Commentary

Jason Sobel's Barclays blog

Originally Published: August 20, 2008
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

Have a question or comment for Jason Sobel while he's on-site at the Barclays? E-mail him at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

6:00 p.m.: Not sure whether this was the first semi-live running blog from a pro-am round before a non-major professional golf tournament, but it was definitely the first one I've ever written. Fun way to cover the day -- so much fun that I'll do it again tomorrow.

We'll have some actual golf to discuss in the a.m., so check back here at 9 ET and keep clicking throughout the day.

Until then, hit 'em straight …

5:47 p.m.: Whether it's apropos of nothing or contains some deeply symbolic message, I'm not sure, but making a loop to the driving range after checking out the fifth hole, I see that Lee Janzen remains as the lone player still beating golf balls into the midafternoon sky.

Why might that be symbolic? Because Janzen enters this week as the 144th-ranked player in the field, having just squeezed his way in thanks to a T-15 finish in Greensboro last week. A year ago, he would have had only false reason for optimism, as the last-ranked player was basically a dead man walking for the FedEx Cup playoffs. With the increased volatility in the points system, however, there's a chance that Janzen actually can jump from worst to first this week.

Tiger Woods, who begins as the No. 1 seed even though he's not playing, has 100,000 points after the reset. Janzen has 92,070. A victory at the Barclays is worth 11,000, which means Janzen -- or anyone else near the bottom -- could move into contention for the $10 million grand prize with a big week.

Guess all that late-afternoon range work isn't so fruitless after all.

(By the way, chalk this one up to the rich getting richer: I've been assured that Woods will get paid for advancing in the playoffs even if he does so from the comfort of his own couch. Whew! Bet that'll really help out with those mortgage payments!)


5:05 p.m.: Standing at the fifth green right now … well, what there is of the fifth green, at least.

Man, hearing about how small it is and seeing it in person are two totally different things altogether. It's actually fairly deep -- don't have official numbers with me, but I'd guess about 25-30 yards -- but can't be more than 10 yards wide. Sort of like a professional kicker going from NFL uprights to those skinny ones in the Arena League. Definitely out of the norm for these players -- or for any players.

As a general rule, I love any risk/reward hole in a PGA Tour event, but this one has a lot more reward than risk to it. I doubt we'll see many scores of worse than par.

Even though the green is guarded by bunkers on all sides, it's gotta be tough for a pro to talk himself into laying up here. Anytime eagle is a possibility and a two-putt birdie could be reality, laying up could be the last thing in a player's mind.

That said, it's exactly how I'd play this hole. Even if the "five and dime" isn't called such because players can hit 5-iron/wedge into the green, it's a perfect strategy. These guys are such good wedge players that a nice, easy midiron off the tee can leave them with a sand or lob wedge for a second shot. That's still going to equal an awful lot of birdies. And it takes driving the ball into a precarious lie in a bunker totally out of play.

By the way -- and I swear I didn't know this before starting to make my way out to this hole -- ESPN.com will be streaming live video from the fifth hole in each of the first two rounds of this event. Will players go for the green or lay up? You'll be able to see for yourself Thursday.


4:35 p.m.: E-mail from Jim in Ramsey, N.J.:

    Have you spent any time out at the 291-yard par-4 fifth hole, dubbed the "five and dime"? Interested how the pros are going to approach it. Played it once, and I've seen living rooms bigger than that green, so can't see many actually hitting it, but wondering how hard the recovery shots are playing.

Haven't been out there yet, but just for you, I'll make my way there now and give a report. Meanwhile, here's what some pros are saying about it already:

Vijay Singh: "Very good. Very tough. It's one of the smallest greens you'll ever play on tour. It reminds me very much of No. 10 at Riviera, a small green. Similar type of green. You have to know which side to hit it. If you hit it left, you're dead. It plays on the scorecard, 290 [yards] or whatever, but it plays a lot longer because it's way uphill and you may have some wind into you. Adam Scott, in front of me, laid up, so that should tell you something there."

Anthony Kim: "For some reason, it seems like that's the perfect driver distance for me. It plays 18 yards up the hill … I think it's like 299 or 289, something like that, to the front, and it's a shot that requires a cut off the tee if you're going to hold that green, and that's what I hit. I don't see why I should lay back and let the birdie come to me when I can go chase that thing down. … I hit three balls yesterday, and one of them went about eight feet and another one went about 10 feet, and another one was about 30 feet away. So I hit the surface every time, and obviously the pins might be to where I can't hit driver if the pin is in the front, I probably will lay up and probably try to suck something back off the middle of the green and play safe that way. But if the pin is in the back, I'm probably going to hit driver there every day."

By the way, here's an answer as to why it's called the "five and dime," courtesy of Pete from Hawthorne, N.J., who grew up caddying here:

    While I was at Ridgewood, I had the opportunity to speak with several original members, as well as with several caddies who were working at the time the course was being built (there were two predecessor courses, the last in an area on the Glen Rock-Ridgewood border). One thing they were all in agreement with was the true meaning of the nickname "five and dime" for 6 Center (No. 5 this week). It was given that nickname originally because it was a "cheap par four," not because you could use a 5-iron and a 10-iron (in those days, you would have had to be Godzilla to reach the green with those clubs).

Raise your hand if you have a wedge in your bag that's so old it actually has the numeral "10" on the bottom of the clubhead. I do.

OK, heading out to No. 5 …


4:15 p.m.: If you want to know the pros who are really grinding, fastidiously working on their games, just check out the driving range in the late afternoon on Wednesday of tournament week.

I think Grinder of the Day honors go to Peter Lonard, who has been swiping irons at the exact same spot on the range for a few hours now. He was still out there as of a few minutes ago, along with Paul Goydos, Mathew Goggin, Bo Van Pelt and Stuart Appleby.

I told Appleby's caddie, New Jersey native Joe Damiano, that I picked his man to win this week solely because there are no Garden Staters in the field, so having one on the bag is the next best thing. He got a laugh out of that, but then said in all seriousness, "I'm the only one here who has ever been to this course before! I know [Phil] Mickelson played a few months ago, but I used to come up here all the time with a buddy whose father was the head pro."

Even though Damiano lives 75 miles south of here, could he help provide the winning formula for Appleby? Maybe, but remember -- anyone grinding away on Wednesday afternoon likely doesn't feel too confident in his game right now.


3:24 p.m.: There are now nine players who have officially withdrawn from what was supposed to be a 144-man field. (There are no alternates this week, so we're down to 135 players.)

Some of those players, such as Tiger Woods and Luke Donald, have bowed out because of injury. Justin Rose is playing the European Tour's KLM Open in hopes of securing his spot on the Ryder Cup team. Lee Westwood is on "holiday."

Then there are two players who qualify for the PGA Tour's version of "Pro Golfers Are Just Like Us!"

Ranked 124th in the standings, Bob Estes perhaps pessimistically scheduled his wedding for this weekend. Showing the right priorities as far as his new bride is concerned (and the wrong ones for anyone with him on their fantasy roster), Estes decided to go ahead and get married instead of competing this week.

Meanwhile, just in the past hour, Bob Tway withdrew to head down to Pinehurst, N.C. That's where his son, Kevin, who plays at Oklahoma State and reached the field at the U.S. Open earlier this year, made it into the match-play portion of the U.S. Amateur. Essentially, Dad potentially is giving up two paychecks to see his boy. At 119th on the points list, a made cut this week would have ensured Tway of a spot in next week's Deutsche Bank Championship; now, he's probably done until the Fall Finish.


3:05: As expected, players are getting inundated with questions about the course this week. Let's hear from a few of 'em:

    Q: The greens here, some slope left, some slope right, have you had a chance to read the greens? And how important is it when you're hitting approach shots to keep the ball below the hole?

    KENNY PERRY: Well, I have the secret out there and if I tell you, everyone is going to know. You know, the ridge that runs through the middle of the golf course? It's true, everything breaks away from the ridge no matter where you are.

    It reminds me of Riviera. Everything from Riviera runs back to this area of the golf course; all of the greens, doesn't matter where unless you're on a real severe slope, and it has a tendency to affect all the putts. I kept paying attention to the ridge all day, all day, and you know what, it worked. That made me feel more comfortable about the greens out here. They are faster than they look. They will roll them and speed them up and there's a lot of slope on them and you will definitely have to keep them under the hole.

    But if you understand the ridge effect, you can get a feel for the speed of the greens and knowing that it may not look downhill, if you're going away from that ridge, it's going to be a fast putt no matter what.

    For me to not have understood that; my caddie, he talked to some of the locals around here and they gave him that information. So it was nice to have a little local knowledge.

    Q: I don't know if you got this sense, but the locals say that it gets tough after the first six holes; do you have that sense?

    KENNY PERRY: I didn't pay any attention to the first five holes. I can't hardly even remember them right now. I just remember the par 5s are all 600-plus. I couldn't get to any of them. And I know that one that's six whatever, there's rough that cuts across the fairway; and if you hit it in the rough on that hole I know you're going to have to lay up short of it and you're going to have 240 into the hole for your third shot.

    I noticed all the holes were very long. I was hitting a lot of driver, mid-irons, driver, mid-irons and I knew if I missed the fairway, I wasn't going to be able to get it to the green for my second shot and I was going to have to lay up, and you're right. It's definitely going to be -- you know, driving it in the fairway is a premium this week. The rough is pretty bad. And I'm not great at chopping it out of that rough and getting any power and having to get it to the green.

    But the driver is the strength of my game. When I'm on with my driver, I don't miss any fairways.

For the record, Perry ranks 119th in driving accuracy this year, at 61.81 percent -- just below the tour average. So that may have been just a teensy-weensy bit of an overstatement. But I digress …

    Q: I know you've said nice things about Ridgewood. Does it fit your eye better than Westchester did?

    PHIL MICKELSON: I like Westchester. I think it's a great golf course. I do feel as though Ridgewood is a step up in quality. It's just a wonderful golf course. I've always loved going to Westchester, but this course really is a major championship feel. It's a Tillinghast, same designer as Winged Foot; same designer I believe as Baltusrol, very similar feel, and it has that northeast, major championship field.

    Q: Is it more Winged Foot or Baltusrol?

    PHIL MICKELSON: It's got glimpses of both. It really has glimpses of both. You can see similarities throughout.

    Q: Hopefully it will be more Baltusrol than Winged Foot for you.

    PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the 18th hole doglegs right, not left, so that's a nice change.

Uh-oh, does that mean no "bread-and-butter baby slice" for Lefty come Sunday afternoon?

    Q: Holes 1, 2, 4 and 6, right off the bat, the best birdie opportunities and a lot of the other holes are tough and greens are left-to-right. Where else on the course besides 1, 2, 4 and 6 are other opportunities for players this week as well?

    ANTHONY KIM: Well, if you hit the ball in the fairway, every hole is a birdie hole. Obviously 1, I hit a drive, was it yesterday, I played nine holes yesterday and I hit it five yards right of where I was looking and the wind caught it and hit the tree and I was right behind the tree. So even though it's a driver, chip, if you don't hit the ball in the fairway, it's going to be tough.

    They have made the rough so it kind of grows into you, and so I had 170 to carry the rough on I think hole number -- the par 5 on the back, and I didn't get it over from the intermediate rough. The rough is pretty penal out here. You can get lucky, but the greens are perfect, so I don't see where there isn't too many birdie opportunities.

The difference between most players and Anthony Kim? Most players see a tough course and wonder where they can make birdies. Kim sees a tough course and wonders where he can't make birdies.

    Q: Your first time playing the course, what are your first impressions?

    SERGIO GARCÍA: It's a very nice golf course. Obviously very typical to this area. A lot of big trees and movement on the greens.

    The greens are pretty small for the majority. You know, a good target golf course. But I think it's going to be a good test. The weather is supposed to be good, so we'll see.

    Q: You had a pretty good track record at Westchester and this is an area you've done well. Is this course reminiscent?

    SERGIO GARCÍA: I think so. It's a nice course. I like most of the looks I got out there today. It's obviously not the same as Westchester but it's similar. It's got some similarities. Just a good, solid course and hoping I can have a good week and start the playoffs the way I want to.

Garcia looks focused, relaxed and happy. Of course, I didn't see him standing over any 5-footers, but really, he's not feeling any ill effects from failing to win the PGA two weeks ago.


2:20 p.m.: Just sat in on interview sessions for Sergio Garcia, Anthony Kim and Phil Mickelson. I'll post some of their thoughts in a little while, but first let's go to the inbox …

From Terrence in Chicago:

    With Tiger on the mend, I now watch golf on television as much for the course as I do the competition. This week's course looks fabulous. Do the pros like the classic parkland layouts like Ridgewood or do they prefer the courses where they can bomb it off the tee every time?

It's funny. The new generation is often accused of playing bomb-and-gouge golf -- which is to say, just hitting it far without worrying about the consequences. But ask most players on tour, both young and old, and they'll say their favorite courses are the ones on which strategy often comes into play. Even though it's no longer a must-play tourney, I've had more players tell me that Colonial was their favorite track on tour than anything outside of Augusta National.

From Jim in Woodbury, Minn.:

    You mentioned pro-ams. How do they work? Who is selected to play in them (the pros) and why? If the course is jammed with 150 amateurs and pros, where and when do the other pros that are not involved get to play the course for practice rounds? Does a typical tour event have more than one day of pro-ams? Do these playoffs events have one or two days?

Basically, there's sort of an uneven system in which the best players -- or most popular, likable, personable, etc. -- are tabbed to compete in the pro-am every single week. Miss it for whatever reason and they can't play in the tournament itself. And yes, that does provide a problem for those not in the pro-am, who can usually only take advantage of the course on other practice round days. Typically, a tour event will have one large "official" pro-am and maybe one or two other smaller (read: less costly to get into) pro-ams earlier in the week, though I'm not sure about these four playoff events specifically.

From Chad in New York:

    What do you think the winning score will be for the Barclays?

Your guess is as good as mine. The course is playing to a par-71 at 7,304 yards. Considering there's never been a PGA Tour-sanctioned event here before, it's up for debate, but I'd say somewhere in the 10- to 15-under-par range would be a solid bet. By the way, here is the list of the six previous "major" events held at Ridgewood, with winners in parenthesis:

• 2001 Senior PGA Championship (Tom Watson)

• 1990 U.S. Senior Open (Lee Trevino)

• 1981 Coca-Cola Classic (Kathy Whitworth)

• 1974 U.S. Amateur (Jerry Pate)

• 1957 U.S. Senior Amateur (J. Clark Espie)

• 1935 Ryder Cup (United States)

Pretty good champions list, huh?

From Brian in Parts Unknown:

    What are the players' comments on the course?

Not so fast, my friend. I'll leave that one for the next blog entry …


1:22 p.m.: One of the cooler aspects of these FedEx Cup events that was implemented by the PGA Tour last year is the fact that the top players in the standings are all grouped with each other in threesomes on the course.

Granted, it was a lot cooler when that led to the trio of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh competing together at last year's Deutsche Bank Championship, but the Thursday/Friday group of Kenny Perry, Mickelson and Padraig Harrington (8:16 a.m. tomorrow off the 10th tee) isn't bad, either.

Others grouped together include Anthony Kim, Stewart Cink and Singh; Justin Leonard, Ryuji Imada and Geoff Ogilvy; and Robert Allenby, Sergio Garcia and Carl Pettersson.

Speaking of Perry, here's what he had to say about his recent eye injury at the PGA Championship:

    "Interesting week. Spent three days at the doctor last week trying to get my eye fixed. I've had LASIKs done twice and I still wear contact lenses and what had happened, my contact had warped, and it scratched the cornea of my eye and it got infected. I was very light sensitive, so it was just very hard to play golf that way. So I withdrew from the PGA and spent three days with my doctor last week and we finally had enough medicine and got a new pair -- this is my third pair of contact lenses in my left eye, third one of the week, and it feels real good and I'm seeing pretty good out of it. I'm excited and it doesn't hurt. I don't have any pain. My vision is good again. So it's back to where it was when I was playing well, so I'm looking forward to it. It was just bad timing, bad luck, just a bad deal all around, but I'm glad it happened last week, that week where I could get it fixed to get ready for the playoffs."

Personally, I was hoping Perry would show up with a pair of Tom Kite's old Coke bottles, but no such luck.


12:55 p.m.: Random observations from the range …

Watch Nick Watney swing the club for a few minutes and it's difficult to understand why he's not a top-20 player. Dude is pure. If it wasn't for the guy hitting balls directly to his left (Ernie Els) he'd have the nicest swing of the three dozen or so guys out here right now. Personally, I think big-time success is right around the corner for him.

Speaking of Els, he's been working at the range a lot with some sort of support brace on his left arm. Looks like he's hurt, but trust me, it's just a training device.

Spoke with Charles Howell III for about 10 minutes for an upcoming feature I'm working on. I'm often asked which player is the most personable on the PGA Tour. If it's not CH3, he's at least somewhere in the top 5. Little-known fact: He's a big-time Tampa Bay Bucs fan. Told me he played golf with his buddy Ronde Barber just last week.

No one works harder on the range than the stack-and-tilt guys. Whether it's Dean Wilson or Aaron Baddeley or Charlie Wi or Mike Weir or any of a number of Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett's disciples, they're always out there working on their swings, analyzing the results on video.

Plummer told me that they're also starting to work with Joe Ogilvie and J.J. Henry, too. The latter is already showing strong results, based on his top-10 finish in Greensboro on Sunday.


11:53 a.m.: Just ran into Ben Curtis in the locker room. He's a pretty quiet, soft-spoken guy, but as approachable as anyone on tour. I asked him five questions and, well, let's just say I can see this turning into a recurring theme of the semi-live blog.

Here's the first installment of "Five Questions With …" in which -- you'll never believe this -- I ask someone five questions:

1. Q: Initial thoughts on the course so far?
A: It's pretty good. It's just a very old-style golf course. Not much to it, other than the greens. The first nine [which Curtis played yesterday; he'll play all 18 during the pro-am this afternoon], it seems pretty generous off the tee, except for a couple of holes. The tough part is the greens aren't big and you've got to hit 'em in the right spot.

2. Q: Still riding high after the PGA?
A: Yeah, I hope so [laughs]. Never really know until you play on Thursday, but yeah, the game feels fine, so we'll see.

3. Q: How good does it feel to get back into the mix in the final round of a major?
A: Well, it feels good. I always try to gear my game toward the majors. It feels good to know that through the pressure, I hung in there and played well.

4. Q: I made the case during the PGA that you're one of the most underrated players in the world. Do you buy into that at all?
A: It's hard to say. I think I'd like to get more recognition for what I've done, but it is what it is. I had three years where I didn't play well, then I won twice in one year. Last year was an average year. I've been very streaky and I'd just like to get more consistent.

Q: Does it hurt your case that the two PGA Tour events you won in '06 aren't around anymore?
A: It doesn't help, because they're kind of forgotten, but yeah, I wish those tournaments were there and I wish I could go back and play in a tournament that I won before like the British Open.

5: Q: You going back and forth with the Jets and Giants clothes this week?
A: Yeah.

Q: They don't make you mix and match, say, a Giants hat with a Jets shirt or vice versa?
A: No, I mean, I could do it if I wanted to, but I'm not going to.

Q: Does it get tiresome sometimes with fans just yelling football stuff at you all the time?
A: Some cities. Like this city, New York is pretty vocal. Pittsburgh is pretty vocal. Chicago is vocal. But you get used to it after a while. You kind of just shut it out. At first, you respond, but now you just let it go.

For the record, I stand by my claim: Ben Curtis is among the most underrated players in the world. Major champion, two other PGA Tour wins, former No. 1-ranked amateur. The guy gets no love.


10:58 a.m.: Irony? Or just coincidence?

In a few minutes, there will be a special announcement from new PGA Tour sponsor Transitions Optical in the media center. Thirty minutes later, Kenny Perry will meet with the scribes.

Of course, when last we saw Perry, he was withdrawing after Round 1 of the PGA Championship due to a scratched cornea. I've tried getting in touch with him a few times since then for an update, but haven't spoken with him. My best guess is that since he's here and in the field then his eye must be somewhat, if not fully, healed.

Can you imagine after all he's done to get onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team if an injury to his cornea kept him from competing?

I will include a report on Perry's health later on today. Keep those e-mails coming …


10:22 a.m.: One of the biggest criticisms about the playoff system from players has been the fact that each of the four events includes a pre-tournament pro-am, in effect reducing it to the level of regular season event, rather than something of another tier.

They've got a point, too. The majors don't have pro-ams. Neither does the Players Championship. If the tour wants its participants to consider the playoff events as bigger, more important tourneys, perhaps the pro-am days should be eliminated.

Of course, you and I both know that these hit-and-giggle fests (or hit-and-swear, depending on the pro-am player) bring in big money for the tour and its charities, so don't expect this rule to change anytime soon.

It's certainly on display right now, as the player parking lot is probably less than half-filled with courtesy cars (BMW SUVs, all black -- players are cruisin' in style in Jersey) and of those who are here, most are out on the course, competing in the pro-am. The range is slowly starting to fill up, with Vaughn Taylor, Tim Herron, Charley Hoffman and Jason Day among the bigger names out here -- which is to say there aren't many big names working on their games right now.


9:30 a.m.: Call it a running blog … or a semi-live blog … or, perhaps most accurately, a whole bunch of words that I'm going to write about this week's Barclays tournament, the first round of the PGA Tour's four-event FedEx Cup playoff series.

If you're familiar with my usual live blog efforts from major championships, think of the next three days -- today's practice round, plus the opening two rounds of the tournament -- as live blog lite. I'll be here at Ridgewood CC dispatching on-the-scene reports, but not with the every-few-minutes frequency I've implemented during the majors. Then again, I won't be updating this thing infrequently, either, so make sure you check back every 30, 45, 60 minutes or so, as I'll be watching the action and talking to players, then writing about everything I see and hear.

The PGA Tour is back in New Jersey for the first time since … (c'mon, you know this one!) … the 1970 Dow Jones Open, during which, one can only presume, some players were booming while others were clearly in a recession. (Thanks. I'll be here all week.) No sign of Bon Jovi or The Boss yet, but the day is young and the Garden State is full of possibilities.

Heading out to the range to speak with some players and see what they think about this 7,304-yard Tillinghast design. I'll be answering e-mails throughout the day, so any questions or comments can be sent directly to me at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com. Back in a little while …

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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