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East Lake's poor greens just another FedEx setback

Editor's Note: After this article was posted, the PGA Tour announced that practice rounds will be allowed on Tuesday and Wednesday at East Lake. Players may use all greens except for Nos. 2, 13 and 15.

LEMONT, Ill. -- The FedEx Cup and the PGA Tour do not need this kind of heat. It has been turned up on them for several weeks as the first season-ending playoffs have been questioned from New York to Boston to Chicago. Now, it's on to Atlanta, where intense sunshine should not be mistaken for happiness.

The greens are so bad at East Lake Golf Club that the PGA Tour has taken the unprecedented step of barring spectators from the course, canceling the Wednesday pro-am and not allowing players to hit shots to or practice on the greens. A summer heat wave caused the problem at the elite club.

That means nobody in the 30-player field that will be competing for $7 million in prize money and the high end of a $35 million bonus pool will see or feel the putting surfaces until the players tee off in the first round of the event. And it means the FedEx Cup playoffs suffer another blow.

"They've had all year to prepare for this tournament," Robert Allenby said Sunday after the final round of the BMW Championship. "To say that it's not ready is pretty disgusting, I think. Especially for a major event. I mean, this is what it's all about … the FedEx Cup. It's coming down to the final event, and it's going to be a nonevent. Because it could be Mickey Mouse golf.

"You might hit good shots, good putts … who knows what the greens will be like? We're not allowed to play them until Thursday."

Players were officially notified Sunday morning via a two-page note on their lockers. Tiger Woods said he'd never heard of such a thing. Jim Furyk lamented the negativity that already is surrounding the FedEx Cup. Some wondered whether the tournament could have been moved.

Ernie Els said the greens conditions were no surprise to the players. They had been hearing about the poor conditions. Tour player Adam Scott, Els said, had been to East Lake for a corporate outing last month and said the greens were in poor shape.

"So for the tour to come to us [Saturday] and say after all this time there is a problem with the greens, it's kind of a shock," Els said. "This is the FedEx Cup. A lot of money has been spent, the players have played their butts off to get to this point. To me, it's unacceptable."

In East Lake's defense, Atlanta endured record-high temperatures in August, with 28 days of 90-degree-plus temperatures and 10 in the 100s. The course has bent grass greens, which are not as tolerant to heat as Bermuda grass, the predominant putting surface on courses in the South.

Masters champion Zach Johnson, who won on bent grass greens about two hours down the road from East Lake in Augusta, took the sympathetic approach.

"It's a super event, super golf course; it's just unfortunate," he said. "But there's really nothing you can do. It's Mother Nature."

Allenby wasn't as forgiving.

"It's their fault, isn't it?" he said. "They should have had Bermuda or something. Then they'd be fine. They've had a long time to prepare for this."

But there is nothing anyone could do about the weather. And in extremely intense heat, this kind of grass just doesn't grow.

The club has been closed for 10 days in an attempt to limit the stress on the grass. Fans have been blowing to keep the air as cool as possible. But the greens will be nowhere near the condition they were in November when the previous edition of the Tour Championship was played in cool conditions with hard, fast greens.

That means the possibility of bumpy, patchy surfaces that might bring an added element of luck to the proceedings.

"I think all good putters want to have the greens as fast and as slope-y as possible, just get them as fast as can be, where you can use creativity to get a ball in the hole," Woods said. "If you look at the winners at Augusta, you don't see bad putters there. … Fast, pure greens, if you don't start the ball on the right line with the right speed, it's not going in, period."

This will be the seventh playing of the Tour Championship at East Lake, which became the event's permanent site beginning in 2004 and is contracted to be the host through 2012.

When it became apparent to PGA Tour officials last week that there was a major problem, extra steps were taken to try to bring the grass along. Over the weekend, the idea of moving the event to another course was briefly considered, including a move to TPC-Sugarloaf, a tour-owned course in suburban Atlanta that is home to the AT&T Classic.

"When you're talking about golf courses within this proximity, it whittles your options down," said Todd Rhinehart, tournament director for the Tour Championship. "To work through the logistics would have been impossible."

So the show will go on, but with another blight. At The Barclays, it was the absence of Woods and mediocre crowds for the first-ever playoff event. At the Deutsche Bank, it was the absence of Els plus Phil Mickelson's veiled criticism of PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. At the BMW, it was Mickelson's no-show and the tournament's leaving Chicago every other year.

Now this. A player could have a putt on the 18th green at East Lake to win a $10 million bonus -- and it might not resemble a putt or a green at all.

Maybe a sense of humor is in order.

"I don't think it'll matter to the public," Mark Calcavecchia said. "We'll have a tournament. Somebody is going to win. Someone is going to finish 30th. And I think I know who the favorite for that position is."

Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.