Haas Ready to Make Champions Debut

By Associated PressMay 26, 2004, 4:00 pm
04 Senior PGA ChampionshipLOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Jay Haas is entering unfamiliar territory at this week's Senior PGA Championship.
The 50-year-old is not only playing in his first event as a senior, he's also been labeled the man to beat - even though he hasn't won a tournament since 1993.
'Somebody asked me when was the last time I was a pre-tourney favorite and I said, 'Maybe, never.' When I was 12 in a junior event,' said Haas, who has four top 10 finishes on the regular PGA Tour this year.
Haas earned more than $2.5 million on tour last year and has already topped $1 million in earnings in 2004.
'Well, now he's probably the youngest in the field, so he's got to be the favorite, right?' quipped Fuzzy Zoeller, the 2002 Senior PGA champion.
Haas is 12th in the Ryder Cup points standings and is trying to become the oldest player to qualify for the prestigious international event.
He won't earn any points even if he wins at Valhalla this week and considered playing instead at this week's regular tour stop, in Memphis, Tenn.
'I guess I feel like if I am going to put the time in, I ought to try to play in tournaments that I can get points for the Ryder Cup,' Haas said. 'But I don't want to second-guess myself and say, 'Gosh, I should have gone to Memphis.' I feel like I'm going to play enough events on the regular tour that if I play well enough, I'll get the points.'
Haas and 2001 Senior PGA champion Tom Watson are two of seven players who competed in the 1996 and 2000 PGA Championships at Valhalla. Watson said that tournament experience will be a significant advantage this week.
During a practice round on Tuesday, Watson remembered that winds tend to gust on the tee at No. 12, a demanding par-4.
'If you wait a second, you can hit the ball with no wind there, even though the wind is in your face,' said Watson, who tied for ninth in 2000. 'People who haven't played it before just go ahead and hit it.'
The Jack Nicklaus-designed course has been slightly adjusted for the seniors.
Nine fairway bunkers have been added and the course will play 177 yards shorter than it did in 2000, when Tiger Woods defeated Bob May in a riveting playoff.
The second hole, a 535-yard par-5 four years ago, will play as a 455-yard par-4 this week and drop the course's par to 71. The hole was the easiest in 2000, yielding 180 birdies, and the players seeing it again don't like the new look.
'I think it makes a better par-5 than a par-4. The green sets up better for it,' Watson said.
'It was a better hole as a par-5,' Craig Stadler said. 'But so be it. It's a good, hard par-4.'
Nicklaus, who approved the PGA-recommended alterations, had not seen them until he played a practice round on Wednesday. He only got in nine holes before a thunderstorm washed out afternoon play.
Nicklaus defended the changes he saw.
'Every golf course evolves,' Nicklaus said. 'The PGA has made a lot of changes. They're basically changes they wanted to make, not what I think should be here. But they're fine.'
If one senior knows the course better than its designer, it's Zoeller, who lives about 40 miles away in Floyds Knobs, Ind., and plays Valhalla three or four times a year.
'I'm one of the lucky ones. I have a couple of friends who are members here,' he said. 'But is that an advantage? No, because we're playing different tees.'
Hundreds of fans followed Zoeller during a practice round on Wednesday, but Zoeller doesn't see much of an edge playing so close to home.
'The one positive is sleeping in your own bed, that's kind of nice,' he said. 'Now, if I play poorly, you can blame it on my wife, Diane, and the kids, you know?'
The National Weather Service in Louisville forecast a 30-50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms between Thursday and Sunday.
Related Links:
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    Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

    By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

    “I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

    Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

    “If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”

    Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)

    Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

    Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

    “He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

    As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

    "I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

    Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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    McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

    The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

    McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

    “If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

    At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

    And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

    “I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

    “The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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    Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

    No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

    Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

    With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

    “This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

    Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

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    Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

    Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

    Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

    Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

    McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.