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TEEING OFF

Times Staff Writer

Five things to look for on the professional golf scene:

1. He has played only one tournament, so it could be a little premature to take too much away from Tiger Woods’ overwhelming victory at Torrey Pines. But you can safely bet there are a lot of top players already sizing up their chances against him in 2008.

Part of the reason why is that Woods finished so strongly in 2007, winning four of his last five official PGA Tour events.

And maybe another reason is a certain question, the toughest a player has to face: “If I’m playing my absolute best and he’s playing his best, can I beat him?”

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It’s early, but the answer may be alarmingly negative, and that’s bad news for Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh and everyone else chasing Woods.

In that case, it may be time to look to the new generation of players who don’t have any Woods baggage to lug around -- players such as Anthony Kim, 22; Nick Flanagan, 23; and the youngest rookie on tour, 20-year-old Jason Day of Australia.

Day, who earned his card by finishing fifth on the Nationwide Tour’s money list, missed the cut at the Sony and tied for 49th at Torrey Pines, but he’s back this week in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Like Kim and Flanagan, Day has a certain swagger that may serve him well. He had said he’s the guy who would like to “take down Tiger,” and he meant it.

“He’s the No. 1 guy in the world. But like I said, if it takes me five years or 20 years, I’ve got goals that I want to achieve. Who wouldn’t want to become the No. 1 golfer in the world? Some guys might be out here just to make money.”

Day has been targeted by some as the heir apparent to Australians Greg Norman and Adam Scott.

“There’s a lot of pressure with that,” he said.

There’s also pressure trying to take down Tiger. He probably just doesn’t know it yet, and that may be good.

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2. The last time the U.S. team won the Ryder Cup was in 1999. The last time the U.S. played the format of alternate-shot matches in the morning and best-ball matches in the afternoon was in 1999.

So it should be to the shock of no one that U.S. captain Paul Azinger announced Wednesday they’re going back to that format at the Ryder Cup in September at Valhalla.

“I felt like the Americans had an edge in the alternate shot and I think it’s partly responsible for why Europe has gotten off to a pretty hot start,” Azinger said. “So I’ve decided to change it back. I hope it’s the right decision.”

The U.S. lost the last two Ryder Cups by 18 1/2 -9 1/2 scores, its worst losses in history.

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3. It’s not official yet, but the West Coast swing of the 2009 PGA Tour will be different.

Because the first full week of January doesn’t start until Monday, Jan. 5, the Mercedes gets a later start and runs Jan. 8-11 at Kapalua.

Not only does that push everyone back, but with the FBR Open near Phoenix committed to be played during Super Bowl week, it means the Buick Invitational will be played Feb. 5-8, Pebble Beach on Feb. 12-15 and the Northern Trust Open at Riviera on Feb. 19-22.

The Bob Hope will be played Jan. 21-25, five days later than it was this played this year.

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4. Woods is far and away the biggest moneymaker in golf, with total income pegged at $122.76 million. That’s endorsement income and earnings on the golf course, according to an estimate by Golf Digest.

Second is Mickelson at $49.6 million.

What was Woods’ monthly allowance while he was a student at Stanford? Exactly $100.

5. Playing golf with Annika Sorenstam was the dream of Molly Esordi, 14, of Grosse Ile, Mich., who has Hodgkins lymphoma, and Sorenstam is making it happen today at the Ginn Reunion Resort in Reunion, Fla.

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The teen’s tee time with Sorenstam is a collaboration between the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Annika Foundation, because Sorenstam is a national ambassador for Make-A-Wish.

The Michigan teen played for the Grosse Ile High girls’ golf team last fall and was an all-league first-teamer as a freshman.

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A SLICE OF LIFE

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Paul Azinger, on his time in the booth working with Nick Faldo on ABC’s golf coverage:

‘Sometimes I miss it. I think Faldo and I had a dynamic there and chemistry, and I wasn’t up there long enough for people to hate me.’

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THE TOURNAMENTS

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PGA EUROPEAN TOUR

Dubai Desert Classic

When: Today-Sunday.

Where: Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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TV: Golf Channel (today, 5:30-9:30 a.m., 3:30-5:30 p.m.; Friday, 5:30-9:30 a.m., 3:30-5:30 p.m.; Saturday, 5:30-9:30 a.m.; 3:30-6 p.m.; Sunday, 5:30-9:30 a.m., 6:30-9 p.m.).

PGA TOUR

FBR Open

When: Today-Sunday.

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Where: Scottsdale, Ariz.

TV: Golf Channel (Today-Friday, noon-3 p.m., 5:30-8:30 p.m.; Channel 2 (Saturday-Sunday, noon-3 p.m).

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STAT OF THE WEEK

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Ryuji Imada, above, 5 feet 8 and 150 pounds, ranked 148th on the PGA Tour in driving distance last year, but he had the longest drive of the Buick Invitational last week at Torrey Pines, on the 14th hole on Sunday. The ball traveled 414 yards . . . much after hitting a cart path.


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