Tuesday, March 29, 2005

No Funk for Fred

I think Fred Funk was one of only about six players not in a funk at the Players Championship. What yesterday proved is that drama CAN exist without the Big Four in the mix (it should be the Big Five with Goosen included, but I am not part of the mainstream golf media!) What a show yesterday at Sawgrass.

Let’s start with 49-year-old champion Fred Funk who will be exempt on the PGA tour for FOUR MORE years. He’ll also get to play in the Open Championship (that’s in Great Britain for you neophytes) and the Masters for three years, will be exempt from qualifying for our Open Championship and will automatically qualify for the PGA Championship. What a fantastic story for one of the most likeable guys on the tour. (As a side note, at last year’s U.S. Open I had my cap signed by only major champions – with one exception: Fred Funk. Is the Players a major? Well, not really, but it’s at least half a one!)

Watching him come down the stretch I was wondering if Funk’s flat stick would cost him the tournament. He did not putt that well, especially at seventeen, but nobody else could drain one either. His six-footer at eighteen was nothing short of brilliant, especially when you consider what was on the line. It’s really too bad this didn’t happen on Sunday, when more folks could have watched (I have TiVo to thank!)

Kudos to the series of grinders who really held in there: Verplank (costly three putt at eighteen), Lumpy Herron, Tom Lehman, Joe Durant and Luke Donald. Donald just threw too much away on the front nine. It’s also nice to see Steve Elkington back (whose caddie was on my bag for a round last summer!)

As for the other titans, well, they couldn’t hold up. That wind will get a lot of players most of the time. And if you are not striking pure shots, it is going to hammer you. The rough was unforgiving (and to Tiger unforgivable – he says there shouldn’t be any on the course. Stop whining – it’s not as if it was only there for you, pal!) I did agree with Mr. Woods that the seventeenth should not be the seventeenth. It should be the eighth. It’s a stupid hole, but to have it potentially determine the outcome (Len Mattiace) makes it even stupider!

I am glad the breeze stiffened up Monday – it separates the wheat from the chaff. I play in the wind all of the time and I love it. It makes you think and adjust. And it blows for everyone! These guys are too often presented with “perfect” conditions – no wind, soft greens and generous fairways. Wrong! Perfect is just the opposite. Sometimes I think these guys don’t like to scramble like the rest of us.

Next week takes us to Atlanta for an event no one really cares about except Bell South executives and their major customers. Let’s face it, the week after is where it’s at and I think this Masters will be legendary (Caution: my predictions are usually dead wrong!)

Monday, March 21, 2005

Has Vijay Lost that Closing Touch?

Hard to believe that the once (and likely future) invincible Mr. Singh has successfully grabbed defeat out of the mouth of victory for the SECOND straight week. Let’s give credit where its due this week, however, to Kenny Perry.

As I predicted, he held on – which is rare. Not his holding on, I mean an accurate prediction from yours truly! Under the circumstances, Kenny played a great round, firing a two-under par 70 under brutally intense pressure. But Perry is no stranger to success – the mild mannered and well-liked Kentuckian has won all the major Invitationals – Colonial, Memorial and now Bay Hill. Very solid.

It is puzzling how Vijay made such a fatal error with a seemingly routine seven iron approach. With water on the right and tied for the lead, take your four and get to the playoff. Why he felt he needed heroics is a mystery. According to Singh the wind confused him and he should have selected a six iron. Well, duh! For a guy who manages golf courses meticulously this was a major fumble.

I have no doubt that Vijay will present himself well in this year’s majors and near-majors. The Players Championship provides possibly the best field of the season and you can bet that Vijay will be ready. Heck, he is throwing a dinner party tonight (I guess my invitation got lost in the mail!) and could easily throw out some ‘tainted’ mayo for the chicken fingers. That would take care of a few contenders!

The PGA tour starts in earnest on Thursday at the TPC of Sawgrass. I am no fan of Pete Dye or of this course. Island greens are an atrocity, unless the hole actually existed BEFORE man arrived. That being said, the stadium course sets up for great golf theater (just ask Len Mattiace) and should be a dazzling competition.

But the real harbinger of spring is down at sleepy Augusta in two weeks. Ben Hogan used to tune up at Seminole for the competition and this year’s tournament will be a great one. I can’t remember when so many players have performed at this high a level. And to boot – we will enjoy this Masters in high definition (or at least I will on my new TV!) Buckle your seat belts and think about the dogwoods and azaleas – it’s just around the corner, baby!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Bay Hill and More

To the very small handful out there who actually read this thing, my apologies for the paucity of content. Excuse – family responsibility and work. No time to watch golf. However, I’ve had the good fortune to log some time with my pal TiVo for Bay Hill.

First things first…yes this is a golf blog, but several items to note. Today was a trifecta of sorts – my Chelsea Football Club (CFC) earned three points in the English Premiership by beating Crystal Palace 4 -1, my Arizona Wildcats overcame Alabama Birmingham and my wife and I enjoyed a bottle of ’91 Harlan Estate. Brilliant! CFC remain 11 points clear of SCUM (Man United – ManUre) and 12 points clear of Arse (Arsenal – sorry Wenger!) Now to GOLF.

Bay Hill is Arnold Palmer’s invitational – or it was until my friend Tim Finchem and the PGA got rid of invitationals. Now it’s a PGA event but like Colonial and Pebble Beach maintains an “Invitational” in the title. Anywho, Arnold is a God – as I write I am in front of a photo of Mr. Palmer and the Hawk (Ben Hogan) teeing off at #2 in the ’66 Masters. Palmer made the game what it is today. All the TV and prize money we and they enjoy can be directly credited to Mr. Palmer. If I had one round of golf left to play I would hope to join Arnold, my Dad and Lee Trevino for the round at my home course.

Unfortunately Arnold will not be playing any more professional events. Although he is well past any ability to compete his presence will be missed. It’s not about winning – there’s history too. During the course of his career he won seven major titles and a US Amateur (arguably a major). He’s also had a hand in some wonderful course designs.

At Bay Hill there has been plenty of compelling action. Although the third round has not been completed, the cream is rising. The most notable performance is from one of my favorites – Kenny Perry. Apparently Mr. Perry has forsaken his Tabasco sponsorship, depriving many of the wardrobe drama associated with his final-round attire. His ball striking has been nothing short of brilliant. Few golfers can compete with Kenny Perry when he is hot – including Tiger, Vijay and Ernie. I look for Kenny to finish it off tomorrow, barring an insanely low round from someone in the back seat.

But the player in the back seat may be Stephen Ames. Can you say Trinidad / Tobago? Could Mr. Ames be the first Tobagan to win a PGA tour event? Ames is on fire and looks to be in the mix come tomorrow evening.

Also playing well is a lethal group including Retief Goosen, who played 25 holes in nine under par and Vijay Singh, who clearly misses his perch atop the world rankings. Others to watch include Freddy – what a magical win that would be! and Sergio.

I love Bay Hill – but the tour’s hottest weeks are just ahead with The Players Championship and (my favorite) the Masters tournament. Oh Baby!

Friday, March 04, 2005

A Barn Burner at Doral

Is Marco Dawson a god or what? Forty one year old Dawson, playing under a major medical exemption, whose best finish was second in the 1995 Greater Milwaukee Open, fired an 8 under par 64 yesterday playing in a field laden with heavyweights. His round was as clean as his newly shaven scalp (he claims it shortens his prep time!) with eight birdies and no bogies.

Joining native German Dawson at the top were Brit Brian Davis, Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal, and our own Philly Mick.

TiVo rocks for golf - if you don't have it, get it! Watching TV any other way is a waste of time.

The Depends crowd, including 55 year old Tome Kite (-2) and Berhard Langer (-3) made a fine showing in the opening round. Langer could have gone deeper into the red had his flat stick not failed him on several occasions. No excuses for that at Doral - the place is in the best shape of its life. Kite continues to amaze - you MUST root for Texans in golf. Hogan, Nelson, Trevino, Kite, Crenshaw...The stern breezes breed great ball strikers.

Other highlights included a combined six strokes that the threesome of Woods, Hamilton, and Faxon carded on the tough par three 13th. Faxon nearly aced it, while Woods and Hamilton drained four-footers for a triple birdie showing.

It's also nice to see Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal back in form. Last year was his worst on tour at 142nd on the money list. No matter how badly he does though, he'll always tee it up in Augusta - and that rocks!

Doral is shaping up to be a great event. I am pulling for Marco, but will the heat of the company he'll keep wilt him?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Ford Outing at Indian Creek - Appearance $?

Here's a good one. Ford sponsors Doral. Ford also sponsors an "outing" with Singh, Goosen, Garcia and the ever annoying Padraig Harrington (I love the Irish accent, but his is an abomiNation) at cross-town Indian Creek paying the participants a cool $150K each. Let's review the issues.

Number One - Appearance fees are strictly prohibited on the PGA tour, but are allowed elsewhere (see Dubai Classic). Our tour has always been about (and the definition of) true meritocracy. (Note: if you find a Democrat on the PGA tour, let me know!) Perform and you will be paid handsomely here. Miss the cut and you'll be slamming the trunk on your tournament provided wheels. No play - no pay. So Ford cloaks an appearance fee in the form of an outing - what, gratuity? Are you kidding me? Finchem (a loathsome toad who pitted the Anderson tournament against the Tucson Open - a long running affair that provided prize money long before Anderson did) says the outing fees should not be construed as appearance money, stating "Perception-wise, I understand the concern. We have to deal with the perception.'' He really is a pencil-necked weenie!

Number Two - Indian Creek is the club where ex-president bill clinton got into hot water a couple of years ago because of its, shall we say, "restricted" admissions policies. Would Finchem like to address that one? He won't allow a tournament to be played at a "restricted" club (see Aronomink), but furtively endorses his players teeing it up at one. What a tool!

Let's be honest here. Whatever you want to call it, Ford paid an appearance fee to these players. In their defense they had already committed to play Doral. Would I play one round of golf to finance a college education? Yeah, dude. (N.B. That will NEVER happen to me - I can barely round up a foursome where I play!)

The PGA should not allow payments to players participating in one of its tournaments within 7 days (before and after) the event. Tim, can you hear me?

Anderson Match Play - Great for golfers - bad for ratings

So there you have it. Toms crushes DiMarco in a non-match of equals. Was the respite from Medal (stroke) play competition good for you?

For those of us who play AT golf as amateurs, most of our competitions involve match play. As such, match play competitions like this event, along with the Ryder and Presitent's Cups are perhaps the most entertaining format to watch. I know most of my golfing addicted buddies agree. But for broadcasters and the uninitiated viewing public it can be a monumental failure.

Much of professional golf used to be in match play format. I am currently reading Hogan by James Dobson and many of the tournaments on the early tour were match play events, including several four ball (better ball) tournaments. However, I cannot help but think that the TV networks had a big hand in snuffing them out. The risk in match play events is that the finalists will not feature marquee names and ratings suffer as a result. Is TV about anything other than ratings? Medal format events guarantee a leaderboard with at least SOME marquee names in contention on Sunday. Hello ratings!

I don't know what the ratings were, but I can only imagine that ABC did poorly on Sunday. To the uninitiated, watching Toms wallop DiMarco may have been as boring as watching Poa grow faster than Bent. To be sure, had the final featured Woods vs. Mickelson we might have seen one of the greatest ratings bonanzas of all time.

But let's be honest here - Tom's was the best player in the world...last week. He was unearthly and he admitted it. He got in the zone and miraculously stayed there for 126 holes - almost unimaginable, but clearly commendable. I think I have made it to three holes in my lifetime and I am an eight handicap!

Let's take our hats off to Toms who is a wonderful talent. I'll be interested to see if he can keep it going in Miami at Doral. I hope for his sake he does. And for the uninitiated - a welcome return to the Sunday rush!