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Tight Pins and Swimsuits

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PGA Tour (75x100)CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Several players complained after the season-opening Mercedes Championships that the hole locations were not challenging and the scores were getting out of hand.
 
Ernie Els won that week at a record 31-under par.
 
'If we're not going to play tougher courses, we should make the courses we play a little bit tougher,' Justin Leonard said at the time.
 
A Flagstick in ParadiseIt appears someone was listening.
 
The last two weeks on the PGA Tour have been particularly tough, which players attribute to some of the tightest hole locations they have ever seen. At Torrey Pines and at Riviera, some flags were tucked just three paces from the edge of the green.
 
'I've never seen anything like it on this Tour,' Tiger Woods said. 'I think it's great, because it rewards good ball-striking. This is how a tournament should be played. It separates the guys who know how to maneuver the ball.'
 
Hole locations might be the best response to exponential gains off the tee. Even a wedge from 140 yards becomes a difficult shot when a miss on the wrong side of the hole could tumble off the green and into deep rough.
 
Nick Price said the greens at Riviera reminded him of a major championship, in large part due to hole locations that forced players to aim away from the flag, and punished them if they gambled and failed.
 
The winning score at Riviera was 9-under par, matching the third-highest score at the Nissan Open in the last 20 years -- despite four days of good weather.
 
'I know there were six holes last week (Torrey Pines) that were set three paces off the green, and I think there were a couple here (Riviera),' Charles Howell III said. 'I think it's in response to low scores in Kapalua and Phoenix.'
 
Tougher hole locations seem to be a better alternative to lengthening courses, growing chop-it-out rough or tightening fairways.
 
'You can still go at the flags,' Howell said. 'There's no rule or sign out there saying you can't do it. But it darn sure makes you think.'
 
Plus, no scoring records have been set since the Mercedes Championships.
 
IRON MAN HAAS: Jay Haas began his PGA TOUR career in 1976, about a month after Tiger Woods was born. He reached a milestone last week at the Nissan Open which speaks to his consistency and longevity.
 
Haas played his 729th tournament, one more than Arnold Palmer.
 
What does that mean?
 
'I'm old,' said Haas, who is 49 and playing some of his best golf.
 
His next target is Dave Eichelberger, who played 778 tournaments from 1964 to 2000. TOUR officials don't know who has played the most events because records from before World War II are incomplete.
 
In 26 full seasons, Haas has finished out of the top 100 on the money list only once and has won nine times.
 
'I've lasted a long time,' Haas said. 'I've been consistent. I had shoulder surgery in the offseason in 2000, and that bothered me a little bit. Other than that, I've been fortunate.'
 
The World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship is the first time that Haas qualified for a World Golf Championships event. He was 186th in the Official World Golf Ranking a year ago, and 125th until he finished second in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic to move into the top 64.
 
'That was the least of my worries,' he said. 'I needed to worry about playing well. Some of my goals were to play in these All-Star games, and to do that I had to play very well.'
 
Now, The Masters is in reach.
 
Haas is No. 61 in the Official World Golf Ranking and 11th on the money list. He has to finish in the top 50 in the rankings or top 10 on the money list after THE PLAYERS Championship to return to Augusta National for the first time since 2000.
 
SWIMSUIT STAR: David Toms never dreamed he would be part of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, although he's not the star.
 
The former PGA champion is featured in this year's issue with his wife, Sonya. He's wearing golf attire; she is in a white bikini and white high heels, leaning on a golf club.
 
'I'm in magazines all the time in my golf clothes,' he said. 'They made a big deal of it back home. The picture was as big as the TV screen.'
 
Toms said the photo shoot lasted five hours, and that his wife was comfortable with it -- until he told her how much publicity she would get.
 
'They said it's 56 million copies,' Toms said. 'My wife didn't know that going in. I told her halfway through (the photo shoot) and she freaked out.'
 
SEEING BOTH SIDES: David Duval is not quick to judge how Annika Sorenstam will fare against the men in the Bank of America Colonial.
 
He played against her in the 'Battle at Bighorn,' which turned into a fiasco when the Swede knocked one putt off the green by some 30 yards and couldn't hit the fairway on the 18th hole in regulation and in the playoff.
 
Duval also played against her at an 18-hole exhibition in Mexico. Sorenstam was hitting the same club as Duval from a 7-iron on down.
 
'I think she can do well,' Duval said. 'I saw her at Bighorn, but I also saw her in Mexico and she showed a lot of game.'
 
DIVOTS: Toms made it to the quarterfinals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship last year, although he wouldn't be too disappointed if he lost early this time. His sister, Tracy, is getting married Saturday in Shreveport, La. 'If I do lose, at least my family will be glad that I can be part of the wedding,' he said. ... Aaron Baddeley likes to call himself 'Badds,' but some PGA TOUR players have come up with another nickname: Dress, as in Aaron 'Dress' Baddeley. The 21-year-old Aussie likes to wear tight, colorful pants. ... Chris Riley grew up on public courses in San Diego but got one crack at La Costa Resort. He was sent out as a marker in the final round of the '94 Mercedes Championships when he was 20.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK: The gap in the Official World Golf Ranking between Tiger Woods (No. 1) and Ernie Els (No. 2) is the same as the gap between Els and Duval (No. 31).
 
FINAL WORD: 'Are you somebody famous?' - Jordan Bonk, 12, upon being introduced to Duval at the Nissan Open.
 
FINAL WORD, PART II: 'I used to be.' - Duval.
 
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.