Greg Should Fudge a Bit for Annika
Norman was critical of women playing in a tour event, any tour that is primarily men-only, when he took promoters to task for inviting Laura Davies to play in a tournament on the Australia-New Zealand Tour. And, for that matter, Norman says he still is against women being handed an invitation to play in a full-scale tour event, be it in the U.S., Europe or the Pacific Rim. But he explains that he has never complained about a woman playing in other events with men.
I think I've been very consistent and public in some of my comments prior to this in believing that anybody that plays in a regular tour event should earn their stripes to go play it, Norman says. That's a full-field PGA TOUR event.
This Merrill Lynch Shootout (in Naples, Fla.) is a totally different event. Even though it is co-sanctioned by the PGA TOUR, it's still got that relaxed atmosphere that an individual like Annika Sorenstam will come and add a tremendous amount of value to it.
It seems theres a little problem here, though. Annika will have to play the regular tees at the Shootout, as she has when she played in previous exhibitions with the guys. But how does this sound ' how about setting up the course so Annika has a real chance to win?
Gregs event, as he says, is very informal. There are 24 players arranged in two-man ' er, two-person ' teams. So why not try something a little different and have Sorenstam tee off, say, 20-30 yards in front of the men? It would leave Annika with roughly the same distance into the pins, and she is a definite threat from there. Get her back on the tournament tees and she becomes, once again, a novelty and not much else.
Last year Annika averaged 263 yards a drive. That was No. 4 on the LPGA but would only have been No. 181 on the mens tour. Give her a 20-yard break and she puts it out there an average of 283, which is still just 131st on the PGA Tour.
Give her a 30-yard head start, though, and she is No. 52 amongst the men at 293. Suddenly, we have something. Put Annika 150 yards from the flag, the average male tour pro 150 yards away, and Ill put my money on Annika at least half the time. Put everyone at, say, 120, and Annika will put it inside the boys around 80 percent of the time, Ill bet.
As it is, she will be hitting a 4-iron or 5-wood while most guys are hitting 7- or 8-iron. And that is simply too much club to give up.
Norman, by the way, has been very kind in taking this step. And he says Annika is free to invite a partner ' and it can be a man OR a woman. Or, for that matter, Norman says he would gladly volunteer to be her partner if she so chooses.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for her, he said. I think her consistency basis of her performance on the game of golf is probably far greater than anybody else's I've ever seen. You can throw in Tiger Woods, you can throw in anybody.
When you see her performance week-in, week-out, the number of events she plays - she's still been beating the best of the best in her field. I don't care whether it's male or female, youve still got to get up there and win. To do that on a consistent basis is almost impossible.
Of course, it might be a little embarrassing if Annika were allowed to tee off from a forward tee and yet chose Norman to be her partner. Norman, you see, controls just about everything concerned with the event and its rules, and if he permitted Sorenstam the tee box favor, it might be construed by some to be unfair. But Norman could counter the charge by refusing to take any money he might win in the event ' or earmarking it all for charity.
At any rate, its an extremely thoughtful gesture, coming from a man considered by many to be the ultimate macho male.
The way she's handled herself, I've been very, very impressed with that, he said. She answers the questions the right way. She's very, very humble about her golf. One thing that really impresses me - golf, she doesn't put herself ahead of the game of golf. Golf is far, far, far ahead of where she thinks she is.
That really is important to me, too, because she loves the game, she plays it with passion, she practices hard. All she wants to do is just pile on the victories, and her performance, the best way she can. You respect somebody for that because the hardest thing in the world is to be successful. Harder than that is to be the best at what you can be. She's done that on a consistent basis. She's sacrificed a lot. She's committed a lot. She deserves everything she has.
Norman, incidentally, isn't nearly so critical of women playing in a historically male event as one might imagine. 'It's that I'm against anyone of either gender being granted an exemption purely as a publicity stunt,' he once wrote in an article published in Travel Magazine. 'I want what's best for golf, and I don't think these gimmicks are doing one bit of good to promote the game that we all love.
'The bottom line - and let me be very clear about this - is that if a woman wants to go out and earn her way into an event or onto the PGA TOUR by way of its established qualifying criteria, and she does so successfully, I'm all for it. If Michelle Wie pulls it off, for example, I will welcome her - as I would anyone else.'
Norman has given Annika the invitation, and that is most accommodating. Now, he needs to do one more thing ' arrange it so that she has a chance to really have an impact on the event.
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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore
SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.
Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.
He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.
Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.
The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.
''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''
Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.
He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.
Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.
''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''
13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest
Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.
Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.
“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”
Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.
Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.
Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.
Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.
“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”
Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.
“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.
This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."