Friday, February 27, 2009

Suddenly, It's The Quail Hollow Championship

So now it’s the Quail Hollow Championship.
Say it a few times.
Quail Hollow Championship.
Quail Hollow Championship.
It sounds pretty good if you ask me.
The only surprise about the announcement that the Wachovia Championship name has gone away, effective immediately, is that it happened so close to the PGA Tour’s visit to Quail Hollow April 27-May 3.
But according to club president Johnny Harris and Kym Hougham, the event’s executive director, approximately 85 percent of all tournament-related materials will be re-branded before the tour players arrive in Charlotte.
It’s too late to print new tickets but pretty much everything else will bear the new name and logo. Just think, if you’re into logoed caps and shirts, you can buy new stuff this spring without feeling guilty. The new logo may debut next week.
And somewhere there will be some Wachovia Championship stuff at a really good price.
Considering all that’s happening with bank-related sponsorships these days, it isn’t shocking to see Wells Fargo officials pull the Wachovia name off the event.
Chrysler went low-profile at the Bob Hope tournament. Morgan Stanley is doing the same at the Memorial and Northern Trust officials are getting roasted for spending money on their event in Los Angeles last week, though they never requested money from the federal government and their tournament expenses came from their annual operating fund.
The name change here doesn’t mean the tournament is in danger of going away. It will remain here through 2014, when organizers have said it will wave goodbye for good.
It won’t have the Wells Fargo name on it but it will have the bank’s money paying for it. Or it will until another potential sponsor can be found that would take over what Wells Fargo inherited in the Wachovia acquisition.
Wells Fargo officials intend to evaluate the company’s involvement after this year’s event.
The way the contract works, the title sponsor pays a fee for the title, plus another fee for television advertising. Combined, that has cost more than $6.5 million annually for Wachovia as it will for Wells Fargo.
Then there’s the additional cost of entertaining clients and other tournament-related expenditures. That’s where Wells Fargo will cut back this year and, perhaps, beyond.
It’s a tricky situation for sponsors right now, particularly for struggling companies. They’re obligated to spend the money on their respective tournaments but they’re being criticized for honoring their commitment.
If you’re spending the money, I’d think you’d want to make the most of it. Don’t be frivolous but don’t hide what you’re doing. That’s part of what led to the trouble the industry is in today.
Big companies, banks included, can’t quit marketing. Some would argue marketing is more important now than ever.
In the case of Wachovia/Wells Fargo, the situation is different than others because a brand is essentially going away. It’s one thing to market a company, it’s something else to market one that soon won’t exist, at least not as we’ve come to know it.
Golf is a hot-button item, especially these days. California was considering adding an 8-10 percent sales tax on all things golf-related until recently. They weren’t going to tax football or swimming or basketball, just golf. Ask Governor Ah-nuld to explain it because I can’t.
The intent at Quail Hollow will continue to be to produce a PGA Tour that is a model for others. There’s no reason to think that will change.
The top players will still play here. The experience will still be exceptional for the spectators whether they’re in private tents or roaming the property. The whole thing will look and feel like something special, which it is.
The people running the Quail Hollow Championship know what they’re doing and they’re not going anywhere. Neither is the tournament. Just its old name.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's the beauty of match play golf

That didn’t take long.

Tiger Woods played exactly 34 holes over two days and he’s already been dispatched from the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, throwing a pile of NBC television executives into a sobbing heap with their sure-fire ratings bonanza blown up before someone named Ross Fisher could be eliminated.

Far too much will be read into the fact that the great comeback ended so suddenly but, the bottom is, that’s the nature of match play golf.

It doesn’t mean there’s a reason to worry about Tiger. He’s gotten knocked out of this tournament far more often than he’s won it. Just ask Nick O’Hern or Peter O’Malley or Darren Clarke.

The beauty of match play is if one guy plays well and the other doesn’t, that’s it. There’s no playing to make the cut and seeing what you can do on the weekend.

And for the all the surprise about Tiger losing 4 and 2 to Tim Clark, it’s not a huge surprise.

Clark is among the better players in the world, even if he can walk into any McDonald’s in the world and not be recognized. The former N.C. State golfer had played Tiger in this event before, knew what he was up against and knew how to handle it.

“You either let it get the best of you or you thrive on it,” Clark told reporters after his victory.

He didn’t thrive on it.

He glowed like a Las Vegas night.

It helped that Clark played well and Tiger didn’t. Clark won two par-5s in the decisive portion of the match, something you never expect to happen against Tiger. But it did and now Clark is suddenly more famous.

“That’s big but at the end of the day, it’s still just the second round,” Clark said.

True but for a guy who keeps being forced to answer questions about why he hasn’t won on the PGA Tour, this win gives people something else to talk about.

As for Tiger, he’ll be fine.

Before the event, he said he wanted to test himself in competition again and he got his answer. He’s not as sharp as he wants to be.

He’ll look at this week for a while but his attention is focused on April. When he rolls into Augusta National, that’s when he wants to be ready.

I’m guessing he will be.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

64 Players, One Storyline

Tiger Woods, left, and caddy Steve Williams walk to the practice range at the World Golf Championships Accenture Match Play Championship Tuesday Feb. 24, 2009, in Marana, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

If you enjoy match-play golf – and I’m a big fan of it – the first round of the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship makes Wednesday one of the most fun days on the PGA Tour schedule.

You get 32 matches guaranteed to produce a handful of shockers and enough storylines to make you dizzy.

This year, there is only one storyline – Tiger Woods’ return.

You may have heard about it.

I’m not ready to go as far as some have and say it’s comparable to Ben Hogan’s return from a near fatal auto accident. The guy had knee surgery, took eight months off and now he’s back, almost sure to be as good or better than ever.

If the plot revolves around Tiger, the subplot spins around Brendan Jones, the 64th-seeded Aussie whose name is penciled in opposite Woods’ in the first-round bracket.

If you haven’t caught up with Jones’ sudden celebrity, he’s 35 with one Nationwide Tour victory and eight wins on the Japan Tour. He was home in Australia, enjoying some down time, when he got word he was in the field at Tucson and, surprise, drew Tiger.

Jones knows what he’s up against.

In a first-person piece on, Jones said he “doesn’t want to do what Stephen Ames did and upset (Woods),” referencing the beatdown Ames took from Tiger after a snarky comment prior to their match.

In fact, Jones sounds like a guy just thrilled to be in Woods’ presence.

“I want to meet him and try to be nice and, at the end of the day, win, lose or draw, if I could have a drink or go out to lunch, it would be nice,” Jones wrote.

Maybe he’s trying to intimidate Tiger with niceness.

Jones does have one advantage – he’s from Down Under. Tiger has been eliminated by Aussies three times in this event, twice by the mysteriously successful Nick O’Hern and once by Peter O’Malley.

Still, the facts say Tiger is 31-6 in this event.

If Tiger beats Jones, he’ll draw either Retief Goosen or Tim Clark in the second round. There’s a possible third-round match against 19-year old Rory McIlroy and the bracket also includes Mike Weir, Hunter Mahan, Camilo Villegas and Geoff Ogivly.

In other words, welcome back Tiger.

Among the things I’ll be watching early in the event are:

-- Whether Ernie Els can make a run here. He hasn’t made it past the second round of this event since 2001.

-- Phil Mickelson against Angel Cabrera in the first round. Bombs away.

-- The 5-12 matches. That’s the one that typically produces the upsets in the NCAA basketball tournament so why not in golf? The best 5-12 match is Dustin Johnson against Steve Stricker, though Adam Scott against Sean O’Hair isn’t bad.

-- Davis Love III against Henrik Stenson in the first round. If Love is going to vault up the world rankings and secure his place at the Masters, a winning streak this week would do it.
So, does Tiger win in his first tournament back?

That’s asking a lot, even of Tiger, and especially in match play where one hot round can do a guy in.

I’m going with Phil Mickelson.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The kids are all right

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland is congratulated by Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland after the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic on February 1, 2009 in Dubai,United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Suddenly, Camilo Villegas and Anthony Kim aren't the youngsters any more.

Ryo Ishikawa is 17, Danny Lee is 18 and Rory McIlroy is 19 years old.

Combined, they're one year younger than Jay Haas.

And their futures may be as bright as the yellow outfit Ishikawa wore at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles last week.

There are no promises, of course. Just ask Ty Tryon.

But the three of them have given the game a nice. Red Bull-like jolt, even if it will now be overshadowed by the Great One's return to competition.

McIlroy, with his bushy hair that hasn't been cut in months, looks like the real thing. When he won the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year, it only reinforced the notion that he's Ireland's next great player. He has a golf swing built to last and, it seems, uncommon nerve. Not yet 20, he's already an international star.

It's possible that McIlroy could go head to head with Tiger Woods if both players win their first two matches at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship this week, a pairing that would demand clearing time Friday afternoon to watch.

Watching Lee storm through the U.S. Amateur championship at Pinehurst last August, it was obvious he had a different game than other teenagers. He can kill it, of course, but he can putt, too. When he joked after his victory that he would beat Tiger Woods when they're paired together in the 2009 U.S. Open, you could tell he wasn't just being funny.

After winning the European Tour's Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand Sunday, Lee -- still an amateur -- was asked again about challenging Woods.

"All I want to do is break what he's done," Lee said.

At least he sets his goals high.

Lee will get his shot at Tiger at Bay Hill and again at the Masters. After Augusta, Lee is expected to turn pro and has full status on the European Tour after his victory.

As for Ishikawa, the 17-year old missed the cut by three strokes at Riviera in what amounted to his introduction to the American golf audience. He didn't play as well as he'd have liked but he seemed to embrace the moment, rather than allow it to overwhelm him.

The kids, it seems, are all right.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tiger to return next week

Tiger Woods will return to competitive golf next week, playing in the World Golf Championships Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.

It will be Woods' first event since winning the U.S. Open in a playoff last June and having knee reconstruction surgery eight days later. Woods has not played a competitive round since beating Rocco Mediate in a playoff for the U.S. Open title, his 14th major championship, on June 16.

Woods made the announcement on his website Thursday, ending weeks of speculation about when he would return to competition.

He has said during his rehabilitation that he will make his scheduling decisions on a week to week basis determined by how his left knee and leg are feeling.

Two brothers, two aces

The odds of a golfer making a hole-in-one in any given round -- according to people who are good enough with numbers to study these things -- are 5,000-to-one.

So what are the odds that two brothers, in this case Steve and Enrico Piraino of Charlotte, would both make a hole-in-one on the same day?

Whatever the odds, it happened on Feb. 11.

Steve Piraino made his ace on the par-3 seventh hole on Carmel Country Club’s North Course, hitting a 7-iron shot just past the flag on the 150-yard hole, and having it roll back into the cup.
Ernico made his ace the same day at The Peninsula Club, where he holed a 6-iron shot on the par-3 fourth hole.

And to think, they almost played golf together that day.

“My son, Philip, was at (Steve’s) house that day and he called me about 5:30 that afternoon,” Enrico said. “I told him I’d played golf and made a hole-in-one.

“My brother got home about 7:30 that night and he told my son that he’d made a hole-in-one. Philip said, ‘You’re kidding me. My dad did too.’”

Earlier that day, Enrico Piraino had called his brother inviting him to play at The Peninsula but Steve Piraino already had a game at Carmel.

For the record, it was Steve’s third career ace, his second in less than two years.

For Enrico, it was his first ace.

“Steve gets more chances because he plays more,” his brother said.

The brothers haven’t seen each other since they made their matching aces and neither is quite sure who gets stuck with the traditional bar tab.

“We haven’t decided that yet,” Enrico said.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Curious Case of Michelle Wie

Watching Michelle Wie in the SBS Open in Hawaii was a blast, until Wie imploded over the final eight holes.

Here’s what Michelle Wie does for the LPGA Tour:

On Saturday night, I made a point of watching her try to win her first professional event, the now-defunct SBS Open in Hawaii.

Wie didn’t win, of course. She let a three-shot lead with eight holes remaining evaporate while the sneaky-good Angela Stanford showed the 19-year-old how tournaments are won.

Admittedly, had I been someplace other than a hotel room halfway between Atlanta and Charlotte on Valentine’s night the chances of me watching Wie would have been, well, wee.

The point is, however, that Wie is an attention magnet. Nothing against Angela Stanford but if she had been battling Cristie Kerr over the closing holes, the NBA All-Star challenge might have been more appealing.

But it was Michelle Wie playing for a trophy and that’s a very good thing for the LPGA Tour.

Like Benjamin Button, Wie is a curious case. To say she’s always been more famous than she’s been good is not entirely correct because for a time Wie was an outstanding player, regularly threatening in major championships.

Then she became a mess.

Now, before her 20th birthday, Wie seems to have run the circle of fame already. She was new, fresh and loved, she crashed hard and now she’s on the rebound.

For all of her immense fame, it’s worth remembering that Wie hasn’t won a golf tournament in six years. Put another way, she was 13 the last time she won.

Her nerves showed in the final round Saturday. (As others have suggested this week, maybe the LPGA should consider more Saturday finishes to get a little more bang).

Wie hit a couple of bad tee shots, couldn’t hole putts when she had to and had a front-row seat to watch Stanford win for the third time since last fall.

Afterward, Wie said the experience reminded her of what it felt like to be in the chase. It didn’t end the way she wanted but she was there again.

She’ll be there again and again. And with happier endings – soon.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A New Meaning To The Term Army Golf...

Sgt. Ryan Greve started hitting golf balls as a five-year old in Charlotte, visiting a driving range near Carolina Place Mall.
He played on the Providence High golf team for two years and, with his family living at Providence Country Club, golf has always been a part of Greve’s life.
Now stationed in Baghdad serving with the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Greve and golf have been reunited.
The base recently opened its own driving range, helped in large part by donations from veterans in Ridgefield, Conn., who sent some of the supplies needed to construct the practice facility.
“The fact that a driving net was created is awesome,” Greve said via e-mail.
The facility is named ‘Ridgefield Country Club Driving Range in Iraq’ and is open 24 hours a day.
It took eight soldiers approximately two weeks to construct the facility, which includes artificial turf tees and a collection of used golf clubs. They hope to eventually paint a backdrop to place behind the practice net.
Greve said he and other soldiers keep up with golf happenings via the internet. Now they have the opportunity to work on their games, at least a little bit.
“It is a huge morale booster and it keeps your swing in check,” Greve said. “For the golfers in the brigade, it is exactly what we needed.”

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Commish, Pinehurst And Other Matters

Now on the tee, the Commish.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is combining work and play this week by teeing it up in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Finchem is paired with Davis Love III, who he’s been fishing and skiing with but, until Wednesday, had never played golf with.

Finchem was convinced by AT&T executive Randall Stephenson to play in the celebrity-heavy pro-am this year.

“It makes you nervous to go out and play with these great players and being nervous is kind of fun,” said Finchem, who carries a six-handicap.

Finchem doesn’t have to worry about attracting the biggest galleries along the Monterey Peninsula. The Fred Couples-Justin Timberlake pairing will draw the most attention.

-- How would you like to win unlimited golf at Pinehurst for a year? It’s being offered as part of a promotion this spring at the resort. From March 8 through May 30, Pinehurst is offering an unlimited golf package which allows players access to all eight courses with unlimited play. The cost starts at $515 per night and includes the golf, a room, full use of the practice facilities, the resort’s exceptional breakfast buffet and dinner. As for the contest, registration is open at and the winner will receive unlimited golf for two plus other exclusive benefits at the resort from June 1, 2009 through May 30, 2010.

-- It will be interesting to see how Phil Mickelson plays this weekend, given his flat start. I’m not buying into suggestions that Lefty has begun a slow fade into mediocrity. I still think he has another major win or two in him but it has been surprising to see him struggle as he has.

-- It should be a nice evening in Pinehurst Friday when the Carolinas Golf Association celebrates its centennial with a dinner featuring its 2008 players of the year, a number of former champions and guest speaker David Fay, the executive director of the United States Golf Association.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

LPGA's New Stars Ready To Shine

The LPGA season opens Thursday at the SBS Open in Hawaii, one of those suitable-for-framing spots, where the tour will begin life after Annika Sorenstam.

While Lorena Ochoa is still the tour’s top player with Paula Creamer, Yani Tseng, Suzann Pettersen and Natalie Gulbis among her challengers, the 2009 season brings with it a rookie class capable of transforming the power structure.

Excluding Ji-Yan Shin, who is technically a rookie but won three times on tour last year, here are three new faces – okay two new faces and one very familiar one – we’ll likely see regularly:

-- Vicky Hurst.

She dominated the Duramed Futures Tour last year, winning four times.

She was almost literally born on a golf course because her mother went into labor with Vicky while playing golf. Like Morgan Pressel and Alexis Thompson, Hurst is another sparkling talent from Florida.

She’s easy to recognize, too, wearing a Hogan-style cap when she plays to honor the late Payne Stewart.

-- Stacy Lewis.

She was already one of women’s golf’s most inspirational stories even before she won the LPGA qualifying tournament last fall.

Lewis wore a back brace for more than seven years to correct curvature of her spine caused by scoliosis. When it was determined the brace hadn’t worked, Lewis underwent surgery to correct the problem when she was 18.

Last year, she won the NCAA individual championship and was the top-ranked women’s amateur in the country before earning her spot on the LPGA tour.

-- Michelle Wie.

Sound familiar?

She’s finally a full-time member of the LPGA tour and says she intends to play golf for six months while attending Stanford the other six months.

Wie has the potential to be a huge star if she can win consistently on the LPGA tour. She has suffered from poor direction and bad decisions but she says she’s healthy and happy these days and her game is coming back.

That’s a good thing for Wie and for the LPGA tour.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Will Tiger Return Before Phil Does?

With the news that Tiger Woods now has a son – Charlie Axel Woods was born Sunday -- two questions beg to be answered:
1. When will Tiger return to the PGA Tour?
2. When will Phil Mickelson return to the tour?
In Tiger's case, there's no clear answer when he'll bring his new knee and new baby pictures on tour. The fact that his son was born over the weekend has heightened the speculation that perhaps Tiger will show up at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in three weeks.
Tiger loves match play but it's on a new course which makes you wonder if he'd rather be someplace more familiar. There's also the possibility of consecutive 36-hole days on the weekend were he to reach the quarterfinals, a test he may prefer to avoid right now.
If not the Match Play, I’m guessing we’ll see him at the WCG event at Doral in early March.
By that time, perhaps Mickelson will have arrived.
It has been a dreary start to the year for Lefty, who missed the cut at the FBR Open then scraped his way to a tie for 42nd at the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines.
Not exactly the start he or anyone else envisioned.
The culprits are familiar -- Mickelson hasn't driven the ball straight enough nor putted it well enough to make himself a factor. That's a bad combination because it's easier to fix one major component than two at a time.
And, by the way, a white belt with black pants and a black shirt, hmmm....
Mickelson has said more than once he thought he was ready for the year, despite taking two months off from golf and only practicing for a week before resuming tournament play. It appears that grueling regimen didn’t effectively knock off all the rust.
The thing about Mickelson is he can turn it around in an instant. After getting the weekend off in Phoenix, it wasn't a stretch to think Mickelson might win at Torrey Pines.
Instead, he sputtered again after a good start on the tough South Course. Now the question is whether he'll right himself along the Monterey Peninsula at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am this week. Had it been just one bad week, you could brush it off easier. After two straight flame-outs, maybe it's not such a quick fix after all.
Mickelson has won the Pebble Beach event three times in his career. Maybe a little time around Bill Murray, Andy Garcia and 17-Mile Drive will fix what’s ailing Mickelson’s game.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Waiting On Tiger

In his newsletter this week, Tiger Woods confirmed what we’d been hoping to hear – he’s practicing “full bore” now and his return to the PGA Tour is getting very close.

Naturally, Woods wouldn’t say just when he’ll come back for a couple of reasons.

His wife, Elin, is due to give birth to their second child this month, which will keep him around the house for a while. And, Woods typically doesn’t let on where he plans to play until shortly before his jet lands.

What matters, from a golf perspective anyway, is that Woods is almost ready. He’s working to regain his golf stamina, he said, which for him means being able to hit more balls in a day than most of us hit in a year.

For a while, Woods said, he was able to distance himself from golf because he knew he wasn’t capable of playing. But as his rehabilitation has progressed, the desire to play has returned.

If things go well, Woods said he would like to play a full schedule this year. Whether that includes the Wachovia Championship where he won in 2007 is uncertain. For a while, though, Woods will take it week by week as he gets back into the routine of tournament golf.

The most likely scenario has Tiger making his 2009 debut at the World Golf Championship event at Doral in early March. He could show up at the WGC match play event in Arizona later this month but it's being played on a course he's never seen and there's the possibility of playing 36 holes in a day more than once.

If Tiger plays Doral, takes a break then plays Arnie's tournament at Bay Hill, that's two events before the Masters.

As announcer Gary McCord said earlier this week, now is the time for the other players to take advantage of Woods’ absence but no one seems able to do it.

The storm is on the horizon, McCord said.

It can’t get here soon enough.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Something Old, Something New

On Sunday, halfway across the world, 19-year old Rory McIlroy delivered a championship in Dubai that reinforced the notion he may be golf’s next international star.
In another desert, surrounded by a smaller than normal but still noisy Phoenix crowd, 48-year old Kenny Perry won his fourth tournament since May and reminded us that he’s not going anywhere, at least not for a while.
So there was something new and something old. Now if we can just find something borrowed and something blue…
Neither McIlroy nor Perry finished in grand style. McIlroy bogeyed the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to throw his victory in doubt before making a nerve-testing up-and-down from a bunker to win in Dubai.
Perry, meanwhile, seemed to go an hour between pars but somehow still beat the haircut-challenged Charley Hoffman for his 13th career win.
Though separated by 29 years, McIlroy and Perry are separated by only seven spots on the official World Golf Rankings. Perry jumped back into the top 10 at No. 9 while McIlroy is now the 16th-ranked player in the world.
McIlroy looks like the next great player to emerge from Great Britain. He’s good enough that his fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington has said he’d be willing to pay to watch McIlroy play.
We’re going to get a look at him soon when he plays a handful of PGA Tour events leading to the Masters and beyond. It’s possible McIlroy will play the Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head and Wachovia Championship officials would like to have him at Quail Hollow.
Meanwhile, anyone who figured Perry would gracefully fade away into the Kentucky sunset after his inspiring Ryder Cup appearance last fall is mistaken. His 13th career victory has him looking for more. “I set a goal out there that’s probably unrealistic and unreachable, yet here I am,” Perry told reporters after his victory. “I’m only seven away now, not eight. So you never know.”
While McIlroy’s story is just beginning, Perry’s obviously isn’t ready to end.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Boo, Furyk, Scott Commit To Wachovia

Boo Weekley, one of the stars of the United States' Ryder Cup victory last fall and among the most popular players on the PGA Tour, is among the golfers who have made early commitments to play in the Wachovia Championship April 28-May 3 at the Quail Hollow Club.
Jim Furyk, the 2006 champion, and Adam Scott have also made official commitments to play in the event, tournament officials announced.
Other top players who have made official commitments are Davis Love III, J.B. Holmes, K.J. Choi and Lucas Glover.
Players have until 5 p.m. on the Friday preceding tournament week to officially enter.
Though the event is nearly three months away, the Wachovia Championship is expected to attract many of the PGA Tour's top players. Anthony Kim is the defending champion. The event has been a sellout in each of its first six years and is expected to be sold out again this year. For ticket information, visit