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2008 golf highlights in the Tampa Bay area, nationally and internationally

The golf season locally, nationally and internationally was full of drama this year. It would have been easy to list 50 significant events, but 18 sounds like a nice round number, at least for golf. Here is a chronological look:

Front nine

1. Jan. 4: The season got off to a controversial start when Golf Channel announcer Kelly Tilghman, left, and analyst Nick Faldo were discussing who would challenge Tiger Woods. Tilghman said the young players should "lynch him in a back alley.'' She was suspended for two weeks, then apologized on the air. Woods said he was not offended by the comment.

2. Jan. 10: Clearwater's Leo Fiyalko, 92 and a legally blind, left, aced the 110-yard, par-3 fifth hole at Cove Cay Country Club in Clearwater. Fiyalko, an above-average golfer before macular degeneration took most of his sight, plays weekly in the Twilighters Club at Cove Cay. The feat drew media attention from as far away as Japan. "It was my first hole-in-one, and I never saw it,'' Fiyalko said.

3. Feb. 21: Drug testing began with the LPGA at the Fields Open in Hawaii. It took hours at times, and the LPGA later said it was a trial run. After switching companies to administer the test, the LPGA started testing in May. The PGA began in July.

4. Feb. 24: Patrick Olive, a Tarpon Springs High graduate living in Holiday, qualified for the PODS Championship at Innisbrook when he won the Gasparilla Invitational at Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club in Tampa. For the first time, the PGA tournament reserved a spot for the winner of the Gasparilla, which is for mid amateurs 25 and older. He finished last, 24 over par. "The experience is incredible, no doubt about it,'' Olive said.

5. March 5: PGA and Nationwide tour golfer Tripp Isenhour was filming his television show, Shoot Like a Pro, at the Grand Cypress course in Orlando last December when he became incensed at a hawk's squawking and began aiming iron shots at the bird. One hit and killed it. In March, Isenhour was charged with cruelty to animals. In August he pleaded no contest and received one year of probation, four hours of anger management, 100 hours of community service and a $500 fine.

6. March 9: Sean O'Hair won the PODS Championship, his first win since 2005, and his only win in the 2008 season. O'Hair overcame a three-stroke lead by Stewart Cink, who shot 74 on Sunday and fell out of contention. It was the last PODS Championship. The event in Palm Harbor is now called the Transitions Championship.

7. April 20: Tom Watson, right, won his second straight Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am at TPC Tampa Bay when Scott Hoch missed a 4-foot par putt on the 18th green. Mark Wiebe led after three rounds but shot 76 in the final round to fall down the Champions Tour leaderboard. "I backed in the back door of this tournament for sure,'' Watson said.

8. May 13: After 72 wins and 10 majors on the LPGA Tour, Annika Sorenstam announced she was taking a break from competition. She said she planned to focus on business ventures and start a family. "This is obviously a very difficult decision for me to make because I love this game very much," said Sorenstam, who turned 38 in October. "But I know it's the right one. I have other priorities in my life. I have a lot of dreams that I want to follow.''

9. May 18: Tampa's Ryuji Imada, right, a Chamberlain High graduate, won for the first time in his four-year PGA Tour career when he beat Kenny Perry in the first playoff hole of the AT&T Classic in Atlanta. Imada, 32, had his best season, with 11 top-25 finishes and $3,029,363.

Back nine

10. June 4: Transitions Optical, a Pinellas Park company, took over sponsorship of the PGA event at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor. The deal is for four years at $7-million per year. The tournament was in danger of leaving the Tampa Bay area if a sponsor was not found. PODS exercised an option to back out after two years of a six-year deal.

11. July 10: Former PGA pro and Innisbrook director of golf Mike Souchak, left, died at 81. He was a Belleair resident for more than 30 years and helped start a Clearwater business called Golf Car Systems. He was best known professionally for the 1955 Texas Open, when he shot a four-round total of 27 under par.

12. June 16: Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego, defeating Rocco Mediate in a 19-hole playoff. Woods won the year's second major on a wobbly left knee and a few days later announced he would have surgery and end his season. The U.S. Open was his 14th major title. "I think this is probably the best ever," Woods said. "All things considered, I don't know how I ended up in this position, to be honest with you.''

13. July 20: The British Open was interesting for two reasons: 1) Tiger Woods wasn't in the field. 2) Greg Norman was. Norman, 53, hadn't seriously contended in years, but there he was, in the lead Sunday. He eventually tied for third at 9 over. Padraig Harrington finished 3 over and won. Harrington also claimed the PGA Championship a month later and has temporarily taken Woods' place as the tour's best big-tournament player.

14. Aug. 20: LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens told players she would impose an English proficiency standard beginning next year and player privileges would be revoked for noncompliance. The rule was aimed at Koreans after sponsors complained they could not carry on a conversation with them during pro-ams. The LPGA backed off a month later after much criticism, but Bivens said she would still like to see programs in place to help foreign tour members converse in English.

15. Sept. 21: For the first time since 1999, Americans took the Ryder Cup. The team won without Tiger Woods at Valhalla CC in Kentucky. Grinders such as Boo Weekley, Kenny Perry and Jim Furyk helped produce a five-point victory, the largest margin for the United States over Europe since 1981. Bradenton's Paul Azinger was praised for his role as captain, and there was talk he might return in 2010. The selection committee, however, introduced Corey Pavin as the new captain last week.

16. Nov. 14: J.P. Hayes disqualified himself from a second-stage PGA Tour qualifying tournament in Texas after he discovered he had used a nonconforming ball for one hole in the first round. Not until after the second round did Hayes realize the ball was a demo and likely not approved by the USGA. He called a tournament official, who said if a check with Titleist confirmed the ball was not approved, Hayes would be disqualified. Hayes, 43, is not eligible for the PGA Tour next season. "I keep thinking I'm going to wake up and this is going to be a bad nightmare,'' he said.

17. Dec. 7: After seven years as a part-time player in LPGA and PGA events, Michelle Wie earned full-time status on the LPGA Tour when she finished tied for seventh at Q-school in Daytona Beach. She will play on the LPGA Tour full time in 2009. "It feels good to get that card. It's like high school graduation,'' Wie, 19, said.

18. All season: John Daly embarrassed himself throughout 2008. At the PODS Championship in March, he spent a weather delay in the Hooters corporate tent, employed Bucs coach Jon Gruden as his caddie, shot 77-80 and headed back to the Hooters tent for more fun, which prompted coach Butch Harmon to drop him as a client. A week later he missed his pro-am tee time and was disqualified from the Arnold Palmer Invitational. In October he passed out at a North Carolina Hooters and was detained 24 hours to sober up. And just for good measure, Daly, 42, smashed a spectator's camera at the Australian Masters because he thought the man was taking pictures too close to him. Nice year.

2008 golf highlights in the Tampa Bay area, nationally and internationally 12/18/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 18, 2008 12:28am]
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