Notes Players Skipping Sony for Hope Prep
This year, however, nine of the 31 players at Kapalua headed east to the mainland.
One reason for more players skipping the Sony Open is the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic the following week, a 90-hole tournament that starts on Wednesday and no longer features the same rotation of courses in the California desert.
'It's hard to go from the Sony to the Hope and prepare for four courses,' said Charles Howell III, who was at Waialae this week but will be skipping the Hope. 'You can't get there until Monday night and you've got a time change. The positive is you can use a cart to ride around, but it's not like you can a 72-hole practice round.'
Among those skipping the Sony Open from Kapalua are Scott Verplank, Justin Leonard, Hunter Mahan, Mike Weir and Charley Hoffman, who will be defending his title next week at the Hope.
Verplank has heard that Waialae sets up nicely for his accurate game, but he prefers the Hope. The five-day tournament no longer has Indian Wells, Tamarisk or Bermuda Dunes in the rotation. It featured the new Classic Club designed by Arnold Palmer last year, then added another new course -- the Palmer Course at SilverRock Resort -- for this year.
'You don't get there until Monday night if you do any good in Hawaii, and the tournament starts Wednesday on four courses,' Verplank said. 'And they're adding another new one this year. When they keep changing courses, you have to get over there and learn them.'
For someone like Leonard, it's all about scheduling and conditions.
He prefers to start at the Hope when he's not eligible for the Mercedes, mainly because it allows him to start a new season in an ideal climate -- usually. The wind howled at the Classic Club last year, and only three players broke 70 in the final round.
'I need a week to get out of the wind mode,' Leonard said. 'And when I go back, I'm playing four in a row to see if I can play my way into the Match Play. I understand that if you're already here, why not stay. But I like playing the Hope, and I feel like if I stay for the Sony I'll be at a disadvantage.'
After winning the Masters in 1997 for his first major, Tiger Woods said winning the Grand Slam was a matter of winning the right four tournaments. He changed his tune by the end of the year, when he failed to record a top 10 in the other majors.
But he has won four straight majors, the 'Tiger Slam' because it wasn't in the same calendar year. And he keeps getting closer. Woods won the first two majors in 2002 and finished third in the PGA. He won two majors in 2005 and was runner-up and tied for fourth in the other two. And last year, he was tied for second in the Masters and U.S. Open, tied for 12th in the British Open and won the PGA.
Maybe that's why he is optimistic about his bid for 2008.
'I think it's easily within reason,' Woods said in a story on his Web site.
The U.S. Open will be played at Torrey Pines, where he has won the Buick Invitational five times. He was third at Royal Birkdale in 1998 at the British Open. The PGA will be held at Oakland Hills, where Woods made the cut in the '96 U.S. Open as an amateur.
Toward the end of the PGA TOUR's anti-doping program manual distributed to players last month is a section that lists examples of medications that are permitted, such as antibiotics, hemorrhoidals and muscle relaxants.
It was surprising to see vaginal preparations as the final entry.
Turns out it was a reminder that the PGA TOUR is not a men's tour. Annika Sorenstam played in the Colonial in 2003, Suzy Whaley played in Hartford late that year, and Michelle Wie has played every year since then.
'In the era of females wanting to perhaps play on the PGA TOUR, our policy had to reflect that such products were permissible,' tour spokesman Ty Votaw said.
Russ Holden's 'Caddie for Cure' program got a big lift when Phil Mickelson agreed to take the highest bidder on eBay to be his caddie during a practice round at the FBR Open. Also for sale in bidding that ends Monday are Brett Wetterich and Mercedes winner Daniel Chopra. All money raised goes to leukemia research and charities designated by the tour and the player. ... LPGA champion Suzann Pettersen has joined the Nike Golf stable in a multiyear deal to use its clubs, balls, shoes, glove and bag.
STAT OF THE WEEK:
Nine players at the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship were not in the top 100 in the world ranking.
'It was like a playoff in a sense because the top players played well. I thought that was odd in a good way.' -- Paul Goydos, assessing the first year of the FedExCup.
Copyright 2008 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.”