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Former college basketball player Gary Woodland enjoys his own March Madness: his first PGA Tour title

March 21, 2011

Gary Woodland is his name and basketball is his game, or would have been had he not been a 6-foot-1 guard at an NCAA Division II school.

Woodland, 26, played a year at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. Every two years, Washburn heads to Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence for a scrimmage with the Kansas Jayhawks, who always win in a rout, 30 points or so in Woodland's experience. He made one of seven shots. He said it was the highlight of his life.

Presumably until now. At the Transitions Championship on Sunday, Woodland put the ball in the hole at a rate that might have earned him a basketball scholarship rather than the golf scholarship he eventually accepted from Kansas. He made everything inside 20 feet, 17 of 17, including a 10-footer to save par at the 18th hole to defeat Webb Simpson by a stroke .

He's got moxie. His dream foursome doesn't include Hogan or Nicklaus or Jones, but it does include Self. That would be Bill Self, the Kansas basketball coach, with whom he has played before, at Lawrence Country Club. On the first hole, 359 yards from the black tees, he drove the green and made eagle, according to an eyewitness and old friend, Lawrence Journal World sports editor Tom Keegan.

If Self couldn't intimidate him, what chance did Simpson have? "The tip of the iceberg," Woodland said about his victory Sunday. Given his titanic length, athleticism and a rapidly-improving short game, it promises something special when the rest of the iceberg reveals itself.

VEGAS LOVES TIGER

No, not Jhonattan Vegas. Las Vegas. Or at least the Las Vegas bookmakers.

Woods, the Masters favorite at 7 to 1 (Phil Mickelson is next at 8 to 1), is still attracting a great deal of action, despite not having won a tournament in 16 months, according to Jeff Sherman, the assistant manager of the Race and Sports Book at the Las Vegas Hilton and the man who sets its golf odds (they can be found at golfodds.com). At the same time, Woods' winless skein has increased betting on other players.

"We're on pace to set another record for golf," Sherman said. Woods' return to competition in 2010, at the Masters, set a record for golf wagering at the Hilton. "Tiger's right up there with most tickets written compared with other players. But we had most of our money taken [when he was] at 4 or 5 to 1. At the same time, with his odds being higher, Nick Watney at 15 to 1, Dustin Johnson at 20 to 1, all these guys in the 15 to 20 to 1 range, a lot of people are taking a lot of chances on these guys.

"The most popular golfers right now, ticket-wise, are Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar. There are a lot of golfers with a lot of tickets on them. [Tiger's slump] has really spread it out."

What happens should Woods handily win the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week? Or should he miss the cut?

"Based on that scenario [winning handily], I could see him going down to 9 to 2," Sherman said. "If he misses the cut, the odds could hit 10 to 1."

THE TV REPORT

NBC's Johnny Miller, as usual, was the ringleader.

• When he suggested a player's putting stroke got so quick it looked like Paul Azinger's, tweeting went into overdrive.

"Not watching golf but [some] are saying Johnny gave me a plug, others saying a rip. Either way, should I care?" Azinger wrote in his first post on the matter.

"Maybe Johnny [angry] at me cause he heard about the twitter chatter i got going last week when he said he invented Kutcher's [sic] putter?"

One of Azinger's followers suggested that Miller was referring only to his quick stroke, that it wasn't intended as a criticism.

"I hit putts, i didn't stroke them!" Azinger replied.

Another follower said, no, "it was a rip."

"I guess he wasn't referring to the year I led the tour in putting!" Azinger wrote.

Another follower: "how can Johnny talk about putting??? He can't putt one off a ship and hit water."

Azinger: "I bet he could."

• NBC's crew has always been good about identifying slow play, albeit diplomatically, as it did again on Sunday regarding Webb Simpson's methodical pace.

"Taking his time, isn't he?" anchor Dan Hicks said on one particular shot.

"It's definitely gotten slower as the day's gone on, Dan," Dottie Pepper replied.

A few moments passed in silence.

"Wow," Miller said finally, breaking the silence, as everyone waited on Simpson.

WATNEY AN ALSO-RAN (FOR A CHANGE)

Nick Watney's run of seven straight top 10s on the PGA Tour ended with an 18th-hole bogey at the Transitions Championship on Sunday. He needed a birdie to get into the top 10, but finished T-13th. Still, he moved past Ian Poulter and into 14th in the World Ranking

FEEL GOOD STORY OF THE WEEK

Scott Stallings is a PGA Tour rookie who was living less a dream than a welcome-to-the-big-leagues nightmare. He was 0 for January and February, missing the cut in the first five PGA Tour events he played before finishing T-42 in the Puerto Rico Open.

In the meantime, he and veteran Kenny Perry had developed a friendship, and Perry used his influence as an endorser of Transitions to get Stallings an exemption into the Transitions Championship. Stallings demonstrated his gratitude by finishing third, his best finish as a touring pro, and earning $374,000.

LPGA: NO CASH AND KARRIE

Karrie Webb, 36, won't be paid for her victory in the RR Donnelley Founders Cup on Sunday, but her talent is still bankable. Webb's 38th career victory was her second in a row. In three starts in 2011, she has finished no worse than a T-3. It's her best three-tournament run since she won the Kraft Nabisco in 2006 and followed with a pair of T-2s.

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