Notes Augusta Changes Wont Increase Field
With an overhaul of the PGA TOUR schedule and format, the Masters revamped its qualifying this year to invite winners of PGA TOUR events that get full FedExCup points, those who qualified for the Tour Championship at the end of the FedExCup season, and those who finished in the top 30 on the PGA TOUR money list.
The Masters will be played April 10-13 and the field will not be set until the Shell Houston Open the previous week. But here's how it's shaping up after the first year of the new criteria:
Twenty-two players already have qualified by finishing in the top 30, making the Tour Championship field or winning. Camilo Villegas, who would not have qualified for the Masters under the old system, was the only player at East Lake who did not finish in the top 30 on the money list.
Nick Watney (New Orleans), Brian Bateman (Buick Open) and Jonathan Byrd (John Deere) only qualified by winning tournaments. And only one player, Steve Flesch, was added to the field in the top 30 category through the money earned during the Fall Finish.
Under the previous criteria of top 40 on the money list, 23 players would have qualified. The five players who finished inside the top 40 were Justin Leonard, Carl Pettersson, Ken Duke, Sean O'Hair and Henrik Stenson.
Stenson will qualify as top 50 in the world ranking at the end of 2007. There are two weeks left of worldwide events that get ranking points, and among those on the bubble are Anders Hansen (No. 49), Rod Pampling (No. 52) and Bradley Dredge (No. 53). If there are no changes, 11 players will be added to the Masters field by the end of the month.
Going into the 2008 season, about 85 players will have qualified. The only spots up for grabs until April will be winners from 14 tournaments and anyone who gets into the top 50 by the end of March.
So for the field to be more than 100, different players would have to win every week who aren't already eligible. And that's about as likely as Martha Burk being invited to the club for peach cobbler.
The Masters had 97 players compete last year, and no fewer than 92 players over the last five years.
TIGER CLUBS: Tiger Woods was in south Florida on Monday to promote new products from Nike, with most of the attention on the driver. But that led to a question about what additional clubs Woods takes to a tournament, particularly irons.
He brings a backup putter, wedges, fairway woods and a driver -- but no irons.
'I don't really foresee myself breaking any irons,' Woods said.
But that's what happened at the Masters last year when he tried to hit his approach on No. 11 from behind a pine tree. The shaft snapped in half when it struck a tree.
It was the second time in two years Woods had to play a stretch of holes without one of his irons. His caddie, Steve Williams, dropped his 9-iron into a pond on the seventh hole of the Ryder Cup in Ireland.
Woods said he brings different wedges depending on the grass and conditions, and he carries a few 2-irons with different lofts. He also carries a backup putter, made by Nike. But his first-string putter is a Scotty Cameron, the only club in his bag that doesn't have a swoosh.
Don't expect that to change. Woods has won 12 majors with that putter.
HOWELL'S EQUIPMENT: Charles Howell III signed an endorsement deal with Callaway when he turned pro in 2000, but don't look for that brand when he shows up at Kapalua next month for the Mercedes-Benz Championship.
Callaway officials said Howell has asked out of his contract, and he was granted his release.
'Sometimes you wonder what they're thinking,' said Nick Raffaele, vice president for sports marketing at Callaway. 'But we don't want any player who's not comfortable. I hope he finds what he's looking for.'
That part remains unclear. Howell's agent, Thomas Parker, declined comment until there was more news to report.
WOMEN'S WORLD CUP: Juli Inkster and Pat Hurst will get another crack at the Women's World Cup.
The longtime friends finished second to Paraguay by seven shots in January. They got another chance when Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr both declined to play this year, saying they wanted a long break before the start of the official season.
Creamer also is skipping the Lexus Cup, matches between Asia and players from the rest of the world. That will give her a three-month break from competition. Asked the last time she had a break that long, Creamer smiled and said, 'When I was 12,' and it wasn't clear if she was joking.
Kerr, the U.S. Women's Open champion, didn't sound like she would ever play. This is the second year in a row she turned down the offer, and while she is playing the Lexus Cup, she said the Women's World Cup 'just comes at a bad time in the schedule.' Kerr plans to spend the first two months getting in shape for the season.
DIVOTS: Scott Verplank had to withdraw from the Merrill Lynch Shootout because of minor surgery on his thumb, which has been bothering him all year. He also had to skip the Target World Challenge, but will recover in plenty of time for the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship in Kapalua to start the 2008 season. ... Despite going wire-to-wire at Q-school, Frank Lickliter declined interview requests every day until it was over. 'Hogan didn't talk to the press,' he reasoned. Then again, Ben Hogan was never at Q-school. ... The Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf will return to a team event next year for the first time since 2002. It will be a better-ball format as it was from 1978 to 2001, only now the prize money will count as official and both players will be credited with an official victory. ... American Express announced a new program in which anyone who buys lessons from participating PGA of America professionals can bring along a guest for no additional charge.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Nine players earned PGA Tour cards after making it through all three stages of Q-school.
FINAL WORD: 'She's never going to beat me, though.' -- Tiger Woods, on his 6-month-old daughter showing some early interest in golf.
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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum
SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.
Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.
''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.
Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.
''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''
Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.
Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.
Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.
He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.
''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''
Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.
''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''
Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.
Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.
But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.
''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''
LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1
LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.
Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.
Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.
Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.
''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''
That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.
''Too many,'' Park said.
The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.
''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''
The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.
Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.
Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.
Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.
''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''
Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.
She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.
''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''
ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.
Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.
Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.
The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.
Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.
Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero
Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."
The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.
"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."
Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.
With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.
"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."
Three years later, PXG launches new iron
Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.
“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”
PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.
The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.
Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit www.pxg.com.