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A year later, Choi not part of rivalries

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NAPLES, Fla. (AP) - Na Yeon Choi finished last year by winning the LPGA Titleholders and buying a new house at Isleworth outside Orlando. She was No. 2 on the money list with nearly $2 million. She was No. 2 in the world. She was the U.S. Women's Open champion.

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One year later, Choi was missing from the conversation.

Inbee Park won three straight majors and last week clinched LPGA player of the year, the first South Korean to win that award. Suzann Pettersen has challenged Park and has a chance this week to win the LPGA money list. Stacy Lewis, who rose to No. 1 earlier in the year, has a slim lead in the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average.

As for Choi?

She gave up the lead on the back nine at St. Andrews and tied for second behind Stacy Lewis in the Women's British Open. She was runner-up in the HSBC Champions in Singapore. And those were the highlights. Choi has failed to win a tournament, has slipped to No. 6 in the world and is No. 9 on the money list.

Choi has won at least $1 million the last five years. She needs $80,000 at the Titleholders to keep that streak going.

''I think I put a lot of pressure on myself at the beginning of the season,'' Choi said Tuesday. ''I started the season No. 2 in the world, and I really, really want to be No. 1. But I think I got too much pressure, too much to think about - winning a tournament or about the results and lower scores.''

Choi's solution is to go back to being a rookie. That means working harder and not worrying about results. As a rookie, she had no fear.

''But right now, I'm kind of scared to play, too much thinking, too much worry about,'' she said. ''So I really want to go back to how I started golf, or when I came to the LPGA Tour, that kind of demeanor.''

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SPIETH TO SHERWOOD: Jordan Spieth's first round of the year was a pre-qualifier to get into the Monday qualifier at Torrey Pines. His last round will be at Sherwood Country Club, a last-minute alternate to the Christmas holiday bonus known as the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge hosted by Tiger Woods.

Spieth was selected as an alternate Tuesday to replace Brandt Snedeker, who is being extra cautious from a slight knee surgery from when he lost his balance on a Segway during a corporate outing in Shanghai.

The World Challenge is Dec. 5-8.

Spieth never needed that qualifier for the Farmers Insurance Open. He got in on a late sponsor's exemption, missed the cut, and then headed off to the Web.com Tour. His plans shifted to the PGA Tour in March, and the results were amazing - enough money to secure a card, a win at the John Deere Classic to instantly get his card, No. 7 in the FedEx Cup standings and a spot in the Presidents Cup.

Sherwood will be a bonus.

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INKSTER TO THE BOOTH: Juli Inkster's closest friends in golf have always worried about whether she could ever retire. This might be a step.

Inkster is one of three additions to the Golf Channel's cast of on-air talent for the 2014 season. The others are Karen Stupples, already a strong voice of golf for the BBC, and Paige Mackenzie.

Inkster, the 53-year-old Hall of Famer, is not giving up on golf. She will work five events for Golf Channel, starting with the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic in May.

Stupples will work at just over a dozen tournaments as an analyst and on-course reporter. Mackenzie will be the co-host on ''Morning Drive'' and contribute to news programming while continuing to play.

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RULES OF THE GAME: Annika Sorenstam is one of the few players who has gone through a USGA rules seminar and taken the test, and it would seem to raise a question. If golf is their livelihood, shouldn't all tour players go through the seminar to know the rules of the sport they play?

Steve Stricker might have had the best explanation.

''We're playing for a lot of money,'' he said.

There is golf, and there is tournament golf, and while they are played the same, it's different. Even the highest-rated rules officials who have scored 100 on the test have blown calls, such as Trey Holland at the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont involving Ernie Els.

There are 34 rules. There are more than 1,200 decisions. With so much at stake - either money or prestige - players would rather put a decision in the hands of the experts, whose word is final.

''We can always call one of the officials out of the woods,'' Stricker said.

''That's a week out of their life,'' Slugger White said when asked why more players don't go to a rules seminar. ''If you went to a rules school and you're coming down the stretch in a tournament, they'd call every time. They don't want to make a mistake.''

White is the PGA Tour's vice president of rules and competition. When he played the tour, he gave himself a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10 in his rules knowledge.

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FIRST LADY: The PGA of America has selected Annika Sorenstam for its ''First Lady of Golf Award.''

The award began in 1998 and is given every other year to a woman who has made significant contributions to promoting golf. That goes beyond Sorenstam's 89 worldwide wins and 10 majors. Since retiring five years ago, she has developed a teaching academy, golf course design firm, financial-planning group, an apparel collection and a foundation geared toward teaching children a healthy lifestyle through fitness and nutrition. She also has a junior golf program.

Sorenstam, a mother of two, is the first international woman to win the award. She will be honored Jan. 22 in Orlando at the PGA Merchandise Show.

''I have been so fortunate through my life to have people who helped pave the way for me to work hard and exceed my goals on and off the course,'' Sorenstam said. ''I truly feel like I am living a dream and want to help the next generation do the same.''

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SWANN'S WAY: Lynn Swann is the latest board director for the PGA of America.

Swann helped lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s, after playing on a national championship team at Southern California. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Swann, a member at Augusta National, joins the board Saturday at the PGA's annual meeting in San Diego. He will serve a three-year term.

''I came to the game late in life, but hope over the next three years to help the PGA bring golf to so many more people early in life,'' Swann said.

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DIVOTS: Nick Price has added a tournament to his schedule, all because his son (Greg) took up golf eight months ago. They will play the PNC Father-Son Challenge for the first time on Dec. 12-15 at The Ritz-Carlton Club in Orlando. ''I just want him to enjoy it,'' Price said. ''If he enjoys it, he'll want to do it again.'' ... Charles Howell III, who had five top 10s a year ago, already has three in five tournaments this year. ... The Players Championship raised $7.1 million for local charities, beating last year's record $6.5 million.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: The Official World Golf Ranking board has approved ranking points for the new PGA Tour China series next year. The winner of the China events will get six points, or the equivalent of 19th place at The Players Championship.

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FINAL WORD: ''You're witnessing the best player on the planet at the minute, for sure. I don't think there's anybody to go up against him.'' - Ian Poulter on Henrik Stenson, who won three of his last seven events to claim the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2014
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved

  
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