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Slow Play to be More Costly in 2003

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KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Slow players are going to pay the price this year on the PGA Tour, and it won't just come from their bank accounts.
 
In its ongoing quest to improve the pace of play, the tour has devised a penalty scale that gives players only one warning for slow play before rules officials assess a one-stroke penalty, which goes along with increased fines.
 
Even getting timed for being out of position could be costly. In the biggest change of all, anyone who gets put on the clock 10 times during the year will be fined $20,000.
 
'This will get their attention,' said Henry Hughes, the tour's chief of operations.
 
It already has.
 
Players were talking about the new policy as soon as they arrived at Kapalua for the season-opening Mercedes Championships.
 
Most of them were hopeful it would work.
 
'It's about time,' Vijay Singh said. 'The only problem with that is, are they going to enforce it? I think you need to put in a no-warning, one-stroke penalty. They know who's slow out there.'
 
Until this year, the tour's penalty scale allowed for two warnings before players were assessed a one-stroke penalty for taking too long. Players are allowed 40 seconds for each shot, with an extra 20 seconds for the player who goes first.
 
Under the new policy:
 
  • One bad time during a round is a warning.
  • Two bad times is a one-stroke penalty and a $5,000 fine.
  • Three bad times is a two-stroke penalty and a $10,000 fine.
  • Four bad times means the player is disqualified.
     
    'Our goal is to enforce the pace-of-play regulations and to draw attention to the pace-of-play regulations,' Hughes said.
     
    What has some players concerned is the accumulative policy for being put on the clock, even if a player hits his shot within the allotted time.
     
    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.
     
    That means if a fast player keeps winding up in groups with notoriously slow players, he could get put on the clock 10 times and face a big fine, even though he's done nothing wrong.
     
    The reason for the accumulative policy is that slow players, once warned that they're on the clock, tend to speed up and never suffer the consequence. Still, that led Nick Price to wonder, 'If I'm in a convenience store when it gets robbed, does that make me guilty?'
     
    Rules official Jon Brendle said players can always appeal, and Hughes doesn't see fast players put in that predicament.
     
    'It's possible, but when you look at it historically, it's not probable,' he said. 'We think peer pressure will be a factor.'
     
    Whether the new policies make a difference remains to be seen. The onus falls on rules officials to be willing to assess a one-stroke penalty, even to the point of disqualification. Twenty-two tournaments were decided by one stroke last year.
     
    Singh remains skeptical.
     
    'They can do whatever they want, but it's not going to do any good,' he said. 'Guys will start off like a greyhound, and finish like a poodle.'
     
    Tiger update
     
    Tiger Woods is out of the snow and on his bike.
     
    Woods returned from a brief vacation in Sweden with his girlfriend and began rehabilitation on his left knee from surgery Dec. 12 to remove fluid around the ligaments.
     
    'It's definitely getting better,' Woods said on his Web site (www.tigerwoods.com). 'At least I'm able to get out and do stuff. I'm doing a lot of cardio rehab on an exercise bike. I should be ready for the Tour de France by mid-July.'
     
    Woods began putting late last week. He declined to speculate on when he might return, although the target is the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, Feb, 13-16.
     
    'I don't want to play in pain again,' Woods said. 'However long the doctor says to wait, that's what I'm going to do. Once he gives me the OK to practice, that's it.'
     
    Woods said he enjoyed his time in Sweden, where temperatures were 20 below zero, but he could have done without the paparazzi camped outside the house.
     
    'They didn't leave for 2 1/2 days, which was very unfortunate,' he said. 'We kept telling them, 'Why don't you go home and spend the holidays with your families?''
     

    Big money
     
    The winner of the Mercedes Championships gets $1 million and a new sports car, the start of big things to come.
     
    Under the new television contract that starts this year, total prize money on the PGA Tour will be about $235 million. Of the 12 tournaments that pay at least $1 million to the winner, three are regular PGA Tour events -- Mercedes, Wachovia Championship and the Byron Nelson Classic.
     
    The others are the four majors, three World Golf Championships, The Players Championship and the Tour Championship.
     
    The WGC events increased their total purse to $6 million each. The Players is still listed at $6 million, but likely will increase by the time it is played in late March.
     
    All but seven tournaments have purses of at least $4 million.
     
    GWAA honors
     
    Jeff Julian and New York Times columnist Dave Anderson were honored by the Golf Writers Association of America.
     
    Julian, was has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, won the Ben Hogan Award for a player who continues to be active despite a physical handicap or serious illness. Julian played seven times last year and attempted to try Q-school before pulling out after the second round.
     
    Anderson was given the William D. Richardson Award for consistent and outstanding contributions to golf.
     
    Divots
     
    Jim Furyk is the only player who has played in the Mercedes Championships all five years since it moved to Kapalua. Knee surgery forced Tiger Woods to skip this year and Phil Mickelson has not played in the last two. ... David Duval says he will start his season at the Phoenix Open, Jan. 23-26.
     
    Stat of the week
     
    Only eight of the 36 players at Kapalua played in the Mercedes Championships last year.
     
    Final word
     
    'I had a better time snowboarding in two weeks than I had all year playing golf.' -- David Duval.