Monday, March 10, 2008

Florida Swing no longer a birdie-fest

Remember when the Florida Swing of the PGA Tour was a veritable birdie-fest? Now in the second week, there aren’t a lot of smiles inside the ropes. The Honda Classic, once the Jackie Gleason Inverary Classic, has moved more times than Gleason ever saw his feet. This year it debuted at the PGA National Resort & Spa.

Played on the PGA National Championship Course where a Ryder Cup and a PGA Championship have been contested, par was a legitimately good score. This takes into account that normally the par is 72 and the Tour cut it back to 70, the winning score was six-under. Even at -14 it shows enough toughness. It also showed something else.

A few years back, the resort called upon Jack Nicklaus to toughen the three closing holes. Not only did he toughen the holes, but under certain weather conditions (the March wind being one of them) those holes are close to unplayable. “The Bear Trap” as it’s called proves that you can design brutally difficult holes with no regard for conditions and at times embarrass the golfer. It just seems a shame that you can have 15 demanding, but fair holes and then end the day with golf’s version of water boarding—all in the name of protecting par.

The good part of the Honda Classic was Ernie Els closing with a 3-under par 67 to win by one over Luke Donald. While it was Els’ first PGA Tour win since the 2004 Memorial, it was notable for another reason, it was his first tournament playing Callaway clubs.

While Els has been flying the Callaway colors for awhile, he hasn’t been playing their clubs. Like most Tour players, he has a clause in his contract that he’ll play the equipment once it’s approved by the player.

This is a clause inserted out of sheer panic on the players’ part. They all can either remember, or at least of heard of the fate that befell Corey Pavin. After the 1996 season, Pavin was offered a long term contract to play and endorse clubs made by PRGR, a Japanese manufacturer. The deal was lucrative, but it also was iron-clad. He had to play those clubs.

By the time the contract ended, pictures of Pavin’s game were appearing on the sides of milk cartons. He was physically and psychologically damaged. The contract was gone, but so was the confidence. Since winning the 1996 Colonial, Pavin finished out of the top 150 in 1997-98. He’s had eight Top 10 finishes including a win at the 2006 US Bank Championship in Milwaukee opposite the British Open Championship. Pavin has become the poster boy for bad equipment contracts.

Perhaps Els can turn around a career that had begun to slip away. He’s got the confidence that he can win again, but you have to wonder if he can maintain it in a field that has Tiger Woods in it. That remains to be seen and when you play on that high of a level, it’s the only thing that counts.


Tiger starts the year with two consecutive wins and all of a sudden pundits are talking about him finishing the year undefeated. Huh?

We’re talking TWO wins here people—not 12 or 13! Sure you can rationalize that he can win on every course he plays, but that isn’t Larry, Moe and Curly rounding out the fields. Let’s take a long, hard look at this.

He’ll play at Bay Hill. Okay, he’s won four times there. He’ll play at the WGC event at Doral where he’s two-time defending champion. If you put WGC in front of the tournament name, Tiger wins it. The Players Championship could slip into the “L” column. He’s won it once, but the relatively short target golf layout brings too many players into the game. It’s enough of an equalizer that Fred Funk can beat Tiger there. Remember Craig Perks won there and is out of golf. Tiger has won the Memorial three times. If he plays, he’ll probably win again.

He may play the Wachovia Championship. Because he has a design project in the Carolinas, it might be a possibility. That’s another possible loss. Then there’s the ATT National that is his tournament. He didn’t win last year, so he might not this year.

He played in three playoff events and won two. The one he lost to Phil Mickelson is on a course he’s won on before.

I bet you were wondering about the majors. It would not surprise me if he won the Grand Slam. He definitely wins two and probably will win three. A 10-12 win year is certainly not out of the realm of possibility. A perfect year is.

Having said that, Tiger has had a perfect year before. As a junior golfer at age 11, he ran the table winning 36 tournaments in a row. When asked about such an incredible streak, Tiger replied, “I guess I peaked at 11.”

Bartender, concoct me a LONG Island iced tea. It’s going to be a LONG season.

See you on the first tee.


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