By BOB HARIG
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2001
While thousands of golfers across the country have taken first steps toward realizing a dream of playing in the U.S. Open, the reigning champion plots strategy to defend his title, working on getting his game to peak again, rubbing his hands in anticipation.
Could a U.S. Open venue be any more suited to Tiger Woods than Southern Hills?
Woods spoke via conference call Monday before heading to Germany for this week's European Tour event, where he will get a hefty appearance fee. Meanwhile, United States Golf Association officials were previewing the Southern Hills Country Club course in Tulsa, Okla., home to the 101st U.S. Open next month. It promises to be some test.
One par-4 will measure 491 yards -- a par-5 by any reasonable definition. The only par-5 on the front nine will play to 655 yards, making it the longest in U.S. Open history. The par-4 18th, already difficult, has been stretched another 20 yards to 465. The longer the course, the more it favors Woods, especially if the USGA is true to its word and grows the rough just a moderate length. A change in philosophy the past two years allowed players to advance wayward shots from the rough, as opposed to having to wedge back to the fairway from high grass.
That helps Woods even more, because if he misses a fairway with a long drive he can still reach the green, albeit perhaps not as close to the pin as he would like.
"We'll be hitting 5-irons into greens that were designed to be hit with 7-irons, and Tiger and the long hitters will be hitting 8-irons anyway," said Nick Price, who won the 1994 PGA Championship at Southern Hills.
Woods is coming off a tie for third at the Byron Nelson Classic, his first tournament since his Masters victory. After this week's tournament in Germany, he'll defend his title at the Memorial in two weeks before the Open.
"I've been working on a few new things, getting ready for the U.S. Open," said Woods, who will attempt to win his fifth consecutive major and seventh overall. "Some of the swing changes I've made, hopefully, will be ready by then. Overall, I'm very pleased with the progress that I've made."
OPEN DREAMS: Ty Tryon didn't look much like a high school sophomore, shooting 5-under 65 Monday in a U.S. Open qualifier at Alaqua Lakes for medalist honors. He advanced to the June 5 sectional qualifier at Old Memorial in Tampa. Tryon, 16, tied for 38th at the Honda Classic in March.
More remarkable was the play of Morgan Pressel, who shot 2-under 70 Monday at Bear Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach. Pressel, 12, is believed to be one of the youngest to ever qualify for the U.S. Women's Open. Not only did Pressel qualify, she led the 160-player field, mostly pros. Beverly Klass was 10 when she played in the 1967 Women's Open.
LOCALLY: Jeff Hollis, general manager at St. Petersburg's Mangrove Bay Golf Course, along with Cypress Links and Twin Brooks, was recently named Golf Professional of the Year by the West Central Chapter of the North Florida PGA of America. Other awards went to Bill Conway at Belleair Country Club, Earl Maurer at Countryside Country Club, David Shaffer at Lake Jovita, Randy Mosley at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Seven Rivers' Vic Goniglairo, the player of the year. The chapter also recognized Tampa Bay Classic tournament director Gerald Goodman as amateur player of the year. ... The Ninth Innisbrook Amateur will be June 30-July 3 at the resort's Copperhead and Island courses. For more information, call 727-789-2755.
- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.