Monty Could Be Out of Players Championship

By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2004, 5:00 pm
CARLSBAD, Calif.-- The world ranking is a reality check for Colin Montgomerie.
At one time No. 2 in the world, Montgomerie showed up at La Costa at a 10-year low of No. 57. That's not only a blow to his pride, but to his chances of getting into The Players Championship.
'Sometimes I got back to my room in the evenings and wonder how and why I'm in this position,' he said Tuesday. 'It's a position I've got to try to address.'
The TPC at Sawgrass is among his favorite courses in the United States. Montgomerie was poised to win in 1996 until Fred Couples' eagle-birdie-par finish for a four-shot victory.
Because he is not a PGA Tour member, Montgomerie must finish in the top 50 in the world after the Bay Hill Invitational to qualify for The Players Championship. After the Match Play Championship, he goes to the Dubai Desert Classic. Both are strong fields, and get a boost in ranking points because Tiger Woods is playing both.
Montgomerie also plans to play the Singapore Masters.
'I need to perform well -- very well in one, quite well in two,' he said. 'So that's where I am.'
Montgomerie is one of the few players who has bothered to understand how the ranking system works, and he is one of the few who doesn't complain about them.
He was No. 2 in 1997 after winning the Irish Open, and could have moved to No. 1 if he had won at Loch Lomond and Greg Norman had missed the cut on the PGA Tour.
'He didn't miss the cut, I didn't win, and the gap widened,' Montgomerie said. 'And then a Mr. Woods entered the fray and stopped everything.'
One of the most prestigious roll call of winners in golf is the World Match Play Championship in England, which includes Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros and Ernie Els.
Missing from the list is Tiger Woods, and that will have to wait.
While there was some speculation Woods might return to Wentworth this year, he said the dates (Oct. 7-10) conflict with his annual golf clinic he hosts at Disney World.
Woods played the HSBC World Match Play Championship in 1998, losing 1-up to Mark O'Meara in the finals.
Meanwhile, Woods was amused when he saw a sports ticker on television say that he had withdrawn from the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in Germany for personal reasons.
'I never even entered the tournament,' he said.
Woods has played the German tournament the last five years, winning three times. He said his decision to skip this year is not related to Deutsche Bank now sponsoring a PGA Tour event in Boston that benefits his foundation.
'I've got the Dunlop Phoenix (Japan) at the end of the year, and I've also got Dubai (next week),' Woods said. 'Plus, I've got to go back to Ireland for the Amex. That's enough globe-trotting for one year.'
One highlight for the caddies during The Players Championship is hitting a shot in the Wednesday practice round to the island-green 17th hole at Sawgrass.
Their players chip in money and the caddie who is closest to the pin wins the pot.
John Wood is trying to turn the tradition into a fund-raiser to help Bruce Edwards, the longtime looper for Tom Watson who is dying from Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral schelorosis).
Wood, who caddies for Kevin Sutherland, is proposing the 'Bruce Edwards Caddie Shot to Fight ALS.'
The money would be donated in the winning caddie's name to the foundation seeking a cure for ALS. Wood also plans to ask the PGA Tour if the caddies can set up a booth on the 17th to bring attention to Edwards' plight, and give the gallery a chance to contribute.
Someone asked Colin Montgomerie whether he liked the La Costa course, whether it fits his game and whether it reminds him of anything in Europe.
'No, no and no,' he said. 'But a bloody good question all the same.'
The biggest complaint at Riviera had nothing to do with the course, but the practice range.
What happen to all the Pro V1s?
The range was open only 40 minutes Friday morning when all the baskets of Titleist -- the ball used by the majority of PGA Tour players -- were gone.
David Toms' caddie scooped up a dozen leftover balls when another player finished warming up. Other players had no choice but to use whatever was available.
A range official, who declined to give his name, said Titleist sent 400 dozen range balls last year, and only 320 this year. Even so, some players couldn't help but notice how old and scuffed the 'new' practice balls looked.
Another possibility: The range is short, and players can hit driver over the net. Stephen Leaney was finishing the 11th hole, next to the range, and noticed some fans scooping up balls and stuffing them into their shirts.
The Senior PGA Championship is expanding its field to 156 players. ... Michelle Wie isn't the first woman from Hawaii to make the Curtis Cup team. Lori Castillo Planos, a three-time USGA champion and wife of Mercedes Championships tournament chairman Gary Planos, played on the 1980 team. But she laughed off any comparisons to Wie, the 14-year-old phenom who shot a 68 at the Sony Open. 'She's a Picasso,' Planos said. 'I'm just a local artist.' ... Tony Navarro, the longtime looper for Greg Norman, is on the bag for British Open champion Ben Curtis this week. Curtis' caddie, Andy Sutton, is home in England with a newborn son. ... Ashleigh Simon, the 14-year-old amateur invited to play in the Sunshine Tour Championship in South Africa, finished last in a field of 75 players. She had rounds of 78-79-80-79 for a 28-over 316, 43 shots behind winner Andrew McLardy. 'I enjoyed these four days, and I feel I learned a lot to take away with me,' Simon said. ... The USGA is giving exemptions to the NCAA champions into the 312-man qualifying field for the U.S. Amateur and the 156-woman field for the U.S. Women's Amateur.
The No. 2 seed has lost in the first round of the Match Play Championship the last three years.
'If we were playing in Australia, I might get in.' -- Jeff Maggert, No. 79 in the world ranking, on missing the Match Play Championship. So many top players withdrew when it was in Australia in 2001 that the tour can to go down to No. 104 to fill the field.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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O. Fisher, Pepperell share lead at Qatar Masters

By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 5:13 pm

DOHA, Qatar - Oliver Fisher birdied his last four holes in the Qatar Masters third round to share the lead at Doha Golf Club on Saturday.

The 29-year-old Englishman shot a 7-under 65 for an overall 16-under 200. Eddie Pepperell (66) picked up shots on the 16th and 18th to catch his compatriot and the pair enjoy a two-shot lead over American Sean Crocker (67) in third.

David Horsey (65) was the biggest mover of the day with the Englishman improving 31 places for a share of fourth place at 12 under with, among others, Frenchman Gregory Havret and Italian Andrea Pavan.

Fisher, winner of the 2011 Czech Open, made some stunning putts on his way in. After an eight-footer on the par-4 15th, he then drove the green on the short par-4 16th for an easy birdie, before making a 12-footer on the 17th and a 15-footer on the 18th.

Like Pepperell, Fisher also had just one bogey to show on his card, also on the 12th hole.

Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters

''I gave myself some chances coming in and thankfully I made them,'' said Fisher, who has dropped to 369th in the world rankings.

''You can quite easily make a few bogeys without doing that much wrong here, so it's important to be patient and keep giving yourself chances.''

Pepperell, ranked 154th in the world after a strong finish to his 2017 season, has been a picture of consistency in the tournament. He was once again rock-solid throughout the day, except one bad hole - the par-4 12th. His approach shot came up short and landed in the rocks, the third ricocheted back off the rocks, and he duffed his fourth shot to stay in the waste area.

But just when a double bogey or worse looked imminent, Pepperell holed his fifth shot for what was a remarkable bogey. And he celebrated that escape with a 40-feet birdie putt on the 13th.

''I maybe lost a little feeling through the turn, but I bounced back nicely and I didn't let it bother me,'' said the 27-year-old Pepperell, who hit his third shot to within four feet on the par-5 18th to join Fisher on top.

The long-hitting Crocker is playing on invites on the European Tour. He made a third eagle in three days - on the par-4 16th for the second successive round.

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Uihlein fires back at Jack in ongoing distance debate

By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 4:32 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Wally Uihlein challenged Jack Nicklaus’ assault this week on the golf ball.

Uihlein, an industry force as president and CEO of Titleist and FootJoy parent company Acushnet for almost 20 years, retired at year’s start but remains an adviser.

In an interview with ScoreGolf on Friday, Uihlein reacted to Nicklaus’ assertions that the ball is responsible for contributing to a lot of the troubles the game faces today, from slow play and sagging participation to the soaring cost to play.

Uihlein also took the USGA and The R&A to task.

The ball became a topic when Nicklaus met with reporters Tuesday at the Honda Classic and was asked about slow play. Nicklaus said the ball was “the biggest culprit” of that.

“It appears from the press conference that Mr. Nicklaus was blaming slow play on technology and the golf ball in particular,” Uihlein said. “I don’t think anyone in the world believes that the golf ball has contributed to the game’s pace of play issues.”

Nicklaus told reporters that USGA executive director Mike Davis pledged over dinner with him to address the distance the golf ball is flying and the problems Nicklaus believes the distance explosion is creating in the game.

“Mike Davis has not told us that he is close, and he has not asked us for help if and when he gets there,” Uihlein said.

ScoreGolf pointed out that the Vancouver Protocol of 2011 was created after a closed-door meeting among the USGA, The R&A and equipment manufacturers, with the intent to make any proposed changes to equipment rules or testing procedures more transparent and to allow participation in the process.

“There are no golf courses being closed due to the advent of evolving technology,” Uihlein said. “There is no talk from the PGA Tour and its players about technology making their commercial product less attractive. Quite the opposite, the PGA Tour revenues are at record levels. The PGA of America is not asking for a roll back of technology. The game’s everyday player is not advocating a roll back of technology.”

ScoreGolf said Uihlein questioned why the USGA and The R&A choose courses that “supposedly” can no longer challenge the game’s best players as preferred venues for the U.S. Open, The Open and other high-profile events.

“It seems to me at some point in time that the media should be asking about the conflict of interest between the ruling bodies while at the same time conducting major championships on venues that maybe both the athletes and the technology have outgrown,” he said. “Because it is the potential obsolescence of some of these championship venues which is really at the core of this discussion.”

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J. Korda leads M. Jutanugarn by four in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 3:00 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand - Jessica Korda kept an eye on her younger sister while firing a 4-under 68 in the third round of the LPGA Thailand on Saturday to lead Moriya Jutanugarn by four strokes.

A day after a course-record 62 at Siam Country Club, Korda fought back from a bogey on the front nine with five birdies to finish on 20-under 196 overall. The American was on the 18th hole when concerns over lightning suspended play for 30 minutes before play resumed.

''(I) was playing really well at the end of the season, but I haven't been in this (leading) position. Being back, it just takes you a little bit of time,'' said the 24-year-old Korda, who won her fifth and last title at the LPGA Malaysia in 2015.

Her 19-year-old sister Nelly Korda (65) is eight shots off the lead.

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

''I'm definitely a leaderboard watcher. I love seeing her name up there,'' said Jessica Korda, who was playing her first tournament since jaw surgery.

Propelled by eight birdies and an eagle on the par-4 No. 14, with three bogeys, Moriya signed off with a 65 and a total of 16-under 200.

''Everybody has the chance to win as all the top players are here this week,'' said Moriya, who has a chance to become the first Thai winner in her home tournament.

Australian Minjee Lee (68) is third on 15-under 201, followed by former top-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn (65) on 202. Lexi Thompson (69), the 2016 champion, is a stroke further back. Michelle Wie (69) is tied for sixth.

Brittany Lincicome was in second place after the second round, four shots behind Jessica Korda, but the American dropped down the board and is tied for ninth after a 73.

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The Tiger comeback just got real on Friday

By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 1:11 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Slow play was a big storyline on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, but not so much anymore.

Not with Tiger Woods speeding things up Friday at the Honda Classic.

Not with Woods thumping the gas pedal around PGA National’s Champion Course, suddenly looking as if he is racing way ahead of schedule in his return to the game.

The narrative wondrously started to turn here.

It turned from wondering at week’s start if Woods could make the cut here, after missing it last week at the Genesis Open. His game was too wild for Riviera, where a second-round 76 left him looking lost with the Masters just six weeks away.

It turned in head-spinning fashion Friday with Woods climbing the leaderboard in tough conditions to get himself into weekend contention with a 1-over-par 71.

He is just four shots off the lead.

“I’d be shocked if he’s not there Sunday with a chance to win,” said Brandt Snedeker, who played alongside Woods in the first two rounds. “He’s close to playing some really, really good golf.”

Just a few short months ago, so many of us were wondering if Woods was close to washed up.

“He’s only going to improve,” Snedeker said. “The more time he has, as the weather gets warmer, he’ll feel better and be able to practice more.”

Snedeker has had a front-row seat for this speedy Tiger turnaround. He played the third round with Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open last month. That was Woods’ first PGA Tour start in a year.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

How much improvement did Snedeker see from that Torrey Pines experience?

“It was kind of what I expected – significantly improved,” Snedeker said. “His iron game is way better. His driver is way better. I don’t’ see it going backward from here.”

This was the hope packed into Friday’s new narrative.

“I’m right there in the ballgame,” Woods said. “I really played well today. I played well all day today.”

Tiger sent a jolt through PGA National when his name hit the top 10 of the leaderboard. He didn’t do it with a charge. He did it battling a brutish course in wintry, blustery winds, on “scratchy” and “dicey” greens that made par a good score.

When Woods holed a 25-foot putt at the ninth to move into red numbers at 1 under overall and within three shots of the lead, a roar shook across the Champion Course.

“It got a little loud, which was cool to see,” Snedeker said. “It’s great to have that energy and vibe back.”

Woods sent fans scampering to get into position, blasting a 361-yard drive at the 10th, cutting the corner. He had them buzzing when he stuck his approach to 9 feet for another birdie chance to get within two of the lead.

“I thought if he makes it, this place will go nuts, and he could get it going like he used to,” Snedeker said.

Woods missed, but with the leaders falling back to him on this grueling day, he stuck his approach at the 12th to 10 feet to give himself a chance to move within a shot of the lead.

It’s another putt that could have turned PGA National upside down, but Woods missed that.

“It really is hard to make birdies,” he said. “At least I found it hard. It was hard to get the ball close, even if the ball is in the fairway, it's still very difficult to get the ball close, with the wind blowing as hard as it is. It’s hard to make putts out here.”

Patton Kizzire, a two-time PGA Tour winner who won just last month at the Sony Open, could attest to how tough the test at Honda has become. He played alongside Woods this week for the first time in his career. He shot 78 Friday and missed the cut.

Kizzire had a close-up look at what suddenly seems possible for Woods again.

“He’s figuring it out,” Kizzire said. “He hit some nice shots and rolled in some nice putts. It was pretty impressive.”

Woods could not hide his excitement in getting himself in the weekend hunt, but his expectations remain tempered in this comeback. He knows the daily referendums his game is subject to, how we can all make the highs too high and the lows too low.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Woods said.

Woods lost a tee shot in a bush at the second hole and made bogey. He hit his tee shot in the water at the 15th and made double bogey. He three-putted the 16th to make bogey. He knows this course can derail a player’s plans in a hurry, but he knows his game is quickly coming around.

“I’m right there where I can win a golf tournament,” Woods said. “Four back on this golf course with 36 holes to go, I mean, anybody can win this golf tournament right now. It’s wide open.’”

Woods hit his shot of the day at the 17th to right his game after the struggles at the 15th and 16th. He did so in front of the Goslings Bear Trap Party Pavilion, cutting a 5-iron to 12 feet. It was the hardest hole on the course Friday, with nearly one of every three players rinsing a shot in the water there. Woods made birdie there to ignite an explosion of cheers.  He got a standing ovation.

“I was telling you guys, I love Riviera, I just don't play well there,” Woods said. “So here we are, we're back at a golf course I know and I play well here.”

So here we are, on the precipice of something special again?

Woods seems in a hurry to find out.