Notes Defending Champion Still Glowing
A luxury limousine'he estimated the length at 75 feet'arrived at his hotel Wednesday morning to drive him to Quail Hollow Country Club, where he met with reporters and relived his surprising victory in last years Wachovia Championship. It was the latest in a year full of memories for the 47-year-old veteran, who had a difficult time explaining what winning at this point in his career meant to him.
Its everything that we couldnt fit in in the next several hours, Sindelar said. You know, any victory that I would have had after that many years would have been, in fact, a major for me, and to then have the next win be this is just incredible icing on the cake.
Once one of the up-and-coming stars on the PGA Tour, he won the 1990 Hardees Golf Classic for his sixth victory in six seasons, a run that included three top-15 finishes on the money list. Sindelars game slowly deteriorated over the next several years, and he even dropped out of the top 125 in 2000 when he missed the cut in 16 of 30 starts.
A pair of runner-up finishes the next two seasons got him back on the exempt list, and he broke through in the Wachovia to snap a victory drought that lasted 370 tournaments. Sindelar beat Arron Oberholser on the second playoff hole'besting a field that also included Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson'and it was so special to Sindelar that he placed the trophy in a spot at his house where he often sees it.
We had a really good time steadily for the first month, going, We took Vijay down, we took Tiger down, Mickelson was nothing, Sindelar said. That was our breakfast conversation most mornings.
But on a very serious note, Ill always remember, the guys have been entirely kind in saying this was not just some tournament. Look at the field. Thats why that trophy has not gone back with the other trophies in the house.
The result was appreciated among his peers.
It was a very popular win amongst the other players, because Joey is so well-liked, Mickelson said. We consider him to be such an incredible player who has gone through some rough patches with his game, surprisingly. For him to come out and win, it was very popular with the guys.
DIMARCOS PAIN IN THE NECK
One of the best stretches of Chris DiMarcos career has run into an unexpected setback.
A neck injury that he suspects began while he watched TV from an awkward angle during Masters week might force DiMarco to withdraw before the first round of the Wachovia Championship. He skipped the Pro-Am on Wednesday and planned to get treatment throughout the day and again Thursday morning.
X-rays came back negative for any bone or nerve damage, so DiMarco will just have to wait until it heals. If the pain doesnt go away, he wont play.
If I dont feel like I can give it 100 percent and compete at my best level, Im not going to go out there and do it, DiMarco said. Theres too many tournaments left in the year, and Im swinging really good at the ball right now. The last thing I want to do is go out there with any kind of pain while Im swinging because its going to create a bad move to compensate for that pain.
Hes fifth on the money list with more than $1.8 million, and he already has two second-place finishes, including that playoff loss to Tiger Woods at the Masters. After taking two weeks off following the disappointment at Augusta, DiMarco returned last week in New Orleans, where a three-putt bogey on the 72nd hole left him one shot short of another playoff.
Still, he tied for third and pocketed $319,000.
Im certainly disappointed I didnt win, DiMarco said.
Thats the only thing Im disappointed in. Im not disappointed in the way I played.
Now he just hopes he has another chance this week.
Im not going to take the place of somebody whos 100 percent healthy that can go out and play if I dont feel like I can compete here, DiMarco said.
LICKLITERS NEW PROGRAM
Frank Lickliter and Cameron Beckman hosted a clinic for U.S. troops in South Korea last year, and Lickliter made another trip to Cuba to visit soldiers.
The visits left a lasting impression on Lickliter, and he plans to show his support through the Wounded Warriors Program, a project of VetsFirst, Inc., a new nonprofit organization based in Roanoke, Va., that helps injured soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Lickliters golf bag sports patches from various military units in those countries, and he plans to auction off the bag to raise money for Wounded Warriors. He also will make donations himself'including 5 percent of his winnings at certain tournaments'and the effort starts this week in the Wachovia Championship.
The last thing we want to do is forget about these guys, considering what theyve sacrificed for us'the time, the energy, and their bodies, Lickliter said. We want them to be recognized and thanked and taken care of the way they should be.
The trips to South Korea and Cuba arent the only connections Lickliter has to the armed forces. His grandfather fought in the Spanish-American War, and his father was responsible for taking pictures of Russian transport ships while in the Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Ive got several good friends that are in the service, and to me, as an American, as a patriot, I love being an American, Lickliter said. It does not get any better than this, right here.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta
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.
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.
Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA
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.
Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic
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.
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.
Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe
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.
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.”