Notes Many LPGA Events Will Vie for Wie Sweepstakes
``I've been told they're going to work to get her in,'' said her agent, Ross Berlin.
Wie almost certainly will be joined at Mission Hills by Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lang, all of whom are otherwise eligible because of high finishes in the majors.
The problem was language in the contract that required them to be LPGA Tour members. Pressel cannot join the tour until her 18th birthday in May, while Wie has no intentions of joining for two years.
But LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens said last week that the Kraft Nabisco contract is 20 years old and needs to be updated, adding that ``I'm fairly certain'' Wie will be allowed to play.
Tour officials looked closely at the spirit of the contract, and realized there was some flexibility in the exemptions Kraft Nabisco typically doles out in the limited-field tournament. Rob Neal, vice president of tournament business affairs, said the Kraft contract won't be changed but will be updated to accommodate Wie and Pressel.
``This is an unprecedented situation,'' Neal said, referring to qualified teenagers who have turned pro without being LPGA members. ``The intention is they would love for these players to get in. It's really sitting down and making sure the spirit of the contract is met as we define the criteria into 2006.''
The rest of Wie's schedule might not be so simple to figure out.
She is allowed six LPGA Tour exemptions -- that doesn't include the U.S. Women's Open or the Women's British Open -- which could turn into a sweepstakes because of Wie's popularity.
Tiger Woods brought financial gain to PGA Tour events he played when he was living off sponsor exemptions, but he was trying to make enough money to get his card without going to Q-school. Woods needed those tournaments as much as they needed him.
That's not the case with Wie, who doesn't plan to join the LPGA Tour until she's 18.
Does she stay loyal to tournaments that have given her exemptions, such as the Wendy's Championship, Safeway International and Kingsmill? Or does she look at tournaments with the best fields and biggest purses that fit around a complicated schedule?
``We have close relationships with a lot of sponsors that have helped her before,'' said her father, B.J. Wie. ``It will be a tough decision. Her school schedule comes first, but sometimes we will feel obligated. She only has six choices.''
One casualty could be the Safeway International, which will be played March 16-19 and is the week before Wie goes on spring break. The week after her break is the Kraft Nabisco.
As for the rest of the year? Berlin said they have not decided where she is playing on any of the tours, although he expects her to play between 11 and 15 events.
Ryan Moore tied for 16th in Las Vegas and now has $598,249, which would be equivalent to 120th place on the PGA Tour. His earnings need to be at least equal to No. 125 at the end of the year to become the first player since Tiger Woods to earn his card without going to Q-school.
There are only three tournaments left in the season -- the Funai Classic at Disney this week, the Chrysler Championship near Tampa, Fla., and the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, which was delayed by Hurricane Katrina.
Moore wasn't the only one who made up ground in Las Vegas.
Nick Watney shot 66 Sunday for a career-best tie for sixth, moving him from 143rd to 118th on the money list. Briny Baird was 7-under 29 on the back nine Sunday to tie for eighth and move from No. 132 to No. 116, where he should be safe. Harrison Frazar secured his card with a tie for third, moving from No. 122 to No. 96.
Up the food chain, Charles Howell III was fifth in Las Vegas and moved up 12 spots to No. 30 on the money list as he tries to qualify for the Tour Championship. If nothing else, it probably secured Howell a spot in the Masters next year.
WOMEN'S WORLD CUP
Moving up to No. 2 on the LPGA Tour money list gave Paula Creamer the first shot at representing the United States in the Women's World Cup next year in South Africa.
The 19-year-old rookie doubts she will make up her mind until the season-ending ADT Championship next month -- not only whether she plays, but who would be her partner. If she declines, the choice goes to Cristie Kerr.
Annika Sorenstam confirmed she would play, taking Liselotte Neumann as her partner.
Chris DiMarco was the star of the show at the Presidents Cup. Not only did he go 4-0-1 and sink the winning putt. He was the best American player in the all-important table tennis tournament.
All the talk is usually who wins between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
But Woods wrote on his Web site last week that DiMarco beat him in the finals of the round-robin tournament.
``Chris might have a second career in table tennis, he's that good,'' Woods said. ``His hand-eye coordination is amazing, and he puts a lot of spin on the ball.''
As for Woods vs. Mickelson?
One person in the room said Woods won the first game, then the second. Mickelson asked to make it best three-out-of-five and won the third game, at which point Woods put down the paddle and said, ``I win, 2-1.''
Nike Golf has entered the women's golf ball category with ``Super Lady,'' designed to produce higher trajectory shots. ... Jay Haas and Bill Haas are on their respective bubbles. Jay Haas is 30th on the Champions Tour money list and needs to stay there to qualify for the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. Bill Haas is 21st on the Nationwide Tour money list, with PGA Tour cards going to the top 21 players. ... The European tour will try to keep weekends uncluttered by reducing the number of players who make the 36-hole cut to the top 65 and ties. ... Sergio Garcia of Spain is the only player from the top 10 in the world ranking who will play in the World Cup next month in Portugal.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Jay Haas has earned $512,153 playing eight times on the Champions Tour. He has made $485,109 in twice as many starts on the PGA Tour.
``I was only there for two days, so it's tough for me to tell.'' -- Annika Sorenstam, when asked what it takes for a woman to succeed on the PGA Tour.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic
Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
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Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats
The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.
How to watch:
Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET
Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET
Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)
Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)
Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.
Notables in the field:
• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.
• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.
• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.
• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.
• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.
• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green.
• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.
• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.
• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13).
Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand
CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.
Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.
''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.
''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''
Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.
Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.
''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.
Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.
Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.
''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.
She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.
Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.
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.