I know this much about Oakland Hills. It’s brutal, and it’s pretty high up there in the course rankings [18th by Golf Magazine], but I don’t know any players who say, “God, I love Oakland Hills.” It’s a ballbuster.
The greens are over the top. They’re straight from Putt-Putt, minus the swinging logs and clowns’ mouths. Plus, you’re hitting three-irons into most of them. I have no idea why Oakland Hills is rated so high. What’s the mystique? Because Ben Hogan won the U.S. Open there a million years ago and bragged that he finally tamed the Monster? That’s prehistoric. The last Open there, in 1996, was uneventful. On the 72nd hole Davis Love III three-putted and Tom Lehman hooked his drive into a fairway bunker to allow Steve Jones, a qualifier who scrambled his tail off, to win. I don’t know why we keep going back there.
Forgive Me, Kenny
I know I ripped Kenny Perry for skipping the British and playing in Milwaukee [Golf Plus, July 14], but in hindsight I see that it was a genius move. He not only stuck to his guns and honored his commitment to the U.S. Bank Championship, but he also got another top 10 finish. Not that he needs it — he was already a lock for the Ryder Cup team. The point is, I should’ve known better than to second-guess a guy for a decision like that. If your heart isn’t in it, you shouldn’t go. The facts are that Kenny is 47 and hits a high ball with an almost exclusive right-to-left ball flight. How do you think that would’ve played in 40-mph wind and rain? I’ll tell you — not very well.
I don’t want to diminish next week’s PGA Championship, but I have to say that with Tiger Woods not playing for the rest of the year, pro golf seems a lot less interesting. That sounds bad, I know, but not even Greg Norman could save the British Open for me. It was great to have the old Shark in contention, but I can’t imagine that anyone — other than Chris Evert — thought for a minute that he’d pull it off, even with a two-shot lead going into the final round.
David Duval and Rocco Mediate provided some interesting early story lines, but in the end the Open was a boring event with a boring winner. Nothing against Padraig Harrington who’s a wonderful guy and played a gutsy back nine on Sunday, but as the low TV ratings proved, people don’t enjoy watching players constantly hacking out of the hay and making doubles and triples and having their putts blown off-line. The conditions were a joke and turned the Open into nothing more than a survival contest. Usually you might get one or two bad days, but this was four straight days of it. Those were the worst conditions I can remember, and crazy weather usually leads to a wild-card kind of winner.
Even the TV guys, normally big cheerleaders, talked about how the winner of the British should get an asterisk because Tiger was missing, and you can bet the topic will come up again next week. (Funny, though. I didn’t hear anybody say that Sergio Garcia should’ve gotten an asterisk for winning the Players Championship.) Regardless, it’s a legitimate point.
A FedEx Cup Half Empty
I can’t tell you how much Tiger’s absence will hurt the FedEx Cup, which may have to be renamed the CareLess Cup. The majors are still majors, no matter who plays, but Tiger didn’t simply lift last year’s FedEx Cup playoffs, he was the FedEx Cup playoffs. Sure, he skipped the first event, the Barclays. But his duel with Phil Mickelson at the Deutsche Bank may have been the best tournament of the year, and then he had that sizzling finish to win the BMW and crushed everyone at the Tour Championship. So now we’re missing our top A-lister, and our No. 2, Mickelson, isn’t exactly burning it up. Who’s going to get fans excited about the FedEx Cup? Perry? Stewart Cink? Anthony Kim? Brandt Snedeker?
Our TV ratings get killed when Tiger doesn’t play, and I can only imagine how bad they’ll be for the two tournaments played during the NFL season, the BMW and the Tour Championship. Fans used to watch the NBA playoffs just to see Michael Jordan. It’s the same in golf with Tiger.
A Three-hole Players Playoff?
I heard from a good source that the Tour and NBC are discussing a three-hole playoff — the 16th, 17th and 18th at TPC Sawgrass — in case of a tie at the Players Championship. Starting a sudden-death playoff at a par-3 like the island-green 17th was always kind of goofy and quickly killed any drama this year when Paul Goydos dunked his tee shot to lose to Garcia. The three-hole playoff is a great idea and one that I’ve mentioned here before, just like I suggested that the Masters should go to a three-hole playoff at Amen Corner.
Of course, both tournaments would have to move up the tee times a little on Sunday to leave enough daylight for the extra holes, and I’m not sure either the Tour or TV wants to do that, but I’m glad they’re at least taking a serious look at it.
Ryder Cup Update: Bullish on the U.S.
I probably shouldn’t say this because our strategy is to go in as underdogs, but our Ryder Cup team is looking good, even without Tiger. There’s no question that the new system, based on money won, is doing what Paul Azinger wanted it to do — get guys who are playing well onto the team. Perry and Kim are arguably the hottest players in golf, and they’ll be on our squad for sure. Kenny is going to bring the passion, and will also fire up the Kentuckians in the crowd, while Anthony is going to bring the attitude. Without Tiger around I wouldn’t be surprised if Mickelson has a good week too. Nobody is tougher than Jim Furyk. Cink was one of our few bright spots in the last Ryder Cup. After that, we have a nice mix of younger guys and veterans fighting for the remaining spots. I’d be pretty happy to have Justin Leonard and Steve Stricker on my team, as well as young guys like Snedeker, Hunter Mahan or D.J. Trahan. They all can play.
Obviously, Tiger is a hard man to replace. That said, we’ve relied on him too much. We assume he’s going to win all his points, and that simply doesn’t happen. And when you look at his record [10-13-2], he seems replaceable. The problem isn’t just that we’ve had trouble finding him a partner. The other side gets jacked up to play against him, same as when lesser teams face the Yankees in baseball or Duke in basketball. They have nothing to lose, so they play without fear. If someone else is the opponent, they might not get the same competitive high. And while Tiger has a presence, once you get past the opening hole, the intimidation factor pretty much evaporates — especially when Tiger pulls a three-wood into a water hazard on the 1st tee, as he did in the first session in 2006. I’ll say it now: The Americans are going to be in these matches until the very last point.
Test? What Test?
There sure were a lot of stories about drug testing on Tour when the policy went into effect at last month’s AT&T National. You haven’t heard much lately because as far as I can tell, there hasn’t been any testing since. Is that all there is? What with even commissioner Tim Finchem filling a cup, I guess the testing at Congressional was simply a big dog-and-pony show.
As far as I’m concerned, we only need to test one guy, and I understand that he has already passed two privately administered drug tests. I wonder if he was worried about something?
Perry is the obvious choice. Some might even consider him the favorite. Jones and Lehman did well in ’96, and, like Perry, they’re big hitters who play a draw, which is Kenny’s game in a nutshell. Plus, I love the way he has turned around his putting. Kim is too good to call a dark horse. Anthony could definitely make this PGA his first major title. He hasn’t won a major, but he tied for seventh at the British. If he were playing against Phil or Ernie right now, I’d take Kim. I’d take Perry over them, too.
Love is my official dark-horse pick. Don’t laugh. It’s been almost a year since his ankle surgery, and he’s been quietly playing and putting better. He came close at Oakland Hills in ’96, so I think he’ll feel the good vibes. My understudy dark horse is Ian Poulter , for no good reason other than he came to the last hole at Birkdale thinking he needed to make a putt to have a chance, and he drilled it in the center. I like his guts.
My New Game Plan for Phil
I’m not picking Mickelson to win the PGA because he’s not driving it straight enough to win anywhere. The bigger question is whether Phil is still the second-best player in the world. My answer is yes, only because nobody else with a resume is on fire at the moment. Where are all those guys who are supposed to challenge Tiger — Sergio, Ernie Els, Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott, Vijay Singh? They aren’t doing anything. But I do think Phil needs to change his approach. He should show up at Oakland Hills on Tuesday without his scientist and his astrologer and the rest of his posse. He’s a feel player who plays with imagination. Charting the greens and all this excess preparation is out of character for him. Phil wants to leave nothing to chance, but everything in golf is chance. You don’t know how you’re going to feel, which way the wind will blow, whether you’ll sleep well, what kind of lie you’ll get in the bunkers. There are a million variables.
My advice to Phil is to pull a Padraig. Because of a sore wrist Harrington had no expectations at Royal Birkdale and played one hole on Wednesday after having gone maybe five holes the day before. Phil: Show up at Oakland Hills on Tuesday and play nine holes. Play another nine on Wednesday, then gun it on Thursday and see what happens.
AND THE WINNER IS…
Jim Furyk. I know, I’ve picked him to win several majors since the ’03 U.S. Open and have been wrong every time. Still, I believe in Jim. He played well at the British, and I saw that old determination in his eyes. He has gotten back on his game, and he’s putting better. He’s a great scrambler, which you have to be at a place like Oakland Hills, and he’s too good of a player to go all year without a win. Plus, he’s now one major behind Harrington, and I think he has more game than Padraig. Jim drives it well, which is usually critical at a PGA, and he’s flat-out due.