Notes Year of the Blowout Wies Big Heart

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NEW ORLEANS -- Stuart Appleby won the season-opening Mercedes Championships in a playoff by making birdie with a tough bunker shot behind the green to beat Vijay Singh. But that hardly set the tone for the year on the PGA TOUR.
 
Four months into the season, this is becoming the year of the blowout.

Competition is so tough and so deep that it's rare when anyone wins by more than a shot or two. But when Appleby won the Houston Open by six shots, it was the sixth time in 16 tournaments that the margin of victory was at least five shots.
 
These guys are good. But some of these guys aren't having to sweat very much.
 
'I've watched tournaments where players had big victories and thought, 'I don't know how easy it would be or how crazy it would be,'' Appleby said. 'I felt comfortable and relaxed knowing there was no way I could mess up the tournament.'
 
How rare is a victory by five shots or more?
 
There were only four tournaments decided by that margin all of last year, and only twice in the last 10 years have there been more than six tournaments won by at least five shots. It happened seven times in 2003 and eight times in 2000 -- half of those by Tiger Woods, who won the U.S. Open by 15, the British Open by eight, the NEC Invitational by 11 and the Memorial by five.
 
Phil Mickelson owns the largest margin of victory this year, winning by 13 shots at the BellSouth Classic.
 
Two blowouts have come from first-time PGA TOUR winners -- rookie J.B. Holmes by seven shots in Phoenix and Arron Oberholser by five shots at Pebble Beach. The other big winners were David Toms (five shots at the Sony Open) and Stephen Ames (six shots at The Players Championship).
 
Since the PGA TOUR was formed in 1969, the biggest year of blowouts was in 1982, when nine tournaments were decided by five shots or more. The tightest year was 1991, when the largest margin of victory all year was four shots, and 17 events were won in a playoff.
 
CHARITY CASE
Michelle Wie's charity is getting as much attention as her golf.
 
The 16-year-old from Hawaii donated $500,000 to the Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund when she turned pro last October. Now, she has donated $300,000 to an endowment at the Yonsei University Severance Hospital and Korea University Medical Center that will pay for operations for more than 30 children who could not otherwise afford them.
 
Wie will be in South Korea next week for the SK Telecom Open, her eighth time competing against the men.
 
'Before she made a commitment to play in the SK Telecom Open, Michelle wanted to do something in her first trip to Korea as a professional golfer and she wanted to help children with illnesses but whose parents don't have the money to pay (for) the surgery,' her father, B.J. Wie, told The Honolulu Advertiser.
 
The hospital selected which children, between the ages of 8 and 18, would get the operations.
 
ON THE RISE
Steve Stricker was on his way to pay his taxes when life took a turn for the better.
 
A four-time winner on the PGA TOUR who is having to get by on sponsors' exemptions this year, Stricker had not played since the Ford Championship at Doral the first week of March and his prospects were looking bleak. Then he got a call from Steve Timms, the tournament director of the Houston Open, offering him an exemption.
 
'I started to get a little worried that I wasn't getting into any events,' Stricker said. 'Funny how things can change out here from one week to the next.'
 
With the weather improving in Wisconsin, Stricker had been trying to stay competitive by playing money games with Jerry Kelly and some friends from the Canadian Tour. He carried that to Redstone, shot 68-66 on the weekend and finished third, his best result since winning the 2001 Match Play Championship in Australia.
 
Better yet, it was worth $374,000 and moved him from No. 155 to No. 58 on the money list. And finishing in the top 10 earned him a spot in the field this week at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
 
'Every bit helps me, especially when I don't know when I'm going to get into an event,' Stricker said. 'Those finishing holes are so hard. I made birdie on No. 15, and was just trying to make pars on the way in. Fortunately, I was able to do that.'
 
Houston was only his fourth start this year. He tied for 14th at Pebble Beach, tied for 30th at Tucson and missed the cut at Doral.
 
Stricker now has $471,484, already more money than he earned in each of the last three years. And while he still has to play out of the past champions category -- among the lowest on the totem pole -- the reshuffle after the U.S. Open should help him get into more events.
 
NO WOMEN
British Open officials are still waiting for the first woman to enter this year's tournament at Royal Liverpool.
 
The Royal & Ancient Club revised its rules last year to allow women to enter. Although Michelle Wie has said she won't play, officials are still hopeful of other entries.
 
'We did not open it up to women hoping they would not enter,' R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said Tuesday. 'Having done that, it will be a shame if they do not take advantage of the opportunity. Having said that, it was never our intention to disrupt the women's tours. ... But the option is there.'
 
Women are eligible to enter regional qualifying if they finish in the top five of the majors.
 
One problem is that the HSBC Match Play Championship on the LPGA Tour is July 6-9, which clashes with regional qualifying for the British Open.
 
DIVOTS
Prize money for the U.S. Open will remain at $6.5 million, the first time in 25 years it did not increase its purse. That makes two consecutive majors that have not raised the purse. The Masters again was $7 million. The U.S. Women's Open prize money also will stay the same at $3.1 million. ... Mike Weir's tie for sixth at the Houston Open was his fourth top-10 of the year, already twice as many as he had in 2005. ... International players have won eight of 17 events this year on the PGA TOUR.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK
Tim Petrovic has missed 16 cuts in his last 30 events since winning in New Orleans last year.
 
FINAL WORD
'She has the ability to do for the women's tour what Tiger has done for the men's tour, and that would help all of us.' -- Morgan Pressel on Michelle Wie's impact on the LPGA Tour.
 
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