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GOLF THOMAS BONK

Riviera Seems to Be on Tiger's Busy Schedule

January 24, 2002|THOMAS BONK

It's time for the Tiger Countdown....

Three weeks ago, Tiger Woods was on Maui in Hawaii playing the season-opening Mercedes Championships.

Two weeks ago, he was in New Zealand playing the country's Open championship for no other reason than he was given $2 million to show up and he wanted to do something nice for his Kiwi caddie.

Last week, he was on the Gold Coast of Australia, just hanging out.

This week, he is in Orlando, at his home at Isleworth.

And next week, Tiger will be back at work at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

It's the first of what appear to be four tournaments in a row for Woods, who follows Pebble Beach with the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, then probably the Nissan Open at Riviera (although he hasn't made it official), and finally the $5-million Accenture Match Play Championship at La Costa.

It's a busy schedule, but it also doesn't involve much travel, which should help Riviera's case. At Pebble, Woods will once again team with former Stanford teammate Jerry Chang, plus buddy Mark O'Meara and Irish businessman Dermott Desmond. Woods says he is ready for Pebble Beach and the rigors of a celebrity pro-am.

"I know it's going to be a long week, spiky greens, six-hour rounds, the weather lousy," he said.

"I'm just going to go down there with the idea of trying to have some fun."

Woods tied for sixth in New Zealand and said there's nothing wrong with his putting.

"I just need to putt on better greens," he said.

Chances are he's not going to find them anytime soon because bumpy greens are par for the course everywhere he might play before the tour heads for Florida the first weekend of March.

Smoke Signals

They got lucky over the weekend at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, where Phil Mickelson had no problem with five days of play, 90 holes, four courses, 127 other pros and even a one-hole playoff to win the tournament, averaging seven birdies a round. He's a proven winner and a good champion, but when you have a tournament such as the Hope that is nothing but a flat-out race to see who gets to 30 under par the quickest, you sometimes don't get that kind of winner.

With that in mind, the Hope's board of directors is working behind the scenes trying to come up with a way to make the tournament tougher before somebody gets to 40 under. (A 40 under, by the way, would look something like this: 64-64-64-64-64. At this time, the golf is officially a joke.)

What is being considered is sure to be controversial: Saying goodbye to Indian Wells Country Club.

The course is scenic, but short--at 6,478 yards, it's the shortest course on the PGA Tour. Indian Wells also is historic, but outdated, at least for big-time tournament play and all the extra tents and hospitality and extra room required. Indian Wells has been part of the Hope for 43 years, beginning with Arnold Palmer's victory in the first tournament in 1960. But it is simply too easy, and it's also so short that it takes the driver out of many players' bags.

The other courses are acceptable, if not heavyweights, but that's not so bad. The Palmer Course at PGA West and Bermuda Dunes are regulars and La Quinta and Tamarisk take turns, and that's an acceptable lineup.

Of course, Joe Durant shot a record 36 under last year with the Palmer Course as the host course and it's also where David Duval shot 59 in 1999.

Mike Milthorpe, the tournament director, says the Hope is what it is, at least for the present time.

"It's something the event has lived with for 30 years, the low scores," he said. "With the advancements in technology and the old courses, there's not much one can do."

Just what course the Hope could move to and eliminate Indian Wells is not known and probably couldn't happen until 2004 at the earliest. Tournament officials are paying attention to the times, though, Milthorpe said.

"I guess that's something the executive committee will decide--where we want to be in five years."

A good guess would be anywhere but Indian Wells.

Honk

Question: Why did some officials at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic say they were relieved David Berganio didn't win?

Answer: He was wearing a cap with a Buick logo.

(Nothing personal, just business, the Hope people say).

Good-Time Charlie

Is Charles Howell III the next big thing?

It was pretty funny when Sports Illustrated predicted last week that Howell, 22, is going to suffer a sophomore slump in his second year on the PGA Tour ... especially when he already has tied for fourth in his opener at the Sony Open and then tied for sixth (at 26 under par) at the Hope.

"I didn't see that, but I don't think so," said Howell, one of the most unusual players on the PGA Tour--unusual because he actually likes reporters. What's not to like about writers who can't find anything wrong with a guy? Howell absolutely splatters the golf ball. He hits it so hard and far and draws rave reviews from peers such as Fred Couples, Brandel Chamblee and Rocco Mediate.

"He called me Mr. Chamblee," said Mr. Chamblee.

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