Choi leads Norman at Royal Birkdale

By Associated PressJuly 18, 2008, 4:00 pm
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Open ChampionshipSOUTHPORT, England -- Greg Norman turned back the clock. So did David Duval. And K.J. Choi found himself in a familiar position'leading the final group of the British Open heading to the weekend.
 
Three weeks after marrying tennis great Chris Evert, Norman kept up the honeymoon at Royal Birkdale with his second straight par 70 on Friday, leaving him one stroke off Chois lead.
 
Norman won the Open twice in his prime but never thought it was still there for the taking at age 53.
 
My expectations were almost nil coming in, he said bluntly. I hadnt played a lot of golf.
 
K.J. Choi
K.J. Choi muscled his way into the lead with a pair of closing birdies. (Getty Images)
Talk about low expectations. Theres no way Duval could have expected much, not after missing the cut 10 of 11 times on the PGA TOUR this year.
 
Suddenly, hes playing like the guy who won the 2001 British Open and seemed ready to challenge Tiger Woods as the worlds best player. After that, injuries and erratic play sent his career into steep decline.
 
Duval shot a 69'his first round in the 60s at the British Open since he won at Royal Lytham & St. Annes'and was three shots behind Choi in a large group that included defending champion Padraig Harrington.
 
The Irishman wasnt even sure he could play because of his sore wrist, yet Harrington looked just fine in playing the final four holes 4 under for a 68 that gave him a chance to become Europes first repeat winner of the British Open since 1906.
 
Choi finished with back-to-back birdies for a 67, rolling in a 20-footer at No. 18 to push his two-round total to 1-under 139. He was the only player in the field under par.
 
Im very surprised, the South Korean said.
 
He shouldnt be. A year ago, Choi was just two strokes off the lead at the 36-hole mark, playing in the final group Saturday with Sergio Garcia. He couldnt keep it going and tied for eighth.
 
With two days to go, Norman still considers himself the longest of long shots, and hes got players half his age'such as 26-year-old Camilo Villegas, who shot the best round yet with a brilliant 5-under 65 Friday'poised to challenge.
 
Still, it was amazing to see Normans name atop the leaderboard at a tournament he won in 1986 at Turnberry and then again in at Royal St. Georges seven years later'especially since hes trying to be the oldest player by far to win a major.
 
Julius Boros was 48 when he captured the PGA Championship in 1968.
 
You feel like youre stepping back in time, Norman said, his bride watching from the back of the room after following him around the links course. My expectations are still realistically low. I havent been there for a long time.
 
Normans focus has certainly been elsewhere in recent years as he cut back on his golf, turned to his myriad business interests and endured a messy, costly divorce. Recently, he was more concerned about planning his wedding to Evert than prepping for the Open, one of the rare golf events on his schedule.
 
The two got married in the Bahamas less than three weeks ago, then kept the honeymoon going once they headed across the Atlantic.
 
The least of my worries was getting out there and practicing, Norman conceded. My mind has really been elsewhere.
 
With no offense to Normans steady play, no one was hotter Friday than Villegas, who started his round with two bogeys but closed with five straight birdies'rolling in putts of 16, 6, 16, 3 and 20 feet.
 
I obviously played unbelievable, the Colombian said.
 
Villegas, dubbed Spider-Man for his unique, crouching style of reading putts and one of golfs most noted fashion plates, has come across as more flash than substance. Hes never won on the PGA TOUR, but put himself right in contention at a tournament known for unlikely champions, including Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton.
 
The Colombian had eight birdies overall. He capped his amazing run at the end by striking the flagstick with his approach at No. 18, then sinking the putt after the ball ricocheted onto the fringe.
 
Golfs oldest major began in miserable weather, but conditions improved dramatically Friday. Despite a grim forecast, the rain largely held off and the breeze off the Irish Sea remained relatively calm by Birkdale standards.
 
Others in the logjam at 2-over 142 were Rocco Mediate (73), Graeme McDowell (73), Jim Furyk (71), Robert Allenby (73) and Alexander Noren (70).
 
Garcia, looking to make up for a devastating playoff loss to Harrington at Carnoustie, rolled in a 75-foot birdie at No. 4 but ran into trouble after the turn. He bogeyed the 10th and double bogeyed the next hole on the way to a 73, leaving him six shots behind going to Saturday, instead of holding the lead.
 
Several big names flirted with the cut line. Ernie Els followed an opening-round 80 with a 69, but slammed his putter to the ground after missing a short par putt at No. 18. Vijay Singh, who also started with an 80, looked to be heading home after shooting 71.
 
Phil Mickelson appeared safely through to the weekend after rebounding with a 68'11 strokes better than he shot in the soaking rain and howling wind on Thursday. Lefty was eight strokes behind Choi.
 
Playing in the morning, Norman had a two-stroke lead on the field until he made a mess of No. 17. He put two shots in the rough and another in a backside bunker, but rolled in a 12-footer for bogey that limited the damage.
 
After a perfect drive on No. 18, Norman walked up the fairway twirling his club and taking in a huge roar from the British gallery, which knows him as a two-time Open winner, not the guy who squandered numerous chances to win majors in the States.
 
Norman was in danger of another bogey after he powered a long putt 20 feet past the cup. But he made the par saver, giving the slightest hint of a fist pump, then a tip of the cap as his caddie patted him on the shoulder.
 
That was quite an ordeal last few holes, Norman said. I felt like it was getting away from me a little bit.
 
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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


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    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


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    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


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    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”