Bunker Shots All for One
Sony Open in Hawaii
Pros born in the Tiger Woods’ era were beneficiaries of a financial windfall.
Woods helped make so many of his fellow pros rich.
Nine PGA Tour pros made $1 million or more in official money winnings the first year he teed it up as a pro in 1996.
Last season, 91 of them earned $1 million or more.
There was a curse to being born in the Woods’ era, though. Paul Azinger said it back when Woods put a choke hold on the No. 1 spot in the world rankings. He said it had to be depressing for gifted players of Woods’ generation to know they had virtually no shot at being No. 1 during their careers.
With Woods so deep in hiding, his throne looks vulnerable for the first time in almost five years.
Geoff Ogilvy might not have been the first player to sense an unexpected opening, but he was the first to voice it.
Before winning the SBS Championship last week, Ogilvy wondered aloud about the possibility that a new No. 1 could emerge this season.
If Woods doesn’t return by the Masters, it becomes a real possibility, with Official World Golf Ranking guardians estimating that Woods’ loss of rankings points could make him open to toppling as early as June, should he not add to his totals.
“I never really thought about it,” Steve Stricker, No. 3 in the world, said at last week’s season-opener.
The sense that an opportunity to be No. 1 is actually possible won’t take hold until Woods begins missing events he typically plays. If he’s out for the San Diego Open in two weeks, his traditional season-opener, and the Accenture Match Play Championship in five weeks, an event he has won three times, we’ll see his enormous lead in ranking points begin to shrink. If he skips the CA Championship at Doral and Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, sites where he has combined to win nine times, there will be some intrigue. If he bypasses the Masters in April, his fall as No. 1 may feel imminent.
As for now, we’re still waiting for the PGA Tour season to feel like it has started in earnest.
The Sony Open in Hawaii this week is the first full-field event of the year, but Stricker is the only player among the top-10 in the world rankings entered. Six of the top 20 are scheduled to tee it up. The field, as it did last week, will feature all four reigning major championship winners
Stance: John Daly irritated some golf observers last week when he chastised Bob Hope Classic organizers for rejecting his request for a sponsor’s exemption. He hasn’t, after all, been a factor in a PGA Tour event since 2005, when he finished second to Tiger Woods at the WGC-American Express Championship. The last of his five PGA Tour titles was in ’04. He has missed the cut or withdrawn in 30 of his last 47 PGA Tour starts. He’s No. 427 in the world. There are good reasons Hope officials passed on Daly. Still, with the Sony Open granting him a sponsor’s exemption this week, Daly has a chance to show them they gave up on him too early. You know other tournament directors will be watching to see if Daly has any magic left to give them.
Takeaway: In his weekly diary on his Web site, Ernie Els wrote that he’s cutting down his international travel this year and will focus more on PGA Tour events. He’s planning to play eight PGA Tour events before the Masters without a trip overseas. In fact, he won’t play his first overseas event until the BMW PGA Championship in May. That was his fourth overseas event last year. He’s cutting the Qatar Masters, Dubai Desert Classic and Ballantine’s Championship in South Korea off of the first half of his schedule from last season. Els tees it up as a 40-year-old for the first time in a PGA Tour event this week. He turned 40 after the Presidents Cup in October. You know Els wants a green jack before he retires, and Waialae is the kind of place that can rekindle memories of his best form. He won there in 2003 and ’04. Vijay Singh also will be looking to get off to a good start after knee surgery early last year set up a disappointing season.
Bunker shot: Winning in his debut as a PGA Tour member is asking too much, but Rickie Fowler could inject some healing power into the start of a season that badly needs some medicinal remedy. Fowler’s popularity would explode with a victory early in this season. It would be more than a nice diversion from the dreary Woods’ episode. It would be confirmation that Fowler’s a star in the making.
Wendy’s Champions Skins Game
The silly season isn’t over yet, not for the Champions Tour, and that’s something to be thankful for if you still enjoy seeing the legends of the game play.
Fred Couples won’t make his official Champions Tour debut until next week’s Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii, but he unofficially becomes a senior circuit member this weekend when he teams with Nick Price at the Wendy’s Champions Skins Game. Jack Nicklaus teams with Tom Watson and Gary Player teams with Loren Roberts. Fuzzy Zoeller and Ben Crenshaw are back as defending champions. The event will be played Saturday and Sunday at Ka’anapali Golf Resort’s Royal Ka’anapali Course on the island of Maui. There’s no live TV with airing delayed until the February 27-28 weekend. It’s an alternate-shot team event with a $770,000 purse.
Stance: Couples is capable of bringing a jolt of new excitement to the Champions Tour. His big swing and charisma will make golf fans pay more attention to the senior circuit, if he plays enough, because he’s still interested in playing PGA Tour events. With Woods missing from the PGA Tour, there’s an opportunity to ratchet up the senior circuit’s appeal.
Takeaway: The Champions Tour welcomes a strong freshman class this year. Couples isn’t the only appealing player coming aboard. Paul Azinger and Corey Pavin are already eligible for the Champions Tour. Mark Calcavecchia becomes eligible June 12 and Kenny Perry on Aug. 10.
Bunker shots: One of the charms of golf is that we can still watch Nicklaus and Watson compete together even though Nicklaus turns 70 on Jan. 21 and Watson turned 60 last fall. They’re worth watching just to relive the memories and hear their stories, but Watson showed he still has game nearly winning the British Open last summer and Nicklaus didn’t fare badly in an exhibition that included Woods at the Memorial last spring.
USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.
The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.
How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.
Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.
So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.
Apparently the Blue Bloods of the @USGA do. I refuse to watch it because I know what the outcome will be. Mike Davis and his crew could ruin Christmas. #amateurhacks #giveusourgameback https://t.co/n3GgOJl02C— William McGirt (@WilliamMcGirt) June 16, 2018
After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.
“When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”
Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.
Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.
The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.
At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.
“They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”
Thanks guys did Bozo set the course up or are the @USGA going to accept responsibility or just say “IF WE HAD A MULLIGAN” I would have liked about 6 mulligans today. But they are not allowed at this level. “Apparently” pic.twitter.com/O08vOpNlTx— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) June 17, 2018
By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.
“I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”
That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.
It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.
“They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”
As a player and a golf fan myself, it’s sad to see how one of our biggest tournaments @usopengolf gets ripped apart because the @USGA can’t figure out the right set up for the great golf courses we play!!— Sergio Garcia (@TheSergioGarcia) June 17, 2018
But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.
The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.
“To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”
It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.
So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.
“I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”
I wish the @USGA would realize that this course really is special. But it was never designed to have greens at 15 on the stemp. You look like you’re trying to embarrass the best players in the world!— Colt Knost (@ColtKnost) June 17, 2018
But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.
After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.
“It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”
Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.
Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.
Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow
Bubba Watson missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills following rounds of 77-74, but that didn't stop him from enjoying his weekend.
Watson played alongside Jason Day and eventual champion Brooks Koepka in Rounds 1 and 2, and somehow this body ink slipped by us on Thursday.
And while we're sure Bubba would have rather been in contention over the weekend, we're also sure that taking your son to meet the second most famous minor-league baseball player who ever lived was a lot more fun than getting your teeth kicked in by Shinnecock Hills over the weekend, as just about everyone not named Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood did.
Already in Hartford, Watson will be going for his third Travelers Championship trophy this week, following wins in 2010 and 2015.
Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it
There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.
There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.
Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.
The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."
Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:
If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.
“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”
The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.
Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).
We followed our defending champion Toto Gana during his registration! He even did his Donald Duck impression!— LAAC (@LAAC_Golf) January 17, 2018
Acompañamos a Toto Gana, defensor del título, durante todo el proceso de acreditación. ¡Incluso imitó a Donald Duck!#LAAC2018 pic.twitter.com/NGh7hS4cCz
Ryder Cup race: Mickelson out, Simpson in
There's a new man at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup race following the U.S. Open, and there's also a familiar name now on the outside looking in.
Brooks Koepka's successful title defense vaulted him to the top of the American points race, up four spots and ensuring he'll be on the team Jim Furyk takes to Paris in September. Dustin Johnson's third-place finish moved him past Patrick Reed at No. 2, while Webb Simpson entered the top eight after a a tie for 10th.
While Bryson DeChambeau remained at No. 9, Phil Mickelson dropped two spots to No. 10. Tony Finau, who finished alone in fifth, went from 16th to 13th, while Tiger Woods fell two spots to No. 37.
Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:
1. Brooks Koepka
2. Dustin Johnson
3. Patrick Reed
4. Justin Thomas
5. Jordan Spieth
6. Rickie Fowler
7. Bubba Watson
8. Webb Simpson
9. Bryson DeChambeau
10. Phil Mickelson
11. Matt Kuchar
12. Brian Harman
On the European side, England's Tommy Fleetwood took a big stride toward securing his first Ryder Cup appearance with a runner-up finish that included a Sunday 63 while countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick snuck into a qualifying spot after tying for 12th.
Here's a look at the updated Euro standings, with the top four from both points lists joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn at Le Golf National:
1. Tyrrell Hatton
2. Justin Rose
3. Tommy Fleetwood
4. Francesco Molinari
5. Thorbjorn Olesen
6. Ross Fisher
1. Jon Rahm
2. Rory McIlroy
3. Alex Noren
4. Matthew Fitzpatrick
5. Ian Poulter
6. Rafael Cabrera-Bello