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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    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.”