Weekly 18: Hollywood Script


We need a new name for the type of playoff that featured Lee Westwood and Luke Donald – the world’s two highest-ranked players – at the BMW PGA Championship.

Sudden death just sounds so morbid.

Sudden excitement? Sudden drama? Sudden impact?

The last of those may be the most appropriate, as Donald overtook Westwood in the Official World Golf Ranking. That’s right; the BMW achieved what three “Austin Powers” movies couldn’t, as No. 2 finally usurped the big guy on top.

That was hardly the extent of this weekend’s excitement, though. This edition of the Weekly 18 begins with the notion that the status quo isn’t such a bad thing.

1. Righting the 'Wrong'

Call it the byproduct of extended downtime during the Tiger Era or, in a more positive light, the result of a sport with so few issues that we need to make 'em up.

Whatever the case, I've been hearing the following questions with increasing regularity lately in regard to the game's future at the professional level.

What's wrong with golf? What does it need?

If this weekend was any indication, the answer is easy. Absolutely nothing.

Let’s review the highlights…

At the European Tour’s flagship event, the second-ranked player leapfrogged the No. 1 man in head-to-head fashion for the first time since Vijay Singh defeated Tiger Woods at the 2004 Deutsche Bank Championship

… meanwhile, 18-year-old Matteo Manassero remained in contention throughout the weekend, again proving he’s less future star and more current star…

… but Manassero wasn’t even the youngest player to contend on a major tour, as Jordan Spieth – one year younger – was in the mix at the Byron Nelson Championship going into the final round…

… though he tumbled down the leaderboard, 24-year-old rookie Keegan Bradley won his initial PGA Tour title, defeating Ryan Palmer in a playoff…

… which just happened to be the fifth playoff in six weeks on the U.S. circuit…

… while extra holes at the Senior PGA Championship not only yielded a Hall of Fame winner in Tom Watson, but the second-oldest player to ever win a senior major.

I don’t mean for this to sound all “rah-rah” and “golf is great,” but the positives in the game are heavily outweighing the negatives these days. Sure, there are always going to be problems at the most elite level, but those who expected the apocalypse with Woods either not playing or not playing well should now fess up with an apology.

Like all individual sports, golf does indeed need superstars to succeed. Right now, though, instead of witnessing the same old superstars that we’ve seen for years, it is cultivating new players for that role on a weekly basis.

This should be an exciting time for golf fans. So keep that in mind. The next time someone asks, “What’s wrong with golf?” be confident in your answer.

Absolutely nothing.

2. Luke Donald

With his playoff victory over erstwhile top-ranked Westwood on Sunday, Donald is now the 15th No. 1-ranked player in the 25-year history of the Official World Golf Ranking.

Yes, this is the same Luke Donald who has so often struggled to close out events, winning just one stroke-play title worldwide in the past half-decade before claiming the prestigious BMW PGA Championship with a birdie on the first extra hole.

And yes, it’s the same Luke Donald who in 30 major championship appearances prior to last month’s T-4 finish at The Masters owned just four top-10 results.

But enough with the negative stuff.

That’s because this is also the same Luke Donald who has finished in the top-10 in 14 of his last 15 starts worldwide. The same guy who now owns wins against formidable fields at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and the BMW. The same guy who owns four runner-up finishes in the past nine months.

And most importantly, the same one who has played the best golf in the world this year and deserves his newest honor.

“Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?” Donald said of his newfound status. “It’s an amazing accomplishment, something I’m very proud of … but I feel like I have many more good years ahead of me.”

With his win, Donald became the first player since Tiger Woods at the 2005 Masters to overtake the top spot with a victory and becomes the third player to reach No. 1 since Woods relinquished it on Halloween, joining Westwood and Martin Kaymer.

If there’s a sign that the ranking is certainly volatile and potentially fleeting, it comes in Donald’s own comments after the achievement. He intimated, “Hopefully I can hang onto it for a few more weeks.”

Back in the olden days – you know, like, pre-2010 – when a player reached No. 1, he most often remained there for awhile. There seems to be more emphasis these days on getting there than staying there, but if Donald continues to play the type of golf he’s shown recently, “a few more weeks” could turn into much longer than that.

Whatever the case, he’s No. 1 for now. And a much deserved No. 1 at that.

3. PGA Tour rookies

In any other season, Bradley, Brendan Steele and Jhonattan Vegas would be waging a pretty solid battle for Rookie of the Year honors, each posting a victory within the first five months on the calendar.

Of course, this isn’t just any season and so each of that trio remains well behind Masters champion and fellow rookie Charl Schwartzel in the polls.

Having some PGA Tour hardware on the mantle isn’t such a bad consolation prize. On Sunday, Bradley joined his brethren, winning the Byron Nelson Championship to become the fourth freshman to win this year.

“I can’t believe this just happened. I really can’t,” Bradley said minutes after defeating Ryan Palmer on the first extra playoff hole. “This is a dream come true. I’ve been waiting for this my whole life.”

To what can we credit such impressive play in situations that usually work against rookies? It’s simply another sign that the Nationwide Tour is as strong as ever. Bradley, Steele and Vegas each ranked 14th or better on last year’s money list. True to its mission, the developmental tour is developing players who not only have talent, but come to the big leagues with enough confidence and swagger that they’re ready to win right away.

Bradley proved that once again at the Nelson. Don’t be surprised if another rookie joins ‘em soon.

4. Tom Watson

You could have collected on a pretty sneaky wager on Sunday.

Here’s guessing that on the night of July 19, 2009, right after Watson lost in an Open Championship playoff to Stewart Cink, you could have bellied up to the bar at any 19th hole in the world and received plenty of takers on the following proclamation: “I bet Tom Watson will win another major championship before his career is over.”

Then 59, Watson’s legendary run at Turnberry seemed like a once-in-a-million-years occurrence; he certainly wouldn’t come closer than that ever again.

Well, time for those guys to pay up – even if it is on a technicality.

Watson defeated David Eger on the first extra hole of the Senior PGA Championship for his sixth career senior major title to go along with eight traditional majors, as well.

“Winning again, that's at 61, I don't think it's an age thing, but God, I've been out here a long time,” Watson said with a laugh. “I'm living on borrowed time right now at 61. You know. These young kids coming out here hitting the ball so much farther than I do and, you know, their nerves are pretty much still intact. And they don't have the aches and pains and I've been lucky with that, but I'm starting to get few aches and pains and I feel very fortunate to have won. Very, very fortunate.”

If you wagered on him to claim another major, well, you know that feeling right now.

5. American 'bias'

When Westwood captured the No. 1 ranking from Woods late last year, there was collective outrage on some level as to Westy becoming the fourth player ever to ascend to the top of the world ranking without ever winning a major championship.

This past week, I received a text from a well-known, well respected European-based player/commentator who questioned why similar outrage wasn’t being directed toward Donald, who not only doesn’t own a major, but hasn’t played nearly as well in the big ones as Westwood and isn’t more accomplished overall at other events, either.

During our conversation, he suggested that there is a bias toward Donald from the American media because he is a member of the PGA Tour. In gentler terms, I told him that was a bunch of baloney.

First of all, I just don’t believe there’s any “home-country advantages” being given to Donald simply due to the fact that the England-born player lives full-time in Chicago and owns a PGA Tour card. Secondly, he’s played only three more U.S.-based events this year than Westwood, so it’s not as if we’re much more familiar with him.

So why did Westwood draw criticism for becoming No. 1 without a major while such talk isn’t circling around Donald? That’s easy. It’s because Westwood got there first.

Simply put, if their roles were reversed and Donald had replaced Woods at No. 1 last October, he would have been the subject of similar outrage. Now, though, we’ve gotten used to the idea of a top-ranked player who has never won a major and we’ve moved on to bigger and better issues.

You know, like wondering when Westwood is going to wrest the honor back from Donald again.

6. Wentworth's closing hole

Ernie Els has been the target of much criticism recently from peers who dislike not only his redesign at Wentworth, but his redesign of his redesign.

If the Big Easy was ever going to counter with an argument of his own, he could point to the fact that the world’s top two players reached a playoff on Sunday – and while there are many tentacles to proclaiming a “great” design, one is certainly that it brings out the best in the greatest players.

I’ll give Els the benefit of the doubt on the first 17 holes. They appeared to be a challenging test of golf, worthy of such a big-time event.

And then there’s No. 18.

Par-5 finishing holes can be the ultimate drama to close a tournament. Go for it or lay up? Try to make eagle or hope to get up and down for birdie? The closer at Wentworth, though, lacked such entertainment value. At 539 yards on the scorecard and with a creek running across, water left of the green and a bunker behind, the risk heavily outweighed any potential reward, meaning most competitors simply played it as a three-shot hole, invariably turning it into a short par 3.

Case in point: In the playoff, Donald had 95 yards to the pin with his third shot; Westwood had 93. The competition turned into a battle of spin control. Donald pulled the string to 7 feet while Westwood spun his ball in the water. Game over.

Every player has to play the same holes, but that doesn’t mean they should have to play them the same way. Closing with a par 5 gives the BMW potential for major excitement at the end. Instead, it turned into a battle of wedge games.

Perhaps course setup is as much to blame as design – if the tees were moved up, say, 35-40 yards, players may have been more tempted to go for the green in two.

7. Sergio Garcia

Poor Sergio. Poor, poor Sergio.

He’s like golf’s version of a “Three’s Company” plot – all miscommunication and bad luck and impeccably unfortunate timing.

Here’s his past week in a nutshell: On the fifth hole of an Open Championship qualifier, he withdrew due to an infected fingernail. Surely it was painful, but that’s also an easy target for satire. After WDing from the Byron Nelson pro-am and amidst rumors he would bow out of the tournament, he not only played, but played well, getting into the final pairing for both weekend rounds.

From there it was all stumbles and bumbles, though, as he posted rounds of 74-77, making just a single birdie over those 36 holes to finish in a share of 20th place.

We did learn – or at least were reminded of – two things about Sergio this week. When he’s hitting it well, no one is better from tee to green. And when he’s playing well, there aren’t many golfers who are more fun to watch, his infectious smile and over-the-top gestures providing endless entertainment value.

For a guy who once famously stated, “I'm playing against a lot of guys out there, more than the field,” it seems more and more that Garcia is playing against himself out there. And he still isn’t winning.

8. Stat of the Week: At the midway point of the Byron Nelson Championship, the lead was 8 under par. When it was over 36 holes later, the playoff was between two players at 3 under par.

The season’s highest winning score was the byproduct of heavy winds at TPC Four Seasons. How would 3 under have fared in each of the last 10 editions of the tourney? Let’s take a look:

2010: T-23

2009: T-52

2008: Third

2007: T-29

2006: T-26

2005: T-48

2004: T-34

2003: T-36

2002: T-22

2001: T-65

9. Fact or Fiction

Isabelle Beisiegel will someday find success on a major men’s professional tour.

Last week Beisiegel became the first female golfer to ever earn her card on a men’s tour, tying for ninth place in the Canadian Tour’s Spring Qualifying School to achieve nonexempt status.

If the name rings a bell, it’s because she’s been down this road before.

Beisiegel has previously tried to qualify for both the PGA Tour and the U.S. Open, without coming close to succeeding. While neither the tour nor the major are gender specific, no female has ever accomplished either. And Beisiegel won’t be the one to do it, either.

She hasn’t played an LPGA event since 2009, when she missed the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open. Prior to that, she hadn’t competed in any since ’06, when she MC’d in both starts. One year earlier, she made 17 appearances – and failed to finish in the money in the last 15 of ‘em.

I don’t doubt the fact that someday a woman will come along who is powerful enough and has a good enough short game to compete with her male counterparts on some level. That time hasn’t come, though, and it certainly won’t during Beisiegel’s upcoming venture.

Best of luck to her and it would certainly be worthy of headlines should she succeed, but let’s be realistic: It ain’t gonna happen. Consider the above statement to be FICTION.

10. Video of the Week

This one comes courtesy of Russ Holden, who runs the charitable Caddy for a Cure foundation. Charley Hoffman is known for being, well, not so nice to his putter. What happens when his pro-am caddie takes similar action? Hilarity ensues… Watch video.

11. Tweet of the Week

@ Luke_Donald #winning!!

“Luke Donald, you just won the BMW PGA Championship and became the No. 1-ranked player in the world. What are you going to do next?”

Disney World? Not exactly. Instead, he decided to quote Charlie Sheen – which is about as unDisney as it gets, isn’t it?

12. Quote of the Week

I'm a graduate of the Japanese, the athletic university. And I wanted to join the golf club, because there was a beautiful girl. She was a member of the club. So that was the reason why I picked up the golf club. … I have no idea where she is at. But I did find golf, though.’” – Kiyoshi Murota, who was in contention throughout the week at the Senior PGA Championship, eventually finishing solo third.

The little-known pro may have owned runner-up QOTW honors, as well, with this gem: “I don't believe anybody knew who I was and whether or not I existed.”

13. From the Inbox

As always, you can reach me on Twitter at @JasonSobelGC with your golf-related questions…

@clvfaninclt Who's the early favorite at Congressional?

Well, if you mean that in the most literal sense, the answer is … Tiger Woods. Hey, don’t blame me; that’s whom oddsmakers have enlisted as the betting favorite, followed in some order by Phil Mickelson, Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Donald and Martin Kaymer.

Now, if you’re asking whom I would enlist as the favorite, well, that’s a different question, but I think the answer would still come from that group of a half-dozen. If I had to pick one right this very second, I’d go with Westwood in a close choice over Donald, who has never finished better than T-12 in seven career U.S. Open starts.

Let’s remember, though: My “favorite” is not the same as my predicted winner. As of right now, that player doesn’t come from the above group. But I’ll keep you guessing for now.

@yorke43 is there a saviour for American golf? is it Tiger or Lefty? or will it be years before we see another American on top?

Not sure what you mean by “savior” – and no, I’m not just referring to the cool English spelling. Sure, the game would receive a boost here in the U.S. if either Woods or Mickelson was to resume superstar status soon, but I’m not so sure there’s another player who is ready to jump to that next level. Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson are all very good players; Rickie Fowler has a terrific future ahead of him; and I think Gary Woodland may be a darkhorse superstar-in-the-making.

If you’re expecting an individual American player to dominate in the next couple of years, though, don’t hold your breath. Unless it’s Tiger or Phil regaining previous form, we may have reached the age of parity on the PGA Tour. That’s not such a bad thing, it’s just … different.

@foryourbenefit Will an amateur ever win on the PGA again with how big the money is for turning pro?

Anytime a question asks whether something in golf will “ever” happen again, I’ll automatically answer in the affirmative, because, well, “ever” is a pretty long time.

It’s been 20 years since Phil Mickelson was the fourth and last amateur to win a PGA Tour event, but we’ve seen three of ‘em win on the Euro circuit in the last four years in Pablo Martin, Danny Lee and Shane Lowry.

Based on Jordan Spieth’s run at the Byron Nelson this past week, if an amateur is playing good golf on a course that suits his game against a more inferior field, I think it will happen. Someday. And if not, I won’t pay up until “ever” is over.

14. I wish Lee Westwood’s track record down the stretch at big events didn’t suggest more struggles in the future.

Here in the U.S., The Players Championship is often referred to as the “fifth major.” In Europe, many believe such a title belongs to the BMW PGA Championship.

Maybe the latter group is right. After all, with Westwood missing a short birdie putt on the final hole of regulation, then spinning his approach into the water on the same hole in a playoff, it sure felt like a major.

The former No. 1-ranked player is developing a reputation as a guy who makes big-time shots – until they really matter. From the 2008 U.S. Open to the 2009 Open Championship to the BMW on Sunday, he has often gotten himself in position to win a major – or near-major – event, only to let it slip away on the final green.

I’ve often written that close calls should be viewed more in a positive light for players than a negative one; the more someone gets into contention, the more experience he gains for the next time he’s in such a situation.

As Westwood said after losing to Donald on the first extra hole, “If you're going to miss your chances, you go into a playoff – and they are volatile, aren't they?”

He should know. Westwood has found the H2O in four of his last five playoffs, though he did prevail in extra frames against Robert Karlsson and Robert Garrigus last year in Memphis.

That’s more than just coincidence, but I tend to compare Westwood with his Ryder Cup teammate Padraig Harrington, who was so often a bridesmaid before winning those three major championships. At some point, he will get into position to win a big tournament on the final hole. No doubt he will need to rely on past experience if he is to triumph in the future.

15. I wish I could buy stock in Spieth.

In a decision that somehow overshadowed his sublime play on the course, the 17-year-old did not receive his high school diploma after competing in Saturday’s third round.

That’s too bad. Everybody loves a good graduation Spieth.

After finishes of T-16 last year and T-32 this year, it’s easy to call the kid a horse for the TPC Four Seasons course. I’ll do one better: I say he wins this tournament someday.

It’s difficult to tell whether Spieth is a future star in the making or simply the byproduct of a kid who plays well on adrenaline and just happens to have a game tailor-made for his hometown PGA Tour venue.

Either way, it’s impossible to see him not being a force at this event for years to come, from his impending college days at the University of Texas to his undoubtedly lengthy tenure as a PGA Tour member.

Perhaps even more impressive than his swing and his short game is his maturity. (Although that short game was very impressive; he led the field in putts per round and putting average.) Spieth seemed at ease in front of the cameras and microphones throughout the week, a comfortability level that is half the battle of becoming a successful player.

16. I wish the news of Mark Steinberg leaving IMG was being noticed as more than just a Tiger-related story.

The scene: On his final day as an IMG employee, Steinberg is ranting and raving through the home office. He undresses his erstwhile co-workers for a lack of manners, then implores them to join him as he walks out the door.

“Who’s coming with me? Who’s coming with me?” he wails as the room falls silent, not a single one offering up their services.

He is left holding only a purloined goldfish, until a lone person rises from a desk and accepts the proposal. Tiger Woods, wearing a walking boot on his left leg and brandishing crutches, meekly answers, “I will go with you.”

OK, so real life may not imitate 'Jerry Maguire' and Steinberg may not have had Woods at hello, but he has worked as the sole agent for him since 1999. Now out as the head of IMG’s global golf division, most ensuing discussions will be centered around whether the client will follow his representative out the door of the famed agency. (Read More: http://www.thegolfchannel.com/tour-insider/tiger-the-agent-and-the-agency-43219/)

17. On the Hot Seat

One year ago this week, Justin Rose finally won his first PGA Tour event.

It was “finally” because Rose had been a full-time member since 2004, posting eight career top-three results before breaking through for the victory at the Memorial Tournament and shortly thereafter claiming the AT&T National, as well.

This week’s defending champion sat down on the Hot Seat to discuss those titles and what he’s planning for an encore.

Q: Let’s start with a trick question: When did Europeans become better at golf than Americans?

A: I’m not sure it’s a trick question. I guess when we started beating you in The Ryder Cup routinely [laughs]. No, to be honest, I think Europeans are on a great run right now, but these things tend to be cyclical. Obviously, I wasn’t around for the great run with Seve and Faldo and Langer and Woosie – especially at the Masters – but that must have been a great era for golf. I wonder what the media was like then in terms of Europe versus America. I don’t know. If you just look at the World Ranking, though, it’s tough to totally judge the game upon that. It’s a little self-perpetuating in my mind, in that the more Europeans who get up there in the World Ranking, the more World Ranking points are played for in Europe. It’s easier to sort of maintain the position. It comes down to major championships, I think. That’s really the ultimate test of the truly great players and we have seen the Europeans start to come through in those. The Ryder Cup is also a great measure of how we’ve come together as a continent. There’s also a lot more that goes into it – there’s a passion and teamwork and all sorts of other things. But the majors, I think, are where the true skill comes out. Being mentally tough, having every shot to win -- it truly is tested. If Europe continues to keep that momentum in majors, I think you can say that we’re as good or better. But for me, that’s the real measure.

Q: You win all four majors, it’s called the Grand Slam. You win Jack’s tournament and Tiger’s tournament, it’s called the ____________.

A: I like it. We can come up with a name for this.

Q: You haven’t thought of anything yet? You’ve had a year.

A: No, it’s something that I’m proud of, winning two cool PGA Tour events – two big ones. There’s always sort of a mini pecking order of tournaments, ones you’d rather win over others, but beggars can’t be choosers. It’s like, “Which major would you like to win?” Well, damn, I’ll take the first one that comes along, that’s for sure. As for a name, that’s your guys’ job, isn’t it? I don’t want to be too presumptuous.

Q: I’ve got nothing, either. I was hoping you had a name for it already. You had won six times internationally, but did you see those first two PGA Tour victories as a breakthrough for you?

A: I definitely saw it as a hurdle I needed to get over, which you can view as a breakthrough, too. I had my chances on the PGA Tour and it’s something that becomes increasingly more difficult the more time goes by. So it was nice to get it out of the way and I proved that the relief of that spurred on another quick win afterward. But I feel that I’m in exactly the same situation now that I was in last year. My game’s in great shape, I’m swinging well – I just have to have a little bit of patience. The game ebbs and flows. The important thing when things aren’t going your way is to not change things. It’s to ride it out and just be patient that you’re going to find your run, you’re going to get hot, the putter is going to warm up and you’re going to get your opportunity. But I think when you are close and then you change things, that’s when you lose your momentum, I think. For me right now, I’m in the exact same situation where I’ve just got to be patient. That’s what I did last year – I wasn’t panicking, I knew I was playing well and I knew it would happen.

Q: What can you take from those wins going forward? Is it easier to win more once you’ve won already?

A: I think it’s about consistently, really. The more times you’re in contention, the easier it becomes. If you’re not in contention for a year, it’s difficult. But if you keep putting yourself there, it becomes routine and I think that’s why Tiger and Phil and guys like that have so much of an advantage over other guys. Not because they’re necessarily that much better golfers, but because in the heat of the moment they have a lot more experience to draw upon and they just feel that much more comfortable in the moment. So that’s where I see it being important to keep a level of consistency. Every Sunday you play, it’s important to build habits and to continue to do the same thing over and over and over, so that when you do get into a Sunday that really means something, it’s not like, “OK, well now I’ve suddenly got to do all of these things well.” You’ve been actively doing all of those things for weeks and weeks and weeks. It’s not that much of a change when the chance comes around again. That’s what I’m trying to work toward, but it’s definitely harder if you’re not putting yourself in that position.

18. Photo of the Week

Luke Donald posted a celebratory photo to his Twitter account, with the caption, “Having my friends and family around makes this very special. Cheers!” (Note: the full version shows just how nuts his friends are.)