Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ian Poulter naked? Why?

Do we really need to see Ian Poulter naked?

The funny thing is Poulter is known primarily for the custom-made clothes he wears that have given him an identity beyond the scoreboard. I like his clothes, by the way, but wouldn’t wear them myself, having passed the expiration date on wearing tight-fitting trousers and anything lilac.

But it’s Poulter without clothes and his, shall we say, naked assertion recently that he’s the man to challenge Tiger Woods that has him in the news on the eve of the Dubai Desert Classic.

First, the photo.

Poulter and his spiked blond hair apparently found it amusing to pose for a European magazine cover with nothing but a strategically placed pink golf bag. It’s eye-catching, that’s for sure.
Then there’s what Poulter said in the March edition of Golf World (not the American version of the magazine).

“The problem is I know I haven’t played to my full potential yet. And when that happens, it will just be me and Tiger,” Poulter said.

Asked to pick a winner of the Masters in April, Poulter said, “Put Tiger down for that one.”

Asked to pick a winner of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in June, he said, “You can put me down for that one.”

So much for Tiger winning the Grand Slam.

If you’re confident enough to pose naked behind a golf bag, you’re confident enough to say you think you’re good enough to handle Tiger. I’m not going to bash a guy for being brash. Those of us in the media love when coaches or athletes say something provocative. Golf, you may have noticed, is a little short on trash talk.

And I like what Poulter brings to the game. He’s a guy who stands out in an individual sport that seems to run short of individuals.

The problem with what Poulter said is that he hasn’t won a tournament on the PGA Tour and now he’s on the way to being Tiger’s equal. He’s finished in the top three just twice in 70 career starts.

Poulter admits he hasn’t performed particularly well but says he’s found inspiration from reading a biography on Muhammad Ali (saying it’s the first book he’s ever read cover to cover, but that’s another issue).

He has given us another reason to pay attention to what happens in Dubai this week.

Safe to say, Ian Poulter is comfortable in his own skin.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Amazingly, Tiger still getting better

When Tiger Woods said over the weekend that his golf game is getting better - even better than it was in his still-hard-to-believe run through 2000 and 2001 - it wasn’t idle chatter.

Tiger doesn’t do idle chatter.

It was, no doubt, thunder in the ears of everyone else who makes their living on the PGA Tour, reminding them that they’re getting no closer to chasing down Tiger and, perhaps, the gap is widening again.

Woods, who is off to Dubai this week after winning the U.S. Open Preview/Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines on Sunday, probably is getting better.

It’s what he does.

He ‘owns’ his golf swing, a concept he’s talked about often in the past. That means he knows how it works and in the rare moments when he hits a ragged shot, he can immediately fix it. He’s always been confident but to watch him and listen to him now it’s obvious that he’s in a great place with his game.

Having tied Arnold Palmer on the all-time PGA Tour victory list with No. 62 on Sunday, he’ll probably pass Arnie next month at Bay Hill where Arnie plays the role of host. There’s a nice symmetry to that.

And the talk of a Grand Slam is growing, fueled by the fact Tiger said he thinks it’s within reach this year. There was a time when the suggestion would have been outrageous.

Not anymore.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Woods chooses his causes carefully

In Anaheim, Cal., on Monday, Tiger Woods unveiled a statue of himself and his late father, Earl, at the Tiger Woods Learning Center.

It was Earl, Tiger has said, who inspired him not only to play golf the way he does but to find a way to help others benefit from his success. The learning center, where Woods has put his heart as well as his name, is where Tiger has chosen to focus his efforts.

It has been so successful, having hosted more than 16,000 kids in two years, that another is under way in Washington, D.C. It is not about golf – though there is a golf element – but it is about learning and responsibility and opportunity.

Two days later, Woods was in the media center in San Diego explaining how he had forgiven his friend Kelly Tilghman for her dreadful choice of words three weeks ago, her “lynch him in a back alley" comment having sparked another storm of national discourse on race.

Intent – or the lack of intent – weighed heavily into Tiger’s reaction, as it should have. He understood Tilghman made a regrettable remark while also understanding there was no malice or ill intent. We all make mistakes, Woods said.

The issue, as we all know, was fueled by Golfweek’s monumentally misguided decision to run a noose on its cover, a classic example of the media being caught in the swirl of a story it continues to churn.

While others including the Rev. Al Sharpton and Jim Brown have chimed in and Tilghman served a appropriate two-week unpaid suspension, Woods has been criticized for not making a bigger issue of the incident.

“I know there are people who want me to be a champion of all causes and I just can’t do that,” Woods said.

He has chosen his causes and has worked in his way to make other lives better. He is not oblivious to history or prejudice or social activism. He is not as political as some would like him to be but Woods is a man of deep convictions.

And not just on the golf course.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tiger closing in on another legend

Tiger Woods is on the verge of taking down another giant.

When Tiger wins his next tournament - which may come Sunday in the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines - it will be his 62nd PGA Tour victory.
That would tie him with Arnold Palmer.

Not that we didn’t already understand Tiger’s place in history but tying Palmer, for fourth on the all-time victory list, would be another reminder of what we’re seeing.

It’s entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that Woods will eventually win 100 PGA Tour events. He just turned 32, after all, and we’re not sure we’ve seen him in his prime yet.

But tying and passing Arnie deserves a moment.
Only three players have won more tournaments than Palmer - Sam Snead won 82, Jack Nicklaus won 73 and Ben Hogan won 64. Hogan, at least figuratively, is looking over his shoulder.

Arnie is just waiting to say congratulations.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tiger's appearance signals golf's return

Tiger Woods has arrived just in time.

But will Phil Mickelson be able to join him?

The PGA Tour season, which is three weeks and one national controversy old, gets Woods back this week when he plays in the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines where he’s won four times and will be the overwhelming favorite when the U.S. Open returns there in June.

Woods’ return couldn’t come at a better time. Nothing against Daniel Chopra, K.J. Choi and D.J. Trahan but none of them move the interest needle in the dead of January, even for those of us with golf on the brain.

The Tour made a big deal when it revamped its schedule last year, admitting it couldn’t compete with football in the fall, in effect surrendering to America’s favorite sport. It’s no different in January when the NFL playoffs are king. If you watched golf on television last Sunday, it was probably during commercial breaks in the playoffs.

But when Tiger plays in January, we’re instantly engaged.

Perhaps this week will put an end to the Kelly Tilghman story. Woods tried to close the door on it Monday when he said she made an “unfortunate” mistake but there was no ill intent. Tilghman is scheduled to return to The Golf Channel broadcasts this week and don’t be surprised if she makes an apology on-air.

Golfweek, by the way, intends to run a front-page letter from its new editor, Jeff Babineau, apologizing for its terrible judgment in running a noose on its cover recently.

This has been trumpeted as the week both Tiger and Mickelson return but Lefty is home fighting a respiratory problem that has bothered for him for weeks. Doctors finally ordered him to stay in bed for at least two days, forcing him to cancel his season-opening press conference today in San Diego. He hopes to play in the Wednesday pro-am if his condition improves.

It will be nice to see Tiger and Phil playing again. It means the season has officially started.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Soaking up the tug of golf on TV

This is when watching the PGA Tour is cruel.

Oh, it’s bad enough watching guys hit 6-irons 205 yards, give every putt they hit a chance to go in and wear slacks that never wrinkle.

Now we’re stuck here with our annual dose of winter (which means if we ever get to play again we’ll be hitting pitch shots off turf that feels like a wet towel) and the tour guys have found the green grass and the sunshine.

They’re in Palm Springs this week playing golf on what looks like something Hollywood created. It’s almost too green, too blue and too perfect. It’s brighter than Samuel L. Jackson’s sweaters.

You don’t need high-definition to feel the tug of golf in warm weather and in a setting even Martha Stewart couldn’t improve.

Until recently, we’ve been able to cope with the off-season. The weather has been fairly mild, allowing us to keep playing on dormant fairways, and the holidays always distract us enough so that golf isn’t all we think about.

But now, two months before we can hope the Bermuda starts turning green in our fairways again, we have to nourish our golf jones from the couch or the bar stool. There’s always the temptation of a golf trip to some place warm, sunny and overpriced but the economy is suddenly worse than John Daly’s reputation.

We should consider ourselves fortunate. Winter doesn’t last long here. It tends to come and go, like most of our putting strokes, lasting a week or two at a time. The folks up north won’t be playing golf again until the azaleas are blooming at Augusta.

Right now, we’re feeling their pain – and living vicariously through Robert Gamez and D.J. Trahan.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Daly, Gainey victims of unkind cut

It is now possible, as John Daly, Tommy ‘Two Gloves’ Gainey and some other PGA Tour players know, to make the cut in a tour event but still not get to play the weekend.

It happened at the Sony Open in Hawaii last week, the first time a new tour guideline was put into effect, costing Big John the chance to play on Saturday and Sunday, something that has become increasingly infrequent in his curious career.

Like most golf rules, this one is hard to explain but - and hopefully I get this right - here’s how the new cut rule works:

The 36-hole cut will continue to include the low 70 and ties. However, if more than 78 players make the cut, the new rule kicks in and the number of players who actually play the weekend reverts back to the number of players closest to 70. Got it?

Didn’t think so.

Here’s what happened at the Sony: A total of 87 players shot even-par 140 or better, technically making the cut. But the field was actually cut to the 69 players who posted 1-under par 139 through two rounds.

“It’s a stupid rule,” Daly told The Golf Channel.

Maybe but the idea is to keep from having so many players on the weekend that it requires play to begin on the first and 10th tees with players in threesomes. That means five-hour rounds, and no one likes those.

The 18 players who made the cut but didn’t get to play left with $9,699 in their checking accounts and 46 FedEx Cup points to their credit.

Some, no doubt, cited the names of Brad Faxon, Chris Couch and Jose Maria Olazabal, each of whom has won a tournament after making the cut on the number.

Suddenly, grinding to make the cut on Friday afternoon has taken on a whole new look. The number keeps moving.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Tilghman apologized. That should be it.

Kelly Tilghman made a mistake.
But that’s all it was - a mistake.
Tilghman said something she shouldn’t have during a Golf Channel broadcast last week and she has apologized for it.

That should be the end of it.
Tilghman has apologized directly to Tiger Woods for saying young players should "lynch him in a back alley" after broadcast partner Nick Faldo suggested young players may need to gang up on Woods to challenge his dominance of the PGA Tour.

It was an unfortunate comment, certainly. But Tilghman, who has done a commendable job as the anchor of The Golf Channel’s tour telecast, doesn’t deserve to be hammered for her mistake. That won’t stop some people from pouncing anyway.

I don’t know Tilghman well - I’ve interviewed her and chit-chatted with her through the years - but I’m convinced there was no malice intended. She is a nice person who has worked extremely hard to do a good job and she has succeeded on merit.

She and Tiger are friends and he immediately accepted her apology, having had his own issue a few years back when he used the word "spaz" in describing himself.

Tilghman is liked and respected by the people who know her. She should be.

She said something she wishes she hadn’t and she apologized. In doing so, she said just the right thing. Let’s move on.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

On golfer's resolutions

Like believing I’ll ever break 70, I long ago gave up on the notion of New Year’s resolutions.

But, like every day on the first tee offers at least the chance of doing the impossible, what’s the harm in making a few golf-related resolutions while waiting for the PGA Tour guys to show up on TV from Kapalua.

Therefore, I hereby resolve in 2008 to:

  • Never dress like Rory Sabbatini;
  • Never dress like Christina Kim;
  • Play one 18-hole round this year without a double bogey;
  • Quit leaving four-footers short of the hole (yeah, right);
  • Charge caddie fee to anyone who insists on taking me stroke-by-stroke through the 86 they shot at the beach, or anywhere else;
  • Not to require oxygen every time I have to hit a bunker shot;
  • Practice putting more often, hit balls less often;
  • Try not to roll my eyes when somebody insists on telling me how far they can hit a 7-iron;
  • Figure out why I still have a 3-iron in my bag;
  • Try not to have a different swing thought on every swing;
  • Listen to Boo Weekley every chance I get.
It’s a start, anyway.