Challenges for Ames

IAN HUTCHINSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

For those who regularly accuse their friendly neighbourhood scribes of sensationalizing stories, the temptation is to say that Calgary's Stephen Ames had an epiphany the night before the final round of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass last year.

That Saturday night, however, was pretty mundane.

"It was a relaxing evening, typical of the week-in, week-out I normally have," recalled Ames, who was sitting on a one-shot lead going into Sunday.

The next day, Ames did look super-human, or at least like somebody favoured by a higher being, as he made the turn after birdies at the second and sixth holes before stumbling with a double bogey at 10.

If Ames was shaken, he didn't show it as he bounced back with birdies at 11, 13 and 15 before an eagle at 16. Through it all, he committed the cardinal sin of not showing a lot of respect for TPC Sawgrass by going at pin after pin, but it all paid off with a five-under 67 to win the unofficial fifth major.

STELLAR

A 67 is a score players from all levels would take, but what makes Ames' performance particularly stellar is that he finished six shots ahead of the rest of a field that included 47 of the top 50 players in the world.

In the end, that outstanding field produced an inflated average score of 75.378, signifying the second-toughest Sunday in the history of the tournament. As marquee players backed up, Ames became the bling of the final round, but subtle danger could conceivably curtail his aggressive play this week.

Ames defends his title at a golf course that has undergone extensive renovations since his victory last year. From a spectator's point of view, the changes are cosmetic including a swanky, new clubhouse and spectator viewing areas, but there are some well-placed bunkers and new trees that could affect play.

"The golf course looks the same," Ames said. "I think we've added something like 200 yards to the golf courses and (there are) some good changes too -- things that needed to be done.

Most of the changes will not be obvious to spectators, but the players might feel them depending on weather conditions. A thick layer of sand has been laid down and the Pete Dye classic built in what was a swamp has been resodded.

A new irrigation and drainage system has also been installed to deal with the often marshy conditions and while most of these changes would seemingly be of more interest to a superintendent than a golf fan, Sawgrass likely will be running firmer and faster than ever in its 25th anniversary as the tournament's venue.

Last year, Ames hit 75% of fairways and 72% of greens in regulation, leaving him tied for first in both categories. It will be interesting to see if he can duplicate those numbers, not only because of the course changes, but also because of the date change from the tournament's traditional time in March.

"Now that we've gone into May, the ball's going to be running a little bit more, so I think, overall, the golf course isn't going to be as long, but it's going to be a little more difficult, funny enough," Ames said.

"I think, overall, the general public doesn't realize that when we play a firmer, faster golf course, the fairways that are 25 to 30 yards wide all of a sudden become half that."

That, of course, puts the premium on accuracy and control, a goal that Ames achieved in his victory last year, but the firmer, faster conditions may affect that recipe for success if monster shots off the tee start wandering deep into the rough.

"It's going to be even tougher to hit the fairways, so overall, the venue itself has changed and the scoring is going to be even higher in May if it doesn't rain, so I think it's just going to be even more of a challenge," Ames said. "I think, overall, they're fair changes, not unfair changes, which is good."

RISING STOCK

Calgary's Chris Baryla and Vancouver's Bryn Parry may not have gone over the top in a playoff at the Henrico County Open a week ago, but their stock is on the rise on the Nationwide Tour money list, where Baryla vaulted to 25th from 75th and Parry shot to 31st from 149th last week. Aurora's David Morland IV led the Canadian contingent and stood 12th last week. The top 20 at the end of the season get their PGA Tour cards.


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