Notes Mickelson Makes Schedule Change

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2007, 5:00 pm
HONOLULU -- Phil Mickelson said Tuesday that he plans to play as many as six out of seven events through the end of the FedExCup season, but there will be one big change to his schedule.

Mickelson, who tries to play the week before a major to get competitively sharp, said he would skip the tournaments before the Masters and the U.S. Open. He won the BellSouth Classic last year by 13 shots, then won his second green jacket a week later.

BellSouth has moved to May, and Houston will be a week before the Masters. Mickelson hasn't played Houston since 2003, and he has not played Memphis (the week before the U.S. Open) since 2001.

BEAUTIFUL HAWAII
Hawaii is celebrating one golf feat after another these days, from the youngest player in 50 years to make the cut on the PGA TOUR (Tadd Fujikawa) to the youngest U.S. Women's Amateur champion (Kimberly Kim) to Dean Wilson becoming the first player from Hawaii to win on the PGA TOUR in 16 years.

But it's not easy for most of them to reach the big time, and Wilson offered an excellent illustration.

A public course kid from Kaneohe on the north end of Oahu, he could only afford one trip to the mainland to play in the Junior Worlds at Torrey Pines. That kept him from getting noticed by colleges, and he didn't have a single scholarship offer when he left high school. Wilson wound up going to BYU-Hawaii with hopes of getting into a Division I school.

He transferred to the main campus of BYU -- former Masters champion Mike Weir was on that team -- but had to walk on and still had a tough time getting into the lineup over the scholarship players. Whenever he complained, the coach put him in his place with a line they both laugh about to this day.

'He told me, 'You're a dime a dozen. For all I care, you can paddle your canoe back to wherever you came from,'' Wilson recalled.

Wilson now lives in Las Vegas, but he keeps in touch with Hawaii golf through a Web site, www.808golf.com, and he wants to start a foundation for Hawaii juniors that would help with their travel to the mainland.

'You don't have to be from a country club. You don't have to have all the extra privileges,' he said. 'Not that my life was hard, but I was just a basic junior golfer that wanted to play on tour and worked toward it and got there. Hopefully, that's what those guys, when they look at me, they realize nothing is that extraordinary about my game.'

THE PERFECT START
No one gets to the PGA TOUR without plenty of support, and Stephen Marino didn't forget that.

Marino played golf at Virginia and has spent the last four years in the minor leagues, mainly the Gateway and Golden Bear tours. He made it to the final stage of Q-school for the first time last month and earned his card with a tie for eighth.

The Sony Open was his first PGA TOUR event as a member. And how's this for a debut -- he wound up in the same group as Michelle Wie and the hundreds of fans who came to watch her.

Standing on the first tee, soaking it all in, Marino spotted his parents and walked over to the ropes, giving each a big hug.

Moments later, his name was announced on the first tee and he split the middle of the fairway, on his way to an opening-round 68. He made the cut and tied for 34th.

CHANGED OUTLOOK
Chris Smith missed the cut at the Sony Open and might not get many cracks on the PGA TOUR this year, but his outlook leaving Honolulu was better than it has been in years.

Consider how his 2006 season began.

His sponsor's exemption to the Sony Open was taken away and given to Peter Jacobsen after an oversight kept Jacobsen, a popular figure at Waialae because of his clinics, out of the field. Smith came over, anyway, having already bought his plane tickets, and tried to Monday qualify. He made two bogeys down the stretch and missed by one.

'I knew it was going to be a bad year,' he said. 'The first two weeks could not have been any worse. Bad karma carried over.'

He finished 195th on the money list, then discovered he had shingles. And during a trip to the doctor, he found his blood pressure was 140 over 116. It was still high before leaving for Q-school, where he failed to get his card.

In the last month, Smith has lost 25 pounds and his blood pressure is down to 111 over 73. And he's ready to get back to work.

'The last four years have just been bad,' he said. 'My expectations went from way too high to way too low.'

DIVOTS
The BellSouth Classic in Atlanta now will be called the AT&T Classic to reflect the recently approved merger between the two phone companies. BellSouth had been the title sponsor in Atlanta since 1989. ... Rich Beem wasn't too discouraged by a 71-75 weekend, noting that it was his first tournament of the year. Plus, he earned his first FedExCup points. 'Yeah, but I can't cash those in for beer,' he said. ... Michelle Wie's week might best be defined by the fact that she had honors on the tee only twice in her 36 holes at the Sony Open. ... Notah Begay has signed a two-year endorsement deal to represent Turning Stone Resort, the title sponsor and host of a PGA TOUR event in the fall. ... Bernhard Langer has signed a deal to play Adams Golf equipment.

STAT OF THE WEEK
Nearly half of Phil Mickelson's victories on the PGA TOUR (14 of 29) have come in California or Arizona.

FINAL WORD
'I've talked to people who have been married 30 or 40 years, and they say the first seven years are the toughest. I'm on six. My other three marriages didn't make it past two.' -- John Daly, who filed for divorce in October and is trying to reconcile.

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.”