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As Tiger turns 38, key year looms in Nicklaus chase

Kapalua (United States) (AFP) – A week that began Monday with the 38th birthday of world number one Tiger Woods will see the US PGA Tour’s first 2014 event tee off without him Friday in Hawaii.

But make no mistake, the 14-time major champion and his quest to rewrite the sport’s record book will be a major theme in golf in 2014 long after the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua is over.

Since he was a child, Woods has dreamed of breaking the all-time record of 18 career major titles won by Jack Nicklaus. But Woods has not won a major since the 2008 US Open.

Woods overcame injuries and the emotional aftermath of his infamous sex scandal to win five titles last year, giving him 79 career US PGA Tour triumphs, three shy of Sam Snead’s all-time record.

“I’m really looking forward to next year,” Woods said. “I played well at the end of this year, so it’s nice to have some momentum heading into 2014. I think my body of work overall for the whole year was pretty good.”

Woods has reason for optimism in the majors in 2014 beyond having completed swing changes that put less stress on his surgically repaired knees.

Three of the courses being used for major events in 2014 — Augusta National for the Masters, Valhalla for the PGA Championship and Royal Liverpool for the British Open — are courses where Woods has won major titles previously in his career.

Woods won the Masters in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005 and captured the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla and the 2006 British Open at Royal Liverpool.

And the other major, the US Open, is being played at Pinehurst, where Woods finished second in 2005 and shared third in 1999.

“I’m really excited about the major championships next year,” Woods said. “But I still need to practice, work, grind and prepare, and have my game come together those four times a year, and I hope that will happen.”

Woods will need a major title in 2014 to remain on Nicklaus’ pace.

Woods has made 64 professional major starts. Nicklaus won his 15th major title in his 67th such start at age 38, then won two more at age 40 and his last at 46 at the 1986 Masters.

Woods is also supporting his girlfriend, US ski star Lindsey Vonn, as she tries to recover from a knee injury and defend her Olympic downhill title at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

“Having experienced reconstructive surgery on my knee and the ensuing rehab, and the amount of pain associated with it, it’s really hard to explain to anybody unless you’ve been through it,” Woods said. “And then coming back on it athletically, to trust that it’s going to be there, that’s a whole different ballgame.

“I’ve had my share of experiences in that regard, unfortunately, but I think it helps her in a sense because she can bounce ideas off me about what to expect. It is a frustrating process and really difficult to go through.

“As far as Lindsey competing in Sochi, we’re very hopeful. It all depends on how that knee is.”

Woods possibly attending the Winter Olympics could alter his normal early season schedule, which typically includes a stop at Torrey Pines in Janaury.

Last season, Woods won at Torrey Pines, Doral, Bay Hill, the Players Championship and at Firestone.

He became the first player in US PGA history to win a title on the same course eight times when he won last season at Torrey Pines, site of his 2008 US Open triumph and seven PGA Tour victories.

Woods also matched Snead as the only players to win the same PGA event eight times when he won the 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

At the 2013 Players Championship, he converted a 54-hole lead into a victory for the 53rd time in 57 attempts.

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As Tiger turns 38, key year looms in Nicklaus chase

Tales from the tours, both large and small, mark the year in golf for 2013

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Steve Stricker made it clear that money was not important.

His plan was to defend his title at Kapalua and walk away from the PGA Tour for the rest of the year. Over the holidays leading into 2013, he reached a compromise and cut his schedule roughly in half. He contacted his sponsors, and they supported him.

Stricker didn’t have great expectations starting his year of semi-retirement.

”If I could just make enough money to pay yearly expenses, I’m fine with that,” he said. ”If we don’t have to touch anything I’ve put away … I don’t need to do what I’m doing just to make money. I’d rather be staying at home, doing things at home with the foundation and with my kids.”

No one else was around during this conversation, but Stricker still leaned in and lowered his voice as he stated what everyone already knew.

”You know, we’re pretty conservative with our money,” he said.

Stricker was runner-up that week at Kapalua and made $665,000. He didn’t play for six weeks, and then reached the quarterfinals of the Accenture Match Play Championship to earn $275,000. Two weeks later, he was runner-up at Doral and brought in $880,000.

That should pay the bills.

POINTS TAKEN: Tiger’s year looks even better when judged by world ranking points

He finished the year with just over $4.4 million, the third-highest total of his career. His world ranking improved 10 spots to No. 8. And by the end of the year, he had several players contemplating a similar schedule.

Along the way, there were plenty of other moments that showed more about players than just their birdies and bogeys, and the checks they cash.

Rory McIlroy generated a buzz no matter where he went at the start of the year. He had the hefty deal from Nike. He was No. 1 in the world. And he was struggling early with a missed cut in Abu Dhabi and a first-round departure in the Accenture Match Play. Nothing caused a stir like Friday at the Honda Classic, when he abruptly shook hands with Ernie Els as they were making the turn and walked straight to the parking lot.

Information was a trickle. He was vague during a brisk walk to the car. Later, a statement from his management company said he had a sore wisdom tooth.

There was a golf tournament still going on. Michael Thompson shot 65 on that Friday to move to the top of the leaderboard. It was early afternoon and no one seemed interested. The announcement sounded more like a plea. ”We have Michael Thompson in the interview room,” the official said.

One voice broke the awkward silence. ”Is he a dentist?” a reported asked.

No. But he did win his first PGA Tour event that week.

SIGN OF THE TIMES: Angel Cabrera is a man of few words and loud actions.

A month after losing the Masters in a playoff, he was walking off the 18th green at TPC Sawgrass following a practice round. Fans thrust programs and flags for him to sign. There was bumping and pushing, and a marshal started to bark at everyone to back up.

Cabrera stepped back about 10 feet, and then instructed only the children to come under the ropes and join him. He spent the next 15 minutes signing for them.

IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT: It looked like the scene outside the mansion in ”Young Frankenstein,” missing only the pitchforks and torches.

The Pure Silk LPGA Bahamas Classic was played on a 12-hole course at The Ocean Club because of flooding. The first round didn’t finish because of another storm system in the area. Players gathered in darkness outside the rules trailer to find out the plan for Friday. A computer error led players to believe – only for a moment – that they would keep their same tee time for the second round. Chaos ensued, filled with heated arguments among players and rules officials.

And it was at this moment the LPGA showed its true international flavor.

A group of Swedish players were off to the right, raising their voices in their native language. The Americans were in the front of the pack. The South Koreans were in the back. The Spaniards were in the middle. The Germans were over by the hedges. It was the ultimate melting pot.

And they ultimately got it all worked out.

LOOKING AHEAD BY SITTING STILL: Among the visitors at The Players Championship was Ulises Mendez, who plays on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica. The Argentine earned his card last year when he tied for 15th in Latin America Q-School. His player badge allowed him access to the tournament, and he camped out just beneath the bleachers behind the 17th green.

FAR AFIELD: Gap in strength growing between US and European tour fields

He stood there for an hour as the best players came through the 17th. It was an inspiring day.

”To know where you need to be,” Mendez said, ”you need to see where you want to go.”

SPEAKING VOLUMES, SUBTLY: There is no love lost between Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, as both made clear at The Players Championship and in the weeks that followed. The same could be said for Garcia and Padraig Harrington, as the Irishman showed on a couple of occasions this year in his subtle style.

Speaking to a small group of reporters at the TPC Sawgrass, where the Woods-Garcia flap was starting to unfold, Harrington said of all the times he has played with Woods he considered his etiquette ”absolutely impeccable.”

”I’ve played with Tiger many times,” Harrington said. ”I give him an A-plus on his etiquette on the course. I give him an A-plus for his respect for fellow players on the course.”

A British reporter then asked Harrington what kind of grade he would give Garcia.

”I’m not in a position to rank players,” he replied.

Later that summer, Harrington finished a practice round at Muirfield and was signing autographs. One fan had the British Open program turned to the page that showed Harrington winning his first claret jug. That was in 2007 at Carnoustie, after a playoff with Garcia.

Harrington signed the page and held onto the book for the longest time, staring at the photo with a satisfied smile.

”You like that picture?” the man said.

”More than you know,” the Irishman replied.

WHAT’S IN A NAME: The woman behind the counter at Starbucks in the Denver suburbs was making small talk with a customer when she learned he was headed to the Solheim Cup.

”Annika Sorenstam was just in here,” she said. ”Well, I think that was her.”

Ya think?

Not only is the Swede the most famous LPGA Tour player of her generation, one would suspect writing the word ”Annika” on the cup would be a dead giveaway. Except that in this case, she can be excused. Turns out Sorenstam doesn’t go by ”Annika” when she’s in Starbucks.

Her code name is Maria.

”Maria is the one name that translates on every continent,” Sorenstam said when she confessed to her alias. ”So I’m Maria Swenson.”

DECISION MAKERS: The first day of the Solheim Cup nearly didn’t finish because of a rules decision that took nearly a half-hour to determine – and as it turned out, it was the wrong decision. It proved a pivotal part of the four-balls match, which Europe went on to win.

It wasn’t the first time a rules official had made the wrong call. Former USGA President Trey Holland, one of the most skilled in the Rules of Golf, mistakenly gave Ernie Els relief in the U.S. Open from a temporary immovable object that was movable. But when an official makes a ruling, it stands.

Brad Alexander, a respected LPGA official, made the wrong call at the Solheim Cup. When the day was over, confusion and anger lingered. Alexander volunteered to accompany both captains to the media center to handle any questions from the press. He explained what happened. He made no excuses. He accepted all the blame. It was classy.

That kind of accountability would have come in handy at Augusta National this year.

EASY TO STAY EXCITED: The final week of December is the one week no meaningful tournaments are played on any tour in the world.

The golf year is endless, and it can feel even longer.

Mark Fulcher, the caddie for Justin Rose, has been at this a long time. The crowning moment was at Merion, where Rose won the U.S. Open for his first major. This was in late October, halfway around the world in Shanghai. Everyone was tired. Rose was just starting the stretch run to the end of his year. The caddies were talking about the drudgery of early rounds at a tournament.

Except for ”Fooch.”

”The day I stop caddying, I’ll either be dead or I won’t be excited on a Thursday morning,” Fulcher said that day. ”Thursday is the greatest day in golf. It’s the perfect reset, isn’t it? You’re reminded, even if you won, that everyone starts all over the next week. And if you’ve played absolute rubbish, there’s always the belief that it’s about to turn around. I love Thursday. Just love it.”

It’s a good reminder for everyone involved in this game. You never know what’s going to happen next. Or when.

Excerpt from: 

Tales from the tours, both large and small, mark the year in golf for 2013

Tiger Woods’ year even better when measured in world ranking points

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Along with victories, money and scoring average, another way to measure the strength of a golf season is total world ranking points. Tiger Woods won that category, too, but just barely over Henrik Stenson. A closer look reveals it was not really that close.

Woods earned 488.75 points this year, only 3.65 points ahead of Stenson. Adam Scott was third, more than 100 points behind.

The difference, however, is that Woods played only 19 tournaments that awarded world ranking points. Stenson played 31 tournaments. Woods earned an average of 25.7 points for every tournament he played, compared with 15.6 points for Stenson.

This is nothing new for Woods. He tends to play the toughest courses against the strongest fields. He also helps to make the field strong as the No. 1 player in the world. And while he doesn’t play often, he plays well when he does tee it up.

FARTHER AFIELD: Gap in strengths of field widens between US and European tours

”Most of my events I play in the majority of my career have been on the more difficult venues, and against the better fields,” Woods said this month. ”And now that we have not just the majors and The Players, but we also have the World Golf Championships … and also the playoffs at the end of the year, you’re getting the top players to play together more often. And I’m very proud of my overall record, especially in the bigger events.”

Here’s another way to look at it – the 19 tournaments worldwide Woods played this year offered an average of 72.7 points to the winner.

All of this made perfect sense to Ian Poulter, a student of the world ranking.

”How many events has he played, 19?” Poulter said. ”So he’s got four majors, three World Golf Championships (Woods skipped the HSBC Champions), four FedEx playoff events. If you look where he plays, they are all the events where the top players are playing. You would theoretically say he’s got a good chance to earn a lot of points. But he has to play well.”

And that he did.

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Tiger Woods’ year even better when measured in world ranking points

Notebook: Difference in strength of fields between US and Europe grows

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The top 28 players in the world ranking at the end of 2012 were PGA Tour members this year, which made the gap between the PGA Tour and the European Tour even wider in measuring strength of field.

The average reward for PGA Tour winners was 56.2 ranking points, compared with 43 points on the European Tour. That includes the majors and World Golf Championships for both tours. Remove those eight big events, and the average was 47.3 points for PGA Tour winners compared with 33.1 points on the European Tour.

Except for the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, which gets a bonus as the flagship event, the strongest field on the European Tour was in Abu Dhabi (54 points). The PGA Tour had nine events with a stronger field. The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship led the way, offering 74 points each. That’s to be expected because they start off the FedEx Cup playoffs. Of regular events, the Memorial gave 70 points to the winner.

POULTER THE PUTTER: The putt turned out to be meaningless, though Ian Poulter didn’t know that when he stood over a 15-foot par putt on the 18th hole at Royal Birkdale in the 2008 British Open.

In a final round of whipping wind at Royal Birkdale, he was two shots behind Padraig Harrington, who still was a couple of holes behind him. Poulter had reason to believe that a par for a 69 might be good enough to win. Alas, Harrington hit 5-wood into 4 feet for an eagle on the 17th to secure a four-shot win.

But it was Poulter’s reaction to the moment that showed the peacock in all his glory.

Poulter was talking about his ability to make big putts – mostly in the Ryder Cup – a few weeks ago at Sherwood Country Club when he recalled that par putt. He was sizing up the situation when he called his caddie, Terry Mundy, over to him.

”I can remember calling Terry in from the other side,” Poulter said. ”He hadn’t read a putt all week, and I’ve asked him to come in. He says, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘Do you remember when you were a kid on the putting green and said I’ve got a putt to win the Open?’ He says, ‘Yeah, all the time.’

POINTS TAKEN: Tiger’s year even better when judged by world ranking points

”I said, ‘I’ve got it right here. Now bugger off.”’

Poulter said Mundy was shocked to be summoned, and even more to realize that Poulter called him over during such a big moment only to tell him that story.

”And then you go and hole it,” Poulter said. ”There’s a number of instances in the mind when the hole gets bigger, and everyone around you doesn’t affect you. You’re not thinking of missing it. That’s why people miss putts. They worry about, ‘What happens if I miss it?’ Even if that’s for a millisecond that’s enough. They’ve sown the seed. I didn’t even contemplate the consequences of missing it.”

He didn’t. But he still had to settle for the silver medal, which remains his best result in a major.

KERR BECOMES MOTHER: Two weeks after the LPGA Tour season ended, Cristie Kerr became a mother for the first time.

Mason Kerr Stevens was born Dec. 8. Kerr and her husband, Erik Stevens, had the child through surrogacy because of what Kerr said were ”personal medical complications precluding us from traditional pregnancy.”

TALES FROM THE TOURS: Anecdotes large and small from around the globe in 2013

”We would like to send out a special thanks to all the people who helped make this miracle happen,” Kerr said.

PICKING THE PAIRINGS: The PGA Tour already alters the pairings to create marquee groups for the opening two rounds. Now it is letting the fans get involved.

In voting that will end next Monday, fans can go to the tour’s website to vote who should be paired with defending champion Dustin Johnson at Kapalua for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions that starts Jan. 3. The choices are Masters champion Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker.

DIVOTS: Michael Kim, the NCAA player of the year from Cal, will make his pro debut at Torrey Pines. Kim grew up in Del Mar and attended Torrey Pines High School. He earned his Web.com Tour card at Q-School this month. … The PGA Tour Latinoamerica has added tournaments in Panama, Guatemala and Mexico for the 2014 schedule, which will have 16 events in 10 countries. … Darren Clarke has a three-year deal to be the pro and global ambassador at The Astbury. It’s the first golf course designed by KK Downing, founding member of the British heavy metal band Judas Priest.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Four players have at least $11 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour without ever having won a tournament – Briny Baird, Brian Davis, Jeff Overton and Brett Quigley.

FINAL WORD: ”I never said I’d beat Tiger every time. If you didn’t believe you could beat somebody or win the golf tournament, then don’t go out and play, it’s as simple as that. Tiger believes every time he goes out there that he’s going to beat you, right? And if you believe he’s going to beat you, then he’s going to beat you.” – Greg Norman.

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Notebook: Difference in strength of fields between US and Europe grows

Golf-New Zealand prodigy Ko splits with coach

Dec 23 (Reuters) – New Zealand’s Lydia Ko has split with long-time coach Guy Wilson, who started working with the golfing prodigy as a five-year-old novice and helped take her to number four in the world 11 years later.

Ko was given the green light in October to become a full member of the LPGA Tour from the start of the 2014 season after the governing body waived the 18-year-old age limit clause.

Ko, who was born in South Korea and has already won five professional titles, four as an amateur, became the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour when she captured last year’s Canadian Open at the age of 15.

She signed up with management company IMG earlier this month.

In statement to Fairfax media, Wilson said he was “incredibly disappointed” that their partnership had come to an end.

“We’ve spent a lot of time together over the past decade and during that time I’ve become very close to Lydia and her family. While I’m incredibly disappointed that our 11-year partnership is over, I respect Lydia and her team’s decision,” Wilson said in the statement.

“When I first met her the golf clubs were taller than she was and she didn’t know the first thing about a driver or a putter but now she has one of the most envied swings in the women’s golf world.”

Media reports suggested Ko would now be coached by David Leadbetter in the United States.

Wilson began coaching Ko at six, where they were initially restricted by language difficulties as she had not yet been immersed in New Zealand schooling at that stage.

Ko had up to four lessons a week with Wilson, working from about 50 metres away from the green because anything else would have been too daunting, and he was amazed at the youngster’s focus, motivation and ability to keep working at her game.

Wilson had told Reuters in October that Ko would not be out of place on the LPGA tour despite her youth.

“She is better than most of the people on the LPGA Tour. Her age does not match her skill set,” he said.

(Writing by Peter Rutherford in Seoul, Editing by Gene Cherry)

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Golf-New Zealand prodigy Ko splits with coach

Europe complete epic comeback to reclaim Royal Trophy

(Reuters) – Europe won five of the last six singles matches for a stunning 8.5-7.5 comeback win over Asia to reclaim the Royal Trophy in China on Sunday and give captain Jose Maria Olazabal his first success in the team matchplay event.

Trailing 5-3 ahead of Sunday’s eight singles matches, Europe looked set for a record defeat when Kiradech Aphibarnrat beat Paul Lawrie 3&2 and Thai compatriot Thongchai Jaidee overcame another Scot, Stephen Gallacher, 4&2 to make it 7-3.

With victory in sight, the pressure appeared to hit the holders at the Dragon Lake Golf Club in Guangzhou as they painfully surrendered their strong position built up over the opening fourball and foursomes matches.

Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa, who had been two up after seven holes of his singles match, shanked a chip across the green en route to bogeying the 18th which allowed Scotland’s Marc Warren to win one up with a par on the last.

That made the score 7-4, with three more European wins coming in a matter of minutes as Thorbjorn Olesen beat Wu Ashun 3&2, David Howell edged Kim Hyung-sung one up and Bernd Wiesberger overcame Hiroyuki Fujita 3&2.

Kim’s loss was particularly painful with the South Korean three up on the 15th tee only to three-putt the last to allow the Englishman to snatch the match one up when he got up and down from the greenside bunker on 18.

COLSAERTS WINS IT

Spain’s Alvaro Quiros could also only three putt the tricky undulating green at the par four last to toss away a one up advantage and halve his match with South Korea’s Kim Kyung-tae.

That left the scores tied at 7.5-7.5 with only Nicolas Colsaerts and Liang Wenchong on the course with the Belgian protecting a one up advantage after 16 holes.

Both holed tricky putts on 17 for par with Colsaerts then calmly getting up and down from the right of the 18th green to seal the match and trophy after Liang also three-putted.

It was a fifth win for Europe in seven edition with Olazabal, who led Europe to a sterling Sunday fightback win in the Ryder Cup against United States last year, having presided over their two defeats last year and in 2009.

“I want to thank these fantastic eight guys who did something extraordinary today,” the Spaniard said before being presented with the trophy on the 18th green.

“It is something, to be honest, I had a few doubts (about), especially through the round. Thank-you very much for your contribution.”

Asian captain Yang Yong-eun lamented his side’s costly errors on a sloppy Sunday for his charges.

“Unfortunately we had a shocking loss and hopefully next year we will learn from the mistakes we made and come back stronger,” the Korean said through a translator.

(Writing by Patrick Johnston; Editing by John O’Brien)

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Europe complete epic comeback to reclaim Royal Trophy

Golf-Europe complete epic comeback to reclaim Royal Trophy

Dec 22 (Reuters) – Europe won five of the last six singles matches for a stunning 8.5-7.5 comeback win over Asia to reclaim the Royal Trophy in China on Sunday and give captain Jose Maria Olazabal his first success in the team matchplay event.

Trailing 5-3 ahead of Sunday’s eight singles matches, Europe looked set for a record defeat when Kiradech Aphibarnrat beat Paul Lawrie 3&2 and Thai compatriot Thongchai Jaidee overcame another Scot, Stephen Gallacher, 4&2 to make it 7-3.

With victory in sight, the pressure appeared to hit the holders at the Dragon Lake Golf Club in Guangzhou as they painfully surrendered their strong position built up over the opening fourball and foursomes matches.

Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa, who had been two up after seven holes of his singles match, shanked a chip across the green en route to bogeying the 18th which allowed Scotland’s Marc Warren to win one up with a par on the last.

That made the score 7-4, with three more European wins coming in a matter of minutes as Thorbjorn Olesen beat Wu Ashun 3&2, David Howell edged Kim Hyung-sung one up and Bernd Wiesberger overcame Hiroyuki Fujita 3&2.

Kim’s loss was particularly painful with the South Korean three up on the 15th tee only to three-putt the last to allow the Englishman to snatch the match one up when he got up and down from the greenside bunker on 18.

COLSAERTS WINS IT

Spain’s Alvaro Quiros could also only three putt the tricky undulating green at the par four last to toss away a one up advantage and halve his match with South Korea’s Kim Kyung-tae.

That left the scores tied at 7.5-7.5 with only Nicolas Colsaerts and Liang Wenchong on the course with the Belgian protecting a one up advantage after 16 holes.

Both holed tricky putts on 17 for par with Colsaerts then calmly getting up and down from the right of the 18th green to seal the match and trophy after Liang also three-putted.

It was a fifth win for Europe in seven edition with Olazabal, who led Europe to a sterling Sunday fightback win in the Ryder Cup against United States last year, having presided over their two defeats last year and in 2009.

“I want to thank these fantastic eight guys who did something extraordinary today,” the Spaniard said before being presented with the trophy on the 18th green.

“It is something, to be honest, I had a few doubts (about), especially through the round. Thank-you very much for your contribution.”

Asian captain Yang Yong-eun lamented his side’s costly errors on a sloppy Sunday for his charges.

“Unfortunately we had a shocking loss and hopefully next year we will learn from the mistakes we made and come back stronger,” the Korean said through a translator. (Writing by Patrick Johnston; Editing by John O’Brien)

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Golf-Europe complete epic comeback to reclaim Royal Trophy

Obama on friendly confines of golf course as vacation starts

By Ikaika Hussey

HONOLULU (Reuters) – President Barack Obama, hopeful of some rest and relaxation after a bruising year in politics, wasted little time getting his golf game in gear on the first full day of a two-week end-of-year family vacation to his home state of Hawaii.

The first golfer hit the links early Saturday afternoon at a Marine Base course on the Mokapu Peninsula, a golf-club shaped piece of land jutting into the Pacific Ocean not far from the Obamas’ rented holiday house.

Onlookers lined up along the road to catch a glimpse of the president’s motorcade en route to the links. A smiling Obama was spotted in his SUV wearing a tan baseball cap, white golf shirt, and sunglasses.

Obama’s foursome comprised Bobby Titcomb, a long-time friend; Marvin Nicholson, one of the president’s schedulers; and Sam Kass, a White House chef who is executive director of the Lets Move! program, First Lady Michelle Obama’s fitness initiative.

Titcomb, who attended school with Obama in the 1970s, was arrested in 2011 in an undercover prostitution sting, and later pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge.

There was no immediate word on the president’s golf score. Obama is an avid golfer who plays off a respectable handicap of 16 or 17, and is estimated to have logged more than 150 rounds since being elected president.

(Reporting by Ikaika Hussey; Writing by Ros Krasny; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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Obama on friendly confines of golf course as vacation starts

Skier Vonn’s knee fails number one fan Tiger Woods

Val-d’Isère (France) (AFP) – American speed queen Lindsey Vonn failed to put together a winning run for onlooking boyfriend Tiger Woods on Saturday as her unstable right knee gave way halfway down the course.

Vonn insisted the incident would not have major ramifications, saying she would race a maximum of two more events before heading to Sochi to defend her Olympic downhill title in February.

But the manner in which her knee failed to provide any stability on a turn coming out of a compression will have worried not only her but the US ski team.

Vonn sustained the injury to her knee in a horrific crash in last February’s World Ski Championships in Schladming.

With reconstructive surgery and 10 months out, it surprised some that she even made it back to competitive skiing this season.

“Unfortunately I have no ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and it just gave out on me,” Vonn said, with Switzerland’s Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden going on to win the downhill.

“It was a small compression and it was fully loaded on the right ski and my knee just completely gave out. I tried to pressure the ski again and it gave out again.

“I’m going to be as safe and smart as I can and give myself as much time as I can give myself to really get as strong as I can.”

Vonn added: “I have no ACL, so unless I get surgery there’s not anything really magical I can do to make it better. I can just get my leg and muscles stronger to try to support it more, but that has a small impact.

“My knee is loose and it’s not stable and that’s the way it’s going to be from here on out, I just have to get used to it.”

But she insisted that her morale remained high and that Sochi was firmly in her sights.

“My goal is the Olympics. I’m not winning any World Cups this year, any titles, as long as I’m skiing well and I have good confidence that’s all I really need,” she said.

“I just need to be careful about how many races I do. I’m at risk of doing more damage to my knee and my meniscus and things like that.

“So I’m going to play it safe and race minimal races, probably maybe one or two, before the Olympics just so I can get the confidence and the timing and the feeling of racing again.”

The onlooking Woods, whose relationship with Vonn was revealed in March, featured regularly on the big screen in the build-up to his girlfriend’s run.

In brilliant sunshine, the world’s number one golfer positioned himself in the team area at the bottom of the slope and kept his eyes straight ahead.

When French racer Marie Marchand-Arvier suffered a brutal crash, he visibly flinched and rocked up on his toes.

With Vonn in the starting gate, Woods remained stock still, hands dug deep into his jacket.

As she failed to come out cleanly from that compression and missed a gate, there was no reaction from the golfer despite the gasps from the spectators, the giant screen showing a close-up of Vonn slumped on the side of the slope, crying.

“He was nervous,” was Vonn’s explanation of the statuesque pose taken on by Woods, with camera crews jostling to get a shot of the 14-Major winning golfer.

“He’s very supportive and it’s really fun to have him. This is his first World Cup and he’s a little more nervous because of me, he’s worried about me but he’s happy to be here and I’m happy to have him.

“I love having him around and the more races he can come to, the better. But I’m not really racing much this year unfortunately so you probably won’t see both of us around very much.

“He likes skiing and he wants to understand my sport more and he’s interested in what I do because he loves me and wants to support me.”

Vonn said she had felt less pressure with Woods watching on.

“Just having someone support you always makes you feel better,” she said.

“I didn’t feel any pressure, I’d had two really good training runs and I felt really confident today and I’m just disappointed because my knee didn’t hold up like I was hoping it would.”

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Skier Vonn’s knee fails number one fan Tiger Woods

Olazabal calls on European Tour to back Royal Trophy

(Reuters) – Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal has criticized the European Tour’s decision to launch the EurAsia Cup team match play event next year and said they should have re-established ties with the Royal Trophy.

Olazabal is captaining Europe in the seventh edition of the ongoing Royal Trophy matchplay event, which was launched in 2006 by his former Ryder Cup team mate and compatriot Seve Ballesteros and is backed by the Japan Golf Tour and China Golf Association (CGA).

The European Tour supported the venture before dropping it and then opted to launch a similar tournament in Malaysia next year with the Asian Tour, which used to host CGA tournaments before the Chinese opted to side with the rival OneAsia Tour.

“I know the European Tour sanctioned this event for two years and then a split occurred for some reason,” Olazabal said in a statement released by the Royal Trophy on Saturday.

“But I do think they must sit down with the Royal Trophy people and work out their differences because it is such an important issue.

“The Royal Trophy will continue even if it is not sanctioned by the European Tour because it has great support from the Japan Golf Tour, the China Golf Association, and other important parties in Asia.

“But I know the organizers are keen to resolve this issue, and I would call on both sides to sit down and sort this thing out.”

The Royal Trophy is being staged in China for the first time after Brunei hosted it last year and Thailand for the first five.

While the inaugural Royal Trophy boasted famed major winners Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam as well as then world number 12 David Howell, Swede Henrik Stenson and Ireland’s Paul McGinley, the current edition lacks the same gloss.

Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee is the best ranked player competing in China at world number 46, while Howell is back but now number 93. Spaniard Alvaro Quiros is the worst ranked of the 16 players at 278.

Thongchai will be team captain for the inaugural EurAsia Cup in March, but Olazabal thinks the new tournament is not necessary and European Tour chief George O’Grady should focus on finding new full field strokeplay events instead.

“We do not need another Asia v Europe match involving a maximum of twenty players when we already have a well-established Royal Trophy,” said the twice U.S. Masters champion.

“But we do need more full field events, and I know other players feel the same way,” he added.

The biennial EurAsia Cup will be held over three days at the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club in Kuala Lumpur from March 27-29 with Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez playing and captaining Europe.

Former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell and world number 26 Jamie Donaldson of Wales, Frenchman Victor Dubuisson ranked 32 and Spain’s world number 35 Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano have already committed to playing.

Four more players will qualify for the European team via the world rankings, while the Asia side will feature Thongchai and the leading four players from the Asian Tour order of merit, the top three available from the world rankings and two captain’s picks.

“Our relations with players from Malaysia, China, India, Thailand, Korea and Japan have been important to us for many years,” O’Grady said last month at a promotional event for the new tournament which has been backed by the Ballesteros family.

“We see the development of the EurAsia Cup as a further commitment by us to assist in the development of golf throughout the region and to strengthening one of The European Tour’s most important partnerships.”

(Writing by Patrick Johnston, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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Olazabal calls on European Tour to back Royal Trophy

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