Bunker Shots


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Now thats how you close
A week after watching the worlds greatest players take turns botching their endings to the Masters, Brian Gay put on a clinic on how to close with his 7-under-par 64 at the PGA Tours Verizon Heritage. No ricochets off trees at the end, no skulled chip shots racing across greens, no wayward short irons from point blank range. Of course, closing out a regular PGA Tour event isnt the same as closing out a major championship, but Gays tidy finish at Harbour Town was still impressive because theres typically more choking than winning on any given PGA Tour Sunday.
The Tours heading to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans this week, where we saw the biggest choking dog ever a year ago. Thats what Woody Austin called himself after topping a hybrid and then pushing a shot in the water in a nervous ending to the tournament Andres Romero won. Austins colorful language reminded us that while one man may win a PGA Tour event, you can usually bank on more than one counting the ways he blew a chance to win. The rarity of Gays 10-shot victory is that he left no one close enough to choke away a chance.

The Price is finally right
Well, you cant accuse Nick Price of a tidy finish, but it was even more entertaining than Gays. Three times on Sunday Price looked like he was choking away his first Champions Tour victory. Thats how many double bogeys he made in the final round of the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am before finally claiming his first over-50 title in 39 Champions Tour tries. Price, who made seven final-round birdies and still only shot even par, said he was absolutely dumbfounded by his round. The beauty of the Champions Tour is that if Price never won on the tour his reputation wouldnt be diminished. Before Sunday, you couldnt really call him the best player never to win a Champions Tour event because its a silly title, given the nature of the tour and the fact that the best players have already proven themselves. Still, the silly title belongs to Mark OMeara now, doesnt it? Or possibly Greg Norman, if he starts playing enough to qualify for such silly status.

The Clown Prince of Golf gets his laughs anyway
Gayle DiMaggio paid a higher price than most customers to be entertained by Bill Murray. Shes the woman who got clunked in the temple by Murrays errant tee shot as she watched Saturdays second round of the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am from her backyard. She ended up needing a trip to the hospital and some stitches, but not before Murray tended to her. She told the Associated Press he made sure she was OK before trying to ease her pain with his trademark funny-man routine. All she wanted for her duress was an autographed copy of Murrays film Caddyshack. The scar she gets to show all her friends is a bonus. So is the story she gets to tell.

Speaking of wounds . . .
Kenny Perry makes his return to golf this week at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans with lots of folks sure to watch for signs of lingering emotional injury from his disappointing Masters loss. It almost seems unfair that Perry should carry another major championship disappointment into the final phase of his PGA Tour career. His stellar play helping the United States win the Ryder Cup at Valhalla in his home state of Kentucky last fall seemed a satisfying conclusion to a career that had been haunted by memories of his PGA Championship failure at the same Valhalla course so many years ago. The Ryder Cup victory made him seem healed and whole, but now theres this other major memory sure to haunt him. At 48, Perry doesnt have a lot of time to trump the Masters memory with something larger again, but it will be a terrific story if he does. His play in New Orleans will tell us a lot about whether hes resigned to fade away or determined to mount one more summer charge with the U.S. Open at Bethpage less than two months away.

Waiting on Tiger and Lefty
With Perry the highest ranked player in the Zurich Classic field at No. 5 in the world rankings, and just one of three players in the top 20, theres a bigger PGA Tour event set to unfold Friday. Thats the commitment deadline for the Quail Hollow Championship (formerly the Wachovia Championship). Will Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson commit to play in the Quail Hollow? Will we get to see a reprise of their Sunday Masters face off in Charlotte, N.C., next week? If Woods and Mickelson dont commit, well have to wait another week to see them both at The Players Championship (May 7-10). After Perry, the only other top-20 players in the Zurich Classic field are Steve Stricker (No. 12) and Mike Weir (No. 20).

New Orleans gets another spicy ingredient
Danny Lee may rank just 148th in the world, but the U.S. Amateur champions professional debut will garner plenty of attention when he tees it up at the Zurich Classic this week. Lee, 18, missed the cut at the Masters last week, but he showed hes more than ready to win as a pro when he claimed the Johnnie Walker Classic in February, becoming the youngest player, and just the second amateur, to win on the European Tour. Lee didnt exactly whip a bunch of nobodies there. He beat a Johnnie Walker field that included Paul Casey and Lee Westwood. Whether Lees ready to contend on the PGA Tour, though, may depend as much on his speech patterns as his ball flight. He told reporters at the Masters that when he gets really nervous, I cant talk properly. Birdies have a way of loosening up the tongue, so look for Lee to try to make a lot of them this week.

Ochoa back on her turf
Mexicos Lorena Ochoa will be looking to re-establish her dominance and win for the third time in her homeland as an LPGA player when the tour returns to action this week at the Corona Championship at Tres Marias Residential Country Club in Morelia, Mexico. After two weeks off, the LPGA features a good field with Brittany Lincicome teeing it up after winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship, her first major. Cristie Kerr and Kristy McPherson, who got beat by a shot when Lincicome made eagle at the 72nd hole, also are playing, as is Paula Creamer, Suzann Pettersen, Morgan Pressel, Juli Inkster and Michelle Wie. American golfs on the upswing, Kerr said after the 1-2-3 American finish at the Kraft Nabisco. Look for Lincicome and McPherson to build on what theyve started this year with both highly motivated to make the U.S. Solheim Cup team.

Wies globe-trotting disappointment
Michelle Wie has gone halfway around the world and back this month in search of her lost form. She finished tied for 36th at the Korea LPGAs Lotte Mart Womens Open last week, posting rounds of 77, 75 and 71 to finish 7 over. It wasnt much of a rebound from her struggles at the Kraft Nabisco, where her rounds included a pair of 81s while tying for 67th. Wie made some news before the Korean event even began, withdrawing from the pro-am after she was informed she couldnt use her own caddie. According to foreign news reports, its KLPGA custom to exclude regular caddies from the pro-am so as to encourage better interaction between pros and amateur partners. Wie offered a no comment to the Korea Times when asked about the withdrawal. Whatever Wies rationale, its hard to imagine a scenario where passing up a pro-am doesnt, at minimum, disappoint sponsors and fans, the lifeblood of an event.

Wadkins waits for official elevation to legend
Greg Norman is scheduled to team with Keith Fergus in his first Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf appearance at the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa in Georgia this week, but he wont be the biggest news there. The PGA Tour is expected to announce on Thursday that Lanny Wadkins will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, according to Golfweek. Jose Maria Olazabal is expected to be announced later, possibly at The Players Championship, as joining Wadkins for the November induction. Wadkins will team with his brother, Bobby, in the Legends two-man team event. At 59, the Wadkins induction is a welcomed case of better-late-than-never news. The 1970 U.S. Amateur champion and 77 PGA Championship winner won 21 PGA Tour events, more than current Hall of Famers Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin, Hubert Green and Tom Kite.