Shark Shootout From Friday

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NAPLES, Fla. -- Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly combined for a 9-under 63 and Dustin Johnson and Ian Poulter matched them to share the first-round lead at the Shark Shootout on Friday.

Stricker and Kelly, the defending champions, led for most of the day in the modified alternate-shot format. They had a two-stroke lead at 10 under until bogeying the par-5 17th when Stricker knocked his second shot near the lip of a greenside bunker.

Johnson and Poulter birdied No. 16 to get to 9 under.

The 63s tied the mark for low score in the modified alternate-shot format in the 10 years that the tournament has been played at Tiburon Golf Club.

"I think it was a dream start, to be honest," Poulter said.

The overall format record is a 57 by Fred Couples and Raymond Floyd in 1990 at Sherwood Country Club in California. The 12 teams in the tournament hosted by Greg Norman will play better ball Saturday, and a scramble on Sunday in the $3 million event.

Mark Calcavecchia and Jeff Overton, who grabbed the early lead with an eagle-birdie start, and Fred Funk and Kenny Perry were tied for third at 8 under. Justin Leonard and Scott Verplank were fifth at 6 under.

Members of those three teams in contention have good records in the event.

Calcavecchia, who is playing in his 17th Shootout, has won twice, and so has Perry. Leonard and Verplank lost in a playoff in 2006, and tied for second last year.

Norman and partner Matt Kuchar were last in the field after a 72.

Both of the leading teams stumbled down the stretch.

Sitting at 8-under through 11 holes, Johnson and Poulter bogeyed the par-3 12th and, despite the long-hitting Johnson, the duo parred both the par-5 14th and 17th.

"Parring the two par-5s was brutal," Johnson said. "It was no fun. No. 14 was playing pretty tough, but No. 17 was playing fairly easy. We hit four pretty good shots and we made a 5."

Stricker and Kelly were at 10 under through 15, then bogeyed the par-5 17th after Stricker knocked his second shot near the lip of a greenside bunker. Kelly was forced to play the ball directly to the left instead of straight at the pin, then barely got it out of the bunker. He missed a 10-footer for par. They missed the green at the last, but two-putted for par.

Johnson and Poulter both hit poor tee shots on the par-3 12th.

"I'm not taking the full blame on that one," Poulter joked, although he did admit he may have jinxed them when he said then they had gotten off to a good start.

Still, they're happy with where they're at and confident heading into the final two rounds.

"Our game, I think, is very good for this format," Poulter said. "Better ball [Saturday] gives us plenty of chances. I'm playing well. Dustin's hitting it long and straight, and that's dangerous."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press Courtesy of AP, ESPN, and
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"Slowly, I'm regaining the balance that I'd lost."

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Tiger Woods gave a 17-minute interview with ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" program on Thursday morning, discussing the fallout from his personal scandal of the past year. He remained introspective, but not revelatory; articulate, but not impassioned; regretful, but not distraught.

We shouldn't have expected anything more. Nearly a year ago, Tiger Woods' world came crashing down on him -- literally. It was, in Woods' own words Thursday during an interview on ESPN radio, "The best thing that could've happened to me."

That was perhaps the most revealing, or at least telling, statement from Woods in the 25-minute interview, which Woods said he gave -- along with launching a Twitter account and writing a first-person account for Newsweek magazine -- in an effort to connect with the fans.

"That's been the biggest surprise of all is how supportive the fans have been," said Woods, who echoed similar words when he returned to golf at the Masters earlier this year.

"The only way [to rebuild my image] is to come to grips with who I am," he added. "I wasn't happy with who I was. I was doing things morally that inside I knew I shouldn't be doing."

Asked what about what he thinks he learned about himself in the past year, Woods added that he wasn't the person he used to be.

Asked if he's happier now, Woods said, "Infinitely so. I'm more clear about who I am and where I want to go."

Where Woods goes on the golf course in terms of whether or not he breaks Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships remains to be seen.

Woods, who has 14 career major championships, will play one more event this season, his upcoming Chevron World Challenge. If he doesn't win, it will mark the first year since 1995 that he has gone without a victory.

"Bits and pieces" is how Woods described how the swing changes he's been working on with new coach Sean Foley have been coming along.

"The fixes for the misses are a little different than the past," Woods added.

The main priority in Woods' life, however, appear to be his children.

In the Newsweek article, for example, he talked about the joy of bathing his son over hitting another bucket of golf balls in practice.

He wrote: "Slowly, I'm regaining the balance that I'd lost. My healing process is far from complete, but I am beginning to appreciate things I had overlooked before. I'm learning that some victories can mean smiles, not trophies, and that life's most ordinary events can bring joy."

Thursday, Woods re-iterated that, saying his kids are his No. 1 priority and that every day he tries to teach them something, much the way his own late father, Earl, did with him.

Woods added that he'll also tell his children the "absolute truth" when it comes time to explaining the events of the past year.

Said Woods: "My dad always said that love is a given, but trust and respect are earned."

That's exactly what Woods is hoping to continue to earn himself

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press Courtesy of AP, ESPN, PGATOUR and
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Roland Thatcher takes lead at Disney

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Roland Thatcher was at home a year ago after missing the cut at Disney, stressfully updating the live money list on his computer to see if he would finish high enough to keep his PGA Tour card.

Things will be up to him Sunday.

Thatcher is on his way to an improbable bid to keep his card, shooting a 2-under 70 on Saturday in the Children's Miracle Network Classic to take a four-stroke lead over Chris Stroud into the final round. Five others are within five strokes of Thatcher.

"In a way, I'm in a much better situation this year because I control my own destiny, and that's a quality thing," Thatcher said. "And I have a chance to win a tournament, which is huge."

No pressure or anything: Thatcher will only be playing for his job.

He needs a victory or solo second-place finish to vault into the top 125 -- the cutoff for full status -- to retain his card. Nos. 126-150 will get partial status.

Quite a different scenario than last year.

Thatcher began a year ago at Disney at 119th in earnings. He missed the cut and couldn't stop watching the tour's website at home, with his name bouncing in and out of the top 125 several times during the live projections.

An anxiety-filled day, for sure.

"My wife left the house. She actually called my best friend at the time to come over and basically baby-sit me," said Thatcher, who eventually finished 121st to keep his card. "She couldn't deal with it anymore. I didn't blame her either. That was probably not the best way to handle it."

Only a disastrous finish kept him from being able to relax more this Sunday.

Thatcher had a six-shot lead when his approach on the 17th hole went way right of the green, the ball landed just short of the water and was stuck in the mud. His right foot almost knee-high in the water, Thatcher chipped out and the ball caromed off a camera tower. He two-putted for a double-bogey, then bogeyed No. 18 to finish at 18 under.

"It's nice to be closer than I was," said Stroud, who also shot a 70. "I was trying to not pay too much attention to it, but he was running away with the tournament."

Thatcher isn't the only one fighting for a tour card.

Three others who began barely inside the top 125 -- Joe Durant (120), Woody Austin (123) and Michael Allen (124) -- missed the cut. Durant should be safe, but Austin and Allen are projected to fall out.

It will be an anxiety-filled day for a handful of others still playing Sunday. The projected money list can fluctuate by the second, there are countless scenarios for some to keep their cards.

"Third or better by myself, obviously in any of those orders, and that'll get me to next year," said Brett Wetterich, who shot a 68 and was tied for third -- five strokes back. Wetterich began the week 159th on the money list but also has a medical exemption that could get him into the first tournament next year and give another chance to earn enough.

For everyone in the field, Thatcher's history should at least provide some comfort.

He only needed to make par on the final hole in the final round of qualifying school in 2001 in West Palm Beach. Instead, his approach shot bounced off the cart path and onto the clubhouse roof and missed out.

Even in the big leagues, Thatcher has often been disappointing.

He has missed far more cuts (64) than he's made (45) on the PGA Tour. Thatcher's only top-10 finish this year came in New Orleans, and he would have needed an outright win this week to retain his card if it wasn't for that.

Thatcher was such a long shot at Disney he already signed up for the second stage of qualifying school near Houston next week. All Disney was supposed to provide was some momentum.

Now it might deliver a tour card.

"At least this week, regardless of what happens Sunday, I'm in charge of it," Thatcher said. "I don't need to be sitting there. It's a very uncomfortable situation to be really rooting against your friends is what it really comes down to. As crass as that sounds, that's what I was doing last year.

"And this year all I need to be doing is rooting for me."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press Courtesy of AP, ESPN, and
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Chris Stroud takes three-stroke lead

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Chris Stroud is doing his best to make sure Rickie Fowler's memorable rookie season doesn't have a fairy-tale ending at Disney World.

Stroud shot a 10-under 62 in the opening round of the Children's Miracle Network Classic on Thursday, surging past Fowler by four strokes and taking the clubhouse lead after play was halted because of darkness. Roland Thatcher was three shots off the pace, and four others were tied with Fowler in third.

"No matter what golf course we play, no matter how hard they set it up, no matter how hard the conditions, somebody always shoots 62, 63 or 64," Stroud said. "It just happens to be me this week."

The late surge eclipsed an impressive day by Fowler.

The 21-year-old Fowler had eight birdies and two bogeys and showed no signs of jet lag after returning from the HSBC Champions in Shanghai. He led for most of the day until Stroud moved atop the leaderboard with 10 birdies before dusk. Fourteen players were still on the course when play was called.

Fowler has been bouncing around the globe with a busy schedule, from Wales to Las Vegas to Asia -- among other stops -- and then back to Florida on Monday. He was so tired in his only practice round that all he did was hit some range balls for about 30 minutes before heading back to bed.

As luck would have it, he got the day's first tee time at 6:45 a.m. Then had to wait when fog delayed it an hour.

"It's been more power naps at night. I don't think I've slept more than four hours straight," Fowler said. "When you're flying that much, it definitely feels like I hadn't touched the club for a week."

This is a familiar turf for Fowler.

Last year, he had just turned pro out of Oklahoma State and was only one shot off the lead after the first round at Disney. But he plummeted down the leaderboard through the weekend and was never in contention.

This year, Fowler has done everything but win.

He had second-place finishes at the Memorial and Phoenix, has $2.6 million in earnings, is well inside the top 50 in the world ranking, earned a spot on the Ryder Cup team and atoned for his surprising selection with an incredible birdie for an unlikely half-point.

All that's missing is a trophy.

"Definitely need to get that first win under the belt, get the monkey off my back and go from there," he said.

There was also another incentive for Fowler to come to Disney.

He is one shot behind Troy Merritt and Aaron Baddeley -- who moved into a tie Thursday -- for the Kodak Challenge. The contest designates a hole at 30 tournaments and keeps score throughout the year, and the lowest score for those who played at least 18 holes takes home the $1 million prize.

"I figure Rickie or Aaron are going to make birdie, and I'm sure Rickie's trying his hardest," Merritt said.

The battle at the bottom of the leaderboard for Tour cards is taking shape.

With Disney being the final tour stop of the season, it's the last chance for players to move up on the money list and secure their Tour cards for next year. Only the top 125 will have full status next year, but players who finish No. 126-150 on the money list will get conditional status that allows them to enter more than a dozen tournaments.

The scores can often fluctuate the first two days with players swapping between the Magnolia and Palm courses. Only the Magnolia Course is used on the weekend.

But Friday -- cut day -- is often where the biggest moves are made. All Stroud, who is 119th on the money list, will likely need to do is make the cut. And Thatcher, 179th on the money list, needs to finish alone in at least second place to move in the top 125.

After one round, that's exactly where he's at.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press Courtesy of AP, ESPN, and
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Tiger Woods says it was no surprise to lose golf's No. 1 ranking

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"As far as the world ranking is concerned, yes, I'm not ranked No. 1 in the world," Woods said Monday. "In order to do that you have to win and I didn't win this year."

Woods played an exhibition at Yokohama Country Club on Monday against Japanese teenager Ryo Ishikawa. He is preparing for the HSBC Championship in Shanghai, which starts Thursday at Sheshan International.

Woods had been No. 1 since the week before the 2005 U.S. Open, where he was runner-up. He won the British Open a month later and his ranking had rarely been threatened since.

That changed this year when Woods struggled through his worst season on and off the course. He took a five-month break from golf to cope with confessions of extramarital affairs, which ultimately led to divorce, and his game has not been the same.

Woods said he was doing his best to adjust to no longer being No. 1.

"As far as the emotions go, it is what it is," Woods said. "To become No. 1 you have to win and win a lot to maintain it. That's the way it goes."

Westwood is followed in the rankings by Woods, PGA champion Martin Kaymer, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker.

With three more events remaining this year, Woods said he hopes to turn things around.

"I've got three more events this year and, hopefully, I can end on a good note," he said. "I'm really looking forward to these events and hopefully they will spearhead into a better 2011."

Westwood earned the top ranking after PGA champion Kaymer failed to finish among the top two at the Andalucia Masters in Spain. He is the first European since Nick Faldo in 1994 to be No. 1 and the 13th to sit on top since the ranking system began in 1986.

The Englishman's reign could be short lived.

The HSBC Champions has assembled such a strong field that Westwood, Woods, Kaymer and Mickelson each have a shot at becoming No. 1 by the end of the week. Mickelson is defending champion.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press Courtesy of AP, ESPN, and
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