The hottest day I’ve ever experienced on a golf course was not at Southern Hills. It was the Wednesday before the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla Country Club in Louisville, Ky. But this will tell you just how steamy it was Sunday in Tulsa:
1. For the first time, I saw Tiger Woods sit down to rest while playing.
2. I also saw, for the first time, Woods take off his hat and pour water over his head.
Woods is the best-conditioned athlete on the PGA Tour, and his fitness gives him a physical and mental advantage over the competition. To see him yield to the 103-degree heat (the heat index was about 110) tells you how tough it really was out there.
His performance at Southern Hills was remarkable, especially his 63 on Friday, which he called a 62 1/2. I said in my column after the British Open that no one had put himself head-and-shoulders above the field in the hunt for the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year award. Woods has now done that. He’s got four wins — including one major and one World Golf Championship event — and was tied for second place at the Masters and the U.S. Open. Unless someone wins at least two of the four Fed Ex Cup playoff events, and Woods fails to win any, I think he’s a lock to win his ninth Player of the Year award in the past 11 years.
The real Woody Austin stood up, for himself
People may joke about his shirts and know him for being an emotional player who has smacked himself in the head with a club in frustration, but Woody Austin is an outstanding player. His performance at Southern Hills earned him not only a spot on the United States Presidents Cup team, but also a lot of respect.
I applaud Austin for his great play, especially on the weekend, and I think he grew up a lot at the PGA Championship. When a reporter asked Austin about his emotions, he stood up for himself, comparing his on-course behavior with Tiger’s.
“[Tiger Woods] hits his drive on No. 5 on the same line I hit mine today — through the fairway to the right,” he said. “What was the first thing he did? He slammed his driver onto the ground. That’s his competitive fire, is what it’s called. He’s competitive. He is aggressive. If I do that, I am a loose cannon. I can’t control myself. I’m not competitive?
“Why can he get mad more than me, but it’s ‘competitive fire,’ as opposed to somebody who’s too hard on themselves? I don’t get it.”
In that moment, Woody Austin took control of his own destiny and called out an obvious double standard. In that press conference Austin basically said to the world, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
Don’t let his emotional outbursts sway you into thinking that Austin can’t get it done. He backed up his words in the media center with good golf on the course. If Austin, 43, continues to work hard, he could contend in a major again.
Positive strides for Els
It’s been more than two years since Ernie Els had knee surgery. Except for a third-place finish at Royal Liverpool last summer, we haven’t heard a lot from the Big Easy, but it appears that his game is starting to round back into form.
Els had a strong showing at the British Open, finishing tied for fourth thanks to a weekend 68-69. At Southern Hills his 72-68-69-66 left him three shots behind Woods in third. Those solid performances should be encouraging for Els. He’s finally starting to see some positive results from the work he’s putting into his game. Hopefully he will stay motivated and keep working hard, especially before the majors. He’s won three, and I think he’s capable of winning more.
Phil’s focus is on the right thing
On Sunday a reporter asked Phil Mickelson if he was planning to take some time off after the PGA Championship. Mickelson said no, and added that he was excited to compete in the playoffs for the Fed Ex Cup.
Mickelson never said anything about the Presidents Cup, but don’t read too much into that. Mickelson has not had to think about making the Presidents Cup team — or any other team — in a long time. Good players like Mickelson have to focus on what is happening right now, not down the road. He will start thinking about the Presidents Cup after the Tour Championship.
That said, if he doesn’t perform well because his wrist is still a problem, he should shut it down and ask Jack Nicklaus, the Presidents Cup captain, to either play him sparingly or to look for a replacement. Too many swings have been damaged by playing through injuries, and Mickelson can’t let his wrist problem carry over into the 2008 season.
Maybe Sergio didn’t learn from Carnoustie
For the most part, Sergio Garcia did a very good job of controlling his emotions at Southern Hills, and he played better than many people thought he would after losing the British Open.
But once again, Garcia did not take responsibility for his actions, and it cost him. As you know, his playing partner on Saturday, Boo Weekley, wrote that Garcia scored a 4 on the 17th hole when Garcia had really scored a 5. Garcia, who was fuming after three putting the 18th (which he largely blamed on being distracted by the gallery crossing in his line of sight), signed the card and left the area. When Weekley ran up to Garcia and told him about the mistake, Garcia’s words were, “That’s the icing on the cake.”
Garcia has to play a few events in Europe after the conclusion of the FedEx Cup, so he can’t take a long break right now. But somehow the talented Spaniard needs to get his emotional game to the level of his physical game. If he can do that, he’ll start winning. And winning a lot.
Singh swoon was shocking
There were a lot of interesting occurrences in Tulsa last week, but the one that surprised me the most was Vijay Singh’s failure to make the cut. Southern Hills is a ballstriker’s golf course, and boy did I take a lot of heat for saying that last week. People wanted to know what course isn’t a ball striker’s golf course.
For me, it simply means a course set up to prevent recovery shots, whether from the fairway or around the greens. Courses like Warwick Hills (home of the Buick Open in Grand Blanc, Mich.) or the TPC at River Highlands (home of the Travelers Championship outside Hartford) let players scramble out of trouble. But the combination of thick rough and fast greens at Southern Hills, like Oakmont, made it difficult to recover from bad shots. Don’t get me wrong, the PGA of America did a wonderful job of setting up the course, but the rough just off the fairways was extremely difficult.
Vijay Singh should thrive on that kind of course because he’s one of the most consistent players on Tour. Along with Jim Furyk (who also missed the cut) and Tiger Woods, Singh seems to grind out top 10s every week. The big man from Fiji has two wins in 2007, a second-place finish and three other top 10 showings. His work ethic is unsurpassed and his fitness is excellent.
I would not be surprised to see Singh, who will go into the playoffs as the No. 2 seed, win the overall Fed Ex Cup title. The format, which rewards consistency, suits him. Plus, he’s won multiple times at Westchester Country Club, site of the Barclay’s, the first playoff event.