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Hawk's Nest: Fired up over McIlroy, a playoff and a penalty

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IF I HAD a dollar for every stupid shot I’ve hit this year, I’d quit my job and buy a big house in some fancy golf community, then hit more stupid shots. Physical limitations come with middle age. Mental mistakes get old in a hurry, however, and some of the stuff I do on the golf course has gotten absolutely disgusting.

My favorite is when I grab two clubs, say a 7- and 8-iron, then get to my ball and find out I really need the 6. Instead of returning to the cart, I turn into Lee Trevino. “Oh, I’ll just hook the 7 in there,” I tell myself, as if my ability to shape a shot is any more reliable than a babysitter with boyfriend issues.

But enough about my little problems. Let us proceed to the men and women with full-time caddies and far more command – exempt on the PGA Tour but not from the occasional cerebral lapses that plague us all – in this first edition of Hawk's Nest, a new Monday staple.


MUCH WILL BE made of the upcoming bye week, which brings the FedEx Cup playoffs to a halt after an awesome weekend leaderboard and McIlrunaway finish at the BMW Championship. In this case, second-guessing = undue consternation. I need a break just to recover from an overdose of early-round bubble projections – now a close second on my list of peeves behind the long-putter invasion.

Don’t get me wrong. The shuffle of players moving back and forth in the standings brings an added, relevant dimension to the Sunday action. On Thursday and Friday, however, it’s dizzying overkill. No one with more than a few ounces of common sense projects a guy to hit 70 homers if he hits three in the first week of the baseball season.

The PGA Tour’s ceaseless efforts to promote its playoff series have led to an abundance of computer-generated clutter; too much information translates to utter drivel. A vast majority of golf tournaments change dramatically over four days. When Bill Haas bogeys four of the last five holes to forfeit his spot in the top 30, his performance up to that point becomes largely insignificant.

When Vijay Singh goes from holding a share of the 54-hole lead to not even qualifying for the Tour Championship, it’s worth remembering that Dewey didn’t actually defeat Truman. That a 64 on Thursday can mean a lot of things – a T-51 at Crooked Stick if you’re Webb Simpson.

In an age of real-time data, a lot of instant info is real meaningless. Nobody ever won a FedEx Cup postseason tilt on a Friday. Heck, unless you’re a curly-haired lad from Northern Ireland, you probably shouldn’t ask your GPS for directions to Atlanta until Sunday afternoon.


GO AHEAD and wonder about the LPGA playing the same hole eight consecutive times in Sunday’s playoff between Paula Creamer and Jiyai Shin. It made total sense for three reasons. The ladies saved a considerable amount of daylight by returning to the 18th tee over and over. Fans who stuck it out didn’t have to move. And perhaps most importantly, neither player had an advantage in terms of shot shape.

At the 2008 U.S. Open, it was pre-determined that any tiebreaker needed beyond Monday’s 18-hole playoff would begin at Torrey Pines’ seventh, a pronounced, dogleg-right par 4. Rocco Mediate is almost exclusively a right-to-left player, leaving Tiger Woods with a clear edge as one of the most memorable major championships of the modern era drew to a close.

Of course, this was also back when Tiger didn’t spend much time in the fairway. He beat Mediate with a tap-in par.


AS OPPOSED TO, say, 2006, when the U.S. Ryder Cup squad included Brett Wetterich, J.J. Henry and no one under the age of 30, this year’s team is the strongest I’ve seen since 1993. Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson are now major champions. Matt Kuchar won The Players. Tiger Woods is “back,” if not the player he once was, and while there are lingering questions regarding several U.S. veterans, this roster is balanced and accomplished.

Consider: Hunter Mahan was fourth in the world ranking going into the Masters and didn’t make the team. You could argue that Mahan deserved a captain’s pick ahead of Brandt Snedeker or Dustin Johnson, but when I asked readers for their thoughts on Davis Love III’s selections during a recent live chat, the response was abundantly positive.

None of this means much if the top players on either side don’t perform to a certain standard, which brings us to Phil Mickelson. No question, he is the biggest X-factor on the American side. And at each of the last four Ryder Cups, Mickelson’s success/failure has served as an apt barometer for the U.S. fortunes overall.

In 2004, Lefty’s infamous partnership with Tiger Woods resulted in a pair of first-day losses. Europe won big. Two years later, Philly Mick earned just a half-point over the first two days. Europe rolled again. In ’08, Mickelson carried Anthony Kim to a crucial victory in the Friday fourball session and halved two other partnered matches. The Yanks won going away.

In 2010, Mickelson went 0-3 prior to singles, helping the U.S. into a hole it couldn’t quite climb out of. Pinning all the blame on Phil for the cumulative shortcomings is silly, but his energy and bravado are key components to every U.S. team’s competitive disposition. Always a vocal leader, Mickelson is invaluable to his side when he leads by example.


NOT THAT ANYONE asked, but….

Mahan and Rickie Fowler, the two men generally perceived as having come up short in Love’s captain’s-pick sweepstakes, were a combined 16 over par on the weekend at Crooked Stick. Mahan went 80-77, two strokes higher than my own Saturday-Sunday combo. The four guys DL3 did choose were an aggregate 20 under.

Singh picked up 3.14 strokes on the field with his putting in the first round. On Sunday, he was 2.34 strokes worse than the final-round standard. Anyone looking to salvage the future of the anchored putter might consider submitting news of that 5 1/2-shot swing to the U.S. Golf Association. It’s a different game when the game’s on the line – no broomstick of any length will ever change that.


WHAT’S WITH GUYS brushing their club against a leaf while they attempt to strike a shot from a hazard? We saw it in the final round of the PGA Championship with Carl Pettersson, whose faint hopes of catching Rory McIlroy were damaged by the two-stroke penalty on the first hole.

Graeme McDowell was guilty of the same infraction in a bunker Thursday, grazing some unattached growth that had fallen into the sand on the ninth hole – his last of the day. After a half-hour of deadsville, my live-chat scroll suddenly lit up like an AC/DC concert. The rules freaks wanted clarification. The McDowell fans wanted retribution. And I just wanted to go shoot baskets with my daughter.

Here’s the deal: McDowell wasn’t sure of the rule. Which sounds crazy, but not half as insane as the penalty for committing such a misdemeanor. TWO strokes? What’s the matter with adding one shot to a guy’s score? Isn’t two shots about twice as harsh as is necessary, especially in situations (bunker play) where the R&A and USGA have become more lenient on the removal of loose impediments?

No need to stop now, fellas. While we’re tossing away those stones, let’s hurl that extra stroke into the garbage can. If the violation clearly is unintentional, there’s no reason why the penalty can’t fit the crime.


WHEN I RAN into my buddy Johnny Pet 3 ½ months ago in the first round of the member/member, he was a 13 handicap. When we teed it up a couple of weekends ago, he was down to 8. I’m no mathematician – and Johnny Pet is no sandbagger – but I will say, that is quite a drop.

I’m not flabbergasted by his five-stoke improvement. What amazes me is that Johnny Pet has broken seven clubs in that stretch, none of them by accident. He is a perfect gentleman, one of the nicest guys you’ll ever play with, but when J-Pet hits a really lousy shot, something snaps.

Doesn’t matter if it’s steel or graphite. I can’t wait until he breaks seven more. I’ll be getting one a side.