposite the Olympics instead of July as usual. Then there was the weather; numerous rain delays wreaked havoc with the tournament schedule for three days.

And then there was the lack of drama on Sunday, the best day weather-wise. The JDC is always one of the lowest-scoring tournaments on the circuit and birdies abound in the pressure of the final round in most years. Not Sunday, however.

In the end Ryan Moore “won’’ the tournament with his gritty play on Saturday. No one really challenged him in Sunday’s final round at TPC Deere Run as he led throughout for a two-stroke victory over playing partner Ben Martin.

Ryan Moore shows off his trophy after winning the JDC.

Moore wasn’t fazed by birdie binges from Morgan Hoffmann and Martin during a long Saturday, one in which many of the players – Moore included – had to play nearly two rounds after numerous rain delays wreaked havoc with the tournament schedule.

It was smoother sailing for Moore on Sunday, however, as he upped a one-stroke lead at the start of the final 18 to three shots on the front nine thanks to birdies at Nos. 2, 4 and 9. Sinking a tricky 24-foot putt at the fourth was key.

“It was important to show the guys behind me that I’m not here to mess around, that I was here to play,’’ said Moore. His lead grew to five when Moore made his last birdie at No. 10 and Hoffmann took a bogey at No. 11.

Martin then made three birdies in a row from Nos. 12-14 to cut his own deficit against Moore to two but Moore’s eight straight pars to finish the round were all he needed to capture his fifth win on the PGA Tour and first since 2014.

“When I had a five-shot lead I knew that wasn’t safe on this golf course,’’ said Moore, whose steadiness was the key to winning. He played the last 46 holes of the tournament without making a bogey and his 67 in the final round led to a 22-under-par 262 score for the 72 holes. That was two strokes better than Martin, who finished with a 68. Korean Wee Kim and Hoffman were another three shots back in a tie for third. Moore earned $864,000 from a purse of $4.8 million.

“Hats off to (Moore),’’ said Martin. “I don’t think he ever really sniffed a bogey. He did what you’re supposed to do when you play with the lead on Sunday. I got to see golf the way you’re supposed to play it from him all day.’’

Of the early starters only Adam Hadwin and Kevin Na maintained significant challenges. Both shot 64 but needed to make up much more ground than that. Peter Malnati also created some excitement, getting to 10-under for the day in his first 16 holes. Needing and eagle-birdie finish for a 59, Malnati faded fast with a triple bogey eight at No. 17 and a bogey at No. 18.

Moore is in his 12th season on tour. He’s one of a handful of players to get PGA Tour playing privileges without ever going to qualifying school. A brilliant amateur career culminated in 2004 when he won the U.S. Amateur, Western Amateur, U.S. Amateur Public Links and NCAA championship. That impressed pro tournament organizers who gave him plenty of sponsor exemptions, and he used those to meet money requirements to continually keep his card.

His professional record, though, isn’t as impressive as his amateur one was.

“Amateur golf and professional golf are two completely different animals,’’ he said. “I fought some injuries and I fought a lot of different stuff over the years. Honestly, just to keep my card for 12 seasons without ever losing it is a bit of an accomplishment these days, as tough as the competition is. I’m slowly trying to get better.’’

Dawn to dusk day leads to sizzling scoring at John Deere Classic

Wesley Bryan, teeing off in the third round, shared the JDC lead after two rounds before dropping back.

SILVIS, IL. – Finally, after two days of stormy weather that resulted in over three inches of rain pelting the TPC Deere Run course, the John Deere Classic is back on track and — conditions being what they are now – today’s final round is going to be a birdie-filled shootout.

The JDC has always been one of the lowest-scoring events on the PGA Tour and Saturday’s dawn to dusk session showed just how vulnerable TPC Deere Run can be under mild conditions. Saturday produced a race to finish. None of the players wanted to return early today to finish Round 3.

Ryan Moore, who lipped out his birdie putt on the final green at 8:25 p.m. in near darkness, posted his third straight 65. He’s 18 under par for the 54 holes, but that great scoring is good for only a one-stroke lead over Ben Martin and Morgan Hoffmann. They both shot 62 in Saturday’s third round.

The lift, clean and place rule was in effect on the fairways on Saturday, and the 73 players who made the cut after the second round ended at mid-day took full advantage once the third round began in the afternoon. Martin made birdie on the first five holes and on four of his last five. Hoffman strung six birds in his back nine blitz.

Moore, though, wasn’t fazed.

“That’s just how I play golf,’’ he said. “I’m a position guy – just put it out there and keep giving myself opportunities. My putting has felt better than it’s felt in a while, which is very encouraging.’’

The spectacular play wasn’t just by the front-runners on Saturday. Aaron Wise, the NCAA champion from Oregon, shot 63 and Charlie Danielson – like Wise in the field on a sponsor’s exemption – had the shot of the day. The former University of Illinois star holed out from 146 yards for eagle at No. 18.

Today’s cast of finalists includes the tourney’s two most popular stars, Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker, but neither took advantage of the good scoring conditions and are far back in the standings. In fact, a changing of the guard looms for today’s final round as the champions from the last seven years are either far off the pace or — in the case of two-time winner Jordan Spieth — not here.

Concerns over the Zika virus led to Spieth dropping out of the Olympics’ golf competition, and he decided to take the week off altogether rather than defend his title here.

Johnson, Stricker and 2014 JDC champion Brian Harman formed the featured threesome in the first two rounds, both of which were spread over 2 ½ days and played in less than desirable weather. They had to play their entire second round on Saturday morning and Johnson and Stricker returned for another 18 holes in the afternoon.

Harman didn’t survive the 36-hole cut, made after the second round was completed on Saturday morning. Johnson, the 2012 champion and perennial contender, saw his string of 29 straight rounds in the 60s at TPC Deere Run come to an end with a par-71 showing in Round 2 and he shot the same score in the afternoon. Stricker, who won the title three straight times from 2009-11, needed two late birdies just to survive the cut. He shot 68 in both his Saturday rounds and is tied for 37th place. Johnson is tied for 50th.

“I’m happy to be around,’’ said Stricker. “The course is wet. It’s tough to control your ball out of the fairway and if you hit it in the rough, it’s thick and lush. We’re lucky to be playing. The course took a lot of rain. It’s still in great shape, but it’s tough.’’

“Today is the hardest I’ve seen this course since the time we played in September (in 2003), said Johnson. “The course is significantly different. It was one of those gusty days where you’re in between clubs a lot.’’

Obviously, many of their rivals didn’t agree.

Hot streaks also were provided by Argentina’s Miguel Angel Carballo, who posted four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the front nine, and South Korea’s Wee Kim, who birdied his last five holes to climb into a tie for fifth, one shot behind fourth place Johnson Wagner.

Gillis shoots another 64, tries to forget painful playoff loss in JDC

Charlie Danielson, the former Illinois star, strung four birdies on Friday’s Illini Day at the John Deere Classic. He’s at 4-under 138 for the first 36 holes.

SILVIS, IL. – This 46th playing of the John Deere Classic has lots of golf remaining. Because three inches of rain fell on the TPC Deere Run course over the last two days, the second round is barely half over and will have to be completed Saturday morning before the third round can begin.

That aside, the tourney already has a heart-tugging story line. Tom Gillis is in the hunt again. One of the lucky ones to complete his second round on Friday, Gillis’ 64-68 start put him two strokes behind clubhouse leader Wesley Bryan and one behind Steve Marino after 36 holes.

Gillis was a tragic figure after the 2015 JDC. A 48-year old veteran of 171 PGA tour events, he was in position for his first victory on golf’s premier circuit. He let a lead slip away late in the final round, however, and ended up losing a two-hole playoff to 21-year old phenom Jordan Spieth who is not defending his title this week.

Spieth, who came from four strokes down with six to play to force the playoff, was the golden boy of 2015, having previously won the Masters and U.S. Open. Gillis was a journeyman player who accepted the defeat with dignity – at least on the day of his collapse.

“I never really watched the watched the video that day and when I did watch it I wished I hadn’t,’’ Gillis said. “It showed that I was in command all day. That bothered me all year. It will always bother me. I haven’t shown any form since then.’’

Gillis is in his 26th year as a touring pro and he’s played tournaments in 28 countries. Last year’s JDC is a classic example of what might have been.

“It could have really been special,’’ said Gillis. “What stung is that I realized that to win a lot has to happen right.’’

It didn’t that day 13 months ago, but it could this week. Last year he finished the tournament with a 7-under-par 64 to at least briefly pass Spieth, who started with the day with a two-stroke lead. This year he started with a 64, in a round that was spread over Thursday and Friday, and followed with another solid round in a long day on the course Friday.

Rain hampered the tournament again. Play was scheduled to start at 7 a.m. but the first round couldn’t resume until noon thanks to more bad weather. Those who finished their first rounds on Thursday couldn’t start their second rounds until nearly 6 p.m. Among those who have lots of golf to play today are Zach Johnson, the 2012 champion who was one of three golfers to post 65 on Thursday before severe weather curtailed play.

Bryan, off to a 66-64 start after playing 25 holes on Friday, earned his place on the PGA Tour off a strong showing on the Web.com Tour this year. Marino had a similarly long day on Friday. He arrived at the course at 5 a.m., anticipating a resumption of play two hours later.

“I had eaten breakfast, then went back to the hotel and ate breakfast again,’’ said Marino. “There was never a negative thought about what was going on.’’

Still, the weather has impacted every player at one time or another. Johnson and three-time JDC winner Steve Stricker were scheduled to start their second rounds at 7:40 p.m. They, along with playing partner Brian Harman, the 2014 winner, were standing on the No. 1 tee when another storm hit.

Play was suspended for the day at 7:52 and is scheduled to resume at 7 a.m. today. An improved weather forecast suggests the third round will at least begin on Saturday afternoon after the second is completed and the cut to the low 70 and ties is made.