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Lahiri measures field strength in airline reservations

(AP Photo/David Dermer, File)

By DOUG FERGUSON

AP Golf Writer

The strength of field for the CIMB Classic was the same as it was last year, with one exception that Anirban Lahiri nearly found out the hard way.

Lahiri had gone to Malaysia the previous five years and he noted that the field - with the top 60 players available from the FedEx Cup - had always gone below 100. Lahiri finished last year at No. 99 and figured there was nothing to worry about.

And then there was. While playing a practice round in Florida with Branden Grace, a conversation about alternates for the CJ Cup led Lahiri to realize he wasn't in Malaysia. The Indian-born Lahiri didn't bother asking for a sponsor exemption because he didn't think he needed one.

After a series of withdrawals, Lahiri was up to first alternate on Sunday before the tournament.

Now what?

He had a 12:30 a.m. Monday flight on Cathay Pacific to Malaysia and a flight an hour earlier on Jet Blue to Florida. If he didn't get in, he was going home to West Palm Beach. If he found out he did get in, he could fly the next day from Miami.

"I'm actually sitting at the airport and check-in counter 8 is Cathay, counter 10 is Jet Blue," Lahiri said. "I actually sent an email at 7:30 p.m. - I was just sitting there between the two counters - saying I'm going to check in to my Jet Blue flight at 10 p.m., so if something changes, tell me, I'll cancel that. About 20 minutes later, I got a call that Andrew Landry had withdrawn. I had two flights within an hour of each other. It was not fun."

Lahiri got to play, but he didn't break par until the weekend and tied for 63rd.

Padraig Harrington has taken part in nine of the last 10 Ryder Cups. His next appearance most likely will be as the captain.

Lee Westwood told Sky Sports last week that he was withdrawing from any consideration as captain in 2020 at Whistling Straits, which would seem to clear the way for Harrington to lead Europe next time, and Westwood to be captain in Italy in 2022.

Thomas Bjorn, who led Europe to a romp in Paris, sees plenty of upside with Harrington.

"He has a great relationship with the players on the PGA Tour for all the years he's played there. He's a past PGA champion, which helps in the relationship with the PGA of America, and Ireland does have a special relationship with the Americans," Bjorn said. "So there's a lot of things that plays into his hands to being a captain in America."

Steve Stricker is considered a heavy favorite to be U.S. captain in his home state of Wisconsin.

Johnny Miller always felt like he had more in common with Tiger Woods than Jack Nicklaus when it came to stretching leads.

"Some guys like the last shot," Miller said during an interview at the Tour Championship. "I didn't like the last shot. When I had a two-shot lead, I wanted a five-shot lead because there was no pressure. I was good for the wrong reasons. Whereas Nicklaus, it wasn't thrilling to him unless it was one shot. He said after the `75 Masters, `I want you guys to know how much fun you made it for me.'"

Miller was a great closer. When he had at least a share of the lead going into the final round, he converted that into victories 74 percent of the time, which Miller said was the highest percentage of anybody "until Tiger."

Woods is at 93 percent.

"If I had the lead in a regular tournament, guys would say it's over," Miller said. "That's a compliment. Same thing with Tiger. When he had the lead, people would say, `How much is second play worth?'"

Out of 25 career PGA Tour victories, Miller won five of them (20 percent) by at least five shots, including a 14-shot victory in the Phoenix Open. Woods won 17 of his 77 stroke-play titles by five shots or more (22 percent), including his 15-shot win at the U.S. Open.

Nicklaus had a 12.5 percent rate of winning by five or more.

It's bad enough the Americans suffered the fourth-largest loss in the Ryder Cup under the current format, which dates to 1979. Worse yet is news that two of Europe's players who went undefeated for the week weren't at full strength.

British Open champion Francesco Molinari revealed last week that his back was hurting him Saturday morning at the Ryder Cup and he chose not to tell captain Thomas Bjorn because he didn't think it affected his golf. Apparently not. Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood needed only 15 holes to beat Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed, and 14 holes to beat Woods and Bryson DeChambeau. Then, the Italian capped off Europe's first 5-0 week by beating Phil Mickelson.

"On Monday, I couldn't do my shoelaces," Molinari said.

Henrik Stenson was coping with a nagging elbow, and the Swede said he had a "minor procedure" last week that will keep him out of the HSBC Champions next week. Stenson went 3-0, winning both foursomes matches with Justin Rose and winning his singles match against Bubba Watson.

Molinari and Stenson contributed 29 percent of Europe's points in a 17+-11+ victory at Le Golf National.

Players can still use green-reading material, as long it meets the right size.

The governing bodies released a new interpretation of the Rules of Golf as it relates to equipment use. The green-reading books limit images of putting greens to a scale of 3/8 inch for every 5 yards, and they must be similar in size to yardage books that fit into pockets (4\\-by-7 inches). It also bans magnifying devices other than normal prescription glasses. The USGA and R&A also say notes are allowed as long as they are written by players or their caddies.

The decision follows six weeks of feedback and will be effective Jan. 1.

Jordan Spieth will be making his first PGA Tour appearance in the fall by playing in Las Vegas on Nov. 1-4. Still to be announced is whether Spieth decides to add another PGA Tour stop by the end of the year. ... Andrea Smith, the chief administrator for the Bank of America, has been elected to the PGA of America board of directors. She replaces Seth Waugh, who was appointed chief executive of the PGA. ... Bernhard Langer now has gone seven consecutive seasons with at least two victories on the PGA Tour Champions, the second-longest streak in tour history behind 11 straight seasons by Hale Irwin.

The $9.5 million purse at the CJ Cup in South Korea trails only the four majors, World Golf Championships and The Players Championship.

"Everything has gone so well and so fast that I think I need to just end the season and sit down and really reflect on what's happened." - Francesco Molinari, who in a span of about four months won Europe's flagship event at Wentworth, his first PGA Tour event in America and his first major at the British Open and had the first 5-0 record by a European in the Ryder Cup.

Updated October 16, 2018

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