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PGA Tour Players Going Lower Than Ever

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KAPALUA, Hawaii -- The PGA Tour already runs commercials to explain, 'These guys are good.' It doesn't need record scoring every week to drive home the point.
 
Ernie Els became the latest poster boy for low scoring when his winning score at the Mercedes Championships -- 31-under par -- shattered the TOUR record and left him so stunned that he sounded more like Yogi Berra than the Big Easy.
 
'I've had some good weeks in my career, but to shoot 31-under par, I obviously haven't done that,' he said.
 
Then the light came on.
 
'Nobody's done it,' he added with a laugh.
 
Winning the first tournament of the year means more, especially considering that records don't last very long on the PGA Tour.
 
'It will be nice to tell Samantha and Ben one day,' he said, referring to his young children. Then he paused and knocked on the wooden table holding his trophy.
 
'If it holds up,' he said to more laughter. 'At least I held the record for a while.'
 
How long is anyone's guess.
 
The Sony Open in Hawaii begins Thursday, and all bets are off if the conditions are so calm that the skinny palm trees at Waialae Country Club don't even budge.
 
The new motto on the PGA TOUR: Go low or go home.
 
'Par doesn't mean anything anymore,' Vijay Singh said. 'Shooting 6 under and losing ground is no fun.'
 
This is no time to panic.
 
Wind is the best defense on any golf course, and there was hardly any for four days on the Plantation Course at Kapalua. The results were predictable:
 
-- Eleven players finished at 20 under or better. David Duval (26 under in 1999) was the only player in the previous four years to do that (stats powered by ShotLink).
 
-- The average score was 69.14. The average score for the final round was 68.33.
 
-- Rocco Mediate finished at 23 under. It was his best score in relation to par since he was 20 under at the 2001 Phoenix Open. Both times, he finished eight strokes behind.
 
'What happened to par? Where did it go?' Mediate said.
 
It went to the majors and The Players Championship.
 
Eliminate those five tournaments, and it has been nearly two years since a regular PGA Tour event was won at single-digit under par -- the '01 Nissan Open (9 under) and the '01 BellSouth Classic (8 under). Both events had a combination of wind, rain and cold.
 
Low scoring is not all bad.
 
'You don't want 40 U.S. Opens,' Jeff Sluman said. 'Guys would be in a rubber room by the end of the year.'
 
Of course, 40 weeks of low scoring also can send players into therapy.
 
David Toms was 47-under par in consecutive PGA Tour events last year. All that got him was a tie for sixth (21 under at the Disney Golf Classic) and a runner-up finish (26 under at Callaway Gardens).
 
The solution lies with how the golf course is set up. If these guys are good -- and no one doubts that -- then maybe it's time for them to prove it.
 
'These are the best players in the world. This should be the toughest tour we play,' Singh said. 'I've played in Europe. Which is the tougher tour? I don't know.'
 
What the PGA Tour needs is a balanced diet of tough conditions that put a premium on par, and shootouts that require birdies just to keep up.
 
It's not just about length. Several players suggested firm, fast greens; tucked pins accessible only by well-struck irons; narrow fairways; and 'flyer' rough that makes it difficult to control distance.
 
'If we're not going to play tougher courses, we should make the courses we play a little bit tougher,' Justin Leonard said.
 
Only the most challenging courses separate great players, which is why the major championships rarely get fluke winners. That might help explain why there were a record 18 first-time winners on tour last year.
 
'I think there is something to that,' Charles Howell III said. 'It's a shootout every week. I won Kingsmill at 14 under, and that was probably one of the higher scores.'
 
Throw out the majors, The Players Championship and The Tour Championship presented by Coca-Cola, and 28 of the 41 tournaments were won at 15 under or better last year.
 
Kapalua was an anomaly. The wind typically blows hard off the coast of Maui, and even Els remarked after the first calm round, 'It can't stay like this. It's impossible.'
 
It did, and there wasn't much the PGA Tour could have done.
 
'You put us on the hardest golf course in the history of the world -- with no wind -- and we'll destroy it,' Mediate said. 'That's what happened here.'
 
Had they made the greens roll like linoleum and had wind suddenly kicked up, the Mercedes Championships might have looked more like the Australian Open, where the first round was canceled because balls wouldn't stay on the green.
 
Nobody wants that, either.