Els Tiger Brewing Up a Real Rivalry
Now its six and counting. In case you havent noticed, none of Uncle Sams golfers have won on Uncle Sams tour in the last six events. The year 2003 has been a complete washout for those born in the United States, as was the last two events of 2002. Through two tournaments in Hawaii, one in Phoenix and now near Palm Springs, and the final two last year, the results have been the same - anyone can win as long as he doesn't have an American passport.
The past three years it has been the LPGA with Swede Annika Sorenstam, Korean Si Re Pak and Aussie Karrie Webb winning most of the events. Now the men are doing it, too.
South African Ernie Els won the first two. Vijay Singh, born in Fiji, won Phoenix, and Mike Weir, a native of Canada, got the other. And Els, for one, shows no signs of backing down.
Outwardly, the only thing different this year from the last is a new driver and ball. That combination has added nearly 40 yards on his tee shots. He is swatting it nearly 320 yards per whack this year, up from 281 last year.
Of course, every player has access to that same driver and ball. So that fact alone cant be the difference. Maybe its his putting ' he stands 10th on the PGA Tour in this important category after finishing 35th last year. But should those statistics alone account for this kind of difference in the tournaments he has entered?
It has to be a little bit of the inward difference, too. You dont win the first two events on the U.S. tour, finish a stroke out in Singapore, and win again in Australia without some serious head games going on. Thats three wins in four tries, with the other a second in perhaps the easiest event yet ' the Caltrex Open. Methinks ol' Ern has begun to believe in himself.
Actually, this whole thing started at the end of last year. Ernie won the Cisco World Match Play in late October. Then he won the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa - by eight strokes. Both have only 12 players, but the small fields are filled with pretty good players. You have to play some pretty impressive golf to win them, even if you only have to beat 11 other players. Els marched though them all in the match play, then blew away the field in the Nedbank.
Still, the hubbub at the end of last year wasnt overly unusual. But winning the first two events on the PGA Tour this year IS unusual. The Mercedes Championships didnt have Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, and neither did the Sony. But, hey ' he beat everyone who showed up. And when he went on the road to a near-miss at Singapore and a victory last week in Australia at the Heineken ' whoa, Nellie! This is getting downright serious, dont you think?
Obviously, the first thing you point to is ' no Tiger. Hes down in Orlando recuperating from knee surgery. He wont be back for a couple of weeks. For the record, he hasnt been present for any of Els five victories. So lets get that excuse out of the way at the outset.
Having said that, maybe we ought to start looking a little more closely. Maybe weve got something here ' maybe Woods is about to get a serious challenge for the U.S. money title. Its especially critical the first month or so when Tiger will undoubtedly be getting his rust-proofing in order. By the time Woods is in full stride in Florida and ready to go, Ernie may have a money lead that is impossible to overtake.
There is one caveat, of course. Els is not going to play in the U.S. any more than Tiger, even with Tigers reduced scheduled. Els is determined to play around the globe, and he will play his usual complement of European Tour events. The fact that he plays in Australia, the Far East, South Africa and Europe as well as America stretches him awfully thin. Els has to do a burn-out somewhere in mid-season. Uh ' doesnt he?
Ernie has put in his magical three-month splurge, interestingly, just after the birth of his son. That gives him two children now, proof again that you dont have to be single to be a great golfer. Much has been made of the fact that Tiger hasnt wed, and a lot of fellas held out hope he would one day be undone by marriage. Els would seem to suggest that such a prospect is merely hogwash. You can be married and have children ' and be among the worlds best. See Els and Mickelson for proof. See, Duval, David, for another side of the same equation.
For the moment, Els is the best golfer on this planet. Woods himself has definitely noticed. Tiger has undergone the knife and is coming back. But if he doesnt come back ready to go, will he have started too far back? For the first time in four years, Tiger may have competition.
Singh's lawsuit stalls as judge denies motion
Vijay Singh’s attempts to speed up the proceedings in his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour have been stalled, again.
Singh – who filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in May 2013 claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program when he was suspended, a suspension that was later rescinded – sought to have the circuit sanctioned for what his attorneys argued was a frivolous motion, but judge Eileen Bransten denied the motion earlier this month.
“While the court is of the position it correctly denied the Tour’s motion to argue, the court does not agree that the motion was filed in bad faith nor that it represents a ‘persistent pattern of repetitive or meritless motions,’” Bransten said.
It also doesn’t appear likely the case will go to trial any time soon, with Bransten declining Singh’s request for a pretrial conference until a pair of appeals that have been sent to the court’s appellate division have been decided.
“What really should be done is settle this case,” Bransten said during the hearing, before adding that it is, “unlikely a trail will commence prior to 2019.”
The Tour’s longstanding policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, but earlier this month commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the lawsuit.
“I'll just say that we're going through the process,” Monahan said. “Once you get into a legal process, and you've been into it as long as we have been into it, I think it's fair to assume that we're going to run it until the end.”
Videos and images from Tiger's Tuesday at Torrey
Tiger Woods played a nine-hole practice round Tuesday at Torrey Pines South, site of this week's Farmers Insurance Open. Woods is making his first PGA Tour start since missing the cut in this event last year. Here's a look at some images and videos of Tiger, via social media:
Tiger sighting on the range! pic.twitter.com/rcJYLCes7R— Morning Drive (@GCMorningDrive) January 23, 2018
Back on TOUR.pic.twitter.com/OPmjaXFo1l— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 23, 2018
Power Rankings: 2018 Farmers Insurance Open
The PGA Tour remains in California this week for the Farmers Insurance Open. A field of 156 players will tackle the North and South Courses at Torrey Pines, with weekend play exclusively on the South Course.
Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge - including a new One & Done game offering - to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to submit your picks for this week's event.
Jon Rahm won this event last year by three shots over Charles Howell III and C.T. Pan. Here are 10 names to watch in La Jolla:
1. Jon Rahm: No need to overthink it at the top. Rahm enters as a defending champ for the first time, fresh off a playoff win at the CareerBuilder Challenge that itself was preceded by a runner-up showing at Kapalua. Rahm is perhaps the hottest player in the field, and with a chance to become world No. 1 should be set for another big week.
2. Jason Day: The Aussie has missed the cut here the last two years, and he hasn't played competitively since November. But he ended a disappointing 2017 on a slight uptick, and his Torrey Pines record includes three straight top-10s from 2013-15 that ended with his victory three years ago.
3. Justin Rose: Rose ended last year on a tear, with three victories over his final six starts including two in a row in Turkey and China. The former U.S. Open winner has the patience to deal with a brutal layout like the South Course, as evidenced by his fourth-place showing at this event a year ago.
4. Rickie Fowler: This tournament has become somewhat feast-or-famine for Fowler, who is making his ninth straight start at Torrey Pines. The first four in that run all netted top-20 finishes, including two top-10s, while the last four have led to three missed cuts and a T-61. After a win in the Bahamas and T-4 at Kapalua, it's likely his mini-slump comes to an end.
5. Brandt Snedeker: Snedeker has become somewhat of a course specialist at Torrey Pines in recent years, with six top-10 finishes over the last eight years including wins in both 2012 and 2016. While he missed much of the second half of 2017 recovering from injury and missed the cut last week, Snedeker is always a threat to contend at this particular event.
6. Hideki Matsuyama: Matsuyama struggled to find his footing after a near-miss at the PGA Championship, but he appears to be returning to form. The Japanese phenom finished T-4 at Kapalua and has put up solid results in two of his four prior trips to San Diego, including a T-16 finish in his 2014 tournament debut. Matsuyama deserves a look at any event that puts a strong emphasis on ball-striking.
7. Tony Finau: Finau has the length to handle the difficult demands of the South Course, and his results have gotten progressively better each time around: T-24 in 2015, T-18 in 2016 and T-4 last year. Finau is coming off the best season of his career, one that included a trip to the Tour Championship, and he put together four solid rounds at the Sony Open earlier this month.
8. Charles Howell III: Howell is no stranger to West Coast golf, and his record at this event since 2013 includes three top-10 finishes highlighted by last year's runner-up showing. Howell chased a T-32 finish in Hawaii with a T-20 finish last week in Palm Springs, his fourth top-20 finish this season.
9. Marc Leishman: Leishman was twice a runner-up at this event, first in 2010 and again in 2014, and he finished T-20 last year. The Aussie is coming off a season that included two wins, and he has amassed five top-10s in his last eight worldwide starts dating back to the Dell Technologies Championship in September.
10. Gary Woodland: Woodland played in the final group at this event in 2014 before tying for 10th, and he was one shot off the lead entering the final round in 2016 before Mother Nature blew the entire field sideways. Still, the veteran has three top-20s in his last four trips to San Diego and finished T-7 two weeks ago in Honolulu.
Davis on distance: Not 'necessarily good for the game'
It's a new year, but USGA executive Mike Davis hasn't changed his views on the growing debate over distance.
Speaking with Matt Adams on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio, Davis didn't mince words regarding his perception that increased distance has had a negative impact on the game of golf, and he reiterated that it's a topic that the USGA and R&A plan to jointly address.
"The issue is complex. It's important, and it's one that we need to, and we will, face straight on," Davis said. "I think on the topic of distance, we've been steadfast to say that we do not think increased distance is necessarily good for the game."
Davis' comments echoed his thoughts in November, when he stated that the impact of increased distance has been "horrible" for the game. Those comments drew a strong rebuke from Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, who claimed there was "no evidence" to support Davis' argument.
That argument, again reiterated Tuesday, centers on the rising costs associated with both acquiring and maintaining increased footprints for courses. Davis claimed that 1 in 4 courses in the U.S. is currently "not making money," and noted that while U.S. Open venues were 6,800-6,900 yards at the start of his USGA tenure, the norm is now closer to 7,400-7,500 yards.
"You ask yourself, 'What has this done for the game? How has that made the game better?'" Davis said. "I think if we look at it, and as we look to the future, we're asking ourselves, saying, 'We want the game of golf to be fun.' We want it to continue to be challenging and really let your skills dictate what scores you should shoot versus necessarily the equipment.
"But at the same time, we know there are pressures on golf courses. We know those pressures are going to become more acute."