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Golf Notebook: Sorenstam has shot to play Mystic Rock

Sunday, February 09, 2003

By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Annika Sorenstam has indicated she would like to play in a PGA Tour event this year, just to see how she would fare against the best male players in the world.

Sorenstam, the world's No. 1 female player, is expected to get the opportunity. And it could be in Western Pennsylvania.

The 84 Lumber Classic of Pennsylvania, which begins a four-year run at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in September, has had discussions with Sorenstam's representatives about playing on a sponsors exemption at Mystic Rock.

The tournament is Sept. 18-21, which is an open date on the LPGA Tour schedule. But it is a week after the Solheim Cup -- the women's version of the Ryder Cup -- which is being played in Sweden.

"We're excited about the possibility of it happening," said Bud Martin, executive director of the 84 Lumber Classic and senior vice-president of SFX Sports. "We are in discussions with her representatives and it's an on-going dialogue. We think it would be a great thing."

Sorenstam, coming off the most dominating LPGA Tour season in 40 years, is expected to play in her first PGA Tour event in the spring. She also would like to play against the men in an event in the summer. If she does, Sorenstam would become the first female to play in a PGA Tour event.

But Tiger Woods, the world's No. 1 player, has a piece of advice for Sorenstam:

Be careful to choose the right event.

"If she's going to do it, she has to pick the right course, a course that suits her game," Woods said during a conference call. "I don't think she wants to play Muirfield Village [site of the Memorial, in Dublin, Ohio] where there's a lot of long, forced carries with high approach shots. A course like Colonial or Milwaukee, she has a great chance to play well.

"The only downside is if she plays poorly. If she's going to do it, she has to be committed to playing more than one event. There's too much pressure on her if she fails. If she plays well, it will be an overwhelming success."

One way or another, a female is going to play in a PGA Tour event. If it isn't Sorenstam, who won 13 worldwide tournaments in 2002, it will be Connecticut club pro Suzy Whaley, who will play in the Greater Hartford Open in July. Whaley became the first female to qualify for a PGA Tour event when she won her PGA section championship last summer.

"I think we're going to see more of that," Woods said. "But [women] have to have the correct golf course for them because they don't hit the ball as far as most guys on tour. With the right golf course, a certain person could compete. Annika has the talent. But it has to be the right course."

Trivia question

Matt Kuchar earned $61,250 in his first event this season, boosting his career earnings to $1,871,645, good for 209th place on the PGA Tour career money list. Which player did he pass? Answer at end.

Whaley's warm-up

Whaley will get a chance to warm up for her PGA Tour showing by playing in the Giant Eagle LPGA in Vienna, Ohio, less than 90 minutes from Pittsburgh.

Whaley has been given a sponsors exemption to the event, which is June 13-15, three weeks before the Hartford Open.

Whaley has played in the tournament before -- she missed the cut in 1993, 1999 and 2000 when she was playing on the LPGA Tour -- but her presence this time will be more intriguing.

"It makes a lot of sense," said tournament manager Tim Wicinski. "She was looking for competitive golf to play in and we fit in well to that."

It helped, too, that the best man in Whaley's wedding was Eddie Thomas, executive director of the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic.

Playing with the big boys

Bob Friend was not surprised he finished ninth in last week's Heineken Classic in Melbourne, Australia, a field that included such world-class players as Ernie Els, Thomas Bjorn, Nicholas Fasth, Greg Norman, Paul Lawrie and Nick Faldo.

Friend, who lives in Oakmont, said he thinks he should be competing against those players rather than playing on the Nationwide (formerly Buy.com) Tour. And he proved it by shooting 69-66 on the weekend to finish at 10-under 278, five shots behind Els, who won the first two events on the PGA Tour.

"There's no question about it," Friend said. "The thing I have to get over, and I will, is I never enjoyed playing on the Buy.com Tour. I figured I belonged on the PGA Tour. This year, I've committed myself to, this is where I am, and in order to get back to my goal, I have to do the best I can."

Friend missed qualifying for the PGA Tour by one shot at qualifying school. That, though, made him fully exempt on the Nationwide Tour for the 2003 season.

Friend, 39, got into the Heineken Classic because the tournament is run by SFX Australia, an arm of the company -- SFX Sports Group -- that represents him. Friend showed he belonged with his performance.

"I get excited to play against great players," Friend said.

Mickelson minces words

Phil Mickelson was intending to toss another compliment at Tiger Woods when he instead dissed Woods' equipment manufacturer, Nike.

In an interview in Golf Magazine that comes out this week, Mickelson said, "Tiger is the only player who is good enough to overcome the equipment he's stuck with."

The comment was made as Mickelson was talking about the distance he's getting with his new Titleist 983K driver. Mickelson was paired with Woods in the first round of the Target World Challenge in December and routinely out-drove the world's No. 1 player. "He hates that I can fly it past him now," Mickelson said in Golf Magazine.

But, after reading the story, Mickelson issued a statement last week explaining what he meant.

"I have great respect for Tiger," Mickelson said. "I also have respect for any manufacturer, particularly those that can put their clubs in the hands of the world's best players. I am thrilled with Titleist equipment and proud to represent the company, but my remark was absolutely not intended as a knock on any other manufacturer."

Dissa and data

Former two-time champion Betsy King has accepted a special invitation to play in the U.S. Women's Open July 3-6 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Ore. King, winner of 34 professional tournaments, including seven majors, won the Open in 1989 and 1990.

The USGA also announced that former U.S. Amateur champion Vinny Giles, a four-time U.S. Walker Cup member, has received a special exemption from qualifying for the U.S. Senior Open, scheduled for June 26-29 at Inverness in Toledo, Ohio.

Kiawah Island, site of the 2003 EMC World Cup, is offering special packages to the event that include tickets, lodging and golf at the South Carolina resort. The tournament is Nov. 11-16 at the Ocean Course. Call 1-800-576-1570 or log on at, www.kiawahresort.com.

Trivia answer

Kuchar passed Arnold Palmer, who earned $1,861,857 in 727 events. Kuchar has played in just 39 PGA Tour events.

Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1466.

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