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Golf notes

Caddie's blunder not worth the fuss

Williams's comments stir up too much anger

The last thing a rehabbing Tiger Woods wanted was a feud with Phil Mickelson. The last thing a rehabbing Tiger Woods wanted was a feud with Phil Mickelson. (Lucy nicholson/Reuters)
By Jim McCabe
Globe Staff / December 18, 2008
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There's the matter of his surgically repaired left knee, which has kept him out of competition since June and makes one wonder when he'll start practicing full strength and when he thinks he will return. If it's live golf you're curious about, well, he is hosting a tournament the next four days that involves Padraig Harrington, Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas, Jim Furyk, Fred Couples, Hunter Mahan, Boo Weekley, and a host of other marquee names.

Yet what Tiger Woods might have expected yesterday were persistent queries about unflattering comments his friend and caddie, Steve Williams, made toward Phil Mickelson. If so, he was wrong, because in a 30-minute press conference connected to the Chevron World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Woods faced just one question regarding a situation that set off a firestorm of controversy, with seemingly everyone in the golf world taking the caddie to task.

In a way, so, too, did Woods, because two days ago he released a statement saying he was disappointed by his caddie's comments, that they were "inappropriate." Yesterday, while not exactly being grilled by reporters, Woods said he had been in "communication with Phil" to discuss Williams's comments and had had further dialogue with Williams, who is in his native New Zealand.

"[Williams] feels bad, what happened," said Woods. "It's something that none of us really wanted to have happen, but it's over and done with and we put it to bed."

One can only hope, since it's a lot of blather about nothing, but don't be surprised if Woods is wrong on that count, too. We've discovered over the last couple of days that a lot of people direct far too much anger at inconsequential matters, even within the usually genteel world of professional golf. Williams's disdain for Mickelson came through loud and clear, and that's disappointing. Equally alarming is the anger that apparently is harbored by many golf writers toward Williams (he's a caddie, folks, not the show) and on both fronts there seem to be people who need to assess things and question whether their emotions are worth it.

That issue taken care of, thanks to just one question, Woods spent the bulk of the time providing updates on his post-operative golf. He's been chipping and putting "for a while," and only recently started hitting fuller shots with irons, albeit with very little distance. That prompted him to remark to the room of reporters, "Now I know how you guys feel."

Yes, he's got the Masters (April 9-12) circled and plans on getting in a competitive event or two before then, but he didn't know when. The leg feels stronger than ever, he said, but he understands that the reconstructed ligament is a different story

"The ligament has a certain amount of healing time," he said. "That's something that you have to adhere to."

Same old Boo
Still riding a wave of popularity from his Ryder Cup performance in September, Weekley hasn't let it reshape his personality. He's still Boo, as proven by the way he handled a guest spot on "The Tonight Show." When Jay Leno conceded that he didn't know much about golf, Weekley hardly blinked. "I was like, 'Good, because I don't know nothing about you.' " . . . Weekley apparently hasn't spent hours poring over his 2009 schedule. Asked at last week's Merrill-Lynch Shootout how he was going to get his season off and running, Weekley said he was going to "play the first three tournaments, the Mercedes [-Benz Championship], then the Sony, and then I'm going to go to Dubai." Sounds good, only it's a tad off, geographically speaking. He had the Mercedes and Sony right, and was at least headed in the direction of Dubai after that, but for that third week he'll be in Qatar. Apparently, Weekley polished up on the schedule because when he was asked about it the other day, a reporter mentioned Dubai and was quickly halted. "No, it ain't Dubai," said Weekley. "Qatar?" asked the reporter. "However you say that," said Weekley, which prompts you to wonder how less colorful the PGA Tour would be without him. Consider his thought about going that far from his home in the Florida Panhandle: "All I know is, when I get on that airplane, I want a raft under me so if it does decide to go in some water, I want to be able to have a fighting chance to get home. That's all I know."

Swede ride
What generated the fondest reaction was the birdie at the 72d hole of a tournament promoted as her finale, but as Annika Sorenstam walked into a warm Dubai sunset, there was one sobering thought: It sure feels like she's doing the right thing. That's because the 38-year-old Sorenstam hardly appears to be excited about the game these days, the passion poured into the last 12 years or so having seemingly sucked the competitive juices out of her. Consider what she did over the first eight tournaments of 2008, when she won three times and finished top 10 on seven occasions. Then digest her performance in the 14 LPGA Tour events since announcing in May her "walk away" from the game - no wins, only three top 10s, and nine times she finished outside the top 15. Indicators so un-Sorenstam-like that it was clear either her fire had cooled or her talents had eroded, or maybe it was a combination. Either way, the incomparable Swede was especially choppy with tournaments on the line the latter half of 2008 - a 71.34 scoring average for her 23 weekend rounds - and her final event was an example. Leading through 36 holes in the Dubai Ladies Masters, Sorenstam finished 75-71 and wound up joint seventh, outscored over the weekend to the tune of a whopping 10 strokes by winner Anja Monke. Still, the stagger to the finish line - of the tournament and season - was quickly forgotten with a closing birdie, a standing ovation, and tears. "I felt at peace," Sorenstam told reporters. "I really felt very content."

National pride
You have to believe those golf-happy Argentines are sorry to see the Canadian PGA Tour season come to an end. They ran off victories in each of the last three tournaments, Rafael Gomez winning in Chile, Fabian Gomez taking the Argentine Masters, and Mauricio Molina prevailing at the Costa Rica Classic. Throw in the fact that Andres Romero was named PGA Tour Rookie of the Year and it's been a great couple of weeks for the Argentines . . . Most likely you don't know Craig Scott, but the Aussie deserves a round of applause, the latest to demonstrate an integrity that is at the heart of golf. He was 2 under par at the turn when his round at the Australian PGA got halted by rain, so maybe he had too much time on his hands. Whatever the reason, Scott that night started swinging a backup driver that he found to his liking, so he returned to the course the next morning to complete his round and put the club into play. Bad move, because it constituted a 15th club, which is one over the limit, and since Scott had played four holes before realizing the mistake, it was a four-stroke penalty, a 76 instead of a 72, and he missed the cut by two.

It can get worse
For a time, Tim Clark figured there was another entry for the heartbreak scrapbook. He told his wife as much, too, bemoaning that "I think I've thrown away another tournament." Arguably the best player on the PGA Tour without a win, Clark has finished second six times since 2005, so he felt a tinge of deja vu when he made double bogey at the par-3 14th hole to lose a chance for the lead in last weekend's Australian Open. But David Smail had an answer for Clark - a stumbling back nine in which he squandered a three-stroke lead. The collapse enabled Clark to earn a victory over Mathew Goggin on the first hole of a playoff. It wrapped up an impressive three-week swing through Australia's biggest tournaments, as Clark preceded the Open win with a joint fourth in the Masters and a T-11 in the PGA. Rod Pampling (win, T-3, T-16) was equally productive, but not so John Daly. The beleaguered American was shut out of prize money after missing the cut all three weeks, never shooting better than 71 . . . Stuart Appleby missed the cut just twice in 23 PGA Tour starts this season, but he didn't carry that consistency home to Australia, where he was on the wrong side of the cut twice in three starts . . . How did Clark celebrate that win and three solid weeks? By boarding a plane for the long trip home to play in this week's South African Open. Just don't get the idea that he was expecting a royal homecoming. Though he believes in supporting pro golf in his native land, "I felt more welcome here than I do when I go home," he said before leaving Australia.

Real hoot
Highlighting a leaderboard dominated by Massachusetts golfers, onetime Hopkinton High standout Keegan Bradley closed with a 67 to win a Hooters Tour Winter Series tournament in Haines City, Fla. The nephew of World Golf Hall of Famer Pat Bradley finished at 16 under to leave Jim Renner (67-68-70) of Plainville a distant second, five back, while Rob Oppenheim of Andover was tied for fourth at 9 under. Michael Welch of Quincy finished joint 21st. Bradley (T-10) and Oppenheim (T-12) had finished well the week before, a tournament in which Shawn Warren of Windham, Maine, was tied for 17th . . . The Mass. Golf Association's annual Champions Dinner will be held Jan. 8 at Wellesley Country Club. Brian Higgins of Bellingham, having put a halt to Frank Vana's stretch of seven straight titles, will be honored as Player of the Year.

Jim McCabe can be reached at jmccabe@globe.com.

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