Weir Takes Control at Kapalua

By Associated PressJanuary 4, 2008, 5:00 pm
2007 Mercedes Benz ChampionshipKAPALUA, Hawaii -- Kapalua might consider changing its logo to a Maple Leaf this week.
 
Mike Weir of Canada, who only 10 weeks ago qualified for the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship with his first victory in more than three years, made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 6-under 67 in much more agreeable conditions Friday for a one-shot lead over Stephen Ames and Jonathan Byrd.
 
Ames, the only player in the field who actually lives in Canada, fixed a flaw in his putting stroke and also shot 67, making birdie on three of his last five holes despite missing a 6-footer along the way.
 
Weir, raised in Bright's Grove, Ontario, now lives in Utah and played only one full round of golf last month when he went to San Diego to check on equipment. Ames was born in Trinidad & Tobago and moved to Calgary in 1991, becoming a naturalized citizen in 2003. He hasn't played since winning the Skins Game, and during his 10-day vacation on Maui, only played 18 holes over two days with his sons.
 
And here they are on an island in the Pacific, their names atop the leaderboard in the first tournament of the year.
 
'That's odd,' Weir said. 'We're probably the least ready for it. There might be something to that.'
 
Canadian tourists on the west coast of Maui won't be hard to find on Saturday.
 
About 100 of them were standing above the first fairway in the opening round when Ames and Weir playing in consecutive groups, and they seemed to split up. They can stay in one place for the third round. Weir, at 8-under 138, and Ames will be in the final group.
 
Byrd made birdie on his last two holes for a 69.
 
Brandt Snedeker was atop the leaderboard most of the round for the second straight day until faltering late. This time it wasn't a broken driver but a faulty putter. He had a 15-foot birdie for a share of the lead, but three-putted for a 69 that left him two shots back.
 
Nick Watney, who led the first round after a 68, made two late birdies for a 72 and was at 6-under 140 with Snedeker.
 
The best round belonged to Mark Calcavecchia, certainly no flat-belly but in much better shape for the Plantation Course at Kapalua after hiking up South Mountain outside Phoenix to get his legs in shape. He hit every green in regulation, three-putted twice, but still made nine birdies in his round of 66 and was at 5-under 141.
 
What helped more than a steady heartbeat was the weather.
 
Clouds drifted across the Kapalua for most of the day, but there were no steady blasts of showers until the end of the round. The wind wasn't nearly as severe, either, and it reflected in the scoring.
 
The course played more than three shots easier. Ten players broke 70, compared with only two in the first round.
 
Perhaps the best example was the 503-yard ninth hole, which plays into the trade wind and was so tough earlier in the week that most players had to blast a fairway metal just to reach the second portion of the fairway. Weir isn't the biggest hitter on tour, but he managed to reach the green in two on Friday, then made a 15-foot eagle putt that sent him on his way.
 
He played the par 5s in 5 under.
 
Ames found the answer late Thursday afternoon on the putting green, when he noticed his head too far behind the ball that caused his putter to swing upward too quickly through the ball. He showed up about 10 minutes earlier than usual -- this is a working vacation -- to correct the problem, and took only 26 putts on the tough greens of Kapalua.
 
Most of his birdies came inside 10 feet, but he got his round going with a pair of 15-footers, and the 20-foot birdie at the end.
 
'This is a family vacation,' he said. 'Golf keeps getting in the way.'
 
Weir and Ames are thrilled to be at Kapalua, perhaps because it took so long for them to qualify. Weir's previous victory was the Nissan Open in 2004 as he retooled his swing under Andy Bennett and Mike Plummer. He saw progress, but didn't get any measurable results until one glorious Sunday at Royal Montreal, when he beat Tiger Woods in a singles match before a delirious home crowd at the Presidents Cup.
 
It was no coincidence that he won three weeks later in Arizona as part of the Fall Series, the third-to-last event of the season.
 
'I think there was a correlation there,' Weir said. 'It was a tough few years. I felt like I was on my way there. To win after 3 1/2 years is almost harder than the first one.'
 
Ames won the final event of 2007 at Disney, winning by one shot with a bunker save from 65 feet. He only went to Disney to work on his game, and this week is not much different.
 
'I went there to work on my game, and I'm still working on my game,' Ames said. 'I'm happy with the progress I've made.'
 
Twenty players were under par, and the first tournament of the year is still wide open. Ten shots separate Weir from Joe Ogilvie in 27th place among the 31-man field, with four players bringing up the rear.
 
Calcavecchia is on somewhat of a hot streak. He won the Merrill Lynch Shootout with Woody Austin in December, tied for seventh in the Target World Challenge and is swinging as well as ever.
 
Plus, he only carried one putter.
 
Calcavecchia ditched his 5-wood Thursday for a long putter and a conventional one -- the latter being the putter he used to win the PODS Championship in March. He went with the long putter only Friday, and that might be the end of the experiment.
 
'You'll probably never see it in action again,' Calcavecchia said of his short putter. 'It got me here, though.'
 
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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.”