Sorenstam Prepares For Something Grand

By Associated PressMarch 9, 2004, 5:00 pm
Just because the LPGA Tour has been in hibernation for nearly 100 days doesn't mean Annika Sorenstam needs to rub the sleep out of her eyes and ease into the new season.
Two weeks ago, Sorenstam ventured Down Under and shot 65-65 on the weekend to win the Australian Ladies Masters for the second straight year.
More proof that her game is sharp came Sunday.
Sorenstam was invited to play Augusta National, and one person in attendance said she has never hit the ball better.
The greens had been double-cut that morning.
Gusts were up to 20 mph.
A half-dozen pins were in their traditional location for Sunday at the Masters.
Sorenstam played the tournament tees, which measure 7,290 yards, and posted a tidy 1-over 73.
Her only bogeys were at No. 9 and the par-3 12th, where she hit 7-iron just over the green and missed a 5-footer. Playing the 570-yard eighth hole into the wind, she hit driver, 5-iron and sand wedge to 8 feet for her only birdie
And on the 465-yard, uphill 18th, with a strong left-to-right wind that helped slightly on the approach shot, Sorenstam hit driver and 5-iron to the front of the green and took two putts for par.
Sorenstam plans to return to Augusta National in April, but only to receive the Golf Writers Association of America award as LPGA player of the year.
Unlike 14-year-old Michelle Wie, she is not dreaming of how she can qualify for the Masters.
Sorenstam doesn't even plan to play a regular PGA Tour event, like the Colonial.
Instead, she is preparing for something really grand.
The LPGA Tour season gets under way this week in Tucson, Ariz., although Sorenstam will wait another week before she makes her '04 debut in Phoenix at the Safeway International.
While the Phoenix field is one of the strongest of the year, even that is just a warmup act.
Her year essentially starts at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the year, the first step toward a Grand Slam.
When it comes to goals, that's all Sorenstam has left.
'Everything is focused on the majors,' she said. 'Winning all four in one season is something that has never been done before. But I definitely think it's possible.'
After last year, it's not prudent to bet against her.
Most people thought Sorenstam would flop at the Colonial, where she became the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour. Instead, she thrived under the enormous pressure, putted for birdie on every hole and shot a respectable 1-over 71. She followed that with a 74 and missed the cut by four shots.
Most people figured she would get shut out at the Skins Game, but she had a chance to win and eventually wound up second behind Fred Couples, ahead of Phil Mickelson and Mark O'Meara.
Sorenstam has reason to believe the Grand Slam is possible.
She was only two strokes (Nabisco) and one swing (U.S. Women's Open) away from winning all four last year. Sorenstam had to settle for the LPGA Championship and the Women's British Open for the career Grand Slam.
Pat Bradley was the only other woman to come close to the Grand Slam, winning three majors in 1986. She tied for fifth, three strokes out of the playoff, at the U.S. Women's Open.
There are other stories to watch on the LPGA Tour this year.
Se Ri Pak has emerged as the second-best player in women's golf. A victory at Nabisco would give the 26-year-old South Korean the career Grand Slam and enough points for the Hall of Fame.
Laura Davies, coming off her 66th victory worldwide at the Australian Women's Open, can also take care of the career slam and the Hall of Fame by winning at Nabisco.
The rookie class includes a player not even old enough to vote. Aree Song, 17, received special permission to compete at Q-school, where she finished fifth. Song made the cut in all six majors she played as an amateur, and finished fifth at the Women's Open last year while paired with Sorenstam.
And then there's Wie, the ninth-grader in Honolulu who shot a 68 in January at the Sony Open, the lowest score ever by a female competing against men. She'll play at least six LPGA events, including the Nabisco.
But the most compelling part of the season is built around one player and one tournament.

Sorenstam set herself up for this pressure when she said at the end of last year, 'It's the four majors that I'm going for next year. Those goals are pretty clear. Other than that, I don't really have any more.'
Tiger Woods wants to win the Grand Slam every year, as did Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer before him. But rarely did they state their intentions so plainly, and so early in the game.
'That was one of her goals last year,' LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw said. 'She didn't articulate it the way she has this year. But I think the fact that she was in the final group (in three of four majors) going into Sunday gave her the opportunity to say, 'I can do this.''
One thing seems certain based on her round at Augusta National.
She'll be ready.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.