Less than two turns into the Florida Swing and the Sunshine State has already delivered one of the year’s strongest fields (Honda Classic), its strangest exchange (between Tiger Woods and Alex Miceli) and its most sentimental frontrunner (Davis Love III).
And they say the Left Coast is unpredictable.
Upgrades. Call it the PGA Tour’s “most improved” or even the circuit’s “best in class,” although the distinction between pro golf’s haves and have-nots doesn’t seem to fit considering this week’s marquee at the Honda Classic. Whatever one calls the south Florida staple know that it is a vast improvement over what previously passed for a Tour stop.
Observers will point to the event’s jump across PGA Boulevard in 2007 to PGA National as the turning point and the math supports that thesis. In 2006, Luke Donald earned 22 World Golf Ranking points for winning the Honda. A year later at PGA National Mark Wilson earned 50 points for his playoff victory.
But that assessment ignores the work that Ken Kennerly, the tournament’s executive director, has done to transform the Honda from a Florida Swing afterthought to an A-list gathering.
Kennerly courted top international players looking for a home away from home between World Golf Championships and made the Nicklaus Children’s Healthcare Foundation the event’s primary beneficiary, which helped the event land the game’s ultimate top card.
“Tiger said having Jack’s (Nicklaus) charity involved was one of his four points for entering,” Kennerly said of Woods, who is playing the event for the first time as a professional. “It is important to him, having children, and that definitely factored into his decision.”
Filling the void. To pinch a well-used line from colleague John Hawkins, Tiger Woods doesn’t move the needle, he is the needle. Last week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, however, suggests that the public is at least starting to notice other needles.
Sunday’s final between eventual champion Hunter Mahan and Rory McIlroy was the highest-rated non-Woods finale in the tournament’s history. It was a best-case scenario for WGC officials with McIlroy and Lee Westwood dueling in the morning’s semifinal for a chance to play for the world’s No. 1 ranking and Mahan providing the appropriate level of patriotic zeal.
There was a time when there were two kinds of tournaments, Tiger events and non-Tiger stops and that’s not likely to change be some gray area between those extremes.
Tweet of the day: @Chris_Kirk “Tiger factor huge today (at Honda Classic), I pretended everyone came just to watch me.”
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Something old, something new . . . Pro shops and sporting goods stores are filled with high-handicap players combing through the latest and greatest in equipment advances in search of an answer.
The last two weeks on Tour have proven that play-for-pay types aren’t much different. Early last week Mahan’s alignment was so off with his trusty Ping Anser putter that company equipment representatives persuaded him to try the new mallet-head, face-balanced Nome putter. The result was one of the best putting weeks of his career.
This week in south Florida it was Davis Love III who put a new Scotty Cameron in play on his way to a course record-tying 64 on Thursday and one of his best putting rounds in years.
Something new, however, isn’t always the fix. Earlier this week Woods went back to his old Ping grip on his Nike Method 001 putter. On Day 1 he needed 34 putts and ranked near the bottom of the field.
Olympic effort. That’s what the U.S. Golf Association is hoping to have when the U.S. Open arrives at venerable Olympic Club in June. USGA executive director Mike Davis said the Lake Course will be “extremely stern.” Translation: those accustomed to the softer side of the USGA may be disappointed.
Here are a few numbers for potential Open hopefuls to consider: The opening hole, normally a par 5 for members, will be a 533-yard par 4; while the par-5 16th will play as long as 670 yards, which would make it the longest hole in championship history.
“I am convinced that this will be the hardest start in a U.S. Open,” Davis said. “The first six holes are going to just be brutal. I would contend if you play the first six holes 2 over, I don’t think you’re giving up anything to the field.”
“Cut Line” blames this on Rory McIlroy and his record-setting romp last year at Congressional.
The advocate. Whether Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun violated Major League Baseball’s performance-enhancing drug policy or was the victim of spotty workmanship on the part of the sample collector will likely never be known. Yet as it applies to professional golf Braun’s is an inescapable cautionary tale.
Braun’s 50-game suspension was lifted because of an administrative snafu and “Cut Line” couldn’t help but think that had Doug Barron, the only player in Tour history to be suspended for violating the circuit’s PED policy, had similar representation in his corner in 2009 he wouldn’t have lost a year of his career to suspension.
No one wants to use the “U” (union) word in golf, but it is curious that Barron is now legally using many of the same medications that got him banned and he even played last fall’s Q-School. In ’09 Barron trusted the system and became a Trivial Pursuit answer. Watching Braun on television this week, we couldn’t help but wonder if maybe golf’s system is broken.
The Big Mess. Tiger Woods’ chilly exchange with Golf Channel contributor Alex Miceli aside, Wednesday’s toe-to-toe between the two had less to do with divergent personalities than it did simple economics.
Every time Woods is asked about Hank Haney’s impending book “The Big Miss” presales jump exponentially and the one thing Woods has always struggled with is someone making a buck off of his name.
On Wednesday at the Honda Classic Woods was asked seven book-related questions and his answer, more or less, was the same to each, telling one reporter, “I’ve already talked about it.” In fairness, Woods did address the book at his season opener in Abu Dhabi but that will do little to stem the tide of questions in the weeks leading up to the book’s pre-Masters release.
Haney’s publishers want to make money, Woods wants the book to go away. In the interim, golf ends up with the big mess.