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This week in golf

Teeing Off

Five things to look for on the progressional professional golf scene:"

August 02, 2007|Thomas Bonk, | Times Staff Writer

1 It's only the first week of August, but the PGA Tour season is already making a sharp left turn into the home stretch of 2007 and beginning a gallop toward the last major of the year, with big names, big money and one big gamble all in the mix.

First, it's the $8-million World Golf Championships' Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, where the top three ranked players -- Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk (if his back allows him to play) -- headline the 84-player field. The Bridgestone is normally the week after the PGA Championship, this year at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., but all that changed once the first FedEx Cup playoff race came into the picture.

And that $63-million, four-tournament would-be extravaganza makes its debut, complete with $35 million in bonuses, starting in three weeks at the Barclays, with 144 players in the field. The fields are then cut to 120, 70 and finally 30 at the Tour Championship, where the top point-getter in the FedEx race collects $10 million.

It could be a busy time for a lot of players. Assuming they also play at the Wyndham Championship after Southern Hills, the last chance to make it into the playoffs, and also take part in the Presidents Cup after the Tour Championship, the top players could be looking at playing seven consecutive weeks.

Said Woods: "As far as my intent, my intent is to play all the playoffs."

Key word: Intent.

2 Woods took it easy last week at home in Florida and worked with swing coach Hank Haney to get ready for the marathon stretch run coming up. He also showed up Tuesday at Southern Hills and spent four hours with Haney going over the course and how it may play for the PGA.

He may already have Firestone figured out. Woods has won the Bridgestone, formerly the NEC Invitational, five times, he is the two-time defending champion and a combined 83 under par in 32 rounds.

3 It took her nearly six years, but Natalie Gulbis finally won a tournament, thus expanding her resume from reality TV show star (the third season of "The Natalie Gulbis Show" starts in September on the Golf Channel), calendar girl (note: 2007 edition available on her website reduced $6 to $10.95, so act now), pinup model (one of FHM's 100 Sexiest Women), video game actor ("Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2007") to include professional golf tournament champion.

Gulbis, 24, broke through by winning a playoff at the Evian Masters in France, beating Jang Jeong, someone you may not be familiar with, but the 2005 Women's British Open champion nonetheless.

Even though her first victory was a long time coming, Gulbis has established a lucrative career trying to get there, and she's done all right financially too. Her $450,000 winner's check vaulted Gulbis to $3.1 million in career earnings.

4 There's another teen pro from Hawaii making news and it's not Michelle Wie, but 16-year-old Tadd Fujikawa, who makes his professional debut this week in the Reno-Tahoe Open. The $3.5-million PGA Tour event is the alternative to the elite field at the Bridgestone. Last year at Winged Foot, Fujikawa became the youngest to play in a U.S. Open. He tied for 20th at the Sony Open in January and turned pro July 12.

5 Jack Nicklaus played three U.S. Opens and three PGA Championships at Southern Hills, where the 89th PGA Championship begins next week, but it was never very kind to him. Nicklaus' best result was a tie for sixth in the 1982 PGA, won by Raymond Floyd. The only other top 10 Nicklaus had in a major at Southern Hills was 30 years ago, when he tied for 10th in the 1977 U.S. Open, won by Hubert Green.

Nicklaus, 67, quit playing the PGA Championship in 2000 and his last major was the 2005 Masters, but he respects Southern Hills (7,121 yards, par 70) as a tough layout -- clearly it was tough for him.

"I've always had a hard time at Southern Hills. . . long, tough, narrow, windy, hard, hard ground," he said. "I always had trouble with a sweeping wind coming from the southwest, which is your prevailing [wind] across Southern Hills. It swept the ball down the hill. I always had a hard time, being a left-to-right player.

"But it's proven to be a very successful venue."

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*--* STAT OF THE WEEK *--*

* Jim Furyk won the Canadian Open on the basis of how he played one hole -- the 209-yard, par-three No. 4 at Angus Glen Golf Club. Furyk played the hole in birdie, birdie, birdie, ace, for a total of five under par. Vijay Singh, who lost to Furyk by one shot, played the same hole in bogey, bogey, par, bogey, for a total of three over. Also, Furyk is the first player to make an ace in the final round on his way to a victory since Joey Sindelar at the 1985 B.C. Open.

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