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Magnolia course toughened up for Disney

The train whistle blows every 30 minutes across the street at the Magic Kingdom. Players still spend half their time on the golf course, the other half standing in line with their kids at Space Mountain.

The Funai Classic at Disney appears to be the same as ever, with one notable change.

It no longer is played on a Mickey Mouse course.

The Magnolia course has been stretched to 7,516 yards, the latest tournament that figures the most viable way to challenge the best players is by making a course longer.

``They just don't get it,'' Frank Lickliter said Wednesday. ``Grow the rough. Tighten the fairways.''

What irritated the folks at Disney was seeing players hit wedge into the 455-yard 18th hole, which architect Joe Lee intended to be played with a middle iron. At least in the practice round, they got their wish.

Vijay Singh, one of the few players to embrace the 326 additional yards, hit 6-iron into the final three holes during his practice round Wednesday. He used to hit sand wedge on some of them.

``It's not a matter of liking it,'' Singh said. ``It needed some sort of a change, and hitting sand wedges on the last two holes, wedge on the last hole ... doesn't make it a good finish. I think it's good. I think it's very fair.''

If players want a break, they still get one day at the Palm course.

The Funai Classic at Disney, which starts Thursday with Ryan Palmer as the defending champion, is a pro-am the first two days on the Palm and Magnolia courses, with the final two rounds of the Mag.

The tournament has had an odd collection of winners over the last dozen years -- from Tiger Woods (twice) to Bob Burns, from Singh to Duffy Waldorf. One thing they all had in common was shooting low scores.

Palmer is not related in the least to Arnold Palmer, but he made a back-nine charge that would have done Arnie proud, closing with four straight birdies for a 10-under 62. He finished at 22-under 266, and that tied for the worst score to win at Disney in the last five years.

Is length the answer?

Woods, who will put the latest Nike driver in play this week, isn't so sure.

``Look at some of the golf courses where we've had from single digits under par, maybe 10 under par, on the shortest golf courses we play all year,'' he said.

One of those was two weeks ago at Harding Park in San Francisco, which measured a scant 7,086 yards as a par 70. Woods beat John Daly on the second playoff hole. Most players point to Hilton Head with its winding fairways and tiny greens. It's a 6,973-yard par 71, and Peter Lonard won at 7-under 277.

Soggy fairways have made the course play even longer -- and perhaps tougher.

``More than the length, it's the fact that every ball is backing up,'' Woods said. ``Every ball picked up mud. That's the hardest thing in the world. You can have length, and you can have longer shots to the green, but if you don't have a clean ball, it makes for a very difficult golf shot.''

Woods, Singh and Retief Goosen highlight the field at Disney, with Woods still entertaining hopes of breaking the single-season earnings mark of $10.9 million, set last year by Singh. He is just under $1 million short with two tournaments left, Disney and the Tour Championship in two weeks at East Lake.

The key this week is not to lose ground while playing the easier Palm course, which has stayed the same at 7,015 yards and has a par 5 that is 495 yards -- shorter than the par-5 ninth on the Mag (500 yards).

``The difference in the courses will be more pronounced this year,'' Charles Howell III said.

Howell is coming off a tie for fifth last week in Las Vegas that moved him up 12 spots to No. 30 on the money list, giving him a good chance to get into the Tour Championship. He was on the practice range pounding his driver so far that one bounced into a golf cart on the other end of the range, more than 300 yards away.

That should come in handy at the Mag because of the extra length.

``It's unbelievable the difference,'' Howell said. ``The big one to me is No. 5, which was a tough par 4 before. I don't think it needed any length, but it got it.''

The fifth hole, a dogleg to the right, is 44 yards longer and now measures 480 yards. The idea was to bring some of the strategic mounding back into play, but what it mostly changes is club selection.

``I hit a pretty good drive today, and killed a 1-iron to get it on the green,'' Robert Gamez said.

The tournament might be more challenging, but it's still a peaceful week for just about everyone except those still grinding to either keep their PGA Tour cards or get into the Tour Championship. The Magic Kingdom is not far away, and even those who live in the area stay at Disney to be close to the theme parks.

``It's just a great, relaxing week,'' Chris DiMarco said. ``But now that they've added 500 yards to it, it's not as relaxing as it used to be.''

October 20, 2005

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