Players struggle to come to terms with Stewart's loss
The conditions at Champions Golf Club could not have been more glorious today. The sun was shining, only a trace of breeze. The silence was broken only by the rap of a putter on the practice green.
"A dreary day," said John Huston, summing up a somber mood as the 29 players in the Tour Championship tried to cope with the shocking death of U.S. Open champion Payne Stewart.
Flags were at half-staff. Smiles were hard to find.
Tiger Woods felt a void when he watched the developments unfold on television Monday, the Learjet with Stewart and five others aboard flying uncontrolled across the heartland, only a matter of time before it plowed into the earth.
It hit Woods even harder when he flew to Houston that night and picked up the pro-am pairing. His tee time was 9 a.m. The slot below, which once held Stewart's name, was blank.
"That was a rude awakening," Woods said. "You think that hopefully it was a bad dream, a nightmare ... but unfortunately, it came true. It's hard to be believe he's not going to be here."
A memorial service for Stewart will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the First Baptist Church of Orlando (Fla.). The PGA Tour altered the schedule to give players a chance to attend.
The Tour Championship will begin with 27 holes on Thursday, have another 27 holes on Saturday and conclude Sunday with an 18-hole round.
"The tournament should go on," Woods said. "But obviously, it's not going to be an easy week. It's going to be tough."
It clearly wasn't an easy day.
While the pro-am was canceled, 22 players kept their date with four amateur partners. It was a form of therapy for some, although they played with no emotion and even less focus. Stewart, his quick wit, loose swing and colorful plus two's, was never far from their minds.
"I'm walking down the fairway and occasionally I get a few flashes in my head of Payne and some of the memories I have," Woods said. "Everyone is going through that. It is just a matter of dealing with it and coming to the peace and understand that he is in a better place right now."
The Tour Championship is one of the best events of the year, a festive atmosphere for the top 30 players on the money list. While Champions is only a mile from one of the busiest thoroughfares in Houston, the silence was spooky.
"Nobody was really asking for autographs or clamoring for pictures," Woods said. "Nobody was talking. It was very eerie. This golf tournament ... it doesn't have the same emphasis as it once did, and rightfully so."
Among those who hadn't arrived was Davis Love III, whose father was killed in a plane crash in 1988.
"Our entire family knows the grief the Stewart family is enduring," he said in a statement.
Phil Mickelson, who finished one stroke behind Stewart in the U.S. Open, showed up before dawn for morning television shows and returned to the course in the afternoon.
"For this to happen at the height of his career, and really the height of his life, is difficult to accept," Mickelson said. "I haven't really thought about the tournament this week or playing. It's just a real somber mood here.
"As far as golf is concerned, it really takes a seat on the back burner."
Stewart will not be replaced in the field.
Woods, who won for the sixth time this year at Disney World on Sunday, has a chance to surpass $6 million if he wins the next two tournaments, although that was not even a consideration today.
He will be paired with David Duval, No. 2 on the money list, for the first time this year.
"I think it will be difficult to be focused on what you're doing," Duval said. "I don't know how spectacular the golf will be."
Duval was among a dozen or so players at Champions on Monday for a practice round. Mike Hicks, Stewart's caddie, was stepping off the yardage on the course when he was summoned to the phone.
"I don't think today was any easier, but yesterday was the worst part about it all," Duval said. "I think today was just trying to get a grasp of it being real."
The flags were a constant reminder how real it was. If that wasn't enough, PGA Tour officials were making black ribbons for players and caddies to wear as a tribute to Stewart.
"It's hard to think about playing a tournament," John Huston said. "It doesn't seem worth it."
Across the Atlantic Ocean, the American flag flew at half-staff at St. Andrews. At the European Tour stop in Germany, players were in the same frame of mind -- shocked by the tragedy, trying to find words to describe a competitor and friend.
Woods took questions for about 20 minutes, the toughest part of his day.
"To have him gone ... it is really difficult to refer to him right now in the past tense," he said. "That's the hardest thing for me right now, when I talk about it."