Easing into the Season

By Mercer BaggsJanuary 8, 2006, 5:00 pm
The Mercedes Championships played much like a major championship. The conditions were quite difficult, no one ever reached double digits under par, many of the top names were in contention, and Sergio Garcia wasn't a factor on Sunday.
 
It really had the feel of a U.S. Open, minus everyone complaining about the layout ' and minus the drama.
 
While the tournament was tightly contested throughout, and the top of the leaderboard featured names like Appleby and Campbell and Furyk and Singh, there wasnt a lot about which to get excited.
 
Some of it might have had to do with the absence of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, but there was more to it that just that.
 
Woods and Mickelson complained last year that the season is too long, and in a way they were right. The PGA Tour season is not too long; the golfing season is too long.
 
The final official tour event of 2005 concluded on Nov. 6. Had that really been it, we ' at least I ' would have been jonesing for the return of golf in 06. I would have needed a fix. Instead, there was the Franklin Templeton Shootout and the WGC-World Cup and the Target World Challenge and the Skins Game and the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. Not to mention the Father/Son Challenge and the Wendys 3-Tour Challenge and the Tommy Bahama Challenge. And events in China and Japan and South Africa and Australia.
 
It was an off-season overdose.
 
And when I returned to the office this past week I felt like I was in some kind of suffocating relationship. I just wanted to tell Golf: Hey, I think we need a break. Some time away from one another ' just a week, maybe. Its not you; its me. Actually, its you.
 
But this did turn out to be a pretty good tournament to kick-start the season. And now I think Im ready. Ready to make commitment to the 2006 season. If not this week, then maybe when they hit the mainland. Certainly by the Florida Swing.
 
Maybe I'm just bitter because my Cincinnati Bengals lost Sunday. Or maybe I'm just bitter because I didn't get to go to Maui (more likely). But while I wasnt geeked up about this past weeks tournament, I did find plenty things that provoked thought:
 
  • Being that the Plantation course played much like a major venue, will this be the year that Appleby nets a maiden major championship? And for that matter, will it be the year for Garcia? Though the two are separated by nine years in age (Garcia turns 26 Monday, by the way), the elder Appleby has competed in only seven more majors. Garcia has played in 29, Appleby 36. You could say that with such experience that its time for one or both of these two to finally win one. But first they have to start contending. Appleby lost in a four-man playoff in the 2002 Open Championship. That, however, is just one of three career top-10s for the Aussie in major competition, compared to 15 missed cuts. Garcia will point out that he has five top-5 finishes, two of which came last year. But in only two of those did he actually have a chance to win, the 1999 PGA and 2002 U.S. Open. In the other three, he finished an average of six strokes behind the winner.
     
  • Singh said Saturday evening that he felt like he had a good round in him for Sunday. He was right. Singh's 66 was the lowest score all week by three strokes, and one of only two sub-70 scores by the entire field. He said at the end of last year that he kind of coasted to the finish line, didn't put forth his normal 100-percent performance off the course. Refocused and rededicated ' he reportedly spent eight hours practicing on Christmas Day, he may be in store for another monster campaign. But this year is already looking more like '05 than '04. He had a chance to win last year's Mercedes, only to blow a 54-hole lead with a closing 74. He then blew chances to win The Honda and Bay Hill at the buzzer. This time, he lost yet again with a game-ending mistake.
     
  • Just about everybody with a forum to do so has offered up their opinion on whether or not Woods, Mickelson, Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington should have made the trip to Kapalua. I wont belabor the issue, but I do think they should have gone. Im aware that they are independent contractors and can pick and choose which events they want to play. But they should support the tour ' the one that has provided them with the lifestyle that affords them the luxury to pass on the opportunity for a $1.08 million paycheck ' by playing in a premiere event like this one ' especially considering Mercedes-Benz is undecided on whether or not they want to renew their sponsorship with the tour.
     
  • We know that Appleby is in the field for the 07 Mercedes. But who will join him in the winners-only event? You would have to think that Singh, Furyk, Garcia and David Toms will likely be back. But for most everyone else, its a complete toss-up. Michael Campbell, not being a PGA Tour member, will have difficulty earning a return trip, unless he should win another major or a WGC event. He was one of 11 first-timers in this years field. Of them, I would give the best chance for a repeat appearance to Lucas Glover, Geoff Ogilvy and Carl Pettersen.
     
  • You would have to think that Woods and Mickelson will again have the chance to turn down a trip to paradise. Goosen, too. It will be most interesting, however, to see if Goosens countryman, Ernie Els, can punch a ticket. Els, the 2003 Mercedes champion, missed 4 months last year due to knee surgery. He returned in December and promptly won in just his second start back. According to his website, Els is scheduled to compete in 18 tour events this season, but none until the Nissan Open in mid-February. Prior to Riviera, he is slated to play three consecutive tournaments in the Middle East, beginning in two weeks.
     
  • There were only 28 players in this weeks field, so it didnt take long to scan the list from top to bottom. Bringing up the rear on the final leaderboard were 05s two most compelling stories. Last year was like a Cinderella tale for Sean OHair and Jason Gore. It may now be 12:01 in the a.m. It will be very difficult for the two to match their precedent campaigns. Fortunately for both, they have a year of grace before they have to worry about holding onto their tour cards. This certainly isnt to say that these four rounds are a harbinger of things to come. Having talked with both players at the end of last season, it didnt seem like either one had planned on playing too much over the final two months. They likely entered this event with an accumulation of rust and just werent able to shake it under the trying conditions. Plus, Im sure that both were more interested in enjoying this experience than worrying about where they would ultimately finish.
     
  • Of course, the tour will next hop over to Oahu for the upcoming Sony Open. And, of course, Michelle Wie will be the center of attention. I understand that there are people unhappy about her inclusion, and plenty of others who feel saturated in Wie coverage. Well, get used to seeing her ' more and more and more of her. With two LPGA tournaments in Hawaii to start their season and the Kraft Nabisco Championship beginning at the end of March, youll be getting more Michelle over the first quarter of this year than you could ever have asked for. My advice: just sit back and enjoy it. Lets see what shes got.
     
    Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
  • Watch: Pros try to hit 2-yard wide fairway in Dubai

    By Grill Room TeamNovember 18, 2017, 5:20 pm

    While in Dubai for the DP World Tour Championship, the European Tour prestented a little challenge to Ross Fisher, Richie Ramsay, Nicolas Colsaerts and Soren Kjeldsen. On a stretch of road outside of town, the four players had to try and hit a 2-yard wide fairway. Check out the results.

    Rose (65) leads Rahm, Frittelli in Dubai

    By Associated PressNovember 18, 2017, 3:24 pm

    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Justin Rose will take a one-shot lead into the final day of the season-ending Tour Championship as he attempts to win a third straight title on the European Tour and a second career Race to Dubai crown.

    The 37-year-old Rose made a gutsy par save on the final hole after a bogey-free round for a 7-under 65 Saturday and overall 15-under 201.

    The Englishman leads South African Dylan Frittelli, who produced the day's best score of 63, and Spain's Jon Rahm, who played in the same group as Rose and matched his 65.

    Rose is looking to be Europe's season-ending No. 1 for the second time. His leading rival for the Race to Dubai title, Tommy Fleetwood, is only two shots behind here after a second straight 65 on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates.

    Fleetwood did his chances no harm by overcoming a stuttering start before making eight birdies in his final 11 holes to also post a 65. The 26-year-old Englishman was tied for fourth place at 13 under, alongside South African Dean Burmester (65) and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat (67), who closed with five birdies in a row.

    ''So, last day of the season and I've got a chance to win the Race to Dubai,'' Fleetwood said. ''It's cool.''


    DP World Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the DP World Tour Championship


    Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Race to Dubai title, is tied for 13th on 10 under after a 67.

    Fleetwood had a lead of 256,737 points going into the final tournament and needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

    Rose is hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey.

    Rose, who made some long putts for birdies apart from chipping in on the 13th hole, looked to be throwing away his advantage on the par-5 18th, when his second shot fell agonizingly short of the green and into the water hazard. But with his short game in superb condition, the reigning Olympic champion made a difficult up-and-down shot to stay ahead.

    ''That putt at the last is a big confidence-builder. That broke about 18 inches right-to-left downhill. That's the kind of putt I've been hoping to make. That was a really committed stroke. Hopefully I can build on that tomorrow,'' said Rose. ''I know what I need to do to stay at the top of the leaderboard. If I slip up tomorrow, he's (Fleetwood) right there. He's done everything he needs to do on his end, so it's a lot of fun.''

    The last player to win three tournaments in a row on the European Tour was Rory McIlroy, when he won the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone and the PGA Championship in 2014.

    Fleetwood was 1 over after seven holes but turned it on with a hat trick of birdies from the eighth, and then four in a row from No. 13.

    ''I wanted to keep going. Let's bring the tee times forward for tomorrow,'' quipped Fleetwood after closing with a birdie on the 18th. ''Just one of them strange days where nothing was going at all. A couple sloppy pars on the par 5s, and a bad tee shot on fifth and I was 1-over through seven on a day where scoring has been really good ... Ninth and 10th, felt like we had something going ... it was a really good last 11 holes.''

    If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

    By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

    She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

    You don’t believe it, though.

    She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

    Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

    Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

    “In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

    Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

    Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

    At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

    She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

    She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

    And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.


    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


    There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

    It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

    Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

    Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

    “I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

    About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

    Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

    “She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

    David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

    “She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

    Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

    Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

    “Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

    Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

    “It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

    Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

    “No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

    Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

    National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

    The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

    Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

    These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon: