Gorant: Atwal in trouble; Leonard fading

Gorant: Atwal in trouble; Leonard fading

Meaghan Francella, 24, who didn't start playing until she was 12, beat Annika Sorenstam in a playoff at the LPGA's MasterCard Classic.
Claudio Cruz/AP

PGA tour pro Arjun Atwal could face charges after a man who was speeding alongside him on County Road 535 near Windemere, Fla., last Saturday died in a car accident. John Noah Park, 48, of Windemere lost control of his automobile on a curve and hit a tree. Atwal, 33, also lost control but skidded to a stop on the shoulder. Police were uncertain if it was a chase or if the two were racing, but witnesses said the two cars were “engaged,” and an investigation was under way. Atwal did not return calls requesting comment, but on Monday his agent issued a statement that said in part, “It will be abundantly clear that this was simply a horrible accident and tragedy, with no one at fault.”

• The grandson of four-time Masters winner Arnold Palmer is headed for Augusta. Palmer took some mild criticism last year for giving his progeny, Sam Saunders, an exemption to Bay Hill, where the high school senior shot 76-82 and missed the cut. Since then Saunders has matriculated at Clemson, where he cracked the Tigers’ starting lineup by mid-October. In his first three events he had top 15s and climbed to 20th in the Sagarin college rankings before stumbling to 41st after last week’s Southern Highlands Championship, where he finished 39th with rounds of 74-76-77. He’ll look to get back on track at the Administaff ASU Invitational (March 30-April 1), which takes place in Augusta but not at Augusta National. Alas, not even the King can get him an exemption there.

• Could Justin Leonard be the next David Duval? After finishing seventh at the 2006 FBR Open, Leonard, whose 10 wins include a British Open and a Players Championship, was ranked 32nd in the world. He went on to miss the cut in nine of his next 23 starts and never finished in the top 20. So far in ’07 he has made six starts and missed the cut in all six, including last week’s PODS Championship. Leonard has yet to shoot a round in the 60s and has fallen to 210th in the World Ranking. If Leonard, 34, doesn’t turn it around soon, he’ll find himself watching the Masters on TV, making it the first major he will have missed since the ’95 U.S. Open.

• The evidence that Mark Wilson‘s win at the Honda Classic was predestined continues to pile up. Besides overcoming a two-shot penalty and a drive into the hazard during the playoff, Wilson was lucky to be there at all. After finishing 29th at Q school, he stood 59th in the pecking order for incoming players that determines tournament entry. That got him into only four events, but he made the cut in each and finished 25th at Pebble Beach. So after the first reshuffle of the season — right before the Honda — Wilson moved up to 25th on the list. That was enough to get him into the field. Spooky.