There is no cut at the 16-player Target World Challenge at Sherwood, in Thousand Oaks, California, and no pressure, since the event is unofficial, and 16th place pays $170,000. First pays $1.35 million, a tidy Christmas bonus for tournament host Tiger Woods, who (yawn) blew away the field with a final-round 66.
The sun goes down behind the mountains that tower over the west end of the driving range at around 4:30 p.m., and there's nothing important to prepare for next week anyway, so most players would just as soon brainstorm a Sudoku rather than practice after their rounds. All of which explains why the Target has eclipsed the Skins Game as the granddaddy of the Silly Season. After a long year, it's time to stop and smell the mistletoe. The mood was so convivial last week you half expected third-round leader Geoff Ogilvy to break out his guitar and lead the press in a rousing rendition of Kumbaya.
There's a stark inevitability to the Preordained Golf Association now: Unless something crazy happens, Tiger's going to win. No one knows it better than the game's top players, none of whom need fight to keep their Tour cards or qualify for limited-field events. (They wouldn't be able to anyway at the unofficial Target.) When ABC's Billy Ray Brown speculated on-air Sunday that Davis Love III might notch a top-10 finish (he did), it was a prospect so irrelevant that even the rest of his announce team had to laugh.
A few players didn't bother to shave early in the week. They shrugged off double-bogeys and chitchatted in the locker-room, where Colin Montgomerie quipped to Fred Couples that his swing coach had recently urged him to take up tennis. Still, a week after losing a sudden-death playoff in the WGC World Cup in Barbados, and storming off the course, Monty opened with a 3-under-par 69 at Sherwood, finished with a 66 and tied for 5th place with Paul Casey.
In the media room early in the week, looking as relaxed as he ever has, Woods said this was the first Christmas season he's enjoyed in years, since he's no longer consumed by his dad's poor health. Tiger even borrowed a line from Johnny Miller when he joked that John Daly's back problems are a result of his front problems. (Rim-shot.)
On the range, Paul Casey chatted about being named European tour Player of the Year, and then laughed when he was asked who voted. "I really don't know," Casey said before changing topics to more pressing matters, namely the Borat movie. (A big fan of Sacha Baron Cohen, Casey gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up.)
Mark O'Meara, who played in the pro-am but not the tournament, was standing down range when a car alarm went off from inside the lone equipment trailer at the club, 10 feet away. No one seemed to care, as O'Meara, who turns 50 on January 13, kept chatting up a reporter while club technicians casually looked for a way to turn off the blaring siren.
First-round pairings were made according to cliques instead of a computer, which is how Couples ended up with Love, Ogilvy with Adam Scott and Casey with his old Walker and Ryder Cup mate Luke Donald. Love discussed the weather in Sun Valley, where a storm was dumping plenty of powder for snowboarding. (His caddie lives in the trendy Idaho town, where Love just finished building a second or third or fourth home. Who can keep track?) Woods, too, said he was looking forward to going skiing.
On Thursday, after shooting an opening-round, 3-under-par 69, Daly ambled to the media room and revealed that really was his wife, Sherrie Miller Daly, following him around, which was surprising news given that each party filed for divorce in October in what Miller Daly's attorney described as a "race to the courthouse."
"Yeah, I mean, we're working it out," said Daly, who suffered from sciatica and a broken pinkie and lost his Tour card this year. (He skipped Q school, but sponsors already have given him enough exemptions to play a full schedule in 2007.) "We love each other very much. We love each other just a little more than we hate each other, just like the book [says]."
The press broke up in laughter.
"We're trying to work things out," Daly continued. "I think we will."
Someone asked Daly about his chances of finally making a Ryder Cup team for the first time, and he quipped, "I'm gonna beat [Paul Azinger] up if he doesn't pick me." (Alas, Sherwood beat Daly up on the weekend, as he shot 77-80 to claim the $170,000 booby prize.)
The Target is a casual affair for media, too, who park not in some way-off-site grocery store lot and ride a shuttle to the course, but at the course itself. (Brilliant!)
"At one point I was with Woods all by myself," said Scott Halleran, a photographer who covers the Tour for Getty Images and is used to trading elbows with a scrum of up to 50 shooters. "Or almost. There was one other photographer following him."
The ABC golf team was in full casual mode, having thrown a farewell party earlier in the week. The network will now be largely absent from televised, PGA Tour golf, with the exception of the British Open. Cameramen, technicians and talent will scatter to The Golf Channel (Nick Faldo), CBS (Faldo), the PGA Tour (Azinger) and other assorted ventures. A longtime audio mixer has already started a successful extermination business.
The golfing world will revert to its natural order in January, when tournament winnings count and the FedEx Cup point race looms over all. We'll get an answer to what Phil will do next, while Ernie Els, who fired a promising 65 on Sunday to win the South African Open by three strokes over Trevor Immelman, tries to recover from a lost season. And a dozen majors into his quest to better Jack Nicklaus's record 18, Woods will begin his third act, as players roll out of their La-Z-Boy recliners and revert to a full, uptight position.
Cameron Morfit covers the PGA Tour as a Senior Writer for GOLF MAGAZINE. You can read his column every Monday on GOLFONLINE. E-mail him your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.