INSIDE THE ROPES
By TOM LaMARRE
The Sports Xchange
Lee Westwood rejoined the PGA Tour this year almost exclusively for the playoffs.
Westwood, No. 4 in the World Golf Rankings, felt left out last year watching from his couch in Worksop, England, as the rest of the best players in the world competed in the FedEx Cup tournaments.
“That’s the reason I joined the Tour this year, I suppose, watching the playoffs on TV last year and thinking that I was missing out on playing in some big tournaments,” Westwood said. “After the majors are over there can be a bit of an anticlimax. But these come so quick after the PGA Championship that it’s almost like there’s something to go at.
” … It’s been great to play (in the playoffs). The PGA Tour does a great job putting on these events. After the major championships there’s some big tournaments to play for, and they’ve managed to put together a great series.
“Been really sort of a bit of a second wind for me. Moving (to the United States) here shortly and committing myself more to this tour and playing these bigger events has given me sort of a new challenge.”
After a solid start to his PGA Tour season, with four finishes in the top five in his first six events, the Englishman went into a midseason slump. His only high finish in five tournaments was a tie for 10th in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
That left him 51st in the FedEx Cup standings at the end of the regular season and guaranteed to play in only the first three playoff events, with the top 30 reaching the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.
However, he remedied that quickly with a tie for fifth at the Barclays, which lifted him to a tie for 27th in the standings. He tied for 13th in the Deutsche Bank Championship and tied for second in the BMW Championship, leaving him eighth in the FedEx Cup standing heading to his first Tour Championship next week at East Lake in Atlanta.
“It’s a bit of a mad rush, isn’t it, to the finishing line,” said Westwood, who ranks 10th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, which culminates with the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
“You have to play well this time of year to do well in it. … There is a certain buildup to the rest of the year. But these are worth more points. You play poorly, you don’t progress. You play well, you get a good chance to win it.”
Westwood’s quick turnaround in the Barclays at Bethpage Black came after he sacked swing coach Pete Cowen and part-time caddie Michael Waite after missing the cut in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.
Waite, who was filling in for injured Billy Foster, was replaced by Mike Kerr, who has worked with Ernie Els. The big change was hiring respected short-game coach Tony Johnstone.
“I’ve never really worked with anybody on my long game. That’s in good order,” said Westwood, one of the best ball-strikers in the game. “But I did four days work with Tony last week and I might have a few good ideas to try over the next few weeks.
“It was amazing how quickly I’ve seen the improvements. I made so many up-and-downs at Bethpage, which, when the greens are as quick as they were, is a treacherous place. I felt my feel on chipping has really come back.
“Tony just took me back to basics and simplified things. I’m impressed how it’s going.”
The improvement has been evident in the playoffs. Westwood has often gotten up-and-down for par from difficult situations and seems to be putting with more confidence than ever before.
Said Johnstone: “Lee wanted a go-to chipping method he could use on 90 percent of his chips because he had lost some confidence. He had got a bit long in the backswing. But the boy has such talent, it’s frightening.”
And just in time for the playoffs, not to mention the Ryder Cup late this month at Medinah, outside Chicago.
But for now, Westwood has his mind on Atlanta.
“I won’t pretend to understand the (FedEx) points system. In fact, I haven’t got a flipping clue how it works,” said Westwood, who after Christmas will move his family from Worksop to Florida to facilitate a full-time U.S. schedule.
“I try to go as low as I can and see what happens. But I realize that every shot counts and that’s how it should be. The cut and thrust is good; it keeps you on your toes. They all feel like big, big events. Yes, I’m now a fan.
“One shot can make all the difference between making the Tour Championship and missing it.”
And this time he won’t be watching the finale on TV.
PGA TOUR: Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Sept 20-23.
TV: Thursday and Friday, 1-6 p.m. EDT on the Golf Channel; Saturday, noon-2 p.m. on the Golf Channel and 2-6 p.m. EDT on NBC, and Sunday, 11:30-1:30 p.m. EDT on the Golf Channel and 1:30-6 p.m. EDT on NBC.
LAST YEAR: Bill Haas, who started the week at 25th in the FedEx Cup standings, made a remarkable par out of the water on the second playoff hole before sinking a four-foot putt for par on the third extra hole to beat Hunter Mahan. He earned $1,440,000 for winning the tournament and $10 million for capturing the season-long FedEx Cup race. Haas, who closed with a 2-under-par 70, squandered a three-stroke lead by carding bogeys on the 16th and 18th holes in the final round. Mahan, who finished with a 71 after holding the 54-hole lead, made a birdie on the 15th hole to pull even and force the playoff. On the final playoff hole, Mahan hit into a greenside bunker and missed a 14-foot putt for par.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: Pacific Links Hawaii Championship at Kapolei Golf Course in Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii, Friday through Sunday.
TV: Friday through Sunday, 7:30-10 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.
LAST YEAR: Inaugural event.
LPGA TOUR: Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England, Thursday through Sunday.
TV: Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.-noon EDT, on ESPN each day.
LAST YEAR: Yani Tseng of Taiwan shot 3-under-par 69 in the final round to successfully defend the title she won the year before at Royal Birkdale, this time winning by four strokes over Brittany Lang at Carnoustie. At 22 years, 6 months, 8 days, Tseng became the youngest golfer to win five major titles. Tiger Woods previously held that distinction, having won his fifth major at 24 years, 7 months. She trailed third-round leader Caroline Masson of Germany by two strokes entering the final round, but Masson closed with a 78 to tie for fifth. Tseng carded a three-putt bogey on the first hole but took control with birdies on the third, sixth and 11th holes, then punctuated her victory with birdies on the last two holes.
–Davis Love III, who already has named his four vice captains for the Ryder Cup, said that basketball great Michael Jordan will be an adviser for the United States team at Medinah, outside of Chicago.
Jordan, a member at Medinah, was an assistant captain for Fred Couples and the United States team in the 2009 President’s Cup matches at Harding Park in San Francisco, in addition to being with other U.S. teams in an unofficial status.
“I’ve talked to him,” said Love, who got Jordan hooked on golf when they attended the University of North Carolina. “Michael’s going to be hanging around with Fred probably a lot and be an influence.
“I told Michael this a couple weeks ago. One of the neatest things I ever saw in the Ryder Cup was Michael riding in the golf cart with Tom Kite. He came out to watch Freddie and I play, and I thought that was one of the coolest things.”
Jordan also is friends with Couples, one of Love’s vice captions, in addition to being pals with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and other members of the U.S. team.
He has attended most of the recent Ryder and Presidents cups.
“I want my team, like Fred and I did, to get to see Michael,” Love said. “Rather than him sneaking around in the gallery, I want him to be seen and I want him to be in our team room, be hanging around and be a great influence.”
Jordan, of course, led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles.
–Jeff Klauk, who has played on the PGA Tour and what is now the Web.com Tour since 2000, will tee it up this week in the Albertsons Boise Open on the Web.com Tour, his first start since brain surgery in April.
The operation was needed to pinpoint the source of his complex partial seizures. He elected not to have a second, more invasive, surgery to remove the part of his brain that is causing the epileptic seizures, instead treating his condition with medication.
“I’m still trying to figure out the side effects of the medicine,” the 34-year-old Klauk said. “That’s the stuff I’m struggling with. I’m just going to see if I can play on it all.
“That’s why they have these rehab starts. We’re still experimenting with different doses to figure out how to feel my best.”
The side effects include dizziness and blurry vision, he said. The Boise Open will be one of five allowed rehab starts under his medical extension.
Jeff’s brother John, a former All-American at Texas, will be his caddie in Boise.
Klauk, who has won twice on the Web.com Tour but never on the PGA Tour, has been practicing and playing at home in St. Augustine, Fla., to prepare for his return.
“The game is good,” Klauk said. “I’m the type of guy who needs to get in a tournament and play to really see how I’m playing. That’s why I wanted to get out and do this.”
Klauk played eight times on the PGA Tour and four times on the Web.com Tour last season before being sidelined in June.
–As soon as news of Davis Love III’s four Captain’s Picks hit the wire, there came surprise from some of the Europeans about who did not make the United States team.
Captain Jose Maria Olazabal wondered about Hunter Mahan being left off the team after winning twice this year, including the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, in which he beat Rory McIlroy in the final.
It wasn’t exactly criticism, however.
“They are very solid picks,” Olazabal said before playing in the KLM Open at Hilversum Netherlands. “All the American players from nine to 14 on the list were all very solid and Davis could have picked any four.
“The only question mark as I see it was (Brandt) Snedeker picked ahead of Mahan, but then Davis has gone for form. Snedeker has pretty much been playing well from the start of the summer and all the way to the FedEx Series. However, Mahan has not been playing all that well, so (Love) went for form and in that regard he has my respect.”
Love selected Snedeker, Dustin Johnson and veterans Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk.
Martin Kaymer of Germany wondered about the absence of Rickie Fowler.
“I expected Dustin and Stricker, but also thought Rickie had a good chance because he made a really good impression in Wales two years ago,” Kaymer said. “So I thought Rickie would be a strong chance of getting a pick, but then [Jim] Furyk is a good pick because of his experience and he’s a guy who has been there many, many times.
“It was a tough decision between Snedeker, Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler. You could have put those three names in a hat and pick any one of them. It’s tough to say who deserved it more as Snedeker will be a rookie, but then Rickie and Hunter have the experience of having played in 2010.”
The Ryder Cup will be played in two weeks at Medinah.
–The PGA Tour waited 21 years to return to Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., but after it was host to the BMW Championship last week, it probably won’t be that long the next time.
During the third round of the tournament on Saturday, tournament organizers were already talking about putting suburban Indianapolis into the rotation to hold the tournament again.
“We’d love to come back to Crooked Stick; it’s really up to Crooked Stick and if they want to have us back as well,” said Vince Pellegrino, the Western Golf Association’s vice president of tournaments.
“The Indiana golf community has shown it will support a major sporting event, and we’d certainly be interested in coming back in the future.”
The WGA, which operates the tournament that started out as the Western Open in 1970, won’t make that decision by itself. PGA Tour officials and BMW also would have to sign off on any new deal.
That shouldn’t be too difficult, considering players, fans and sponsors all were impressed despite heavy rain during the week that softened the fairways and greens in addition to making some areas outside the ropes a soggy mess.
“I’ve heard a lot of players talking about the crowds that have come out, and they say it’s a neat town,” said Bo Van Pelt, an Indiana native. “It is.
“Hopefully we’ll get it back on the schedule.”
Next year’s BMW Championship is scheduled to be played at Conway Farms in Lake Forest, Ill., near the tournament’s traditional Chicago home. In 2014, the event will be played at Cherry Hills, near Denver.
BMW’s sponsorship deal expires in 2014 season, but until a new deal is struck or a new sponsor found, future sites probably will not be selected.
–Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa was more than a bit surprised when he stepped onto the ninth tee during the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship two weeks ago and heard a fan screaming at him from the front of the tee box.
Oosthuizen, who is nicknamed “Shrek,” because he has a gap between his upper front teeth, did a double take.
“Louis! Louis!” the man yelled. “I’m your brother, your long lost brother.”
The fan also had a slight gap in his front teeth, was wearing a cap and was so loud that Oosthuizen couldn’t ignore him. Oosty looked at the man and broke into his gap-tooth smile, and soon was laughing so hard he covered his face with his yardage book.
So, was he a real lookalike?
“My caddie said he looked just like me, so I don’t know,” Oosthuizen said.
Rory McIlroy, who was Oosthuizen’s playing partner, agreed with the caddie.
“He did have the gap in the teeth, which I thought was so funny,” McIlroy said. “He was following us the whole way around. I thought there were a few similarities there.”
IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Bath Golf Club in Bath, England.
THE LAYOUT: There were only seven golf clubs in England when Bath Golf Club was founded in 1880, and although famed architect Harry Shapland Colt (Pine Valley, the West Course at Wentworth, Sunningdale, Muirfield, Royal Lytham & St. Annes) refined the course in 1922, it is much the same as it was in the beginning.
The course follows a distorted figure-8 routing on a plateau next to Sham Castle (which, true to its name, is only a facade) above the historic city of Bath — where the Roman baths date to the first century.
There are only two par 5s and three par 3s on the course, a par-71 layout that measures 6,442 yards from the back tees and is considered one of the best golf experiences in Southwest England.
Unprotected at 600 feet above the city, wind often offers a dimension that can distort the yardage.
HEAD PROFESSIONAL: Russell Covey.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Joe Louis, then heavyweight champion of the world, came to play at Bath Golf Club near the end of World War II. Louis was an accomplished golfer who broke the color line on the PGA Tour when he played in the 1952 Los Angeles Open on a sponsors exemption.
The first hole at Bath is an uphill par 4 that measures only 305 yards, but it was closer to 350 in those days before a new clubhouse was built in the early 1970s.
Louis astounded the members at Bath by driving the ball onto the putting surface, a shot that requires all carry because of a steep ridge in front of the green.
Typical of British golf, there are a number of strong par 4s, including the fifth hole, which measures 466 yards with trees left and right. It’s the No. 1 handicap hole.
There is a good stretch on the back nine with the 392-yard 12th hole, which can be difficult to hit in two because it usually plays into the wind, and the 469-yard 13th, which is easier to reach because it often plays downwind. They are followed by a cute par 3, 154 yards, over a quarry, and the dogleg left 15th, which is difficult to reach in two because of a tight landing area and a headwind, even though it measures only 494 yards from the back tee.
No. 17 is a 305-yard par 4 with a severe dogleg and out of bounds to the right over an ancient stone wall. A minefield of bumps, thought to be a graveyard dating to Roman times, guards the elevated green.
The great Henry Cotton, who won three British Opens and probably would have won more if not for a six-year suspension of the tournament during World War II, played an exhibition benefiting the Red Cross at Bath in 1940.
OTHERS COURSES IN THE AREA: There are 15 courses within 30 minutes drive of Bath, not counting the pitch-and-putt course in Royal Victoria Park in the elegant city.
Arguably the best is the challenging Manor Course Golf Club at Castle Combe, designed by Peter Aliss, the BBC commentator and former Ryder Cup player, in collaboration with Clive Clark.
Lansdown Golf Club, a picturesque course with elevated view of the countryside, is located two miles from Bath, adjacent to Bath Racecourse.
Five miles from Bath is Kingsdown Golf Club in Corsham, another course that was built in 1880.
Cumberwell Golf Club offers 27 holes of championship golf in Bradford-on-Avon and Bowood Golf and Country Club, which winds through the Great Park near Calne, was designed by Dave Thomas — architect of England’s most popular Ryder Cup venue, the Belfry.
WHERE TO STAY: The Royal Crescent in Bath, a three-block monolith of stone taken from the quarries outside the city, is considered perhaps the greatest example of Georgian architecture in the world. At the center is the Royal Crescent Hotel, which is included among Great Hotels of the world along with its sister property, the Cliveden House in Taplow, the former Astor estate near London.
Also in Bath are the Old Malt House, Oldfields Hotel, the Old Priory, Villa Magdala Hotel, the Bath House Hotel, Dukes’ Hotel and the Hilton Bath City. On the outskirts of the city are Lucknam Park Mansion, Limpey Stoke Hotel and the Cliffe Hotel.
ON THE WEB: www.bathgolfclub.org.uk.
THE LAST RESORT: Stoke Park Club in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, England.
THE LAYOUT: The legendary Harry Shapland Colt designed 27 magnificent holes on a revered piece of land, once owned by the family of William Penn, which has a recorded history dating more than 1,000 years.
Queen Elizabeth I owned Stoke Park from 1581-1603 before it was taken over by Sir Edward Cooke, who coined the phrase, “An Englishman’s home is his castle.”
In 1998, Stoke Park brought back nine holes which had been dormant since the land was used to grow potatoes during the lean days of World War II, recreating Colt’s original 27-hole design. Unlike most 27-hole facilities, where each nine is numbered 1-through-9, the holes at Stoke Park are numbered 1-through-27.
Colt also designed the revered courses at Muirfield, Sunningdale, Royal Portrush, Wentworth and Pine Valley, considered by many to be the best golf course in the United States.
Movie buffs might recognize Stoke Park from the golf scenes in the 1964 James Bond film, “Goldfinger,” especially the car park in front of the distinctive white domed clubhouse. Bond, played by Sean Connery, was driving his souped-up Aston Martin, which was auctioned off in a charity event at Stoke Park a few years ago.
Oddjob, Goldfinger’s caddie, threatens Bond by throwing his steel-lined bowler like a discus and knocking the head off a plaster statue. The statue is still there because the film’s producers created a duplicate for the beheading in the movie.
Connery, an avid golfer, hit his own golf shots in the sequence.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Stuart Collier.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Stand on the seventh tee at Stoke Park Club and you get the feeling you might be thousands of miles away. Like on the famed 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club, one-third of dreaded “Amen Corner,” so-named by Herbert Warren Wind of Sports Illustrated in 1958.
That’s because when Colt designed what was then called Stoke Poges Club (which opened in 1908), Alister MacKenzie was his assistant. When MacKenzie was commissioned by Bobby Jones to design Augusta National in 1933, he had a similar plot of land so he simply borrowed the design.
No. 7 is part of Stoke Park’s own “Amen Corner,” a fearsome foursome that can stack up with any similar stretch of holes in the world. First is the par-4, 422-yard fourth hole, a slight dogleg right, followed by the par-5 fifth, a 525-yard test that sweeps left through a row of trees, and then the uphill, 408-yard sixth hole. Only when you finish those challenges do you reach the treacherous seventh.
There are other reminders of Augusta at Stoke Park, especially when the azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom, most notably on the picturesque 156-yard 11th hole, where the tee shot through a grove of trees must carry a large pond.
The last two holes for the first 18 are typically strong Colt par-4s, at 418 and 407 yards, which were the setting for the finish of the Goldfinger-Bond match. Goldfinger miraculously “finds” his ball in the rough on No. 17, after Oddjob drops a new one out of a hole in his pocket, and wins the hole. However, Bond turns the tables on No. 18 below the famous Stoke Park dome.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Stoke Park, located outside London on the outskirts of Windsor and Eaton about seven miles from Heathrow Airport, is near some other shrines of British golf — including the Wentworth Club and its famed West Course in Virginia Water; Sunningdale Golf Club in Sunningdale; the Belfry Golf Club in Sutton Coldfield, Europe’s most prominent Ryder Cup venue; and Royal Birkdale Golf Club near Southport, which has hosted the Open Championship nine times, the last when Padraig Harrington won in 2008.
Also in the area are Lambourne Club in Burnham, the Marriott Forest of Arden Hotel and Country Club in Warwickshire, Woburn Golf Club in Milton Keynes and Foxhills Golf Club in Ottershaw — which is considered the most American-like club in England.
WHERE TO STAY: They will treat you like a queen or king at the five-star Stoke Park Hotel, which in 1999 became a charter member of Leading Small Hotels of the World, and offers 20 bedrooms filled with priceless antiques and original paintings and prints.
Stoke Park Mansion, which houses the hotel, clubhouse, restaurants and conference rooms, is said to have influenced the architects of the White House since the dome is similar and both edifices have an oval office.
Not far is the luxurious Cliveden Hotel, the former Astor estate, in Taplow. Also close are the Bull Hotel, a 17th century coach stop in Gerrards Cross; Burnham Beeches Hotel, a magnificent structure of Georgian architecture on 10 landscaped acres in Burnam; Grovefield House Hotel, a charming Edwardian country house in Windsor; the Christopher Hotel, the only hotel in Eton; the Castle Hotel in Windsor, a two-minute walk from the front gate at Windsor Castle, and Sir Christopher Wren’s House Hotel on the banks of the Thames River in Windsor.
ON THE WEB: www.stokeparkclub.com.