New Year with Unlimited Possibilities

By Associated PressJanuary 5, 2005, 5:00 pm
04 Mercedes ChampionshipsKAPALUA, Hawaii -- The serenity of the moment didn't last long for Vijay Singh.
Staring down the lush green fairway into the Pacific Ocean, on a day so clear it looked like he could hit the island of Molokai on the horizon, Singh's drive instead ballooned into a big slice. He quickly turned and scolded a photographer whose camera went off too early.
Then his trainer and caddie, Joey Diovisalvi, walked over to another photographer and told him, 'No pictures.'
Maui is a wonderful place to relax, but there's no time for that now.
Singh is on top of the world, but it's getting crowded at the top. And while the season-opening Mercedes Championships at Kapalua offers the most spectacular views on the PGA Tour, a snapshot of the elite in golf also is breathtaking.

A new season has rarely looked this ripe with possibilities.
Singh is the undisputed No. 1 player, coming off a season in which he won nine times, added his third major championship and shattered the PGA Tour record with nearly $11 million.
Tiger Woods and Ernie Els are capable of replacing him quickly if the 41-year-old Fijian can't keep up his amazing pace. Masters champion Phil Mickelson and U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen are poised to make a move, and some believe Sergio Garcia is ready to join the elite.
'This year is going to be exciting,' Goosen said. 'There will probably be a No. 1 player a few times this year.'
Joey Sindelar first joined the PGA Tour in 1984, when Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino were not done winning majors and Tom Watson was the man to beat. Curtis Strange was on the verge of becoming a dominant player, and Greg Norman was about to make his first big splash in the majors.
Still, he can't remember a time when so many top players were hitting their stride at the same time.
'It would be like having the best of the '70s, the best of the '80s and the best of the '90s all happening at one time,' Sindelar said. 'We didn't have that many dominators during those years. There were one or two. Now you've just named five or six. And there's probably more.
'When you look at them all together, it's like looking at a bunch of 7-footers.'
It all begins to unfold Thursday when the Mercedes Championships get under way on the Plantation Course at Kapalua with an elite 31-man field comprised of only PGA Tour winners from last year. The only one missing is Mickelson, who elected not to play.
Singh still stands the tallest in the field, an imposing figure with a swing he has grooved from countless hours on the practice range. He won six out of the last eight tournaments he played on tour, and he finished out of the top 10 only once over the final three months.
'Vijay is the man at the moment,' Els said.
Along with becoming only the sixth man in PGA Tour history to win at least nine times, Singh ended Woods' five-year reign at No. 1 in the world ranking.
Woods showed up at Kapalua on Monday, the earliest he has ever arrived for the Mercedes because heavy rains near his home in California kept him from practicing.
Sitting in a cart after playing nine holes earlier in the week, someone asked him about the rivalry with Singh. Woods laughed and shook his head, not wanting to take part in a debate he has heard for years.
'You guys are funny,' he said before driving off.
Even when he was ruling the PGA Tour, Woods dismissed talk of a rivalry by mentioning there were too many players who could serve as his foil. Now when he says that, people believe him.
'There's no doubt at the moment there's a lot of guys playing well,' Garcia said. 'Of course, two or three years ago, Tiger was the one that was standing out. But I think right now at the moment, there's a bigger group. There's no doubt that it's exciting to see what's going to happen.'
Woods ended his most troublesome year -- one PGA Tour victory, not in contention in any of the majors -- by winning the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan and his Target World Challenge in December against a 16-man field in the silly season. But he found the swing key he had been working on with coach Hank Haney, and expectations are high.
Asked if it was similar to 1999, when he finally figured out his swing changes, Woods said, 'No. It's better.'
'I just feel that the swing is better,' he said. 'It's hard to explain. I worked my tail off this past year, and the results I had toward the end of the season made it so exciting.'
They remain high for Els, too.
Having taken time off to run his toes through the sand along the coast of South Africa, the Big Easy figured 2004 wasn't all that bad. He won five times around the world -- three times on the PGA Tour -- but most remember the close calls he had in all four majors, especially his playoff loss to Todd Hamilton at Royal Troon.
'If you told me before last year, 'Hey, I'll give you three top 5s in the majors, I'll give you five wins worldwide,' that's a very good year,' Els said. 'But who knows? Let's see how it goes. Just winning any tournament to start off will be great, and then see how the momentum builds.
'Let's just be cautious at the start and see where we are and take it from there.'
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  • If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

    By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

    She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

    You don’t believe it, though.

    She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

    Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

    Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

    “In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

    Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

    Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

    At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

    She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

    She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

    And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

    There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

    It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

    Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

    Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

    “I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

    About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

    Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

    “She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

    David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

    “She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

    Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

    Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

    “Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

    Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

    “It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

    Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

    “No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

    Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

    National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

    The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

    Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

    These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

    Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

    By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

    This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

    “I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

    Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

    In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

    If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Tour finals.

    “He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

    Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

    By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

    Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

    ''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

    The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

    The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.

    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

    ''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

    Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

    ''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

    First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

    Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

    ''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

    ''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''