Ballesteros says Woods' return is positive for golf

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MADRID --- Seve Ballesteros is thrilled to see Tiger Woods returning to golf and believes the 14-time major champion has a "great chance" of winning the Masters Tournament.

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Golfing great Seve Ballesteros  File/Associated Press
File/Associated Press
Golfing great Seve Ballesteros

The Spaniard said Tuesday the sport would have been in "serious difficulties" had Woods decided to retire after revelations of extramarital affairs.

"His return is good for the golf world, and I am very happy about it," Ballesteros said after being presented as the patron of Spain's bid to play host to the 2018 Ryder Cup. "I think it is going to help golf in all the world. I think that Tiger Woods takes over so much that if he wasn't around, if he had retired, the golf world would be in serious difficulties."

Ballesteros, who is fighting brain cancer, said Augusta is the perfect place for Woods' comeback because he has won the tournament four times.

"We all know his potential, and Augusta is a very long course," Ballesteros said. "He is very used to playing long off the tee and he knows the golf course very well, so I think he has a great chance to win."

PLAYING FAVORITES? PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem sent a memo to tournament directors to explain why Steve Elkington needed invitations to get into tournaments this year. At least two players criticized Finchem for favoritism.

Elkington, a former PGA champion, had been exempt for 23 consecutive years until he finished 183rd on the money list last year and lost his card. Four other times he finished out of the top 125. He had a 10-year exemption for winning The Players Championship in 1997.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of Finchem's memo, which was dated Nov. 23.

"I think it's out of line," said David Duval , a former major champion who also has only conditional status this year. "It never crossed my mind to ask Tim to do that for me."

Tim Herron , who has been writing tournaments for exemptions this year, said it smacked of favoritism.

"That's terrible of the tour," he said from Bay Hill, where he is playing as a past champion. "The tour needs to be unbiased and treat everyone the same. That's like a slap in the face."

Elkington has played five times this year, though he has yet to receive a sponsor's exemption. He got into four tournaments through his status as a past champion and played last week at Innisbrook because of a top-10 finish in Puerto Rico.

Elkington told KRIV-TV in Houston he wonders how anyone could believe Finchem or the PGA Tour is showing him any favoritism.

"All I did was call Tim Finchem to see if he could get the board to consider giving me a year since I met the requirements for the Hall of Fame, which is 10 wins and two wins in the majors," he said.

Finchem was in meetings Tuesday and wasn't immediately available for comment.

"We've done it with other players," Rick George , the chief of operations for the PGA Tour, said Tuesday. He declined to identify those players. "If there's a unique change in eligibility or status ... we've done it a number of times."

SINGH OUT: Vijay Singh has withdrawn from the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill because of a back injury. This is the second consecutive week the three-time major champion has had to pull out.

He was replaced by Carl Pettersson , who tied for eighth last week at Innisbrook.

Singh has not won since the end of the 2008 season.


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