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Golf notebook: Rio Olympic course due to open in 2015

The SportsXchange

--Despite a number delays caused by legal entanglements, construction on the course to be used when golf returns to Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro is on pace for a test event about a year before the Games, architect Gil Hanse said.

Original plans were to have the course ready by 2014, giving organizers two years before the start of the Olympics to make any necessary adjustments well in advance of the Games.

Despite the legal hassles over the property that delayed the start of work, Hanse said construction is expected to be done by the first half of 2014 and the course will be tournament-ready in the second half of 2015.

"If we were trying to stick to the original schedule, no chance," said Hanse, who moved to Brazil for six months to work on the project but returned home last month and will return often to keep abreast of the progress.

Golf will be played in the Olympics for the first time since 1904 in St. Louis, where the United States and Canada were the only countries that competed in the sport.

Tiger Woods, who will be 40 at the time Rio Games, has said he hopes to represent the U.S.

"It's a big deal because it's the first one in so long," Woods said.

Among the other top players, Ernie Els has said he hopes to play for South Africa, while Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, which will not have a team, has created a bit of a controversy by saying he might play for Great Britain instead of Ireland.

--With all the slow play in professional golf, it's a little embarrassing to the game that 14-year-old Tianlang Guan of China (Masters) and 19-year-old Hideki Matsuyama of Japan (Open Championship) have been the only two players penalized for not keeping up in the majors this season.

Colin Montgomerie said what a lot of people are thinking after the third major of the year.

"What I would love to see, as a fast player knowing it would never happen to me, would be for one of the top players to have that shot penalty and then it would really resonate throughout the rest of the field," said Montgomerie, who is now playing on the Champions Tour. "They are still taking too long.

"They should be playing in no more than four hours for any round of golf on any course. Unfortunately they are given far too long. Why do you have to wait to be slow before you are put on the clock?"

Monty suggested that there should be an allotted time to play a round of golf, and that each group would be monitored by an official wielding a stopwatch.

In other words, there would be a shot clock, like in basketball.

"There are 52 referees out there at major championships, and they should all have a clock to be able to put them on the clock on the first tee to ensure they all get around in time," Montgomerie said.

"It has been mentioned about a shot clock, and that is interesting. There should be an allotted time to play the game, like chess, where you have a certain time to play.

"If the first two groups take five or more hours to go 'round, then the day is gone, you can't make it up. The biggest bugbear in golf is slow play."

Whether that happens or not is debatable, but there is no question that if one of the top players is penalized, the other slow players would take notice.

--ESPN had record viewership ratings for its weekend telecasts of the Open Championship at Muirfield, which were driven by having eight of the top 26 players in the World Golf Rankings players, including four of the top 10, at or near the top of the leaderboard.

ESPN posted 3.1 rating in the United States, a record for a cable network in the Open, in the final round on Sunday, when now-No. 2-ranked Phil Mickelson claimed the Claret Jug by carding four birdies in the last six holes.

The telecast averaged nearly 4.4 million viewers and was the third-highest cable audience for a major championship. More viewers watched the Tiger Woods-Rocco Mediate Monday playoff in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, and the first round of the 2010 Masters, when Woods made his first start of the season in his comeback from a tabloid-filling scandal.

In the third round at Muirfield, ESPN recorded an Open record for a Saturday with a 2.7 rating in the U.S. and more than 3.7 million viewers.

ESPN also had big increases in traffic on its digital platforms, with ESPN.com seeing an increase of 22 percent in visitors to its golf section during the Open, while the mobile platform had 32 percent more visitors.

--Mark O'Meara returned to Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England, for the 27th Senior Open Championship and was awarded honorary membership by the club in recognition of his victory there in the 1998 Open Championship.

O'Meara claimed the Claret Jug 15 years ago in a playoff over Brian Watts after winning the Masters earlier in the year, the only major championships of his career.

"It's an unbelievable tribute to be made an Honorary Member of Royal Birkdale," said the 56-year-old, who learned the game at Mission Viejo Golf Club in Southern California and played at Long Beach State. "I've obviously had a long career of playing all the different links golf courses, and I just have such fond memories of the great moments I've had here. It's my favorite links golf course anywhere in the world. It's a true test of golf.

"I first set eyes on it in 1987, when I won the Lawrence Batley (International) here. In '91 I came back and played with Ian Baker-Finch, tied for the lead (after three rounds and finished in a tie for third).

"Of course the Open Championship that was played here in '98 was a dream come true for me. To hold the Claret Jug right here on the 18th green was really the icing on the cake for me with my career."

Said Jonathan Seal, club captain at Royal Birkdale who presented O'Meara with a commemorative club tie: "It is a huge pleasure to extend Honorary Membership to Mark in the way that we have our other previous Open Champions going back to Peter Thomson, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson and Ian Baker-Finch. On behalf of all the members of Royal Birkdale, we welcome Mark on board."

O'Meara finished in a tie for 58th the previous week in the Open Championship at Muirfield, after being tied for second when he opened with a 4-under-par 67. He wound up in a disappointing tie for 26th in the Senior Open in his return to Royal Birkdale.

--The 2015 Senior PGA Championship will be played on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort in French Lick, Ind., according to the Indianapolis Star.

The formal announcement from the PGA of America is expected to be made this week.

"The venue would lend itself very nicely to a Senior PGA Championship," said Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America, who would not confirm the selection of French Lick but commented on its suitability.

"I think the players would love the golf course. I think the players and spectators would love the accommodations at French Lick, which absolutely would be world class, and I think everybody involved with the championship would love the level of hospitality the people of French Lick would deliver."

The Senior PGA Championship is the oldest of senior golf's four major championships, dating to 1937, when the inaugural event was played at Augusta National Golf Club at the request of Augusta founder Bobby Jones.

The Alfred S. Bourne Trophy is engraved with some of golf's top names, including six-time champion Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, Arnold Palmer, Peter Thomson, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd, Hale Irwin and Fuzzy Zoeller.

The Dye Course is part of a $500 million restoration that included the French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs hotels.

The course is situated on rolling hills and ridges that approach 1,000 feet above sea level in the Hoosier National Forest among the highest points in Indiana, offering views of 30 to 40 miles on clear days.

Golf Digest selected the 8,102-yard layout as the Best New Public Course when it opened in 2009, and it ranks 93rd on the magazine's listing of America's 100 Greatest Courses, public and private.

French Lick's Donald Ross Course was the site of the 1924 PGA Championship, won by Walter Hagen.

--Tom Watson, captain of the 2014 United States Ryder Cup team, will be inducted into Oak Hill Country Club's Hill of Fame on Aug. 5, three days before the start of the 95th PGA Championship on the club's East Course.

Author John Feinstein will introduce Watson. Among Feinstein's several books is "Caddie for Life," the story of Watson's longtime caddie Bruce Edwards, who died in 2004 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

"With 39 PGA Tour victories, including eight major championships, 14 Champions Tour wins, a winning record in Ryder Cup play, and five PGA Tour money titles, Tom Watson is one of the legends of the game," said William Reeves, chairman of Oak Hill's Hill of Fame.

Founded in 1956 by Dr. John R. Williams,, the Hill of Fame is located near Oak Hill's famous 13th green on the East Course and recognizes golf immortals and citizens who have enriched the American way of life.

Members of the Hill of Fame include President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson, Nancy Lopez, Kathy Whitworth, Annika Sorenstam and Craig Harmon, longtime head pro at Oak Hill.
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