IT SEEMS that golf finally has what it's been yearning for: a real rivalry. No, Tiger hasn't found a foil, but Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa (below) will push each other. One year ago Annika sat comfortably atop the World Ranking with Lorena third. But Ochoa won eight times last year, and she's now No. 1 with nearly double the ranking points of No. 2 Annika. Both have already won in 2008, and while there is a healthy respect between them, I am beginning to detect a little "enough already" attitude from Annika now that she has to answer so many questions about her rival. Good! Annika went through this with Karrie Webb in the late '90s, and it made her better. I don't believe you can be a world-beater without having some disdain for your opponents—even if it's only during the time it takes to play the round. The LPGA is going to need the added spice as it faces a few potential holes in the 2009 schedule. The Fields Open is rumored to be in trouble for next year, and as of last week Safeway, the sponsor of the event in Phoenix (a city the LPGA has visited since 1980), had pulled out. You also have to wonder about the two events sponsored by Ginn Resorts, which is facing a soft real-estate market, accelerating foreclosures and a pending lawsuit and recently reduced its financial commitment to NASCAR. A healthy rivalry might be what the LPGA needs to carry it through a patchwork '09.
TWO WEEKS ago in Tampa, word spread rapidly about the poor putting surfaces at Bay Hill, site of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The PGA Tour addressed the issue with a letter in the players' locker room explaining the agronomic mess that had developed. The nematode, a small worm that eats grass roots, had run wild through some of the greens at Bay Hill, leaving the staff with no choice but to do a heavy overseed fairly close to tournament time. The result was slow, bumpy greens with some bare spots and the loss of a few hole locations. Having feared the worst, most players said things weren't as bad as they had been led to believe. Ideal? Absolutely not. But most pros realize that Arnold Palmer (above) helped make the world we operate in pretty darned smooth, so tolerating a few slow, bumpy putts is the least we can do.
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