Tiger Wows, Bows in Japan
If you've got Tiger Woods anchoring your foursome, you don't expect to finish 34 strokes out of the lead. Alas, Team Thailand, made up of Woods and three teenagers from his mother's homeland, did just that, finishing dead last in an 18-hole juniors match held at the Musashigaoka Golf Course in Hanno, Japan, on Sunday. Teams from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan (captained by touring pros Shigeki Maruyama, Mark O'Meara and Nick Price, respectively) posted much lower scores. Maruyama's Team Japan won with an eight-over finish but had the advantage of not having to play in front of Tiger's galleries. "I didn't sleep well last night," admitted Ekapak Nirapathpongporn of Thailand. "I wondered if I was lucky or unlucky to be playing with Tiger."
The juniors exhibition, which followed a pro-am and a skins game at the three-day Tiger Woods Invitational, capped Woods's first visit to Japan and helped raise about $250,000 for inner-city junior golf programs there. How Woods performed seemed secondary to his appearance in the country, which was just as well. In addition to his dismal showing with Team Thailand, he also finished last in the skins game with the three other pros the previous day, though his payoff for that event was a generous $110,000.
What was the extent of Tiger-mania in Japan? Considerable, according to The Japan Times, which opined, "The furor could not have been equaled by a simultaneous arrival of Michael Jackson, Madonna and the Pope." Little, according to more sober observers. The estimated 13,500 who attended the Invitational were enthusiastic but respectful, and the rest of the nation got only a glimpse of Woods, on a noontime TV show. "The culture here reminds me so much of Thailand," said Woods, meaning he found it clean, orderly and disciplined. "I love that."
On Sunday his three young teammates demonstrated the sort of behavior he finds so appealing. Accepting their fourth-place medals, each pressed hands together, fingertips to nose, and bowed.
Another Duval Rises, On the Senior Tour
The best player who has yet to win a tour event might still answer to the name Duval. While that title may no longer fit David Duval, who won his last three starts on the PGA Tour this season, it may have been inherited by his father, Bob. At last week's Senior Tour Championship, the elder Duval capped an impressive rookie year by tying for the lead after the second round before fading to a tie for seventh. That upped his 1997 earnings to $555,601 and left him 28th on the final money list.
A former club pro who honed his game on the Golden Bear mini-tour last year, the 51-year-old Duval won a playoff for the 15th and next-to-last conditional exemption at the 1996 Senior Q school. He got off to a slow start this year but had 11 top 20 finishes, including a pair of seconds, in his final 14 starts. He attributes the turnaround in his game to the less defensive style of play he adopted this summer. A long hitter and an aggressive player, Duval had been bunting three-woods off the tee to stay in the fairway. "At the Northville Long Island Classic in August, I told John Bland what I was doing," says Duval. "He said, 'Why? Just hit it as far as you can and go chase it.' " Duval took advantage of his length to climb into the top 10 in eagles, birdies and driving distance.
Duval was the last to make the 31-man field at Myrtle Beach. He failed to qualify for the last full-field event, the Ralphs Senior Classic, and ended up only $2,080 ahead of No. 32 Bob Dickson. "It was hard sitting on the sidelines not being able to defend what you have done all year," says Duval. "I don't have the Golf Channel at home, but I figured I would hold on to 31st. We had the car packed for South Carolina, but I wasn't sure, so I called the Tour office. I said, Am I officially 31st or not?' They said, 'You are.' I said, 'Thank you. I'm heading to Myrtle Beach.' "
College Aces Put Future Plans on Hold