|A downed tree near the sixth green was one of dozens uprooted at Congressional before Saturday's round. (AP)|
BETHESDA, Maryland -- Even with Tiger Woods in the hunt, Congressional will be very quiet for the third round of the AT&T National on Saturday.
Because of a powerful storm that uprooted dozens of trees, including a 75-foot tree that crashed across the 14th fairway, the tournament was closed to spectators and volunteers for safety reasons. Mark Russell, the PGA Tour's vice president of rules and competition, could not remember another time when a tour event did not allow fans.
"It's too dangerous out here," Russell said. "There's a lot of hanging limbs. There's a lot of debris. It's like a tornado came through here. It's just not safe."
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The first order of business was getting Congressional in shape for the players.
The third round was delayed six hours, with the hope it could start at 1 p.m. ET in threesomes going off both tees.
The storm was called "Derecho" because it packed straight wind that reached as strong as 80 mph. Stewart Williams, the PGA Tour's meteorologist, said it was capable of doing the same amount of damage as an F-1 tornado.
The storm itself lasted just under an hour and dumped barely more than a quarter-inch of rain on the course. But it took out power to more than 400,000 customers in the area, uprooted trees and blew away some of the smaller tents. Before workers could start cleaning up Congressional, they had to clear away four large trees blocking the entrance.
The maintenance crew worked through the night, with a shorter staff. At big PGA Tour events like the AT&T National, the course superintendent often relies on the staff from area golf courses to help out during the week. On Saturday, many of them had to tend to their own courses. Plus, the cleanup was slowed by not having power at Congressional.
At least 40 trees were uprooted, and limbs large and small were scattered along the golf course. The 11th fairway was littered with branches for some 300 yards.
That would be time-consuming to clear. The more jarring images were large trees that had been cracked at the trunk, some of them crashing on top of the ropes that had lined the fairways. The 75-foot tree on the 14th was about 75 yards beyond the area where players hit their tee shots. One worker arrived with three small chain saws in the back of his cart. Given the size of the tree, it was akin to bringing a garden hose to put out a bonfire.
On Friday, Woods played a risky shot off the pine straw around a 60-foot tree toward the green on the par-5 sixth. A day later, that tree was on its side, cracked at trunk.
The wood signs on nearly every tee box had been ripped from the sign posts, and the trailers that house the PGA Tour's communications system, such as Shotlink scoring, narrowly escaped severe damage. Workers had to repair cables that provide the wireless signal, which would have delayed the reporting of scores.
Television coverage was scheduled for its normal hours, though CBS Sports was not going beyond its 6 p.m. time slot, and Golf Channel could not pick up the rest of the third round because of its obligation to the LPGA Tour.
Hunter Mahan was at 7-under 135 and had a two-shot lead. Woods, who had a 68 on Friday, was five shots behind.
Several players were having breakfast in the dim clubhouse at Congressional, which was getting its power from a generator. Eighty players made the cut, though the tour hoped to be able to complete the third round.
Saturday tickets would be honored on Sunday.
"It was an easy decision," Russell said of the plan to keep spectators away. "Everything inside the ropes was thrown outside the ropes."
The only other recollection of a tournament with no fans was in 2000 for a Champions Tour event in St. Louis, when Arnold Palmer played. The King can draw a gallery anywhere, but storms that week caused such a problem with traffic that no one could get to the golf course.