A world-class field and wide-open tournament

By Doug FergusonMarch 11, 2010, 5:01 am

DORAL, Florida – One of the billboards at Doral promotes this World Golf Championship with a familiar slogan and some familiar faces, a photo sequence of five players under the phrase, “The World is Watching.”

Tiger Woods is the center photo. He’s the only one watching this week.

His presence, even after all this time away from the game, remains prominent.

It’s hard to walk more than a few yards on the practice range at the CA Championship without hearing chatter about Woods. Players say very little publicly when asked about the absence of the world’s No. 1 player, some choosing their words carefully, most saying they have enough to worry about with their own games.

Privately, they speculate and share the latest inside gossip on his return just as much as anyone else.

But as golf moves closer to the first major of the year – the Masters is a month away – Woods became a topic Wednesday as much for his standard of golf as the reason why he’s not at Doral.

The season began two months ago with speculation on who might fill the void left by Woods, with most of the focus on Phil Mickelson.

Instead, he has been replaced by committee.

Ten tournaments into the PGA Tour season, there have been 10 winners. Steve Stricker is the only player who was in the top 10 at the start of the year to have won anywhere in the world, his victory coming at Riviera.

“I think it’s just a coincidence,” Stricker said. “It always comes back to the depth of the tour, just how good these guys are, and how tough it is to win. How many multiple winners were there last year?”

He wasn’t trying to make a point, only ask a question. The answer is seven – Woods, Mickelson, Stricker, Geoff Ogilvy, Zach Johnson, Kenny Perry and Brian Gay. Mickelson was the only player to win multiple times when Woods was in the field.

When he won at Riviera, it was Stricker’s fourth victory in his last 15 starts, which computes to winning 27 percent of his starts. Good stuff, until he realizes that it’s still lower than Woods’ winning rate of 30 percent for his career.

Asked if he would like to see the streak continue of different winners each week, Stricker smiled as he tried to think of a clever answer, before settling on a simple “No.”

He was among the favorites in the 68-man field at Doral, comprised of players from the top 50 in the world ranking and top players from the money lists on six major tours around the world.

“It’s still a world-class field, and it will take a strong winner,” Lee Westwood said. “You still have to be on top of your game to win.”

Take himself out of the mix and Stricker would favor Mickelson, the defending champion at Doral. A year ago, Mickelson battled through dehydration brought on by food poisoning to hold off Nick Watney in the final round and capture his first WGC event.

Mickelson has yet to win this year, which most likely has more to do with his struggle at home as his wife recovers from breast cancer than any technical aspect of his game. Without a pro-am this week, Mickelson was not due to arrive at Doral until Wednesday evening.

Camilo Villegas is coming off a victory in the Honda Classic last week and might be the hottest player in golf. In five tournaments, the only time he failed to finish in the top 10 was his season debut in Abu Dhabi, where he tied for 19th.

“Obviously, I’ve had a good start for the year,” Villegas said. “But it’s not the way I think. Just try to keep going. I’ve had a great attitude all year, and I came pretty close in Match Play and I had a chance there at Phoenix. But tomorrow is Thursday, and trust me, every Thursday, we start from zero. It’s time to forget what happened the previous week.”

Ian Poulter is three weeks removed from his first victory in America at the Match Play Championship, while Ogilvy is a past WGC winner at Doral who opened the year with a victory in Kapalua.

The other winners on the PGA Tour are Ryan Palmer, Bill Haas, Ben Crane, Dustin Johnson, Cameron Beckman and Hunter Mahan.

“It’s not an oddity or a coincidence. It’s only an oddity when you have 25 winners in 25 tournaments,” British Open champion Stewart Cink said. Then he added with a wink and a smile, “Besides, I’m winning the next two.”

Stricker began his PGA Tour career when it was a big deal for any player to win more than four times in one season. Nick Price (six wins in 1994) was the only player to do that in the 15 years before Woods showed up. Since then, Woods has gone only three seasons when he didn’t win at least four times, one of those as a rookie in 1996 when he played only eight tournaments (and won two).

“He makes it look easy, but it’s not,” Stricker said. “But it’s good for the game when we get both—a variety of winners, and it’s good when we get guys who continuously win. Everyone loves David against Goliath. It’s good to have top guys going down the stretch against a guy who doesn’t win as much.”

Two months into Woods’ infidelity break, it has been hard to identify the top guys who win all the time.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.