The knock on Woods
The British Open left me with one obvious question: What's up with Tiger Woods? Here's what I think: The demands on his time while hosting his own tournament, plus the wonderful distraction of becoming a father, meant that for the first time in his career he wasn't 100% prepared to tee it up in a major. Hitting a four-iron OB off the 1st tee was emblematic of his swing issues: His swing gets flat and he gets "stuck." His old swing, with Butch Harmon, was better. Here's what I'm afraid to think: Tiger has fallen in love with bodybuilding, and all that muscle is messing up his swing. When I look at what's different from last year, when he won the last two majors, my answer is that now he looks like Popeye the Sailor Man. Still, it would be a mistake to dismiss Tiger at Southern Hills simply because he didn't play well there in the 2001 U.S. Open (12th). He was forced to lay up to the corners of many of the doglegged holes back then, and holstering the driver is a plus for him these days. Tiger will be in the mix next week, but he's not my pick to win.
Testing, testing ...
Gary Player says he knows firsthand of players using performance-enhancing drugs. Unless commissioner Tim Finchem is willing to call Mr. Player a boldfaced liar and pronounce the case closed, we should have drug testing on Tour tomorrow. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that a few guys are using, but we don't have a testing program or even a rule against using performance-enhancing drugs. Test us or get off the pot!
The trouble with Tulsa
I'd like to thank the PGA of America for sending us to Tulsa in August. I guess Death Valley wasn't available. I'm not a huge fan of Southern Hills. It was great in its day the 1970s but doesn't hold up to today's power game. When we all lay up to the same spot on the corner of a dogleg, it seems like the staggered start of a 400-meter race. I hope they've fixed the 9th and 18th greens, which were such a joke in the '01 Open that they had to mow them to a different length to make them semi-playable.
No Love lost
The Canadian Open desperately needed some star power. (Apparently I didn't fill the bill.) Davis Love III took a big paycheck to tweak the Angus Glen course and make it more palatable, then didn't even show up to see how his work played out. I read in the Toronto paper how he didn't admit that he was skipping the event when some Canadian writers asked him about it on Friday at Carnoustie, a couple of hours before the entry deadline. I bet Davis doesn't miss out on the free money at this week's Bridgestone Invitational.
Three majors, three first-time major winners. I sense a trend. Here are four guys who could make it four-for-four at the PGA. Hunter Mahan got his first win last month, is a decent iron player, is used to Okie golf he played at Oklahoma State and has been on a roll. This Anthony Kim kid is an amazing rookie. He's long, makes a lot of birdies and is way up there in the confidence category. In fact, he's almost as abrasive as Rory Sabbatini. Kim would also probably be a popular winner in Oklahoma since he played, briefly, for the Sooners. The media loves the feel-good story of Boo Weekley, a small-town guy who has the naive charm of Jed Clampett and is one hell of a ball striker. I know his putting is suspect, but he might shoot a 64 in the final round, finish early and wait for the leaders to melt down and hand it to him. I love J.J. Henry's iron game and the way he's quietly improving. Winning a PGA has to be less pressure than playing in the Ryder Cup (not that I'd know).
Here are my picks to be prime contenders:
1. Scott Verplank drives it straight, hits precise irons when he's on and is a great scrambler. His game will bore you to death, just like Southern Hills. They're a perfect match. He's already won a major, if you count the U.S. Amateur. (I don't.) You may remember
2. Stewart Cink from the '01 Open, during which he rushed a short putt on the 72nd hole while trying to get out of the way and missed, costing him a spot in the Monday playoff. Stewart's been working with a head doctor and had a chance to win at Carnoustie. He's playing well again, and now that he's using the belly putter he's yip-free, so no more missed one-footers.
3. Sergio Garcia needs a fresh diaper. Did you hear him crying about how he got lousy breaks and had to beat more than simply the other guys in the field? I guess God, Mother Nature and the Ghosts of Christmas Past were triple-teaming him or something. Sergio, there's only one reason you didn't win at Carnoustie you shot 73 on an easy scoring day when everyone who could play dead threw up a 67 or a 68. The belly putter is going to give Sergio's game a makeover and make him a realistic threat to finally win a major. Maybe even this one. Before he can do that, though, he needs an attitude adjustment. Or he needs to grow up.
4. I'm glad Padraig Harrington won the British, even though he tried like hell to blow it. He's a nice man, a hard worker, and now that the monkey's off his back, he could win a few more majors, too, if Tiger continues to stay on the sidelines.
And the winner is ...
Yes, I know. I sound like a broken record, but I'm going with Canadian Open champ Jim Furyk, my pick for the U.S. and British Opens. Sorry for my lack of originality, but Southern Hills is Mid-Iron Central. It's perfect for a medium-length hitter who works his irons and has a great short game. In other words it's perfect for Furyk. Look, Jim nearly won at Oakmont after his back-nine charge, was 13th at the Masters a course that should be too long for him and 12th at Carnoustie. He's had eight top six finishes this year, and now he also has a W. This time, he pulls it off. Hey, maybe he'll drill Sergio in a playoff. That would be sweet.