Familiar story different name headlining Buick

By Associated PressFebruary 4, 2009, 5:00 pm
2006 Buick InvitationalSAN DIEGO ' He captured more majors than anyone last year, won every player of the year award on golfs landscape and will make his PGA Tour debut this week in the Buick Invitational.
The story should sound familiar, just not the name.
Never really thought of it that way, Padraig Harrington said Wednesday.
Instead of Tiger Woods, the feature attraction at Torrey Pines is Harrington, who has won three of the last six majors, including consecutive titles last year in the British Open and PGA Championship.
Harrington is No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked player at the Buick Invitational by a small margin over hometown star Phil Mickelson. And while Lefty figures to attract the largest gallery ' the security detail that usually follows Woods has been assigned to him ' the Irishman was the No. 1 pick at the pro-am draw party.
This will be the earliest Harrington has started on the PGA Tour, but he could not think of a better place.
He was at Torrey Pines for the U.S. Open last summer, but this is his first time to play the Buick Invitational. He spent his pro-am Wednesday on the North course, which in June was occupied by parking lots, practice areas, corporate tents and the media center.
Reaching the crest of the fifth fairway, staring below at the green, the cliffs and the Pacific Ocean, Harrington caught himself.
This is a particularly pretty view, he said, a rare understatement by his standards.
And when one of his amateur partners asked him to list his favorite golf course in America (not counting Augusta National), Harrington listed the next three tournaments on his schedule ' Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach and Riviera, the only time in PGA Tour history that three straight tournaments are held at U.S. Open venues.
What kind of game he will bring to those courses remains a mystery.
Less than sharp, Harrington said.
He takes a two-month break from tournament golf during the winter, but he is always working, always refining his swing to find a way to make it better. He concedes that it takes time for the moving parts to get in sync.
You can practice as much as you like, go on the golf course and play as much as you like, he said. But its totally different when you have a card in your hand.
Good thing his card on Wednesday was only for a pro-am.
From 90 yards short of the fourth green, he looked like one of his amateurs when he chunked a sand wedge that didnt get halfway to the green. On the uphill seventh along the cliffs, he hooked his tee shot into hazard. He wound up with a 73 on the easy North.
In some respects, Harrington filled the void when Woods missed the second half of the season with knee surgery, at least in performance. He won the British Open, the first major without Woods since he turned pro. Harrington was Tiger-like in winning consecutive majors. And just like Woods, his performance in the Ryder Cup was not up to par.
But the biggest difference is the start to his season.
Woods shows up at every tournament prepared to win, and he usually does, especially at Torrey Pines. Harrington is the first to admit hes not there yet, and might never be.
I go to events hopeful, he said with a laugh. Im hoping the game will be there, but not expecting it.
The earliest Harrington has won in a season was the 2005 Honda Classic, held in March, but that was his fourth straight start. Harrington made his 2009 debut three weeks ago in Abu Dhabi and tied for fifth, a pleasant surprise.
But it was a surprise.
He is a control freak, getting more satisfaction out of knowing he can hit the proper shot instead of simply seeing a good shot.
This is a good example, he said as he walked down the eighth fairway toward his tee shot, nestled in the rough some 10 yards left of the fairway. I thought I made a good swing. I felt it would start down the middle. But it started down the left side with a draw. It was a surprise to see it start 10 yards left of where I was aiming.
Thats what Im saying, he said. Its not that Ill be making a better swing in the summer, but Ill have a better concept of where Im at. Ill be able to tell on Wednesday whats going to come out tomorrow. This time of the year, Im not sure where my strengths are or what Im trying to avoid.
Harrington often finds himself playing a tournament while preparing for another one, and maybe thats why he has won three of the last six majors dating to the 2007 British Open. And he has no complaints.
But that was the goal in the winter, to make sure every time I teed it up that I was more sure of where I was. And Im not sure of anything at the moment, he said with a laugh. I failed miserably this week.
Mickelson is coming off the slightest of failures, having missed the cut last week in the FBR Open. The good news for Lefty is the last two times he has missed a cut on the West Coast, he won the next week ' at Pebble Beach in 2007, and at Riviera last year.
He isnt too worried about being in last place in the FedEx Cup standings one week into his year.
Im just going to brush it off and see how it goes this week, Mickelson said. Start 09 anew this week.

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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.”