Notes Masters Qualifying Howell Moves On

By Associated PressMarch 21, 2006, 5:00 pm
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- For Colombian rookie Camilo Villegas, the road to the Masters might end in the parking lot of the TPC at Sawgrass.
 
The Players Championship is the final week to qualify for the Masters, with the top 50 in the world ranking and top 10 on the PGA Tour money list getting invitations to Augusta National. Villegas tied for second in Phoenix and at Doral to move up to 15th, but he needs one more start.

Kenny Perry and Joey Snyder had to withdraw, leaving the field at 144 players. If anyone else withdraws, Villegas is the first alternate. Even if he gets in, Villegas likely will have to at least finish eighth.
 
Also on the bubble is another rookie, J.B. Holmes.
 
The winner of the FBR Open, Holmes was in the top 10 on the money list until Rod Pampling won last week at Bay Hill, bumping Holmes to No. 11 by about $52,000.
 
'I can't really focus on that,' Holmes said. 'If I get to play in the Masters this year, great. If not, I'm sure I'll make it in there before my career is over with. That would be something phenomenal to play.'
 
Another player with the Masters on his mind is Greg Owen.
 
The Englishman could have secured an invitation last week with a win at Bay Hill, but he three-putted from 3 feet on the 17th hole Sunday and finished second. Even so, Owen moved up from No. 95 to No. 53, and while it depends on what happens around him, a top 25 at Sawgrass might be enough to get him into the top 50.
 
The Madeira Open on the European tour could affect the ranking, although the only person on the bubble playing there is Niclas Fasth, who is No. 56.
 
Anyone who can drop out of the top 10 on the money list or the top 50 in the world ranking already is eligible for the Masters in other categories.
 
MOVING ON
Charles Howell III has changed swing coaches, ending a relationship with David Leadbetter that began when he was 12.
 
Howell now is working with Bryan Mogg, whose clients include Bart Bryant and Brad Faxon.
 
'It was time for a change,' Howell said. 'I had been with David a long time. This is another person looking at my golf game. I'm working on the same stuff, but it's packaged differently.'
 
Howell said it was difficult to leave Leadbetter, and that they spoke over the weekend.
 
'Our relationship has not changed,' he said. 'We're still friends.'
 
LEARNING CURVE
Dean Wilson was hitting chips on the practice green at Bay Hill when Joey Sindelar walked by on his way from the ninth green to the 10th tee.
 
'Who are you? Mr. Leaderboard?' Sindelar called out to him.
 
Wilson is becoming a regular fixture atop the leaderboard on the PGA Tour. The trick now is to stay there over the weekend, although he feels as though he is making progress. Wilson closed with rounds of 73-72 at Bay Hill to finish tied for 10th, his third top-10 of the year.
 
'I've got to figure it out, how to get it done on the weekend,' Wilson said. 'I know the courses are going to be harder, so I need to play better.'
 
Wilson is trying to get more comfortable, and he says it helps to be paired with marquee players. The last month has been a crash course -- Phil Mickelson in the final round at Doral, Sergio Garcia in the third round at Bay Hill and Vijay Singh in the final round at Bay Hill.
 
'It's a great experience to be paired with those guys,' Wilson said. 'I watch how they go about their business, and how my game stacks up against theirs.'
 
Meanwhile, no one stacks up to Wilson for his ironman ways this year. He is the only player to have competed in every event for which he is eligible. The Players Championships is his 11th in a row. If he doesn't win, Wilson will have to go home in two weeks during the Masters.
 
MOORE OUT
The pain Ryan Moore first felt in his left hand last summer finally caught up with him. He plans to have surgery Monday to repair a fractured bone in his left hand.
 
Despite the injury, Moore became the first player since Tiger Woods in 1996 to earn his PGA Tour card through sponsor's exemptions without ever having to go through Q-school. But the pain never went away, and Moore has made only two cuts in his first five starts, his best finish a tie for 40th in Phoenix.
 
Moore is expect to be out as many as two months.
 
Surgery means he will miss the Masters, where a year ago he tied for 13th as an amateur to earn a trip back.
 
SHOOT YOUR AGE
If this is supposed to be a reality show, here's the reality -- to qualify for a tournament with Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, a player had better be old and good.
 
The event is called 'Shoot Your Age Championship,' to be televised May 7 on CBS Sports at The Villages course near Orlando, Fla. Players only have to pay a $350 entry and have a valid driver's license or passport. The top 34 players will advance to final round and compete against Palmer and Player.
 
Both Hall-of-Famers have shot their age in Champions Tour events.
 
'A golfer has to have mixed feelings about shooting his or her age,' Palmer said. 'It's an exciting day when and if it happens, but it also means that you have to be up in years.'
 
Palmer shot 66 on his 66th birthday in the final round of the GTE Northwest Classic in Seattle in 1995.
 
'It's become easier and easier every year since then,' Palmer said.
 
DIVOTS
The Ladies European Tour is offering a $1 million bonus for what can best be described as a Nordic Grand Slam. The tour has a program called the Volvo XC Challenge, in which a player will earn the $1 million bonus by winning all four LET events in the Nordic region -- the Ladies Norwegian Masters, the Scandinavian TPC in Sweden, the Finnair Masters in Finland and the Nykredit Masters in Denmark. ... The Georgia Cup will be a European affair for the first time in its nine-year history. The match between the U.S. Amateur champion (Edoardo Molinari of Italy) and British Amateur champion (Brian McElhinney of Ireland) will be March 29 at The Golf Club of Georgia.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK
Sandy Lyle (1987) and Craig Perks (2002) are the only players to win The Players Championship and not finish in the top 30 to qualify for the Tour Championship.
 
FINAL WORD
'Never say never. I mean, I never thought we'd emulate NASCAR.' -- Jeff Sluman, on whether The Players Championship will ever be considered a major.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - The Players Championship
  • Getty Images

    After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

    Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.


    On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

    I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

    Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

    The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner


    On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

    After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

    Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

    The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray


    On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

    The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

    Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

    That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard


    On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

    The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

    Getty Images

    Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

    LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

    “I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

    By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

    Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

    “I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

    Getty Images

    Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

    LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

    It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

    Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

    He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

    “I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

    What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

    In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

    For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

    From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

    There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

    “It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

    A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

    That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

    Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

    “[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

    It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

    Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

    “He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

    It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

    That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

    “I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

    Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

    Getty Images

    Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

    By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

    LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

    Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

    Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

    Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

    Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

    “For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”