End Game for Skins Game

By Mercer BaggsNovember 26, 2006, 5:00 pm
This past week was the 24th Skins Game. Perhaps it should be the last.
After nearly a quarter-century, it would appear that this annual Thanksgiving weekend tradition has run its course.
This years installment included a guy who finished 193rd on the money list, a guy who has one PGA TOUR win in the last eight years, a guy who is a member of the senior circuit, and a guy who many casual golf fans ' who this event was made for ' couldnt identify with his name on his bag.
Stephen Ames, Fred Funk, Fred Couples, John Daly
Do these four players make you want to watch the Skins Game?
I asked my wife, a casual golf fan, Saturday afternoon while watching the Skins Game if she knew who John Daly was. Obviously she did.
I asked her is she was familiar with Fred Couples. He usually wins this thing, she responded. How about Fred Funk? He won last year and had to wear a skirt.
Stephen Ames? Who? No. Should I?
And about two minutes later, she left the room not to return. I imagine that was probably a good representation of the general population.
There are several reasons that the Skins Game has lost its luster. For one, star power, or lack thereof.
When Tiger Woods five-year contract with Disney concluded last year, it also put an end to his obligation to this competition. Hes not likely to return, which means the loss of millions of eyeballs.
This problem that the Skins Game faces is the same problem that the PGA TOUR faces ' a serious deficiency in personality.
Daly and Couples have solid fan support, but they are not overly entertaining to watch on TV. Funk, who tried to inject a little humor on a couple of occasions over the 18 holes, is a really good guy who can pump up a crowd on occasion. But he's not going to steal away a football audience. And this was a great opportunity for Ames to gain some recognition, but, honestly, how many people really care about getting to know Stephen Ames?
So who would be a good replacement? The answer is nobody from the modern game, at least not from the mens side. The ladies might have some good substitutes, especially ' and forgive me if this sounds crass, but its true ' if you factor in sex appeal.
Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak and Lorena Ochoa might make for a highly competitive event, but it probably wouldnt get bigger numbers than a foursome of Natalie Gulbis, Paula Creamer, Sophie Sandolo and May Wood.
(How many of you are Googling Sandolo and Wood right now? Word of warning: Sandolos Web site contains partial nudity.)
Sex appeal, while beneficial to many womens sports, doesnt mean nearly as much in the mens arena. But what does is entertainment.
Todays game doesnt have a Lee Trevino or Chi Chi Rodriguez. Theres not even a Fuzzy Zoeller or Payne Stewart.
There is no flash. There are no showmen.
And there are no legends. No Arnold Palmer or Gary Player or Jack Nicklaus or Tom Watson, like they had in the inaugural Game in 1983.
Today, aside from Woods, there is Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh and Ernie Els and Retief Goosen. These are your multiple major winners.
Maybe its just me, but I really have no interest in seeing any of these four players competing in a Skins Game. They are all very talented, but they are also all quite boring.
Its understandable, to a certain degree. I imagine it must be difficult to play to a crowd when you are playing for so much money.
And thats another thing thats wrong with the Skins Game ' even if its not its fault.
There is so much money on the line each week that playing for a million dollars in an event like this just doesnt present any Wow factor (Sixteen events on the 2006 PGA TOUR schedule paid their winners at least $1 million).
Back in 83, the total purse for the Skins Game was $360,000, which was huge money.
Player, Palmer and Nicklaus never earned that much in a single season in their TOUR careers. Nicklaus made $316,911 in 1972, but it took seven wins, including two major titles, to get to that number. And, prior to that inaugural Game, Watsons best financial season was $530,808 in 1980, when he won six times.
Player was the first Skins Game winner, taking home $170,000 ' or just $7,336 less than his richest TOUR campaign in 1978.
One more problem is the location. Each year, the event takes place at a non-descript course in California. Perhaps a change of venue ' to Pebble Beach or Pinehurst or Whistling Straits ' might help. Or even better yet, to somewhere like Bandon Dunes or Pine Valley or Seminole ' places youve heard of but probably never seen.
The Skins Game does have a few things going for it. Twenty percent of the money won went to charity and not into the players pockets. And ABC Sports did air a nice feature on J.T. Townsend, a young man who was crippled during a high school football game and has developed an emotional and financial friendship with Funk.
Then, of course, there is tradition. But a glorious past can carry an undesirable present only so far.
The Skins Game has hit a wall. In fact, it probably hit the bricks a few years ago. It just keeps stubbornly plugging along, trying to break through.
There are several reasons why the Skins Game should die a merciful death. For one more: Ames was the big winner this year ' now he has to be invited back in 2007.
Unless there is no 2007.
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.