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If Leonard Rebuilds It, Will Wins Come?

February 22, 2001|THOMAS BONK

Justin Leonard made more than $2 million last year, he won the Westin Texas Open and was second in three other tournaments . . . so why did he spend the off-season working on his swing?

The same reason Tiger Woods reworked his swing in 1998: to build it to last.

Leonard has won five times, including the 1997 British Open at Troon, but he expects much more from himself. And why does it seem as if Leonard is still a kid? Maybe he looks that way, but he isn't. This is his eighth year as a pro and Leonard will be 29 in June.

Time is not waiting for Leonard, which is probably why he spent so much of it in November making changes in his swing. Leonard worked on altering his setup, moving more of his weight to his right side and shortening his swing. The plan was to add distance, improve accuracy and prevent his swing from breaking down.

So far, the results have been encouraging, Leonard said.

"I'm starting to see some progress," he said. "I've had some good shots and I've also had a few errant shots here and there.

"It's not like I changed two weeks ago. Yeah, these are some big changes, but I didn't do it so I would play well in February. My motivation is to be playing well in April."

A productive and effective Leonard is something the United States counts on for the Ryder Cup. And as for Leonard himself, a reworked swing can help him improve on what was a disappointing year in the majors, when his best result was a tie for 16th at the U.S. Open, 21 shots behind Woods.

Leonard is playing at Riviera, his fourth event on the West Coast. Last week at the Bob Hope, Leonard tied for 40th, despite shooting 17 under. But Leonard missed the cut in his previous two events, the Phoenix Open and at Pebble Beach, after beginning the season tied for eighth at the Mercedes.

At this point, Leonard is convinced he is on the right track.

"I'm encouraged," he said. "I'm taking nothing but positives away."

ALL YOU NEED IS . . .

When he lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines, Davis Love III said he wasn't going to play the Nissan Open. Well, he changed his mind. And you have to know why.

Money, baby.

Riviera is the last stop on the so-called West Coast Swing and the player who does the best in the eight-event whistle stop gets $500,000. Guess who is leading?

Love, of course.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't interested in winning that," Love said.

The odd thing about the West Coast Swing isn't that it's basically a two-man race between Love and second-place Phil Mickelson or that seven of the top nine in the points race aren't playing this week.

No, what's odd is that the first event of the West Coast swing was the match-play event held in Australia. Oh, well, at least it's west of Los Angeles.

Woods is 14th in the standings. If he wins at Riviera, Love would finish No. 1 in the race if he is sixth or better. Mickelson could still win by finishing fourth or better.

Love said he didn't want to take two weeks off before Doral, so Riviera looked better to him. And the money doesn't hurt, either.

HE'S A SHADY GUY

He has worn Popsicle purple pants, flamingo pink shirts, a totally black Elvis look and an all-white outfit that some say makes him look like the guy who cleans the plutonium reactor.

You have to say that Jesper Parnevik has a sense of color.

In the interest of recording this for history, here are Parnevik's favorite colors: 1. pink ("Is there any other color?"); 2. yellow; 3. purple; 4. silver ("Like my new car"); 5. white.

QUOTE, UNQUOTE

From Parnevik, a father of three girls, on last week's birth of his son, Phoenix: "I didn't want to see my wife's face if a girl popped out again."

HAT TRICK

He is the guy in the hat. Kirk Triplett, the defending champion of the Nissan Open, wears a hat with a floppy brim, sort of like what a fisherman would wear. Either that, or Gilligan.

Anyway, Triplett knows his hat is his trademark, possibly because his golf has not made him famous. Triplett's victory at Riviera last year was his first in 266 tournaments.

Triplett played foreign tours from 1987-1989 before he earned his PGA Tour card at qualifying school in 1989. He became a hat guy in 1987 while playing the Australian Tour. First, he tried a baseball-type cap.

"I got pretty well roasted," Triplett said.

Then he tried a straw hat and didn't like it, either. Triplett knew he had struck pay dirt when he found his current style hat in the back room at Ping.

As soon as he saw it, it was love at 7 5/8. Instant trademark.

"If you saw me walking down the first fairway, you would know it was me 100 yards away," he said.

Besides, if you're going to have an article of clothing as a personal trademark, go with a hat.

"You can take it off," Triplett said. "You can't pull your pants down."

CLUBBY

News item: The pro shop at Riviera is selling the Callaway ERC II drivers that are on the USGA's nonconforming list.

Reaction: Better not tell the USGA, because Riviera would like to host a U.S. Open.

ARNIE AND THE RULES

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