Sports Notebook

Saturday, January 31, 2004

[ GOLF ]

Ishii hopes to someday
join seniors

WAILEA, Maui >> David Ishii spent a good deal of yesterday afternoon with the media watching the fearsome foursome of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson compete in the opening phase of the Wendy's Champions Skins Game.

The Pearl Country Club pro played in the morning pro-am of this made-for-TV event, saying he had a pretty good round, save one hole. He will tee it up again this morning, before returning to Oahu to prepare for next week's Pearl Open.

The Pearl is traditionally a sedate local golf tournament, but Ishii expects more than the normal crowd of family and friends this year as 14-year-old golf phenom Michelle Wie returns to the usually male-only tournament. She made the cut last year, automatically qualifying for the 54-hole tournament that begins Friday.

Wie will join Ishii in today's pro-am portion of the Skins Game. She will be paired with Nicklaus, who said yesterday that he's looking forward to seeing Wie play. As Trevino put it, "Tell her to bring her driver. I want to see how far she can hit it."

Like many local golfers, Ishii was amazed at how well Wie handled herself at the Sony Open in Hawaii two weeks ago. He is glad she is playing in the Pearl Open. He said he plans to play next week as well, despite the difficulty of running it and competing in it at the same time.

Ishii turns 49 this summer and has plans to try out for the Champions Tour. Because he won a PGA Tour event -- the Hawaiian Open in 1990 -- he has a one-time exemption that allows him to skip the preliminary rounds and go straight to the main qualifying tournament that was recently extended to six rounds.

"It's just like the PGA Tour qualifying school now," Ishii said. "I've been getting ready for it. I would love to play on the Champions Tour, but it will be difficult."

Only the top seven qualify for the senior circuit. Ishii could try out this year and then wait until he turns 50 in July 2005 to play should he qualify, but he has decided to wait another year before taking the grueling challenge.

Crowded field: There were approximately 2,000 people following the Skins Game foursome, fairly large for a Friday. That number is expected to increase today, especially with Wie in the field. The pro-am portion is divided into seven fivesomes. Nicklaus, Palmer, Trevino and Watson are the pros in four of those. Two others are headed by Ishii and ESPN golf analyst Ian Baker-Finch. The seventh has only the four amateurs taking a nine-hole tour of the Wailea Golf Club Gold Course.

The scheduled tee time for the morning phase is 10 a.m., with the Skins Game set for around 1:30 this afternoon.

Nicklaus said of playing with Wie, "I'm very excited to play a round with her. She is something special. I think we're all curious to see how she handles herself in the future. There's a lot of pressure on her to perform."

Super Bowl predictions: Golfers aren't always the best predictors of football, but of this foursome, look for Trevino to provide the best insight. A gambler from way back, Trevino is picking the New England Patriots to win their second Super Bowl in three years.

"I think Carolina is happy just to be in the Super Bowl," Trevino said. "New England is on a mission. The Super Bowl has been their goal all along. They have the experience and the defense. They will win it."

Nicklaus also likes the Pats.

"New England will win," Nicklaus said. "Why? Because they're simply the better team."

Watson and Palmer decided to take the underdogs. Palmer correctly predicted last year that Tampa Bay would dump Oakland. This year, he likes the Panthers.

"I'm the defending champion," Palmer said. "I had it right last year. This time, it will be 24 for the Panthers and 17 for New England."

Watson also likes Carolina. Just don't tell anyone about it.

"I am not a betting man because it's illegal," Watson said. "But I would take Carolina and the points."

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