Golden Goose Is Finally Squawking
The tour, you see, is merrily going about the business of choking the goose that lays the golden egg. The goose is squawking now for the first time in history. Purses have gotten so large, the cost of a tournament sponsorship is so huge, that several corporations have finally had to back out.
The tour couldnt possibly have continued as it did in the glory years of 1998, 99, 2000 when the economy was roaring along. The bubble had to burst. And when it finally did, when the economy finally got to the point of breaking, it was so predictable that problems would spring up all along the front lines. Now, of course, its going to take a whole cadre of creative geniuses to shore up the cracks.
The tour has been applying the squeeze for about 10 years now. In 1993, the total purses broke through the $50 million barrier for the first time. In 10 years, the tour has shoved the purses upwards to where they were just under $200 million last year.
This year, 61 players each earned $1 million or more and Tiger Woods earned almost $7 million. Thats not so out of line, you say, when compared with football, baseball or basketball.
But those are all team sports, meaning you theoretically must show up for every game. Baseball, for example, starts with spring training in February and runs though the World Series in October. You punch in and then you are on call for the duration, day-in and day-out, week-in and week-out, month-in and month-out.
Golfers are independent contractors, meaning each guy shows up when he feels like it. Tiger plays less than half the tournaments ' around 20. The average golfer plays ' oh, say 25. And the average salary was about $950,000.
Woods has caused the average to go up and up. He was the first to make $2 million, in his first full season on the tour in 1997. His $2 million season was more than the entire tour made in 1963. When he won nine times in 2000, he topped the $9 million mark, which would have been the tours purses in 72.
It isnt Tiger, though. His only crime has been to win too many tournaments. The tournaments themselves are obligated to raise the purses by so much each year or drop out, and so far each year the tournament would gulp and then pony up. This year ' finally ' there have been defections. A few have been forced to drop out, cut bait instead of fish, and the horizon suddenly doesnt look so bright for the tour.
Tiger, you see, is only going to play in a limited number of events. His number is reduced to the four majors and three World Championship of Golf events, the Players Championship and the Tour Championship, and normally the Mercedes Championship ' not this year because he is recovering from knee surgery. Hell play Arnies get-together at Bay Hill, Jacks at Memorial, the Byron Nelson, and one near his home in Orlando (Disney). Throw in the ones which are named for his personal sponsor ' the Buicks 'and you get to around 15 or 16. Throw in two or three more and thats his schedule.
The Milwaukee Open could have a $10 million purse and it wouldnt get Tiger again ' ergo the B.C. Open, Houston, John Deere or the Texas Open. But the rising waters float all the boats, and the purses that have hit stratospheric heights in one venue have affected tournaments all the way down the line. They may not have a snowballs chance in Orlando of ever getting Tiger, but Tigers enormous presence has hit them with the same force that it has hit all those fortunate venues.
An argument could be made, actually, that the bloated purses have caused a lot of the big-name players to be a lot more stingy with their appearances. After all, do you think a Phil Mickelson who has won, say, $3 million, would possibly pencil in a Pennsylvania Classic?
Twenty years ago, the size of the purse was hugely important and Mickelson would probably have been tempted to look closely at Pennsylvania. Nowdays, they are all big. It matters little HOW big. The top guys play their 20 tournaments, make their $2 mil, and go drink rum punch in their lawn chairs at home.
And I dont blame them. It isnt their fault that they arent playing the XYZ Open, even though they could make $500,000 if they entered and won. Theyll make the $500 though at their leisure, where they want to make it, and the rest of the tour goes begging for the top stars. What they dont make in purses, they will make in endorsements. Dont sweat it, they will easily make it.
Meanwhile, the tour keeps pushing. And theyve just about reached the top of the hill. If this purse thing clears the top and then starts rolling down the other side ' help! Players will have to play in a few more events, and the tour will have to swab its black eye.
Golf as a whole, however, has vastly overestimated itself. The number of $150-per-round courses is growing at an alarming rate. Drivers and irons are ridiculous, and so are balls. And we dont understand why kids havent picked up the game, despite all our good efforts at junior golf and instruction in the schools. Really, now. Just look in on the checkbook and youll see the reason.
Some day, though, golf will come back to reality. A round will once again cost $10 or less, as it does in so many places in Scotland. And maybe the tour will realize that you dont gouge the tournaments toward higher and higher payouts. Golf will again belong to the little guy, and this world will be a much more sane place.
Schauffele just fine being the underdog
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.
Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.
Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.
“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”
Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.
“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”
Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1
Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.
So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.
Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.
Jordan Spieth: 7/4
Xander Schauffele: 5/1
Kevin Kisner: 11/2
Tiger Woods: 14/1
Francesco Molinari: 14/1
Rory McIlroy: 14/1
Kevin Chappell: 20/1
Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1
Alex Noren: 25/1
Zach Johnson: 30/1
Justin Rose: 30/1
Matt Kuchar: 40/1
Webb Simpson: 50/1
Adam Scott: 80/1
Tony Finau: 80/1
Charley Hoffman: 100/1
Austin Cook: 100/1
Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.
For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.
By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.
But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.
As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.
“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”
Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.
As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.
But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.
After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.
“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”
But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.
Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.
“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.
There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.
Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par.
And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.
As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.
“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”
Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.
Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.
The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.
Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.
It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.
Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.
One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.
McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.
“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”
McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.
“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”