<
>

Couples a leading candidate for '05 Pres. Cup

12/30/2003

When the Presidents Cup made its debut in 1994, captains Hale Irwin and David Graham were in their late 40s.

Since then, the PGA Tour has gone with more ceremonial figures -- Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus (twice), Ken Venturi, Peter Thomson (three times) and Gary Player.

Officials are said to be looking at younger captains (Fred Couples is a leading candidate for '05), which could present a problem for players who also want the Ryder Cup captaincy.

Do they take the Presidents Cup job at the risk of losing a
chance to be captain of the more popular Ryder Cup?

The PGA Tour (Presidents Cup) and PGA of America (Ryder Cup) are
competitive, and the PGA of America might not be inclined to settle
for used goods.

''Guys are not going to mess up the Ryder Cup captaincy,'' Davis Love III said. ''They're going to be very, very careful. If we want Fred to be Presidents Cup captain, he's going to go, 'Hang on a minute.' He'll call the PGA of America ... and say, 'What do you think my odds are?'''

Couples said the PGA Tour has not contacted him about the '05 Presidents Cup, but that he would be interested.

''Can you imagine me captaining Davis Love and Tiger Woods? I
think it would be fun,'' Couples said. ''I would love to run these
guys into the ground during practice rounds.''

But asked which cup he would rather be captain, Couples didn't
hesitate.

''Oh, the Ryder Cup,'' he said.

Love and Couples said they would like to see past Ryder Cup
captains be in charge at the Presidents Cup, such as Lanny Wadkins,
Tom Kite or Curtis Strange.

Nick Price had another suggestion for 2005. Since the Presidents
Cup in South Africa ended in a tie, why not bring back Nicklaus and
Player to settle the score in Virginia?

''That would be a nice gesture, but it's the first I've heard of
it,'' Nicklaus said. ''I told the guys this is probably my swan
song, but I also told Tim (Finchem), 'If you ever need me to do it
again, I'm always available.' But I also don't want to shut anyone
out. There's a lot of other guys who deserve to be captain.''

The PGA Tour probably will have to find one who has no chance of
being captain at the Ryder Cup.

Tough test
Jim Furyk finished at 8-under 272 for a
three-stroke victory at Olympia Fields, making this the first time
in 16 years that the lowest score in a major came at the U.S. Open.

Mike Weir won The Masters in a playoff after he and Len Mattiace
shot 7-under 281; Ben Curtis finished at 1-under 283 in the British
Open; and Shaun Micheel was 4-under 276 at the PGA Championship.

Is the U.S. Open still the toughest test in golf?

Weir is partial, but he leans toward Augusta National because of
the history.

''They're all different in their own way,'' Weir said. ''The
British Open was difficult because you could hit a good shot and
not be rewarded for it. But I don't think there's any pressure like
the back nine of Augusta on Sunday, as far as feeling history and
what can happen.

''I don't think anything is more difficult.''

Scott Simpson's winning score in the 1987 U.S. Open was 277. The
other winning scores in majors that year were 285 at The Masters
(Larry Mize in a playoff), 279 in the British Open at Muirfield
(Nick Faldo) and 287 in the PGA Championship at PGA National (Larry
Nelson in a playoff).

Father and son
Perhaps it comes from years of watching and
teaching, but Earl Woods had no doubt his son was going to make a
15-foot par putt in the Presidents Cup playoff as soon as Tiger
Woods stroked the ball.

On every crucial putt -- the 8-footer for par on the 17th at
Medinah in the '99 PGA Championship and the 6-footer to force a
playoff at the '00 PGA Championship -- Earl Woods knows the routine.

''He will not remember having stroked the ball,'' he said.
''When he's in his zone, in his putting procedure, you can time it
with a stop watch. When he gets over the ball, watch him set the
putter, check his alignment, adjust his feet, take one look, take
another look, stroke.''

Two weeks later, Woods was asked what goes through his mind on
pressure shots.

''Sometimes, I don't think of anything,'' he said. ''I just go
through my routine, know what I have to do and I just do it. The
task is trying to get yourself to maintain the same routine so that
it never varies. Put a stopwatch on the same time for every putt
and every swing.

''A lot of times, I've hit shots and putts that I don't remember
hitting because I'm on automatic pilot.''

Rude welcome
Annika Sorenstam didn't start playing golf until she was 12, although she was around the game from the time she was born.

Still, she had reason not to feel welcome.

As young girls, Sorenstam and her sister, Charlotta, used to
ride on pull carts while their parents played.

''The club where my parents were members didn't want juniors
running around,'' she recalled. ''When they made the turn, we would
get money to buy ice cream and they told us to join them on the
13th hole, which came back to the clubhouse. And we would always go
putt.

''We had this director of golf, this old general. He would sit
by the window and come running out and say, 'I told you not to
putt!' He would go back in, and we would sneak back out and putt.''

Sorenstam occasionally goes to the club whenever she's in
Stockholm.

''When I go back and see him, I say, 'Can I putt now?'''
Sorenstam said. ''He says, 'Yeah, go ahead.'''

Divots
The most famous pose of Jack Nicklaus is when he
raises the putter as a crucial putt falls. Imagine his surprise
when a 12-footer for eagle, which would have forced a playoff at
the Father-Son Challenge, lipped out. ''I don't think I've ever
raised my arm when it didn't go in the hole,'' Nicklaus said. ...
While the LPGA Tour season doesn't begin until March 11, select
players will be meeting with commissioner Ty Votaw for two days of
brainstorming in January.

Stat of the week
Mill Creek Golf Club, the course in Ostrander, Ohio, where Ben Curtis grew up, has ordered 464 copies of ''The Open Championship 2003,'' the official commemorative
annual of the British Open. The population in Ostrander is 430.

Final word
"Peace and quiet.''
-- Annika Sorenstam, on the
best thing she got for Christmas.