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GOLF NOTEBOOK / MARTIN BECK : Eric Woods Better Late Than Never

Coming off his worst performance of the year, Eric Woods nearly made the biggest mistake of his professional golf career.

Woods, who played at Corona del Mar High and UC Irvine, missed his tee time for the first round of the Ontario (Canada) Open this month. That cost him two strokes. But had he arrived at the tee box a few minutes later, after his group had hit their second shots, he would have been disqualified from the tournament he had won in 1993.

“By the time I got there my group was halfway down the fairway. I just dropped my ball and ripped it, ‘Fore,’ ” Woods said, laughing.

It turned out to be an insignificant mistake. Woods birdied that first hole for a bogey and after an eagle and a birdie he was two-under par. He finished three-under 69, two shots behind the leader after one round, and wound up winning the tournament by four strokes.

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It was the first victory of 1994 the Canadian PGA season for Woods, who won two tournaments and was the leading money winner in Canada last year.

This season, after losing a playoff in the second event and finishing in the top 10 in the first five, Woods struggled. He finished 54th at the Canadian Masters and slipped to seventh in the tour’s Order of Merit, which with two events left put him in danger of finishing out of the top three and therefore missing the PGA Tour’s Canadian Open in September.

The $18,000 first prize at Ontario put him back into the lead in the Order of Merit, which he won despite missing the cut last week at the season-ending Trafalgar CPGA Championship. He finished the season with $44,083 in prize money and also earned a $15,000 bonus.

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Woods, who turned pro in 1988, said he enjoys his globe-trotting lifestyle. For the last two years, he has played on the tours in South Africa and Asia as well as Canada. He also was the South American Order of Merit winner in 1992.

His success helps him build a resume, which helps him earn exemptions on other tours and other tournaments. The key to exponential advancement, of course, is earning his PGA Tour card.

However, even if he is able to secure the card at the tour school this fall, he says, he’ll come back to Canada.

“We have a lot more fun on the Canadian Tour,” Woods said. “We have a good time up here.”

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The Cal Olson/Payne Stewart-designed golf course under construction in East Coyote Hills could be ready to play as soon as October--with a significant catch: there won’t be any grass.

The developer, Unocal Land and Development Co., is hoping to hold a charity “dirt tournament” on the course, which actually is scheduled to open in September 1995.

“The only thing that’s missing basically is grass,” said Dennis Chapman, a Unocal official. “People are going to get a real feel for what takes place before you have a finished golf course.”

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Plans are still sketchy, Chapman said, because he’s not sure how much of the course will be usable. Massive grading started in January and plans call for shaping of the holes to start in mid-September.

When completed, the public course will be 6,600 yards long from the back tees. Chapman said the company is hoping to hold greens fees below those charged by Tustin Ranch and Tijeras Creek (about $50 during the week) and above Imperial (about $20).

“We’re trying to be in the middle somewhere,” Chapman said.


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