SI Vault
Feb. 25-March 3
Cameron Morfit
March 02, 1998
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March 02, 1998

Feb. 25-march 3

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Nissan Open, Valencia Country Club, Santa Clarita, Calif.
Woods, Couples, Faldo, Lehman, Leonard and Mickelson duel outside L.A.


Australian Ladies Masters, Royal Pines Resort, Ashmore, Queensland
Aussie Karrie Webb has yet to win either this event or the Australian Ladies Open


Dubai Desert Classic, Emirates Golf Club. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
The threat of war, plus the $2.1 million Nissan purse, have depleted the field

PGA Tour
The Big V Gets a Shot at the Big Time
The Nissan has a new parking spot, but only for one year. Valencia Country Club hosts the 1998 Nissan Open this week because storied Riviera, the tournament's regular home, is being groomed for the U.S. Senior Open in July. The skinny on Valencia is that it's great for kids—Magic Mountain is across the street—but will drive grown-up golfers mad with some of the toughest par-3s Tour players will see all year. Built in 1965, the course lacks the historic heft of Riviera, where Ben Hogan won the 1948 U.S. Open and Tiger Woods made his Tour debut in '92. Yet Valencia has its virtues. There's more water here than at Riviera, and the greens are better. The Nissan's $2.1 million purse is also 50% more than it was a year ago. Woods committed on Friday to return to L.A., further stoking the anticipation of Ideal fans. With nearby hotels booked solid since last spring and local kids vying to clean trash off the course in exchange for the privilege of caddying in the pro-am, Valencia is juiced about its week in the spotlight.

Turning Australia Into a Webb Site
Last year's Australian Ladies Masters featured a heart attack, a shark attack and an anxiety attack. It was typical Down Under overkill of the sort that surrounds Queensland's 23-year-old Karrie Webb. At the Royal Pines Resort, Webb gazes down from a huge portrait in the snack bar. A similar likeness graces a golf shop in the Sydney airport. In Australian golf, only Greg Norman can steal Webb's headlines. During the second round of last year's tournament, she was playing with Betsy King and Marnie McGuire when a man in the gallery had a heart attack. A woman swimming in the river between the 7th and 8th fairways was nipped by a shark, but because the critter was only a small common shark, not Norman the Great White, Webb-heads in the gallery paid little attention. They had eyes only for their heroine. Some of those eyes would soon be blinking back tears, however. In the final round Webb ebbed, thus losing a Win more ways than one. She blew a five-shot lead over the last 11 holes, handing the title to Gail Graham and evoking memories of Norman's Masters disaster the previous year. If the antics of Webb & Co. at last year's Australian are a preview of this week's action, you might want to tune in. Seldom has prime-time programming been so unpredictable.

European Tour
Cashin' 'n' Crashin' In the Emirates
At Dubai (pronounced do-BUY), showing up is more than half the battle. In 1995 six players divvied up a reported $1.3 million in appearance fees, which was almost twice as much as the tournament's $675,000 in prize money. Norman's fee alone was equal to 44% of the purse, raising the ire of European tour executive director Ken Schofield, who believes sponsors should never pay more than 25% of the purse to any one player. Of course, showing up at Dubai isn't always a snap. In '96 Sam Torrance strained his ankle at the airport and withdrew. In '97 David Carter passed out on the eve of the tournament and had to undergo cranial surgery. And in '98, with a new Persian Gulf war a possibility, just making the trip took guts.

Off Course
The Man Who Makes the Best of the Worst Weather
John Scott is golf's point man in the war against El Ni�o. As director of agronomy for the PGA Tour, the 48-year-old Scott has spent much of his winter viewing storm damage. "This is one of the worst weather seasons ever, but we're not panicking," Scott says. "We're battling back." He and his four-person staff have visited rain-ravaged California courses between nips to Doral, the TPC at Heron Bay and Bay Hill to prep those sites for the Tour's upcoming Florida swing. "Rain has weakened turf and saturated soil in Florida," says Scott. "We may see muddy golf balls and bumpy greens." Still, there's hope: The Sunshine State's Bermuda grass will heal quickly when the sun returns.