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Signs of Improvement on the PGA Tour

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Vijay Singh was among the skeptics when the PGA Tour introduced a severe penalty structure for slow play, saying players would 'start off like a greyhound and finish like a poodle.'
 
As the season draws to a conclusion, the tour can report at least some progress.
 
According to the latest data available, through the 84 Lumber Classic, the average time for the first and second rounds on the PGA Tour is about 4 hours, 37 minutes - nearly 10 minutes below the average in 2001 and 2002.
 
'The comment I hear from players is that it's not necessarily the pace of play, it's the continuation of play,' said Henry Hughes, chief of operations for the PGA Tour. 'Players will tell you ... it doesn't seem any faster from tee to green, but it's moving.'
 
While 10 minutes might not seem like much over the course of one round, the drastic drop in the number of players who are timed for being out of position is a big improvement.
 
A year ago, Hughes said there were slightly more than 100 players who had been put on the clock at least four times during the season. This year, only 17 players have been timed on more than four occasions.
 
In 2002, there were 43 players who were put on the clock at least seven times; this year, only two players have been timed that often. No player has been put on the clock more than eight times.
 
Hughes declined to say who had the most timings.
 
The number of times a player was put on the clock was the focus of much debate when the pace-of-play penalties came out in January.
 
When a group gets out of position (defined by an open hole ahead of them), each player in that group is considered to be on the clock. The 10th time a player is put on the clock during the year results in a $20,000 fine.
 
While that allowed for being guilty by association, the idea was to keep notoriously slow players from beating the system by speeding up when they are being timed to avoid a penalty.
 
'We're having less of the 'speed up, slow down,'' Hughes said. 'And that's one of the things this process was designed to do.'
 
Players gave the policy mixed reviews.
 
'I don't think it's helped,' said Chris Riley, one of the fastest players on tour. 'On Thursday and Friday, it's always five hours. On the weekend, I think the pace is good.'
 
Tom Lehman believes it has made a difference, no matter how slight.
 
'Early in the season, when it was all new, pace of play definitely picked up a little,' Lehman said. 'A lot of guys were very mindful of accumulating those bad times, and statistically, it proved that early in the season we played faster.'
 
But as Singh predicted 10 months ago, Lehman said he has noticed the pace slowing as the year goes on.
 
'The bottom line is you're not going to be able to do much about it, no matter what you do,' Lehman said.
 
OLD COURSE CHANGES: The Old Course at St. Andrews will be 160 yards longer for the 2005 British Open, with seven new tees designed to bring some of the penalizing pot bunkers into the picture.
 
Royal & Ancient secretary Peter Dawson said it would be 7,275 yards after the changes. The 14th hole will be 616 yards, the longest in the Open rotation.
 
'We're not looking for the course to become a big hitter's paradise - far from it,' Dawson told The Scotsman newspaper. 'We're not trying to change the character of the course. We just want to reinstate the old decisions players had to make.'
 
Tiger Woods completed the career Grand Slam by winning the 2000 British Open at St. Andrews. He did not hit into a bunker all week, and his 19-under 269 was the lowest score in relation to par at a major championship.
 
The most significant change likely will be No. 14, where the back tee will be extended 35 yards to bring the fearsome Hell bunker into play on the second shot.
 
BUBBLE UPDATE:Every week matters for those on the bubble, either trying to get into the Tour Championship (top 30) or keep their cards (top 125).
 
The big winners last week were Stuart Appleby and Billy Andrade.
 
By winning in Las Vegas, Appleby moved up 17 spots to No. 10 on the money list and is assured a trip to Houston for the Tour Championship.
 
Also helping their cause were Scott Verplank, who finished fourth and went from 33rd to 25th on the money list; and Robert Allenby, whose tie for ninth moved him from 31st to 27th. A triple bogey on the 18th hole cost Allenby four spots on the money list.
 
Andrade tied for eighth in Las Vegas and went from 116th to 96th on the money list, which should guarantee him his card for next year. Other big moves came from David Frost, who finished fifth and jumped 26 spots to No. 110; and Dean Wilson (T14), who went from No. 104 to No. 92 and is safe for next year.
 
YEAR OF THE WOMAN, PART VI: Annika Sorenstam was the first woman to play against the men. By the end of the year, she will have had plenty of company.
 
Se Ri Pak is the latest to take up the challenge, agreeing to play in the SBS Championship next week on the Korean PGA Tour. That that will make her the sixth woman to have played on men's tours this year, joining Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley, Michelle Wie, Laura Davies and Jan Stephenson.
 
'I can't guarantee I will make the cut or play well,' Pak said. 'All I can do is try to have a great experience and learn more from the men's tour.'
 
DIVOTS: Raymond Floyd has accepted an exemption to the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, where he won in 1986. Floyd has not played in the U.S. Open since 1995, also at Shinnecock Hills. ... Annika Sorenstam will be in China on Nov. 2 to launch her first signature golf course at Mission Hills in Shenzhen. The resort already has five courses, and is launching three more this year. The others are for former British Open champion David Duval and two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal. ... The PGA Tour and LPGA Tour each have produced winners from six countries this year.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK: Hilary Lunke shot an even-par 72 in the first round of the Samsung World Championship, her best score since winning the U.S. Women's Open.
 
FINAL WORD: 'If it was easy, anybody could do it.' - Ty Votaw, on his job as LPGA Tour commissioner.

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