Tiger Woods offered Annika Sorenstam his full support after Vijay Singh criticised the women's world No 1 for playing in a men's tournament in the States next week. Woods read the comments on the plane over to Germany for the Deutsche Bank SAP Open and tried to get in touch with the Swede as soon as he arrived.
Sorenstam will become the first woman for more than half a century to play on the US PGA Tour at the Bank of America Colonial. Singh said he hoped she missed the cut because she did not "belong" on the men's circuit. "It's unfortunate Vijay said that," Woods said. "It was very unfortunate but I left a message for Annika. There are going to be huge distractions but I told her to just go out there and play."
Woods and Sorenstam share the same manager and the Colonial event, where the course is not as long as some on the US circuit, was among the venues the men's world No 1 suggested might be right for the accurate Swede. But Woods added: "Making the cut would be a fantastic performance. It would be fairer to give her four or five starts if you want to judge what kind of player she is against us. With one start, anything can happen."
Nick Price complained that Sorenstam's guest appearance "reeks of publicity" but in golf money talks. The financial institutions are falling over themselves to get exposure through the sport and fortunately for Woods, he is a good listener. He will not be at the Colonial next week and is playing here for the fifth year in a row, not without his account being credited by around $2.5m (£1.8m).
Having won their event three times, the sponsors feel Woods is value for money and Deutsche Bank are sponsoring their own event in the States in the summer. The charity benefiting from the tournament will be the Tiger Woods Foundation, which aims to introduce children to the game. A concert in Las Vegas in aid of his foundation recently raised over $1m. Having been told to rest more after his knee surgery in the winter, this is Tiger's first event since the Masters and one of only two prior to next month's US Open.
His only practice round was cut short early after a rainstorm washed out the afternoon pro-am. This was not good news for the greens, which were attacked by the fungus fusarium during the winter. This had led the chief referee, John Paramor, to decide to allow players to move balls which come to rest within "patches of fusarium" to the nearest point of relief.
As expected, the Ryder Cup qualifying system for 2004 has been changed to include five players who qualify through their world ranking points over the calendar of the qualifying, as well as five from the traditional European Tour table. For the first time performances in every event around the world will impact on making the Europe team, while the captain will still get two wild-card selections.
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