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Shaun Micheel tries to ignore home town pressure

Pressuring himself to win his hometown tournament hasn't worked well for Shaun Micheel. So he's trying a different approach.

"My general attitude is, `I'm going to try to have a lot more fun out there,' and whatever I shoot I shoot," Micheel said Wednesday.

Friends and family always have expected a lot from Micheel in the St. Jude Classic, and expectations skyrocketed after he won the 2003 PGA Championship.

He hasn't won since and has had only four top-10 finishes in that stretch. He finished 2005 ranked 146th on the money list and currently is 91st.

With his father one of the original pilots for FedEx in 1973, it's safe to say Micheel set the standards for himself even higher in this event.

He now admits that he wound up grinding away, which is partly why his best finish -- a tie for 19th -- was in 2002. He missed the cut in 2003 and '04 and tied for 39th last year when Justin Leonard won.

"It's taken me a couple of years to maybe figure that out," Micheel said.

"I've got a good attitude most weeks. Last year I didn't have a good attitude because I expect so much out of myself, and so this year I'm fine. If I shoot 80, fine. I won't, but I'm just going to try to have a lot more fun with it this year."

Only two players in the top 20 on the money list were set to tee off Thursday in the first round at the TPC at Southwind. David Toms is eighth, and he has played as if this is his home course, finishing fourth, first, first and second in the last four years. Toms, the Sony Open winner who leads the PGA Tour's all-around statistical category, has shot in the 60s in 14 of his last 16 rounds in the event.

"I feel a lot like I would feel if I had a tournament I was playing at home," said Toms, the Louisiana native who always draws plenty of fans at this course. "Whatever benefit that is, I've always had it here."

Also here are three other winners on tour this year in Tim Herron, who won Colonial in a playoff last week, Aaron Baddeley and Kirk Triplett.

The field might stiffen next year with a new sponsor after FedEx switches to a presenting sponsor. The purse will jump from $5.2 million this year to $6 million, and the event will be played a week before the U.S. Open.

This is Micheel's 16th tournament this year, and he has only three top 25s, with his best finish a tie for 12th at Wachovia. He tied for 13th in the Byron Nelson earlier this month, and he said he's been playing better thanks to Matt Killen, a swing coach who has worked with Kenny Perry the past few years.

"He's got me back to thinking about score and not so much about technique. That's really what I was so good at before -- just playing and hitting shots," said Micheel, who won that PGA Championship by hitting a 7-iron from 175 yards to inches from the 72nd hole.

Micheel said he had become too mechanical, overanalyzing each bad shot.

"That takes a lot of energy out of you. It's certainly not a lot of fun. I need to get back to having more fun. For me, that's staying away from the driving range," Micheel said.

It won't be as easy on a course that has matured a bit from changes after the 2004 tournament to toughen the course that yielded a 26 under to John Cook in 1996.

The Champion Bermuda grass on the greens has grown in enough that putts no longer roll straight in, forcing golfers to read more break. Dry conditions have the fairways firm, giving more roll off the tee that helps shorten the par-70, 7,244-yard course.

"It'll take a good score to win here," Toms said. "If the weather keeps up like this, hopefully I can go low."

May 25, 2006

 




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