Notes Youth on center stage at Oakland Hills

By Associated PressAugust 7, 2008, 4:00 pm
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2008 US Open 81x90BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. ' This was the time for American players on the bubble for making the Ryder Cup team to make a statement. It wasnt what Hunter Mahan had in mind.
 
Mahan is 10th in the standings ' only the top eight qualify after the PGA Championship ' and he got off to a rugged start with a double bogey. It didnt get much better. He had a triple bogey on the fourth hole and shot 42 on the front nine. His round ended with one last bogey for an 81, the highest score of his career.
 
Woody Austin, who is at No. 9, went out in 40 and only three tough pars at the end allowed him to shoot 79.
 
D.J. Trahan (No. 11) opened with a 72, while Zach Johnson (No. 13) had a 76. The most impressive performance came from Sean OHair, who won in Tampa earlier this year and is No. 14 in the standings.
 
OHair was atop the leaderboard most of the morning and finished with a 1-under 69.
 
Its in the back of my mind, OHair said. I really want to play on the team, but thinking about it would get in my way. It almost would make me try too hard to get on the team. So if I just focus on what gets me to play well, it will me get on the team. And if I do get on the team, it will help me play well in the Ryder Cup.
 
Rocco Mediate, who was at No. 12 and has captain Paul Azingers attention as a possible pick, opened with a 73.
 
Azinger will select four players as captains picks.
 
YOUTH ON STAGE
 
Among the more interesting groups for the first two rounds of the PGA Championship were Sergio Garcia, Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas, three young players with increasing appeal.
 
It was a big gallery for a Thursday tee time, Kim said.
 
Garcia and Kims popularity comes more from their performance, Villegas more through marketing.
 
Garcia is a 28-year-old Spaniard who won The Players Championship this year and is considered by some as the best to have never won a major. He was solid in the first round, with two birdies against one bogey for a 69. Kim has the swagger of L.A., where he grew up, and the 23-year-old came of age this year with victories at the Wachovia Championship and AT&T National. He shot 70.
 
Villegas is a 26-year-old from Colombia, who still hasnt won on the PGA TOUR. But he is famous for his Spider-Man routine when reading putts, model looks and natty clothing. He stayed with his more accomplished peers for much of the round until playing the final five holes in 5 over for a 74.
 
It was great, Garcia said. Anthony is a great guy. Obviously, Im good friends with Camilo. I think this is the first tournament round I played with Anthony, and its very impressive.
 
A TOUGH TEST
 
Paul Goydos found Oakland Hills to be as tough as any test in golf. But his exam wasnt over after he made par on his final hole for a 74. Two officials escorted him to the locker room for a drug test.
 
Drug testing on the PGA and European tours began in July, although this was the first time at a major championship.
 
Moments later, Anthony Kim was escorted to the clubhouse for his drug test after a 70.
 
I was ready. It took 10 minutes, Goydos said.
 
Goydos is among those who accepts drug testing as a way of the sporting world, although he was intrigued by the philosophy.
 
In this case, youre guilty until proven innocent, he said. And now I have 10 days to prove Im innocent.
 
He was referring to the time it takes to get results, although it might be a little longer. Charles Howell III was among the first to be tested at the AT&T National last month at Congressional, and he received an e-mail 20 days later from the PGA TOUR saying he passed.
 
CHANGE IN PLANS
 
Having parted ways with his caddie, Steve Strickers plan for the summer was to use veteran looper Jimmy Johnson for a couple of tournaments, then use wife Nicki at the PGA Championship. A good player, she caddied for him early in his career before having children.
 
But then Stricker wound up in the hunt for the Ryder Cup, and everything changed. Johnson is still on the bag.
 
She pulled herself out, Stricker said of his wife. Ive been on that Ryder Cup bubble, and she thought the last thing we needed was for her to come here on the bag and be a story and take away from all that. She did it. She said this was not a good time for it.
 
Stricker needed a good round, and he got one with a 71. He is No. 8 in the Ryder Cup standings, the last spot for an automatic berth, and his hopes start with making the cut.
 
RUDE AWAKENING
 
Robert Allenby thought it was strange to see glass around the back of his courtesy car on his way to the PGA Championship on Thursday. Seconds later, he realized someone had broken into his car.
 
I walked out and said, Whats all that glass? Allenby said after opening with a 76. Then I saw a half-dozen cars just like it.
 
Allenby said nothing was missing from his car, but that wasnt the case for what he estimated to be 10 other courtesy cars that were parked at the Southfield Marriott about 5 miles from Oakland Hills.
 
Other victims included K.J. Choi, who had his 5-wood in the back. That was left alone, but the navigation system was torn out.
 
My navigation system was still there, Allenby said. But the others, they took the center console out of every car. I dont know why they didnt take mine. Maybe I had it on the wrong channel.
 
QUICK TRIP
 
Nathan Green had planned to stay home in Dallas this week until he learned that two players had withdrawn from the PGA Championship since Monday, and he was the first alternate.
 
Green arrived in the Detroit area Wednesday night, and had to be at Oakland Hills in time for the 7:30 a.m. start. He waited through the morning batch of tee times, had breakfast, hit balls, then waited some more.
 
Alas, no one else withdrew, and it was time for the Aussie to go back home to Dallas without ever seeing the course.
 
I thought it was a bit of a long shot, he said. But I had to be here just in case.
 
Green said he once spent all week as an alternate at the Australian Open, but never at a major. He didnt play in the 1996 U.S. Open here, and he didnt go through U.S. qualifying for the British Open at Oakland Hills last year.
 
He didnt seem the least bit bothered by such a quick trip.
 
I wasnt doing anything this week, anyway, he said.
 
SURPRISES
 
Along with an eclectic group of players under par, there were a few surprises in the first round.
 
Jay Haas, the 54-year-old who got into the field as the Senior PGA champion, made eagle on the second hole and shot a 73. The last time Haas played as the senior champion, he made the cut at Medinah in 2006.
 
And of the 20 club pros in the field, Frank Esposito Jr. led the way with a 71. Esposito is the head pro at Brooklake in New Jersey.
 
DIVOTS
 
Sean OHair was being interviewed when former Masters champion Zach Johnson walked by and posed as a reporter. Can you tell me about your shot on 18 and what you did there on your approach shot? What happened? Did you miss it left or right, please? OHair smiled and replied, You tell me how you won the Masters and Ill answer the question. Among those at Oakland Hills was Morgan Pressel, the youngest LPGA major champion in history. She was visiting family, had dinner planned with Davis Love III and wanted to walk a few holes with Adam Scott. Temperatures topped 100 degrees in the first round last year at Southern Hills. As the afternoon groups were teeing off Thursday, it was 75 degrees.
 
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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.”