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THE WEEK AHEAD (2/25 - 3/2)

The marquee event this week, by far, will be the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore, which is being widely billed as the Lorena vs. Annika showdown, but which also features a jackpot overall field for anyone taking the time to notice. On the men’s side, with the WGC Match Play behind us, there will be lots of “spending time with my family,” as the world’s top three players (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker) and seven of the top 10 are scheduled to take the week off. The highest-ranked player competing is world #4 Ernie Els – but his previous week’s work consisted of exactly 13 holes on Wednesday, so lingering fatigue shouldn’t be much of a problem.

PGA Tour: Honda Classic – Palm Beach Gardens, FL

It wasn’t so many years ago that the Florida swing was deemed the unofficial start of the PGA Tour season, and its first event, Doral, boasted a field as strong as many Major championships. Doral still rides high (boosted substantially by becoming a WGC event in 2007) but the Honda Classic now kicks off the swing, and its field, though hardly terrible, will not be confused with a Major…or even the Northern Trust Open. Ernie Els heads the list of seven world top-25s in attendance, though after #7 Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia (#13), Angel Cabrera (#14), Luke Donald (#16), Zach Johnson (#19) and Trevor Immelman (#21) all reside outside of the top 10. This will be the second of six playings at the PGA National Resort’s Champion course, a typically watery Florida layout best know for a pair of dangerous back-nine par 3s (the 179-yard 15th and 190-yard 17th). The present track bears only limited resemblance to the George and Tom Fazio design which originally occupied the site – a course which, despite eventually requiring not one but two complete Jack Nicklaus renovations (in 1990 and 2002), was deemed strong enough by the PGA of America to host the 1987 PGA Championship. Go Figure.

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European, Asian & Australasian Tours: Johnnie Walker Classic – Gurgaon, India

Boasting only Major champions among its winners from 1993-2003, the Johnnie Walker Classic has long enjoyed a strong international reputation. In 2007 and ’08, however, the schedule makers have dealt it a tough hand by placing it immediately after the WGC Match Play, a cruel trick which, given travel time from Tucson to New Delhi (nevermind the Jakarta-to-Tucson trek of the previous Sunday) pretty well guarantees a limited field. Still, three prominent top-25s – Adam Scott (#5), Vijay Singh (#11) and Ian Poulter (#24) – will be making the trip, as will top-64’s Robert Karlsson, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Soren Hansen and Colin Montgomerie. Also worthy of attention is defending champion Anton Haig, a 21-year-old South African currently ranked 191st who last year edged countryman Richard Sterne and England’s Oliver Wilson in a playoff in Phuket. This year the event moves to the DLF Golf Resort outside of New Delhi, a 7,176-yard Arnold Palmer design that is actually lit for night action – a potentially valuable commodity in these days of ultra-slow professional play.

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Sunshine Tour: Mount Edgecombe Trophy – Durban, South Africa

With the Sunshine Tour’s higher-profile summer season winding down, the field will be especially light this week at the Mount Edgecombe Golf Club; indeed, not a single player ranked among the world top 100 is scheduled to appear, and only Mark Murless (#5), Louis Moolman (#6), Chris Williams (#7), Adilson da Silva (#9) and Warren Abery (#10) will be present from among the top 10 in the Sunshine Order of Merit. The host layout, the Mt. Edgecombe Golf Club’s No.1 course, dates to 1935, when it was laid out in then-rural country north of Durban by South Africa’s first great international player, Sid Brews. Updated by Hugh Baiocchi in 1992, it is today best known for its own version of “Amen Corner,” a watery stretch which includes the par-5 14th, par-3 15th and par-4 17th.

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LPGA Tour: HSBC Women’s Champions – Singapore

It took until week three of the LPGA season for world number one Lorena Ochoa to make her 2008 debut – and to begin what figures to be a memorable season dueling former queen of the hill Annika Sorenstam for worldwide supremacy. Curiously they begin their battle far from either’s homeland, at the inaugural HSBC Women’s Champions, an event designed ostensibly for last year’s LPGA tournament winners but which, through various exemption categories, is open to pretty much all of the world’s top 60-70 female players, plus winners of select events throughout the Far East. Fans and media may focus primarily upon the two superstars, but with the top 17 female players in the world (and 18 of the top 20) present, numerous others figure to be heard from before it’s all said and done. The host facility, the Garden course at the Tanah Merah Country Club, is situated adjacent to Changi International Airport near Singapore’s eastern tip. Measuring a modest 6,457 yards with a par of 72, it is a water-laden track originally built by Thomson, Wolveridge & Fream, then redesigned by one Max Wexler (who I am not even familiar with, nevermind related to). If comparisons to the male pros are in any way instructive, scoring may not be terribly low, as Ian Woosnam shot “only” 272 (16 under par) before defeating Andrew Coltart in a playoff when the club hosted the 1996 Johnnie Walker Classic. Let the 2008 fun begin.

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Posted on Monday, February 25, 2008 at 08:22PM by Registered CommenterDaniel in | Comments3 Comments

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