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Golf Capsules: Jason gets his Day in the sun at Australian Open

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Posted: Wednesday, November 9, 2011 12:00 am

SYDNEY (AP) — Jason Day returns home as the highest-ranked Australian in golf, and it's a wonder anyone recognizes him. They know all about his prodigious talent, winning on the Nationwide Tour at age 19. They probably remember his bold comments about Tiger Woods at the end of 2007, when Day first earned his PGA Tour card.

"I'm sure I can take him down," he said.

Most of them were watching on TV when he was runner-up at the Masters and the U.S. Open. They just haven't seen him.

It has been nearly five years since Day last played a tournament in Australia. That was part of his Nationwide Tour campaign that brought him to the PGA Tour, and since then he has worked on travel papers, dealt with sinus and other injuries, married an American girl and tried to settle into homes in Texas and more recently in Ohio.

He will be hard to miss Thursday in the Australian Open. Not only is Day at No. 7 in the world ranking, he will be spending the opening two rounds at The Lakes with Woods and Robert Allenby.

"It is good to be back," Day said. "It's amazing how things have changed over the years I've been away. The change is for the good. Everything is new. It's an amazing feeling."

Despite not winning this year, there is a confidence about the way he plays that leads many to think it won't be long before Day is challenging for No. 1 in the world. At a time when golf seemingly is owned by youth, his name often gets mentioned in the same sentence as U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, former PGA champion Martin Kaymer and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.

Day, who celebrates his 24th birthday on Saturday, figures to be part of the action when he tees off Thursday afternoon at The Lakes, a course that allows for players to go after a few short par 4s, and especially the reachable par 5s over the water.

"Does he have the talent to be world No. 1? Absolutely, absolutely he does," Woods said. "He hits the ball plenty long, a wonderful putter. He has the right attitude for it. It's just that to get to world No. 1, it takes time. You've got to win golf tournaments and you've got to be consistent, week in and week out. Just give him time and I'm sure he'll get there."

Day thought it might happen much sooner.

Coming off his Nationwide Tour success in 2007, he gave an interview to the Australian media in which he spoke of Woods as his measuring stick. If he won two tournaments his first year on tour, then that's what Day wanted to do.

But it hasn't come as easily. He didn't win until his 59th start as a PGA Tour member, at the Byron Nelson Championship last year, as he coped with high hopes and injuries.

"I stopped practicing and thought it was going to come easy," Day said. "Obviously, it didn't. It's very stiff competition on the PGA Tour. I had to get back to working on everything, not just my golf swing. I finally realized that when you get to a level like this, it's not about making huge changes to your swing. It's about having the little things right and being mentally prepared for each week."

He finally gets to play on a big stage with Woods at a time when their careers are going in opposite directions.

This marks the two-year anniversary of the last time Woods won any tournament in the world, the Australian Masters at Kingston Heath down in Melbourne. He has fallen to No. 58 in the world, the lowest since he was a 20-year-old rookie in 1996 trying to get his card.

Day had a pair of top 10s in the FedEx Cup playoffs, pushing him into the top 10.

Like so many young players, Woods was an influence on his game.

"I read a book about Tiger and that's why I woke up every morning at 5:30 and went out and practiced," Day said. "I got up to 32½ hours a week of practice because of that guy. He has influenced my life a lot. I've always wanted to play against him. It's going to be fun when we have that chance to play against each other. It is going to be very friendly, but obviously we want to beat each other."

There will be other players to beat at The Lakes.

This is the best field this proud championship has had in years. The Australian Open is the fourth-oldest national championship behind Britain and the United States, and behind Canada based on the calendar. It's past champions include Gene Sarazen, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson and Greg Norman.

Woods is among 13 players at the Australian Open — along with captains Norman and Fred Couples — who will be in the Presidents Cup next week at Royal Melbourne.

Woods hasn't been the same since the Australian Masters two years ago. He was exposed for serial adultery, missed five months trying to get his life in order, got divorced, changed swing instructors and has spent the better part of this year coping with leg injuries that caused him to miss most of the summer.

"I haven't played a lot of tournaments this year," Woods said.

He embarks on a stretch of three events in four weeks, concluding with his Chevron World Challenge the first week in December, before taking an offseason break for about six weeks.

This could take time, though his peers that once expected nothing but the best have not given up on him.

"You can lose the form, but you never lose that talent," Adam Scott said. "Once he gets back into those positions with his game, he'll find it not too hard to have that edge again. You can't write the guy off. Every time we have, he has proved us wrong in the past."

Notebook: Kuchar and Co. make third trip Down Under

SYDNEY (AP) — American golfer Matt Kuchar's trips Down Under have been few and far between since making his professional debut at the 2000 Australian Open. Three years later, he returned for his honeymoon on Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef.

Kuchar is back for the Australian Open at The Lakes and next week's Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne, and he's got company — his wife, Sybi, their two sons, Kuchar's parents and his in-laws. The family tour stopped in Bora Bora on the way over from the U.S. and spent a few days at the famed Cape Kidnappers course in New Zealand.

Kuchar said "it's a great way to get back in the game, have a couple of weeks off, then a little bit of a warmup."

Although Kuchar has earned $9 million over the past two years, he's winless this year. He's among a strong American contingent this week: eight of the 12 U.S. team members for the Presidents Cup are in the Australian Open field.

Kuchar finished tied for second in the Memorial and was second in The Barclays.

"It's been a bit frustrating," Kuchar said Wednesday. "I played a great final round at the Memorial, but Steve Stricker just played even better. I just had a few opportunities that didn't go my way."

SCOTT'S SCOUTING MISSION: Adam Scott had five weeks off after the U.S. PGA Tour season ended, including a week surfing in Mexico with some friends from Australia. Before he played at the HSBC Champions event last week in Shanghai, he left his family's home in Queensland state to make a reconnaissance mission to Royal Melbourne, site of next week's Presidents Cup.

"I felt the changes that had been made to the grasses at Royal Melbourne — it had been six years since I'd played there — that it would be a good idea to have a sneak peek," Scott said. "It will be hard to take it all in next week with all the distractions."

The Royal Melbourne composite course will feature new grass on the greens.

"It's a different grass to when I was last there — it's still couch, but it's a bit slower," said Scott, who tried not to "step on too many members' toes" as he negotiated around the composite course on a Sunday.

STAR ATTRACTIONS: The Australian Open, with next week's Presidents Cup as the drawing card, has its best international field in decades, harkening back to the days when Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer traveled Down Under for the championship.

The featured groups over the first two days help highlight it — four consecutive morning threesomes have defending champion Geoff Ogilvy and Americans Bill Haas and Bubba Watson, followed by International captain Greg Norman, Dustin Johnson and two-time former champion Aaron Baddeley. U.S. captain Fred Couples is in the following group, followed by another which includes U.S. team member David Toms.

In the afternoon, Matt Kuchar and Adam Scott, who could play each other in next week's Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne, lead the featured groups off at midday, followed by the trio of Tiger Woods, Jason Day and Robert Allenby. Stuart Appleby and American Nick Watney are in the next group, followed by one which includes Hunter Mahan and John Daly.

It will be the 23-year-old Day's first time playing in a group with the 35-year-old Woods, but there's plenty of history from Day's side.

"I read a book about Tiger and that is why I woke up every morning at 5.30 and went out and practiced," Day said. "I got up to 32½ hours a week of practice because of that guy. He has influenced my life a lot, and I have always wanted to play against him."

Day says he'll try not to be intimidated.

"No, I don't think so," he said "I can't control what he does. All I can do is control what I do. Looking back, 1997 to 2008 or 2009, he dominated for so long. When he came in he changed the way everyone looked at golf."

Scott has some advice for his younger Presidents Cup teammate — don't look.

"I never watched him hit a shot," Scott said Wednesday. "My old coach Butch Harmon told me early on when he was still working with him, if you played with him you should not watch him hit a shot because in the early 2000s he golf ball was launching far faster than anyone else. We all saw the magnificent highlight reels he's got. It was better not to watch and feel like you can't match it."

-- Dennis Passa

Commentary: By not acting, golf flunks own racism test

PARIS (AP) — Now we know: Golf is a sport where you can aim a racial slur at Tiger Woods in front of a room of people and not get punished for it. In fact, in certain company, when the audience is in a party mood and thinks the world is not watching or listening, you might even get a few laughs.

If golf really and truly had "no place for any form of racism," which is what the heads of the PGA and European tours said, then Steve Williams wouldn't be working this week. Instead he would be suspended or lying low somewhere.

If golf really had no place for racism, then the sport would have required that the caddie sacked by Woods in July do more, far more, than simply apologize, which he has done both to Woods in person and to the wider world in a begrudging, three-line statement. Why not, for starters, insist that he attend courses on race relations and respect before next stepping onto a fairway?

If golf had zero place for racism, there would be fewer apologists for Williams quickly turning the page. There would be more golfers like Fred Couples who were not prepared to dismiss Williams' comment at a caddies awards party as an ugly attempt at humor that failed. The U.S. captain for the Presidents Cup was reported as saying that if Williams was his caddy, he'd have fired him.

Woods said he and Williams "met face to face and talked about it, talked it through" Tuesday. Greg Norman, captain of the Presidents Cup International side, employed Williams in the 1980s. Both golfers said the New Zealand caddie is not a racist. "No doubt about that," Woods said. "No, not at all," Norman said.

Which is somewhat reassuring but also irrelevant here. That Williams, as far as ex-colleagues can actually know these things, does not hate people because of their skin color or ethnic background does not erase what he said. Suggesting it was out of character, that Williams doesn't habitually say such things, that the comment was reported out of context or that those who weren't there aren't qualified to have an opinion, does not make such slurs right or less painful to people who have long been on the receiving end of them. Woods called the remark "hurtful" and "a wrong thing to say."

"There are people out there who have heard these single statements over a number of years," said Kevin Hylton, author of "'Race' and Sport: Critical Race Theory."

"These — if you want to call them micro-aggressions — build up, they aggregate, they accumulate to the (point) that they are affecting the psyche of many, many, many individuals," Hylton, a professor at Leeds Metropolitan University in northern England, said in a phone interview. "For each statement that somebody tries to laugh off, that's another straw on the camel's back."

What happens at the caddies dinners isn't meant to leave the room. Those who attend the annual parties do so on the understanding that what is said remains off the record. But, in this case, the rules made the whole affair look worse and raised disturbing questions. If not for British reporters who ignored the restrictions, would anyone have said anything? No matter the context, racial slurs should be taboo. So is this what top people in golf say to each other behind closed doors?

Surely not, one imagines. Even so, that Williams seemed to feel comfortable that he wouldn't be booed off stage or ostracized for his remark had the unfortunate effect of making his audience of fellow caddies and players look complicit, even if it wasn't. That impression was aided by Williams telling a New Zealand radio station that the evening was "a fun sort of thing, and everyone laughed their heads off. So, you know, what you read is absolutely ridiculous." In that interview, Williams expressed no remorse at all.

"People can make all kinds of excuses and they can make all kinds of justifications about him and the audience, but what he said was totally unacceptable and he should pay a price for it," Chuck Korr, co-author of "More Than Just a Game: Football v Apartheid," said in a phone interview. "People have let him off the hook: 'He's just a good old guy who had a few too many drinks.'"

Some said Adam Scott, his employer, should have sacked Williams. But Scott was a victim here, too, unwittingly placed in the middle by something hateful someone else said.

This was a problem for the whole of golf, represented by top administrators, to take a stand on. The sport needed to make it loud and clear that racial slurs will have punitive consequences, to dissuade others from making them, too.

Golf has myriad rules to govern the minutiae of what to do, say, when the wind blows the ball or when it lands in water. But on this issue that mattered, it let itself down.

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem and European Tour chief executive George O'Grady condemned Williams' slur as "entirely unacceptable in whatever context."

But they took no action. Golf has no place for racism, they said.

Williams put that to the test. Golf failed.

John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester@ap.org.

Mickelson: play should improve at Singapore Open

SINGAPORE (AP) — Phil Mickelson says he's itching to compete again at this week's $6 million Singapore Open, to show off the fruits of his efforts in home practice sessions to improve his game.

The American, who at No. 11 is the highest-ranked player in the event, has yet to win in Singapore in four attempts. Mickelson last won a tournament in April at the Shell Houston Open. Last year's U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell is another of the leading contenders in an event which had to compete with this week's Australian Open and subsequent President's Cup to attract the world's top players.

LPGA

Ochoa content outside ropes at own tournament

GUADALAJARA, Mexico (AP) — Lorena Ochoa is right at home at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, this time off the course just weeks before the birth of her first child.

"It's something that I'm trying to enjoy," Ochoa said Wednesday, a day before the start of play in the 36-player event at Guadalajara Country Club. "It's different, that's for sure. It's also great for me to say 'Hi' to the players and be more involved outside the ropes and in interviews and spending time with my sponsors. I like it a lot. I'm going to enjoy every day of the tournament from the outside."

The 27-time LPGA Tour winner retired last year. She's expecting a boy, who will be named Pedro.

"(Her belly) is huge," top-ranked Yani Tseng said. "I guess it's a boy. I was really happy to see her. I wish she could play, but I'm very happy to see her going to have a baby soon. It's always great to have her back in Mexico to see all her friends here. She looks very happy."

Tseng is coming off victories in the LPGA Tour's Taiwan Championship and Ladies European Tour's Suzhou Taihu Ladies in China. The Taiwanese star has seven LPGA Tour wins this season, including major victories in the LPGA Championship and Women's British Open, and four other worldwide wins. She tied for 18th in 2008 in the inaugural event in Guadalajara, tied for eighth in 2009 and was 27th last year.

"This is a really tough golf course," Tseng said. "You are hitting all different shots on this golf course. Hitting 14 clubs. You need a different kind of shot. I feel I can get used to it on this golf course. I need to trust more, trust my instincts and trust the club I pick. I think this year I will be fine. I feel very comfortable and confident right now to play well this week."

Michelle Wie won the 2009 tournament for the first of her two LPGA Tour titles, then withdrew last year because of a back injury after an opening 78.

"This tournament is very special to me," Wie said. "Obviously, having my family here is pretty cool. I love this golf course. Unfortunately, it was very sad last year that I couldn't finish four rounds. Hopefully, this year, I'm feeling good. The weather is great. The golf course is awesome, as always. I'm very excited."

South Korea's In-Kyung Kim won last year, closing with an 8-under 64 for a tournament-record 19-under total and a three-stroke stroke victory over Norway's Suzann Pettersen. Kim donated her $220,000 winner's check to charity, giving $110,000 to the Lorena Ochoa Foundation.

Kim returned to Guadalajara in April to visit La Barranca, a primary school in Guadalajara with 250 underprivileged students that is operated by Ochoa's foundation.

"It was very nice of her and her foundation to make efforts for me to come back to see the school," Kim said. "I was really humbled going there and seeing all the kids so happy."

"Her visit was very special," Ochoa said. "It's different when you see the real school activities and see how much fun they have and how happy they are. ... We put her plaque and her name in one of the classrooms. So you know she's appreciated for the rest of her life."

Olympics

Rio organizers extend Olympic golf course deadline

SAO PAULO (AP) — The deadline for bids to design the golf course for the 2016 Rio Olympics has been extended because none of those submitted so far included the proper legal and financial documentation.

Organizers said Wednesday they are contacting the candidates to request new documentation that would allow them to bid for the design of the first Olympic course in more than 100 years.

The new deadline to submit documentation was not disclosed, but organizers said it is unlikely that the winner will be announced by Dec. 23 as originally planned.

The number of bidding candidates and their names are not being disclosed at this time. Some of the sport's top names previously expressed interest in the task, including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Gary Player, Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Nick Faldo.

In addition to having prior course design experience, applicants must meet several specifications in order to bid, and one of the requirements for international companies is to have an office legally established in Rio.

The Rio committee also said the course will have to leave a legacy to the city and become an important tool for youth transformation through sport, as well as be capable of hosting tests events and competitions after the games.

The course winner will be paid $300,000 for the design, but most bidders are likely to be more interested in the prestige of designing the first Olympic course since 1904.

Golf made its debut at the second modern Olympics in Paris in 1900, but was dropped after the 1904 games in St. Louis. The sport was reinstated by an International Olympic Committee vote in 2009 that also guaranteed it a place in 2020.

The Rio golf course will be built at the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood, which will hold most of the Olympic venues. The course is expected to be located about 3 miles from the athletes village.

-- Tales Azzoni

Elsewhere

Royal Melbourne hit by rainstorms, bunkers damaged

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Storms the past two nights have damaged some of the bunkers at Royal Melbourne, the site of the Presidents Cup next week.

Nearly three inches of rain has fallen at Royal Melbourne, although course superintendent Richard Forsyth said Thursday that large hail that hit the surrounding area missed the venue. He said the hail could have caused serious damage to greens, but that the rain "will help set up the course nicely."

While some bunker faces were damaged, Forsyth said "we've got a large crew here and we'll be able to get them repaired."

The United States will face an International team Nov. 17-20 on a composite course at Royal Melbourne, where the International team earned its only win in eight previous tournaments in 1998.

College

Montana golfer honored by Big Sky Conference

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Big Sky Conference has named Montana's Olivia Weber as the league's golfer of the week.

The junior from Idaho Falls, Idaho tied for 14th with a three-day score of 222 at the Challenge at Onion Creek golf tournament in Austin. Montana finished 10th as a team.

Weber's 222 was the best 54-hole score for a Montana golfer this season. Big Sky teams have wrapped up the fall season.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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