Golf notebook: Chinese teen set to challenge Woods, McIlroy

Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

--Tianlang Guan, a 14-year-old prodigy from China, will go head-to-head with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy later this month.
Guan will compete against the last two No. 1 players in the World Golf Rankings in a skills challenge before Woods and McIlory will play in what is being billed at "The Match at Mission Hills" on the Blackstone Course at Mission Hills Resort in Haikou, China, on Oct. 28.
In the skills challenge, the three players will hit balls at targets placed 50, 100 and 125 yards away.
"I might have a chance because these are short targets," said Guan, who played a practice round with Woods earlier this year at the Masters before becoming the youngest player to ever make the cut at Augusta National.
"I'm glad it's not a long-driving contest."
Woods and McIlroy also will host a clinic for Guan and the rest of the Chinese national team.
In the first edition of the match last year at Jinsha Lake International Golf Club in Zhengzhou, China, McIlroy shot 67 to beat Woods by one stroke.
--Ernie Els has played 28 tournaments this year, more than any of the other top players in the world, and he admits it might be time to slow down at age 43.
Since Els moved his family to South Florida a few years ago, some in the European media are speculating he might cut down the number of events he plays on the Euro Tour and concentrate on the PGA Tour.
"Since the Scottish Open (in July), I've played almost every week," said Els, who played 19 times on the PGA Tour this season but failed to qualify for the Tour Championship.
"I've got sponsors stuff that I have had to do and then the FedEx thing came along, and now the European Tour has got their own Race to Dubai, and they want you to play in all those events.
"It's getting a little tricky, especially with a family living in the U.S. I'm going to have to start making decisions soon."
Els, who probably has played worldwide more than any golfer since Gary Player, captured the BMW International Open in June for his 66th career victory after winning the Open Championship last year at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
The last of his 19 PGA Tour victories came in the 2010 Arnold Palmer Invitational.
"(I am) playing week to week and kind of going brain-dead," said Els, who is sixth in the Race to Dubai standings but must play in three more events to reach the Euro Tour minimum of 13 this year. "You don't know exactly what you are playing for. I was in a bit of a rut there."
Reduced schedules are a developing trend. Steve Stricker cut back to 13 tournaments this year at age 46, and Phil Mickelson, 43, recently talked about paring his schedule to about 20 events.
--Tournament directors around the PGA Tour must look with envy when they see the field for the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge, held every December to benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation.
Even though only 18 players compete in the tournament at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., all of them are among the best in the world.
When the first 16 players in the field were announced last week, they included host and five-time winner Tiger Woods, defending champion Graeme McDowell, Ernie Els, Rory McIlroy, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and Bubba Watson -- major champions all.
Also committed to play are Steve Stricker, Lee Westwood, Brandt Snedeker, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan, Jason Day and Nick Watney.
Two sponsors' exemptions will be added to the field at a later date.
"We are thrilled about the depth and talent of our field, and I'm looking forward to another exciting year of intense competition at Sherwood Country Club," Woods said.
The tournament's invitations are based on the World Golf Rankings, and even though the event is not an official part of the PGA Tour, world ranking points are available and the winner receives $1 million.
--Rory McIlroy, who rose to No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings in 2012, struggled through a season to forget on the golf course after his move to Nike, and his life is not getting easier away from the course.
McIlroy's recent departure from Horizon Sports Management, his second such move in recent years, led to legal action.
"Rory's decision to seek a termination of the management contract with Horizon is now regrettably in the hands of legal advisors," Horizon said in a statement after McIlroy announced that he was leaving to start his own company, Rory McIlroy Incorporated.
McIlroy left agent Chubby Chandler and International Sports Management in October 2011 to join his friend, Graeme McDowell, at Horizon.
The 24-year-old from Holywood, Northern Ireland, once said McDowell was like a "a real big brother to me," but leaving Horizon apparently caused problems in their friendship.
McIlroy was conspicuously absent from McDowell's wedding in the Bahamas two weeks ago, staying in the United Kingdom for a Nike photo shoot, although it was not known if he was on the guest list.
In addition, McIlroy decided not to join McDowell to form the Northern Ireland team for the World Cup of Golf next month at Royal Melbourne. The duo tied for second in the event two years ago.
There were reports that McDowell was part owner of Horizon and thus was being sued by his friend, but it turns out that McDowell does not have a stake in the company.
Neither player commented recently about any of the business matters, and it will be interesting to watch the body language when McIlroy and McDowell play in the BMW Masters in two weeks at Lake Malaren Golf Club in Shanghai.
--Ren Okazaki, 14, became the youngest player to make the cut in a Japan Golf Tour event when he reached the weekend in the Coca-Cola Tokai Classic on the West Course at Miyoshi Country Club in Japan.
Okazaki shot 71-79--150 to finish in a tie for 49th and make the cut by three shots, later admitting that he felt the pressure down the stretch in round two, when he carded five bogeys on the back nine.
"I was conscious of the cut line and I tightened up," Okazaki was quoted as saying by the Kyodo news agency. "This is no setup for amateurs. I want play without concern for fatigue over the final two days."
He wound up tied for 56th among the 69 players who played all four rounds.
Okazaki, who will turn 15 next month, broke the record for youngest player to make the cut in a Japanese tour event held by Ryo Ishikawa, who was 15 years and eight months when he won the 2007 Munsingwear Open.

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