British Open woes may have shifted Tiger into gear

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Tiger Woods' missed cut in the Open Championship might be the worst news for the rest of the best golfers in the world. The last time he missed a cut, in the 2006 Open Championship at Winged Foot, Woods finished second in his next event and then ran off seven consecutive victories in official tournaments. Last week, playing for the first time since missing the weekend at Turnberry, he coasted to a three-stroke victory in the Buick Open, and the conditions are ripe for the start of one of those famous Woods streaks. This week, he plays in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, where he has won six times, and next week is the PGA Championship at Hazeltine, in which he has four victories. Woods finished second to Rich Beem in 2002 at Hazeltine in his only appearance there, but there are Tiger tracks all over Firestone. The No. 1 golfer in the world's victories on the course have all come since the Akron event became part of the World Golf Championships series in 1999, and his 15 victories in the 31 WGC events are 12 more than anyone else. "There are places I seem to play well every time I go there," Woods said when he won on the South Course at Firestone two years ago. "Certain golf courses just fit your eye, and it's hard to explain but this is one of them for me. " ... You know, some years I've come in here not playing all that great but have somehow played well here. It's hard to describe, but this golf course just gives me a bunch of confidence every time I come here." Woods was unable to play in the tournament last year because he was recovering from knee surgery when Vijay Singh claimed his first WGC title, by one stroke over Stuart Appleby and Lee Westwood. That means Woods has won the last three times he has played at Firestone South. "Golfers have often got horses for courses," said Padraig Harrington, who has admitted a weakness for playing the ponies. "Unfortunately for me, (Firestone) is not one of my happy hunting grounds, and it is for Tiger. "This course every year, it's the same. It's a real tough, fair challenge. There's nothing really on the golf course that nobody particularly likes. It's a very difficult test. It's quite long. "It is one of the narrowest courses we play all year, especially with the rough as heavy as it is. You've got to hit it on the fairway. So somebody who's driving it straight, even a short hitter, will be the premium." Firestone South is one of America's classic courses. It was designed by Bertie Way and opened in 1929, with owner Harvey Firestone of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. hitting the ceremonial first shot. Robert Trent Jones reworked the course in 1959, adding 50 bunkers and two lakes, and Golforce Inc. fine-tuned the layout in 1985. Jay Hebert (1960), Al Geiberger (1966) and Jack Nicklaus (1975) won the PGA Championship at Firestone, but the layout became famous as the host of the old World Series of Golf that began in 1962. Among the winners of the event, which eventually morphed into the WGC event, were Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Tony Lema, Lee Trevino, Greg Norman, Nick Price, Gene Littler, Curtis Strange and Phil Mickelson. In addition, Firestone was a popular venue for made-for-television golf events such as Shell's Wonderful World of Golf and Big Three Golf, which featured Nicklaus, Player and Arnold Palmer, during the early era of televised golf. "Probably the first time I ever saw Firestone was in a Big Three match," said Woods, who has become something of a historian by watching old golf tapes. "And I remember one of those guys playing and hitting woods on No. 7. And when I got there, I hit a 5-iron. I think the equipment has changed a little bit since then. "That's my first recollection, and from playing it and I know from watching on TV, growing up as a kid, I know that's one of the greatest golf courses we play. It's a ball-striker's paradise. "You get used to the lines, you get used to the breaks. The greens haven't changed. The speeds may, but the overall greens don't really change. You can putt by memory." Woods' missed cut at Turnberry was only the second of his career as a pro in a major championship and the fifth overall since he left Stanford and joined the PGA Tour in 1996. His previous missed cut came at Winged Foot came after he had been out of action for more than six months because of the illness and death of his father, Earl. Woods responded with a vengeance when he returned. His seven-event winning streak included the British Open, the PGA Championship and the Bridgestone before stretching into 2007, when he won the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines to start his season. Although Woods seldom plays the week before a major, the PGA Tour schedule has lined up the PGA Championship after the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational the last few years. Not a problem for Woods, who won both on consecutive weeks in 2007. "The PGA Championship is the only major that I've ever played the week prior," said Woods, who will get his final chance this year to add to his total of 14 Grand Slam titles when he plays next week at Hazeltine. "I played the Buick Open two times (the week before the PGA), maybe like '99 and 2000, and I did all right those two years, I think." Yes, he did, winning the PGA each time.

Notes and quotes

  • Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., site of the American victory in the Ryder Cup last September, has been selected to host the 72nd Senior PGA Championship in 2011 and the 96th PGA Championship in 2014. The club already was one of four sites, along with PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., and Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier, Pa., to host a Senior PGA Championship, PGA Championship and Ryder Cup. Designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened for play in 1986, Valhalla first received national attention in the 1996 PGA Championship when Mark Brooks won over Kenny Perry, a native Kentuckian who held the lead until making bogey on the 72nd hole and then lost on the first hole of a playoff. Four years later, Tiger Woods and Bob May both birdied the final hole before Woods survived a dramatic three-hole cumulative playoff to win the PGA by one stroke. In 2004, Hale Irwin overcame several weather delays and claimed his fourth Senior PGA Championship with a birdie on the 72nd hole. Last year, the 48-year-old Perry earned a bit of redemption by first winning three tournaments in the middle of the summer to make the Ryder Cup team and then helping the U.S. claim the Cup for the first time since 1999 before raucous crowds at Valhalla. Valhalla was selected as one of the top three new private golf courses in the U.S. in 1987 and remains the No. 1-ranked course in Kentucky.
  • Jesper Parnevik said he will undergo surgery on his right hip this week at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colo., and probably will miss the rest of the season. The 44-year-old Swede tied for 44th in what probably was his final tournament of the season, the SAS Masters at Barseback Golf Club in Malmo, Sweden, on the PGA European Tour. "There's much to suggest that my season is finished," Parnevik was quoted as saying on the website of Svensk Golf, a Swedish magazine. The surgery will be performed by noted surgeon Dr. Richard Steadman, who conducted a similar operation on Parnevik's left hip nine years ago. The lumbar area has been affected by the current condition, causing Parnevik considerable back pain and leading to ineffective play. He has made the cut only five times in 15 events on the PGA Tour this season, with his best finish a tie for 42nd in the Buick Invitational, and has slipped to No. 454 in the World Golf Rankings. "My back's been bad," said Parnevik, who has won five times on the PGA Tour but not since the 2001 Honda Classic. "I had hip surgery in 2000, but I had an MRI scan a couple of weeks ago and ... need another operation." Parnevik, who lives much of the year in Florida, is expected to miss 10-12 weeks and probably will start next year on the PGA Tour with a Major Medical extension as a non-exempt member.
  • Seve Ballesteros, battling back from four surgeries to remove a malignant brain tumor, said he hopes to return to captain the European team against Asia in the Royal Trophy matches at Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi, Thailand, on Jan. 8-10, 2010. Ballesteros missed the 2009 matches because of his illness but said when the new dates were announced last week that he hopes to be there. "I sincerely hope to captain the European team at the next editions of the Royal Trophy," Ballesteros said in a statement. "Europe and Asia coming together for the Royal Trophy is very significant and this is a competition that means a lot to me." Ballesteros originally had agreed to captain the European team in the first five years of the series. Europe claimed victory in the 2006 and 2007 matches under Ballesteros before the 2008 Royal Trophy was canceled because of a death in the Thai monarchy. Asia, captained by Joe Ozaki of Japan, broke through for a 10-8 victory earlier this year, when Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain filled in as captain for Ballesteros, his close friend. Ozaki is expected to be the Asian captain again next year.
  • The Ricoh Women's British Open will be played for the first time at Carnoustie in 2011 and return to the Old Course at St. Andrews two years later, it was announced by Event Scotland, which has entered into a 10-year agreement with the Ladies Golf Union and IMG. Women's professional golf had never been played at St. Andrews until Lorena Ochoa of Mexico claimed the Women's British Open by four strokes on the Old Course two years ago. Catriona Matthew of Scotland captured the Ricoh Women's British Open last week at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and the tournament will be played next year at Royal Birkdale. The venue and date has yet to be selected for 2012. Ricoh has a title sponsorship agreement with the tournament through 2013.
  • The Daly Planet is returning to the Golf Channel. That was the title of a golf reality show starring golf bad boy John Daly that ran for 13 episodes in 2006, and at least eight are planned for next year although the new series does not yet have a name. "I think 'Out of the Rough' is the perfect title," said the 43-year-old Daly, one of the more talented and tormented players in the history of the game. Daly returned to the PGA Tour earlier this year after serving a six-month suspension, during which he played on the European Tour, marking the second time the powers that be have put him on the sidelines. On two other occasions, Daly took self-imposed exiles in an effort to iron out issues in his personal life. "I'm more laid back," Daly told the Associated Press last week at the Buick Open, where he shot 76-88--154 and missed the cut, finishing last among the 154 players who finished two rounds. "It won't have the hustle and bustle as the last show. "I haven't had a drink for a while." Daly has been in alcohol rehab twice, has been married and divorced three times, and wrote an autobiography that was as much about the drinking, sex and gambling he has experienced in his life as it was about his golf. After undergoing stomach-stapling surgery in February, Daly said he has lost 80 pounds after his weight had ballooned to 286. "He's a different person," said Al Pollock, senior producer for the Golf Channel. "This show will not be as crazy as the last show. But it's going to show a different side -- the real side -- of John Daly. "He's lived through a lot of peaks and valleys. Now he's got his stuff together." Daly has started his own clothing line, wearing the garish tones of the John Daly Apparel in tournaments. He's also been working on his game. "I'm practicing a lot and I'm working hard, but it's not paying off yet," Daly said. "I'm real frustrated with my putting." Daly has five victories on the PGA Tour, including the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick and the 1995 Open Championship at St. Andrews, but has not won since the 2004 Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines.
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