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GOLF NOTES

A strong close rivals Els's start

Park can't follow up promising beginning

For many of us, the days ripe for golf are getting fewer and fewer. But it's a big world, which is why the news and developments still spill forth.

There are, for instance, the contrasting stories of Ernie Els and Grace Park. For weeks, Els had continued to agonize over the four major championships that slipped from his grasp, then he found himself embroiled with the PGA Tour hierarchy over the amount of tournaments he plays. Hardly enchanting stuff to help close out the season, but Els showed why he is arguably the world's premier competitor by winning twice in a three-week span.

First, the Big Easy withstood miserable weather to win the American Express Championship in Ireland, then he withstood foul weather and an inspired effort by Lee Westwood to win his record-setting sixth World Match Play Championship in England. Both Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros won the tournament five times.

"At least I've got one record on Gary," said Els, who has followed in the footsteps of his legendary countryman by playing all corners of the world. "He's got nine majors and that's a long way for me [Els has three], but I've got him on this one."

So, Els's season, which began with victories in Hawaii and Australia, has a comfortable set of bookends.

That's something Park wishes she could say. The dynamic 25-year-old went 39 under par for her first 12 rounds of 2004, finishing tied for second, T-3, and first in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, her first major triumph. Surely, it signaled compelling things to come. Perhaps a career year and a serious challenge to Annika Sorenstam as the best player in the game?

Fast forward seven months and the answer is a resounding no. Park hasn't won since the KNC and she'll be challenged to shake off the bitter disappointment of last weekend. Thanks, in great part, to an opening 62 at the Samsung World Championship -- a 20-player field featuring the game's best players -- Park was three shots in front through 54 holes, the same cushion she enjoyed as play reached the middle of the homeward nine.

Then came the latest installment to the Sorenstam legend. The Swede chipped in for eagle at the 15th, knocked her approach to 6 feet for a birdie at 17, and stormed to victory with a back-nine 32 for a closing 67 to overtake Park, who finished with a 73.

"This is special," said Sorenstam, whose 54th LPGA Tour win was her 17th of the come-from-behind variety. She has won six of her 15 starts on Tour this year -- with two international triumphs -- and has all but clinched her seventh Player of the Year trophy. It's the sort of stuff Park, perhaps, had envisioned after her major triumph in March, but she's hardly any closer to Sorenstam than she was earlier in the year.

"I fell apart and didn't get the job done and that's it," said Park, shaking her head, after which she was asked what she could take from her Samsung performance.

"That I'm the biggest loser," she said.

Ouch.

She's not, of course, but unlike the men's game, in which Vijay Singh and Els roared past Tiger Woods in the world rankings, Sorenstam continued to dominate her opposition. Park and Se Ri Pak, considered by many to be capable of supplanting Sorenstam, have won once each in 2004 and rank fourth and ninth, respectively, on the money list.

Numbers game

As for what else has been going on, a sampling:

MAKING THE ROUNDS: Singh will walk away with all the top honors in 2004, but it appears unlikely he'll catch a few colleagues when it comes to the number of rounds played. Currently, Ted Purdy (108), Pat Sheehan (105), Tim Petrovic (103), Tom Carter (102), and Chris Smith (101) are comfortably ahead of Singh (98) and each is playing at the Funai Classic at Walt Disney World, an event that begins today.

THE HONEYMOONERS: Woods won't be fined $32,500 for having his 155-foot yacht enter Puerto Rico's San Juan Bay without prior notification. Since it was his first infraction, he was issued a warning by the US Coast Guard as the world's third-ranked player continued to enjoy his honeymoon with Elin Nordegren. The Coast Guard has a different rulebook than the USGA, but we can interpret the decision thusly: Since Woods and his crew were out of bounds, it was a stroke-and-distance penalty. They had to go back to the buoy and restart their engines.

HONEST TOM: As he stood over a putt on the second green in Sunday's final round of the Chrysler Classic in Greensboro, N.C., Tom Lehman couldn't be sure if his ball moved. He wrestled with his emotions for two holes, talked to a rules official, then chose to penalize himself one shot. Pretty serious, because he started the day tied for the lead. He hasn't triumphed since 2000 and he wouldn't this day, his closing 70--274 leaving him tied for fourth.

RED, WHITE, AND BLUE: Of the 45 PGA Tour events played this season, only 21 have been won by American-born players. Of the top 10 players on the money list, only five are Americans. Of the top 20 on the money list, only 10 are Americans. IT'S GREAT FOR THE PACE OF PLAY, ANYWAY: There are just 30 eligible players for this week's Schwab Cup, the season-ending event on the Champions Tour. Indeed, the field includes Dana Quigley, who, for the seventh straight season, will have played the entire Champions Tour schedule.

Sisk's jump-start

The first stage of the annual grind known as the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament is under way at six sites, with a number of New Englanders involved, though Geoff Sisk of Marshfield isn't one of them. He is exempt through the first stage by virtue of making the cut at the US Open. "I never knew that was worth an exemption, and I only found out by talking to a friend of mine who knew a guy who had gotten the same thing a year earlier," said Sisk. "This way, it affords me the luxury of coming down here [to Florida] to try something like this." He was talking about the final full-field Nationwide Tour stop of the year, the Miccosukee Championship in Miami, which Sisk earned a spot into by shooting 4-under 67 at a Monday qualifier. "No matter how I play, it gives me something to play, some good competition to prepare for second stage [Nov. 17-20 at Seaside, Calif.]. Otherwise, I would be going into that qualifier not having played since the final event on the Cleveland Golf Tour [Sept. 28-30]." . . . As for those New Englanders currently involved in four-round first-stage challenges, most notable was the start put up by Jamie Neher of Weston, who opened with a 9-under 62 to take the lead at TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz, Fla., and added a 70 yesterday to hold onto second. Jeff Martin, the assistant at Alpine CC in Rhode Island, and Michael Sims, the onetime standout at the University of Rhode Island, were both tied for 25th after rounds of 68 and 73, and Rhode Islander Rod Butcher was T-54 with 69-76. Pembroke's Justin Peters sizzled with a second-round 64 to go from T-52 to T-17 at TPC Heron Bay in Coral Springs, Fla. Because of rain, yesterday's second round was not completed at Jennings Mill CC in Bogart, Ga., where John Curley of Osterville (T-11, 69), William Link of Acton (78), and Tele Wightman of Chicopee (72) are among those in the field, a site that also includes Jay Haas Jr. (72) . . . Come Nov. 2-5, the senior crowd will be at four first-stage sites, with a number of New Englanders involved. The field at the Magnolia Course at Disney World will include Joe Clark of Holderness, N.H., Rick Karbowski of Cyprian Keyes in Boylston, Keith Lyford of Lenox, and Bob Lendzion, the onetime NEPGA standout who plays a lot of European Senior Tour golf these days. Paul Parajeckas will compete at the PGA Southern California GC in Calimesa, Calif., while Mike San Filippo will be at Marsh Creek CC in St. Augustine, Fla. Among the more noteworthy names taking the senior test will be Forest Fezler, Mark Hayes, Dan Halldorson, Lon Hinkle, and former major league pitcher Rick Rhoden . . . One Q School competitor who got off to a forgettable start was LPGA Tour member Isabelle Beisiegel. The Canadian shot 84-80 at La Quinta, Calif. Her 164 total is seventh highest among 84 players vying for 23 berths into sectional qualifying. She said she entered to gain more experience.

Advantage

Frank Vana Jr. enjoyed a pretty good roll late last week. First, he was part of a 10-man squad that helped Team Massachusetts defeat Rhode Island and Connecticut, ending a six-year drought in the Tri-State Matches at Carnegie Abbey in Portsmouth, R.I. Two days later, Vana teamed with Jim Ruschioni to post a stirring 9-under 61 at Presidents GC in Quincy as the team stormed to its third straight win, and fourth overall, in the Norfolk County Classic Two-Ball Championship. Having opened with a 62, Vana and Ruschioni finished at 17-under 123, a shot better than the Drohen brothers, Andy and Billy (61-63) . . . The Drohen brothers were also on the victorious Team Massachusetts at the Tri-State Matches, along with Brendan Hester, John Gilmartin, David Spitz, Doug Clapp, Cy Kilgore, Ed Fletcher, and Tom Martin . . . Peter Uihlein of North Dartmouth is continuing to impress on the national junior scene. Having won an AJGA event this summer, the 15-year-old added to his resume by posting three subpar rounds -- 69-71-71 -- to finish at 5-under 211 and cruise to a two-shot win in the Golfweek Aldila Junior Invitational in Sunset Beach, N.C. . . . Frank Dully's first look at Turner Hill GC in Ipswich was a memorable one. How so? Try nine birdies and a 7-under 65 to win an NEPGA pro-am. The head pro at Kernwood CC in Salem posted a four-shot victory at one of the area's newest layouts, a Dana Fry design that has opened to rave reviews . . . Rick Baptist of White Cliffs in Plymouth shot 68 to edge Mike Haberl (MGA Links) by a shot in a pro-member tournament at Woods Hole GC in Falmouth. Baptist and Mike Folan of Ponkapoag took pro-pro honors with a 65, while Haberl and John Flowers posted a 67 for the pro-member win . . . Congratulations to David Sloan-Rossiter, who used a 5-iron to ace the 160-yard 17th at George Wright GC in Hyde Park. It was his fifth career hole-in-one . . . Friends and colleagues gathered Monday at the Country Club of Vermont in Waterbury for a benefit tournament for Vermonter Bob Labbance, a photographer and writer whose contributions have appeared in numerous publications. One of the true gentlemen in New England golf circles, Labbance suffered a spinal cord injury in a fall from a footbridge during a round of golf Aug. 31. According to friends, Labbance is making progress and remains in great spirits. If you'd like to contribute, write to Rob Halpert at the Double Bogie Bridge Dive Open, c/o Notown Communications, PO Box 709, Montpelier, VT 05601 . . . We would venture a guess that somewhere the late Jack Kennedy must be smiling. The 16th American Ireland Fund Tournament -- which is now named after Kennedy, the moving force behind it -- was recently played at Charles River CC in Newton and netted $62,000. That money was delivered to the St. Francis Hospice Center for Bereavement Care for Children outside of Dublin. A cause has carried on to the tune of $1.6 million in 16 years.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, and Tour sources was used in this report.

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