Majors a Major Dilemma for Lorena

By Associated PressApril 1, 2008, 4:00 pm
2007 Kraft Nabisco ChampionshipRANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- The comparisons between Tiger Woods and Lorena Ochoa are inevitable, and mostly accurate.
 
Woods gave the PGA TOUR a two-week head start in Hawaii, made his debut at the Buick Invitational and won by eight shots. Ochoa also skipped the first two LPGA Tour events in Hawaii, started in Singapore at the HSBC Champions and won by 11.
 
Woods has won 18 times on the PGA TOUR since the start of the 2006 season. Ochoa has 16 victories. They are No. 1 in their respective world ranking by more than double the margin of No. 2.
 
And over the next two weeks, both are overwhelming favorites to win the first major championship of the year.
 
But thats where the parallel paths come to a fork in the road.
 
Woods has four green jackets from the Masters, not to mention a career full of positive vibes at the majors. He captured the career Grand Slam at age 24, before he had completed four years on the PGA TOUR.
 
Despite her dominance, Ochoa arrived at the Kraft Nabisco Championship to face some demons.
 
She loves Mission Hills, where she first played as a teenager. The affection she gets in the California desert rivals that of her native Mexico, with someone waving a red, white and green flag on just about every fairway. Ochoa sheepishly mentioned that she asked tournament officials for 100 tickets for her family and friends, and she was willing to pay for them.
 
I have great memories, and I have a lot of support from people that comes from Mexico and cheer for me, Ochoa said Tuesday. Its just someplace that feels good. Im ready to have a good week. Ive been close a few times, and hopefully, this is the year.
 
She is being modest about close calls.
 
Ochoa should have won this major by now.
 
Two years ago, she tied an LPGA major record with a 10-under 62 in the opening round and still had a three-shot lead going into Sunday until a meltdown on the back nine. Ochoa recovered with an eagle on the final hole to get into a playoff against Karrie Webb, who won on the first extra hole.
 
Ochoa was tied for the lead going into the weekend last year and looked poised as ever until she missed the par-3 17th green, whiffed on a wedge, took three putts once she got on the green and took quadruple bogey that effectively knocked her out of the tournament.
 
Moments like that are what makes winning even harder.
 
The Kraft Nabisco is the only LPGA major that has been played on the same course every year, which makes it similar to the Masters in that respect'and only that respect. Augusta National does not have a Wienermobile next to the practice green.
 
Geoff Ogilvy spoke recently about why the Masters has such a long list of players who never won a green jacket, and he mentioned the familiarity of the course breeding so much contempt.
 
There are demons that dont go away, Ogilvy said. If you have a few close calls at the U.S. Open, youre always doing it somewhere else. If you have demons at Augusta, which everybody does, guys always remember.
 
Great as she is, Ochoas biggest challenge will be to bury those memories.
 
I already erased them, she insisted. I only feel good things about this course, and good vibes and good memories. Of course, youre going to make mistakes and have a few bad holes, like what happened on 17 last year. I struggled on holes 13, 14 and 15. They were holes that I played over par, and Im going to work on those this year and make sure I play that stretch in a positive way.
 
And I think that will really help get a good result on Sunday.
 
What might help this year is no longer having to answer questions about winning a major. Even after she replaced Annika Sorenstam at No. 1 in the world at the end of the 2006 season, Ochoa had a reputation of being unable to win the big one.
 
There was the U.S. Womens Open at Cherry Hills in 2005, when she duck-hooked a tee shot into the water on No. 18 and made 8. The two failures at Mission Hills. Last year at Pine Needles, she again was poised to win the U.S. Womens Open until she couldnt find a fairway over the final five holes.
 
But she has been a different player since capturing her first major in the Womens British Open at St. Andrews, an historic afternoon in so many ways. That was the start of a stretch in which Ochoa has won seven times in 12 starts, a winning percentage that rivals Woods.
 
Comparing mens and womens golf is about as practical as comparing generations, but there are similarities worth noting.
 
Woods can finish a brilliant season and spend the next few months figuring out a way to get better. Ochoa worked harder than ever during her long offseason, especially on her putting. And she is much longer off the tee, even reaching the 310-yard 14th hole Sunday at the Safeway International, which she won by seven shots.
 
Youre never there, Woods often says.
 
And when Ochoa was asked where she could improve, she mentioned everything from learning to rest to communicating with her caddie. She finished at 22-under par last week at Superstition Mountain and was irritated by three or four dumb bogeys.
 
But she was stumped when asked what Woods had that she wanted, besides power off the tee and a $100 million annual income.
 
I think we all want to know what he has inside his head, she said. It would be hard to find. But Im happy for what I have.
 
What she could use are a few more majors.
 
Particularly this one.
 
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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.”