3 Questions: Buick Open

January 25, 2012

Tiger Woods withdrew from this week's Buick Open despite the fact that he's the defending champion and essentially a salaried employee of the Detroit automaker. He had a very good excuse in wanting to get to know his newborn daughter, Sam, but it leaves this Buick pretty much without its hood ornament.

1. Does Tiger's absence matter?
Of course it matters, but only for the TV ratings. He wasn't going to win this thing anyway. Let's face it: Woods isn't playing his best golf, and his heart and mind would have been back in Florida even if he had sucked it up and jetted into Grand Blanc, Mich. Besides, he's got a tournament to get off the ground in Washington, D.C., next week.

Jim Furyk finished second to Woods last year, won at Warwick Hills in 2003 and has to feel the game owes him one after he narrowly lost the U.S. Open for the second year in a row. If you want a darkhorse, Mike Weir fired an opening 63 here a year ago but faded on Sunday. He's been on the comeback trail with coaches du jour Mike Bennett and Andy Plummer, whose pupils include recent Tour winners Eric Axley, Aaron Baddeley, Will MacKenzie and Dean Wilson.

Weir is overdue to win again on Tour, and Warwick favors a good point-to-point player like the ex-BYU Cougar, who's basically a left-handed version of Furyk without the funny mechanics.

Whatever the outcome, we would be remiss in not mentioning the Buick trophy, which celebrates the moment when Brigitte Nielsen won the 200 meters in Athens wearing only a cocktail napkin around her neck. (Or something.)

2. Will we see another first-time winner this week?
Probably not. Hunter Mahan is a nice player, and kudos to him and his excellent caddie, John Wood, for breaking through at Hartford last week, but check out the roster of recent champions at Warwick Hills: Woods won last year, Vijay Singh won back-to-back in 2004 and '05, Furyk got it done in '03, and it was Woods again in '02. Get it?

This is not a tournament won by the Jay Williamsons of the world. Besides, both Mahan and Williamson missed the cut last year while Woods was shooting 66-66-66-66 to become the youngest player in history to reach 50 career wins.

3. Phil & Tiger ready to return
Tiger is a lock to play in his new tournament, the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., next week. An announcement is expected today or Friday, but the real shocker was Mickelson's statement on his Web site Wednesday that his rehab is progressing ahead of schedule and he will be playing the AT&T. Huh?

Mickelson loves to keep us guessing, and you can just imagine his impish grin when he thinks about all the "experts" he fooled. Just when it looked like he might skip the British, he decides a full three weeks before Carnoustie that he's ready to go.

The last time we saw Phil, he was playing through pain in his left wrist and shooting 74-77 to check out early at the 107th U.S. Open, breaking his streak of 30 straight cuts made in the majors. The last time we heard from him he was withdrawing from last week's Travelers under doctor's orders to take two weeks off.

What made Wednesday's announcement even more surprising was Woods's statement a few weeks ago that Mickelson probably wouldn't be playing the AT&T. Okaaay.

Has Mickelson's wrist come that far that fast? Does he really believe he can win the British Open, which he's never won, at Carnoustie, where he missed the cut in 1999? After saying repeatedly that he and the rest of the Tour owe Woods a debt of gratitude for the way he's elevated purses, is Mickelson just proving that actions speak louder than words?

Stay tuned. There's no telling what Phil will do next.