Commentary

Jason Sobel's Barclays blog

Originally Published: August 21, 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.

Round 1 highlights

For more Playoffs coverage visit PGATOUR.com

WATCH VIDEO: See first-round highlights from the Barclays including Hunter Mahan's 62.
• Watch: Shot of the day | Mickelson interview

• Jason Sobel discussed the playoffs, why two guys chose family instead of the playoffs and much more in Wednesday's blog.

6:00 p.m.: As Round 1 of The Barclays nears completion, it remains all too obvious that nobody is going to catch Hunter Mahan on the leaderboard. In fact, no one is going to come close.

Of course, let's not hand him the trophy just yet, either. The last time a player led the field by four after the opening round of a PGA Tour event? It was Jesper Parnevik at last year's Texas Open -- and he wound up losing in a playoff.

We can't talk about Mahan without discussing Ryder Cup implications. The PGA Tour folks aren't going to like this, but after Day 1 of the FedEx Cup playoffs, the leader's story is less about how many points he's accumulating and more about his candidacy for one of U.S. captain Paul Azinger's four picks that will be handed out Sept. 2.

As I wrote earlier, it's my belief that if Mahan doesn't play any better than his competition for the team, Azinger will choose four others to avoid the lingering controversy surrounding Mahan's "slave" comment. But if he continues playing like he did Thursday, it will be impossible for the captain to leave him off the squad, considering he's been making the assertion for close to two years that he would take the hottest players available at the time.

For his part, Mahan still very much wants to be a part of the team, despite what he's heard about the "extra" extra-curricular activities included with the event.

"I had a great time at the Presidents Cup [last year]," Mahan said after his round Thursday. "Enjoyed the whole experience. It was amazing. You know, I didn't play well enough to make the team on points, so I have to go another way. Luckily, there's four picks. I think, you know, Captain Azinger, I don't know exactly what he's thinking with the picks, but I think he's going to pick the best players he can. And it was a good move having the picks a little bit later and see what guys are playing well, and build a little momentum from the FedEx Cup and roll into the Ryder Cup. We'll see. I would love to be a pick, but [I've] got to earn it, too. Looking forward to that challenge and the opportunity the next couple of weeks."

If nothing else, it certainly gives us a good underlying subplot to watch over the next couple of weeks.

Well, that'll do it from Ridgewood CC for the day. I'll be back from here at 9 a.m. ET Friday morning to see if anyone can make a run at Mahan on the leaderboard. Until then, hit 'em straight ...


5:10 p.m.: E-mail from Rachel in Palo Alto, Calif.:

    Any interesting post-round commentary from Paddy Harrington (e.g. "I wasn't feeling great today, experiencing some let-down, not on top of my game,") before he goes on to dominate in the final two rounds?

He wouldn't be Padraig Harrington if he wasn't self-effacing after the round. Time to play everyone's favorite game: Read Paddy's post-round quotes and try to guess his score!

    Q: How did the mind and body feel today?
    PADRAIG HARRINGTON: I felt okay. I thought I played nicely, but middle of the round, I missed a number of really good birdie chances and then took four twice and two sixes. Looking back at it, you have to say, you know, I didn't feel like I did much wrong, but some of that's that mental tiredness. I know it's difficult out there and the rough is tough, but that was just bad play on my behalf.

    Q: You said earlier in the week -- did you feel more confidence in what you were looking for ahead in this week?
    PADRAIG HARRINGTON: More of the same old stuff. I suppose you're not going to change overnight, anyway, or change a lot. I played the same as I would normally. I worked my way through most of the round. As I said I made a few mistakes in the middle of the round and missed a couple of putts from four or five feet for birdie, but I look back at the two sixes, and gave away four shots, or certainly two on those holes.

Hmmm ... mental tiredness ... bad play ... a few mistakes ... missed a couple of putts ...

That's right -- if you guessed an opening-round score of 1-over 72, you win!

Seriously, one of these days Harrington is going to play really badly -- like 78 or 79 on the card -- and the post-round comments will just be legendary. They might have to keep him away from the 3-iron -- or anything else he can hurt himself with.


4:55 p.m.: About the only buzz we've heard this afternoon is when Anthony Kim got stung by a bee.

After Hunter Mahan went mega-low and a bunch of other players were in the 60s this morning, the afternoon round is turning out to be a snoozer. Dudley Hart is playing his last hole at 4-under; Bubba Watson, Nick Watney, Ryan Palmer and J.J. Henry are all still on the course at 3-under.

Usually the galleries become more animated and louder as the day progresses, but it feels like the opposite around here today. Then again, if you want to look at the situation with the glass half-full, expect some fireworks tomorrow afternoon, when most of the opening-round leaders will be out on the course.


4:30 p.m.: E-mail from Kyle in Dayton, Ohio:

    Can we nickname Kevin Streelman, "Thursday" because that's the only day I see his name on the leaderboard? Am I just mistaken or does he seem to always play well on the first day and ... maybe not so much on the other days?

Nope, you're absolutely right. Streelman's scoring average before the cut is 70.98, which ranks 40th on tour, but his third-round average is 72.11 (185th) and his final-round average is 71.19 (81st). He's made the most headlines for a pair of good starts at Torrey Pines this year, but finished T-29 and T-53 at the Buick Invitational and U.S. Open, respectively.

Moral of the story: Don't get too geeked up about Streelman's 4-under 67 on Thursday.

And yet, he may be runner-up for Rookie of the Year honors right now. Of course, that title is likely to go to ... Chez Reavie.

Didn't realize Chez is having such a good season? Well, he's not. Aside from winning the Canadian Open, he only has one other finish of better than 32nd (T-5 at the Bob Hope) in two dozen total events. Still, he's the only rookie with a victory this season and started the playoffs at No. 35 on the points list -- 58 spots better than the next first-year player, Brad Adamonis.


4:05 p.m.: Cool feature of the ShotLink computers here in the media center at the course. During the round, as the leaderboard changes, the computer gives an updated tabulation of the projected FedEx Cup standings based on the ever-lingering phrase, "if the tournament ended right now."

Well, if it did, with the current leaderboard intact, here's how the revised points list would look going into next week's Deutsche Bank Championship:

• 1. Hunter Mahan: 107,590
• 2. Kenny Perry: 102,154
• 3. Anthony Kim: 101,869
• 4. Paul Casey: 101,630
• 5. Phil Mickelson: 101,581
• 6. Vijay Singh: 100,831
• 7. Padraig Harrington: 100,781
• 8. Justin Leonard: 100,706
• 9. Stewart Cink: 100,406
• 10. Adam Scott: 100,194
• 11. Robert Allenby: 100,180
• 12. Sergio Garcia: 100,106
• 13. Jim Furyk: 100,181
• 14. Tiger Woods: 100,000
• 15. Boo Weekley: 99,956

A few things of note ...

All depends on what his fellow competitors do, but it looks like anyone in the top half of the original points list coming into this week -- if not even deeper -- will be in first place with a victory here. For the record, Mahan was ranked 31st entering this week.

While first place gives a huge jump, the numbers incrementally decrease after that. Paul Casey would go from 90th to fourth with a solo second-place result, but Bo Van Pelt would only move from 116th to 58th by finishing in a six-way tie for third place.

Woods won't fall very far on the list by failing to play in the first event. Seems like most people are divided on this issue. Some believe he (or anyone) should be automatically eliminated from contention as soon as one round of the playoffs is missed; others believe the regular-season leader should be given an advantage going into the postseason.


3:45 p.m.: Just walked the course for about 30 minutes or so, and I can confirm that conditions are still as benign as they were during the morning rounds.

You wouldn't know it from looking at the leaderboard, though.

Of the 14 players at 3-under or better, only four remain on the course, while 10 are already in the clubhouse. The four playing well right now include Dudley Hart and Ryan Palmer at 4-under, and J.J. Henry and Anthony Kim at 3-under.

Speaking of Kim, how about this for motivation: "I'm looking at this house in Dallas, Texas, right now that I maybe can't afford, so I need a good FedEx Cup," he said yesterday. "I'm putting some pressure on myself to go get that house."

Don't believe the hype about players "not caring" about these playoffs. Yes, many have plenty of money and aren't exactly hurting for cash, but $10 million is $10 million. For a 23-year-old kid like Kim, it's still pretty damned important.


3:15 p.m.: E-mail from Tom in Chicago:

    It still boggles my mind that 144 people qualify for the playoffs when only 125 get to keep their cards. If they want it to be true playoff style, have about half that many make it (in the NBA, about half the teams make the playoffs). So you would start at The Barclays with 75, it would be down to 60 the next week, 45 the week after, and end with the traditional 30 at the Tour Championship. That would make the FedEx Cup playoffs much more prestigious in my mind.

Preaching to the choir, brother. I've written this before and think it's a cop-out from the PGA Tour to let so many players into these fields. I know there are more than 125 players who own some sort of status, but that's how many keep their cards, which means that 115 percent of the players make the postseason.

As I wrote in my Weekly 18 this past week, in order for, say, Major League Baseball to invite 115 percent of its teams to the playoffs, not only would every active team make it, but they'd have to include the Toledo Mud Hens, Yomiuri Giants and a Little League World Series team, too.

That said, I'm not sure why this issue has become so bothersome for the fans. I mean, when was the last time you watched or attended a PGA Tour event and said, "This tournament would be so much more fun if there were fewer players in the field."?


3:00 p.m.: Talk about life imitating art ...

Perhaps you've seen the FedEx Cup promo in which Mike Weir seeks out Wayne Gretzky for postseason advice and is told to grow a playoff beard.

Well, I almost didn't recognize Weir as he walked up the 18th hole with -- you got it -- a full playoff beard. OK, so it's not as "full" as the one he sported in the TV spot, but it's still a different look for the lefty.

Didn't help his putting stroke, though. From the back of the green, Weir left his first attempt well short of the hole, then missed the next one, too. By a hair. Ha.


2:50 p.m.: Anthony Kim was playing the third hole a little while ago when he was stung by a bee. There was a rumor around here that he may have been allergic, but after being attended to, Kim made birdie on the hole and has played two more since then, so it looks like he's fine.

No truth to the rumor that the bee was a Mickelson fan just trying to keep the kid off the leaderboard.


2:20 p.m.: E-mail from Carey in San Antonio:

    Haven't heard you mention much about David Toms. Is he even a thought for Paul Azinger's captain's picks? Toms has been playing very well lately after almost disappearing for a while. I think Toms should be in the mix, considering he is one of the most dangerous putters on tour and has previous Ryder Cup experience.

The answer is yes. In fact, the answer to the question, "Is __________ being given consideration?" is yes, no matter which player fills in that blank. Almost any American player can fare well over the next two weeks and find himself on the team.

Speaking of the Ryder Cup, how much of an underdog will the U.S. team be this year?

Here's some food for thought: If Carl Pettersson had taken on U.S. citizenship after moving to the U.S. at age 15, he'd be a lock to make the roster right now, following his win in Greensboro last week. As it is, he's only eligible for the European team, and my best guess is that he's not even within sniffing distance of one of Nick Faldo's two captain's picks, with likely candidates Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke well ahead of him.


1:20 p.m.: Quote of the day so far? Not a whole lot to work with yet, so I'll nominate this one from Kenny Perry:

"We had a lot of support out there today. Of course, they were all rooting for Phil."

With the New York-area crowd, as always, on his side, Mickelson shot a 1-under 70 to open the tournament.

I just passed Phil's caddie, Bones Mackay, as he was loading his man's golf bag into the courtesy car. He was wearing a lime green golf shirt with the Barclays logo (one of Mickelson's sponsors) on the sleeve -- just like all of the marshals here at the course.

"Are you volunteering this week?" I asked him.

"Oh, man. I hadn't even thought of that," he said. "Maybe I should go out there and work this afternoon."

Don't count on it. With the clubs already loaded up, expect Bones -- and Mickelson -- to be out of here soon.


1:05 p.m.: Life is good for J.J. Henry.

He's been working on his swing and hasn't had a very strong season, but thanks to a good final round in Greensboro on Sunday, he finished a season-high T-4. But that's not even the best thing that's happened to him lately.

Just passed Henry as he was walking over to the range. "Any word on the baby front yet?" I asked him. "Monday night," he said. "Baby boy. Everyone is doing great."

Pretty amazing that a guy can play so well while obviously having some other things on his mind this past week.


12:55 p.m.: On Wednesday I wrote about how the top players on the FedEx Cup points list were all grouped in threesomes for the first two rounds.

It seems that extends to the practice range, too.

As I walked over here, the first five players on the end of the range, in order, were Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh, Steve Stricker and Stewart Cink.

Normally, I'd chastise any fans who were hanging at the range instead of watching live tournament golf, but I'll make an exception for the 100 or so people who are gathered near these heavy hitters right now. You can go a long time on tour without seeing five players in a row with swings as grooved as these five.


12:40 p.m.: Hunter Mahan is on fire.

I'm standing at the 18th green right now, waiting for the leader to finish out his round -- and he's about to do it in style. Already 8-under, Mahan just hit a laser beam to 3 feet ... and cleans it up for a birdie to get into the clubhouse at an unbelievably impressive 62.

Haven't done the research yet, but that's got to be the competitive course record here at Ridgewood.

Mahan isn't a guy who's unaccustomed to going low, either. This is the 12th time in his young career that he's posted 64 or better, including a 63 in the third round of this event a year ago when it was played at Westchester Country Club.


12:10 p.m.: Just sat in on Paul Casey's post-round interview session after he shot an opening-round 5-under 66.

If you've been paying close attention to him lately, it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise. Casey not only made the cut in all four majors for the second straight year, he's been playing some of his best golf of the season recently, with a T-7 at the British Open, T-8 at the Bridgestone Invitational, T-15 at the PGA Championship and T-26 at the Wyndham Championship.

"I'm happy with the way I've been playing," he said a few minutes ago. "I've been very close."

Still outside the top five on either the world list or the points list for the European Ryder Cup team, Casey also explained his rationale behind competing in the U.S. rather than on the Euro Tour right now. He said that even a win next week at Gleneagles couldn't get him onto the roster automatically, so he's just trying to play well enough here that maybe a win gets him through on the world list.

Interestingly enough, he claims that he's also rooting for a big week or two from Ian Poulter, who is one of his main competitors as far as getting a captain's selection. If Poulter makes the team, Casey figures, that gives him a better chance to be picked by captain Nick Faldo.

As for whether he's explained his reasons for playing in the U.S. right now to Faldo, Casey smiled, said, "Yes," and declined further comment about what the two have said to each other. That's a common answer from the European Ryder Cup borderliners when asked to talk about their discussions with Faldo to the media.


11:45 a.m.: Call me a golf nerd, but for the past four months, I've been carrying around a list of the best current players without a career PGA Tour victory, just waiting for a slow week in which I'm reaching for fodder in my Weekly 18 column.

One name on that list is Bo Van Pelt, even though he hasn't quite lived up to expectations this season.

Two years ago, I asked Aaron Baddeley -- right after his first career win at HarbourTown -- to name the best player at the time without a win. He said Van Pelt. Since then, the Oklahoma State product has competed in 70 events and earned more than $3 million, but only has seven top-10s, including just one this season -- a T-2 at the opposite-field event in Puerto Rico five months ago.

Well, he's off to a good start this week, parlaying a spot in the first tee time of the morning into a 4-under 67 that included seven birdies. For the round, Van Pelt hit nine of 14 fairways, 12 of 18 greens in regulation and took only 25 putts.

That number may sound great -- and it's certainly not bad -- but considering the small greens at this course, expect GIR numbers to be way down while total putts are less than usual. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if someone made a run this week at David Frost's PGA Tour record of 92 putts over 72 holes, set at the 2005 Heritage. For the record, Frost finished T-38 that week.


11:15 a.m.: First e-mail of the day from Josh in Savannah, Ga.:

    What's the crowd like there, and does it look like there will be any advantage to the players going out this morning as opposed to the late tee times?

Typical Thursday morning gallery so far. There are people out here, but plenty of good seats still available.

And I was following the most popular threesome in the field; gotta be even more sparse on the other side of the course. Even though this is a New York crowd, don't expect any rowdiness until the afternoon rounds, when the beer-swillers get here after work. Friday, especially, will be fun, with the Mickelson/Perry/Harrington group teeing off at 1:16 p.m.

As for the conditions, it's near-perfect out here right now. Sunny, about 78 degrees or so (just guessing), not too humid and -- best of all for the players -- very little breeze. If anything, it'll only get more difficult in the afternoon for the sole reason that, well, the conditions can't get any better.


10:50 a.m.: If you can't hit a cut off the tee, you're going to struggle on a few holes at this place.

One of 'em is No. 18, an uphill dogleg right. Phil Mickelson hit his tee shot too far right (of course, the hole required a draw for Lefty); Kenny Perry and Padraig Harrington were too far left. Only one of the three made par, as Perry hit his second shot just short of the green, then chipped up for the save. Mickelson carded a bogey and Harrington took a double.

Going to be a very interesting hole on Sunday afternoon, especially if a player is up by one or tied for the lead on the final tee. Hitting a big cut shot under pressure isn't the easiest thing to do. Just ask Phil.


10:20 a.m.: One thing to watch this week is how the course's three par-5 holes play. The third, 13th and 17th holes, at 588, 626 and 594 yards, respectively, are virtually unreachable unless a guy absolutely bashes his tee shot and kills his second one, too.

Case in point: I'm standing at the 17th green right now -- incredibly small, considering the length of the hole -- and the group of Kenny Perry, Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington all came up well short on their second shots after driving into the fairway. The result? Each had a flip wedge onto the green and two-putted for par.

Don't be surprised to see a reprise of the 2006 Masters this week, as the best wedge player (in that case, Zach Johnson) cards the most birdies.


9:55 a.m.: Reason No. 463 why it's good to be a PGA Tour professional: Not only do players get full use of BMW courtesy cars this week, but those parked in the players-only lot right now are being treated to a free car wash. Tough life, huh?


9:40 a.m.: Hunter Mahan holed out for eagle on the opening hole and is now 4-under through six -- two clear of a foursome that includes Kevin Streelman, Charlie Wi, Jim Furyk and Mathew Goggin.

You can excuse Mahan if he has more on his mind than just this week, though, as he's likely on the short list of potential candidates to be picked as one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger's four selections that will be announced on Sept. 2. This comes just a few weeks after Mahan told the following to Golf Magazine:

    "From what I've heard, the whole week is extremely long. You've got dinners every night -- not little dinners, massive ones. As players, that's the last thing we want. We want to prepare ourselves. You're just a slave that week."

To his credit, Mahan -- who has never competed in the Ryder Cup -- apologized for his remarks, both publicly and to the PGA of America directly. To the PGA of America's credit, his apology was accepted after a stern talking-to. And to Azinger's credit, he says that he'll still choose Mahan for the team -- if he's playing well enough. "He's done all the right things," the captain said. "If he's hot, then he's getting picked. If he's not, then I'll sidestep him."

Even so, I've got to believe that all things being equal -- if Mahan plays to a dead-even draw with, say, J.B. Holmes, Woody Austin, D.J. Trahan, Brandt Snedeker and the others knocking on the Ryder Cup door -- he won't be picked by Azinger. There's already enough pressure on a rookie player without having to answer incessant questions about previous comments. I can't imagine the PGA wants to bring further attention to this controversy at Valhalla, but it will only continue to linger if Mahan is on the roster, especially once the British tabloids get their hands on him.

Of course, if Mahan goes out and wins this week, Azinger will have no choice but to pick him. He's said all along that he wants the hottest players going into the biennial event, and it's not like any of Mahan's competition is doing anything too special. Sure, it's still early, but a victory Sunday means Mahan will have even more explaining to do come Ryder Cup week.


9 a.m.: If you thought yesterday's semi-live running blog was exciting … you're gonna love today's, because there's actually some competitive tournament golf being played out here.

Good morning from Ridgewood CC, site of The Barclays -- the first of four FedEx Cup playoff events. It's still early -- OK, very early -- but so far Brian Gay, Hunter Mahan and Adam Scott are co-leaders at 2-under.

I'll be out on the course throughout the day, reporting on everything taking place during Round 1. As always, I will answer some e-mails during the day, so hit me at the above address and keep checking back …

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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