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This week in golf

Teeing Off

May 08, 2008|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

Five things to look for on the professional golf scene:

1. The PGA Tour looks like it's getting younger all the time. It sure appears that way, with eight winners so far this year in their 20s, including 27-year-old Adam Scott and 22-year-old Anthony Kim the last two weeks.

And if that's a real trend, then maybe it'll also work for an unheralded twentysomething.

He's one of 14 in the Players for the first time, but 26-year-old John Merrick from Long Beach and UCLA says he recognizes a tough setup when he sees one, and Sawgrass is no pushover.

"It sure feels like a major tournament," said Merrick, a two-time survivor of qualifying school who seems to be starting to get his act together on the PGA Tour.

Merrick hasn't received the same attention as Scott, or Kim or even 24-year-old Sean O'Hair, but he's working on it. Merrick earned his spot at the Players with his 53rd-place position in the FedEx Cup points list, not with the $740,053 he has already banked so far this year. He has had two top 10s -- a tie for third at the Mayakoba Classic and a tie for seventh at New Orleans -- and five top 25s.

This week at Sawgrass, Merrick has received help from swing coach Jamie Mulligan, the highly regarded pro at Virginia Country Club in Long Beach. A key part of their sessions is not about mechanics.

"I've always been not real results-oriented, but more important now is to keep working on the right things and improving," Merrick said. "It's easy to get beat up out here and get down on yourself."

He was a PGA Tour rookie last year, but finished 135th on the money list and lost his card, so went back to qualifying school and tied for 23rd to earn playing privileges again.

He ranks 13th in driving and 18th in scoring this year, but his putting hasn't been sharp.

Merrick said he's got good feelings about what's coming up:

"Sure, the goal is to win a golf tournament, but I've got to put myself in position first."

2. Boo Weekley said he didn't watch the Players on television when he was growing up.

"I didn't watch no golf," he said. "I didn't even know who done won. I was trying to figure out who won it last year, and then I happened to see Phil on one of the tickets. I said, 'Well, I reckon Phil won it last year, there you go.' "

3. Tiger update: Woods is missing his second scheduled tournament (Wachovia and Players), and there's still no word if, after arthroscopic knee surgery, he will be ready by the Memorial in three weeks.

Jim Furyk said he's not the only one who wishes Woods were playing in the Players.

"I don't think we look at this event and say, 'He's not here, now I have a better chance of winning.' You kind of worry about yourself.

"So his absence, his not being here, doesn't really affect the rest of us or how we prepare, but it affects on a broader scale -- television, how our viewers, or fans look at the golf tournament because they want to see Tiger in the field."

4. There has been a lot of chatter at Sawgrass about the non-winning streak by European players there. The only European to have won the Players was Sandy Lyle, 21 years ago.

Padraig Harrington, the British Open champion and one of 21 Europeans in the field, said he doesn't think about that statistic.

"I don't hold the burden that no European has won since Sandy Lyle," Harrington said. "I can't figure it out. If there is a reason why Europeans haven't won, I don't know.

"We must be due. I have a 1-in-21 chance if it's a numbers game, but unfortunately, the other 135 players this week are not going to consider that there's 21 Europeans and they deserve a chance to win."

5. Suzann Pettersen is the defending champion at the LPGA Tour event this week at Kingsmill, Va., and she's happy with her new caddie, Greg Johnston.

Asked how she finds new caddies, she said, "I usually go on EBay and see who is available for the cheapest price."



*--* PGA TOUR The Players Championship *--*

When: Today-Sunday.

Where: Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

TV: Golf Channel (Today-Friday, 10 a.m.-4p.m.) and Ch. 4 (Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.).

*--* LPGA TOUR Michelob Ultra Open *--*

When: Today-Sunday.

Where: Williamsburg, Va.

TV: ESPN2 (Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.).


All times Pacific


Associated Press



Jim Furyk, on how the absence of Tiger Woods at the Players will affect the tournament:

'There will be less people and media around, tougher for the producer to figure out who he's going to follow Thursday and Friday.'



Third-round leaders or co-leaders have gone on to win 12 times in 20 PGA Tour events so far this year -- the last five in a row: Johnson Wagner in Houston, Trevor Immelman, above, at the Masters, Boo Weekley at the Verizon Heritage, Adam Scott at the Byron Nelson and Anthony Kim at the Wachovia.

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