Notes Ford Championship Garners Big Ratings

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As expected, NBC Sports scored big with a Sunday showdown between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. The 5.9 overnight rating and 16 share was the highest at Doral in 15 years, and the biggest in golf since the U.S. Open last year at Shinnecock Hills got a 6.3 overnight rating.

The final round peaked with an 8.1 rating over the last 30 minutes, when Woods surged ahead to win the Ford Championship at Doral and return to No. 1 in the world.
 
FORD OUTING
The four players who took part in a corporate outing for a reported $150,000 on the Monday before the Ford Championship at Doral were not there by coincidence.

Golf World magazine reports this week that IMG sent a letter to tournament directors offering to help put together a 'unique' Monday outing, in which the agency would try to secure five players who do not have a history playing that event. The letter also said the players 'will look favorably upon staying for the
tournament.'

The IMG letter, obtained by Golf World, included a menu of players.

In the $100,000 to $200,000 price range were Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen, John Daly and Davis Love III. The second tier, for a meager $50,000 to $100,000, included David Duval, Todd Hamilton, Charles Howell III, Mike Weir, Ben Curtis, Fred Couples and Jim Furyk.

Singh, Goosen, Garcia and Padraig Harrington played in the Ford outing. All are IMG clients.

Tour regulations prohibit players or their agents from soliciting or accepting compensation to guarantee their appearance.

The IMG letter pushes that policy to the brink, and the PGA Tour is looking into it.

'We will review this recent solicitation and take whatever steps we deem necessary,' the tour said in a statement.

CANADIAN GRIT
Mike Weir could do without his results the last two weeks, getting ousted in the first round of the Match Play Championship and tying for 52nd at Doral.

Still, the Canadian showed plenty of grit when it might not matter to others.
 
Trailing by one hole on the 18th at La Costa, with Kirk Triplett some 8 feet away for birdie, Weir made a 20-foot birdie putt to keep alive his chances. Triplett knocked his in to win the match.
 
Then at Doral, Weir needed a par to make the cut and fanned his drive into the water. He had 5-iron into the green, then made a 12-foot par putt with severe left-to-right break.
 
'I think it's just my attitude. I don't give in,' Weir said. 'Those help big-time. It was just to make the cut, but at least I was playing. Any momentum you can get leading into Augusta is good.'
 
THINKING AHEAD
In the twilight at La Costa Resort, after the Match Play Championship was over for the day, a lone figure was on the practice range working on his swing.

'Colonial is three months away and I'm already nervous,' Ian Baker-Finch said with a smile.
 
Baker-Finch is a past champion at Colonial and plans to play in May, which would be his first PGA Tour event since he missed the cut at Colonial in 2001.
 
The congenial Aussie won the '91 British Open, but then suffered so badly off the tee that it drove him away from golf after he shot 92 in the first round of the 1997 British Open. Baker-Finch, who works for ABC Sports, has been encouraged enough at his home club in Florida that he has hinted at playing a few tournaments.
 
That might also include the British Open at St. Andrews.
 
Baker-Finch has not entered, and said he probably won't make up his mind until the last minute.
 
'I don't expect to be able to compete,' Baker-Finch said. 'But I at least want to believe I can compete, instead of hoping I don't play poorly.'
 
EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM?
The final pick in the NFL draft is known as 'Mr. Irrelevant,' and he gets a paid trip to Newport Beach, Calif., for a week of festivities. Maybe something should be done for the first guy to sign up for the U.S. Open.

That would be Ed McDugle, a high school golf coach in Memphis, Tenn., who sent in his U.S. Open entry a mere nine minutes after applications were made available online March 2.

'I just happened to check that morning,' McDugle said. 'I had an open period after teaching honors economics, I clicked on and it was there. I wasn't even thinking about being the first.'
 
Alas, there is no free trip to sectionals or any other such perk.
 
McDugle will go to 18-hole local qualifying May 17 for the ninth consecutive year, and he already has signed up for East Lake to play the 36-hole sectional if he makes it that far.
 
McDugle, 43, is the Memphis city public links champion and the epitome of what the U.S. Open is all about -- amateurs who are allowed to dream big about competing against Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson & Co. at Pinehurst No. 2.
 
U.S. Open entries have averaged about 8,000 the last couple of years, making McDugle a long shot.
 
He made it to sectionals his first year in 1997, and it required no small amount of work. He was coaching softball and raising young children, putting them to bed at 9:30 p.m. and going to the driving range until it closed.
 
'I ended up in a playoff and beat a couple of the local pros,' he said.

He also learned a lesson about the big time that year.
 
'Teachers don't make a lot of money, and I was using some knockoff clubs,' he said. 'I was playing with the No. 3 player on the Nike Tour, and he was sponsored everywhere. I learned that second-rate clubs don't get it done at that level. His technology was brand new, and I was losing 30 yards off the tee.'

The good news is that McDugle has upgraded to some Titleist 690 irons, the Pro V1 ball and a new V-Foil putter.

'But I'm still lacking in the driver,' he said. 'I've got an Orlimar Tri-Metal, but I hit it dead straight.'
 
DIVOTS
Jim Furyk tied for eighth at Doral and became the seventh player on the PGA Tour to surpass $20 million in career earnings. ... Greg Norman had to withdraw after the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic because of a recurring back injury. His manager said he tried to hit 60 balls on the range, but felt numbness and couldn't make a turn. He hopes to be ready for The Players Championship.

STAT OF THE WEEK
Bart Bryant has 29 consecutive rounds at par or better, dating to Las Vegas last year. He has only one top-10 finish during that stretch.

FINAL WORD
'He was just on the Ed Sullivan show the other day.' -- Jack Nicklaus, told that Tiger Woods was in his 10th season on the PGA Tour.