Poor Start for Sorenstam Ochoa on Track

By Associated PressMarch 29, 2007, 4:00 pm
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Lorena Ochoa took her first step toward overtaking Annika Sorenstam at No. 1 in the world.
 
Even though her putting wasn't up to her standards, Ochoa hit it close enough Thursday at the Kraft Nabisco Championship to make five birdies and open with a 3-under 69 in tough conditions, leaving her one shot behind Shi Hyun Ahn in the first major of the year.
 
The 25-year-old Mexican star needs a victory this week to become No. 1.
 
Unlike a year ago, when Ochoa tied an LPGA major record with a 62 at Mission Hills, the greens were too firm and the rough too thick to allow for that kind of scoring.
 
And as hard as she tried, defending Karrie Webb couldn't repeat her 18th hole magic.
 
Webb holed a pitching wedge from 116 yards for eagle on the final hole of the fourth round last year to make up a seven-shot deficit, eventually beating Ochoa in a playoff. She was only 82 yards away Thursday, hit a full sand wedge that rode the slope and flirted with going into the hole. It stopped a few inches away.
 
Webb feigned disgust, slamming her sand wedge to the turf with a smile on her face. The tap-in birdie gave her a 70, putting her in a group that included Maria Hjorth of Sweden and Catriona Matthew of Scotland.
 
Sorenstam, meanwhile, struggled.
 
Even after finishing with a birdie, she jammed her putter into the bag with disgust, then stood behind the ninth green with hands on her hips after her worst start at a major in seven years. She opened with a 3-over 75, a score that could have been higher if not for a few par saves.
 
'I'd like to forget this day,' she said.
 
At this rate, Sorenstam might have to forget about that No. 1 ranking.
 
Ahn took the lead on a sun-soaked day in the desert, overcoming some jitters about being in a major and staying true to her plan of not taking her golf so seriously. She made six birdies in her round of 4-under 68.
 
It was a strong round for Ahn, the LPGA rookie of the year in 2004, for Mission Hills was tougher than ever. The course was lengthened by 104 yards to measure 6,673 yards, the rough was thick enough to be a half-stroke penalty and the greens were so firm that Paula Creamer hit a wedge heavy with spin and it took a few hops forward before stopping.
 
It was tough on everyone.
 
Sorenstam's score was her highest in the opening round of a major since she shot 76 at the Kraft Nabisco in 2000. Even more frustrating was that she wasn't sure how it happened.
 
'I felt good. I felt ready. And then I got off to a really terrible start,' she said.
 
Starting on the back nine, the 36-year-old Swede hit her approach stiff on the 12th for a birdie to go 1 under, then split the middle of the 13th fairway and had 123 yards to the hole.
 
She chunked her second shot. Her chip was about 20 feet long and above the hole. And she three-putted for double bogey.
 
That was the start of Sorenstam missing five consecutive greens, and she did well to save par with a 20-foot putt on the 15th and a chip from across the green on the 16th to about 3 feet.
 
'It wasn't anything in particular,' Sorenstam said. 'But I'm not going to let this round ruin the rest of the week. I'm going to get some lunch, hit some balls and this day is forgotten.'
 
Sorenstam played with Creamer, who struggled with the speed on her putts and shot 73.
 
Ahn shot into the lead with three straight birdies around the turn, her best hole at the par-3 eighth with a 5-iron into 12 feet. She hit a gap wedge into 8 feet to close out the front nine, followed with a wedge into 20 feet on the 10th and traded two birdies with two bogeys the rest of the way for a solid start.
 
She has tried to change her attitude this year to have more fun.
 
'I do put pressure on myself, but it's not to the point where I'm coming down hard on myself,' she said. 'I'm taking it lighthearted and having fun with it, so that has changed my game a lot.'
 
And she if hopeful she can learn from her experiences in the majors, especially last year at Bulle Rock.
 
Ahn was one shot out of the going into the final round of the LPGA Championship and came to the last hole needing a birdie to join the playoff. But her approach was long, left and into the water.
 
'My goal was to come through, and I didn't,' she said of her first brush with a major. 'I don't want to make the same mistake.'
 
DIVOTS
While it's not ideal to play a pro-am round the week of a major, there are two pro-ams at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, one of them on the adjacent Palmer Course. That means players only have one day of practice to themselves, which is Monday, and many of them had to travel from Phoenix to get to Mission Hills. 'It would be interesting to see the guys do that before a major,' Inkster said. 'We need to change that.' ... Seven players failed to break 80, including former U.S. Women's Open champion Birdie Kim. ... Meg Mallon, missing only this major to complete the career Grand Slam, is making her '07 debut after recovering from a foot injury in the offseason.
 
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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.”