This Week in Golf - May 17th through May 20th

This Week in Golf - May 17th through May 20th

This Week in Golf - May 17th through May 20th
May 14th, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - PGA TOUR - AT&T CLASSIC, TPC Sugarloaf, Duluth, Georgia - The PGA Tour moves from the TPC Sawgrass to the TPC Sugarloaf this week, where last week's winner at the Players Championship, Phil Mickelson, has decided not to defend his title at the AT&T Classic.

Last year, when the tournament was named the BellSouth Classic, Mickelson successfully defended his 2005 title by sprinting to a 13-shot win at Sugarloaf a week before he won his second Masters title.

Like the Players Championship, this event was moved back in the schedule to give the tour a different May lineup in the weeks before the U.S. Open.

Mickelson, the new world No. 2 after his win on Sunday, isn't the only top-10 player who is skipping this week's event. Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh and five of the other six top-10 players are also taking the week off.

Only No. 7 Henrik Stenson is in the field, where he will be joined by just three of the last 13 champions (Zach Johnson '05; Paul Stankowski '96; and John Daly '94).

The purse is $5.4 million, with $972,000 going to the winner.

As always, the Golf Channel will have coverage of the first two rounds and CBS will broadcast the weekend. Next week is the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial (the Colonial), where Tim Herron beat Richard S. Johnson in a playoff last year.

EUROPEAN TOUR


IRISH OPEN, Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort, Adare, Ireland - Ireland has been good to European golf in the recent past, now if only one of its own can break through to win the country's biggest yearly event.

For the first time since Europe's record-tying Ryder Cup win at the K Club last fall, Ireland will be the center of the continent's golfing world when the Irish Open begins Thursday.

No Irishman has won the event since John O'Leary in 1982, and the top players all know it.

"At this stage, I want any Irish title," said Padraig Harrington, last year's Order of Merit champion. "John O'Leary won in 1982, 25 years ago. But this is a great opportunity for me. We are coming to a golf course that suits me and I am looking forward to it."

Harrington will be joined in the field by defending champion Thomas Bjorn of Denmark; last week's champion in Spain, Lee Westwood; and eight other winners from the European Tour's 2007 schedule: Markus Brier, Ariel Canete, Anton Haig, Peter Hedblom, Mikko Ilonen, Raphael Jacquelin, Daniel Vancsik and Y.E. Yang.

Last year, Harrington and Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke knocked on the door at Carton House, but were unable to catch Bjorn. Harrington finished 10th, while Clarke parlayed a Saturday round of 67 into a third place finish.

The Golf Channel will have coverage of all four rounds beginning at 10:00 a.m. (et) each day. Next week is one of the biggest events on the European Tour, the BMW Championship, where David Howell ran away for a five-shot win last year to move into the top 10 in the world rankings.

LPGA TOUR

SYBASE CLASSIC, Upper Montclair Country Club, Clifton, New Jersey - Last year, Lorena Ochoa fired a final-round 66 to claim the second of her six 2006 titles.

It was a sloppy weekend, but that had nothing to do with the play.

For the first time since 2003, an LPGA Tour event was shortened because of weather delays. Problems on Thursday forced the suspension of play until Friday, but that didn't happen because things just got worse, and the entire day was washed out.

In the end, the weather delays forced officials to trim the tournament to 54 holes. Despite the soggy conditions, Ochoa called it a "fun tournament" -- but why wouldn't she?

The win foreshadowed a stunning run of golf that led to the Mexican star snatching the No. 1 ranking away from Annika Sorenstam last month. She will get a chance to solidify it even further this week with Sorenstam still sidelined by a back injury.

ESPN2 will have two hours of coverage for each of the last three rounds. Next week is the LPGA Corning Classic, where Hee-Won Han beat Meena Lee last year in a playoff.

CHAMPIONS TOUR

REGIONS CHARITY CLASSIC, Robert Trent Jones Trail at Ross Bridge, Birmingham, Alabama - He's a World Golf Hall of Fame member, a five-time major champion, the all-time European Tour wins leader, and he's got a trophy named after him.

And this week, Seve Ballesteros will make his debut on the Champions Tour.

"The Champions Tour just received another dose of charisma with the exciting news of Seve's debut," said Champions Tour president, Rick George. "We couldn't be more delighted."

Ballesteros, a nine-time PGA Tour winner with 79 international victories, turned 50 on April 9th and will become the third high-profile addition to the senior's circuit this year after Nick Price and Mark O'Meara.

He's doing it at one of the Champions Tour's premier non-major events, the Regions Charity Classic, where Brad Bryant shot a 64 on Sunday to beat Mark McNulty by two shots last year.

The Golf Channel will have coverage of all three rounds beginning at 6:30 p.m. (et) each day. Next week is the season's first major, the Senior PGA Championship, where 2006 Schwab Cup winner Jay Haas beat Brad Bryant in a playoff last year for his first major championship title.

NATIONWIDE TOUR

BMW CHARITY PRO-AM AT THE CLIFFS, The Cliffs Valley, The Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards and The Cliffs at Walnut Cove, Greenville, South Carolina - Scattered across three courses this week, the Nationwide Tour will host a slew of its top players as well as a gaggle of celebrities and one golf legend.

Actors Kevin Costner and Greg Kinnear; professional athletes John Elway, Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Jim Rice and Sterling Sharpe; and musician Darius Rucker will be among the celebrities taking part in the BMW Charity Pro-Am at The Cliffs.

Gary Player, the nine-time major champion, will be playing in the event for the fourth straight year.

The tournament features a different format for the Nationwide Tour, pairing professionals with celebrities and amateurs in a best-ball format similar to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on the PGA Tour.

The 14 lowest-scoring teams (seven pro-celeb and seven pro-am) advance to play in Sunday's final round at Cliffs Valley.

Last year, Ken Duke claimed his only Nationwide Tour win at this event, sparking his Player of the Year season. Duke is now 22nd on the PGA Tour's new FedEx Cup points list.

A busy Golf Channel will have coverage of all four rounds, beginning at 1:00 p.m. (et) on each day. Next week is a new event on the Nationwide Tour, the Melwood Prince Georges County Open.

CANADIAN TOUR

IBEROSTAR RIVIERA MAYA OPEN, Iberostar Playa Paraiso Golf Club, Riviera Maya, Mexico - This is the fourth and final event in the Canadian Tour's Mexico swing.

It is the third straight new event on the 2007 schedule.

The Times Colonist Open, where Mike Grob beat Trevor Dodds and John Lieber last year is the next event four weeks from now. The week before that is Spring Qualifying school.

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Re: This Week in Golf - May 17th through May 20th

AT&T Classic
by Jeremy Church

I went on record a few years ago in support of Rory Sabbatini, who was so annoyed and frustrated with the tortoise pace of his playing partner Ben Crane that he simply played the rest of the 17th hole at the Booz Allen ahead of Crane, ignoring all golf protocol. It was like Jim Morrison on Ed Sullivan. OK not really, but you get my point. In any case, I was all for Sabbatini.

Sabbatini speaks his mind. He moves briskly about the course, perhaps a nervous tempo. If cigarettes were the gum that he chomps on he’d be a chain smoker. I suspect it’s not nerves but a way of transferring his considerable competitive energy, of calming down enough to keep an intense temperament at bay just enough to ply his trade. And he’s plying it very well, especially in the last two years.

So I didn’t even have a problem with his words about Tiger leading up to The Players last week. Others have talked about a beatable Tiger and haven’t come close. Remember when Sergio Garcia said many years ago that his goal was to lead the money lists of the European Tour and the PGA Tour (which would have meant that he would have had to supplant Tiger)? At the time that was met with an almost universal, Whatever. Stephen Ames made a comment about Tiger’s erratic driving a couple years ago then was slaughtered by the world’s No. 1 in match play. There’s nothing wrong with competitive juice but none of these guys can back it up. Mickelson commented on Tiger’s inferior equipment a few years back, a less direct kind of gauntlet laid, and despite Lefty’s win at TPC and a few recent majors he’s not mounted a serious charge in toppling Tiger.

The only golfer in the reign of Tiger to overtake him as world No. 1 has been Vijay Singh, back in 2004. It took a Tiger-like year to do it. Can Adam Scott do it? Maybe. Mickelson? Who knows? But what we have here is a situation in which generally golf’s civil version of trash talking directed at Tiger usually results in Tiger waving at his would-be conquerors from the other planet he occupies.

Sabbatini could do it, and unlike others he may have the best chance. But when I heard about his Tiger-directed comments I thought again about Luke Donald’s decision to wear a red shirt in the final round of the PGA Championship last year. The passive approach, the suggestive approach, not exactly Joe Namath. And Donald was made a fool of inside of three holes that Sunday.

Is it so bad to say, Wow, I’m playing this game in the era of the best player in the world who is on the fast track to being the best of all time. Why not go about your business, as Singh did, try to win every tournament, focus on the tournaments themselves and not the rankings, and see how you stack up? Winning any tournament in which Tiger is entered, during his reign of unparalleled supremacy, of intense focus and competition, of artistry and a flair for the dramatic … isn’t it enough to say I won a tournament Tiger played in back in what will be called The Tiger Years? I guess not. I understand the competitive desire and the urge for overthrow. It just so rarely happens that golfers would be wise to worry about their own games.

Meanwhile, I went back on my pledge to not wager on Mickelson in any way---for or against—and I got burned, double burned because I picked Tiger to beat him in the head-to-head. Pam and Tommy Lee are wiser than me. There you have it.

Last week: That hurt. Loss of 1.5 units because I fell off the Mickelson wagon. Only way is to get back on. The season tally: -8.4 units.

All manner of styles have won and played well at TPC Sugarloaf outside Atlanta, site of this week’s AT&T Classic. Long hitters, iron maestros, putters lovers. Stewart Cink calls it his home course and has done very well but hasn’t won. He’s a bit of this and that as a player, pretty consistently good when he’s not yippy on the greens. The course is expected to be faster this year, like TPC was, given its later date on the schedule.

Take Zach Johnson (10-1), 1/6 unit: It’s not like he’s fallen off after The Masters, with a 6 the week after and T16 last week at Sawgrass. Plus he’s played the tournament very well, with a T2 last year and a win in 2004.

Take Sabbatini (14-1), 1/6 unit: For this pick, I quote Jack Black’s character from School of Rock instead of The Doors: “It’s a long way to the top, if you want to rock and roll.” Tiger’s not playing in this battle of the bands.

Take Daniel Chopra (66-1)
, 1/6 unit: What will happen, and I know this, is that the day I don’t pick this guy he’s going to win. I won’t be able to live with that. I’m having a hard enough time with my Mickelson issues.

In the head-to-head, take Johnson (10-11) over Cink, 1 unit: I hate to pray for yips but, come on, Stewart Cink’s making a pretty

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