Notes Nothing Silly About Freddies Earnings
Couples' runner-up finish at Trilogy was worth $385,000, pushing his career earnings in the Skins Game alone to $3.9 million. For those keeping score, that's more money than Arnold Palmer made in his 50 years on the PGA TOUR and Champions Tour.
Is the end near?
'I've had my run,' Couples said. 'I got lucky to be in this year. Maybe they'll let me come back next year. I don't know how many years I've been here, but it's been a long, long, long time.'
So long, in fact, that he was able to add some perspective on a silly-season event that has lost its punch.
The Skins Game began in 1983 with Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson, who combined to win 198 times on the PGA TOUR, including 42 majors.
'This is a little different group than those guys, to say the least,' Couples said.
Ames, Couples, John Daly and Fred Funk have combined to win 29 times, including three majors.
But while it was lacking in star quality, and some wish the Skins Game would go away, it still drew a larger television audience than some regular PGA TOUR events in the fall. The overnight rating for the first round on Saturday was 2.3, the same as the national rating in 2005 when Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam joined Funk and Couples.
The Sunday overnight was 1.6, compared with a national rating of 2.7 last year.
Meanwhile, the PGA TOUR is putting together the final touches on the 'challenge season' for 2007. And while there won't be any significant changes, the tour wants to make sure the silly season is structured like regular tournaments.
'They had three criteria,' said television producer Terry Jastrow, who runs the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge. 'Did it forward the image of the PGA TOUR? Did it have a meaningful charity component? Did the players like it?'
The Target World Challenge, the bonanza of the silly season with a $5.75 million purse, is the only stroke-play event over 72 holes. It's the only one assured of getting Tiger Woods, who is the tournament host (the event benefits the Tiger Woods Learning Center).
But that doesn't guarantee big ratings.
Target last year drew a 1.6 on Saturday and Sunday, the same overnight rating as the Skins Game on Sunday.
Jerry Kelly kept shooting good scores at the wrong time.
Kelly led the PGA TOUR this year in one of the more peculiar statistics -- most tournaments with all four rounds in the 60s without winning. Kelly did it five times. He tied for 13th in the Sony Open, tied for 12th at Colonial, tied for ninth at Disney and was runner-up at Tucson and Milwaukee. He wound up 39th on the money list, although he didn't win until the Merrill Lynch Shootout, a week after the official season ended.
Right behind in the '60s and bust' category was Heath Slocum, who did it four times (Tucson, Booz Allen, John Deere and Disney).
And perhaps the strongest effort came from two-time winner Jim Furyk. He had three tournaments with all four rounds in the 60s without winning, and two of them were World Golf Championships. The other was the Buick Open. All three were won by Tiger Woods.
After two straight years in the top 10 on the PGA TOUR money list, Sergio Garcia fell to No. 49 this year, and it wasn't hard to see why. His biggest problem was Sunday.
Garcia didn't break par in the final round of a PGA TOUR event until a 69 at the Memorial.
Of the 12 cuts he made on TOUR, he broke par only three times in the final round and broke 70 just twice. His final-round scoring average was 72.9, which placed him 181st among 196 players and 4.2 shots behind Tiger Woods.
Garcia most recently was in contention Sunday two weeks ago at the Taiheiyo Masters until closing with a 77.
AUGUSTA ON HIS MIND
Brett Quigley had by far his best year on the PGA TOUR. He finished 20th on the money list with more than $2.6 million, about as much as his last three years combined.
Best of all, he finally gets to play in the Masters.
'Unbelievable,' Quigley said. 'That's pretty cool, especially going to school in South Carolina, going down to the practice rounds. To me, that's probably the best reward for playing great this year.'
Quigley played Augusta National two years ago with his father, a college friend and a member. He said it was 40 degrees with miserable conditions and 'I loved every minute of it.'
He already has a caddie lined up for the Masters -- his father, Paul, a top amateur in New England who also caddied for him at the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields in 2003 when Quigley opened with a 65.
'I think I have to, my first time there,' Quigley said. 'I think it would be an amazing thing for the both of us, something I would love to share with him.'
Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson will be partners again in the Champions Skins Game, to be played Jan. 13-14 on Maui. Other teams will be Arnold Palmer and Loren Roberts, Gary Player and Jay Haas, and defending champions Ray Floyd and Dana Quigley. ... U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy had a tough time going from the slick greens of Australia to the Bermuda greens of Poipu Bay at the Grand Slam of Golf. 'I played the Australian Open last week,' he said. 'If I hit some of those putts that hard, I would have been bouncing off the shins of the people in the crowd.' ... Shane Bertsch and Patrick Sheehan tied for the PGA TOUR lead by playing 34 tournaments this year. Sheehan will play in his 35th this week in California -- the final stage of Q-school.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Five years ago, 55 players earned at least $1 million on the PGA TOUR. This year, 59 players failed to win a tournament and still earned at least $1 million.
'There are two criteria for me to get it. One was the fact that Tiger didn't want to play.' -- Skins Game champion Stephen Ames.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
"The Men In Blazers" Hosting Nightly Show From The Open, July 18-22 on NBCSN
Show to Include Off-beat Interviews, Unique Features and Men In Blazers Distinctive Takes on The Open
Culminating in France’s thrilling win on Sunday, NBC Sports’ critically-acclaimed The Men In Blazers – Roger Bennett and Michael Davies – have spent the past month breaking down all of the action surrounding the FIFA World Cup. However, there will be no rest for the duo as they leave behind their Panic Room studio in the “crap part of SoHo” in Manhattan to host a nightly show in conjunction with The 147TH Open. The show will feature the pair’s signature, unconventional style in providing unique takes on golf’s original championship while “sporting an arsenal of the finest golf sweaters that could be found on eBay.” Originating from Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland, Men In Blazers will air nightly on NBCSN Wednesday, July 18 through Sunday, July 22.
In addition to delivering a series of features for NBC Sports’ coverage surrounding The Open, the nightly Men In Blazers show on NBCSN will offer expanded highlights following each round; off-beat interviews, special guests and cameos; along with non-traditional stories highlighting cultural elements relevant to Carnoustie and The Open.
“Both Davo and I grew up with The Open being the heartbeat of our sporting year,” said Bennett. “To cover it from that beautiful monster that is Carnoustie is the honor of a lifetime. We look forward to savoring every attempt to tame Hogan’s Alley, the futile battle between man and nature, and all those ‘subtle’ Ian Poulter wardrobe changes, in equal measure.”
Dedicated features being showcased over the duration of the week include: a retrospect on past Opens having been staged at Carnoustie; an in-depth recollection of the unforgettable 1999 Open; an introduction to the second-oldest golf shop in the world; a history lesson on Carnoustie and its influence on golf around the world; and an examination of Carnoustie’s local delicacy known as “bridies”.
MEN IN BLAZERS AIRTMES FOR THE 147TH OPEN WEEK (All Times EST)
Wednesday, July 18 11-11:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Thursday, July 19 11-11:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Friday, July 20 1-1:30 a.m. (NBCSN, Saturday overnight)
Saturday, July 21 11:30 p.m.-Midnight (NBCSN)
Sunday, July 22 10-10:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Woods delofts 2-iron to use off Carnoustie tees
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods has been effective this season hitting a 2-iron off many tees, reverting to a version of the stinger shot he made so popular.
This week at baked out and brown Carnoustie he went to the next level, adding a new 2-iron to his bag that he bent to 17 degrees, down from his normal 20-degree version.
“I took a few degrees off of it, just trying to be able to have the ability to chase one down there,” he explained on Tuesday.
Woods said he still carries the club about the same distance, from 245 to 250 yards, but “it gets to its final destination much differently [on the ground].”
“Obviously, it rolls out whereas mine back home, I've generally liked having it 20 degrees because I can hit the ball into the par 5s as an option,” he said. “This one's not really designed for hitting the ball in the air to par 5s as an option. It's more of a driving club.”
After playing two practice rounds, Woods said he wasn’t sure how much he would use the new 2-iron given the dry conditions which have led to ridiculously long tee shots, and he said he might adjust the club more if the course doesn’t slow down.
“If it softens up, it could be a good club,” he said. “If it doesn't soften up, then I might just add a degree to it and keep it a little softer and not have it so hot.”
The Open is the second consecutive event where Woods has added to his bag. At The National earlier this month, he went with a new mallet-headed putter that he plans to continue to use this week.
Europeans out to end the recent American dominance
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In golf’s biggest events, the Americans have left the rest of the world feeling red, white and mostly blue.
If you’re wondering whether the U.S. currently holds a meaningful title, the answer is probably yes.
Golf’s four majors? Yep.
The Ryder Cup? Indeed.
The No. 1 player in the world? Absolutely.
The Presidents, Solheim, Walker, Palmer and Curtis Cups? Uh-huh.
It’s been a popular talking point at the men’s majors, as Europe’s finest players have been peppered about why they’ve all seemingly fallen under Uncle Sam’s spell.
After all, the Americans haven’t ripped off five major wins in a row like this since 1981-82 – when Justin Rose was still in diapers.
“I don’t know what I’d put it to down to,” the Englishman said Tuesday, “other than the American boys in the world rankings and on the golf course are performing really, really well. The top end of American golf right now is incredibly strong.”
Since 2000, the Americans have taken titles at eight of the nine courses on the modern Open rota. The only one they’ve yet to conquer is Carnoustie, and that’s probably because they’ve only had one crack at it, in 2007, when an Irishman, Padraig Harrington, prevailed in a playoff.
Not since Tom Watson in 1975 has a U.S. player survived Carnoustie, arguably the most difficult links on the planet. But Americans ranging from Dustin Johnson to Tiger Woods comprise six of the oddsmakers' top 10 favorites, all listed at 25/1 or better.
“America, there’s no doubt about it, and there’s no other way to put it, other than they have an exceptional bunch of players at the moment,” Tommy Fleetwood said. “It just so happens that it has been a run of American golfers that have won majors, but at the same time, they’ve generally been the best players in the world at the time that they’ve won them.
“You don’t really look at them as a nationality. You just look at them as players and people, and you can understand why they’re the ones winning the majors.”
Indeed, there’s not a fluke among them.
Since this American run began last summer at Erin Hills, Brooks Koepka (twice), Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed have hoisted trophies. All were inside the top 25 in the world when they won. All were multiple-time winners on the world stage before that major. And all, most ominously for Europe, were 29 or younger.
“There’s a bit of camaraderie amongst all of them,” Rose said. “I know Brooks and Dustin are incredibly close, and you’ve got Rickie (Fowler) and Justin Thomas and Jordan as a group are all really close. It’s working really well for them. They’re spurring each other on.”
That’s why there’s even more anticipation than usual for the Ryder Cup. The Americans haven’t won on foreign soil in a quarter century, but this band of brothers is better and closer than those who have tried and failed before them. Couple that with a few aging stars on the European side, and there’s a growing sense that the Americans could be on the verge of a dominant stretch.
That should sound familiar.
During an eight-major span in 2010-11, the most common refrain was: What’s Wrong with American Golf? International players captured seven consecutive majors, including six in a row at one point. They took over the top spot in the world rankings. They turned the Ryder Cup into a foregone conclusion. In the fall of 2010, Colin Montgomerie pounded his chest and declared that there’d been a “changing of the guard over to Europe,” and it was hard to find fault in his reasoning.
“European golf was very healthy a few years ago for a long time,” McIlroy said. “It seemed like every major someone from the island of Ireland turned up to, we were winning it. It doesn’t seem that long ago.”
Because it wasn’t.
So even though it’s been more than a year since an International player held any title of consequence, these types of runs are cyclical, and Europe in particular has no shortage of contenders.
Major drought or not, McIlroy is a threat every time he tees it up. Rose turns 38 in two weeks, but he’s playing arguably the best golf of his career, recording a top-10 finish in a ridiculous 17 of his past 21 starts. Fleetwood is fresh off a runner-up finish at the U.S. Open, where he closed with 63. Jon Rahm is a top-5 machine. Alex Noren just won on the Ryder Cup course in France.
“I think Tommy, clearly, showed how close the Europeans are to challenging that dominance as well,” Rose said. “So it’s not like we’re a mile behind. It’s just that they’re on a great run right now, and there’s no reason why a European player shouldn’t come through this week.”
Links to the past: Tiger's return revives Open memories
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods rekindles his love affair with links golf this week at Carnoustie, which seems about right considering his introduction to the ancient ways of the game began here on the Angus coast.
It was here on the most brutal of the Open Championship rota courses that a 19-year-old Tiger first played links golf at the 1995 Scottish Open, an eye-opening and enlightening experience.
“I remember my dad on the range with me, saying, ‘Are you ever going to hit the ball past the 100 yard sign?’” Woods recalled on Tuesday at Carnoustie, his first start at The Open since 2015. “I said, ‘No, I'm just enjoying this. Are you kidding me? This is the best.’”
During this most recent comeback, Tiger has been all smiles. A new, relaxed version of his former self made calm and approachable by age and the somber influence of injury. But this week has been different.
During a practice round with Justin Thomas on Monday he laughed his way all the way around the brown and bouncy seaside layout. Much of that had to do with his return to the unique ways of links golf, the creative left side of his brain taking the wheel from the normally measured right side for one glorious week.
He talked of game plans and strategic advantages on a parched pitch that has seen drives rolling out over 400 yards. At his core, Tiger is a golf nerd for all the right reasons and this kind of cerebral test brings out the best of that off-the-charts golf IQ.
Although there are no shortages of defining moments in Tiger’s career and one can make all sorts of arguments for what would be his seminal moment – from the 1997 Masters to the 2008 U.S. Open –the 2006 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool stands out, based on near-perfect execution.
In ’06 at Liverpool, which played to a similar shade of dusty yellow as Carnoustie will this week, Tiger hit just a single driver, opting instead for a steady diet of long irons off tees. For the week he hit 48 of 56 fairways, 58 of 72 greens and rolled the field for a two-stroke victory and his third, and most recent, claret jug.
This Open has all the makings of a similar tactical tour de force. For this championship he’s put a new 2-iron into play that’s more like a strong 1-iron (17 degrees) and imagines, given the conditions, a similar low, running menu.
“It could be that way,” Woods said when asked the similarities between this week’s conditions and the ’06 championship. “I'm not going to hit that many long clubs off the tees, just because I hit a 3-iron on Monday, down 18, I went 333 [yards]. It can get quick out here.”
If Tiger ever needed a major championship confidence boost the Carnoustie Open would be it, an inspiring walk down memory lane to a time when he was the undisputed king of golf.
“[The ’06 Open] is the closest you can compare to this,” David Duval said. “But I struggle to remember that golf course being as fast as this one. It was close, but this one is something else.”
Ernie Els had a slightly different take, albeit one that was no less ominous to the rest of the field this week.
“Liverpool is on a sand hill, this has a bit more run to it,” Els said. “But it’s got the same feel. It’s almost like St. Andrews was in 2000. Very, very fast.”
It’s worth noting that Tiger also won that ’00 Open at the Home of Golf with an even more dominant performance. It is the unique challenges of the links test that make many, even Tiger, consider the Open Championship his best chance to continue his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.
More than any other Grand Slam gathering, The Open is blind to age and the notion of players competing past their prime. In 2008 at Royal Birkdale, then-53-year-old Greg Norman flirted with the lead until the very end, finishing tied for third; a year later at Turnberry, Tom Watson came within one hole of history at 59 years young.
“It certainly can be done,” Woods said. “You get to places like Augusta National, where it's just a big ballpark, and the golf course outgrows you, unfortunately. That's just the way it goes. But links-style golf courses, you can roll the ball. Even if I get a little bit older, I can still chase some wood or long club down there and hit the ball the same distance.”
Whether this is the week Tiger gets back into the Grand Slam game depends on his ability to replicate those performances from years past on a similarly springy course. As he exited the media center bound for the practice putting green on Tuesday he seemed renewed by the cool sea breeze and the unique challenges of playing the game’s oldest championship.
Coming back to Carnoustie is more than a reintroduction to links golf; for Tiger it’s starting to feel like a bona fide restart to his major career.