Notes Diaz Ends the Year Strong


Now that Laura Diaz is starting to see progress, the LPGA Tour season is about to end. But at least she gets one more week, which is all she wanted.
Diaz was headed for her worst season in four years until a birdie-birdie finish in the Tournament of Champions moved her up to second place and earned her enough money to finish in the top 30 on the money list and qualify for the ADT Championship at Trump International.
'I really, really wanted to play this week,' Diaz said.
It was a small consolation for the 29-year-old Floridian once touted as a rising star in women's golf.
Diaz won twice in 2002 and finished seventh on the money list, but then injured her left ankle. She continued to play last year and qualified for her first Solheim Cup team, but surgery in December revealed four tears in the tendon and a torn ligament.
'When the doctor opened it up, he didn't know how I could play golf, let alone walk,' Diaz said.
Compounding problems, Diaz tried to return a month ahead of schedule to play in the first major at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She had only one top 10 the first half of the season.
The change started in July, when her regular caddie returned to the bag. Diaz tied for fourth at the Giant Eagle Classic, and had four top 10s over the final three months of the season, getting to No. 27 on the money list.
'I could end the season knowing I played my heart out,' Diaz said. 'I'm happy with my season, but I'm not happy with where I am on the money list. Unless you're No. 1, I don't think you can ever be satisfied.'
The 50-and-older Champions Tour will again feature 28 tournaments with at least $50 million in prize money.
The tour released its 2005 schedule Tuesday, and the only significant change is swapping out south Florida for Seattle. The tour could not find a title sponsor for the Key Biscayne event, which had been the first Champions Tour stop on the mainland.
The first three weeks will be in Hawaii, including the Skins Game at Wailea Resort during Super Bowl weekend. After a week off, the tour resumes in Naples, Fla. The only new tournament is the Greater Seattle Champions Classic, to be played Aug. 19-21 on the TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge.
The Champions Tour will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year.
The PGA Tour season is over, and Fred Couples is about to get busy.
Couples, also known as the 'king of the silly season,' is playing in the UBS Cup this week at Kiawah Island, followed by the Skins Game on Thanksgiving weekend against Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam and Adam Scott.
Couples is a four-time winner of the Skins Game, and could top $3 million in career earnings.
'I would hate to say I take it more seriously than PGA Tour events, but at the same time, I've been on tour for 24 years and this is my 11th one,' he said of the Skins Game. 'I look forward to them.'
Couples holds a share of the Skins Game record with nine birdies in 1999. He realizes not everyone likes the Skins Game, but there are few other places he'd rather be.
'I do know there are some guys who do not really care for the format because it's not to their liking, and I don't know why,' Couples said. 'Because for me, you're in Palm Springs in November on Thanksgiving, and everyone is watching, and it's a lot of fun to be out there.'
A world ranking system for women's golf is a little behind schedule and might not begin until the start of the 2006 season.
The rankings were announced in May and were to help determine teams for the World Cup, to be played in February at Fancourt in South Africa. Instead, the LPGA Tour will rely on the money list. Meg Mallon is the top American and can choose her own partner.
'We wanted to get it done right,' LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw said. 'We think it will get rolled out in the middle of '05, but I think a realistic chance is '06.'
Garrett Willis became only the third player to win his first tournament as a PGA Tour member in the 2001 Tucson Open, and it's been all downhill since.
Willis finished out of the top 125 on the money list the next three years, and last week failed to advance out of the second stage of Q-school. He now must rely on his status as a past champion.
Others who failed to reach the final stage included former Masters champion Larry Mize and 2003 U.S. Amateur champion Nick Flanagan.
The second stage will be wrapped up this week at four sites, with most of the focus at Black Horse on the Monterey Peninsula. Among those in the field are Bill Haas, former U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes and Casey Martin. Haas goes into the second stage having tied for fourth with his father, Jay Haas, at the Franklin Templeton Shootout.
Hank Kuehne and Camilo Villegas have signed on with J. Lindeberg. The Swedish clothing designer said Villegas is one of the 'coolest' new golfers and reminded him of Marlon Brando. Exactly who gets to see Villegas in his new duds remains a mystery since he failed to get out of the second stage of Q-school. ... Greg Norman has signed an endorsement deal with MacGregor Golf. The Shark is expected to play around the world next year, perhaps even on the Champions Tour when he turns 50 on Feb. 10. ... The 2005 U.S. Open is a sellout for the 19th consecutive year. The USGA is offering additional practice round tickets for Monday and Tuesday (June 13-14) at $35.
Total prize money for the silly season is $23.5 million. Twenty years ago, total prize money on the PGA Tour was $21.3 million.
'If I told you I am going to win the U.S. Open next year, you will sit there and laugh. But if I said it 10 or 12 years ago, I would seriously mean it.' - Fred Couples.
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