PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Youth will be on display this week at the Transitions Championship, as twentysomethings Bud Cauley, Ryo Ishikawa and Tom Lewis will be paired in the first two rounds.
Cauley, who turns 22 Friday, is the eldest member of the threesome. Lewis is 21, while Ishikawa is 20. They will tee off at 2:04 p.m. Thursday at Innisbrook Golf Resort’s Copperhead Course.
Lewis, of England, is making his first U.S. appearance as a pro. He also will play next week’s Tavistock Cup exhibition and is exempt for August’s WGC-Bridgestone Championship. His caddie, Colin Byrne, used to work for Retief Goosen, a former winner here.
Lewis made headlines last year for holding the first-round lead as an amateur at the Open Championship, then winning the Portugal Masters in his third pro start. He has just one top-70 finish (22nd, Volvo Golf Champions) in seven events since his victory, though.
“It all came a bit soon, but that meant good things because I was doing well,” Lewis said. “I’m kind of settling down now and getting more and more used to the way it’s going to be.”
He has competed sparingly in the States, having played just three events here as an amateur. He missed the match-play cut at last year’s Western Amateur and lost to Patrick Cantlay in the Round of 16 of the U.S. Amateur. Lewis also finished eighth at the 2010 Jones Cup.
Lewis can take time to visit the United States because he’s exempt on the European Tour by virtue of his victory in Portugal. “I will probably focus on Europe for a little while just to learn while I have that opportunity,” he said. “It’s been great to have the two years in Europe so I can come over here and learn from the PGA Tour side of the game.”
Ishikawa, of Japan, was runner-up at last week’s Puerto Rico Open, which earned him special temporary membership on the PGA Tour. That status allows him to accept unlimited sponsor exemptions as he chases his Tour card for 2013.
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Gary Woodland arrived at Innisbrook on Monday evening, the darkness hiding from his view the many banners bearing his image. Woodland is this week’s defending champion, and also a young man in the midst of change. He has a new agent, Mark Steinberg, and new swing coach, Butch Harmon.
Woodland was riding a wave of confidence entering this event last year, having finished in the top-10 in three of six starts. Now he’s working through a swing change.
“It’s been more mentally tough than anything,” Woodland said. “It’s been mental, going out there and trying to compete when you know you don’t have your best. I’m pretty competitive, and I don’t want to come out here and embarrass myself. I don’t want to lose. … I’m not making changes at home; I’m making changes on the golf course, playing against the best players in the world, and that’s tough.”
Woodland has made every cut this year, but his best finish in a full-field event is 26th in Phoenix. He finished 29th last week in Doral. He said many of his struggles this year were with his short game. Last week was his best short-game week of the year, he said, but he struggled with his ballstriking. “We just need to put all the pieces together,” he said.
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When we last saw Harris English, the Tour rookie was playing in the final group of the Honda Classic. He shot 77 and was overshadowed by Rory McIlroy’s victory and ascension to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. English has learned from the experience.
“After that double on 2 (English bladed a bunker shot over the green), I kind of changed my whole game plan, which, looking back, that’s not what I should have done,” he said. “I hit some shots that, looking back, I shouldn’t have hit. I tried to force a little too much.”
English ended up 18th at the Honda. He has made the cut in all six starts this season, including three top-20 finishes, and has earned $305,095. English is familiar with the Copperhead Course, where he won the Southern Amateur last summer.
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Woodland, Webb Simpson and Scott Stallings, the top three finishers in last year’s event, are paired for the first two rounds. Simpson withdrew from the pro-am with food poisoning, but he still is entered in the tournament. Stallings, who played last year on a sponsor exemption, is making his first start since Pebble Beach. He has sat out the past month with a rib injury. … Lucas Glover is making his first start of the PGA Tour season. He sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee while paddleboarding at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. “The knee is 100 percent,” he said. “I’m in good gym shape, but I need to make sure I’m in good golf shape to be able to walk four days in a row.” … Charl Schwartzel said he plans to visit Augusta National next week, his first time there since his 2011 Masters victory.