Notes Riley on the Rise Baby Talk

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2007 Buick InvitationalSAN DIEGO -- The Buick Invitational feels like home for Chris Riley. He grew up playing Torrey Pines, and he was runner-up to John Daly three years ago when his 3-foot putt in a playoff rimmed out of the cup.
 
But he came home this week by invitation only.
 
Riley is playing this week on a sponsor's exemption, the result of being in a free fall since playing in the 2004 Ryder Cup. He was 184th on the money list in 2005, but kept his card because of a now-extinct exemption for members of the last Ryder Cup team. He finished 150th on the money list last year and lost his full exemption.
 
It got worse. Riley went to Q-school and opened with an 83 on a blustery day. He withdrew two days later.
 
'I hit rock bottom,' Riley said Tuesday. 'I walked back out onto the range and they were like, 'Geez, this guy played on the Ryder Cup and now he's shooting 83 at Q-school.' It shows you what the game is all about.'
 
Riley has struggled to balance life on the PGA TOUR with two young daughters, and there is a lingering notion that his Ryder Cup experience -- where he told captain Hal Sutton he was tired after winning a fourball match with Tiger Woods -- also took a toll.
 
Whatever the case, he says his hunger has returned.
 
'My confidence has been shaken from not playing well the last couple of years,' he said. 'It's not like I can't play like I used to. I've got to chip and putt my butt off to compete out here; that's a given. I've got to make a couple of 30-footers, and I was doing that for quite a while. Now they seem to just bend over the edges.'
 
Riley is one of the best putters on TOUR, and he has given up trying to become a big hitter. He hit the gym religiously during the offseason, but says it isn't helping him add distance off the tee.
 
'I've come to the conclusion that I'm never going to hit it like Charley Hoffman or Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson,' he said. 'But if I can get my putter going, I can compete a little bit.'
 
The biggest concern now is getting into tournaments.
 
This is the only sponsor's exemption he has received on the West Coast, and he hopes to get into Pebble Beach and Mexico, the new tournament opposite the Accenture Match Play Championship. He thinks he can get into a dozen tournaments, and he plans to play eight or nine times on the Nationwide Tour.
 
'I'm going to play like it's my last tournament,' he said. 'I've got maybe a dozen shots this year, and if I don't do it, back to Q-school.'
 
TAMPA SPONSOR
Tampa Bay's search for a title sponsor could be over.
 
Golfweek magazine reported its web site Tuesday that PODS, a moving and storage company based in nearby Clearwater, Fla., is close to signing a six-year deal to become the title sponsor. The tournament moved from a week before the TOUR Championship to part of the Florida swing, played March 8-11 at Innisbrook.
 
Peter Warhurst, the president, CEO and founder of PODS, told the magazine that the tour has been 'very creative in trying to figure out a way to help us become a sponsor.'
 
'And I think we're close,' he said. 'To be honest with you, I haven't heard if we have crossed all the T's and dotted all the I's, but I give it a 95 percent chance that we're going to sign up for a six-year sponsorship.'
 
PLAYER ADVISOR
Paul Azinger has been one of the sharpest critics of PGA TOUR policy, from title sponsorship to player input over the new FedExCup. Now, the Ryder Cup captain will have a small say in matters.
 
His peers elected Azinger to the 16-member Player Advisory Council, which reports to the main policy board. Next up is an election to see who will be chairman of the PAC, and that player eventually is appointed to the policy board. But that's one election he won't win, because Azinger is taking his name out of consideration.
 
'I'm more interested in making history than making policy,' he said.
 
BABY TALK
Henrik Stenson and Tiger Woods played together two straight rounds at the Target World Challenge last month, and while both were fathers-to-be for the first time, they either didn't know or weren't telling.
 
Woods disclosed at the end of December that his child is due this summer. Stenson told reporters at the Qatar Masters that his wife is expecting about the same time.
 
'I asked him when we were playing together at the Target if they were looking to have kids and he said no,' Stenson said. 'And I knew that we were pregnant and I didn't say anything. So neither one said anything. And then it came out a couple of weeks later.'
 
AMES' HOBBY
Stephen Ames had almost three months off with a bad back, but he wasn't getting cabin fever in Calgary.
 
He spent a lot of time in restaurants -- his restaurants.
 
Ames was looking for something to do outside golf and enjoys good food -- 'Don't you?' he said -- and wound up buying two restaurants in the Calgary area. One is a steakhouse called 'Vintage' that he opened three years ago, and he recently opened 'Rustic Grille.' The first one paid itself off in three years.
 
Making money in the food industry can be tough, but Ames said he made sure his manager was financially involved to the restaurant. Ames handles the promotion because everyone knows him in Calgary.
 
'You get to socialize, have a couple of drinks with friends, stuff like that,' he said. 'You learn a lot, the good wines, so when you go out you know which wines to pick. It's just a learning experience in life, I guess.'
 
DIVOTS
Former Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman will skip the Wachovia Championship to play in the Italian Open. The Players Championship is the following week. ... Roberta Bolduc of Longmeadow, Mass., has been appointed chair of the USGA's Women's Committee. ... Qualifying for the British Open already is under way. Douglas McGuigan of Scotland and Desvonde Botes of South Africa were among four who made it through international final qualifying in Africa last week. ... Hale Irwin has agreed to be the honorary chairman for the 2008 U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor in Colorado. Irwin, a three-time U.S. Open champion, played college football at Colorado.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK
More world ranking points were available last week at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship on the European Tour than the Bob Hope Classic on the PGA TOUR.
 
FINAL WORD
'Golf has become like other sports. If you're small, you had better be quick. If you're big and slow, there will always be a place for you. And if you're big and fast, you can be a superstar.' -- Hank Haney.
 
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