Tournaments ready for Tiger’s return
DORAL, Fla. – Not long after Tiger Woods returned home and starting practicing, the PGA Tour began checking with tournaments to make sure they were prepared to handle the hype over the world’s No. 1 player getting back to golf.
That even includes tournaments he has never played.
“Historically, he hasn’t played the week before the Masters,” said Steve Timms, tournament director of the Houston Open, which is the week before the Masters. “But these are unusual times. We’re prepared from a security and media standpoint. We’ve been watching the media closely, and we’ve had some weird ones.”
Timms, like other tournament directors, are in touch with PGA Tour officials about who is applying for media credentials.
The more immediate focus is in Florida. Woods hasn’t played at Innisbrook since Kelli Kuehne was his partner in 1996 at the old JCPenney Classic. Long before Woods was exposed for cheating on his wife, there had been increasing speculation that he was considering the Transitions Championship one of these years, although this doesn’t appear to be one of them.
Even so, tournament director Gerald Goodman said tour officials contacted him last week.
“They described it as talking to all tournaments,” Goodman said. “They gave no indication that they knew anything, they were just wanting to be thorough. They asked us if we had room for media. We’re a large resort on a thousand acres. There’s plenty of room.”
Scott Wellington didn’t need a phone call to start planning. He’s the tournament director of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, where Woods is a six-time champion (including last year) and lives a short drive away.
Wellington said the tour shared information from its experience at the TPC Sawgrass, where Woods spoke publicly Feb. 19 for the first time since his car accident the morning after Thanksgiving. Some 300 media came to a nearby hotel to cover the event.
Bay Hill is not the largest property, although it typically has a large media turnout because it is two weeks before the Masters.
“We’ll accommodate to the extent we’re able to,” Wellington said. “But it’s like a balloon. It can only get so big. We’ve discussed ‘Plan B’ scenarios, and we’re prepared to react as best we can. Obviously, it would help to get as much advance knowledge as we can.”
Woods typically does not enter a tournament until a day or two before the 5 p.m. Friday deadline, although there are indications from his management team that more notice will be given in this case.
PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw described the phone calls as typical conversations the tour has with its events on subjects ranging from media coverage to charity to television. In this case, another topic was added – the return of Woods.
“We’ve not indicated that we have inside knowledge,” Votaw said. “We just want them to be aware so they’re no scrambling.”
• • •
MR. HARRINGTON GOES TO WASHINGTON: Padraig Harrington can’t think of a better way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day – at the White House for a party hosted by President Barack Obama.
Ireland’s three-time major champion says he has been invited to the White House on March 17 for an annual St. Patrick’s Day party that the president hosts for the Irish taoiseach.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Harrington said, who shared his good news with no prompting. “I want to meet one of the most charismatic people in the world, and the most influential leaders in the world. And he’s a golfer. I quite enjoy celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.”
But he’ll take it easy on the celebration.
“I have a tee time the next day,” Harrington said.
In what is sure to be a busy week, the Irishman plans to play that week in the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook.
• • •
ENGLISH LESSON: Of the eight English players among the top 75 in the world ranking, four of them are PGA Tour members. All but one of those four – Justin Rose – has won in America.
Ian Poulter was the most recent at the Match Play Championship, with Paul Casey winning a year ago and Luke Donald a two-time winner. Rose is 0-for-154 on the PGA Tour and can only hope he’s next.
“I played good enough golf to win out here,” Rose said after his third-place finish at the Honda Classic. “I’ve been close a few times. I would have hoped that one of them would have got in the way by now. Sometimes winning just gets in the way without you trying too hard.”
• • •
PINEHURST MAKEOVER: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have been hired for a restoration project at Pinehurst No. 2 that has nothing to do with the U.S. Open returning in 2014. The course will not be significantly lengthened, only one tee box will be changed, the course will have minimal mowed rough and the fairways will be widened.
Coore and Crenshaw will return natural and strategic character to the course, with work set to begin in the fall. The changes include a return to sandy waste areas, native wiregrass and natural bunker edges on the Donald Ross design.
“It is not our intent to radically change this golf course,” Coore said. “We’re trying to uncover it, not recover it. We’re trying to take what Ross left and perhaps bring it back to the character and definition of what was once here. In short, we’ll bring the strategy back, and reinstate its character.”
The course closes from Nov. 15 until March 2, and the majority of the work is expected to be done by then.
“We’re not doing this for purely environmental reasons, nor are we doing this project as preparation for the 2014 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open championships,” said Pinehurst president Don Padgett II. “We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do, as stewards of this historic course.”
• • •
DIVOTS: Larry Thiel, who for years was executive director of The International, has joined the Bob Hope Classic as tournament chairman. ... Seven former major champions are in the field at the Puerto Rico Open, including Tom Kite. ... A Massachusetts couple bid $28,500 to play in the Houston Open pro-am with U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover and ESPN radio hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic. Shell Oil added $20,000, with proceeds going for the V-Foundation for Cancer Research. The couple’s bid also includes airfare and hotel.
• • •
STAT OF THE WEEK: Italian brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari are No. 47 and No. 48 in the world ranking, separated by .0000275 points.
• • •
FINAL WORD: “Three rounds is a good thing. They don’t need to kill us out here.” Fred Couples on playing the Champions Tour.