Monday, March 29, 2010

Five Masters Favorites -- One Week Out

One week before Masters week begins and the Tiger show commences, it's time to update the five favorites list. I can only hope it looks a little more reasonable than my NCAA tournament bracket.

1. Ernie Els

It would be the every-so-often feel-good story the Masters provides (Ben Crenshaw winning after Harvey Penick's death; Phil Mickelson finally winning in 2004, come immediately to mind) if the Big Easy could finally win a green jacket. He's been solid there and was prepping for a playoff when Mickelson rolled in his life-changing putt six years ago. a serious heartbreak for Els.

2. Retief Goosen

The Goose has quietly built an impressive record at Augusta National with four top-five finishes. He's hanging around the top of leader boards again and seems to have his putting under control. Keep an eye on him.

3. Fred Couples

He's won three times in four starts on the Champions Tour and shot 62 in the final round Sunday on a Jack Nicklaus course in the Dominican Republic. I know it's seniors golf but good golf works on any level and Couples can win at Augusta. He's only missed the cut once there and he has that confident look about him. How cool would a Couples win at the Masters be?

4. Phil Mickleson

I'm holding steadfast to the idea that Phil will find what's been missing by the time he gets to the Masters. He shot 58 in a friendly round in Arizona and had one brief shining moment on Friday at Bay Hill before going 75-77 on the weekend. Maybe Dave Stockton will caddie for him at the Masters.

5. Tiger Woods

Enough said.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Harrington Latest Quail Hollow Commitment

Padraig Harrington has added his name to the commitment list for the Quail Hollow Championship, giving the tournament 11 of the top 25 players in the world rankings one month before the event begins.

Harrington (10th in the rankings) adds his name to a list that includes Lee Westwood (No. 4), Jim Furyk (No. 9), Rory McIlroy (No. 11), Robert Allenby (No. 15), Kenny Perry (No. 16), Sean O'Hair (No. 18), Retief Goosen (No. 19), Stewart Cink (No. 20), Hunter Mahan ( No. 21) and Lucas Glover (No. 25).

Phil Mickelson is expected to play at Quail Hollow though he typically waits until closer to an event to officially commit. Tiger Woods is also expected to wait until closer to the April 23 entry deadline before committing if he chooses to play.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Talking Hoops More Than Talking Tiger

When golf writers covering the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill this week noticed Kym Hougham, executive director of the Quail Hollow Championship, talking with Tiger Woods' agent Mark Steinberg, it didn't take them long to play connect the dots.

It was the second time in recent weeks Hougham and Steinberg have talked at PGA Tour events, raising the speculation that Woods will make the Quail Hollow Championship his second appearance in his comeback to golf tour.

It may happen that way but, at least according to Hougham, that's not what he and Steinberg were talking about this week at Bay Hill.

They were talking about Illinois basketball, a subject near and dear to both of them.

Hougham and his Quail Hollow team are making plans in the event Woods decides to play the Charlotte event, which he has most years. But Hougham was adamant today saying he doesn't know if Woods is coming to Charlotte or not.

"We're in the same position we always are at this time of year -- we don't know," Hougham said.

If a decision has been made about Woods' possible appearance in Charlotte, Hougham said Steinberg did not tip his hand.

At least one national golf publication has already requested three media credentials for the Quail Hollow Championship, two more than usual. That's why alternate plans are being made in the event Woods does play Charlotte.

I still think it's likely Woods will play the Quail Hollow Championship but much may depend on his Augusta experiece in two weeks. That may make the decision for him.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Talking No. 2 With Crenshaw and Coore

I spent two hours Tuesday with Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore at Pinehurst where they're in the process of restoring Pinehurst No. 2 closer to what it was when Donald Ross was still alive and tinkering with what many consider his masterpiece.

Among the things I learned:

-- Crenshaw and Coore were initially reluctant to take on the project because they wanted to be certain they wouldn't mess up No. 2. They understand what No. 2 means to so many people and they gave careful consideration to how they would handle the project if they took it, which they did.

-- They aren't sure whether to call it a restoration, a renovation or something else. What's clear is they are taking great care to do what they -- and others around Pinehurst -- think is the right thing. They have spent hours researching and analyzing the archives, studying overhead photos of the course taken in 1943, in an effort to bring it back to what it was. There's an almost reverence about working on No. 2.

Standing on the par-3 17th tee Tuesday, they had aerial photos from '43 with them. They spend a large amount of time studying lines on each hole, in an effort to bring back the strategic elements Ross built into the layout. This is not a project they will hurry through.

-- Coore and Crenshaw are exactly the right people to do this project. They aren't looking to put their 'brand' on the layout. Their goal is to peel back some of the things that have changed the course over time while largely leaving the greens and green surrounds untouched.

To hear them talk about what they're doing, it's evident Coore and Crenshaw feel honored to have this opportunity.

-- When it's complete, Pinehurst No. 2 will have a sandier, wispier look than it does now. Crenshaw says it will look "scruffier" which is how it was meant to be given its Sandhills location. Already, more than half of the irrigation heads on No. 2 have been cut off, meaning the area that will be watered will be cut by about half.

-- More than three acres of turf (rough) have already been removed from between the 13th and 14th fairways. The turf, by the way, was donated to a local baseball field. The areas off the fairways will be converted to sandy ground dotted with the native wiregrass that will be hand-planted.

Though it will be months before Nos. 13 and 14 will be complete and grown in, it's obvious the look will be dramatically different around the golf course. It will bring back the essence of Pinehurst golf.

They've also expanded some natural areas at Nos. 11 and 12, where the first part of the project is being done. Coore said it's critical that the natural areas look natural, not similiar from one hole to the next.

-- They're doing the project in segments in an effort to minimize the impact on play. In November, the course will close until March so bunker work can be done. While acknowleding some of the greens are now more dome-shaped than when Ross created them, there are no plans to rebuild the greens. There are a handful of spots where small work may be done, perhaps raising or lowering the edge of a bunker or slightly altering the edge of a green.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tiger Talks: No Revelations But A Sense Of Shame

It wasn't Oprah and it wasn't '60 Minutes' that nabbed the first Tiger Woods' interviews but The Golf Channel and ESPN, which ran concurrent interviews on Sunday evening.

According to reports, each was limited to five minutes but there were no restrictions on the questions asked by The Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman and ESPN's Tom Rinaldi.

The result?

Neither produced any great revelations but they did provide another glimpse of Tiger as he readies himself to return to the public stage at the Masters in three weeks. In both interviews, he put all the blame on himself, admitted his treatment is ongoing and stopped short of explaining what happened on the night of his accident when his world began coming apart.

Even in as controlled a setting as the interviews were, confessing the shame you brought on yourself and your family must be wrenching.

It seems clear that Tiger isn't going to go into the details of his Thanksgiving weekend accident, using police reports to answer the quetions for him. Those, of course, don't answer the personal side of what was happening but Woods is intent on keeping that between himself and his wife.

When he sits down for a mass interview, I expect he'll still get peppered with questions about the accident and he will continue to deflect them. He will only go so far with his answers. It won't be far enough for many.

He admitted, again, that he let his wife, his mother, his family and others, including himself, down. He sounded like a man who understood the consequences of what he has done and understands the difficulty of his road back.

I expect when he submits to other interviews, the answers will be similar to the ones we heard over the weekend. He will avoid details, citing personal privacy but he will accept all the blame anyone wants to heap on him.

Tiger admitted he's nervous about returning at the Masters and I'm guessing he's more nervous than he'll let on. He's said in the past that he's never gotten completely comfortable with people looking at him all the time. Now, they're going to gawking and for different reasons. I'm not sure anyone can be ready for what he'll feel.

The interviews seem like the next step in his gradual return to golf. He is easing back in, trying to say and do the right things. It won't be easy.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Five Masters Favorites: The Early List

It's never too early to start picking favorites for the Masters, which is now less than three weeks away.

This is an early list, written in computer pencil rather than ink, and open to change many times between now and the first Tiger sighting at Augusta National. But we're close enough to the Masters to smell the pimento cheese so here's a first crack at five favorites;

1. Phil Mickelson. I know he hasn't played particularly well so far this year but he'll be ready for Augusta, even if he wears those new orange pants of his. He needs to see some putts falling in and tighten up his long game but he'll be in the mix at the Masters.

2. Tiger Woods. Of course he's on my list. I don't think competitive rust will be a big issue for him. I know it's a different thing but he missed two months before winning the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg. Two questions persist: How comfortable will he be getting back into the public eye and can he hole enough putts, something he hasn't done at Augusta in a while.

3. Ernie Els. He seems at peace again and his game is back. He's missed the cut at Augusta the last three years but there seems to be a good vibe around the Big Easy again. It would be a very popular win.

4. Lee Westwood. He doesn't get a lot of attention around here but he's one of the best players in the world and he's been in contention to win some majors recently. The next step is to actually win a major and that's an enormous step.

5. Ian Poulter. I considered Paul Casey and Padraig Harrington but I'm going with Poulter right now if for no other reason to think about what he might wear on Sunday at Augusta if he has a chance to win.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fire Destroys Kiawah Clubhouse

The clubhouse at Kiawah Island's River Course was completely destroyed by fire on Wednesday.

The River Course is a members-only course at the resort and its 30,000 square-foot clubhouse with a big clock facing the golf course was one of its special features. A spokesman for the Kiawah Development Partners said plans are being made to immediately rebuild the clubhouse.

Because of the scale of the fire, firefighters could not go into the building to put out the fire, a fire deparment spokesman said.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tiger Makes Right Call About The Masters

Tiger Woods' announcement that he will return to golf at the Masters in three weeks makes sense because it allows him to return in the closest thing to a controlled environment that tournament golf allows.

The media attendance will be limited to the organizations that have already been credentialed meaning it will be essentially the same golf media that's at Augusta every year. Assuming Woods does a pre-tournament press conference, it will be managed by Augusta National and the gossip websites and television programs won't have access. That doesn't mean he won't get tough questions, but the vibe will be different.

It's also a place where the galleries are more likely to be respectful of Woods than at some other venues where the combination of beer, sunshine and boorish behavior could make it uncomfortable for not just Tiger but for some spectators, too.

Woods may hear a few catcalls at Augusta but not like at some other places. He's smart enough to know he's going to hear from the crowd whereever he plays but Augusta is different than every place else. I'm sure the basics of good behavior will be emphasized to everyone entering the gates.

It's great for golf that Woods is returning. Maybe this is the last phase of this long, ugly ordeal. Once Woods gets back on the golf course and his game can become the focus again, the quicker the rest of it will fade as he tries to move on. It will take a while, though. Just by playing again, the water is churned and it won't end with one tournament.

What happens if he plays the Quail Hollow Championship three weeks after the Masters? Or The Players Championship? Or The Memorial?

He could have chosen to play next week in Orlando at the Tavistock Cup and the Arnold Palmer Invitational but choosing the Masters figures to make his transition back into the public eye a little easier. Not easy. Just easier.

As for questions about whether he can win the Masters without having played a tournament since last fall, yes, he can win.

And wouldn't that be a story?

Want To Play East Lake? Sage Valley? Long Cove?

If you're looking to play golf someplace special you might not otherwise have the opportunity to play, here's your chance.

And you can help the turgrass industry in the process.

Rounds4Research, which started in North Carolina last year, will include courses in South Carolina, Texas and Virginia this year, giving golfers the opportunity to participate in an online auction for rounds of golf at more than 500 courses, including some very famous and very private ones.

The money raised will go to benefit turfgrass research at Clemson University and N.C. State.

The online auction will be held April 7-21 and information is available at

Among courses that are offering spots for foursomes are East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta; Harbour Town Golf Links at Hilton Head; Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro; Pinehurst No. 2; Kiawah Island's Ocean Course; Yeaman's Hall near Charleston, S.C.; Sage Valley near Augusta, Ga.; Eagle Point near Wilmington; Love Cove Club at Hilton Head; and, The Homestead's Cascades Course in Virginia.

U.S. Open champion and Clemson alum Lucas Glover has signed on as spokesman for the project, which raised more than $55,000 for trufgrass research last year.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Will Tiger Play Masters Then Quail Hollow?

It’sstill largely guesswork at this point but I think Tiger Woods is going to take a pass on playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill next week and make his return to golf at the Masters.

And if he does, it raises the possibility that the Quail Hollow Championship could be the first regular tour event Woods plays.

They’re making contingency plans at Quail Hollow in the event Woods decides to play here and, it’s safe to assume, that Bay Hill is doing the same thing.

Woods and his camp have said nothing publicly about when he will return to golf but it’s obvious he’s preparing to play again. There’s a chance he could play the two-day Tavistock Cup with his buddies at Isleworth next Monday and Tuesday but making the Masters his debut seems more likely.

Initially, the idea that Woods would show up first at Augusta and bring all that comes with him to the Masters seemed unlikely.

The Masters isn’t a place for sideshows and there’s no way Woods can play without bringing a circus to town with him. But it’s going to be that way wherever he plays, at least for a while, and at the Masters, it will be easier to contain the craziness.

Media credentials are limited at the Masters, making it virtually impossible for the TMZs of the world to get access inside the media center.

The tournament also has a different clientele. That doesn’t mean some of the patrons won’t get a little chatty when Tiger walks by but it won’t be like Saturday at Phoenix. The Masters will make sure of it.

The Masters is the closest thing to a controlled environment in tournament golf, which makes it a logical place for Woods to return. Every effort will be made by the tournament to make sure he’s as comfortable as he can be.

It will be a huge moment when Woods returns. CBS president Sean McManus was quoted recently saying it may be the biggest television moment of the past decade aside from the Obama election.

Imagine the ratings if Woods were to return at Augusta and win there.

Woods hasn’t played competitively since last fall but he’s had long layoffs before major championships before. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open after his father’s death in 2006 and he took two months off before returning to win the Open at Torrey Pines on a broken leg nearly two years ago.

If Woods returns at Bay Hill or the Masters, the Quail Hollow Championship -- three weeks after Augusta -- suddenly comes into the picture. He’s made it a regular stop, missing it only because of his father’s death and knee surgery, since he first played here in 2004.

If it’s his first regular tour event, the media storm will be intense. So will the fan interest.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Is Tiger Getting Close To A Return?

Studying the scene at Doral from afar this week, one item is particularly interesting:

Mark Steinberg, Tiger Woods' agent, was on the scene at the WGC-CA Championship, adding to the growing fire of speculation about the possiblity that Woods may return to the PGA Tour sooner rather than later.

Woods, it has been reported, is back at work on his game at Isleworth, taking the counsel of swing coach Hank Haney and apparently gearing up for his eventual return.

Couple that with the Steinberg sighting and it's easy to speculate that Woods may indeed play in the Masters next month. Maybe Steinberg was there onn other business or maybe he was just testing the Tour's temperature regarding his client but it is interesting timing.

After watching Woods' public statement last month, I thought there was very little chance he would play at Augusta. Now, I'm leaning the other way.

It's conceivable Woods may play the private and easy to insulate Tavistock Cup in Orlando the week after next then make his tour return at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. That theory is gaining momentum though it's all guesswork.

By playing Bay Hill, it would allow Woods to get in one tournament before the Masters and go through a week back in the public eye.

Maybe it's all just smoke right now, no real fire. But it's nice that the conversation about Woods these days is more about his golf than the other stuff.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Ping, PGA Tour and USGA Reach Agreement

If you haven't sold your pre-1990 Ping Eye2 wedge yet, the market just crashed on you.

The wedges won't be allowed for use on the PGA Tour or any other professional tour after March 29 following an agreement by Ping to drop its right to exempt those clubs from the new rules related to grooves that went into effect this year.

The agreement closes a loophole in the new rules that all sides were aware existed before several tour players decided to put the old clubs into their bags this year.

“We’re thankful for Commissioner Finchem’s understanding of our position and his role in helping bring about this resolution. We all believe it is in the best interests of golf,” said Ping president John Solheim said in a statement.

“It levels the playing field on the PGA TOUR and resolves a very unfortunate situation that we predicted would happen when the USGA first proposed the new groove rule more than two years ago. It keeps in place all of our other rights established in the 1993 PGA TOUR settlement and the 1990 USGA settlement, including ensuring amateurs will continue to be able to play their pre-April 1990 EYE2s at all amateur events played under the USGA Rules of Golf.”

The agreement has one caveat: Several tour players had Ping Eye2 wedges made recently that meet the grooves regulations that went into effect in 2010. Those clubs are still legal.

As part of the resolution, the USGA announced it will hold an equipment forum later this year in hopes of finding better ways to resolve equipment issues between manufacturers and governing bodies.

Villegas, Fowler And Other Encouraging Signs

So I'm looking at the list of winners on the PGA Tour this season and I'm thinking this isn't bad.

Steve Stricker won and moved into No. 2 in the world rankings, jumping past the slow-starting Phil Mickelson.

Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Ian Poulter and Camilo Villegas have all won, reinforcing the idea that there's an encouraging blend of talent and style in what feels like a new generation.

Bill Haas finally got his breakthrough win and Rickie Fowler has become a star without winning.

And Tiger's hitting golf balls again.

The PGA Tour might just survive after all.

If there's been a benefit to Woods' self-imposed absence, it's been the enhanced focus on other players. With Mickelson not doing much so far, others have seized their moments.

Poulter and Villegas, in particular, have personas as big as their games. It was important for Poulter to win something substantial over here to be known for more than his clothes. Now he's done it and I expect he'll do it some more.

Villegas has played well all year and has the look of a guy in a good place. He's talked about being more relaxed and smiling more and maybe there's something to that. The way Villegas takes a rip at the ball and his Spiderman routine -- even if it's become part gimmick by now -- he's fun to watch. That's what sells the tour.

That's why Fowler is the new rage. With his Lanny Wadkins-like slash at the ball, all wrists and whip, he has that fearless look about him beneath his long hair. He got justifiably chided for his lay-up decision at Phoenix when he had a chance to win but he did what he felt was in his best interests. If he had it to do over, he might do it differently.

This week, the big guys are all together again at Doral for a World Golf Championship event. Maybe it's Phil's time. Wouldn't that be fun with Augusta getting closer by the day.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Pinehurst No. 2 Now In Coore-Crenshaw Hands

Pinehurst has made official the hiring of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to oversee a restoration project to Course No. 2, a project that will be done gradually with a minimal impact on resort play.

The intention is to restore many of the natural aesthetic characteristics of the original Donald Ross design while bringing back many of the strategic elements of the course Ross considered his masterpiece.

That means expanding sandy waste areas off the fairways, restoring the native wiregrass in those areas, some bunker work and widening of some fairways while reducing the amount of manicured rough.

In short, it means bringing No. 2 back to its full and original glory. In Coore and Crenshaw, Pinehurst has found the ideal pair to handle a delicate but necessary project.

The gradual pace of the project is expected to allow the course to remain open until November.
“It is not our intent to radically change this golf course,” Coore said in a press release.

“We’re trying to uncover it, not recover it. We’re trying to take what Ross left and perhaps bring it back to the character and definition of what was once here. In short, we’ll bring the strategy back, and reinstate its character.”

Course No. 2 is scheduled to close Nov. 15 and remain closed until March 2 while significant work is done.

The project does not involve any work on No. 2's greens and there will be no significant lengthening to the course that will host the 2014 men's and women's U.S. Opens. There are plans to build a new tee on the par-4 seventh hole to enhance the dogleg.

“When you see it and feel Pinehurst, you know it’s something different,” said Crenshaw. “In Ross’ mind, it was the best way he believed a course should be played – his masterpiece. His courses are so beautifully balanced, intended to test every part of your game. This piece of ground was special to him. To contribute our ideas here is a high, high honor.”

Watson's Idea: Match Young Against Old

Forever young Tom Watson has a good idea.

During a pre-tournament interview this week in advance of the Toshiba Classic on the Champions Tour, Watson suggested getting the top 30 players from the old guys tour and the top 30 off the the regular tour and having them play a tournament together.

Set the course up at 7,000 yards -- that's not too long for the best Champions Tour players -- and have a go at it.

It would be interesting to see what happens.

There's a bit of crossover at the Masters each year but Augusta National is so long and difficult now, it's not a fair test for the seniors.

But put the best players from both tours on a course that's fair to both groups and we might be surprised by how it turns out. The regular tour players would probably fill the top of the leaderboard but I think the seniors would do surprisingly well.

Watson nearly won the British Open last year. Fred Couples can still play. So can Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman and several others. The courses they play are set up differently than regular tour courses -- they're shorter and pins aren't tucked into invisible corners -- to encourage birdies.

If length isn't an overriding factor, talent becomes an equalizer. There is, however, the matter of old nerves.

Young against old. It would be fun, if nothing else.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

John Daly Does It Again...What A Surprise

It's a good thing John Daly has a new reality show on The Golf Channel right now.

That may be the only place he'll be seen for a while.

Angry over a story in the Florida Times-Union newspaper detailing the many details in his PGA Tour disciplinary file -- it's over 450 pages of bad acting and the fallout that comes with it -- Big John decided to get even with the writer, Garry Smits. Daly's file, it should be noted, became public record as part of a lawsuit, allowing a glimpse into otherwise private case.

Daly Tweeted Smits' cell phone number -- two different times on Tuesday -- and suggested his fans pepper Smits with complaints about how their hero was being treated.

Another brilliant move by John Daly.

Though you'd think Daly wouldn't get embarrassed any more, he probably was when word got out he's been suspended six times by the tour and ordered to counseling or rehab seven times. Then there are the 21 incidences of Daly being cited for failing to give his best effort. It's also called quitting.

So Daly, who claims in his TV show that he's trying to rehabilitate his self-inflicted image, tries to rally the troops to make life miserable for the guy who wrote the untold story of his professional life.

The PGA Tour has a policy of not talking about the disciplinary action it takes against players. It may be time to rethink that, especially in Daly's case. His folder is about to get thicker.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Quail Hollow Commitments Starting To Roll In

The Quail Hollow Championship is still two months away but the tournament has already received commitments from eight of the top 25 players in the world golf rankings.

U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover and British Open champion Stewart Cink are on the commitment list along with Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Robert Allenby, Retief Goosen, defending champion Sean O’Hair, Jim Furyk, David Toms, Hunter Mahan, Tim Clark and Bill Haas.

The tournament ( is scheduled April 26-May 2 at the Quail Hollow Club.