GOING ISLAND HOPPING: K.J. Choi led wire-to-wire to capture this week's Sony Open in Hawaii. Choi just held on for victory Sunday at the Waialae Country Club with a 1-over 71, good enough for a 14-under-par 266. Rory Sabbatini made a run late, but eventually fell short at 11 under.
The PGA TOUR is officially underway after this week's first full-field event, and we couldn't be more excited. It was another great week of golf with another exciting finish. Sabbatini almost let his clubs do his talking for him, getting within two shots late, but couldn't close as the ever steady Choi won for the fifth straight time leading after 54 holes.
CUT CONTROVERSY: The PGA TOUR has changed the way the cut line works. The new policy allows for top 70 and ties, but when the number of players who make the cut exceeds 78 players, only the closest number to 70 players return for the final two rounds. In this week's case, 69 players finished at 1 under and 18 players were sent home early with $9,699 in official money, 46 points toward the FedExCup, but no tee time for the weekend.
Many of the players were unaware that the rule had even been changed. John Daly was particularly unhappy being sent home after "making" the cut. Daly said, "I don't understand the rule. I grinded my butt off to shoot even. Then I find out on 18 you may not be playing. I just wish we would have known." The thing is, they did know ... or should have known. The TOUR doesn't just make rules changes in secret. Players just don't take the time to pay attention to what is being said.
KELLY TILGHMAN: We’d be remiss if we at Backspin didn’t include the hottest story of this past week, Kelly Tilghman’s comments concerning Tiger Woods and her subsequent two-week suspension from GOLF CHANNEL. Tilghman made the gaffe while chatting with co-host Nick Faldo on how the younger set could compete with Woods.
Public reaction was slow to develop, but eventually spread like wildfire. News agencies, far removed from the golf world, weighed in on the story. Viewer reaction varied from those extremely supportive of Tilghman to those penning grossly offensive remarks. Tiger’s people called it a non-issue. We’ll see if the embers languish after the flames die down.
THE NEXT TIGER WOODS? Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa turned professional this past week … at the age of 16. Ishikawa became the youngest player to ever win on the Japan PGA Tour, doing so as an amateur last May.
So who cares, right? Well, when you are called your country’s Tiger Woods, it tends to draw attention – especially when you consider the inevitable boon of Japanese golf. Ishikawa may want to talk to Ai Miyazato, who is one of Japan’s top-3 athlete/celebrities. Miyazato was bigger than Godzilla when she left Japan for the LPGA Tour, but, despite routing the field in the 2005 Q-school, she has yet to win in the U.S. The bigger the bowl, the easier it is to drown. Also, does this mean there is a “Tiger Woods” in every country – a Lithuanian Tiger, a Sri Lankan Tiger, a Turkish Tiger?
CHALLENGING TIGER?: 19-year-old Australian Jason Day thinks he's ready to challenge the world's no. 1. Said Day, "I'm sure I can take [Tiger] down." The PGA TOUR's youngest player is full of cofidence and talent, making the cut in five out of the seven TOUR events he played last year. His best finish was a tie for 11th at the Reno-Tahoe Open, and he was the youngest player to win a Nationwide Tour event.
Maybe Jason Day should ask Rory Sabbatini or Stephen Ames how giving Tiger Woods bulletin board material worked out for them. Maybe Day should let his clubs do the talking, at least at first, because the last thing we'd want is to give the best golfer on the planet any motivation to play better against us. For the record, Day made as much money playing this week's Sony Open as did Tiger.
HARMON TELLS DALY TO SHAPE UP: There was a lot of talk in the off-season of John Daly working with swing coach extraordinaire Butch Harmon. But as reported by our own Brian Hewitt, when it came time for the two to start working, Harmon told Daly he needs a comitment. If Daly wants to work with him, he's going to need to recommit himself to the game of golf both on and off the course.
After falling off the earth in terms of world rankings, 525, Harmon is right. If Daly wants to work with the best, he's going to have to give his best effort. It is easy to forget that Daly has two major championships to his name, but we're all for a re-energized John Daly. But is Daly up for it?
SABBATINI vs. WOODS: The Rory Sabbatini-Tiger Woods controversy heated up once again this past week when Tiger’s camp told GolfChannel.com Insider Brian Hewitt that if Sabbatini should qualify for this year’s Target World Challenge, “We would certainly encourage him not to accept his invitation.”
The issue stems from Sabbatini dropping out of December’s Target, Tiger’s limited, personal event, before the final round. Sabbatini and his people gave multiple excuses as to why he up and ran, but apparently none were satisfactory for Woods. This wasn’t the first time the two butted heads and it likely won’t be the last. If Tiger can’t have a rival on the course, at least he’s got one in the media; though, Sabbatini’s New Year’s resolution appears to be: become a Mime who plays golf.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: “Big Break VII: Reunion” champion Tommy Gainey made his debut as a card-carrying member of the PGA TOUR at the Sony Open; Todd Demsey made his first start as an official TOUR member in over 10 years in Hawaii; The European Tour picked up on its 2008 season with its first tournament in the calender year. Richard Sterne birdied the second hole of a three-man playoff to win the Joburg Open in South Africa.
Gainey made the cut in Hawaii - but missed it, too. He was a part of the group at even par, who made some money, but didn't get to play over the weekend; Assuming Steve Stricker won’t win Comeback Player of the Year for a third straight season, Demsey is the early favorite for the award. He was sidelined for a spell due to misdiagnosed back problems and a golf ball-sized tumor in his brain; the Euro Tour's quiet start to '08 didn't keep from an exciting finish as Sterne walked away with the victory in his native South Africa.
Contributions from writers and editors on the Golf Channel Digital team.
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