Here's something for the clubhouse mantle: It had the toughest hole on the PGA TOUR this year.
Even including major venues like Augusta National and Winged Foot, the toughest scoring hole in 2006 was the 426-yard fifth hole at Poppy Hills, which was nearly a half-stroke over par at 4.492.
The rest of the top 50 is not much of a surprise.
The U.S. Open was the toughest of the four majors -- Geoff Ogilvy won at 5-over 285 -- and it was reflected in the list. Winged Foot had six of the hardest holes among the top 20, and 10 holes ranked among the top 50. The first and 18th holes at Winged Foot were tied for third at 4.471, ranked one spot behind the 505-yard 11th hole at Augusta National (4.474).
Oddly enough, the Masters didn't have another hole in the top 50.
Royal Liverpool had two holes among the top 50 (No. 12 was ranked 33rd and No. 14 was 39th). The PGA Championship was a pushover this year on rain-softened greens, so it was no surprise that Medinah had only one hole in the top 50 -- No. 16 came was ranked 40th.
That fifth major -- The Players Championship -- had only one hole in the top 50. The 18th hole at Sawgrass was ranked No. 5.
Among regular PGA TOUR events, the South Course at Torrey Pines (Buick Invitational) had five holes in the top 50, with the 477-yard 12th hole the highest ranked at No. 9. Torrey Pines has been expanded to 7,568 yards and will host the U.S. Open in 2008. The Country Club at Mirasol (Honda Classic) had four of the hardest holes among the top 50.
And as an example of how weather dictates everything in golf, consider the Plantation Course at Kapalua. Ernie Els set the PGA TOUR record in the '03 Mercedes Championships by winning at 31-under par. This year, with slick greens that were even faster because of the blustery conditions, the Plantation Course had two holes ranked among the top 10 -- the 380-yard third hole was at No. 7 and the 218-yard second hole came in at No. 10.
The day Tiger Woods collected his PGA TOUR player of the year award for the eighth time, Paul Casey won his first award as European Tour golfer of the year.
Casey won three times on the European Tour, including the HSBC World Match Play Championship, and he finished second to Padraig Harrington in the Order of Merit by about $47,000. He also went unbeaten in four matches at the Ryder Cup (2-0-2), making a hole-in-one on the 14th hole to close a foursomes victory.
The award was voted on by a panel comprised of the Association of Golf Writers, television, radio and European Tour officials.
'To win three times during the 2006 season and play a part in Europe's record-breaking third successive Ryder Cup victory before finishing runner-up to Padraig in the Order of Merit was extremely satisfying,' Casey said.
Tiger Woods had a swoosh on his hat, his shirt and his shoes when he signed with Nike upon turning pro in 1996. Ten years later, the only golf-related item he has that isn't Nike is his putter.
Woods renewed this endorsement deal with Nike this summer. Terms were not disclosed, although the last two deals were for five years, and his latest contract paid him more than $125 million.
'It's very interesting because we were not really in the golf business,' Woods said about his relationship with Nike has evolved. 'Now we are a leader in the golf industry. We didn't have any hard goods at all, and now we have clubs and balls. I'm going from basically a person who is just happy to be a part of the Nike company to now helping out as much as I possibly can.'
WORLD CUP IDEA
The World Cup goes to China next year, and no telling how many stars from the United States, Australia and South Africa will continue to skip the team event. Clearly, it carries more prestige in some European countries like England and Ireland.
Padraig Harrington has an idea to resurrect the tournament -- make it like a real World Cup.
'I personally would go with probably every four years,' the Irishman said last week in Barbados. 'If it was every four years, then how often does a player stay in the top two in his country for that length of period? So, it would mean that over a person's career, they would look for the opportunity to play in the World Cup every year, because it may only happen for most guys a couple of times at most.'
The Americans take most of the abuse when it comes to absentees. Tiger Woods stopped playing after 2001 when the PGA TOUR briefly changed its criteria that forced him to take the next highest-ranked player (it would have been Phil Mickelson in 2002).
Ernie Els and Retief Goosen have not played for South Africa since 2001; this was the first time Colin Montgomerie played for Scotland; and Adam Scott has not played for Australia since 2002.
U.S. Amateur champion Richie Ramsay of Scotland is among 22 players from Great Britain and Ireland to start preparing for the Walker Cup match to be played next year at Royal County Down in Ireland. ... Tiger Woods is playing a tournament on the U.S. mainland for the first time since Sept. 4. ... The Skins Game will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year by moving to Indian Wells. It will be held on the new Celebrity Course at the Indian Wells Golf Course for the next three years. ... Rich Beem has a new endorsement deal with Tommy Bahama, marketing one of three new lines called 'TB18.' ... The Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge has signed on for another six years, sanctioned by the PGA TOUR and LPGA Tour through 2012. One of the more popular silly-season events, it has raised more than $23 million in 15 years for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Bernhard Langer earned $612,672 in 26 starts this year on the PGA and European tours. He earned $900,000 the last two weeks by winning the Father-Son Challenge and the World Cup.
'It means I had a good year. But it also means I had some bad years before that.' -- Steve Stricker, on being voted PGA TOUR comeback player of the year.
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