Friday, February 29, 2008

Simply the Best -- Better Than All the Rest

When you go to the racetrack you always try to find a way to beat the chalk and that’s pretty much what I’ve been trying to do since Tiger Woods turned pro. After all, he’s been the favorite every time he’s teed it up.

I’ve tried to go with Phil, Ernie and sometimes Jim Furyk and almost always found them wanting. Oh, there have been some small rewards like when Phil stared Tiger down at the Deutche Bank last year, but the truth is Tiger didn’t back down; Phil had to beat him and he did--finally.

In any other era, any of these three could be heralded as the greatest player in the world, but not in this era. I watched Jack Nicklaus in his prime and he was, no doubt, dominant (and I was an Arnie guy at the time). However, once Jack looked at the field, he knew he had to beat only four or five players. Tiger looks at the field and knows there are 143 players who have to beat him. He already knows he can beat them. They know it. Everyone knows it. They really don’t know if they can beat him.

Why this change of heart? Most of it comes from the Accenture Match Play Championship. In spite of my Irish roots, I’m not so stubborn that I have to be hit over the head with a 2x4 before I change my mind on anything—okay, not more than two, or three times. What I watched last week was one of the most astounding performances I’ve ever seen. While Phil, Ernie and Jim were departing the event early, Tiger was shifting gears.

In round one, he was three down to JB Holmes with five holes to play. Everyone except Tiger and his caddie Steve Williams thought the end had come early. Given that Holmes was one-under par the rest of the trip, he should have won. Instead that roar he heard was Tiger hitting overdrive as he went five under par on the next four holes. See ya’ JB.

Arron Oberholser? An old friend and foe from junior golf days—Woods 3 & 2.

Big things have been predicted for Aaron Baddeley and he showed what all the hype is about when he threw 10 birdies at Tiger. Tiger answered with 11 and a 20-hole win. The weekend started with KJ Choi and a 3 & 2 victory. Henrik Stensen followed in the semis and was relegated to the Sunday consolation match dropping a 2-down decision.

The 36-hole final must have been a joke because at the end Stewart Cink was giggling. It mercifully ended after 29 holes as Tiger won 8 & 7. As a tour de force, Woods birdied 14 of the 29 holes. No wonder Cink was laughing, it was better than crying.

As Johnny Miller so eloquently pointed out, “A player can accept a beating like this from Tiger Woods. It’s not like it was Rory Sabbatini who was beating him.”

Until last Sunday, I believed Nicklaus was the greatest player of all time. Monday morning, he was the greatest player of his era. It’s Tiger. All that’s missing are the numbers and trust me they’re coming at a record pace.

Sometimes you have to bet the chalk.


Sometimes it’s incredibly frustrating. Saddled with what had become known as Rule 78, where the 36-hole cut of the low 70 scores and ties was amended to add except if there would be more than 78 players left in the field. In that case the cut would be reverted back to the number closest to 70. The rest would go home with a share of the rest of the money, credit for making the cut and of course, FedEx points. This was done in the name of getting the field through on the weekends because of slow play.

In truth, all Tour rules officials have to do is enforce the pace of play regulations on the books and there wouldn’t be anymore problems. Could they do that? Yes. Would they do that? No.

Here’s their solution. After 36 holes, the cut will be made at the low 70 and ties regardless how many players that is. After 54 holes, the field will be cut again at the low 70 and ties. Officials believe the overage will play themselves out of the tournament. Those who are dismissed will be awarded the bottom feeders money according to their score along with credit for making the 36-hole cut and of course, the FedEx points.

Let’s see, there are the extra night’s expenses for the player and the caddie. The former can better afford it than the latter and let’s face it, if you’re given the kiss goodbye on Saturday; you haven’t made that much money anyway. Travel for both has been disrupted. The extra day at home where the player could wash the foul taste of his performance out of his month is gone. The caddie who would have been able to share a ride to the next stop with one of the caddies who now is working instead of traveling has to either scramble for another ride, or stay an extra night at an overpriced motel.

I just wish they’d read their own rule book, enforce the rules and keep it simple.

Bartender, I guess I’m now drinking the Tiger Woods Kool-Aid, but with the next one please add a dash…make that a dash and a half…nah make it a double dash (I’m shifting gears too) of the Goose. Thanks.

See you on the first tee.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Rule 78: Hurry up and play already

There has been a problem on the PGA Tour that has soured the players’ moods more than if someone grabbed their plus-fours and gave them a wedgie. The situation has taken on a life of its own and has become known as Rule 78.

This rule states that if the 36-hole cut of top 70 players and ties exceeds 78 players for the weekend, the field will be reduced to the number of players prior to the top 70 scores. Those who were in the top 70 and ties will be given credit for making a cut (important when calculating pension benefits) and a share of last place money and of course, Fed Ex points.

They cannot, however, play through the weekend with a good chance to improve their lot—not to mention their loot.

This didn’t sit well with those struggling to retain their playing privileges where every dime is critical. It didn’t sit well with those in the middle of the pack who make their money with a strong move on Saturday. The upper echelon? Not so much. They have no idea about what life is like among the bottom feeders and they don’t want to know.

Why did the PGA Tour and their policy board put this rule into effect? I know this will come as a shock, but it’s slow play. Yup, all this bloodletting flows from a self-inflicted wound. The Tour was tired of incomplete rounds being played on the weekend. They were tired of having players tee off on the first and 10th tees and all the headaches that costs. Twosomes and threesomes were taking well in excess of five hours to play 18-holes. Drastic situations call for drastic solutions; thus Rule 78.

There’s one word to describe their reaction and you wouldn’t want to step in it. All the Tour has to do is impose the pace of play regulations ALREADY IN EFFECT. That’s right, the rules that are already in effect.

The regulation states (and I’m paraphrasing), upon reaching his ball, the player has 40-seconds to hit a shot. The player shall be granted a 20-second extension—one minute in total if he is the first player to hit from the tee on a par 3 hole; the first to hit the second shot on a par 4, or 5 hole; the first to hit the third shot on a par 5; or the first to putt on the green.

The first violation of this regulation is a warning. The second is a one stroke penalty. The third is a two stroke penalty and the fourth is disqualification. Given that scenario, there are some players on the PGA Tour who might never see the fifth tee in the first round of a tournament, never mind the first tee of the second round. Did you hear that JB Holmes?

Hey, I think Holmes has a chance to be a special player, but he’d have to speed up a lot to draft on a snail. Don’t even chuckle at that line Ben Crane. You couldn’t create enough breeze walking by to blow out a match. It may be unfair to single out those two when there are so many offenders.

The reason most given for the lava flow that is the standard PGA Tour tournament is the large sums of money they play for each week. Puhleez! That’s not a reason—it’s a lame excuse. There is absolutely no reason for every putt to be read from four sides and then place the ball in front of the mark with the line, or lines aimed in the precisely correct direction. Hey SloMo, if you had a better putting stroke, you wouldn’t need the lines on the ball. Practice before or after the round and not going into a catatonic state during it is the answer Bucko.

Of course, the PGA Tour officials could hold the answer. All they have to do is enforce the regulation on the books. Sure, it won’t make them many friends among the players, but they’ll get used to it. Just plan a week when you’ll all ban together for a bloody Thursday and Friday. Enforce this regulation to the last letter. Once the players see you’re not fooling around, you won’t have to do it again. In fact, most of the players will thank you in the end.

Before I fall off my soapbox, bartender, can you pour me another and it had better not be a sloe gin fizz.

See you on the first tee,


Friday, February 15, 2008

D-AQs falling from the Stupid Tree

One of the things that I love at the start of every golf season is the veritable windfall of what I refer to as D-AQs. That’s newspaper jargon for Dumb-Ass Quotes. There are a couple that have already fallen from the Stupid Tree and have fluttered harmlessly to the ground only to be blown away by gales of laughter. At the end of the year, the most ridiculous D-AQ will be awarded the Rory Sabbatini “Let’s Get Tiger Pissed at All of Us” award.

Let’s examine these early moments of genius.

The first comes from across the Atlantic. It comes from slender English lad with multi-color hair and a frantic hairstyle, not to mention his chaotic wardrobe. At the age of 32, he sounded as if he’d overindulged in his local a wee bit.

“When I reach my full potential, there will just be Tiger and me battling for the top,” said Poulter. Word has it; he didn’t slur these words which should put him at or near the top of the list when the drug testing starts in July.

I believe that’s a bit cheeky as the Brits would say. Downright dumb they might say around his second home in Orlando, Florida.

As of today the highest finish Poulter has had in a major is a ninth place finish. The only higher finish in majors for Poulter was in 2004 when he wore pink slacks at the Masters, the Union Jack embroidered slacks at the Open Championship and the Stars and Stripes at the PGA Championship. Nearly everyone thought he was high on something that spring and summer.
Evidently, he hasn’t seen Tiger’s trophy cases. While Poulter’s making a nice living racking up top 15s and 20s, Tiger is the man looking down from high above on the leader board.

I’m sorry—my fault. It’s not now that it’s going to be he and Tiger mano a mano—it’s when his game matures. He may want to pick up the pace. They’re the same age and Tiger has a 13 major and 62 PGA Tour victories lead. I’m thinking Tiger’s not going anywhere except into the record books. All we know for sure about Poulter is his clothing company is designing the uniforms for the 2008 Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup team.

Actually, this is a bit of a carryover from the end of last year and it comes from a golfer who should no better. It already has started to grow legs and might take a hint of the glow off his certainly Hall of Fame career.

Ernie Els actually said he is on a three-year campaign to unseat Tiger Woods as the Number One golfer in the world. Sure Ernie and I’m going to win three Pulitzer Prizes in the next three years as well. Hell, it took me three tries to spell Pulitzer correctly.

This is to take absolutely nothing away from Ernie. He’s a great golfer, but he should have checked rankings before he made the statement public. If Tiger doesn’t play for the next two years and it’s business as usual for the rest of professional golf; he steps on the tee in 2010 STILL the number one player in the world.

Els has a lot that’s not going for him at the moment. He’s 36 and has distractions. He’s this generation’s Greg Norman in a lot of ways—good and bad. He has had personal disasters at the Masters. In 2004, he had it won when Phil Mickelson snatched it from him. He won the 2002 Open Championship, but there are scars from numerous heartbreaking misses. Still, Ernie has won 44 events around the world and 15 here in the States and he has two US Open trophies.
The positive side of Norman which Els emulates is business acumen. He has a successful golf course design business, a top-rated vineyard and label in his native South Africa as well as numerous other business ventures.

Maybe he announced his plan following a long day at the winery? Who knows? I know this, if he wants to bag Tiger he has to recover from the final round in Dubai earlier in the month where led, made eight on the last hole to throw away the lead. The winner? Tiger, of course.
Ernie, my boy, you’re more than one down in your run at Tiger, but you’re definitely in the running for the “Sabbatini.”

Hey bartender, pour me whatever these two guys are drinking…Never mind, I say enough dumb things sober. I don’t need any help.

See you on the first tee.


Friday, February 8, 2008

Daly's act has become a one-note samba

I’ve known and liked John Daly for a long time. I can easily understand the public’s fascination with him. He is what many of his fans would be if they could hit the ball 320-yards off every tee. John had better hope that ability never leaves him, because when it does, they’ll drop him in a New York minute.

JD’s act has become a one-note samba. He shows up on a sponsor’s exemption (his world ranking is in the 500s) on Tuesday. He leaves sometime on Friday after he withdraws with some type of injury. He says it is related to a rib/shoulder injury he suffered when a woman at the Honda Classic snapped a picture in mid-swing and he tried to stop his swing. I’m hardly one to talk, but he might fare better physically if he dropped a little avoirdupois off that frame. He’s a big boy, but his weight is challenging his average driving distance and winning.

He announced that he was finally going to get some help—with his swing, that is. He wanted some tutelage from noted instructor Butch Harmon with whom he shares a role with in Winn Grip TV commercials. It appeared that Daly might be serious and start really working on his game. I saw Butch at the recent PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando and asked about Daly’s tutorials. The answer was a lateral nod of the head and a quiet, “we’ll see.”

In 2007, he made nine of 24 cuts, missed the cut 10 times and withdrew six times. That’s right he withdrew once after making the cut. His efforts earned him $248,501 for the year. To you and me, that’s a nice year. If you’re driving a bus to each tournament that doesn’t cover much more than the fuel. Add in an occasional heavy gambling loss when the bus turns itself into a casino parking lot and it’s not much of a year at all.

Of course, Daly does supplement his income. He sells memorabilia out of his bus in the Hooters parking lot closest to the tournament site. Hooters does keep him on retainer, which might explain some of his weight problems. A constant diet of fried chicken wings, cheeseburgers and curly fries does tend to stay on the hips. At least he has the good sense to drink Diet Coke and Miller Lite beer, albeit in copious quantities. I just get the feeling that if you stuck a pin in his stomach, he’d gush grease.

Thus far, this season, John has played even in three tournaments. I’m not talking about even par. He’s made one cut, the Sony for $9,805 (T69). He’s withdrawn once (The Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and missed one cut (the Buick Invitational).

Even though he’s demonstrated an inability to play as well as a lack of stamina to last through a tournament, you can bet tournament directors will be more than willing to pencil him in on their dance card. Why, you ask?

The legitimate draws are playing less and less. When the Tour fell all over themselves about the FedEx Cup, they lessened the number of tournaments the top 20 players on Tour will play. This leaves many events wanting. They’re getting a lower quality field, but the purses keep increasing. If you can’t get quality, get golfer-turned-sideshow John Daly. He’ll draw crowds for at least a day.

In his best days, John was loved almost as much for his excesses as his skills. That scale is tipping away from his skills. Just think, when Daly was at his best and still living the lifestyle that could best be described as hard, Tiger Woods was asked if he could play as well living the Daly lifestyle? “No,” said Tiger. “I don’t have his talent.”

That’s the John Daly he has to find again. That’s the John Daly everyone loved and admired. He has to find a way to become relevant again. Like everyone else, I want him to succeed

There’s a lingering fear that Daly is heading towards becoming Anthony Quinn’s Luis “Mountain” Rivera in the 1962 movie “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” It’s not fun watching him fall, but there’s always hope.

Hey barkeep, how about pouring me another Miller De-Lite? On second thought, make it a Diet Coke. I know I can’t keep up with JD in consuming either, but I can drink the soda without the Daly-esque habit of using it to wash down a couple of bags of M&Ms (I’ve always wondered about that). The belt was a little tight this morning.

See you on the first tee.