Hundreds of Tiger Wannabes Show Their Stuff
Could golf's next big thing be Meechai Padung, a sweet-swinging 12-year-old boy from Thailand who spent Wednesday afternoon on the range crushing 240-yard drives?
How about a ponytailed 7-year-old girl named Haylin Harris, who once was labeled Arizona's top recruit in its Class of 2017?
Both are among nearly 1,000 wannabes playing this week in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship. Any of them could be the sport's next great player.
'There is the next Tiger Woods in this field,' said John Bryan, vice president of marketing for U.S. Kids Golf. 'You just don't know who they are because they're so young, and they don't have that stage.'
Well, they do now. The three-day stroke play tournament for kids ages 4-12 is about four times larger than it was when it debuted in 2000 with 225 players. This is the tournament's first year in Pinehurst.
The courses themselves have been shortened by roughly one-third to make things easier for young players, Bryan said. The children are playing on three courses at the famed Pinehurst golf resort, but not on the course that hosted the men's U.S. Open in 1999 and 2005.
'When the world thinks of championship golf, if Pinehurst isn't the first thought, it's certainly one of them,' Bryan said.
One of the big names who has played this tournament before is Dakoda Dowd, the 13-year-old who played in an LPGA Tour event this year to honor her terminally ill mother. And the winner of the girls' 10-and-under division in 2000 was Cheyenne Woods -- Tiger's niece.
Her uncle is the inspiration for countless numbers of young players. Tiger Woods famously appeared on 'The Mike Douglas Show' when he was 2, began playing at 3 and as an 8-year-old won the 9-10 age group at the junior world championships.
Padung someday would like to reach the level of his idol, Woods. But for now, he just wants to prove that his golf career didn't peak at the age of 8. That's when he won his age group at the junior worlds plus 'a bunch of other tournaments.'
'That was the year I was very dominating,' he said.
Padung, whose family eventually settled in North Augusta, S.C., said he couldn't help but laugh when a Thailand newspaper anointed him 'the next Tiger.'
He learned the sport from his four older brothers and his father, Suradej, who has helped mold his son's golf game.
'What I think is good for his swing, every instructor has something to (teach),' Suradej Padung said. 'So I am the one who picked what is good for (him) from every instructor. That way, he learns for himself.'
Harris, of Carmel, Ind., has a poster autographed by Arizona's women's golf team, and it is playfully addressed to the top recruit of the Class of '17.
She began tournament play two years ago, placed second in a qualifying tournament in Sellersburg, Ind., and won a tournament in Indianapolis to earn a spot at Pinehurst.
'They don't feel any pressure,' said her mom, Andrea. 'They just are kids. So when they make great shots out on the course, you just wonder. Their parents' nerves are much worse than the kids ever feel.'
The youngsters' words also haven't been tempered by coach speak. When Haylin was asked how good she thinks she is, she replied: 'Good.'
But not every player wants to be the next Woods or Phil Mickelson. Eight-year-old Nicholas Montes of Pickerington, Ohio, is playing in his third kids championship, and his father says his son has a different goal.
'Maybe he'll be the first Nicholas,' Tom Montes said.
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Pepperell among co-leaders early in Qatar
DOHA, Qatar – Eddie Pepperell, Gregory Havret, and Aaron Rai made the most of calm early morning conditions at Doha Golf Club to set the pace in the opening round of the Qatar Masters at 7-under-par 65 on Thursday.
Havret went bogey free, Pepperell made one bogey and eight birdies, while fellow English golfer Rai eagled his last hole to add to five birdies.
One shot behind the leaders were four players, including former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari of Italy and former champion Alvaro Quiros of Spain.
Defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea started with a 68, and Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma of India shot 69 despite a double bogey on the 15th hole.
Pepperell, who is fast gaining a reputation on the European Tour for his irreverent tweets and meaningful blogs, showed his clubs can also do an equal amount of talking after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Malaysia.
Pepperell birdied Nos. 10, 11, 14, 16 and 18 with a single blemish on 13 after starting on the back nine. He made three more birdies on his back nine.
He was joined on top of the leaderboard by Havret, who made five birdies in six holes from the sixth, and Rai, who eagled the last.
''I surprised myself, really,'' said Pepperell, who finished third in Portugal and Netherlands last year.
''I've made some changes this week with personnel, so I've been working on a couple of new things and I surprised myself out there with how well I managed to trust it.
''I hit some quality tee shots, that's the area I feel that I've been struggling with a bit lately. We had a good time.
''It's definitely a bigger picture for me this week than tomorrow and indeed the weekend. I'm not overly-fussed about my early season form.”
Molinari, a three-time champion on the tour including last year in Morocco, started with eight straight pars, and then made seven birdies in his last 10 holes, including a chip-in for birdie on the last.
''I hit every green apart from the last one. I hit a lot of fairways, I had a lot of chances for birdie,'' said Edoardo, the older brother of Francesco.
''Last week in Oman, I had a decent week, I had a bad first round and then three very good rounds. It's been the case for the last few weeks so my focus this week was to try and get a good start.''
Oliver Fisher of England was the best among the afternoon groups with a 6-under 66, joining Molinari, Quiros and Germany's Marcel Schneider in a tie for fourth.
Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic
Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
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Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats
The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.
How to watch:
Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET
Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET
Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)
Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)
Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.
Notables in the field:
• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.
• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.
• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.
• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.
• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.
• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green.
• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.
• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.
• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13).
Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand
CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.
Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.
''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.
''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''
Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.
Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.
''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.
Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.
Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.
''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.
She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.
Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.