PGA Tour wrapping up a not-so-wild West Coast

By Associated PressMarch 3, 2009, 5:00 pm
PGA Tour (75x100)MARANA, Ariz. ' Heres all anyone needs to know about a most peculiar West Coast Swing: PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem played more rounds than Tiger Woods.
Finchem played three rounds at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which has a 54-hole cut. Woods only made it through two rounds at the single-elimination Accenture Match Play Championship.
That was Woods first tournament in eight months because of knee surgery, the longest break of his career, and it didnt take long for the worlds No. 1 player to see what he had been missing.
He walked off the ninth green at Dove Mountain during a practice round and saw the FedEx Cup standings on a large video board. Someone suggested that Woods had better get a move on it or he wouldnt be eligible for the first playoff event at The Barclays.
Woods stopped and laughed.
Even as the top seed, he hasnt shown up at the New York playoff event, and probably wont this year.
Alas, losing in the second round only earned him 47 points. That left Woods at No. 142 in the FedEx Cup standings, right behind Colt Knost, tied with Jimmy Walker, one spot ahead of Kirk Triplett. Those are four names you dont often see in the same sentence.
But this was a West Coast Swing like few others.
Four of the top five players in the world ranking hardly played the first two months of the season, starting with Woods, who was recovering from knee surgery and awaiting the birth of his second child.
Sergio Garcia played only 16 holes before he was beaten in the first round of Match Play. Vijay Singh played one tournament before taking a one-month break for minor knee surgery, and then he missed the cut in back-to-back tournaments before blowing a lead to lose in the second round at Match Play.
British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington entered four straight tournaments and played only 10 rounds.
Phil Mickelson was the exception, turning around his West Coast by defending his title at Riviera. He opened with a 63, a score that was quickly forgotten because of six words that Woods posted on his Web site that afternoon.
Im now ready to play again.
The hype didnt quite match the result.
Woods tied for 17th at Match Play, the first time as a PGA Tour member that he failed to crack the top 10 in his season debut. That put him at No. 117 on the money list, his lowest position since he was a 20-year-old trying to earn his card through sponsor exemptions. Woods was 128th after the B.C. Open in 1996, then won the next week in Las Vegas and everything worked out OK for him after that.
If those are the only big oddities to come out of the West Coast, the Tour will survive. Before heading to the Florida Swing, here are a few items worth noting from the not-so-wild West.
  • In a video message to players last December, Finchem encouraged them to show support by adding an event they dont normally play.
    Four players competed in every tournament for which they were eligible ' Pat Perez, Alex Cejka, Brendon de Jonge and Dean Wilson. Those probably werent the players Finchem had in mind.
    For his part, Finchem showed up at every tournament on the West Coast except for Phoenix and Mexico.
    This is a critical year for the commissioner as he works to extend title sponsorship at some 20 tournaments that expire in 2010. Results have been mixed. Accenture and Travelers (Hartford) have renewed through 2014, but FBR (Phoenix), U.S. Bank (Milwaukee) and Ginn Resorts (Fall Series in Florida) already are out.
    Im losing my voice and people ask me if Im sick, Finchem said. Its because Im on the phone all the time.
  • Kenny Perry won the FBR Open at age 48, but the talk on tour is geared more toward youth.
    Rory McIlroy is only 19, yet he already is No. 16 in the world ranking. Anyone scoffing at such a high ranking should probably sit down with Geoff Ogilvy, who had to play some of his best golf to beat him in the quarterfinals at Match Play.
    Driving back to the clubhouse after the match, Ogilvy said his caddie told him, If you want to be the second-best player in the world, youve got to be better than Rory.
    Thats how good he is, Ogilvy said. It might take a couple of years to be like that. But thats what its going to be.
    McIlroy will have two more weeks ' Honda and Doral ' to become the youngest PGA Tour winner in history. The record belongs to Johnny McDermott when he won the 1911 U.S. Open.
    McIlroy wasnt even the youngest player to make his U.S. debut out West. That honor went to 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan, who missed the cut at Riviera. Ishikawa will play three times in Florida before going to the Masters.
    They will be joined at Augusta National by U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee, the 18-year-old who won the Johnnie Walker Classic on the European Tour two weeks ago.
    Anthony Kim must feel old. Hes 23.
  • The United States had only 17 players in the 64-man field at Match Play, a record low. One reason might be the timing.
    When the Tour Championship ended last September, there were 22 Americans in the top 64. Most of them were idle during the final three months of the year, when the best tournaments were held in Asia and Australia. If they didnt play the Fall Series, they had only six weeks at the start of his year to make up ground.
    So eight Americans dropped out of the top 64 after the Tour Championship, and three moved in ' Davis Love III, Dustin Johnson and Pat Perez, all of whom won tournaments.
    As always, winning takes care of a lot of things.
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  • Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

    Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

    Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

    "He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

    The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

    Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

    "I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

    Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

    "From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

    "And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

    "There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

    Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

    "It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.