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Golf Roundup: Harrington scrambling to make European Ryder Cup team

The SportsXchange

When Padraig Harrington captured three major championships in a span of nine months, capped by the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, he was considered the best player in the world because Tiger Woods was on the sidelines following knee surgery.

Last week, Harrington was playing in the PGA Tour's "B" event, the Reno-Tahoe Open, because he was 62nd in the World Golf Rankings and only the top 50 qualified for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

In fact, it was the fourth consecutive World Golf Championships event for which he failed to qualify.

"It's my own fault for not playing well enough last year," Harrington said.

Harrington, who has been a stalwart in the last six Ryder Cups, has played in 18 events this season on both major tours in hopes of earning a spot on the European team for the matches in September.

But as of last week, he was 20th on the World Points List and 28th on the

Euro List. The top five in each of those standings will make the team, so it appears that Paddy will make the team only if Jose Maria Olazabal selects him with one of his two Captain's Picks.

"The key for me it to try to qualify by merit," said Harrington, whose best result this season was a tie for fourth in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club. "That's what I've got to do.

"I can't even begin to think or entertain what's going through (Olazabal's) head. I've just got to concentrate and play my golf and do my thing."

Only two other three-time major champions have played in the Reno-Tahoe Open, Nick Faldo in 2001 and Nick Price in 2006.

Harrington tied for 19th in Reno, where the Modified Stableford Scoring System was employed.

--Dave Stockton, a two-time PGA champion, has been selected as the 2012 recipient of the PGA Distinguished Service Award by the Professional Golfers Association of America.

Stockton, 70, will receive the PGA's highest annual honor in conjunction with the 94th PGA Championship next week at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, S.C. The award presentation is set for Aug. 8 at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center in Charleston, S.C.

"My first thought was, 'Why me?' " said Stockton, the son of a golf pro, who was born in San Bernardino, Calif., and captured the Pacific-8 Conference golf championship while playing at USC. "I have been fortunate to have many good things happen to me in golf, with the biggest honor serving as Ryder Cup captain.

"I believed in giving back through golf. I had a gift as a motivational speaker and used it to help others. I have tried helping people gain a better understanding about what golf can do to help them feel better about themselves."

Stockton captured 10 PGA Tour titles, including the 1970 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., and the 1976 PGA Championship at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.

Considered one of the best putters and now one of the best putting instructors in the game, he also won 14 times on the Champions Tour, including the 1992 and 1994 Senior Players Championships, and the 1996 U.S. Senior Open. He was the 1993 and 1994 Champions Tour Player of the Year.

Stockton played on four victorious U.S. Ryder Cup teams from 1971 through 1977 and served as captain of the team in 1991, when the Americans held on to win by one point over Europe on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in a competition that became known as "The War on the Shore."

--Despite finishing in a tie for fourth in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, David Toms took six weeks off, in part because of injuries, before returning last week for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.

Toms even skipped the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, perhaps because he didn't want to risk his ailing back in the cold weather.

"I had some nagging injuries, some back stuff in the past, and I've had hip problems," said Toms, the 2001 PGA champion. "And I just wanted to spend time with the family. My kids are about to go to school, and we wanted to spend some time together on the lake relaxing and trying to get ready for the stretch run.

"I think we have six weeks in a row coming up, so I'm just trying to get the mindset right and going in the right direction."

Toms, who withdrew from the WGC-Cadillac Championship after two holes in the third round because his back tightened up, has only three top-10 finishes this season on the PGA Tour.

The time off did Toms some good. He tied for eighth at Firestone.

--When Dustin Johnson learned that the PGA of America has deemed that all sandy areas on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, designed by Pete Dye, will be played as waste areas and not bunkers this week in the PGA Championship, he laughed.

Two years ago on a somewhat similar course designed by Dye at Whistling Straits, Johnson was assessed a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a sandy area on the 72nd hole, costing him a spot in the playoff in which Martin Kaymer defeated Bubba Watson.

Of the PGA's ruling, Johnson said to his fellow competitors: "You're welcome."

The ruling means that the players in the final major of the year will be allowed to move loose impediments, take practice swings and ground their clubs as long as the area is not in a water hazard.

The same rule was in place on the Ocean Course during the 1991 Ryder Cup, the 2005 PGA Club Professional National Championship and 2007 Senior PGA Championship.

PGA officials claim the rule had nothing to do with Johnson's controversial situation at Whistling Straits.

The explanation of the difference is that Whistling Straits features defined bunkers surrounded by grass, whereas sand is part of the natural terrain throughout the Ocean Course but often occurs without clear definition.

What made Johnson's situation confusing was that the sandy area on the 18th hole at Whistling Straits did not appear to be a bunker. In fact, fans had walked through the area, and some were in there when DJ grounded his club and hit the shot.

"I think it's good," Johnson said of the ruling. "Especially at (Kiawah Island), where there's so much sand everywhere."

Despite the ruling, Johnson said he will not ground his club in the greenside bunkers.

--With the Olympic Games being held in London, there has been a bit of hype from the powers-that-be in golf about their sport returning to the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

Some of the talk has centered around the format, with several people suggesting that perhaps it should be different than the weekly 72-hole competition.

"We all had this at the back of our mind at the start: 'Wouldn't it be nice to make the Olympic competition a little bit different, at least from the week-in, week-out competition?' " said Peter Dawson, chief executive of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.

That's probably not going to happen.

The suggested team match-play competition would first have to be approved by the International Olympic Committee.

"It's unlikely it's going to change because (72-hole stroke play) was the way it was presented to the IOC," said Ty Votaw of the PGA Tour, executive director of the International Golf Federation's Olympic Golf Committee.

"Most Olympic sports are individual sports, not a team competition. But we are open to a different format post-2016."

Votaw also pointed out how LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, among other high-profile athletes, have embraced the Olympics and said golf needs the same attitude from the participants to impact the growth of the sport around the world.
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