Notes Couples Back Skins Power Gone

By Associated PressNovember 20, 2007, 5:00 pm
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Fred Couples will end a nearly eight-month break from competition when he returns to the LG Skins Game this weekend, competing alongside defending champion Stephen Ames, Masters champion Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich.
The star power is gone, but Couples says that was bound to happen.
'A hundred years ago, we had Watson, Palmer, Player and Nicklaus,' he said, referring to the first field at the Skins Game in 1983. 'You're never going to get any better than that. We're going to have a good time, and we're going to play some golf and enjoy it.'
What to expect from Couples?
He has been taking baby steps since trying to return from a severe back injury that has kept him out of competition since the Masters, and it sounds as though he took one giant step over the weekend by shooting 60 at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas to tie the course record held by a certain Tiger Woods.
This is the ideal place for Couples to return.
'I've made a lot of bonehead shots and a lot of brilliant shots,' he said. 'And that's really what you want to do in these things.'
Along with deciding on a schedule, booking flights and hotel rooms and working on their swings, most LPGA Tour players spent a good chunk of the 2007 season studying up on drugs.
The next time they play on tour, some of them will be tested under a new policy that starts next year. And while they believe they are clean, some of them are leaving nothing to chance.
'I'm going to have my doctor apply for medical waivers for everything he has ever prescribed for me,' U.S. Women's Open champion Cristie Kerr said. 'Not necessarily any medication I'm taking now, but anything I've ever needed -- like antibiotics. The closer we are to testing, you just want to be safe.'
Otherwise, Kerr said she's not worried about what a test might reveal 'unless there's something in red wine I don't know about.'
Paula Creamer said she spent a lot of time reading this year.
'You have to be aware of what goes in your body,' she said. 'We've already learned a lot about what's in protein bars.'
The LPGA Tour will be the first golf organization to embark on a drug policy, and the penalties are severe -- one-year suspension for the first offense to a lifetime ban for the third offense.
There will be no difference in punishment for positive tests of performance-enhancing drugs or recreational drugs. Jill Pilgrim, the LPGA Tour general counsel who is administering the program, said marijuana would constitutes a downer and cocaine works like an upper.
'Technically, they are enhancing your performance,' she said.
The LPGA Tour would not say at which tournament the random drug testing would begin, although the first opportunity will be the Women's World Cup in South Africa that starts Jan. 18.
Like many players, Karrie Webb is most concerned about supplements, knowing exactly what's in them. For someone who has been around a dozen years on the LPGA Tour, she expects the veteran players to be the most uneasy.
'It would be one thing for the next generation who grows up with drug testing when they start playing a sport,' Webb said. 'But here we are in the middle of our careers.'
One year after he beat Tiger Woods to win the HSBC Championship, Y.E. Yang captured another tournament that was meaningful in a much different way. Yang was the medalist by one shot over Bob May at Oak Valley, one of six qualifiers in the second stage of Q-school on the PGA TOUR.
That puts him in the final stage, which begins Nov. 28 in Orlando.
Other notable players who advanced to the 108-hole final were U.S. Amateur and U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Colt Knost, former Ryder Cup players Chris Riley and Steve Pate, and Notah Begay, who had European Tour membership last year. Also advancing to the final stage was Casey Wittenberg, who has toiled the last two years in minor leagues like the Hooters Tour.
Former PGA champion Mark Brooks failed to get past the second stage and will have to rely on his status as a past champion. Also failing to advance to the finals were Pablo Martin of Spain, former U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes and Tripp Isenhour, who had a chance to avoid the second stage until closing with a 75 at Disney in the final PGA TOUR event of the year.
The U.S. Open is considered the toughest test in golf, and it sure played like it this year. Along with the highest winning score to par this year on the PGA TOUR -- 5 over by Angel Cabrera -- Oakmont had seven of the 20 hardest holes.
Augusta National, where Zach Johnson became the first Masters champion in 51 years to finish over par, had four of the top 20.
The toughest hole was No. 18 on the Blue Monster at Doral, which averaged 4.625 shots for a par 4. Tiger Woods made bogey, hitting iron off the tee to protect his two-shot lead.
The top three toughest holes were all the last one. The second-toughest was No. 18 at Carnoustie (4.611), where Padraig Harrington made double bogey and still won the British Open. That was followed by No. 18 at Oakmont (4.602).
The four majors accounted for 13 of the 20 toughest holes.
Oakmont played as the toughest course with an average score of 75.7 on the par 70.
One of the classiest evenings of the year is the Rolex Awards on the LPGA Tour, held at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in West Palm Beach.
The highlight belonged to Angela Park, the rookie of the year.
Halfway through a humble and gracious speech in which she thanked her family and supporters, she paid tribute to her parents and her heritage by speaking in three languages -- Korean, Portuguese and English. Park's family is from South Korea, she was born in Brazil and grew up in California.
Her mother wiped tears from her eyes during the speech, and later took pictures, including one of the Donald.
Indianwood Golf and Country Club outside Detroit will host the U.S. Senior Open in 2012. ... The Nationwide Tour Championship will move next year to the TPC Craig Ranch in Dallas and offer a $1 million purse, the largest in the tour's history. ... Alena Sharp became the first Canadian to finish higher than Lorie Kane on the LPGA Tour's money list since 1996. 'My goal is to be the best in the world, not just the best in Canada,' said Sharp, 26, who finished at No. 57 on the money list. ... The winning U.S. Solheim Cup team is headed to the White House next week for a visit with President Bush. ... Sergio Garcia at least set one PGA TOUR record this year. He earned $3,721,185, the most of anyone without winning a tournament.
With her $4,364,994, Lorena Ochoa would have finished No. 7 on the PGA TOUR money list.
'I wish like hell I could have played for this kind of money. But if not for me, they wouldn't be playing for it, either.' -- Louise Suggs, 84, one of the 13 founders of the LPGA Tour.
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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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.”