Monday, December 06, 2010

Tiger Gave Us A Reminder Of What We've Been Missing

   It felt like old times Sunday afternoon watching Tiger Woods play golf.

   At least until Graeme McDowell took the best Tiger could throw at him, answered it and walked away with the kind of dramatic victory upon which Woods has built his career. The Chevron World Challenge may not be a major championship -- there were only 18 players in the field -- but it had Tiger in the last group on Sunday, something that hadn't happened all year, and it provided a rare dose of December golf drama.

   So what did the weekend tell us about Tiger and his game?

   We already knew McDowell has become one of the game's top players and he reinforced his reputation as a man most comfortable on the big stage.

   Woods, though, remains a curiosity. He took a four-stroke lead into the final round, having looked more like the old Tiger than he has in nearly two years, and then the putter betrayed him, his game got scratchy and there were again questions where there had always been answers before.

   If you watched, you were reminded of how Tiger can transform an event. Maybe it's because it's been so long since he was in contention that it felt new and fresh again but it fun to watch him and McDowell duel down the stretch. And when Woods threw what should have been his haymaker -- a little cut 8-iron to within three feet of the cup on the 18th hole that seemed to set up his victory -- it was a reminder of what's gone missing.

   This time, though, Woods didn't win. McDowell poured in a long birdie putt to force a playoff and then did it again to win. This time, it was Tiger who took off his hat, scratched his head, shook McDowell's hand and walked away in second place.

   Does what happened Sunday validate the notion that Woods has lost his intimidation advantage? Or does it mean that his game, obviously on the mend, still isn't where it needs to be?

  There's no question other players don't turn to jelly now when they see Woods on the course. What he had -- both with his game and his presence -- has been lost. It's possible he can regain a measure of dominance with his golf but the last 13 months have bleached away the air of supremacy that came with Woods every time he stepped onto the property at a tournament. That part isn't coming back.

   It had begun to erode before his infamous Thanksgiving accident but it turned into an avalanche over the past year. As he works to rebuild his golf swing with Sean Foley, work that seems to be coming together nicely, Woods also has to reconstruct his aura. That will be tougher than finding fairways, which he seems to be doing again.

   Woods is still fighting old swing flaws, admitting they crept in during the middle of the final round, leading to trouble. But when he needed to make good swings at the end, he made them. That's not something he was able to do until the end of this year. It's not like it was but it's getting better.

   Asked if he felt like Sunday was the end of a disappointing season or the start of his 2011 season, Woods said he wasn't sure. However, he said he's excited about this off-season, a feeling he hasn't had in a while.

   Watching Woods on Sunday, even when he didn't win, was something we hadn't seen in a while. It was a reminder of what we've been missing.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Charlotte's Karlsson Up To No. 16 In The World Rankings

   This may not be the height of golf season but there's still plenty going on. Such as:

  -- When new Charlotte resident Robert Karlsson won in Dubai on Sunday, it capped an outstanding season for him and elevated him to 16th in the world rankings. Karlsson hopped a plane back to Charlotte shortly after claiming his second European Tour title of the year and is laying low at home for a while.

   "I'm very happy with this week and the year in whole, actually, winning two times and a second in Memphis where I lost to Lee (Westwood) in a playoff," Karlsson said in Dubai. "If I win twice in a's a pretty good year."

   -- When the Presidents Cup matches are played in Australia in November, the American side will again have a strong local connection, especially on the captain's staff.

     Fred Couples, who's playing in Australia this week, has convinced Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan to again serve as an assistant captain along with Jay Haas, who, like Couples, is a member at Quail Hollow Club. That means Jordan will be down under for a week when the Bobcats are in the early part of their 2011-12 season.

    That shouldn't be seen as Jordan ignoring the team he owns. Instead, it speaks to how much he enjoys team golf competition and understands the special opportunity he's been given.

  -- Charlotte's Johnson Wagner and Mathew Goggin are among the 166 players teeing it up in the finals of PGA Tour qualifying school in Florida this week.

   Play starts at Orange Couunty National on Wednesday with a field that includes, among others, Ty Tryon, two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton and Brett Waldman, Camilo Villegas' full-time tour caddie. It's a six-round grind with the top 25 getting full exemptions onto the tour.

   -- We get another look at Tiger Woods' rebuilding golf game this weekend in the Chevron World Challenge, his limited-field event that includes Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and others. Woods has shown flashes of spectacular golf but it hasn't been consistent. It will be interesting to see how it looks this weekend.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

McIlroy Says No Thanks To 2011 PGA Tour Membership

   An already exceptional year for European golf got a little better this week when young Rory McIlroy announced he will decline his PGA Tour card for 2011, preferring to keep himself based on the European Tour.
    That doesn't mean McIlroy won't be at Quail Hollow next May to defend the championship he won but it means he won't be a regular on the PGA Tour next year. He'll still show up for the majors, the World Golf Championship events and a couple of other events but he won't play the minimum 15 events.

   Part of the problem, McIlroy told reporters, was the FedEx Cup playoffs. Essentially, he didn't like being bound to play the playoff events despite the money they offered. So, he'll stay home more, play the big events and take much the same approach as world No. 1 Lee Westwood.

    It's possible Martin Kaymer may also take the same approach though he hasn't said yet if he'll play the PGA Tour schedule full-time next year.

   In talking to reporters, McIlroy said he found himself missing the European Tour while he was here during the FedEx Cup playoffs. If the playoffs aren't important to McIlroy and he would rather maintain his base in Europe, there's nothing wrong with that.

  "I found myself in America last year, especially in the FedEx Cup playoff series, just not wanting to be there," McIlroy told reporters in China last week.
   "I started switching on the Golf Channel and watching the Omega European Masters in Switzerland and thinking to myself I would rather be there. After a tough summer of golf I need a break after the US PGA. I had one week this year, and then I found myself back in the States to play three in a row.

  "If you're not playing well in the States it can be a lonely place. But if you're not playing well on the European Tour you still have plenty of mates to hang out with."

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Don't Wake Me While The Putts Are Falling

I know you don't want to hear about my golf game but, if you've come this far into cyberspace, indulge me for a moment.

I'm making putts these days.

Not a few of them. A lot of them. I lean over a 15-footer and think it's going in.

That may not be a big deal to you. Maybe you were blessed with the putting gene but I wasn't. My father, it should be noted, carries a long putter and a short putter and often switches from hole to hole, depending on his mood and the amount of break facing him.

I've always wanted to be a good putter, annually making a vow to practice putting more, and it never happens. The practice nor the getting better, which some have said could be related.

But now, just about the time golf season is going into hibernation unless we have a better winter than last year, I'm rolling the rock, to invoke a cliche. It won't last, it never does, but it sure is fun right now.

What changed?

Todd Smith, who's off to Champions Tour qualifying school this week, got tired of watching me three-putt a while back and gave me a simple 1-2-3-4 routine that works. I look at the hole (that's one), look back at the ball (that's two), take it back (that's three) and hit it (that's four).

Teachers will tell you it's not a routine if you have to think about it and it's reached the point where it's almost a habit now. And there's no more comforting feeling in golf that hitting a putt then looking up to see it dead on line, especially if you've got a feel for the speed.

I've marveled for a while now at how my 15-year old nephew, Jake, putts. He hits it, fully believing it's going in every time and when he misses, he doesn't bother to line up the five-foot comebackers. He just stands over them, slams them in and goes to the next hole. He's too young to know better.

Right now, I know how he feels.

No wonder he smiles so much.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Gastonia's Varner Has His Breakthrough Moment

In his junior year at East Carolina, Gastonia's Harold Varner III has been chasing his first collegiate individual championship for a while.

He's looked at teammates who've won tournaments and knew his game could match theirs but Varner didn't have his own trophy.

Until now.

Varner set an East Carolina record this week when he won the Old Dominion-Outer Banks Intercollegiate golf championship at Kilmarlic Golf Club, shooting 20-under par 196 over 54 holes. Varner had rounds of 65-66-66 to lead the Pirates to a 23-stroke team victory as well.

"It was awesome," Varner said of his first individual victory. "It's nice to get that first one so I can start working on the second one."

Varner has been working with his teacher, Bruce Sudderth, on a couple of swing tweaks and they kicked in on the Outer Banks. Varner said he has been practicing two drills to help him keep the clubhead in front of him rather than allowing it to get caught behind him.

When it all came together, Varner poured it on.

"I was looking at a lot of putts going in," Varner said. "I played one stretch from near the end of the first round through the start of the second round 9-under par for nine holes. When you look at people who win, they have a stretch like that where they don't miss."

Varner and the Pirates are finished with their fall schedule but will return to competition in January.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Charlotte Caddie Comes Up Aces In Las Vegas

Perhaps PGA Tour caddie Adam Hayes, who lives part-time in Charlotte, should spend more time in Nevada.

Hayes was on Vaughn Taylor's bag both times the Augusta, Ga., player won the Reno-Tahoe Open and Hayes was shouldering Jonathan Byrd's clubs last week when the former Clemson star won the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open in Las Vegas.

That meant Hayes had the best seat in the house when Byrd aced the fourth playoff hole to beat Martin Laird and Cameron Percy.

"It was pretty awesome just to be part of something like that," Hayes said after returning to Charlotte.

It's believed to be the first time a tournament on a major golf tour was won by an ace in a playoff. Just to get there, Byrd had to do something almost as dramatic -- birdie three of the last four holes to get into the playoff.

In regulation, Byrd birdied the 204-yard, par-3 17th hole to get to 21-under par, enough to get in the playoff. Little did Byrd and Hayes know what was coming.

In the playoff, Byrd parred the 17th the first time through, lipping out a 15-footer that could have won the tournament for him there. When they returned in the gathering darkness for the fourth extra hole, Hayes and Byrd knew exactly what they needed to do.

Byrd pulled a 6-iron, just as he had the two previous times he'd played the hole in the past hour, and left his natural right to left shot work for him.
"I knew we could win it on that hole," Hayes said.

He just didn't know it would happen so dramatically.

"I knew it was going right at the hole but when it went in, it was unbelievable," Hayes said.

It took a moment for Byrd, Hayes and everyone else to know what had happened. It was so dark they couldn't see the hole clearly and there was almost no gallery around the green. The few who were around the green started jumping and cheering and it became clear Byrd had just won his fourth PGA Tour event.

"He has the potential to be a top 20 player on tour," said Hayes, who has worked with Byrd for more than two years. "He just needs something to push him there. Maybe this is it."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Member-Guest Uniforms: There Are No Winners

Having just spent a terrific weekend playing in the Providence Country Club member-guest tournament, I have one question:

Why do two grown men -- who aren't required by Ryder Cup rules to do so -- wear matching outfits?

Is it a team unity thing? Really?

It's one thing for both of you to show up wearing khaki shorts and a white shirt purely by chance. That is, after all, the standard dress code on the golf course. A man can't have too many white shirts. Just ask Marty Hackel. Or maybe not.

But it should be by chance, not by design. You outgrow cute when you start shaving.

Member-guests are fun (even if you don't make a birdie in 45 holes like me), which I suppose explains why guys think dressing like twins is a good idea. Maybe if my partner and I had worn matching outfits, we'd have finished better than third in a six-team flight, but our wives would have found somewhere else to be rather than the Friday night party with us.

Of course, if I could have made a few more putts on the quick, pure greens, I may have dressed like John Daly as one participant did. Thankfully, his partner toned it down and dressed like Rickie Fowler.

One more thing about member-guest events. Why is it that guys can bring a 12 handicap into the event, shoot even par and think no one figures them out? Maybe I need more strokes.

Or maybe I need a team uniform the next time.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Winners, Losers From The Ryder Cup

Checking out the winners and losers from what turned into a spellbinding Ryder Cup:

-- Luke Donald and Ian Poulter. They thrive in the team competition, posting a combined 6-2-0 record. It seemed whenever the European team needed a boost, one of them provided it.

-- Graeme McDowell. If you thought his win at the U.S. Open was a fluke, he showed it wasn’t.

-- Rickie Fowler: It’s rare that a guy can be winless in the Ryder Cup but come out looking better than when he went in. That’s what Fowler did with his four-birdie finish to earn one-half point in Monday’s singles. He showed some serious game when it mattered the most.

-- The 2012 matches at Medinah. Two years away and the anticipation is already building.


-- Television: It was tough enough with the matches being played five hours ahead of East Coast time in Wales but the bad weather, the Monday finish and football season made it a challenge just to keep up with what was – or wasn’t – happening. Too bad. It deserved better.

-- Corey Pavin. The American captain said it before the matches started – players win the cup, captains lose it. His low-key style was the opposite of Colin Montgomerie’s emotional leadership. Fair or not, he didn’t have the same sizzle as Paul Azinger two years ago.

-- Sun Mountain. That’s the company that made the rain suits that leaked so badly that a PGA official bought new suits for the U.S. players in the merchandise tent during play. The leaks were blamed on all the stitching on the suits which included the players’ names on the back. That was a terrible – and tacky -- idea.

-- Phil Mickelson. For whatever reason, he doesn’t get it done enough in the Ryder Cup, going 1-3 this time. His 17 losses are the most in Cup history, surprising for a guy who would seem to thrive in the matches. He said losing his first three matches was the most disappointed he's felt.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Couples Wants, Deserves Ryder Cup Captaincy

Like so many other players in the field at the Ensure Classic at Rock Barn Friday, Fred Couples wanted to know what was happening at the Ryder Cup in Wales.

Bernhard Langer, who was in the mix to be a captain's pick for the European team, said he was glad to be playing in the North Carolina sunshine rather than the rainy mess in Wales.

Tom Kite recalled his seven Ryder Cup experiences as a player and his captaincy at Valderamma in Spain in 1997 when rain also disrupted the proceedings.

Couples, meanwhile, liked hearing that the format had been altered due to the weather and that every player would be on the course on Saturday. He believes the Ryder Cup should be like the Presidents Cup where all the players play rather than creating awkward decisions about who sits and who plays in the Ryder Cup.

On Sunday, Couples turns 51 and he's had a great career but he still wants one thing -- he wants to be the U.S. Ryder Cup captain. He captained the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup team last fall and he'll do it again next year in Australia.

That's great but it's not the Ryder Cup.

Couples deserves to be Ryder Cup captain in 2012, though it may be unlikely given his Presidents Cup commitment.

"Sure," Couples said Friday when asked if he wanted to captain the Ryder Cup team. "But if it doesn't happen, I'll take my two chances with the Presidents Cup as a great time and a great honor and go from there."

When the PGA of America sits down to pick its next Ryder Cup captain, Fred Couples should be the easy answer.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ryder Cup Pairings: Is U.S. In Trouble Already?

When U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin announced his pairings for Friday morning's four-ball matches to start play, he went with three solid and unsurprising teams and one real shocker.

It was no surprise that Pavin matched Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson; Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker; and, Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar.

The eye-opener was Jeff Overton and Bubba Watson together. They're both rookies with a lot of nervous energy that could work well or blow up. Obviously, Pavin is counting on it to produce magic.

It also meant sitting Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan in the morning along with rookie Rickie Fowler and Zach Johnson. That's the tough part of captaining a Ryder Cup -- telling four guys they can't play during each of the first four sessions.

Here's my take on the opening set of matches (on at 2:30 a.m. on ESPN if you're up that early/late):

-- Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson vs. Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer: Talk about a strong start. The Phil-Dustin pairing has been in the works for a while. They get along, they play long-ball and when they get on a roll, watch out.

They're going up against a formidable pair of Europeans, who aren't likely to make many mistakes. Westwood hasn't played a tournament in about two months but reportedly made eight birdies in a practice round at Celtic Manor. Tough to pick a favorite in this one.

-- Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar vs. Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy: You get the feeling European captain Colin Mongomerie is banking on the boys from Northern Ireland to be his stallions this weekend. This is a match the Europeans expect to win. Cink is sneaky good in these events, though, and he'll be a perfect calming influence for Kuchar.

-- Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker vs. Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher: This is a must-win for the Americans. Woods and Stricker were invincible together in the Presidents Cup last fall and need to be that way again if the U.S. is to retain the Cup. Woods gets good vibes playing with Stricker but both have struggled with their putting in recent weeks. That's a concern. A loss in this match could be potentially devastating for the U.S.

-- Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton vs. Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington: Could the two pairings be more different? The Euros have two classic grinders while the U.S. is throwing out power and emotion. This one could swing wildly in either direction. How will Watson and Overton handle the moment? Can Harrington find his missing form? I give the edge to Europe in this one.

It's important for the U.S. to stay even or get a lead early. At first glance, getting out of Friday morning tied 2-2 would feel like a win for the Americans.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Five Ryder Cup Questions With Paul Azinger

Paul Azinger, captain of the victorious 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup team be part of ESPN’s 11-hour coverage on Friday. Before heading to Wales, Azinger talked with me. about what happened two years ago and what he expects this time.

Q: You had 12 PGA Tour wins including a PGA Championship. Where does being captain of a winning U.S. Ryder Cup team rank among your career achievements?

Azinger: It’s head and shoulders above anything else I ever experienced. To take on a leadership role and to represent the United States and those players, it was a gift, really.

Q: You had great success by putting players into four-man pods during the Ryder Cup, matching players with similar personalities. Is that evidence of how influential a captain can be in these matches?

Azinger: I believe the captain can set the tone and create the environment. My priority was to give them ownership. I didn’t feel it was my priority to dictate anything to them.

I asked them to prepare in small groups. I told them there are no short cuts to success but they were the best in the world.

I also told them to be aggressive and to show off for the crowd. I told them they were all big boys and I wasn’t going to be holding their hands.

Q: Do you agree with the perception that the U.S. is an underdog entering these matches?

Azinger: I do believe we’re underdogs for numerous reasons but not because of one glaring reason or one player. We’re playing in a different time zone and they’ll definitely have a home-course advantage.

I think our selection process got our best players there. I can’t argue to take one guy off our team but you could argue that you could take two players off the European team to put two others on.

Q: Some people questioned whether Tiger Woods belongs on the team. What do you think?

Azinger: I saw what some fans were thinking but he absolutely belongs. He’s the No. 1 player in the world. Colin Montgomerie was criticized for leaving the No. 7 player in the world off his team. When (Woods) is not at his best, he still beats virtually everybody.

Q: What are the three things that you’ll be looking closely at as the matches get underway?

Azinger: The first thing is the height of the rough. We have assembled what I think is the longest-hitting Ryder Cup team ever but they maybe aren’t the most accurate team. If the rough is high, it will neutralize their power.

The second thing is the significance of a good start by the American team. If that doesn’t happen, the hole they dig may be too deep.

And third, whoever is behind, I’ll look to see what kind of adjustments they make and will they be enough.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Area golfers advance in Mid-Amateur

Steve Harwell of Mooresville advanced to the round of 16 in the U.S. Mid-Amateur championship with a 1-up victory Tuesday against Tom Krystyn of Denver, Colo., at Atlantic Golf Club in Long Island, N.Y.

Harwell will face Anthony Barrera Wednesday. Barrera advanced with a 6 and 5 victory against Charlotte's Brent Landry.

Rick Cloninger of Fort Mill also advanced, defeating Brian Atkinson of Chicago 1-up. Cloninger will face Greensboro's Scott Harvey Wednesday.

-- Ron Green Jr.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Four Locals Advance In US Mid-Am

Charlotte-area players continue to make a strong showing in the U.S. Mid-Amateur championship with four of them advancing into the second round of match play at Atlantic Golf Club on Long Island, N.Y.

Mooresville's Steve Harwell rolled to a 6 and 4 victory over Tripp Davis of Norman, Ok., the most lopsided victory for local players on Monday.

Charlotte City Am champion Brent Landry advanced by defeating Michael Brown of Cheltenham, Pa., in 19 holes; Huntersville's Joe Jaspers moved on with a 3 and 2 win over Tom Weikmeister of Grand Rapids, Mich.; and, Fort Mill's Rick Cloninger stayed alive with a 3 and 2 win over Robert Gregorski of Appleton, Wisc.

Charlotte's Nolan Mills failed to advance, falling to Bill Jeremiah of West Grove, Pa., 6 and 5.

Play continues on Tuesday.

Locals Make Strong Showing At U.S. Mid-Am

The 64-player match-play bracket in the U.S. Mid-Amateur championship this week bears a strong local presence.

Nolan Mills and Brett Landry of Charlotte, Joe Jaspers of Huntersville, Rick Cloninger of Fort Mill, S.C., and Steve Harwell of Mooresville each survived the windy weekend conditions in Bridgehampton, N.Y. to earn spots in the match-play bracket.

Mills is the most unlikely of the group to advance because until last Thursday, the Charlotte real estate executive wasn't in the field. He got a call on Thursday telling him a spot had become available if he wanted to play and, after shooting 7-over par in two qualifying rounds, Mills moved on to match play.

The match-play bracket is being played at Atlantic Golf Club on Long Island.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

SAS Championship As Good As Advertised

This is my first visit to the SAS Championship at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary and it's as good as I've been told.

It's not a major championship -- the Champions Tour already has too many of those -- but it feels like a big event. The course is strong enough to challenge the players, there's plenty of room for people to move around and the whole thing feels right.

Part of the charm of the Champions Tour is that it's a smaller version of the PGA Tour, allowing fans to get closer to the players. There's a comfort level that's hard to come by at big tour events. At the SAS Championship, everything feels relaxed and comfortable.

It's too bad football season smothers golf because this time of year is ideal golf time. The SAS Championship had a terrific field this week and good-sized galleries. It was hot Friday and Saturday but it finally felt like fall on Sunday.

And if you were at the SAS Championship, it was a nice place to be.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Els Into The Hall Of Fame: It Was Automatic

Ernie Els got what he deserved this week -- a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

There's a solid case to be made against inducting players still in the relative prime of their careers into Halls of Fame but, that aside, Els was a lock to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I voted for him.

He's been among the game's best players for the better part of two decades, winning three major championships, threatening in many more and piling a collection of trophies from around the globe. Could he have won more had he spent less time hopscotching the globe and settled in one place? Probably but he chose a jet-lagged path and he's made the most of it.

His record shows 18 PGA Tour victories including two U.S. Opens and a British Open as well as more than 40 other worldwide wins. Once he turned 40, the threshold for Hall for membership, Els' selection was a foregone conclusion.

Els got the official word in a phone call two weeks ago but didn't tell anyone, even his family "because I knew my daughter, she wouldn't be able to keep it quiet," he said. He broke the news to them Monday night before heading to Atlanta.

A win in Atlanta at the Tour Championship would probably lock down the player of the year award for Els, stacking it on top of his early-season wins.

"Obviously, this makes the year," Els said. "It makes you feel very good about what you've done. You'd like to think you could have done more and can still do more but, obviously, (I'm) very, very honored to be inducted."

Els wil be enshrined May 9, 2011 along with Doug Ford, Jock Hutchison and former president George H.W. Bush. Ford and Hutchison was selected in the veterans category while Bush was honored in the lifetime achievement category.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More Masters TV; Lehman Gets Nice Honor

Sorting through the shag bag:

-- If you can't make it to the Masters in person next year, you're going to be able to see more of it on television.

Tournament officials announced they will extend coverage by one hour on Thursday and Friday -- from 3 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. -- on ESPN. I'm just glad the Masters doesn't go wall to wall like too many events do. It's one of the ways the Masters remains special.

-- Nice move to honor Tom Lehman with the Payne Stewart award. Lehman has been one of the game's good people for many years and he seemed genuinely touched to receive the award given for sportsmanship, integrity and giving back.

-- Commissioner Tim Finchem said the PGA Tour's television ratings for 2010 are down two percent from 2009. Finchem pointed to the absence of Tiger Woods early in the year, huge ratings for the Winter Olympics and strong NFL ratings as contributing factors to an early dip in the television numbers.

-- Finchem said he expects some form of designated tournaments to be adopted at a November board meeting but he declined to get into specifics. The commissioner said several options are on the table for a plan that would push players to add tournaments they don't traditionally play once every four years.

"We're looking at different ways to accomplish what we want to accomplish," Finchem said.

-- The FedEx Cup playoffs may get tweaked again but no decision has been made. Here's why more changes are needed:

Steve Stricker entered the playoffs in second place, is the only player with three top-10 finishes in the three events, and he's fallen to fourth in the points.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Two-Week Race To The End Of Golf Season

The professional golf season has two meaningful weeks left before it submerges again, waiting to surface in HD images from Kapalua next January.

Sure, there are tournaments to be played in the PGA Tour's Fall Series, the place where guys go to save their tour cards against weaker fields but they're lost under football season, the baseball playoffs and the new season of 'Mad Men.'

The next two weeks, however, have plenty to offer, particularly around here where the Champions Tour is making its two-week tour through the SAS Championship in Cary and the Ensure Classic at Rock Barn in Conover.

The primary attention is on the Tour Championship at East Lake, which begins Thursday with 30 players chasing the $10-million FedEx check someone will win. My guess is Matt Kuchar wins the playoffs, capping a storybook season for the Georgia Tech kid. He reinvented his golf swing a few years back, making it flatter than west Texas, and he's become one of the world's best players.

That's what happens when we spend most of our time watching and wondering what's happening with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Suddenly, here's Matt Kuchar doing what they have typically done. And right beside him, there's Dustin Johnson, who has the season's most compelling story.

This is the fourth year of the FedEx Cup playoffs and they still haven't created the wow factor tour officials wanted. Are they better than what came before them? Sure, but then, before the playoffs the season just gradually faded away like Chris DiMarco. Regardless of who wins this weekend, it won't be the chatter around the office on Monday morning unless Phil shoots 58 to win.

The Tour Championship is just a prelude to the Ryder Cup, which, to me, is the most entertaining event in golf alongside the Masters. Match play is fascinating, especially in the Ryder Cup, which is golf's version of a daytime soap opera.

I still like the Europeans to win but I'll hold off a prediction until next week.

If you're around Cary this weekend or around here next weekend, it's worth a ride to check out Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Jay Haas and the Champions Tour guys. After a few down years, the Champions Tour has bounced back in a big way. Couples is a huge part of it, of course, but the 50-somethings still have some magic.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dustin Johnson: Closing In On Player Of The Year

If the vote were taken this week, Dustin Johnson is my player of the year.

I'm leaving a little wiggle room because it's possible Matt Kuchar, the leader prior to the BMW Championship, could nail it down next week with a victory at the Tour Championship at East Lake, a place with which he's very familiar.

Johnson, though, has become a compelling figure for both his golf and the way he's handled a borderline nightmare season. The Sunday meltdown at the US Open would be enough to mentally cripple most guys but not Johnson. Then the wrenching events on the 72nd hole at the PGA Championship could have destroyed him.

Instead, Johnson kept grinding, showed he could shake it off and now he may win the big $10 million prize next week in Atlanta.

Even if he doesn't, he's won an immense amount of respect for his game and his handling of a potentially devastating season.

If the question is where does golf go if Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods don't return to their former glory, the answer may be Johnson. With his power, he's capable of dominating almost any course. He's not the best wedge player in the world but he's good enough and sure to get better.

Before the Open and PGA, Johnson was a tough guy to get a read on. The talent was apparent but he's quiet and, therefore, he didn't jump out as a character. After his summer of discontent, Johnson has emerged as a star and an increasingly popular one.

When the American team heads to Wales in three weeks, Johnson is going to be central to captain Corey Pavin's plan for keeping the Ryder Cup. There's plenty of speculation that Pavin will pair Johnson with Mickelson. Regardless of who Johnson is with, he'll be impossible to ignore.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Fowler A Ryder Cup Risk -- But Worth It

Captain Corey Pavin said he went with a gut feeling in naming 21-year old Rickie Fowler to the U.S. Ryder Cup team, the most surprising of his four captain’s picks announced Tuesday.

He picked Fowler over Lucas Glover, Anthony Kim, Ben Crane, Ryan Palmer, Charley Hoffman and who knows how many others for the final spot on the squad. That’s assuming that Tiger Woods, Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson were virtual automatics.

By the way, did anyone seriously think Charley Hoffman was going to make the team based on one great putting Sunday?

The Fowler pick is a risk. He still hasn’t won on the PGA Tour and when he’s been in contention – most notably the Waste Management Phoenix Open – he played it safe which seems contrary to his style.

But it's a risk worth taking.

Pavin now has two players – Jeff Overton is the other – who have never won a PGA Tour event. Is that a big deal? Only if the U.S. loses in which case everything is a big deal.

Fowler has been making cuts but no noise since his second-place finish in The Memorial more than three months ago. However, Fowler had a 7-1 career record in the Walker Cup, which speaks to his knack for match play.

Fowler gives Pavin five rookies on his team but that may not be a huge issue considering the European team has six rookies.

I can see Pavin pairing Fowler with Phil Mickelson in much the same way Paul Azinger put Kim and Mickelson together two years ago. Other than risking a charisma overload, it would give Fowler a Ryder Cup veteran alongside in Wales.

Others have suggested Mickelson with Dustin Johnson. Not bad, either.

It's a fresh canvas for Pavin, considering how different this Ryder Cup roster is from the last one. Only one pairing at Valhalla -- Mickelson and Hunter Mahan were together in the Saturday afternoon four-ball match -- can be dupllicated at Celtic Manor.

Unless Pavin just likes to be contrary, he'll put Tiger with Steve Stricker because both of them like it that way and they laid waste to the International team together in the Presidents Cup.

Would Pavin dare put Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson together for one match? Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson are ideal complements to the newcomers.

This is likely the first of many Ryder Cup teams of which Fowler will be a part. If he can handle wearing the team uniforms, he can handle the golf.

A month ago, the European team looked like an overwhelming favorite. Not anymore.

Friday, September 03, 2010

And The Four US Ryder Cup Captain's Picks Are...

On Tuesday, it's Corey Pavin's turn to be second-guessed, not that the past couple months of his Ryder Cup captaincy haven't been on the turbulent side.

The whole Tiger Woods question has been silly and Pavin managed to fuel the fire whether he meant to or not. Now he has to pick four players to complete his Ryder Cup team and, no matter how justifiable the picks may be, he's going to criticized for at least some of his choices. It's the nature of the beast.

His counterpart, Colin Montgomerie, got roasted last week when he picked Edoardo Molinari, Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington because it meant he left off Paul Casey, the eighth-ranked player in the world, and Justin Rose, the 23rd-ranked player. But if he left Harrington off the team -- admittedly the three-time major champion hasn't played well in a while -- it would have provoked some criticism

Then again, whatever Monty does provokes criticism from the British press.

Pavin is getting plenty of advice so he doesn't need mine but if I were adding four players to this Ryder Cup team, here's who I'd add:

-- Tiger Woods.

He's the No. 1 player in the world. He belongs on the team.

Maybe he hasn't cared about the Ryder Cup as much as some players in the past but he'll care this time. I don't buy the notion that he'd be a distraction in the team room. I think guys want him there. If you could have Tiger Woods playing for your team, you'd take him, too.

-- Zach Johnson.

A virtual lock, I'm thinking. He's been super-steady all year. He won at Colonial, he tied for third at the PGA Championship and he's made nine straight cuts entering this week.

He can partner with a variety of different players, he's a good putter and he belongs.

-- Stewart Cink.

After a really slow start to the season, Cink has played better the past couple of months. He's had three straight top-20s coming into this week and he's among the most experienced players on Pavin's list.

With a roster that includes rookies Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar, Cink brings seasoning. That will come in handy in Wales.

-- Fred Couples.

It's a long shot, for sure. But what Freddie brings goes beyond his golf, which has been outstanding this year. He brings camaraderie. He brings that Freddie vibe.

He's played a million of these team events and he captained the President's Cup team last year. if Pavin goes predictable, Couples will be playing the Champions Tour at Rock Barn the first weekend in October. If he goes unpredictable, Rock Barn's loss will be Pavin's gain.

So who does that leave out?

It leaves out Lucas Glover, who was inside the automatic qualifying line until the end. Personally, I want him to make it but he missed the cut at the PGA , withered with the lead over the final nine holes at Greensboro and missed the cut last week at The Barclays. The good news is Pavin spent two hours watching Glover play in Thursday's pro-am outside Boston and Glover was striping it.

It also omits Anthony Kim, who desperately wants to make the team and would have had he not had thumb surgery in the spring. Since returning after the PGA, Kim's game hasn't been sharp enough, which is understandable. It's really hard to leave him off but maybe Pavin take steal a page from Monty's captain's manual and add Kim as an assistant, similar to the role Sergio Garcia has on the European team this year.

Rickie Fowler will be a Ryder Cup player, just not this year. Bo Van Pelt deserves consideration. Ben Crane. Justin Leonard.

Captain Pavin has options. It's a question of which ones he chooses.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Can The PGA And Wells Fargo Event Co-Exist?

Now that the 2017 PGA Championship is official, there are a few things to consider. Among them:

-- It will look and feel very different from the Wachovia/Quail Hollow/Wells Fargo Championship if for no other reason than it will be played in August. It's going to be hot, humid and crowded.

The PGA isn't afraid of heat. It was over 100 at Southern Hills in Tulsa a few years ago and it's going to be a blast furnace in Atlanta and Kiawah Island the next two years. The larger worry here in 2017 may be afternoon thunderstorms, which if they get cranked up on a consistent basis can be a serious problem.

One of the charms of the PGA Tour event here is the weather. Even if it's warm, it's not dead of summer hot. It's easy to be outside. It will sweatier work to watch golf in 2017.

Plus, there will be thousands more spectators. There's no definitive word yet on how many fans will be on site daily but it's likely to be in the 45,000 range, a bump of 10,000 over the maximum on site during the Wells Fargo Championship.

-- Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris believes the club can keep its PGA Tour event if a sponsor is willing to sign on but it will mean moving it away from Quail Hollow in 2016 and 2017. He's suggested Pinehurst No. 2 as an option and, on the surface, that's a good idea. There are a million details to consider -- would Pinehurst even be interested is one, corporate hospitality sales are another -- but keeping the PGA Tour and its date here long-term is worth pursuing.

Word is PGA Tour officials weren't thrilled by the PGA announcement on Tuesday but they couldn't have been surprised. If there was a surprise, it's that the news of the deal finally being done didn't leak sooner. It wasn't completed until recently but it's been in the works for months.

-- There is some concern that the Wells Fargo Championship will feel devalued now that there's a major championship on the calendar. I don't think so.

It's one of the special events on the PGA Tour schedule and long before it rolls around next May, the focus and the excitement will be redirected at what's here, not what's coming. One of the reasons the PGA is coming to Quail Hollow is because of what's there now. If anything, the PGA announcement should enhance the spring tournament.

-- If you're wondering, ticket sales and volunteer sign-ups are years away. Corporate sales don't typically start more than three years out and tickets usually go on sale after that.

If you're considering calling the Wells Fargo Championship office to get on any early list, don't. They run the PGA Tour event and have nothing to do with the PGA Championship at this point.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

'This is a big deal:' Charlotte to host major in 2017

Saying "Charlotte deserves this. Quail Hollow deserves it," PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka officially announced today that Quail Hollow Club will host the 2017 PGA Championship.

The Wells Fargo Championship will continue through 2014, but club president Johnny Harris said there have been no discussions about extending the PGA Tour event
though it remains a possibility.

Gov. Bev Perdue and Mayor Anthony Foxx were among the political leaders who attended the announcement.

"This is a big deal in North Carolina," Perdue said.

Said Tiger Woods, the world's top-ranked golfer: "Quail Hollow is an outstanding golf course that has the qualities to host a major. This is Charlotte's first major, and the people there, and in the surrounding areas, understand and appreciate great golf."

- Ron Green Jr.

Monday, August 30, 2010

If The PGA Comes To Quail What About...?

When it becomes official on Tuesday that Quail Hollow will host a future PGA Championship -- most likely in 2017 -- it will answer one question but raise others. Among the question that remain are:

-- What happens to the Wells Fargo Championship?

If Wells Fargo or another corporation wants to keep the tournament going beyond 2014 when the current contract expires, that could happen. But first a sponsor must agree to extend the tournament and that's not likely to happen until after the next round of television negotiations between the PGA Tour and the networks are complete.

The 2014 expiration date is as long as any tour event is locked in right now so the Charlotte event isn't staring at a deadline that other events don't have. Some aren't locked in that long. Greensboro was thrilled last week to announce an extension with Wyndham to 2012.

If the PGA Tour event were to continue, it would have to move at least one year (2017) because of the grass situation. They'll play a full bermuda grass golf course in August for the PGA. They play on overseeded rye in May for the tour event. They can't get the bermuda grown in early enough to play it in May and they can't kill out the rye and get the bermuda in well enough to be ready in August. The solution: Play elsewhere at least one year.

-- What about the greens?

When Phil Mickelson complained about the greens this year, he got the attention of many people. Course architect Tom Fazio has been on site and there are some changes in the works. There will be gentle changes to a couple of greens for next year but more dramatic changes likely down the line.

-- Will Quail stick with bentgrass greens?

Maybe the question is will any course around here stick with bentgrass greens much longer given the way the heat has tortured them this summer. Quail, like other courses, will look at other grasses including the new strains of bermuda. The club has the luxury of growing different grasses on practice greens to see how it does. Right now, getting the disease-plagued greens back in good shape is the priority at Quail Hollow.

-- How will a PGA Championship be different from the Wells Fargo Championship?

There will be more infrastructure, which means more corporate suites, a significnatly expanded merchandise area and, generally, more of just about everything. The PGA of America logo will be prominently displayed, a difference from the understated style of the tour event at Quail Hollow.

There won't be any questions about whether the top players will be at Quail Hollow. The PGA Championship annually has the strongest field of the four majors.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Here's Hoping The Heritage Is Just Getting Started

The official announcement today that the Heritage Classic will be played in 2011 is excellent news.

It doesn't draw the strongest field on tour but it has become, to use Davis Love III's words, an iconic event on the PGA Tour with its images of the lighthouse, Calibogue Sound and the Harbour Town Golf Links. Losing the Heritage would have been a huge loss for the PGA Tour.

There's still the significant issue of securing a title sponsor for 2012 and beyond, an effort that is ongoing, but locking down the 2011 date buys time to do that. Will a company decide it's worth the investment? Hopefully, but these are different times, in case you hadn't noticed.

The Heritage won't immediately follow the Masters next year but it will fall on Easter week, which should help the attendance while making getting a restaurant reservation even more difficult. In 2012, assuming the tournament continues, it will move back to the week after the Masters where it's a perfect fit.

It will be played the same week at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf Champions Tour event in Savannah, Ga., next year, awkward bit of scheduling with two big events within a one-hour drive of each other. It's even closer if you're going by boat.

If you've ever attended the Heritage, you know why it's special. It's small, relaxed and the way a golf tournament should be. It's a pleasure to watch golf there. The crowds are good but it's never hard to see the action. The setting is superb and it falls at the perfect time for the island, the tour and the players.

It's been played 42 straight years at Harbour Town. I hope that's just the beginning.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Welcome To The Future: Cell Phones At Tour Events

A few thousand fans were gathered around the 18th green Sunday afternoon at Sedgefield Country Club as Arjun Atwal prepared to knock in the six-foot putt that won him the Wyndham Championship and something interesting happened.

Not a single cell phone rang.

Last week was the first official test of allowing cell phones -- or mobile devices as the signs on site called them -- into a PGA Tour event and it came off just fine. The silent buttons worked.

Cell phones ring at every PGA Tour event whether they've been allowed in or not. Fans bring them in and use them. By saying it was okay -- and using concession areas as acceptable places to take and make calls -- the Wyndham Championship took a gamble that phones wouldn't interrupt play.

They didn't.

That doesn't mean it won't happen at future events but it didn't happen last week.

My guess is the tour will give it another try somewhere this fall and, perhaps as early as next year, allow cell phones into events.

I'm enough of a traditionalist that the idea initially bothered me but I know we live in a different time. I carry my cell phone with me most places I go just in case I need it. Even on the golf course, though not always.

As Mark Brazil, the Wyndham tournament director and one of the people who promoted the idea, said, just because one person doesn't want cell phones at a golf tournament doesn't mean they should tell others they can't have them if they're not disrupting play.

Talking to several players about it last week, none seem bothered by allowing the phones in. They figure fans are bringing them anyway because they see -- and occasionally -- hear them. Times have changed. The tour has to change with them.

Tell a potential spectator he can't have his phone with him for the five or six hours he's going to watch a golf tournament and you're going to lose some spectators. That's not in anyone's best interest these days.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Will Tour Reshuffle Leave Hilton Head Out In 2011?

One question has been answered about the 2011 version of the PGA Tour's annual stop on Hilton Head Island -- it won't be played in its traditional spot the week after the Masters.

A second question remains: Will it be played at all?

Multiple outlets have confirmed that in 2011 the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio will be played the week after the Masters, taking the spot that has belonged to the event played at Harbour Town for years. If the Hilton Head event isn't the week after Augusta, when will it be played?

There are indications it will be played two weeks after the Masters -- April 18-24 -- if the PGA Tour and local organizers can finalize a deal to assure the tournament can continue. It has been without a title sponsor since Verizon announced it would end its agreement with the tournament after the 2010 event.

Simon Fraser, chairman of the Heritage Classic Foundation, was quoted recently saying the organization has secured enough money to assure the event will be played next year but he wouldn't say when. Tournament director Steve Wilmot was unavailable for comment late Thursday.

Next year, the calendar allows for three events between the Masters and the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, one more than in recent years. That means that San Antonio and New Orleans will fill two spots but the middle one remains undetermined.

It has led to speculation that the Wyndham Championship, being played in Greensboro this week, could work its way into the mid-April spot if the Hilton Head tournament does not continue. Wyndham Worldwide announced this week it has extended its title sponsorship of the Greensboro event through 2012.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The PGA: Memorable For All The Wrong Reasons

I know Dustin Johnson did it to himself. The rules, strange as golf rules can be, were handed to him before the PGA Championship began and he didn't bother to read them. That doesn't make him different from most of the pros who tee it up week to week but it led to his awful gaffe Sunday at Whistling Straits.

The local rules were reportedly even taped to mirrors in the locker room to remind players to pay attention because Whistling Straits -- one wildly different place -- has more bunkers than can be counted and and everyone was forewarned.

But the way the PGA Championship ended was a mess and there was plenty of blame to pass around. Johnson is the guy who suffers the most though he deserves credit for taking questions and explaining what happened, no matter how embarrassed and angry and frustrated he must have felt. He could have skulked away but he didn't and, in the weird way sports works, he has thousands more fans today than he did two days ago.

But there's something about Whistling Straits that seems just too contrived for my taste. It's beautiful to look at but it strikes me as borderline goofy. It's the only place where I've covered a golf tournament and they handed out medical reports detailing how many spectators were injured trying to watch the action while climbing the manmade dunes.

It has a terrible finishing hole and the bunkering is over the top. Hundreds of them are on the course for effect, not actually considered to be play. That's why most of the bunkers aren't manicured and why Johnson didn't realize he was in a bunker on Sunday afternoon, since it had been filled with spectators moments earlier.

Here's another question: If you're going to have a rules official walking with the final group, shouldn't that person be there to advise a player if he's in a hazard? Especially at Whistling Straits, where no one's quite sure where the bunkers end and the rest of the course begins?

Johnson would have been wise to ask, obviously, but he didn't.

There was nothing wrong with what the PGA of America did in penalizing Johnson two strokes for grounding his club in a hazard. They followed the rules.

But the whole thing felt like a mess. The week started with the ugly Corey Pavin-Jim Grey episode and it ended with Martin Kaymer winning a tournament that will be remembered for what happened to Dustin Johnson.

It gave Whistling Straits a little piece of golf history. But not the kind anyone or any place can feel good about.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Harris "Optimistic" Quail Will Land A PGA

Quail Hollow Club president Johnny Harris said Saturday that he is optimistic that the club can soon finalize an agreement with the PGA of America to host a future PGA Championship though no agreement has been reached.

"We continue to have active discussions and we're optimistic but nothing has been consummated," Harris said.

The club has had a long-standing interest in hosting a major championship and the 2017 PGA Championship is the next available open date on the event's schedule. Quail Hollow would also be open to hosting the Ryder Cup matches though the next open date on American soil is in 2024.

Harris and others from Quail Hollow visited Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis., on Thursday, site of this year's PGA Championship.

PGA of America officials have visited Quail Hollow to study its viability as host of a major championship and were satisfied it could handle the infrastructure necessary for a major.

A future PGA Championship would not necessarily mean the end of the annual Wells Fargo Championship. The PGA Tour event is under contract through 2014 and Harris said the club would be open to keeping its annual tour stop while adding a major championship.

"They are not mutually exclusive," Harris said.

If Quail Hollow were to land a PGA Championship, it would be played in August and would necessitate moving the Wells Fargo Championship for one year if the PGA Tour event continues beyond 2014.

Harris said Quail Hollow has had discussions with other major golf organizations about future events but declined to specify them.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Talking Golf With Mark Rolfing

Mark Rolfing is in town this week, hosting The Golf Channel's coverage of the U.S. Women's Amateur at Charlotte Country Club. Rolfing said it's his first visit to Charlotte.

This is Rolfing's 25th year in television, having become one of the most familiar faces and voices on NBC's coverage of The Players, The U.S. Open and the Ryder Cup, along with his work with The Golf Channel.

We talked for a few minutes earlier this week about a variety of golf-related subjects. Here are Rolfing's thoughts on a variety of subjects:

On his foundation, the Mark and Debi Rolfing Charitable Foundation, taking over management of the SBS Championship, the season-opening PGA Tour event in Hawaii, where he lives:
MR: "The event was in trouble and I stepped in to help out with the foundation I have. The ship was going down. We needed a plan for it.

"What we want to is create an all-star concept for the first event of the year. Golf doesn't have an all-star game. The way it's been, the PGA Tour season starts all of a sudden on a Thursday.

"We want to do things starting the Sunday before and through the Wednesday before the tournament starts to make it like an All-Star game in other sports. I can see having a long-drive contest, maybe some kind of all-star 'Big Break' competition and I've always thought about having the pros play with their caddies in a little event."

On Tiger Woods' struggles this year: MR: "Just when you think things may be returning to normal, they always seem to take a different turn. In a lot of ways, it's been good to have more attention on other players but the general public and the casual golf fan still want to see Tiger and see him play well. It's reflected in the (television) ratings."

On Phil Mickelson:
MR: "I've always looked at him as a mad scientist kind of guy. He loves to concoct things out of what would appear to be nothing whether it's with the shots he hits or the things he does in every day life. He's a curious George type of guy."

With a new television deal to be negotiated in the coming months, there has been talk about enhancing telecasts by perhaps doing on-course interviews with players. What do you think?
MR: "I'm not a fan of on-course interviews because the players never say anything worthwhile. The best audio going right now is between the player and their caddie. At NBC, we really try not to talk over that.

"I don't see on-course interviews being a big part of telecasts."

On his 'Global Golf Adventure' television specials, the latest of which will air Sunday, Sept. 5 at 2:30 on NBC:
MR: "It's the first golf travel show on network television and it's been successful beyond my expectations. We did the first one in Hawaii, then went to Bermuda then to Wales.

"This one will be different. It's at Pebble Beach and I'll be reliving the final round of the U.S. Open, which to me was one of the strangest days I've ever seen. I'm looking at it through the eyes of Graeme McDowell. I sat down with him in Akron and had him to go back in time to that day. It's sort of a chronology of what happened that day."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Five Picks -- Not Tiger Or Phil -- To Win The PGA

Trying to pick a winner of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits which is more of a target-style course than it initially appears, is pure guesswork. But figuring neither Tiger Woods nor Phil Mickelson drive it straight enough, here are five picks to win the PGA Championship:
1. Steve Stricker: He’s due to win a major and how perfect would it be if it came in his home state of Wisconsin?
2. Hunter Mahan: Winning the WGC event last week was a huge step for him. Maybe a major is next.
3. Sean O’Hair: Like Mahan – and maybe soon Tiger Woods – he’s playing well with help from teacher Sean Foley.
4. Rory McIlroy: He caught a bad break with the weather or he’d have won the British Open.
5. Justin Leonard: Had a chance to win the 2004 PGA at Whistling Straits.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Can Tiger Afford To Sit Out The Ryder Cup?

Tiger Woods was right Sunday when he said he shouldn't be picked to be part of the U.S. Ryder Cup team if he's going to play like he did at Firestone last week -- where he couldn't have won the club championship the way he chopped it around there.

But can Tiger afford to take a pass on the Ryder Cup?

He looked at Firestone like a man disgusted with his game and disengaged from the competitive chase. Through all the years, he's never given up but he essentially surrendered Saturday afternoon when he basically walked from one lousy pitch shot to another on the 18th hole. Hard to blame him. If you play golf, you've been there.

Tiger said his game is not far from where it was in the late '90s when he was rebuilding his swing. Right now, it looks like I did in junior high shop class -- with a bunch of pieces but not sure how to fit them together.

Unless he surprises all of us, himself included, Tiger isn't likely to be a factor at the PGA Championship this week, which means he won't earn one of the eight automatic spots on the Ryder Cup team. That leaves it to captain Corey Pavin and Woods to decide if he'll be in Wales this fall.

I've always contended he belonged because he's Tiger and his game could come rushing back. Even with a dull edge, he's intimidating and imposing. But right now he looks lost and it's reasonable to ask if he should be picked for the team.

Given the bruises to his image already, can Woods turn down the chance to represent his country without being criticized for it? He's never been a big fan of the Ryder Cup, at least that's the feeling he gives off, but Woods understands what it means. You want a fifth major? It's the Ryder Cup.

For a change, Woods needs the Ryder Cup. It won't be all about him in Wales. It will be about playing with Steve Stricker and being in the team room. It's about the spirit of the thing and looking at Woods these days, it's apparent he needs something to change his spirit.

Friday, August 06, 2010

On Second Thought...

Okay, maybe this isn't the week Tiger Woods wins again.

He's slapping it around Firestone this week like he doesn't know where he's going -- that's because he apparently doesn't know where it's going -- and there's no sign of it coming back quickly.

His game is a mess. He used to turn 74 into 70. Now he turns 74 into 74.

Given all that's happened the past 10 months, every week now is a referendum on his golf game. He's not winning many votes and he's not winning any tournaments.

And he's wearing a white belt.

Who is this guy?

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Is This The Week Tiger Finally Wins Again?

If you want to get into numbers crunching regarding Tiger Woods' there are plenty to crunch.

How about this one that Woods wasn't aware of until asked about it Wednesday: He's won 12 of 17 tournaments he's played after the British Open since 2006. I know, that's really parsing it but, still, 12 out of 17 is pretty good from the foul line and insane in golf tournaments.

Then there are these statistical factoids unearthed by another reporter:

In 2008, Woods made 93.5 percent of his putts between five and 15 feet. That's beyond outrageous if you didn't know. This year, he's making 44.3 percent. That's as average as a burger and fries.

Here's another one from the same study of Tiger's fall to mortaldom: On shots from 100 to 125 yards, Woods has fallen from first on tour (in accuracy) to 192nd. No wonder he hasn't won.

Here it is August and Tiger ranks 111th in FedEx Cup points, which means he may not qualify for more than one playoff event if he doesn't get his swoosh in gear. He's ninth in Ryder Cup points and only eight automatically make the team (oooh, I wonder if Corey Pavin will pick him) and he's 80th on the money list (where he makes his spending money).

All of that leads us to this week, the World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, where Tiger (pardon another stat) has won seven of the last 10 times he's teed it up. But, as we all know, this year is different.

Since he showed up that Monday morning at Augusta National, we've been waiting to see the old Tiger and, except for Saturday afternoon at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, he's gone missing. He's been there in body, but perhaps not in mind and spirit.

This week at Firestone figures to be the week we get a proper read on where Woods and his golf game are. He admits he's putted like a 12-handicap at the same time he's finally figured out how to drive it in the fairway again.

His practice time has been gnawed away by other responsiblities. His kids. Perhaps his lawyers.

Tiger's return to his former glory is now in question.

This is his time of year. He says he feels his game coming together. This week he's playing Firestone. Next week, the PGA Championship.

He's been through longer winless spells as a pro. But not one quite like this one.

Will it end soon? Even Tiger probably wonders.

Monday, August 02, 2010

59: It's Not Such A Private Club These Days

A few bunker shots while wondering who'll be the next player to shoot 59 this summer:

-- There was a time when I could name every Super Bowl winner in order but as the years went by and the list got longer, I couldn't remember them all.

The same thing may be happening with the list of PGA Tour players who have broken 60 in competition. It was easy when it was just Al Geiberger. Then came Chip Beck. Then David Duval. Then no one for a long time.

This summer Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby have done it. It's not that easy but there has been a remarkable run of really low scores this year. There was Trevor Murphy's 56 and the 57 by Bobby Wyatt last week in Alabama.

It's easy to say it's because the balls and the equipment are too good for the courses being played today. But the equipment hasn't changed appreciably in the last couple of years -- the ball still desperately needs to be rolled back -- and they weren't posting these numbers last year.

Give the best players firm fairways and soft greens and, unless the course is 8,000 yards long, they're going to treat it like an all-you-can-eat buffet. It was fun to watch players making buckets of birdies at the Greenbrier and you knew someone was going to flirt with 50-something. Sure enough, J.B. Holmes flirted with it and Appleby knocked it down, a nice win for a guy whose game had gone on walkabout a couple of years ago.

-- Consider this for a moment: Yani Tseng is 21 years old and she's already won three of the four major championships in women's professional golf. She picked up her second major Sunday at the Ricoh Women's British Open, changing the seemingly ever-changing question of who the best player in women's golf is.

Right now, she wins the argument regardless of what the world rankings say.

-- Trevor Banks of Lancaster, S.C., won the Carolina Am Sunday at Carolina Lakes Golf Club in Indian Land by four strokes over Jacob Eggers of Vilas. Both players earned exemptions into the pre-qualifying tournament for the Wyndham Championship next week in Greensboro.

-- Charlotte's Chris Brady was eliminated from The Golf Channel's 'Big Break Sandals Resort' last week. She made it through the first five rounds of competition.

-- Tiger Woods has won seven of 10 times he's played the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. If he's going to win this year, this week's World Golf Championship would seem to be the place he'd do it. But he was the favorite at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews this year and we saw how those turned out.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Will Donald Trump Buy The Point Lake And Golf Club?

Donald Trump, the superstar developer with a passion for golf, is reportedly interested in buying The Point Lake and Golf Club located north of Charlotte on Lake Norman.

Officials from Trump's company have met with a members advisory group at The Point to discuss a possible sale of the club which is built around a Greg Norman-designed golf course.

"Discussions continue," said Lou Ascanio, a member of the club's advisory committee. "It's an option we're looking at but it's not imminent."

Calls to the Trump golf organization were not returned.

Trump has built an impressive portfolio of golf courses. His company owns eight courses in the United States and Puerto Rico and Trump is in the process of building a high-profile and controversial golf development in Aberdeen, Scotland.

The Point is owned by the members but operated by Crescent Communities. Asccanio said the club is scheduled be turned over from Crescent to the membership no later than 2012 which led to the communication with the Trump organization. Any sale would have to be voted on by the club membership.

The Point has more than 1,100 members according to the club website with more than 60 percent holding an equity membership.

Trump's son, Eric, has been on site and was part of a four-hour meeting with the club's advisory board.

"(Trump) wants it," said an individual who attended the meetings but asked not to be identified. "He wants to put his touch and fingerprints on every aspect of it."

Ascanio said discussions are part of an overall process to determine the club's future.

"There are a number of factors we're weighing in determining if that's the right way to go," Ascanio said.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A $1-Million Hole-In-One And Fans Win, Too

Who needs the lottery when you have the 18th hole at this week's Greenbrier Classic?

Any golfer that aces the 162-yard, par-3 finishing hole at this week's PGA Tour event -- the inaugural event at the West Virginia resort -- will win $1-million and the fans who see it will cash in, too.

The idea, which borders on brilliant, will award any golfer making an ace at the 18th $250,000 from the $1-million bonus pool. The other $750,000 will go to the tournament's designated charity.

And the fans who are in the bleachers to see it happen will each receive $100.

It's all part of Greenbrier owner Jim Justice's design to create something special at the resort he's reenergizing.

And if there's more than one ace at the 18th hole, the payoffs will continue with the fans getting a larger piece of the piece. According to, there will be $1-million for every ace with fans getting $500 for the second ace and $1,000 if there's a third. Of course, they have to be in the stands when they happen but that's enough to fill the bleachers around the 18th hole every day.

In a time when attendance at golf tournaments, like many other sporting events, has gone flat or declining, it's an intriguing idea.

If you're wondering, the Greenbrier is only a 4-1/2 hour drive from Charlotte if you're feeling lucky.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Will Allowing Phones At G'boro Be A Bad Call?

When marshals ask for silence at the Wyndham Championship next month at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, they're not going to be talking just to the spectators.

They're going to be talking to their cell phones, too.

In an experiment that has the potential to backfire, the Wyndham Championship will allow spectators to bring their cell phones to the tournament every day provided they keep the ringers turned off, they don't use the camera function Thursday through Sunday and they only talk on the phones in designated areas away from play.

Cell phones and golf tournaments have traditionally been a bad match. Ringers tend to go off at the wrong time or chatterboxes who snuck their phone in wind up with their conversation drifting over to a green where someone's trying to do their work.

The best golf tournament/cell phone policy has been something close to what they have at the Masters: Don't even think about it.

But officials at the Wyndham Championship, with the blessing of the tour, are going to see if they can play a tournament with any number of smart phones vibrating in the pockets of the spectators. Good luck.

In theory, it should work.

"People are going to sneak them in anyway," defending Wyndham champion Ryan Moore said Tuesday. "It's adults. If you let people bring them out there, they'll probably respect the fact you did and they'll probably use those (designated) areas."

That's the rationale of tournament director Mark Brazil, who has a good feel for what works at tournaments.

"I'm confident we'll be fine with this," Brazil said.

Most fans will be good with it, though, truth be told, most fans won't need to have their phones with them. They've become so much a part of us now that going someplace without our phone feels like leaving home without your pants.

The tricky part will be corraling the few people who will believe that just because they've been allowed to bring their phone to the tournament, they're free to do party planning along the 14th fairway or 6th tee.

Calling a friend to bring you a beer to the 8th green is not what tournament officials have in mind.

It's an experiment that will be watched closely.

But not by the folks who run the Masters.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Old North State Club: It's Golf The Right Way

We would like all to be talked about the way golfers talk about the Old North State Club.

I've heard people say they don't get Pinehurst No. 2 (I don't get people who say that) or they don't like one course or another for whatever reasons. Sometimes it's the greens they don't like. Or the greens fees.

Sometimes they played poorly so they developed an immediate dislike for a place that probably deserves a second chance. I have a few places on my do-not-go-back list that have landed there through little fault of their own but they happened to be the course where my driver deserted me, my short game went AWOL and even my pitch-out game left me.

The Old North State Club, located on the edge of Badin Lake at Uwharrie Point, is on seemingly everyone's favorites list. For good reason. There are few places where playing 18 holes if more fun than at the Old North State Club.

I was reminded of that over the weekend when a friend, Blake Okland, invited me to play the Tom Fazio layout with the dynamic lakeside finish. It was close to 100 degrees both days we played, temperatures that would typically earn a 'no thank you' from me. But the Old North State Club was worth the sweat.

There are harder golf courses and there are better golf courses than Old North State but when you put it all together, there aren't many that give you the pleasure you get alongside Badin Lake. And that's the point of playing golf isn't it, to have fun?

The par-3 holes don't send you reaching for your hybrid on every tee shot and a good drive makes most of the par-4s easy to reach with your second shot. If anything, the par-5s may be a touch on the soft side, though it's easy to make a big number if you're not careful (I speak from experience, recent experience).

The finish, starting with the par-4 16th hole, is among the most scenic you'll find, bringing the lake directly into play. It's demanding -- play the last three holes even par and you'll probably be on the collecting end of the wagers -- but it's exciting. You want to hit the shots coming in and if you pull them off, you've done something of which you can be proud.

If you don't, you can take a moment and look around. There aren't many better places to be than on the golf course at Old North State. If you've been there, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't and get the chance to go, don't miss it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bunker Shots: Winless Tiger And Friday Night Lights

A few bunker shots while waiting out the heat:
-- It's hard to believe the Fed Ex Cup playoffs start in just over a month. That means the PGA Tour season is two months away from being finished. If Tiger's going to win this year, the window is closing.
I was certain earlier this year that he would win. I'm less sure now because of his putting.
-- The U.S. Women's Amateur is three weeks away at Charlotte Country Club and the plan is for the women to play a mixed set of tees for the championship. They won't play it all the way back -- it's almost too hard for anyone back there -- but they'll see it at more than 6,500 yards which is plenty. It will be a serious test of golf.
-- Trevor Murphy's 56 is mind boggling. Annika Sorenstam talked in her prime about her of shooting 54 -- hitting every green in regulation and one-putting -- and it seemed laughable. Then Murphy nearly did it.
I know it was a short golf course with five par-4s less than 330 yards and all of that but it's still 56.
-- If you don't watch 'Friday Night Lights,' do yourself a favor and check it out this summer (it's on NBC Friday nights). It's so well done with great characters and actors who make them feel like people you'd like to know. The coach-wife chemistry on the show helps set it apart but there's so much that's good about it.
-- If you're planning a trip to Scotland, let me warn you about one thing: They have haggis-flavored potato chips. Beware.
-- It's no surprise that television ratings for the British Open were lousy. It's ultimately about drama and, sadly, there was none at the Old Course.
-- R&A officials didn't immediately give St. Andrews the 2015 Open Championship, though it's assumed the Old Course will host the event every five years. It should go there every five years. The place just feels right.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What If Phil Had Dominated Like Oosthuizan?

Dispatches from Scotland, where the Open Championship is over and gone but where I remain, at least until Thursday:

-- Here's a question to ponder: If Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson had won the Open Championship in the same way Louis Oosthuizan did --by seven shots in a performance that bleached the drama out of the event -- how would different would the perception be?

Because it was Oosthuizan, the tournament became a bore. Had Tiger done the same thing, we'd be talking (and I'd be writing) about it being one of the most dominating performances in his career. Granted, Tiger has 14 majors, Oosthuizan now has one.

It's too bad the tournament wasn't better from a spectator standpoint. It fell flat, even at the Old Course. Tournament officials felt it, everyone felt it.

There were empty sections in the massive grandstands during the tournament. Part of it was due to the generally foul weather that hit the tournament. Another part was an attendance dip this year, though more than 200,000 fans were on site through the week.

The changes to the Road Hole -- the extra length from a new tee -- worked just fine. The hole remains one of the hardest pars in golf and I don't think putting the tee back compromised anything.

-- Did Oosthuizan get a break with the weather?

Of course he did. But that's part of tournament golf and especially at the Open Championship where they still insist on starting every player from the first tee. If they double-teed them as they do at every other event (starting on 1 and 10 in morning and afternoon waves), it might have helped even out the conditions.

As it was Oosthuizan seemed to catch a bad break playing midday Thursday when conditions began to worsen but he got the best of it by far Friday morning before the winds came howling.

Conditions change. At Hilton Head each April, the players who play early on Thursday and Friday almost always shoot lower scores because the wind picks up in the afternoon. Early players also get the best greens.

Open Championship officials say they don't intend to start double teeing players in the future, though it would be a nice move because it would make for a shorter day for everyone and make the conditions closer to equal.

-- Having heard so much about how great Kingsbarns Golf Club is, I got to see it Saturday and it's spectacular. It's about five miles down the coast from St. Andrews and it's among the best courses I've ever played.

The setting is stunning and they did a terrific job of fitting a fair course into an extraordinary location.

It's so good that several tour players were there Saturday and Sunday while waiting to catch the charter back to the Canadian Open Sunday night. Gary Player was there on Sunday as were Mike Weir, Scott Verplank and Ryan Moore, among others. And Verplank played Kingsbarns after playing the final round of the Open that morning.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

What Will Louis And Tiger Do Next?

Final thoughts from a surprising Open Championship at St. Andrews:

-- Now that Louis Oosthuizen has won at Augusta and St. Andrews this year -- he won the par-3 tournament at the Masters in April -- it will be interesting to see where his career goes from here. For a while now, he's been one of those guys lurking on the fringe of stardom but no one saw it coming in such dramatic style.

Oosthuizen dominated this Open, shooting 65 on Thursday, tacking on a 67 in the wind on Friday and cruising from there. Players have those charmed weeks but they rarely come with the Claret Jug on the line at the Old Course, especially when you've made just one previous cut in your major championship career.

Maybe this sets the new Oosty on a different career path. Or, maybe he's a guy like Paul Lawrie who has a nice career that includes an unlikely victory in the Open Championship.

-- Everybody wonders what Tiger Woods will do next.

I think he'll work on his game, get ready for the World Golf Championship event at Firestone in three weeks and try to figure out what's happened to his putting. Asked after his round Sunday if sticking the Scotty Cameron putter back in his bag for the final 18 holes was a sign he'll stick with it, Woods said he didn't know.

He's driving the ball well, better than he has in a couple of years, and his iron play is solid if not spectacular. But he can't get the ball in the hole.

There will continue to be speculation about whether he'll part with caddie Steve Williams -- I doubt it -- and whether he'll get a new swing coach -- probably not, at least not until after the season. What he needs, strange as it is to say, is some confidence, especially on the greens.

-- The Old Course showed it can still handle the world's best players. It needs wind but it was built to be played in the wind. When it started blowing, the Old Course could play defense and it did. Against every player but Oosthuizan.

-- Two Americans -- Sean O'Hair and Nick Watney -- finished in the top 10, tying for seventh. Sure, the professional game is more global than it's ever been but not having a challenger at St. Andrews underscored the stagnant state among American touring pros.

The older players -- Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Scott Verplank and Stewart Cink to name a few -- are on the down side of the curve while the younger guys -- Rickie Fowler comes to mind -- aren't there yet. That doesn't mean Mickelson doesn't have several prime years remaining, he should, but it appears American golf needs a transfusion of youthful energy.

-- It was very impressive of Rory McIlroy to put aside his second-round 80 and wind up tied for third.

McIlroy's meltdown on Friday may have been as surprising as Oosthuizan's victory. Rors, as he's called, looked invincible shooting 63 on Thursday and it seemed this might be his major to win. Then it fell apart, an experience that could have gutted him.. Instead, he kept going and equalled his best finish in a major championship.

Rickie Fowler also made an impression, tying for 14th after shooting 79 in the first round.

-- If anyone says there's a clear favorite at the PGA Championship next month at Whistling Straits, don't believe them.

Tiger may be listed as the favorite but if I had to pick one guy to beat right now, I'd start with Lee Westwood. Then again, it seems as if there's always one guy who beats Westwood in the majors.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The 18th At The Old Course: Simply Sublime

When you first see the 18th hole at the Old Course, all 357 yards of it, two thoughts come immediately to mind:

-- Wow, it's close to the shops that border its right side:

-- And, it has to be the most non-descript finishing hole in major championship golf.

It is close to the shops, close enough that if you were to hit a big old American tourist slice, you could one-hop it into the Tom Morris golf shop and have to find your Titleist from among the dozens they have for sale, along with knit caps, towels, shirts and anything else that can hold a St. Andrews logo.

And it isn't much to look at, not at first anyway. The tee sits a few yards away from the more famous 17th hole and the fairway is as wide as Kansas. There's the famous Swilcan Bridge you have to cross after hitting the tee shot and there are no bunkers around the green but the longer you're around it, the more you realize that the 18th hole at the Old Course is really cool.

It lets you fire away, hit a tee shot as hard as you can and it's going to run up there someplace close to the green. And that's where the fun begins.

It's fronted by the Valley of Sin, a big hole just in front of the putting surface, and it's a pain no matter what kind of shot you're trying to play. Pitch it, chip it, putt it, you have to deal with it. And it can embarrass you.

It had players scratching their heads Friday at the Old Course. Vijay Singh putted it up and watched his ball roll back then putted it again and watched it go in. Rory McIlroy, who knows his way around this place despite the way he played the second round, tried to putt it around the Valley of Sin and wound up about 30 feet away.

The hole is beautifully simple but challenging enough to get your attention and keep it. In the Open Championship, it's surrounded by big walls of bleachers and that famous yellow scoreboard. When the Open isn't in town, the 18th green usually has a small gallery anyway. Townspeople and visitors tend to gather around the fence bordering the hole and watch the action.

There are few sweeter moments for an amateur that to hit a shot on the 18th at the Old Course that earns some gentle applause.

At first glance, it looks like there's nothing there but at the 18th hole on the Old Course, everything is there.

Friday, July 16, 2010

European Tour Star Karlsson Moving To Charlotte

Robert Karlsson, a long-time star on the European Tour, is moving to Charlotte with his family and will use the city as his base as he plays both the European and PGA Tours next year. He is moving from Monaco.

The native of Sweden is a 10-time winner on the European Tour and is ranked 31st in the latest world golf rankings. He's at 4-under par through 36 holes in the Open Championship, having made the cut in all three major championships this year.

Karlsson said he has bought a house in the Longview neighborhood and his family will be situated by the time school starts in late August.

"I liked the city when I played there for the first time in 2007," Karlsson said. "I thought, 'This is very nice.' It's a bit European with the four different seasons though the winter is not that long.

"Charlotte works well for the European Tour. I can fly directly into four airports in Europe from there."

Karlsson said he and his wife, Ebba, had considered the move to Charlotte for a while and finalized it this spring. The Karlssons were in Charlotte after he played in the Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head. Because of travel complications caused by the volcanic ash in Iceland, Karlsson and his family couldn't return to Europe.

They decided to go house hunting in Charlotte, found one they liked and the move is underway now.

"It was weird because I was there the week of (the Quail Hollow Championship) but I wasn't playing," Karlsson said. "I was staying in the same hotel as Rory (McIlroy) and Lee (Westwood) and I'd see them but I wasn't in the tournament."

Karlsson's presence in Charlotte adds to the city's growing list of PGA Tour players who call it home. Johnson Wagner, Brendon de Jonge, Mathew Goggin and Fred Couples are also in Charlotte.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rory Compares 63 St. Andrews To 62 At Quail

Just because Rory McIlroy shot 63 in the first round of the Open Championship today at the Old Course, equalling the lowest single round in major championship history, I'm not ready to pronounce his arrival as the next great player.

I may have done that after he shot 62 to win the Quail Hollow Championship. I'm trying to stay ahead of the curve.

It was only one round in perhaps the most benign conditions ever seen at the Old Course but it was a heckuva round, for sure. Without sounding precocious McIlroy basically said he left a couple of shots out there and he was right. Tiger essentially said the same thing about his 67 and Phil Mickelson let the tournament get away from him. He string of pars said all that needed to be said.

McIlroy was asked to compare his 63 at the Old Course to his final-round 62 at Quail Hollow that won him his first PGA Tour event.

"Two completely different circumstances," McIlroy said. "I was going out at Quail Hollow four or five shots off the lead and I was just going out there to try and shoot a good number. I got tied for the lead after nine holes that day and the back nine at Quail Hollow that was very special to me. The front nine sort of got me into position but the back nine was where I sort of put the tournament to bed, I suppose.

"I don't know, it's hard to compare because they're two completely different circumstances but this is definitely up there as one of the best rounds I've played."

As if you couldn 't tell, McIlroy loves the Old Course. Thursday was his ninth round at the Old Course and when asked if he remembers what he shot previously, he didn't hesitate.

"Yeah," he said. "69, 69, 67, 68, 67, 68, 65, 69, 63."

Maybe we've seen golf's future and its name is Rory McIlroy.

John Daly Turns Into Mild Thing And It Works

When you consider all that has happened at the Old Course in the centuries that golf has been played here, few match John Daly's victory in the Open Championship here 15 years ago for pure curiosity.

Even Daly didn't know what to say in 1995 when he won.

Just imagine if what began with a first-round 66 today were to result in another Daly victory at the Old Course.

That's getting way ahead of things, considering Daly's 6-under par score Thursday was just part of an ambush on the Old Course, which was left defenseless by a day of heavy rain and not a breath of breeze, at least through the morning.

Considering Daly's mercurial nature, nothing's for sure until it happens -- good or bad. But maybe -- just maybe -- he'll hang in contention this weekend because he loves the Old Course with all its quirks and oddities. He's an odd bird himself so it's, strangely, a good fit because he can swing his driver as hard as he wants and hit it past much of the trouble. It's comforting to him. Peaceful is the word he used.

On the trip over to Scotland, Daly told his girlfriend he was going to win this week. That's not his style. He's usually apologizing for something, not setting his expectations impossibly high.

He looks good. He weighs around 195 pounds after lap band surgery a couple of years ago. He can't eat as much as "of the crap" he once did and he says he's quit drinking. Hasn't had a beer since the surgery in 2008, he said.

Daly had a cigarette in his mouth playing the 18th hole Thursday and a cup of Diet Coke in his hand. Those are his remaining vices. A man can't give up everything.

Once known as Wild Thing, Daly suggested he's more "Mild Thing" these days.

For one day, maybe more, he was the John Daly we haven't seen in a long, long time.

Losing A Few Pounds Isn't Hard At The Open

Among the many things to love about the Open Championship is the opportunity to bet a few pounds on what's happening on the golf course.

Sports wagering is legal in Scotland and the betting shops -- Ladbrokes and William Hill in particular -- were popular places in the run-up to the start. I'll admit to ducking into a shop once, okay twice, just to do some, uh, basic research on the championship.

I'd heard that Tiger had dropped from a 3/1 favorite last week to a 6/1 favorite by Wednesday night. It was true and suddenly the big man, usually a lousy bet because he's such a heavy favorite, had become a popular pick.

Phil Mickelson was 16/1, the same as Rory McIlroy for whom there seems to be a lovefest this week.

If you're so inclined, you can bet on just about anything related to the Open. You can bet on the low American, the low player from Great Britain and Ireland and the low player who doesn't meet either of those nationality requirements. You can bet on the low old guy -- Tom Lehman's the favorite there this year -- and you can bet on Tiger's first-round score.

There were betting lines for the order of finish in Tiger's threesome Thursday with Justin Rose and Camilo Villegas.

John Daly, by the way, went off at 250/1 to win and even money to wear something outrageous.

Some people look for omens. Was Charlotte resident Matthew Goggin a good bet because I ran into him at dinner Tuesday and Wednesday night?

Stepping out of the rain and into a betting shop Wednesday night, I found myself standing in a group of strangers who were glued to television sets mounted on the walls. They were watching horse racing and dog racing, which might suggest they spend a little too much time with the ponies and the greyhounds.

An acquaintance saw the dogs getting ready to run, told me to pick a number and he'd pick a number. We put a pound on it and, a few seconds later, I had won my first bet, though it never went through Ladbroke's. Before I could get out of the shop, I'd lost the pound on a second dog race.

No harm done.

But the golf tournament hadn't begun.