- Farrell Evans, Golf
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BETHESDA, Md. -- For days, the sweltering heat and unforgiving course had been big stories at the AT&T National, but a storm passed through the Congressional Country Club area Friday night, and 60 mph winds left their stamp. With tree limbs hanging and debris scattered across the 7,500-yard Blue course, cleanup crews worked all night to restore the grounds to a semblance of its usual form.
Spectators were not allowed on the course for Saturday's third round.
"It's too dangerous out here," said Mark Russell, the PGA Tour's vice president of rules and competition. "It's like a tornado came through here. It's just not safe."
The storm that attacked Congressional was mostly wind. The course got only about three-tenths of an inch of rain.
Russell said it was an easy decision to bar fans from the course.
"Everything inside the ropes was thrown outside the ropes," he said.
Workers needed time to make the course suitable for the players, so the start of the round was delayed six hours. Players went off in threesomes at 1 p.m. ET Saturday off both tees and will do the same Sunday.
At about 10:30 a.m. ET Saturday, Camilo Villegas and D.A. Points were the only players on the driving range, which at the time probably was the safest place to be on the golf course. The idea of players wearing hard hats Saturday morning around Congressional wouldn't have been inconceivable.
At golf tournaments, spectators often help players find their wayward shots. They are important and learned cheerleaders, eyeballs for the golfers, who can't see everything.
For players like Tiger Woods, this will be the first time since they were junior golfers that they will play a competitive round without a gallery. Yet the typical tour member, outside of the majors and especially in an early-morning round, might go around with only a handful of spectators.
Still, to not have anyone offer moans and applause will be something new for the players.
George McNeill, a 36-year-old former Florida State star who got his second PGA Tour win earlier this year at the Puerto Rico Open, heads into the third round in a tie for 37th after a 3-over par total in the first two rounds. McNeil said that although it took him some time to get accustomed to playing in front of galleries, it's also not the easiest thing to play without them.
"A few years ago at the Humana Challenge, we had a big storm come through and there were no amateurs and no galleries in the third round," McNeill said. "It was odd. You get out there and you make a birdie or a bogey and you get no reaction. You make a birdie [and] it's almost a natural reaction to raise your hand and say thanks to the gallery because you're expecting a few hand claps. If you make a bogey or a double-bogey, you're expecting a few 'awwws.'
"On the golf course you can't always tell where your ball ends up, so you're always waiting for that reaction."
McNeil said playfully that the tour could have used the no-gallery policy Saturday to relax its dress code for the players.
"I was talking to a couple other players and we're going, 'If there is nobody out here watching us, why can't we wear shorts today?' " he said. "Obviously, there are going to be TV cameras and stuff. But that would have been fun to have the first time in tour history that players could wear shorts.
"It's going to be like playing a practice round, but it counts."
16hZach Jones, ESPN Stats & Information