Birdies Abound Yet Still Major Feel

By Associated PressAugust 19, 2006, 4:00 pm
2006 PGA ChampionshipMEDINAH, Ill -- The volunteers manning the scoreboard just off the third green at Medinah Country Club didn't stand a chance.
It wasn't just that they were running out of red numbers, which they were. So many players were going so low that there wasn't enough room for all of them on the board.

Not that you could blame the people keeping score.
They came here expecting to work a major championship. Instead, a Bob Hope Classic broke out.
About the only thing missing was the late comedian and his buddies playing alongside Tiger Woods.
As easy as Medinah was playing, they might have had a chance to get under par, too.
Everybody else seemed to be on a humid Saturday in the third round of the PGA Championship, where birdies were flowing more freely than the beer in the corporate hospitality tents.
It was so easy that even Woods couldn't bring himself to say he grinded this one out.
'In most major championships, you make pars and sprinkle in a couple birdies here and there, you're looking pretty good,' Woods said. 'Today you would have just been run over.'
Woods, of course, was doing a lot of the running. His 65 seemed effortless, which had to give pause to Luke Donald, who shares the lead with him at 14 under after three rounds.
By now we expect that kind of thing from Woods. He is, after all, arguably the greatest golfer ever.
Mike Weir is another matter. Sure, he's got a green jacket, but the short-hitting Canadian wasn't supposed to be flirting with a major championship record or shooting a round of 65 himself on a course stretched out to 7,561 yards.
Golf purists had to be aghast. Major championships are supposed to be tests of survival, with the winner dripping in sweat and caked in dirt after navigating his way through thin fairways, thick rough and hard-baked greens.
That's the way they do it at the U.S. Open, where Geoff Ogilvy never sniffed a round in the 60s and won despite shooting 5-over-par at Winged Foot. The 18th hole was so hard that Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie almost didn't finish it.
The folks at the U.S. Golf Association like that kind of thing because it tends to separate the Tigers and Phils from the Shaun Micheels and K.J. Chois, who, not surprisingly, are on this leaderboard.
'We're not trying to embarrass the best players in the world,' former USGA official Sandy Tatum once famously said. 'We're trying to identify them.'
The stuffed shirts who run the Masters feel the same way. They began growing rough and injecting holes with steroids after Woods and his fellow long hitters began taking advantage of a course that offered little resistance to modern balls and titanium drivers.
Bobby Jones wouldn't recognize the par-4 11th hole at Augusta National, which has now grown to 505 yards. The way things are going, they'll have to knock down a few Waffle Houses on the main road next to the course to keep the long knockers at bay.
There aren't any such worries at the PGA Championship, which welcomed players this week with a course almost as accommodating as the catered suites that line fairways to give the wealthy a spot to get away from the unwashed masses.
The rough was respectable, but it wasn't that difficult to find a golf ball in it, assuming you somehow missed the wide fairways. The greens were soft to begin with, but rain on Friday made it look as though players were shooting Velcro balls from the fairway.
Conditions were ripe for scoring. And the best players in the world didn't wait long to take advantage of them.
A record 60 of them were under par the first day. That record lasted until the second day, when 61 were in red numbers.
On Saturday, there were so many good shots that CBS had trouble keeping up with them. On the course, roars came from so many corners that fans looked like bobble-head dolls trying to follow the action.
And you know what? It didn't cheapen the last major of the year a bit.
The best player in the world was still on top of the leaderboard, a good indication that the game of golf was somehow still intact. Apparently you can identify the best players by letting them make birdies as well as you can by forcing them to grovel for pars.
Know something else? It was fun.
Fans like seeing players at their best. They want to see Woods hit a 3-iron 250 yards over water to within 8 feet of the hole, as he did on the par-3 13th. They enjoy watching Mickelson making four birdies in the first seven holes to get in contention.
The drama on Sunday figures to extend deep into the back nine because everyone who tees it up believes he has a chance to shoot 65. Someone will win this major championship, rather than losing it the way Mickelson did with a double bogey on 18 at Winged Foot.
When it's all over, it won't matter whether the winner is 20-under-par or 5 over.
The only thing that will count is who has the lowest score.
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - PGA Championship
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  • Full Coverage - 36th Ryder Cup Matches
  • Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

    Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

    Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

    "He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

    The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

    Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

    "I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

    Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

    "From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

    "And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

    "There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

    Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

    "It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.