Thursday, March 25, 2010

It's not even April yet, but Michael Whitmer of the Boston Globe is already seeing cracks in Tim Finchem's armor. Whitmer details the foibles, faux-pas and flat out mistakes the Commish has made this year:

Finchem sent a memo to tournament directors updating them on the
eligibility status of 10-time tour winner Steve Elkington, who isn't
fully exempt this season and must rely on sponsor exemptions. This
didn't sit well with some players, who viewed the commissioner's
actions as biased. Former tour winners Tim Herron and David Duval, who
also aren't fully exempt, were openly critical of Finchem...

Finchem didn't alert the players [to Tiger's press conference during the WGC Match Play Championship], who were ambushed by the media
seeking reaction following first-round matches. Finchem took full
responsibility, saying, "You can never communicate too much in this
business, and when you don't, you usually pay a price."

Communication wasn't a problem at
the start of the year when a handful of pros, including Phil Mickelson,
chose to put a 20-year-old Ping wedge in the bag...When
Mickelson and some other prominent names (Fred Couples, Hunter Mahan)
chose to use the club, other players spoke up, saying the spirit of the
new rule was being bent. Scott McCarron called Mickelson out, saying
using the Ping wedge was a form of cheating.

Will Tiger get heckled? With all of the buildup to Tiger's appearance at this year's Masters, it's hard not to wonder what the patrons' reaction will be as Woods takes his first few steps down the fairway. Larry Dorman of The New York Times is already thinking about what the fans might have in store for the world's most famous golfer:

It may or may not happen during the Masters
at Augusta National Golf Club in two weeks. If so, it would probably
happen during the practice rounds Monday through Wednesday. During the
tournament's four rounds, fans with season badges would be loath to
jeopardize their reputation or annual entree to the Masters merely to holler something that would violate the code of sportsmanship laid down by Bobby Jones.

But eventually someone will scream something at Woods. No one doubts
it, not even — or perhaps, especially — Woods, who said, "I'm a little
nervous about that, to be honest with you" when asked by an ESPN reporter on Sunday about the possibility of a negative crowd reaction.

Dorman also talked to Stewart Cink and Colin Montgomerie about what it's like to play under intense fan scrutiny, presumably to get a taste of what Tiger might expect:

Stewart Cink, who is friendly with Woods and said he would not mind being paired with
him at the Masters, recalled his own experience with raw nerve endings
inside the ropes. It came the week after he blew a 2-foot putt at the United States Open in 2001 that would have landed him in the Monday playoff.

"I felt exposed," said Cink, whose exposure does not approximate
Woods's. "I had just done something crazy at the U.S. Open, and going
into Westchester, where the crowd is vocal, I was a little bit nervous
about what some of the comments might be. And there were some comments.

"So I can definitely understand how he might be feeling about what may
come out of some of the people. The Masters is a lot different animal
than Westchester, but he is going to hear some things, whether there or
later on down the road."
"I've heard when he said that he's nervous to come back, and that's the
first time I've ever heard Tiger say those words," Montgomerie, this
year's European Ryder Cup captain, said at Bay Hill, where he is
playing the Arnold Palmer
Invitational on a sponsor's exemption. "I think it will be fine. Coming
to a so-called normal PGA Tour event, it might be different.

As much as I respect Cink and Monty, asking anyone these questions is completely absurd. Tiger's crowds were already huge and bordering on crazed at times, so there is absolutely no way to know what's going to happen (although Monty makes a great point about the Masters being different than a "normal PGA Tour event," which I agree will work in Tiger's favor).
I think the real question isn't so much how the crowd is going to react to Tiger, but how Tiger's going to react to the crowd. Will he show a little more love going down the fairway? Will he give them a couple smiles or extra fist pumps on the green? Will he curse up a storm after a bad shot or a click of the camera in his backswing? Only time will tell.

Tiger's Monday conference is well timed for screwing with the sports media The Media's been abuzz about Tiger immediately taking Arnie's advice and scheduling a press conference for 2 p.m. on the Monday of Masters week. But Jeff Shain at the Orlando Sentinel points out what many of us noticed about the timing of Tiger's first presser in nearly six months:

The good news is that Woods will face the Masters media — booking a
2 p.m. mass interview for Monday of that week. The bad news, for hoops
fans anyway, is that he'll grab all the headlines usually reserved for
the NCAA Tournament finale. (Now maybe if Stanford had a team good enough to get to the Final Four…)

We see the logic here. Every media outlet will be hyper-focused on
Woods until he speaks, so get the procedure done so everybody can
return their energies to discussing the Masters itself.

But Masters Monday is usually treated as a light news day while
March Madness crowns its champion. Woods is guaranteed
to commandeer the biggest headlines now, with the exception of outlets
that actually cover the NCAA finalists.

Something tells me that there's currently a very busy person working the switchboards at Augusta Regional Airport, as every reporter with a set of credentials tries to work his or her way onto an earlier flight.

Tiger the favorite? The pros think so. Nobody was surprised when the talking heads and Vegas oddsmakers immediately predicted Woods would win at Augusta this year, Teddy Greenspan from the Chicago Tribune takes a look at how some of Tiger's peers (who have been practicing with him this week) view his chances:

Four-to-1 for a guy who hasn't been fitted for a green jacket since
2005, who has not played a competitive round in four months, who just
might be reminded of his personal flaws as he takes back the blade on a
hellacious 6-footer? (TIGER is a CHEETAH T-shirt sold separately.)

Seems absurd to me — and to a chunk of players on the PGA Tour. Of course, they think his odds actually should be lower.

"I'd give him 50-50," Billy Mayfair said from the practice range at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
"One, it's the intimidation factor. Two, you have to remember: Even
though the crowds at Augusta will be very sedate and appreciative,
they're still going to be loud. I think it will affect other players
more than Tiger."

Said Paul Goydos: "Every time we underestimate the guy, he exceeds those expectations. And I expect him to exceed them this time too."

How about the fact that he whiffed on the majors last year, going 0-for-4?

"So I would say he's due," Goydos replied.

50/50 is about as ridiculous a statement as you can make, but I think I appreciate what Mayfair is trying to say. Tiger is striping the ball right now, even in the opinion of guys who do it for a living.

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