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Tiger May Sack Caddy Cowan

Mike "Fluff" Cowan could be the next casualty in the maturation of Tiger Woods .

Cowan wasn't on the bag when Woods won three weeks ago in the Buick Invitational, and Woods raised eyebrows again last week when he used an old high school friend, Bryon Bell, in the $5 million Match Play Championship.

Woods said he only wanted to help Bell pay for medical school, but those inside the Woods camp admit there are problems with Cowan.

"Is there friction? Yes," Butch Harmon said during practice prior to the the Doral-Ryder Open. "They have some issues to work out. But it's nothing more than what goes on with players and caddies all the time."

Harmon declined to describe the source of the friction, but Golf World magazine quotes an unidentified source as saying, "Tiger just got tired of Fluff's act."

Woods did not exactly give a ringing endorsement of Cowan at La Costa. Asked whether Cowan would caddie for him at Augusta, Woods said, "I don't know. Probably."

Cowan was a perfect fit when he left Peter Jacobsen for Woods in 1996. He gave Woods tour experience that a 20-year-old lacked, knew all of the courses and was a steadying influence.

But Woods has been branching out on his own lately, as evidenced by his firing of agent Hughes Norton. Asked what primary asset he needs from a caddie now, Harmon said trust.

Cowan may have breached that by detailing his financial contract with Woods in an interview with Golf Digest. And one veteran caddie verified to Golf World reports of verbal confrontation between Woods and Cowan during the Nissan Open, the last time Cowan was on the bag.

"And I'll tell you something else," the caddie, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Golf World. "Tiger did his own yardage book at L.A., and when that happens it's a bad sign for the caddie."

Whether a breakup is imminent might not be known until Woods plays again in the Bay Hill Invitational in two weeks.


Rankings response

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem does not buy into the eight problems and solutions with the world rankings that were outlined by Dean Knuth, who created the USGA's slope and course rating.

Among other things, Knuth said the current system did not respond quickly enough to current level of play, points were not evenly distributed, Japanese and Australasian tours were getting too many points and the European tour wasn't getting enough.

Knuth noted that the rankingwere particularly out of sync at the bottom -- critical in determining which players get in the $5 million Match Play Championship.

"It was interesting," Finchem said. "But the upshot of all the suggestions was a net effect of four players, and three came from one suggestion -- the Australasian and Japanese tours getting half points."

Finchem also dismissed the proposal that Europe get equal points in strength of field because of its performance in the Ryder Cup.

"That means nothing to me," he said.

Still, Finchem doesn't mind a healthy debate on the rankings, and he's been getting an earful since they began to matter.

"We've been studying the ranking system for three years," he said. "We have eight or nine changes that are under intense scrutiny at any time."


Ryder Cup review

The Match Play Championship could have gone a long way toward shaping the Ryder Cup team for Europe.

Nick Faldo, who wants to make his 12th straight team without having to be a captain's pick, pinpointed Match Play as his chance to move up the points list because of the money at stake -- $50,000 for getting to the second round.

Instead, Faldo earned the minimum $25,000 by getting trounced in the first round by Tiger Woods, and he only moved from 36th to 32nd.

The way he played, does European captain Mark James even want him?

"A number of our top players have turned 40, and it may be time for some of them to miss a Ryder Cup," James said. "But we have a lot of good young players coming through, and they are very different from the young players emerging 15 years ago."

One of those young players to watch is Patrik Sjöland, who was headed toward the quarterfinals when John Huston won four of the last five holes to beat him 1-up.


Futures sponsor

Less than two months after the Futures Tour signed on as the official developmental tour of the LPGA, it has a national sponsor.

The tour announced a three-year agreement with SBC Communications Inc., effective immediately. It's the first time since its inception that the Futures has had a major international sponsor.

"This landmark agreement illustrates the increased marketability of women's golf," said Zayra Calderon, chief executive officer of what is now called the SBC Futures Tour. "It will clearly spark additional interest in women's golf with the public and corporate sector."

The SBC Futures Tour has a 19-tournament schedule with a total purse of $1 million, although the prize money will increase the next two years because of the agreement. Also, SBC will sponsor two events and the player of the year award.

Under an agreement with the LPGA, the top three money-winners on the Futures Tour will be exempt on the LPGA Tour, and Nos. 4-10 will gain entry to the finals of Q-school.


Divots

  • Nick Faldo looked uncomfortable on the driving range at Doral, not just because of his swing. Right next to him was David Frost, working under the watchful eye of David Leadbetter, Faldo's former swing doctor.
  • By winning the Match Play Championship, Jeff Maggert move up to No. 15 in the world rankings, still one spot below Jumbo Ozaki. Nick Faldo, who lost his points from winning the Nissan Open two years ago, is now No. 86.
  • Orchards Golf Club in suburban Detroit will have the 2002 U.S. Public Links Championship.
  • Arnold Palmer will design a new TPC at River's Bend in Cincinnati.


Stat of the week

After winning the Australian Ladies Masters with a 26-under 262, Karrie Webb's scoring average is 68.20, a full stroke better than anyone else on the LPGA.


Final word

"Just because this is the first $5 million purse I've played in doesn't mean I can't play for trophies, too."
-- Andrew Magee, runnerup in the Match Play Championship, on his desire to make the Ryder Cup team.

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