Tag:tampa friday
Posted on: March 18, 2011 6:50 pm

Couch's next bangle, bauble could be Tampa trophy

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Maybe it's medical, maybe it's mental.

Either way, as banged-up as Chris Couch has been, he's taking every bit of assistance he can get.

Couch, a 37-year-old veteran of the tour wars who missed parts of two years after major shoulder surgery, wears those ionic-style bracelets on both wrists. Not just one, either. Three on each side. Clearly, there must be strength in numbers.

He's not even sure what one of them does, exactly.

"I think it helps blood flow," he said. "So it helps all of your aches and pains. I have the copper magnets on the bottoms here, and this [one] is kind of like a keep-your-mind-focused deal."

He might look like a New Orleans Marti Gras float with all the jewelry, but it seems to work for him. After two top-10 finishes earlier thiws year, the beefy Floridian shot 29 on the back nine Friday and moved into a tie for first with Garrett Willis at 9 under at the Transitions Championship.

"I have tendonitis in my left elbow, in the upper and lower elbow, and I don't know, I couldn't tell you if they work or not, but I do know that when I take them off, that tendonitis flairs up and when I have them on, there's no pain," he said. "I just wear them for precaution.  And I asked the guys, I said, 'Is two going to hurt me?' 

"They said no, can't hurt. So I figured might as well have as many on there as I can to stop these aches and pains."

The co-leaders have someting in common beynd their matching score. They are the same age, 37, and have both bounced around between the PGA and Nationwide tours. Not to mention the predecessors of the latter.

"Nationwide, Buy.com, Nike," Couch laughed, dating himself by reeling off the three names of the developmental circuit over the past decade. "Getting old, buddy."

Category: Golf
Posted on: March 18, 2011 6:29 pm

Forecasting: Arnold Palmer Invitational

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Not surprisingly after all these years, the namesake of the Arnold Palmer Invitational has again landed a pretty stout field for next week's event in Orlando.

While the very top of the field isn't as strong as it usually is, since top-ranked Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood are not PGA Tour members, Palmer secured commitments from American stars Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, both past Bay Hill champions. World No. 4 Graeme McDowell, an Orlando resident and the U.S. Open champion, is the top-ranked player in the field.

In all, Palmer received commitments from nine of the top 18 players in the world ranking.

The event also marks the last week for players to earn s spot in the Masters by cracking the top 50 in the world. But there probably won't be much tension in that regard this year.

Ever player occupying the ranking spots between Nos. 47-54 has already qualified. The player with the best chance of throwing a last-minute Hail Mary is rising Italian standout Matteo Manassero, 17, who stands 55th in the world and was given a sponsor exemption by Palmer.

Manassero is entered this week at the Transitions Championship and stands T11 as the final moments of the third round are being contested.  

Woods has won six times at Bay Hill, where his driving game figures to be tested more severely than at Doral last week.
Posted on: March 18, 2011 3:48 pm
Edited on: March 18, 2011 3:56 pm

Wilson searching for third title of 2010

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Mark Wilson isn't just playing alongside the big boys nowadays.

He's playing like one of them, too.

The PGA Tour's only two-time winner this season jumped into the mix for yet another title this week with a second-round 66 at the Transitions Championship, this time while playing alongside two of the biggest names in the sport over the past decade.

With defending event champion Jim Furyk and Hall of Famer Vijay Singh in his group, Wilson moved to 6 under overall and into a tie for seventh with his second-round score on an Innisbrook Resort course that should play to his strengths -- consistency. Playing with this pair was an illuminating experience.

"Oh, there's no question about it," said Wilson, who tops the earnings and FedEx Cup lists. "It's all about attitude and their attitude was great. You know we are just all up there trying to take care of our own business and that's what makes it fun. There's no drama, just winning and just get the ball in the hole."

Furyk and Singh, with 50 PGA Tour wins and four majors between them, know how to do that quickly enough. Wilson, who has three wins, might still be the man to beat in their particular trio, however.

"I have not really played that well since [winning] Phoenix," he said. "It was a good start to the year but the last few weeks have not been as planned, so just got the putter rolling. Made all of the putts I should make."
Category: Golf
Posted on: March 18, 2011 3:16 pm
Edited on: March 18, 2011 3:54 pm

Masters bid a Manny-splendored thing

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- It has almost passed without notice over the past three days.

Sure, it's terrific that rising Italian star Matteo Manassero, the youngest player ever to win a European Tour event, is in the field at the Transitions Championship. He's been interviewed a gazillion times already by American media who are quick to jump on fresh stories and flavors.

Left largely unsaid is why he's here in the first place.

Manassero, who answers to Manny, is playing in Tampa and at Bay Hill next week on sponsor exemptions in the hope that he can move up five slim spots in the world ranking by Sunday night at next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational.

That would jump him from 55th to 50 in the world and secure a last-ditch spot in the Masters, where he made his debut last year as a 16-year-old amateur. Manassero figures that a top-10 finish this week might do the trick since the field is pretty stout in ranking strength, partly due to the presence of world Nos. 1 and 7, Martin Kaymer and Paul Casey.

An Augusta National official confirmed Friday that Manassero is courting tournament history: No player has ever made two Masters appearances at 17 or younger. Not even Tiger Woods.

With play continuing in Friday's second round, Manassero had jumped to T8 at 6 under over two rounds, so if his math projections are sound, he's looking pretty good. Of course, he would then have to remain in the top 50 through next week, when others will be attempting 11th-hour rallies, too.

"It is pretty much the key as to why I am here," Manassero said after his second straight 68 on Friday. "It's a great event and it would be fantastic to get back."
Category: Golf
Posted on: March 18, 2011 3:07 pm
Edited on: March 18, 2011 3:20 pm

Snedeker transitions from pops to tops

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- His caddie waited four hours to impart the breaking news.

Brandt Snedeker was going to be a father -- three weeks early.

The PGA Tour veteran had just finished a first-round 72 at the blustery Honda Classic, a score most of the field would have killed to have posted, when his bagman informed him that his wife had sent a text message on the second hole.

I'm going into labor.

Snedeker hustled home and made it to the hospital with 90 minutes to spare before the couple's first child, Lily, was born. Maybe that sense of relief contributed to one of his best rounds in months on Friday, a 7-under 64 at the Transitions Championship that leaped him into the day's early top 10.

"Got home just in time, barely made it and that was a great experience," he said of the rush to the hospital in Nashville. "Life's never the same. It's changed and it's awesome and it gives you a little different perspective out here when you're enjoying good weather inside the ropes, having fun, being able to sleep through the night and not having to change diapers every five minutes, it's good."

When he gets hot, Snedeker tends to collect birdies like he talks -- in blistering streaks where pen and pencil can’t possibly keep up. He jarred a 107-yard wedge for an early eagle, holed a sand shot later in the round and posted his best round since a 63 in Greensboro last August.

The Friday rally was enough to put him in the top 10 as the afternoon wave was touring the course.

The baby's actual due date was Wednesday of this week. Snedeker hadn’t planned on playing in Tampa as a result, but he added it once things were safely sorted out at home. He has always liked the classic style of the Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course.

"She was due yesterday, so this is kind of a bonus," he said. "I love this place, I love being here. It's just kind of a different feel."

Category: Golf
Posted on: March 18, 2011 2:33 pm

Finally, Garcia's results no longer, well, bite

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- He's baaaack.

Either that, or Sergio Garcia has an interesting way of flashing the No. 1 sign.

Making his first start in the States in seven months following a lengthy layoff last fall to recharge his batteries, the once-swashbucking Spaniard is gradually getting his verve back. That much was evident after he finished the second round of the Transitions Championship on Friday at 8 under, one shot off the early halfway lead.

Garcia was explaining how, on the 14th tee, he'd been stung by a bee on his right hand -- on a certain finger, to be specific. Just to double-check the details, I asked which particular digit. With a grin, he flashed the universal "bird" symbol.

"This one," he said, laughing.

At last, irrefutable proof that Garcia is in better spirits. 

The gesture drew huge laughs, which was like music to the ears of the game. Finally, he's returning to his feisty, charismatic, half-obnoxious persona that ingratiated and infuriated fans for over a decade. Watching him mostly mope around for the past few months has been like watching a wet cat emerging from the water.

"It's great, he played fantastic golf," said 17-year-old playing partner Matteo Manassero. "It's getting back, absolutely. We're all cheering for him to get it back."

It took all of about 30 seconds on Friday morning for Garcia to prove he was was getting his energy levels up to his usual squirrelly standards. He walked onto his first tee for the day and began shaking hands with everybody, introducing himself.

"You're full of energy," playing partner Zach Johnson said. 

That has certainly not been the case of late. Garcia, now a wily veteran of 31, was ranked No. 2 in the world just 26 months ago, then began a free-fall through the rankings and currently sits at No. 85. Garcia made it clear that he's still assembling the parts of his game, if not his mental state.

Still, the 66 represented his best effort since posting the same score in the first round of his first event in 2010, at Abu Dhabi, a span of 25 tournaments. This week, he hasn't made a bogey over 36 holes on one of the PGA Tour's toughest venues.

"I'm not worring about winning," he said. "I want to keep building confidence in my head. I think I am on the right track."

As he has insisted all week, Garcia said his interest level is back to where it was before he took a well-chronicled two-month break last fall.

"The love of the game is the same as it was," he said. "We all go through times when you need something else to get your head away from the game."

He needs to pick up the pace or he'll be taking breaks at unfortunate times in 2011 -- at the moment, he is exempt only into the first major this year, the Masters. But when he's cracking wise, like he did when asked about his new claw-style putting grip, it's a good sign.

"How would I describe it?" he said, smirking. "The left hand is on the top and the right hand is on the bottom."

At this rate, Sergio might be back on top soon enough, too. Maybe even contending for the No. 1 spot, with whatever finger.

Category: Golf
Posted on: March 18, 2011 1:20 pm

This time, no Friday meltdown for Willis

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Garrett Willis has forever been known for one amazing distinction in his PGA Tour career.

That's if forever is measured in 10-year increments.

He won his very first start as a tour member in 2001, and has done precious little since as far as liughting up scoreboards or being noticed on the weekend. In fact, since his lone won, he has amassed a total of four career top-10s.

So it's more than a little surprising that Willis has stormed into the lead at 9 under in the second round of the Transitions Championship. If it holds up, it will represent the second time he's ever held at least a share of the 36-hole lead.

After all that experience, has anything changed since that fateful first start?

"I'm probably not a better player," Willis said, laughing. "I might be a little smarter. But not much."

He's definitely improved at self-deprecation, for whatever that's worth. Willis was the first-round leader in Tampa last year, then blew sky high with a 77 in the second round. This time, after an opening 66 that left him in a tie for second, he beat his Friday score from last year by 10 strokes.

Even then, after he made a bogey on the first hole, he was having flashbacks of last year's Day 2 debacle.

"I thought, 'Here I go again,'" he said.

This time he kept it together, playing the rest of the way in 5 under, including an eagle on No. 5.

Tampa native John Huston played a practice round with Willis before the Innisbrook resort event in each of the past t wo years and believes that Willis is a far better player than he has shown over his mercurial career. Figuring out the reasons why Willis has struggled to play at a high level is another matter altogether.

"He could probably use a dose of patience," Huston said.
Category: Golf
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