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Notes Defending Champ Missing Pebble

Arron Oberholser's season started poorly, and it keeps getting worse.
Oberholser won't be able to defend his lone PGA TOUR victory this week at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am because of a bulging disk in his back, which likely will keep him out until March.
'This couldn't have happened at a worse time for me,' Oberholser said. 'Missing the chance to defend my AT&T title on one of my favorite courses in the world is just awful. I said last year this is my fifth major and I meant it. But right now, I have to focus on the healing process, and that may take some time.'
There were signs that Oberholser might have a rocky start to this year.
He opened with a 70 in the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship, then withdrew before the second round when his back injury flared up. A week later, he went to his locker at the Sony Open and found his name tag missing, replaced by Monday qualifier Scott Piercy.
The locker room attendants at Waialae told a bewildered Oberholser they had heard he had gone home to Arizona.
'I never withdrew,' Oberholser told them.
He was given another locker, punched in the electronic combination and stared into an empty locker.
'Um, excuse me,' Oberholser said to the attendant. 'Any idea who (took) the three dozen Titleist balls in my old locker? Brand new? Not even on the market yet?'
The Pro-Am was only a few hours away, and Oberholser said he had enough golf balls in his bag from Kapalua to get by. Turns out it didn't matter, however, because he withdrew a few hours later when back pains persisted. And he hasn't played since then.
Further proof that a fitness craze has reached golf: Augusta National now has a gym.
Club chairman Billy Payne said in a recent interview that the club has built a gym near the cabins that can be used by members and their guests if they're staying on the property.
'It's just an amenity we wanted to add,' Payne said.
Asked whether Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and other players might use the gym during the Masters, Payne said he hadn't considered that, but figured they likely would stick to their routines by using fitness trailers.
The club does not talk about membership matters, and the chairman didn't elaborate when asked if building a gym was a sign that members were getting younger at Augusta National.
'I think fitness is an increasingly important part of golf,' he said. 'It wasn't any more complicated than that.'
The accolades kept coming when Woods made his 2007 debut by winning the Buick Invitational for his 55th career victory, and seventh straight on the PGA TOUR.
Ron Sirak of Golf World wrote that 'you could cut up Tiger's record and give about a dozen guys pretty nice careers.'
That was a bit of an exaggeration.
But not much.
Woods' career would be equal to the PGA TOUR careers of Paul Azinger, Nick Faldo, Jim Furyk, Tom Lehman, Mike Weir and Fuzzy Zoeller. Combined, they have 12 majors among 55 victories on the U.S. tour.
So it's not a dozen guys. It's only a half-dozen.
Shaun Micheel ended Woods' winning streak by beating him in the first round of the World Match Play Championship on the European Tour last September.
Woods still has a seven-tournament winning streak on the PGA TOUR, and if his next start is the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona in two weeks, there's a chance Micheel might be there to face him in the opening round.
This is the final week to qualify for the 64-man field at Match Play, which is determined by world ranking. Micheel is No. 63 and not playing at Pebble Beach. First, he has to hope enough people don't pass him in the ranking to knock him out of the tournament. Oberholser is not expected to play because of a back injury, so Woods likely will play whoever is ranked No. 65.
Others on the bubble include Brett Quigley (No. 64), J.J. Henry (No. 65) and Dean Wilson (No. 66), all of whom are playing at Pebble.
Arnold Palmer's golf course isn't getting harder, but it might look that way on the scorecard.
Bay Hill Club and Lodge will play to a par 70 for the first time next month in the Arnold Palmer Invitational by converting two holes to par 4s. The 558-yard fourth hole will measure about 480 yards, while the 517-yard 16th hole will play close to 500 yards.
'It's something I've been thinking about for a few years now, and I figured it was time, simply for the way the game is progressing along,' Palmer said. 'Most of the guys are hitting irons into 16. It's play as a par 4, anyway. So I thought we should take a look at this. I think this will make it more interesting for the overall tournament in relation to par.'
It certainly will change the dynamics of the closing holes, a time for players to protect the lead with pars instead of trying to make up ground with birdies. The 17th is possibly the toughest par 3 at Bay Hill, and the 18th is a daunting par 4 with a pond protecting the front and right side of the green.
Walter Driver was elected to another one-year term as USGA president. ... The Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in Akron, Ohio, won't be the biggest sporting event in the area this year. By moving to the week before the PGA Championship (Aug. 2-5) as part of the FedExCup schedule, the third round Saturday will go up against the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony in nearby Canton, Ohio. ... Scott Hoch has signed an endorsement deal with Adams Golf. Hoch had been playing Yonex since the early 1990s. ... Europe has decided not to change its system of picking a team for the Ryder Cup, which it has won three straight years. Five players will come from world ranking points, five from a European Tour money list with two captain's picks. Qualifying starts Sept. 9 at the European Masters and ends Aug. 31, 2008 at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles in Scotland.
For the first time since 2000, the LPGA Tour does not have a major champion from the previous season on the cover of its media guide. It went with Lorena Ochoa (player of the year), Seon Hwa Lee (rookie of the year) and Julieta Granada (ADT Championship winner).
'I really enjoyed my week. It's just that the last 20 minutes didn't work out the way I wanted.' -- Ernie Els, who finished one shot behind Henrik Stenson at the Dubai Desert Classic.
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