Notes World Missing Out Charitable Choi
And when Tiger Woods walked by, they never took their eyes off him.
Such moments still happen on the PGA TOUR, but not as frequently. Woods has been on tour for 10 years now, and his schedule rarely takes him to new markets except for the U.S. Open or PGA Championship.
And that's why it's a shame the World Golf Championships don't move around the world as they once did.
The American Express Championship used to alternate between the United States (San Francisco, Atlanta, St. Louis) and Europe (Spain, Ireland and England). The Accenture Match Play Championship tried Australia once, but it was too close to the holidays and all the stars stayed home. The Bridgestone Invitational has left Firestone only once, and that was in 2002 for the Seattle area.
For the next four years, all the 'World' Golf Championships will be held in America.
And it really gets strange next year when CA replaces American Express as a title sponsor and the WGC folds into an existing PGA Tour event at Doral. That means Woods essentially will be defending champion at two tournaments in one. This guy really is good.
The PGA TOUR cannot be faulted entirely. There is a business side to running these tournaments, and the tour largely foots the bill. Corporate sponsors who pony up some $12 million a year for a WGC event want the biggest effect, which means TV ratings, and those suffer when the broadcast is not in a prime window for sports.
'We're not entirely happy that all the events are being played in America,' European Tour chief George O'Grady said last week. 'But they are being played.'
PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem relies on television when saying the WGC still has a global impact on growing the game. But it's a shame there can't be at least one played overseas every year, or every other year.
And it's not just Woods.
Stewart Cink made new fans the way he chatted away while signing autographs for the British youth. They called out to Vijay Singh as he walked across the practice green, although not enough to get him to stop.
Television has a broad reach, no doubt. But there is no substitution for the chance to see players in person.
K.J. Choi defends his title at Greensboro this week, and he wasn't the only winner last year.
Choi, who converted to Christianity while dating his wife, tries to go to church on Wednesday night while on the PGA TOUR, and he found a home in Greensboro at the Korean Presbyterian Church.
He also believes in giving back.
So imagine the surprise when the Rev. Jae H. Chung, the senior pastor at the church, got a letter in the mail two months after the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro and found a $90,000 check from Choi.
Choi earned $900,000 from his victory. The note on the check said 'Tithe for CCG.'
'Maybe God will see the blessing K.J. has given us and be with him again on Sunday,' Chung told the Greensboro News & Record. 'Wouldn't that be wonderful.'
NOT SO EASY
Ernie Els showed up at the American Express Championship with a new caddie, hoping to end a slump that has kept him winless on the PGA TOUR for two years. He wound up fifth, only his fifth top 10 of the season.
Els split from longtime caddie and friend, Ricci Roberts, and replaced him Malcolm Mason. The Big Easy described the split as he and Roberts taking a break. It was not clear how long he would use Mason, who used to caddie for Sam Torrance, although Els planned to use him again this week at the Dunhill Championship.
Els' next start on the PGA Tour is the Chrysler Championship in Tampa. He earned enough money at Amex to move up to 28th on the money list, meaning he most likely will have to play well in Tampa to get into the Tour Championship.
BACK TO SCHOOL
Anthony Kim dropped out of Oklahoma to turn pro, saying he never really liked college. Now, he has no choice but to go back to the worst kind of school.
Even though he has earned nearly $340,000 in his first two PGA TOUR events, Kim did not receive sponsor's exemptions to either Greensboro or Las Vegas, and Disney is looking doubtful. The last chance would be Tampa, but that's the first stage of Q-school.
Kim tied for second in the Texas Open to earn a spot in the field last week at the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, and he was one shot out of the lead early in the final round until finishing in a tie for 16th.
Louise Suggs has been selected for the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor by the U.S. Golf Association that recognizes distinguished sportsmanship in golf.
'It's an incredible honor to win this award named for Bob Jones,' said Suggs, 83, who played with Jones on several occasions. 'Being a native Atlantan I admired and respected him immensely, and I even patterned my own game after him. To be honored with this award is the ultimate accolade I could possibly receive.'
She will receive the award Feb. 3 in San Francisco at the USGA's annual meeting.
Tiger Woods twice has made three straight eagles on the same hole -- the first three rounds of the American Express Championship last week (No. 18), and the NEC Invitational in 2000 (No. 2). ... Freddie Burns was back at work last week in England. The longtime caddie and sidekick of Hal Sutton is working for Tom Pernice Jr. the last month of the year, while Pernice's caddie is on the bag of Vijay Singh. ... Professional golf will return to En-Joie Golf Course next year as the Champions Tour. The B.C. Open had been played at course in Endicott, N.Y., until it was bumped off the PGA Tour schedule. The Champions Tour event purse will be $1.6 million. ... Jay Haas, Tom Kite and Craig Stadler will represent the Champions Tour team in the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge.
STAT OF THE WEEK
For those who think the Europeans only make putts during the Ryder Cup, consider the following week at the American Express Championship. The 11 players from Europe's team accounted for 176 birdies and eagles, while the 10 U.S. Ryder Cup players had 150 subpar holes.
'I don't know if I was named captain tomorrow what I would differently.' -- David Toms, on the Americans getting blown out in the Ryder Cup for the second straight time.
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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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand
CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.
Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.
''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''
Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.
Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.
Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.
She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.
''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''
Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.
Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.
''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.
Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.
Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.
''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''
It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.
Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.
Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.
The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.
''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''
PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.
Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.
Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.
''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''
It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.
He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.
''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''
Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.
Later, he laughed about the moment.
''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''
Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.
Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”
Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”
The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.
“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”
The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.
“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”
Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.
“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”
Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .
“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.