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Micheel victim of PGA's new Pro Am policy

In part out of his own protest, Shaun Micheel became the first victim of a new PGA Tour policy that requires eligible players to take part in the pro-am if they want to play in the tournament.

Micheel had been skiing the week before the Bay Hill Invitational, and he had planned to spend Monday paying bills, working on taxes and playing with his son.

One problem: Bay Hill's pro-am is Tuesday.

Tour officials offered Micheel the latest tee-time for the pro-am, but that would have meant flying Tuesday morning, arranging his transportation, getting registered and rushing to the tee.

Instead, Micheel called tournament officials and told him he was pulling out.

``It's a policy I don't necessarily agree with,'' Micheel said. ``To say you can't play in the golf tournament because you don't play in one pro-am, that's absurd to me.''

The policy received unanimous approval by the board, and took effect Jan. 1.

``We had a concern that a number of missed pro-ams by players was growing,'' said Henry Hughes, chief of operations for the PGA Tour. ``Our goal is to reinforce to the players that the pro-am is a part of the tournament. It's important to sponsor interaction and promotion of the event.''

What further irritated Micheel is that John Daly pulled out of the pro-am that morning and was allowed to play, eventually finishing in a tie for 10th. However, Daly didn't know he was in the pro-am. He was selected by tournament sponsors to play, and Bay Hill officials never told him, so he was allowed to skip.

Worse yet for Micheel -- the pro-am was rained out after two hours.

Hughes said PGA Tour officials can excuse players from the pro-ams under special circumstances -- sudden illness, family emergency, or working through an injury. But players must have traveled to the tournament, and they can't practice on the course the same day.

Bay Hill is one of only three tournaments that have pro-ams Tuesday instead of Wednesday. The others are the Memorial and the Tour Championship.

The good news for Micheel: There is no pro-am at The Players Championship.

WATSON'S LAST HURRAH

Arnold Palmer will be playing in his 50th and final Masters at age 74.

Tom Watson might not be far behind.

Watson, who won the Masters in 1977, said he has ``really toyed with the idea'' of not returning to play, especially after the changes that strengthened Augusta National.

``With the golf course getting so long, if I'm not in good shape where I'm ... not competing against these kids from a reasonable standpoint, I'm not going to play,'' the 54-year-old Watson said.

The trick is figuring out when that time has arrived.

``You'll know when I don't show up for Augusta,'' he said with a smile.

LONG DAY AT THE OFFICE

Brad Faxon used to make his Florida home in Orlando, not far from Bay Hill. There must be plenty of guys who were sorry to see him move away.

``A bunch of friends of mine were members here,'' Faxon said last week at the Bay Hill Invitational. ``For some reason, we'd be out there all day, and their wives thought a round of golf took nine hours. They didn't know. They just thought, 'Brad, he's a tour player, it takes longer.'

``We'd be out there playing 36 holes,'' he said. ``They loved it when I called.''

DIVOTS

Annika Sorenstam has played several casual rounds with Tiger Woods in Orlando. She might get a shot at him on national television. While plans have not been finalized, Sorenstam is expected to get a return invitation to the Skins Game, along with Woods and defending champion Fred Couples. The Swedish star finished second last year. ... Juli Inkster is now the official tour pro of Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, Calif. Inkster, one of five women to have captured the career Grand Slam, was introduced to golf at age 14 as a cart attendant and snack shop assistant at Pasatiempo. She also met her husband there. The club is celebrating its 75th anniversary. ... Sorenstam has signed a deal to represent Upper Deck, the first female athlete to be a spokesman for the trading card and collectibles company. ... Former U.S. Amateur champion Bubba Dickerson won his first professional event last week on the Hooters Tour.

STAT OF THE WEEK

John Daly has finished ahead of Tiger Woods in all three tournaments they have played in this year. Going into the season, Daly had not done that in his previous 16 events, dating to the 2002 Buick Invitational. He tied for fourth, while Woods finished a stroke behind.

FINAL WORD

``Close your eyes and hit it quick.'' -- Darren Clarke, on his strategy for playing the island-green 17th at The Players Championship.

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