Sorenstam to Play Men in Skins Game

By Golf Channel NewsroomSeptember 2, 2003, 4:00 pm
The Skins Game will have the No. 1 player, even though Tiger Woods is taking this year off.
Annika Sorenstam, who became the first woman in 58 years on the PGA Tour by playing at Colonial, will cap off her remarkable season as the first LPGA Tour player to compete in the Skins Game.
Joining her at Trilogy Golf Club in La Quinta, Calif., will be defending champion Mark O'Meara, Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson, who predicted Sorenstam would finish 20th at the Colonial (she missed the cut).
O'Meara won last year with eight skins worth $405,000 of the $1 million purse. He made nine birdies over 18 holes, which doesn't bode well for Sorenstam. When she missed the cut at Colonial (71-74), she made only two birdies.
Still, her presence figures to be a big boost for a silly-season event that has lost some of its charm over the last 20 years.
'It will create some excitement,'' O'Meara said last week at the Deutsche Bank Championship. 'If you can't have Tiger Woods, why not have Annika Sorenstam? We're fortunate to have her play.''
Sorenstam said she will not play another PGA Tour event, but two months ago embraced the idea of a special event like the Skins Game.
O'Meara and Couples did not play at Colonial. Mickelson tied for 13th at Colonial, and he tied for 58th at the Greater Hartford Open, where Connecticut club pro Suzy Whaley missed the cut.
'I don't know her very well, but from everything I've heard she's a nice lady and obviously a fantastic player,'' O'Meara said. 'The way she handled everything at Colonial, to perform at that level, showed what a great champion she is.''
Any predictions?
'I hope she doesn't beat me up too bad,'' O'Meara said.
FOOTBALL SEASON: Having played four of the last five tournaments, U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk is ready for some time off.
He won't play again until the American Express Championship the first weekend in October, and believes this might be the first time he has taken a four-week break when it wasn't injury-related.
The first weekend off might be the best.
Furyk will be at the Ohio State-San Diego State game Saturday, then he goes to Pittsburgh to watch the Steelers open the season against the Baltimore Ravens. Then it's off to Philadelphia to watch the Eagles play Tampa Bay in the Monday Night Football opener.
TOUGH WAITE: Grant Waite missed the cut at the Deutsche Bank Championship by two shots, a noble effort considering what he had to endure for the chance to play.
PGA Tour officials called him about 4 p.m. Thursday and told him there would be a spot open for him. They knew this because Alex Cejka was spotted that day playing at the BMW International Open in Germany.
He forgot to withdraw from the Deutsche Bank.
Cejka had a Friday afternoon tee time at the TPC of Boston, but it wasn't as simple as placing Waite in his spot.
Since Cejka had not officially withdrawn, Waite had to be on the course by 7 a.m. in case someone else withdrew because he was next on the list of alternates.
Waite booked a 7 p.m. flight out of Orlando, Fla., which was delayed two hours. He made it to his hotel in Providence, R.I., by 2:30 a.m. Friday.
The good news: By the time his plane left Orlando, tour officials had contacted Cejka in Germany, and Waite was allowed to take his spot.
'That took a lot of the stress off,'' Waite said.
Turns out Nick Price withdrew Friday with a wrist injury and was replaced by the next alternate _ Michael Clark, who was on the flight from Orlando with Waite.
Clark, too, missed the cut.
Why go to so much trouble? Waite, who won the '93 Kemper Open, is not exempt for the first time in his career.
'Any opportunity to play is a privilege,'' Waite said.
SHARKS AND TRACTORS: Now that Greg Norman is not playing in the Presidents Cup, he says he will play only one more PGA Tour event this year, the John Deere Classic.
Why the John Deere?
His longtime caddie, Tony Navarro, is from the area and the Shark figured he owed him one year in his hometown.
'I thought it was the right thing to do,'' Norman said. 'His dad works for John Deere, so why not? Plus, the dates have changed. It's a little later in the year.''
COLLEGE DAYS: Adam Scott turned pro at 19, but unlike some of his peers who turned pro when they were teenagers (Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Ty Tryon), the Aussie made it through a year of college.
Scott was an All-American as a freshman at UNLV in 1999, played the fall semester and then left school.
'I just felt like it was time to move on,'' he said.
He was never there for the academics.
Asked if he ever found the library on campus, Scott smiled and said, 'The what?''
Still, he loved everything about being in Las Vegas. He was so impressed with the program and facilities that 'I took my recruiting trip after I signed.''
The first stop was Shadow Creek, where he met Michael Jordan. He also met Tiger Woods, who was in Vegas working out with his trainer.
Scott lived in Las Vegas until joining the European tour, and now has homes in Australia and London.
DIVOTS: Darren Clarke has tried to cut back on cigars during his rounds, but he gave in Sunday during the third round of the Deutsche Bank Championship for a good reason - he ran out of cigarettes. ... Tiger Woods' streak of consecutive cuts will go to 112 at the American Express Championship, which has no cut. He can tie the record of 113 set by Byron Nelson in the 1940s at Disney, where he is a two-time winner. ... Butch Harmon says he hasn't worked with Woods since before the U.S. Open, but at least he has more time to work with his other clients, such as Clarke and Adam Scott, who have won the last two weeks on the PGA Tour.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Tom Carter, who earned a promotion to the PGA Tour by winning three times on the Nationwide Tour, makes his debut this week in the Canadian Open. Two of his Nationwide victories came in events played in Canada.
FINAL WORD: 'They were clapping for my bad shots. I think they were just happy to see golf.'' - Jim Furyk, on the PGA Tour's return to the Boston area.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.