Harrington in Unfamiliar Position

By Associated PressMarch 8, 2006, 5:00 pm
2005 Honda ClassicPALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Padraig Harrington almost had it easy at last year's Honda Classic.
 
He'd never won before on the PGA Tour, and barely held afterthought status when entering the final day seven shots back. Then he birdied 10 of his first 13 holes, shot a 9-under-par 63, and got his first triumph when Vijay Singh missed a 2 1/2 -foot putt on the second playoff hole.
 
So when this year's Honda opens Thursday, Harrington gets his first taste of defending a tour crown.
 
'There's a lot of expectations with defending,' said Harrington, an Irishman who's been a 26-time runner-up worldwide. 'Definitely, the easiest way to win an event is, without a doubt, to be playing well and to be under the radar.'
 
That isn't the case this year, since the defending champion is thrust into a starring role entering any tournament. And none of the game's seven top-ranked players -- Tiger Woods, Singh, Phil Mickelson, et al. -- are here either, allowing Harrington to bask in more pre-tournament spotlight.
 
'The only thing I can do as good as last year is win again this year. ... It's still a nice problem to have,' Harrington said.
 
Harrington opened his PGA schedule at the Match Play Championship, reaching the quarterfinals, then tied for 26th last week in the Ford Championship at Doral.
 
Asked about the current state of his game, Harrington grimaced a bit. Still, considering he's a strong wind player -- it always seems to be breezy, at least, at Mirasol's Sunrise course -- and has prevailed here before, he's probably as good a bet as anyone.
 
'Growing up in Ireland, you learn how to play the wind. Or if you don't, you don't play golf, one or the other,' Harrington said. 'Yeah, I like the conditions here. I'm very comfortable here. I'd be happy to see a bit of wind this week.'
 
It's Honda's finale at Mirasol; the tournament moves across the street to PGA National next year. There's only four of the world's top 22 players in this field, led by No. 8 David Toms -- who bogeyed the final hole last week at Doral and finished one shot behind Woods.
 
'The wind will dictate the scores,' Toms said, 'like it always does here.'
 
The course is a demanding one, with huge, sloping greens that can take even slightly misdirected approach shots and send them rolling 50 feet or more from the flag.
 
Some have complained about the setup in the past; some, like Geoff Ogilvy -- who tied for sixth here last year -- embrace the challenge.
 
'I don't think it was everyone's favorite golf course at first but I think it's grown on people,' said Ogilvy, an Australian who won this year's Match Play Championship. 'You have to hit the ball well, you have to chip well and you have to putt well -- and you have to use your brain.'
 
The sort of wide-open field seen here seems to create opportunities for someone to get a breakthrough win; in three of the last four years, the eventual Honda winner hadn't ever prevailed in a tour event. Matt Kuchar got his first victory in 2002, and Todd Hamilton got his first in 2004.
 
One of the many hoping this is the first-win week is Camilo Villegas, the Colombian rookie who's already earned $821,571 this year, bolstered by runner-up finishes at the FBR Open and Doral.
 
'I feel good. I've had two good weeks,' said Villegas, the 24-year-old who played college golf at Florida before turning pro two years ago. 'That's showed me something. But that doesn't make me a top player in the world all of a sudden. I've just got to keep working and keep grinding and keep trying to play good golf.'
 
Divots:
Nick Faldo withdrew Wednesday, and alternate Mathias Gronberg replaced him in the field. Faldo had to return to England because a family member is ill. ... Mark Calcavecchia will be playing the Honda for the 21st time. He won the event in 1987 and 1998, and is one of only three players to earn more than $1 million all-time at the event. Singh and Davis Love III, who is here, are the others. ... Jack Nicklaus is the only player to successfully defend a Honda Classic win.
 
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  • Full Coverage - The Honda Classic
  • Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

    Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

    Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

    "He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

    The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

    Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

    "I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

    Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

    "From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

    "And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

    "There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

    Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

    "It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.