<
>

Conagra drops sponsorship of LPGA Skins

9/17/2003

The rebirth of the LPGA Skins Game might be short-lived.

Organizers say Conagra Foods has pulled out as a title sponsor,
and while that doesn't affect the traditional Skins Game played
over Thanksgiving weekend in California or the seniors event in
Hawaii, it doesn't bode well for the women.

''We are meeting with several prospective sponsors to find an
umbrella for the three Skins Games,'' said Michael Stearns of IMG,
which runs the tournaments.

Karrie Webb won the LPGA Skins Game in January at Wailea Golf
Resort with a record 12 skins worth $270,000. It was the first
Skins Game for the women since 1998, when Laura Davies won in
Texas.

Davies returned as defending champion, along with Annika Sorenstam and Laura Diaz.

Sorenstam will become the first woman to play in the Skins Game
in November, going up against Mark O'Meara, Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson.

Webb might have to do without.

''We're disappointed Conagra is not coming back,'' LPGA
commissioner Ty Votaw said last week at the Solheim Cup.

Then again, it's not like the women were given a fair shake.

While the competition was Jan. 26 in Hawaii, the broadcast was
not shown until July.

The senior men played Jan. 25 on the same course. Twelve holes
were broadcast that Saturday, and the other six were shown Sunday.

''We weren't entirely happy with the way it ultimately played
itself out with the tape delay,'' Votaw said. ''Hopefully, it will
come back. If it doesn't happen, I'm sorry that Karrie won't be
able to defend.''

Although Webb might lose the chance to defend one title, another
opportunity awaits.

The LPGA Tour is announcing this week the return in 2005 of the
Women's World Cup to be staged in South Africa.

Webb and Rachel Teske of Australia won the Women's World Cup in
2000 when it was played in Malaysia, although that tournament
lasted only one year before funding ran out.

Player of the year update
Vijay Singh picked up his third
victory at the John Deere Classic, which throws him into the race
of PGA Tour player of the year.

Not that he cares.

Singh is only interested in what he can control, which is
winning the money title. He leads Davis Love III by nearly
$200,000, with Tiger Woods in third place about $475,000 behind.

There are two $6 million tournaments left, so it's still up for
grabs.

''My goal is to win the money list,'' Singh said. ''Player of
the year is not up to me. I can play the best golf, but somebody
has to choose who the player of the year is. I can control the
money list.

''I have another three events to go. If I can win one more time,
I think I've got it sealed.''

Singh finally takes a break this week after a rugged stretch --
seven straight tournaments, dating to the Buick Open, in which the
only time he finished out of the top 10 was the PGA Championship.

He clearly is giving himself plenty of chances.

Singh has played in 23 tournaments, eight more than Woods and
five more than Love.

The big Fijian is averaging $247,935 per event. Woods is
averaging $348,583 per tournament.

Payback
Annika Sorenstam has ignored criticism of her
decision to compete against the men at Colonial.

That doesn't mean she forgets.

Angela Stanford wrote an opinion piece for Sports Illustrated
before the Colonial, saying Sorenstam was being naive to suggest
that her appearance was only a personal challenge.

''If she plays well, people will think she's too good for the
rest of us,'' Stanford wrote. ''If she misses the cut, then people
will decide that the only reason she dominates our tour is because
the rest of us stink.''

Sorenstam was pleasantly surprised when she drew Stanford in a
Sunday singles match at the Solheim Cup. She quickly built a 2-up
lead and closed her out, 3 and 2.

''I don't forget these types of things,'' Sorenstam said. ''I
had a conversation with her about that this summer. Funny how these
pairings work out sometimes.''

Special ace
Kevin Erickson of Green Bay, Wis., had a round to
remember at the Special Olympics Golf tournament -- a record round
and his first ace.

Erickson, 20, used a pitching wedge for a hole-in-one on the
101-yard 6th hole on the South Course at PGA Golf Club in Port St.
Lucie, Fla. He wound up shooting 76 on the 4,942-yard course.

''I just hit and said we will see where this goes,'' he said.
''It bounced, spun sideways and went in.''

Erickson's mother, who caddied for him, said he started cancer
treatment three years ago, and golf was the only sport he was
allowed to play.

''His health is good now,'' Holly Dudley said. ''He has one more
checkup to go and then he will hit the two-year mark. If he did not
have golf, I do not think he would have recovered as well as he
did.''

The tournament is for 158 golfers with mental retardation from
26 Special Olympics programs across the country.

Divots
Pumpkin Ridge, scheduled to host the U.S. Senior Open
in 2006, instead will have the U.S. Women's Amateur. The USGA is
looking for a new location for the Senior Open, because another
Champions Tour major -- the Tradition -- moved to the same Portland
neighborhood this year. ... Vijay Singh's victory at the John Deere
Classic made him the fifth player with at least three victories
this year, the most on the PGA Tour since there were six three-time
winners in 1982. ... The season-ending Volvo Masters on the
European tour has changed its field to include the top 60 players
on the money list. The purse has been increased to 3.5 million
euros. ... Outback Steakhouse will be the title sponsor of the
Champions Tour event in Tampa, Fla., for the next three years. ...
Len Mattiace played 126 holes in one day on the TPC at Sawgrass
last week, raising about $50,000 for The First Tee.

Stat of the week
Five of the 28 matches at the Solheim Cup
reached the 18th hole, the fewest since 1990 when only one match
went the distance.

Final word
"We watch the credits on movies and pick names from there. My favorite one is 'Grip,' but I don't know if Amanda is going to go for that.''
-- Justin Leonard on what to name his first child. His wife is due Oct. 5.