USGA to wait on exemption for Watson

MARANA, Ariz. (AP) — Tom Watson is on a short list of players who have a strong connection to Pebble Beach, from his back-to-back wins in the National Pro-Am to his famous chip-in for birdie on the 17th hole to win the U.S. Open in 1982.

Whether he gets a chance to return in June is under discussion.

The USGA wrapped up its annual meeting 10 days ago without awarding a special exemption to the U.S. Open, which is what Watson would need to play the national championship at Pebble Beach for the fifth time.

"The decision was that our committee is going to look at it in April," said Mike Davis, senior director of rules and competition. "They feel like if there's any special exemption, they want to look at it closer to the time of the Open."

Nick Price in 2005 was the last player to receive a special exemption to the U.S. Open. Watson would appear to be a logical choice.

Along with being a past U.S. Open champion at Pebble Beach, he showed his skills quite sufficiently last summer when he stood over an 8-foot par putt on the 72nd hole with a chance to win the British Open. He wound up losing a playoff to Stewart Cink at Turnberry.

Two weeks ago, Watson played the Dubai Desert against the fourth-strongest field in golf this year and tied for eighth.

Davis said the USGA no longer awards exemptions at its annual meeting in case it overlooks someone who is playing well or hands out an exemption to someone who starts playing poorly late in the spring.

"Most years, we don't even give a special exemption," he said. "Certainly, Watson is being talked about."

Davis said he expects a decision to be announced in May.

ON BOARD: Paul Goydos wound up winning one contest at Pebble Beach.

Goydos and Steve Stricker were elected co-chairmen of the 16-man Players Advisory Council, which serves as a link between the players and the policy board on membership matters and competition-related items. The voting closed on Friday.

They will join the policy board next year.

"For now, we just get to watch the (board) meetings," Stricker said.

BACK ON THE BIKE: Martin Kaymer was moving up the money list in Europe last summer until he missed 10 weeks in the heart of the season when he injured his foot in a go-cart accident.

Kaymer isn't about to give up his fun, although he is proceeding with caution. His friends rode go-carts last week and asked Kaymer to come along. At first, he only went to watch. But after the first race, he couldn't resist.

"It was empty, not a lot of people on the track," Kaymer said. "I was driving very careful the first two or three laps, and then the next laps, I saw myself chasing it already. I thought, 'OK, back up a little bit, be careful."'

U.S. OPEN PREVIEW: Pebble Beach last week was nothing like it will look in June for the U.S. Open, mainly because the fairways and greens are soft and damp in the late winter of northern California.

The course will be firm in June, and it will play slightly longer. The scorecard will be 7,040 yards, the first time a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach has been measured over 7,000 yards.

As for the rough?

Mike Davis, the senior director of rules and competition, said the plan is for the rough to be cut at 2 1/4 inches for the U.S. Open on some of the shorter holes, and about 2 3/4 inches on some of the longer holes. Attribute that to the new grooves, which likely be a bigger factor on firm greens.

"The rough will be less penal than you've seen in a long time because we know we're going to have firm greens," Davis said. "We want just enough grass between the club head and the ball to take the spin off."

The rough will be brought in, and that was visible on certain holes during last week's tournament. The most peculiar was the 11th, mainly because the green sits at an angle. The hole is designed for a tee shot to the left to give players a look at the depth of the green. For the U.S. Open, the rough is being brought in from the left, so the players will face a more shallow angle of attack.

If the USGA is being accused of taking away the designed strategy to make a hole harder, Davis pleads guilty.

"It's such a short hole," he said. "The thought was, they're going to have some lofted club in their hand - a wedge or a 9-iron. Instead of playing up chute, playing across makes it harder. If that hole was 470 or 490 yards, absolutely we would move that fairway way left."

THE OTHER MAJOR: Add the PGA Championship to victims of Johnny Miller's candor.

During a reception at Pebble Beach, Miller said the U.S. Open was considered the premier major during the peak of his career. He said the British Open was still regaining popularity among Americans, and he cited Tony Lema as saying the Masters was only "fun at the top."

"Now we've got three really great championships," Miller said.

Miller, a former U.S. Open and British Open champion, might not realize that four majors make up the Grand Slam, and that includes the PGA Championship.

Then again, it might be worth nothing that the PGA Championship was the only major in which Miller never finished in the top 10.

DIVOTS: The LPGA Tour season finally gets under way in Thailand this week when Lorena Ochoa defends her title over a field that includes Michelle Wie, Jiyai Shin, Paula Creamer and Juli Inkster. The LPGA does not play its first tournament in America until March 25 at La Costa Resort. ... With endorsement deals tougher to find this year, PGA Tour rookie Jerod Turner signed a deal with StarTex Power, a Houston-based electricity provider. ... And after six weeks, Pat Perez is taking a break. Perez is the only player to have started all six PGA Tour events this year. He was not eligible for the Match Play Championship. ... While there were breathtaking views from Pebble Beach, one thing that didn't come across on television was the pace of play. With the field cut from 180 professionals to 156, there were hardly reports of more than one group waiting on the tees, or an unusual amount of time waiting to hit.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Two of the top four seeds at the Match Play Championship - Lee Westwood of England and Martin Kaymer of Germany - have never made it out of the second round.

FINAL WORD: "I think all of his advantages are probably gone." - Johnny Miller on Tiger Woods.

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