Double Standard for Woods and Mickelson
Both cases cried out for punishment. Both players were covered by the rules, although one was subject to interpretation. And in both instances, even though the circumstances were entirely different, there was outrage from their peers.
No wonder there's a perception of a double standard on the PGA TOUR.
Woods hit a 9-iron on the ninth hole at Firestone last year that bounced onto and over the clubhouse roof, landing in the service entry where a kid delivering crunchy cream pies scooped up the ball and drove away.
Woods got a free drop, because the clubhouse was not marked out-of-bounds.
Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia watched this development unfold and were disgusted that Woods could get such a break. He escaped with bogey and went on to win the tournament two days later.
Last Wednesday, Mickelson missed his pro-am at the Byron Nelson Championship. Mickelson had been in Little Rock, Ark., for a charity event, and severe thunderstorms grounded his private plane Tuesday night.
Under PGA TOUR policy adopted three years ago, anyone who doesn't take part in the pro-am doesn't get to play in the tournament. But the policy was tweaked last year to allow for 'serious personal emergencies,' and TOUR officials deemed that an act of God -- the weather in this case -- kept the world's No. 3 player from getting to the course.
He was allowed to play and tied for third, his best finish in two months.
'It seemed, from the outside looking in, very, very fishy,' Jim Furyk said Tuesday. 'Not being well enough versed on the rules, I don't know if the right call was made or not. But I understand why the red flag went up.'
One reason for the red flag was name -- Mickelson, the star attraction at a tournament otherwise deplete of stars.
The other reason was because of a pro-am policy that was designed to crack down on absenteeism, but instead has been filled with cracks the tour has been trying to patch up for the last two years.
In 2005, Chad Campbell wanted to play the 84 Lumber Classic -- the tournament even had his wife sing at one of its functions -- but he asked out of the pro-am Wednesday to attend his grandmother's funeral. The TOUR made him choose between the pro-am and the funeral, and Campbell withdrew from the tournament.
Bob Tway asked out of a pro-am at the BellSouth Classic last year so he and his son, Kevin, could attend the funeral of Bob Johnson, the teenager whom Tway's son had beaten in the final of the U.S. Junior Amateur. Tway was using a one-time exemption to keep his card, missed the funeral and then missed the cut.
Wes Short Jr. wanted to skip out on a pro-am because his father was about to have quadruple bypass surgery, but he had to choose between the pro-am and spending time with his father.
The TOUR has tweaked its policy with every incident.
It started out that a player only could miss a pro-am and still play in the tournament if he was on site with an injury and had a note from his doctor. After the Campbell episode, it was changed to allow players to miss pro-ams if there were a death in the immediate family. After the Tway and Short incidents, the tour added 'serious personal emergency.'
That was broad enough to cover a myriad of issues -- such as a plane being grounded by thunderstorms.
No one was more bemused by the Mickelson ruling than Retief Goosen, the poster boy for this policy.
The two-time U.S. Open champion flew across eight time zones, from London to Los Angeles, to play in the Nissan Open two years ago. He overslept Wednesday morning and arrived 20 minutes late for his pro-am time at Riviera.
His partners were on the first green. He was out of the tournament.
Imagine his surprise when he flipped on the TV last week in time to see Mickelson talking about his round at the Byron Nelson Championship with a subtitle on the screen that said, 'Missed his Wednesday pro-am.'
'Obviously, they abandoned that rule,' Goosen said.
He wasn't aware it had been altered over the last couple of years, and he was curious about the latest loophole.
'So he must have had a serious personal issue,' Goosen said.
Yes, well, he was doing a charity event in Arkansas and storms kept his plane from leaving Tuesday night and early Wednesday.
'Where was the charity?' he said.
'And how far is it to drive from there?' Goosen inquired. Although he grew up in South Africa and lives in London, he realized one option would have been a five-hour drive.
Ultimately, he concluded that it was good for the tournament that Mickelson played.
But that opinion was not shared universally.
Scott Verplank drove three hours from Oklahoma that Tuesday night, calling friends in Dallas for weather updates to dodge the tornadoes. Once at the tournament, he heard so much griping that he sent a text message to a TOUR staff member that said, 'War paint on sale in locker room. Scalps wanted.'
'I heard a lot of guys complaining, and I don't think any of it was directed at Phil,' Verplank said. 'I think it was directed at the application of our rule. I'm sure they'll be working to clean that up.'
His solution was to fine a player $100,000 for missing a pro-am -- if he still wanted to play. Furyk suggested making anyone who missed the pro-am for whatever reason make it up by attending a two-hour corporate function.
'If it boiled down to me going out and playing for four or five hours ... or sitting in a room with a sports coat on for two hours, I think I'd take the outdoors.'
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.
Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.
Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.
So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.
How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:
1. Stay healthy
So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.
Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.
Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.
2. Figure out his driver
Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.
That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.
In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.
Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron.
Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”
That won’t be the case at Augusta.
3. Clean up his iron play
As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.
At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.
Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.
That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.
Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”
4. Get into contention somewhere
As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.
In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.
“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”
Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.
And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go.
“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”
Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.
Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA
Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.
The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.
According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.
Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.
The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.
Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.
Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.
“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.
Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.
Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”
With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.
Thomas was asked about that.
“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.
“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”
Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.
“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.
“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”
Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.
“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”
Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.
“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.
Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.
McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.
“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said. “That's what he said.”
The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.
The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.
“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”