Notes US Team Teed-Off

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THOMASTOWN, Ireland -- When people say it's important to play the Ryder Cup in the right spirit, that apparently goes beyond the week of the matches.
 
Not everyone was amused by a package of tees being passed around Mount Juliet during the American Express Championship that had the Ryder Cup score - Europe 18 1/2, USA 9 1/2 - painted on them, blue scores for the shorter tees, red scores for the longer tees.
 
The tees came from Ian Poulter, who wasn't eligible to play the World Golf Championship event. He left instructions for players to leave plenty of them around the tee box.
 
'I'm not using any of those,' said Thomas Bjorn, a vice captain for Europe at Oakland Hills. 'I think that would be just a little bit too much of an insult.'

Bjorn is one of the Europeans who could needle the Americans without hard feelings because he is close friends with many of them. Still, he said it was important to remain gracious in victory.
 
'We want to win, America wants to win, but we're all friends,' Bjorn said. 'When it's over, it's over. But you've got to be careful, because there's a fine line between joking around and just stepping over that line. And these golf tees are just balancing on that line, I think.'
 
Chris Riley also was perturbed at Mount Juliet, which is rare for him.
 
'I've had a couple of little cheap shots this week,' Riley said. 'Thomas Levet comes up to me and says, 'You know what the Europeans say: You guys were favored on paper, but good thing we play on grass.' I didn't need to hear that. I think he was just trying to be friendly, but I didn't take it that way.

'He had another one, but I think it's the French sense of humor. He thought it was funny.'
 
RETIEF SLAMMED
Tiger Woods hasn't played the PGA Grand Slam the last two years because he hasn't won a major, but he might have a chance to go back this year.
 
U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen said he might not be able to play because his wife is expecting their second child on Nov. 25. The Grand Slam was moved up one week to Nov. 23-24 at Poipu Bay in Hawaii.
 
'If the baby comes early, that might change things,' Goosen said. 'Otherwise, I wouldn't play.'
 
The first alternate is Ernie Els, but the Big Easy already said he would not play.
 
Next in line is Woods. He won the Grand Slam in 1998 as an alternate, the start of his five straight victories at the two-day event for the major championship winners. Woods is playing at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan the previous week, so Hawaii would be on the way to California, where he has the Skins Game on Thanksgiving weekend.
 
After Woods on the alternate list is Justin Leonard, followed by Shaun Micheel.
 
RANKING CHANGES
Vijay Singh feels the world ranking system works against him because he plays so often, and was encouraged to hear of a proposed change - a maximum of 25 events a year counting toward the ranking.
 
But the Fijian might have to wait.
 
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem says the proposal is under review by a committee of the world ranking board, and by the sound of things, it might not go much further. The argument against the change is that players would not be penalized for their worst events, such as missing the cut.
 
'There continues to be a strong feeling on the technical committee that every shot should count,' Finchem said. 'We are continuing to evaluate it. At this point, it will be at least next year before they make a final decision.'
 
The good news for Finchem and the board is that complaints about the ranking have gone down.
 
'I do think people accept the rankings because it's such an acceptable list when you look at the first 20 names,' he said. 'People sitting at home and talking about how to do things differently, we don't get that as much any more.'
 
THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT
Steve Williams can be aloof even among his peers, although the caddie for Tiger Woods was a big hit at the Ryder Cup for taking a stand against the PGA of America on wearing shorts.
 
Williams said he requested shorts while filling out clothing sizes, noting that it could be warm in Detroit and that some caddies would be going 36 holes a day. When he got his uniforms, only pants were included. Williams decided to wear shorts, anyway, and said he was confronted by PGA officials.
 
'They told me I couldn't wear shorts,' Williams said. 'I told them to find another caddie for Tiger Woods.'
 
The next day, several other caddies, such as Frank Williams (Stewart Cink) and John Wood (Chris Riley), also began wearing shorts. When European captain Bernhard Langer purchased shorts for his caddies, the PGA had no choice.
 
Wood said the caddies gave Williams a new nickname - Rosa Parks, the civil rights pioneer who refused to give up her seat on a city bus in Alabama in 1955.
 
'Being from New Zealand, Stevie wasn't sure who that was,' Wood said.
 
This wasn't the first debate over shorts for either the PGA of America or Williams.
 
Two caddies tried to wear shorts at the '96 PGA Championship at Valhalla, and were ordered to change into pants.
 
And five years ago at 'Showdown at Sherwood' between Woods and David Duval, a PGA Tour rules official ordered Williams to change into pants or he would no longer work on tour.
 
Williams refused, and the threat was rescinded when Woods told the official, 'Guess I'll be playing the European tour next year.'
 
DIVOTS
With the American Express Championship going to The Grove outside London in 2006, that means the World Golf Championships played in Britain & Ireland will have been played on courses designed by Americans - Kyle Phillips (The Grove) and Jack Nicklaus (Mount Juliet). ... The Old Course Hotel at St. Andrews is being sold for about $65 million to a partnership that includes Herb Kohler, who owns Whistling Straits. ... Fred Funk's last two PGA Tour victories have been opposite-field events - 1998 Deposit Guaranty Golf Classic (British Open) and 2004 Southern Farm Bureau Classic (American Express).
 
STAT OF THE WEEK
Vijay Singh has won 11 times since the age of 40. Sam Snead holds the PGA Tour record with 17 victories in his 40s.
 
FINAL WORD
'The next step is some of our younger guys winning a major. No disrespect to Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton, but there are better players than them on our tour.' - Raymond Russell of Scotland.
 
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