Top Players Ready for Sawgrass

By Associated PressMarch 25, 2004, 5:00 pm
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Twelve tournaments. Twelve winners.
The first three months on the PGA Tour were similar to last year, when the biggest names were on top of their games, but no one - not even Tiger Woods - dominated golf.
'It just gets exponentially harder to win,' Davis Love III said Wednesday.
It doesn't get any easier this week.
All the best players are assembled at The Players Championship to face the first major test of the year, and perhaps to sort out who the top contenders are with the Masters just around the corner.
Woods seems like a logical choice, except that his only victory was the Match Play Championship, and he is coming off his worst finish on the PGA Tour in five years.
Vijay Singh was closing in on No. 1 until he missed the cut at Torrey Pines, then went two more tournaments without finishing in the top 10.
Phil Mickelson started his year with five straight finishes in the top 10, including a victory in the Bob Hope Classic. Masters champion Mike Weir repeated at Riviera. Ernie Els won another playoff at Waialae.
Seven of the top 10 players in the world have won.
None has dominated.
'There's a lot of guys playing great golf out here,' Love said. 'And it's hard to separate yourself.'
The Players Championship, which starts Thursday, has its strongest field ever with 80 of the top 100 in the world.
The Stadium Course on the TPC at Sawgrass looks as tough as ever, especially given the firm greens during practice rounds and dry conditions that are expected to last through the week.
'I can only imagine what they're going to be like on Sunday,' Chad Campbell said. 'It's going to be a hard test.'
Adding to the luster is the announcement Tuesday night at a players-only meeting that the richest purse in golf got even richer - $8 million, with $1.44 million going to the winner.
'There was a gasp in the room,' Love recalled. 'I don't think we were expecting that number.'
Love achieved rare separation last year, when he had a superb closing round of 8-under 64 in cold, blustery conditions to win by five shots.
But he has been reminded that no winner in the 30-year history of The Players Championship has ever repeated.
'I'm just trying to get lost in the process of golf and not think about results, not think about what I've heard for the last three weeks - that no one has ever won the championship back-to-back,' Love said. 'I've won twice. I just have to put the years together.'
Told that 12 players won the first 12 tournaments of the year, Love replied, 'I hope there's 13 different winners after this week.'
Love is among the top 10 players without a victory this year, although he is No. 4 on the money list. The others are Retief Goosen and Jim Furyk, who showed up Wednesday with a plastic brace on his left wrist from surgery Monday. Furyk will be out for at least three months.
Of the dozen winners this year, only Woods has to answer questions about what's wrong with his game, although his performance last week at Bay Hill was peculiar - after four straight years of winning, he went three straight rounds over par and tied for 46th, 18 shots behind Campbell.
The strongest and deepest field in golf tees off Thursday on a course that was reviled when it opened in 1982, but since has commanded the utmost respect.
The rough is a uniform 4 inches, and players got a sense of what they were up against by watching maintenance workers hose down areas of the rough around the green, making it even thicker.
The wind has blown up to 20 mph during the practice rounds, leading Els to suggest it could be an even tougher test than at Augusta National.
And they still haven't filled in the big pond that surrounds the 17th green.
The par 3 is the signature hole at The Players Championship, the penultimate hole on the ultimate target course that more often than not decides the tournament.
Woods has two historic moments there - a 25-foot birdie putt that led to his comeback in the 1994 U.S. Amateur, and a 60-foot birdie putt that broke three directions in the third round of his Players Championship victory in 2001.
Mickelson, always thinking aggressively, referred to it as a birdie hole.
'It's only 135, 140 yards,' he said. 'Guys have hit tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of 9-irons that distance and knocked it close or on the green. It's the penalty for the miss that is much more severe.
'I equate it to walking a balance beam,' he said. 'You can walk a balance beam no problem a foot off the ground. But raise it to 10 stories, it looks different.'
The rest of the course is like walking a tightrope, which is why this tournament - unlike the majors - rarely produces surprising winners. Only five winners cannot list a major among their credentials, and the only real shock was Craig Perks in 2002, the only guy to make The Players Championship his first tour victory.
But that's what makes this so hard to win.
Unlike the majors, all 149 players in the field are capable of winning.
'It just identifies the player who's playing the best, who has the whole package going,' Weir said.
Related links:
  • Leaderboard - The Players Championship

  • Full Coverage - The Players Championship

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    Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

    By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

    PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

    She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

    “I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

    Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

    Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

    “Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

    She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

    “I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

    Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

    Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

    “Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

    She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

    “They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

    Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

    While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

    “Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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    Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

    By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

    PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

    In fact, she named her “Mona.”

    For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

    While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

    And that has her excited about this year.

    Well, that and having a healthy back again.

    Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

    “I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

    Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

    “Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

    Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

    She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

    Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.

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    Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders

    By Associated PressMarch 17, 2018, 1:47 am

    PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

    Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.

    Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.

    Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

    Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.

    Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.

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    Ko's struggles continue with Founders MC

    By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:26 am

    PHOENIX – Lydia Ko loves the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and its celebration of the game’s pioneers, and that made missing the cut Friday sting a little more.

    With a 1-over-par 73 following Thursday’s 74, Ko missed the cut by four shots.

    After tying for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start, Ko looked to be turning a corner in her quest to find her best form again, but she heads to next week’s Kia Classic with more work to do.

    “I just have to stay patient,” Ko said. “I just have to keep my head high.”

    It was just the fifth missed cut in Ko’s 120 career LPGA starts, but her fourth in her last 26 starts.

    Ko’s ball striking has been erratic this year, but her putting has been carrying her. She said her putting let her down Friday.

    “It seemed like I couldn’t hole a single putt,” she said. “When I missed greens, I just wasn’t getting up and down. When I got a birdie opportunity, I wasn’t able to hole it.”

    Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.

    Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

    Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.

    “Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”

    Ko, 20, made those sweeping changes last year, starting 2017 with a new coach (Gary Gilchrist), a new caddie (Peter Godfrey) and new equipment (PXG). She made more changes at this year’s start, with another new coach (Ted Oh) and new caddie (Jonnie Scott).

    Ko doesn’t have to look further than Michelle Wie to see how a player’s game can totally turn around.

    “It always takes time to get used to things,” Ko said. “By the end of last year, I was playing solid. I’m hoping it won’t take as much time this year.”

    Ko had Oh fly to Asia to work with her in her two starts before the Founders Cup, with their work showing up in her play at the HSBC in Singapore. She said she would be talking to Oh again before heading to the Kia Classic next week and then the ANA Inspiration. She has won both of those events and will be looking to pull some good vibes from that.

    “This is my favorite stretch of events,” she said. “And I love the Founders Cup, how it celebrates all the generations that have walked through women’s golf. And I love the West Coast swing. Hopefully, I’ll make more putts next week.”

    Ko, whose run of 85 consecutive weeks at Rolex world No. 1 ended last summer, slipped to No. 12 this week.