PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla., May 10 — Thursday afternoon is prime-time for practice, most weeks. The morning players have signed, lunched and found their way to the range. \n

But Thursday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. at the Stadium Course, one guy was chipping (Joey Sindelar), one guy was putting (Tom Lehman), and two guys were hitting balls (Charles Howell III and Henrick Stenson). \n

The wind was blowing out of the north-northwest at 15 miles an hour at least, often double that, sometimes triple that. Players generally don't want to practice in that kind of wind, not after a long, exhausting day in the office.

Charlie Howell, who opened with a 73, takes a different view, as you might expect. For starters, he's almost at the Vijay Singh/Tiger Woods level of devotion to practice. For another thing, he's a masochist.

"I like practicing in the wind because it magnifies your mistakes," Howell said. It turns your push fade into a wicked slice, which at Charlie Howell's level means the driver goes about 10 yards right of the target. Howell wants to know what his mis-hits are doing.

"Plus, we're probably going to be playing in this for the three days," Howell said. In other words, you might as well get used to it. "This is the first time I've ever played in a named storm," Howell said. Tropical storm Andrea was on Palm Pilot weather sites all over the golf course.

Howell practices with all manner of devices, just as Vijay does. He put away the bands that keep his legs attached and the swimming noodle that keeps him on plane and a shaft on the ground that keeps him aligned, and he went to the putting green, doubling the population there.

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