Hawk's Nest: Vets resurface to contend at Nelson


IRVING, Texas – Of all the gifts Adam Scott has received since marrying Marie Kojzar last month, none could be more unique than the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking. An electric can opener might be more practical. A nice hors d’oeuvre tray would probably go unnoticed, but No. 1 on the planet?

Who can miss that?

Few did when it was learned Scott would unseat Tiger Woods at the top despite taking last week off. Serious golf fans want a man to play his way to No. 1, but as Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson recently pointed out, this is hardly an unusual occurrence. Seventeen players have reigned atop the ranking since its 1986 inception, five of whom got there for the first time without teeing it up the previous week.

“Never been a fan,” decorated veteran Jim Furyk said of the OWGR in a text exchange. “Has a few flaws that are easy to pick on. Tough to rank guys that rarely play against each other.”

Call it a flaw, call it a loophole – not much can be done to prevent idle tour pros from rising in the ranking. In that sense, the system is much like an NBA officiating crew: nobody notices it unless something weird or unjust happens. You could rightfully wonder how Woods held onto the top spot for this long, seeing how he hasn’t posted a top 10 since last August.

You could scratch your head in equal bewilderment over Scott, who hasn’t won in 2014, whose most notable performance this year remains the seven-shot lead he blew to finish third at Bay Hill. That’s the thing: you can’t leave the No. 1 spot vacant because nobody deserves it.

Somebody has to have it. Hey, some Miss Americas are prettier than others, but they don’t cancel the beauty pageant because all the ladies are wearing too much makeup.

“I [follow] the world ranking, but I don’t know enough about the system to offer solutions,” says Charles Howell III. “I do know it would be very difficult to come up with a way to rank players who never compete head-to-head.”

That is, and will always be, the chief complaint among the constituency. How do you compare a T-3 in Malaysia with a T-7 in Charlotte? There is a formula, but so many variables come into play. You could finish tied for seventh, three strokes behind the winner, while the T-3 on the other side of the world finished 10 behind.

All of which makes the OWGR nothing more than food for thought. On a nice hors d’oeuvre tray, of course.

I SPENT THE week at the Dallas Tour stop named after Byron Nelson, a tournament I have always liked very much, although the rise of the Charlotte event and moving The Players to May hasn’t done this one any favors in terms of field strength. The crowds here are still large and enthusiastic. On my way to the course Sunday, I saw a sign that read: PARKING $60.

Never mind that when I ran out to find an ATM a couple hours later, the price had been lowered to $20. More than the announced attendance of 75,000 for each of the last three rounds, the Nelson has always seemed to attract a greater percentage of women and children than other tournaments.

That’s just a personal take, not something based on actual data, although my favorite observation came Saturday when I saw 17-year-old Scottie Scheffler signing autographs for a bunch of 45-year-old men. The kid would finish the week T-22 at 4 under, an exceptionally impressive performance, but to me, the week was all about the re-emergence of Mike Weir and several other gone-wrong vets trying to resuscitate dormant careers.

At one point Friday afternoon, Weir, Paul Casey, Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington were all on the Nelson leaderboard. Only Weir would stick around, driving home the point that a middle-aged man can play superb golf for one or two days. Doing it all four days, however, is often too much to ask.

CASEY IS CONSIDERABLY younger than the other three, but his struggle to regain the form that made him one of the world’s best has been no less bumpy. A rocky divorce and various injuries derailed him for the better part of two years (2011-12). A T-16 at the Nelson was his third consecutive top-20 – it featured a ridiculous 27 on the back nine Friday that took him from the cut bubble to contention.

“I’ve done that on par-3 courses,” Casey cracked. “We were actually struggling to add it up. My caddie’s like, ‘I think you just shot 28,’ but it turns out the par 35 threw him a bit. I genuinely had no concept of what I was doing out there.”

As nice-guy tour pros go, Casey has always ranked at or very near the top of my list. Unfailingly polite, great sense of humor, and though everyone who plays golf for a living has moments when they don’t want to talk to reporters, Casey is by far one of the more approachable players when things haven’t gone well.

A 73 Saturday killed any chance he had of making a huge splash in Dallas. “Go get ’em tomorrow,” I said, searching for something positive. “You post a 63 early, you never know what will happen.”

Casey smiled and began telling a story about the 2002 Omega European Masters, where his closing 64 was the lowest round of the day. This feat earned him a brand-new wristwatch from the title sponsor, which would be presented to him by none other than supermodel Cindy Crawford.

Casey had begun the day tied for 53rd, so he had to wait around forever. “No way I’m leaving,” he says. “It’s Cindy [bleeping] Crawford!” So I get my watch and a couple weeks later, I take it in to have it appraised. The [jeweler] looks at it, then looks up at me and says, ‘Where did you get this?’ I didn’t really want to provide a bunch of details, so I just tell him I won it.

“He says, ‘This watch isn’t even out yet.’ He really wants to know where I got it, so I say, “You won’t believe me even if I tell you – I’m a professional golfer and I won it … and Cindy Crawford gave it to me!”

I don’t believe Casey won anything for shooting a 27, but at this point in his life, a bolt of confidence is probably worth more than anything he’ll put on his wrist.

THE COOL THING about veterans on the revival trail – they appreciate the good times after so many bad ones and are a joy to have in the media center. Weir is a perfect example. In his prime, he was always friendly but not terribly forthcoming. An intense competitor, the Canadian lefty always struck me as a guy who seemed burdened by his role as the longtime ambassador for an entire golf-crazed nation.

At this point, I should probably apologize to all the Canadians who have joined my live chats in recent years – mainly to ask me if Weir had anything left as a presence on the PGA Tour. My answer was consistent: I didn’t think so. Too many poor seasons had come and gone, and with Weir approaching his mid-40s, I just didn’t see him doing something like finishing solo second in a regular-season event.

My bad, and I’m glad. In Dallas, Weir looked, acted and played like a man without a care in the world. “No doubt, early in my career, I felt [the pressure] of my situation,” he told me Sunday night. “It was a pretty difficult and unique situation. Tiger [Woods] had his deal, being the most visible player in the world and having to meet everyone’s expectations, and to a certain extent, I had mine.”

And when he began struggling, Weir points out now, the push of his fellow Canadians became a motivational source. In 2012, when he missed the cut in all 14 of his starts, he had discussions with his wife, Bricia, and his two daughters about the direction his career had taken – and whether he needed to find a new line of work.

Time will tell us if this past week was the start of something new or just a cameo, but for several reasons, I believe Weir can become a competitive presence once again. I remember a guy who became obsessed with mechanics once things began to slide in the mid-2000s.

For a couple of years, Weir bounced back and forth between the stack-and-tilt team of Mike Bennett/Andy Plummer and his prior set of eyes, Mike Wilson. He reiterated a number of times this past week that he’s without a coach now – and will continue to work on his own.

Beyond that, Weir was never a long hitter. His best career rank in driving distance was 44th in 2001, so he knows how to score without killing it, and that’s a real good quality to own when you’re 44 years old. Great putting comes and goes, but Weir was one of the better putters in his heyday and on certain courses, he can still contend or win if his ball-striking allows him enough scoring chances.

Lastly, Weir is one of the grittiest golfers I’ve ever covered. As his daughters grew from babies to elementary-school kids, then teenagers, I think he came down with a case of the Kenny Perry disease – chronic guilt over his not being home to see his children grow up.

They’re 16 and 14 now, old enough to understand the lay of the land. I’m not saying Weir will win a second major title or have another three-victory season like he did in 2003, but guys with his DNA squeeze every last drop out of what they have, and he has more than a few drops left.

A PARTING THOUGHT on European Tour commissioner George O’Grady’s handling of the tragic situation in Portugal two weekends ago, when veteran caddie Iain McGregor died of a heart attack during the tournament – and play resumed about an hour later.

It was one of the most dreadful, regrettable decisions made during my 19 years as a full-time golf writer. The fact that heavy rain turned the Madeira Open into a 36-hole event only makes the decision more ridiculous, an impulsive act of insensitivity from which no good could be salvaged.

The event should have been canceled. To his credit, however, O’Grady publicly apologized for the debacle and met this past week with members of the European Tour Caddies’ Association to discuss the matter. Tempers flared, harsh words were spoken, but when the meeting adjourned, the caddies and Euro brass politely agreed to disagree.

During the 2008 PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, veteran caddie Steve Duplantis was struck by a car and killed the day before the tournament started. Play went on without any notable outcry, and though the two situations were very different in some respects, there were also some obvious similarities.

A man died, and then golf was played. Sometimes, the reaction to tragedy is as powerful as the tragedy itself, although the two should never be confused in terms of significance.