I just returned from the golfing playground known as Mesquite, Nev., (and it's seriously underrated as a golf destination — I'll write more about it soon) to the semi-frozen, soon-to-be tundra of Pittsburgh, and was greeted by — what else? — even more questions about Tiger. Shocking.
The fact that Tiger moved up more than 30 spots in the rankings by winning an 18-man outing, the Chevron World Challenge, while two other tournaments were held concurrently around the world, is more than preposterous. There is no need to debate how many ranking points should be awarded in an 18-man event. The obvious answer is, None. It wouldn't matter if the rankings weren't used to determine the fields for major championships and the World Golf Championships, but the rankings have grown in importance. What should be the minimum field size for a tournament to count? I don't know, but 72 sounds like a good number, the same as the number of holes for a stroke-play event.
Which means I wouldn't count the 30-man Tour Championship or the season-opening, winners-only event at Kapalua. If the Chevron World Challenge counts, why not count the four-man Grand Slam of Golf? It had more major winners than the Chevron.
Moving on to this week's Van Cynical Mailbag:
I seem to recall that Tiger could not win on Sunday if he was not in the lead after Saturday. Is Tiger's win the first time that pattern has been broken? If it is a first win after a second on Saturday, then I would say the victory over Zach Johnson is even more significant.
— Paul Lawler
There were a mere 18 players in the field, Paul. I've played in bigger skins games at a muni course. You're correct about that stat when it comes to majors — not regular Tour events — but I never bought into Tiger not being able to come from behind. When a guy has won 82 tournaments worldwide, who cares how he won them? I can't count the Chevron Challenge, with 18 players, as a real tournament. His win over Zach was significant, yes, only because he birdied the last two holes when he knew he had to in order to beat Johnson. That's something, even if the Zachmeister is No. 44 on the money list, No. 33 in the world rankings and didn't come close to making the Presidents Cup team.
Gary, I've read that Tiger and Elin are on quite good terms. Doesn't that seem to indicate why he's playing better? His personal life is on track, and I think his golf game reflects this. Why hasn't anyone seen this connection?
— Mary Zeger
You may want to back slowly out of the TMZ Zone, Z. I don't want to deal in gossip, but I haven't heard anything of the kind about Tiger and Elin. If anything, just the opposite. You're right, though, his personal life is more "normal" (if there is such a thing for Tiger) than it's been in two years, and the trauma and stigma of his accident and marriage breakup have faded. That's got to help. As for his golf, he's a real Ranger Rick. I think his renewed confidence comes from pounding thousands of balls on the practice range, which he can finally do again now that his knee is healthier and paparazzi aren't stalking him by helicopter.
Hi, Gary. I thought it was extremely strange to see Zach Johnson and his caddie talking to each other not only as Tiger stood over his winning putt but even as he was stroking it. Clearly then were slightly turning back and forth to each other and conversing not more than 15 feet from Tiger. I guess they must have been whispering but still I was very surprised. Your thoughts?
— Cliff Prince
You're surprised? My golfing buddies don't even attempt to whisper, their conversation goes on as normal when I'm putting and they're standing only six feet away. TV compresses distance, Cliff. I'm sure Zach was farther away than 15 feet and I'm sure he and his caddie were whispering very carefully, probably commiserating about finishing second because they already knew what was going to happen — drain-o.
How much do you think the rest of golf wants Tiger to be back? The Euros (Luke, Rory, Lee) have been ruling without him: thoughts? The usual argument is that Tiger will bring in TV ratings and crowds, but hasn't that effect already happened in 1997 and onwards. Will golf prize money go down (i.e. everyone's paychecks) without him?
— Sanjay Iyer, via Twitter
Most of golf badly wants Tiger back. The golf world (the public, too) is obsessed with Tiger — there's no other way to say it. For example, just about every question for the Van Cynical Mailbag is about Tiger. Prize money quadrupled during his first 12 years on Tour and golf vaulted to the front page of the sports section thanks to him. No Tiger and a worldwide recession — or something worse if Greece and Italy have anything to say about it — equals a grim future for the size of golf paychecks. But Tiger is here and by the time he's ready to retire, a new star or two will replace him. Rory and the new generation of players would love to test themselves against Tiger. Should they be careful what they wish for? I'd say so.
Anybody interesting make it through Q-school?
— Joe Callaghan, Oldsmar, Fla.
Too many to mention. Bobby Gates finished 125th on the money list, or thought he did, then learned he didn't and missed his card by less than $2,000. He won it back at Q-school. Marco Dawson, 48, regained his card. So did Tour vets like Bob Estes, Jeff Maggert, Vaughn Taylor, Jarrod Lyle and Scott Dunlop. After four years on the Gateway tour, where he played against the likes of Mike Van Sickle and others, New Mexico alum Charlie Beljan earned a ticket to The Show so it's nice to see him finally catch a break. The player to watch may be South Korea's Sang-Moon Bae, who led the Japan tour's money list and is already ranked in the world's top 30. (Early warning alert: Here come the male Koreans.) Also getting a card was Alexandre Rocha, who would be the crowd favorite at the 2016 Olympics since he's from host country Brazil.