Harrington a Good Bet for Future Captain
Sunday Harrington became the first European to win a major in the 21st century when he outlasted Sergio Garcia in a memorable playoff at Carnoustie in the British Open. The win also made him the first Irishman in 60 years to get his hands around the Claret Jug. Earlier this year Harrington became the first Irishman in 25 years to conquer the Irish Open. And in 1997, Harrington and countryman Paul McGinley were the first Irishmen to capture the World Cup in 40 years.
One former European Ryder Cupper told me this week that it is now a virtual cinch that Harrington will one day captain a Ryder Cup team. The only question is when.
Meanwhile the only sure thing picks ahead of Harrington in the European captaincy queue are Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal.
The 35-year-old Harrington isnt likely to be named captain until 2014 at the earliest. He would be 43 by the time the matches were played that year at Gleneagles in Scotland. Englishman Tony Jacklin was 39 when he captained the Euros against the Americans in the 1983 Ryder Cup.
But there is a strong sense that Harringtons victory at Carnoustie may have pushed him ahead of Northern Irelands Darren Clarke in the unofficial race to become the first Irish captain. Clarke is four years older than Harrington and another sure bet to captain the Euros one day.
Clarke has played in five Ryder Cups, Harrington four.
SOUTHERN HILLS UPDATE:
The major season will conclude the week after next with the PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa. Superintendent Russ Myers wishes it was today.
Myers said Tuesday his golf course is exactly where Kerry Haigh, the PGAs course set-up guy, wants it. That includes greens running at between 11.5 and 12 on the Stimpmeter and rough that is strong, thick and dense.
Myers said temperatures in the 90s are predicted for Tulsa the next several weeks and will force his grounds crew to treat the grasses with extra care because of the heat. The good news, he said, is all the rain Tulsa has had for the last two and a half months.
May was the fourth-wettest in Tulsa history, he said. There were only five days in June that we didnt get rain, and the first two weeks in July it rained almost every day.
Myers said the course was flooded out more than once during that time. But the upside was that fewer rounds were played by members and cart usage was extremely limited. The temperatures never got too high on us during that period, he said. We survived it well.
The rains finally relented a week ago. So now the first thing the players will check out when they arrive at Southern Hills is the ninth and 18th greens. In 2001 at the U.S. Open both those elevated greens had to be altered during tournament week. Their pitch from front to back was too severe to hold approach shots while keeping them at the same speed as the other 16 surfaces.
The result was an inconsistency that forced a renovation three years ago. Thats when course architect Keith Foster spearheaded a re-design that lowered the back of the ninth and 18th greens while raising the fronts. The net effect was a leveling of the putting surfaces and a better receptivity to well-struck shots. It also enabled the PGA to pick up a new front left hole location on the 18th that would have been unthinkable in 2001.
If we could have the tournament here this week, Id be ecstatic, Myers said. Right now there are no issues.
Tadd Fujikawa, the 16-year-old golfing mighty mite from Hawaii, will make his PGA TOUR debut as a professional next week at Reno-Tahoe Open.
Sources say Fujikawa hasnt spiked ticket sales. But he has already visited the Montreux Golf and Country Club to play a couple of practice rounds.
Tadd knows this isnt Hawaii and it isnt Japan, said tournament director Jim Kline, who granted Fujikawa a sponsors exemption but cant, by the TOUR rules, pay appearance money.
Kline said despite normal ticket sales there has been a buzz surrounding Fujikawas debut. And Kline intends to take advantage of that by slotting Fujikawa into the Monday and Wednesday Pro-Ams. He will pair Fujikawa with First Tee kids on Monday. And, Kline predicted, Fujikawa will go near the top of the blind draw draft at the pairings party Tuesday night when amateurs get to pick their pros for Wednesdays Pro-Am.
This has certainly been no type of Michelle Wie effect, Kline said. But people here are excited.
The Reno-Tahoe Open is being played the same week as the PGA TOURs WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in Ohio.
So exactly when, a lot of people want to know, will the Open Championship be returning to Carnoustie, the Scottish golf course that delivers all that high drama.
Currently the R&A has only announced it Open Championship schedule through 2010 when it will convene at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
A highly-placed senior tournament official pointed out that there are nine British Open venues at the moment. St. Andrews gets the Open Championship roughly every fifth year. The other eight host approximately every 10th year.
The best guest is that Carnoustie will host again in 2017, give or take a year. To put that in perspective, Tiger Woods will probably have turned 40 the next time the Open Championship gets to Carnoustie.
Meanwhile the R&A has stated publicly that it wants to return to Carnoustie provided, the official said, Carnoustie Links would have them.
Right now there is no reason to think they wouldnt.
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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.”