The Price of Passing Out Millions
Not that Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen or Padraig Harrington have distinguished themselves in any way by skipping an event created especially for PGA Tour winners of the previous season. But rather, there is something evil deep within me which chuckles slightly over the tours independent contractor designation of the men who play it. Now the tour is being forced to suffer the consequences of that designation.
Woods, I would guess, deserves a pass because he has always supported the tournament in the past. Having said that, I still have to wonder about his off-season schedule which saw him tied up the better part of six weeks, leaving him to pick this certain week to finally take time off. He, of course, is determined to remain a very private person, meaning that only he knows why he chose to go to China, to Japan, to Hawaii and to California. This, after he had just criticized the tour having too long a season.
Sounds strange, doesnt it? But be assured that Tiger has a good reason for saying such things. It turns out, he had a good reason for changing his swing after breakout seasons in 1999 and 2000, when he won 17 times. We didnt know at the time of the swing change, sometime around 2003-04, that he felt the change was necessary because of a knee injury.
But Tiger finally fessed up after a lot of people, myself included, had wondered about the wisdom of making the move after such a period of exceptional play. So, Ive determined to butt out after the curious the seasons too long campaign of 2005, followed by his extensive playing tour after the season ended. Woods, we must conclude, had his reasons.
'I just need some time away from the game,' Woods said on his website about his absence from Kapulua this week. 'As much as I enjoy going to Kapalua resort, its been a long season and I have played a lot of golf. I need a break.'
Goosen and Harrington have at least some modicum of an excuse ' they both live in another country, both play largely on the European Tour, and when you begin talking about locales east of the Atlantic Ocean where each resides (Harrington in Ireland, Goosen has homes in Britain and South Africa), thats quite a long flight to get to Hawaii.
That leaves Mickelson.
Mickelson doesnt have an excuse, nor does he particularly need one. He hasnt played in the event since 2001, and it isnt likely that he will play in it anytime soon. But he doesnt play in the Tour Championship, either.
Now, Mickelson has three young children and its most admirable that he spends three months down time with them each year. But, am I missing something? Is there some underlying reason that he doesnt go to Kapulua? Honk if you know the answer.
Mark Calcavecchia is a friend of both Woods and Mickelson. He is at the Mercedes this year for the first time since 2002, having won the Bell Canadian Open in 2005. And he is appreciative of the fact that the field is missing the Fab Four ' hey, theres a much greater chance of him finishing somewhere in the top 10 with them not playing.
I text-messaged Tiger and said, No Hawaii for you, more cash for me, something like that, Calc said with a grin.
But theres no mistaking what his feelings are. I think they should be here, he said.
It's bad for the tournament. Good for me, bad for the tournament. I don't have to beat Tiger, Phil, Retief or Padraig. That's a bonus factor. If I'm looking to win this tournament, there's three or four guys that could easily win it.
Obviously, the tour has shot itself in the foot by arranging for a sheiks payout throughout the season. What it has done is to allow dozens of players ' players who are going to make a couple mil anyway ' to decide that they really dont need to go to a tournament simply because it wants to throw huge sums of money at them. The Mercedes pitches in excess of $1 million at the winner, and all 28 players in the field get a very nice paycheck ' last year the last-place finisher still got $65,000. That, of course, is tip money to most of the gents who have qualified to play in the event this week.
Obviously money's not an issue, said Calc. They don't need the money, which is nice to be in that position. You know, it's the first week of the year. Tiger played all those other tournaments. You know, they need the break; Phil needs a break, whatever.
That's OK. It's just golf, you know. It's not a marathon. It's not the Ironman out here, swim 26 miles or something. It's just golf. Take the next month off, you know.
I think they should be here. That's all I got to say.
And it is partially what this represents, that it is a tournament of champions only, that Calcavecchia feels this is one tournament that should be mandatory.
This is winners only, he said. You win tournaments, this should be, I think, part of the reason why you should be here - to represent that tournament you won, or tournaments, you know, six of them or whatever he (Woods) won. Yeah, I agree.
And there is much truth to that. But still, lets face it ' Tim Finchem has squeezed tournaments for every last dime, and that's the reason that these four guys could afford to pass up the Mercedes. Tiger won in excess to $10 million last year, and that is a mere pittance of the reported $90 million that he earned. Mickelson won $5.7 million before he shut it down the end of October.
And they are wholly within their right, thanks to being labeled independent contactors, to play whenever and wherever they please - as long as they play their 15 required events to keep their card. So the tour should not be disturbed if they are merely exercising their rights. The tour made this incredibly comfortably bed and lined it with millions of dollars. Mickelson, Woods, Goosen and Harrington are simply playing by the rules as laid down by T. Finchem et al.
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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.
The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.
It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.
"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."
Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.
Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.
"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."
Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder
After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.
La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.
"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."
Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.
The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.
"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."
Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead
New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.
The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.
"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."
Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.
It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.
Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.