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Clark leaves Hawaii more optimistic

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HONOLULU (AP) - No other tournament has brought Tim Clark an equal measure of big payoffs and big problems like the Sony Open.

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He has been runner-up twice at Waialae and finished inside the top 25 the other two times he played. That's the good news. But he also suffered two injuries at this tournament that effectively cost him the rest of the year.

The more memorable incident was in 2011. After his runner-up finish, Clark realized he had torn tendons in his elbow that some of his friends thought might end his career. He tried to let the injury heal through rest and rehabilitation until he had no choice but surgery. He played only three more times, and it took until the end of last year before he started feeling healthy again.

And then there was 2001.

``Believe it or not, my rookie season, it was at a pro-am here that I blew my wrist out and missed my whole rookie season,'' he said Sunday. He tried to play three more times after that until he withdrew from Pebble Beach and was done for the year.

``I either come second here or blow myself out for a year,'' he said.

This year, he left Honolulu in one piece and had reason to hope for a good year after finishing second. Even as he tried to regain some strength and his form last year, he still finished at No. 61 on the money list, including a runner-up finish to Sergio Garcia at the Wyndham Championship. That made him optimistic coming out to Hawaii, and he felt even better when he left.

``I still have to look after my arm,'' Clark said. ``I still have to do physio and stuff. But when I get out to the course, it's not on my mind. And it's been a long road. ... I always felt like I'd get my game back at some point, and last year it showed when I had some good tournaments.

``Today meant a lot,'' he said Sunday. ``To be able to stay calm and feel like I had a chance to win here, I do feel like I'm back.''

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FEDEX CHANGES?: Virtually untouched for the last four years, the points system for the FedEx Cup playoffs might see a minor change this year.

PGA Tour officials are looking into reducing the value of points that are awarded during the playoff events to allow for big moves in the standings - after all, the idea is to reward whoever is playing the best golf - without players making too big of a jump.

Officials have not decided whether to tinker with a system that has worked well since 2008, when Padraig Harrington won two majors and didn't qualify for the Tour Championship and Vijay Singh effectively wrapped up the $10 million bonus before getting to East Lake.

At issue is whether players are being rewarded too much without winning.

Martin Laird was at No. 95 when the playoffs began in 2010. He was runner-up at The Barclays, which guaranteed him a spot in the Tour Championship (and three of majors the following year). Kevin Streelman was at No. 102 and tied for third, and he made it to the Tour Championship despite not finishing in the top 40 of the next two events. A year later, Chez Reavie was No. 87 after the first event, was runner-up at the Deutsche Bank Championship, and that got him to East Lake.

Points count five times as much in the playoffs to produce some volatility. The tour is discussing whether points at triple the value, or quadruple the value, would allow for volatility in the playoffs without someone getting into the Tour Championship based on one high finish.

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MICKELSON DEBUT: Phil Mickelson starts his season at the Humana Challenge this week in the California desert, and he's as optimistic as ever. The four-time major champion said he had a couple of breakthroughs during the offseason, particularly with his putting.

Mickelson switched to a claw grip last year. He said he worked hard during his break on technique, along with the equipment. He started using Callaway's new line of putters that are painted black and white, which he believes will help him think less about alignment and more about the speed.

``It helps me not to be so technical at address,'' he said during a conference call for the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where he will go for a record-tying fifth win next month. ``I'm able to get out into the putt. ... It has allowed me to putt without thinking.''

Mickelson says he has been sick for the last week which has curtailed his practice. He was planning to go out to the desert on Monday, but chose to stay home to rest and practice until traveling on Wednesday.

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GOOSE ON THE LOOSE: The Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa marked the return of two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, who had not played in five months after finally having surgery on his back.

Goosen's back had been bothering him for the last three years, and he reached a point that he felt his only choice was disk replacement surgery. His last event was the PGA Championship. He opened in South Africa with a tie for 20th.

``Really since the day after the surgery, I was walking. And a week later, my back was feeling good,'' Goosen said last week. ``And so far, it's been five months now and it's still feeling great. Getting a bit tight from hitting a few rounds ... but so far so good. Very excited about the new year. Hopefully, the back will stay as good as it feels now. I just need to really work on my swing a little bit and find a bit of game.''

To say he has a clean bill of health takes in more than just his back.

``I've been off painkillers,'' he said. ``That cleans the system out a little bit. You feel a bit better. So I'm feeling very confident for this year.''

Goosen is playing Qatar and Dubai before eventually making his way to America. At this point, he is eligible only for the U.S. Open among the majors. He still has plenty of work to do on his swing. Goosen said he was falling away on his swing last year because that's how his back was leaning. Now that new disk has straightened his back, he can stay on top of the ball better. The goal is to regain strength and the timing in his swing.

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DIVOTS: Eight players will be starting the year by playing three straight tournaments - Tommy Gainey, Matt Kuchar, Carl Pettersson, Webb Simpson, Scott Stallings, Kyle Stanley, Johnson Wagner and Mark Wilson. ... Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have been chosen to design the Trinity Forest Golf Course, to be built on a landfill in Dallas. The course is part of a project that will include a short course, a practice facility, teaching center for The First Tee of Dallas and practice academy for the SMU golf teams. It also is expected to be the new home of the Byron Nelson Championship when its contract with TPC Las Colinas expires. ... Seung-yul Noh has signed with International Sports Management. He also is among the players who have signed with Nike. ... Ryo Ishikawa has ended his equipment deal with Yonex and now is with Callaway. ... Rees Jones has been selected to receive the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Jones is a past president of the ASGCA.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: Padraig Harrington said his New Year's resolution was going to be only ``yes'' or ``no'' answers. His first answer was 522 words.

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FINAL WORD: ``I'm against it, but whatever they say the rule will be or might be, I'll go with it. I'm a golfer. I'm not making the rules. I want to honor the game, wherever it takes us.'' - Ernie Els on the proposed rule to ban anchored strokes.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2014
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved

  
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