Friday, March 27

Wrapup: Masters spot for Haas
By David Lefort

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Davis Love III was the big winner at the Players Championship on Sunday, but Jay Haas can't be too disappointed with his consolation prize.

Jay Haas
Jay Haas came up short in Sunday's final round, but earned himself a spot in The Masters with his second-place finish.

At 49 years old, on the verge of joining the Champions Tour, he's headed back to The Masters for the first time since 2000.

Despite closing with a pedestrian 72 that included three bogeys and three birdies, Haas' second-place finish earned him enough money to move into the top 10 on the PGA Tour money list and qualify for The Masters in two weeks.

"As I look back on the week I'll feel that that's definitely a bonus ... to be going (to Augusta) one more time," Haas said.

It's the second runner-up finish of the year for Haas, who hasn't won since 1993 but is enjoying his best season since the early '90s. He was one bad shot away from victory at the Bob Hope, and won three matches at the Accenture Match Play.

Haas, the oldest player in the field, had some big moments at Sawgrass this week. Never trailing by more than three shots before the final round, his most important stroke probably came on the final hole of the tournament, when Love's victory was already assured. Needing a par to draw him even with Padraig Harrington for second place, Haas drained the 18-foot attempt.

His finish was his best ever at the Players, and that's saying something considering he's entered the tournament 26 of the 30 years it's been played.

Haas is eligible for the senior circuit in December, when he turns 50. But is his start to this season enough to make him reconsider his plans for 2004?

"I said the other day I would think I'd play the majority of my golf on the Champions Tour next year," Haas said. "But again, it's still early in the year. It kind of depends how I finish. I'm having the time of my life right now, I don't want to think too far ahead."

Five observations
1. Love took most of the drama away from Sawgrass' famed finishing holes Sunday with his runaway, and he probably saved himself a few extra gray hairs as well.

Down the stretch ...
A look at how the famous final three holes played this week as compared to the final round. Remarkably, the par-5 16th played to a lower stroke average than the par-4 18th on Sunday.
Hole Stroke avg. (Sun.) Rank (Sun.)
Par-5 16th 4.61 (4.39) 18 (18)
Par-3 17th 3.04 (3.27*) 10 (5)
Par-4 18th 4.30 (4.70) 1 (1)

While the par-5 16th played easier than it had all week in Sunday's blustery conditions, the 17th and 18th each proved every bit as difficult as advertised.

The winds kept players guessing at the island-green 17th, and many guessed wrong. Ten of them -- including Tiger Woods, Bob Tway and Duffy Waldorf all in a row late in the day -- found the drink in the final round, compared to just three the day before. The hole played almost three-tenths of a stroke harder on Sunday (3.268) than Saturday (2.903).

The par-4 18th -- ranked the hardest hole on the course and one of the hardest holes the pros will play all year -- proved even more difficult Sunday, playing more than a half-stroke harder than the day before. In fact, just three players made birdie there, and almost as many bogeys (26) were made as pars (29).

"Seventeen and 18 are playing really tough today," said Robert Allenby, who made one of the three birdies on 18 Sunday after landing his 255-yard approach shot within 8 feet. "That's the toughest you can probably get them."

Overall, weather sent scores almost two-and-a-half strokes higher Sunday than Saturday, when conditions were sunny and mild. The 73.9 stroke average was the highest of the tournament by more than a half stroke.

2. Annika Sorenstam entered the final round of the Nabisco Championship on Sunday three strokes out of the lead, but she had to like her chances.

Around the tours

This week:
The Players Championship
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
TPC at Sawgrass, Stadium Course (7,093 yards, par 72)
Top finishers:
1 Davis Love III (-17)
T2 Jay Haas
T2 Padraig Harrington
T4 Robert Allenby
T4 Jim Furyk

This week:
Kraft Nabisco Championship (major)
Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Mission Hills Country Club, Dinah Shore Tournament Course (6,520 yards, par 72)
Top finishers:
1 Patricia Meunier-Lebouc (-7)
2 Annika Sorenstam
3 Lorena Ochoa
4 Laura Davies
T5 Beth Daniel
T5 Catriona Matthew
T5 Maria Hjorth
T5 Laura Diaz

This week: No event
Next event:
Emerald Coast Classic
(April 18-20)

This week:
No event
Next event:
Algarve Open de Portugal
(April 17-20)

This week:
Louisiana Open
Broussard, La.
Le Triomphe Country Club (7,004 yards, par 72)
Top finishers:
1 Brett Wetterich (-24)
2 Ken Duke
T3 Russ Cochran
T3 Steve Allan
5 Tom Carter

The two-time defending champion's two closest competitors, leader Patricia Meunier-Lebouc and 13-year-old Michelle Wie, had just one victory between them and had never been in contention in a major before. And Sorenstam certainly had the edge at the Dinah Shore track, having won there the past two years.

But while the remarkable Wie couldn't keep the magic going (she followed Saturday's 66 with a 76 Sunday), Meunier-Lebouc proved up to the challenge. Despite driving the ball out of bounds early and surrendering her lead to Sorenstam on the 12th, Meunier-Lebouc hung on to win, thus preventing the LPGA's first-ever threepeat in a major championship.

It was the second straight week Sorenstam had a chance to win, and both times she lost with a final-round 71.

Wie, meanwhile, ended up in a tie for ninth, one spot better than the 10th-place showing of 13-year-old Aree Song three years ago.

3. As expected in the tough conditions at Sawgrass, most of the leaders -- except Love, of course -- came back to Tiger Woods on Sunday, only for the first time this year Woods couldn't rise to meet them.

Woods made two eagles, but offset them with two double bogeys -- matching his season total to date -- in a disappointing final-round 72 that was marred by more swing problems.

He hit just eight of 18 greens and nine of 14 fairways in his round, and found the water hazard on three holes, including the par-3 17th. For the week, Woods hit less than 60 percent of the greens in regulation. It all added up to his worst finish since last year's British Open, ending a streak of 10 straight finishes in the top 10.

Woods started his round on a high note, making a 19-foot putt for eagle on the par-5 second to get within three strokes of the lead. But that was as close as he'd get, as he went on to make a double-bogey on the fourth after landing his approach shot from 119 yards in the water.

He started to make a run on the back nine with a birdie on 15 and an eagle on the 16th, but his momentum was smothered by a double-bogey on the 17th.

The next step for Woods, who says he lost weight after last week's bout with food poisoning at Bay Hill, is to rest up and get ready for The Masters.

"I feel good," Woods said. "I need to get home and hit the weights and put my weight back on somehow. Hopefully I'll feel a lot better than I do now."

4. Aussie Robert Allenby posted a 7-under 65 -- tied for the second-lowest final round in tournament history -- early Sunday to get to 10-under for the championship, then prayed it would hold up.

"I'll have lunch and just sit back and see what happens, just pray for a bit more wind" Allenby said after his round, while the leaders were still on the front nine. "I'm not religious but I might be now."

Allenby's prayers went unanswered, as Love all-but erased Allenby's chances with his birdie binge to begin the back nine.

Still, Allenby's round is worthy of note. He made the biggest move of the day, jumping from 35th place all the way to fourth with his bogey-free round.

5. Based on John Daly's go-for-broke style and Sawgrass' punishing rough and premium on accuracy, you wouldn't think he'd be a factor here this week. History validates that assumption, as Daly's best finish here in his previous 11 tries was a tie for 16th in 1998.

In fact, some of Daly's most notable missteps have come at Sawgrass. It was here in 1997 that he withdrew after trashing a hotel room after a drinking binge. And last year, he broke his driver on the 14th hole and threw it into a lake.

However, Daly surprised even himself by not only making the cut, but also entering the final round with an outside chance at a top-10 finish. A conservative approach worked wonders for his game, and his 4-under total through three rounds was his best start here since 1996.

But, as it often does with Daly, it all came to a crashing halt. He said all week that the course didn't fit his game, and Sawgrass finally got the better of him Sunday.

After starting his front nine 1-over in Sunday's final round, he made two double-bogeys and three bogeys on the back, finishing with an 8-over 80 and ending the championship at 4-over. He dropped from 24th to 56th place.

His disastrous back nine included a double (after plunking his tee shot) on the island-green 17th, a hole he had birdied the first three rounds.

What it means for ...
David Duval: His struggles continued this week at Sawgrass, where he started his first round 1-under over the first nine holes, but made five bogeys on the back to start with a 4-over 76. He managed an even-par 72 on Friday, but missed the cut by four strokes. It was his fifth missed cut in six stroke-play events in 2003. The Players had offered Duval a great opportunity to turn things around; he won the event in 1999, has three other top-20 finishes here and owns a home on the course.

Chad Campbell: He continued his surprising success with a top-10 finish at the Players Championship. It was his fourth top-10 of the year and keeps him in the top 10 on the money list, thus assuring him a spot at The Masters.

Padraig Harrington: Established himself as the best European heading into The Masters -- where he finished tied for fifth last year -- with his runner-up finish.

Up next ...
PGA Tour: BellSouth Classic
Most of the world's best are taking the week off to rest up for The Masters, but a few of the world's top 10 are playing at Sugarloaf. Phil Mickelson is the biggest name that's committed; he's looking for a tune-up after taking the last month off to be with his wife for the birth of their third child. Vijay Singh is also in the field, as are Padraig Harrington, Mike Weir and defending champion Retief Goosen.

LPGA Tour: Office Depot Championship
Se Ri Pak will defend her title this week in Tarzana, Calif. Last year, she held off a charge from Annika Sorenstam to win.

David Lefort is's golf editor, and can be reached at The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    ESPN    Web

Love runs away with Players Championship title

Players Championship final-round scores

Maisel: Simply the best

Players Championship final-round notes

2003 Kraft Nabisco Championship