Commentary

Jason Sobel's Barclays blog

Originally Published: August 22, 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.

• Thursday's blog: Ryder Cup implications, playoff beards and more.

• Wednesday's blog: The playoffs, family over money and more.

6:00 p.m.: There are no brackets for the FedEx Cup, no handy-dandy NCAA-tournament-like chart that finitely shows which players are moving on to the next round and which are destined to go home early. It's more of a fluid, ever-changing type of thing, and many of those answers as to who will survive and advance won't be revealed until play is complete on Sunday afternoon.

However, at the midway point of the Barclays, while Steve Stricker continues to make headlines for holding the 36-hole lead, perhaps the bigger story is that of those trying to punch their ticket to next week's event in Boston -- and those who are in the process of ripping theirs apart.

Lee Janzen has a chance to become the poster boy for the new format. At No. 144 entering the week, he would have needed a herculean effort to advance had the points system from last year remained intact. Instead, Janzen is currently at 2-under, in a share of 21st place, and in position to reach the Deutsche Bank Championship.

The clubhouse leader in FedEx movement is another former U.S. Open champ, Angel Cabrera, who began the week in 131st, but -- at T-3 right now -- is projected to move up 87 places, ensuring not only a spot in next week's field but one at the BMW Championship the following week, too.

Meanwhile, two of the biggest losers are Ian Poulter and Pat Perez, who entered the week back-to-back at Nos. 62 and 63, but would fall 30 places in the current projection, and Michael Letzig and Fred Couples, who also are falling off by the same number of spots. As of right now, Letzig and Couples are barely in the field for next week's Deutsche Bank Championship at No. 118 and 119 in the projected rankings. Only the top 120 get invited.

The other three who free-falled their way down 30 spots are Rocco Mediate, Heath Slocum and Parker McLachlin. Were the BMW Championship to be next week and this were Sunday, all three would be outside the top 70 and getting a couple extra weeks of vacation.

I've played golf with people who need a calculator out on the course (it's not a pretty sight), but you almost do need one just to follow what's going on in these tournaments right now. Unless, of course, you could care less about the FedEx standings and which players will advance to future tournaments. If that's the case, look no further than the top of the leaderboard, where Stricker is proving once again that making lots of birdies will lead to everything else -- FedEx points, Ryder Cup captain's picks -- falling nicely into place.

Thanks for reading the semi-live running blog the past few days. It's been fun.

Until next time, hit 'em straight …


5:35 p.m.: So … how volatile is volatile?

As of right now, the projected cut line is 1-over, with 76 players inside that number. The lowest-ranked player -- in terms of the FedEx points standings -- on the number is Jon Mills, who was No. 137 out of 144 entering this week.

If Mills were to finish in his current position of T-62, in a 15-way share of last place for those who reached the weekend, he would earn 2,101 points. That would vault him from 137th to 116th, putting him inside the top 120 and thus eligible for next week's Deutsche Bank Championship.

In layman's terms, what it comes down to is this: Make the cut this week and you're almost guaranteed a spot in Round 2 of the playoffs, no matter where you started or where you finish.


5:10 p.m.: Interesting conversation I was having with a few of my fellow golf writers the other day concerning this year's increased FedEx Cup volatility …

If a player comes from back in the pack to win the $10 million grand prize after the Tour Championship, the perceived success of the new system will be predicated largely on the popularity of said player.

For example: If, say, Fred Couples plays really well over the course of the next four tourneys and wins the cup, the format will be deemed a huge success as it gave newfound glory to a likable player who puts fans in the galleries, helps the ratings and increases interest in the game.

But if, say, Martin Laird plays really well over the course of the next four tourneys and wins the cup, the format will be deemed a failure because it allowed an unknown, no-name type of player to win despite having a mediocre season.

Personally, I promise not to jump on that bandwagon, should it happen. Not everything about the new points system is good -- 144 players is still wayyyyy too many, and the numbers themselves (with the top player starting with 100,000 points) are too large to comprehend -- but the increased volatility should be considered a major step in the right direction, no matter who wins the Cup.


4:20 p.m.: I know we've discussed this in many forms the past few days, but it bears mentioning that the current top three players on the leaderboard are hoping to be selected as captain's picks for the Ryder Cup.

Steve Stricker had the final spot on the U.S. team locked up until he was surpassed by Ben Curtis at the PGA Championship on the final day of qualifying. Hunter Mahan was two spots further back on the points list. And Paul Casey seems to be on Nick Faldo's short list for the European team.

If nothing else, it's nice to see players in these positions faring well as opposed to backing their way onto the team(s).


4:10 p.m.: I know I said we were done discussing the Ryder Cup and caddies, but I have one more item for you. Perhaps Andy Sutton didn't want to get "Higginbothamed" by the European fans at Valhalla.

From a Reuters report, circa 1999:

    Sergio Garcia's American caddie Gerry Higginbotham arrived at the German Masters on Wednesday with two black eyes, a swollen jaw and six stitches in a head wound after being involved in a brawl after the Ryder Cup. The 48-year-old, who caddied for Mark O'Meara in the 1997 Ryder Cup and accompanied the double major champion to his Masters and British Open triumphs last year, was back at work for Garcia in Europe despite spending six hours in hospital on Sunday night.

    "It was at my hotel when it happened, a couple of hours after we finished at Brookline," Higginbotham said. "There were plenty of people in the bar and I got recognized. The guys didn't like the fact that as an American, I'd caddied for a European. They were all pretty drunk and this one guy must have had a bad day because he carried it on and said a couple of things to me I didn't like. I defended myself and said a couple of things back. Then suddenly 'boom-boom'. He got on the blind side of me. I fell over and hit my head on the way down. But it takes two to tango. I guess I should have walked away." Poor behavior characterized much of the final day at Brookline and on Tuesday, European captain Mark James said his wife had been spat on.

So where is Higginbotham these days? Check out this e-mail from Jeffrey in Boston:

    This guy Gerry caddied for me at the TPC-Boston (where next week's tournament is). You should be able to find him when you're there. He caddied for me in July, the weekend of the British Open. Ten years ago, he was on O'Meara's bag when he won the Masters and the British, at Royal Birkdale. Now he's caddying for me.

Might have to track down Higginbotham when I'm at the Deutsche Bank Championship next week. Could be a fun story.


3:55 p.m.: A few notes from the leaderboard …

• On Thursday, it took 11 holes before Hunter Mahan posted 37 strokes on his card. On Friday, that was his front-nine score (playing the back side first), making the turn in 1-over for the day and 8-under overall. He just birdied the first to move back to 9-under.
• Phil Mickelson just carded four straight pars … after a birdie-bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie-bogey start. Yikes. I'm dizzy just typing that.
• For anyone who has seen his or her golf game go south after having children, you can appreciate Dudley Hart's presence on the leaderboard. Hart has 6-year-old triplets at home.
• As if Paul Casey, currently in a share of third place at 6-under, weren't already on edge with the possibility of being a Ryder Cup captain's pick, right now, Darren Clarke -- one of his main competitors for the two positions -- is leading the KLM Open on the European Tour.
• There may be no player with the $10 million FedEx Cup first-place prize on his mind more than Anthony Kim. Earlier Friday, he said in regards to -- begin wincing -- having two bees in his pants Thursday, "When you're in a golf tournament, you really don't care, because there's $10 million waiting for you at the end of this tunnel. So, that's kind of what I'm looking at."

Personally, I'd be more worried about extracting the bees from my pants than the cash, but you can always buy new legs, right?


2:50 p.m.: Defending champ Steve Stricker is in the clubhouse with a 7-under 64, which right now puts him 2 shots up on Hunter Mahan, who is 1-over for the day through six holes.

Some early notes from the PGA Tour media staff:

• Stricker began his 2008 season with a playoff loss at the Mercedes-Benz Championship and had four top-10s to his name through seven tournaments. Since then, he has missed five of 11 cuts and recorded only one top-10, a T-7 at the British Open.
• Three players in 2008 have successfully defended a title they won in 2007: Tiger Woods (Buick Invitational), Boo Weekley (Verizon Heritage) and Padraig Harrington (British Open).
• Stricker entered the 2007 PGA Tour playoffs for the FedEx Cup at No. 12 on the points list and vaulted to No. 1 with his win at the Barclays. Stricker entered this week at No. 21 on the FedEx Cup points list.
• The last player to successfully defend a non-major championship PGA Tour title at a different course from the one he had won on the year before was Jim Furyk in 2007 at the RBC Canadian Open. Furyk won the 2007 title at Angus Glen Golf Club after capturing it in 2006 at Hamilton Golf & Country Club.
• The last time Stricker held a 36-hole lead on the PGA Tour was at the 2006 U.S. Open, when he held a 1-stroke lead at the halfway point en route to a T-6 finish.
• The 36-hole leader/co-leader at the Barclays has gone on to win the tournament 12 times in the tournament's 41-year history. Vijay Singh (2006) is the only leader at the halfway point of the Barclays to win since 2001.


2:05 p.m.: Last thing on the Ryder Cup and caddies for a little while …

After Sergio Garcia's round of 67, he came to the interview room here at Ridgewood. I asked him about the possibility of employing two caddies at Valhalla and he cleared up the situation:

    Q: There's a report going around that said you're thinking about bringing both caddies to the Ryder Cup this year. Have you finalized that decision yet?

    SERGIO GARCÍA: Yeah, I talked to Nick [Faldo], to the captain, probably about a couple months ago, and I said to him, you know, if I manage to make the Ryder Cup team, if you don't mind, I'd love to bring both caddies. Mainly because Glen [Murray], I've done very well with him and he's the one that's going to caddie for me at the Ryder Cup. But Billy [Foster] is Ryder Cup itself. So he wouldn't be caddying for me, but you know, the atmosphere that he brings to the whole European team and everything, it feels like if he's not there, there's going to be something missing. So he said that he didn't think that was going to be a problem, but you know, I'll only have Glen caddying for me. [Foster] will be helping the caddies and making sure that everything is right and things like that.

That makes more sense. I had visions of Sergio playing eeny-meeny-miney-mo on the first tee box before each match, or letting each caddie carry seven clubs during the round.

For the record, Foster and Murray are job sharing this year, splitting the caddying duties for Garcia. The latter has been on the bag for his two biggest paydays -- the Players Championship win and the runner-up at the PGA -- but from what I've heard, they split the cash.


1:50 p.m.: OK, so what's your take: If you're an American who regularly caddies for a European player (or vice versa), would you tote the bag for him at the Ryder Cup?

I've gotten a few e-mails so far …

From Kelly in Boston:

    If you are a regular caddie for a European pro and are American, then it is reprehensible for you to caddie during the Ryder Cup. National pride trumps personal loyalty in this situation. It was abhorrent for Wayne Gretzky's American wife to root for Canada against the U.S. at the Olympics and it would be just as wrong for a caddie to betray his country in the Ryder Cup.

From Matt in Fairfax, Va.:

    I think I would caddie for anyone in the Ryder Cup -- that goes without saying. But if you were a player in the Ryder Cup, would you feel comfortable with a caddie that had affiliations with the other side? Can we say "sabotage"?

From Frank in Little Rock, Ark.:

    Tiger: "Stevie, I'm sending the jet to pick you up for the Presidents Cup."
    Steve: "Sorry T, I've decided that I can't compete against my fellow countrymen.
    Tiger: "That's cool, you're fired."

Based on that last e-mail, let me set the record straight on one thing: Even though some of Sutton's comments -- especially that last one from the previous blog entry -- sounded pretty inflammatory, he was sitting on a bench next to Curtis, just outside of the Ridgewood clubhouse when he said it and his intentions were all in good fun. Even Curtis got a big laugh out of it, so before starting to think that such a quote could cause a rift in their relationship, don't worry about that happening anytime soon.

I think when a caddie helps a young guy win a Claret Jug, he gets full immunity for at least a decade or so.


1:30 p.m.: For Ben Curtis and Andy Sutton, there was no other alternative but to part ways for the upcoming Ryder Cup.

"Ben and I spoke about it a few years ago, briefly," Sutton said after their round Friday. "I said, if he ever made the team, being British, I want Europe to win, so I'd struggle to work for an American."

"We talked about it before," Curtis added. "It was kind of just, like, joking around, saying, 'I can't have you caddying for me.' And he says, 'I can't work for you.' Just giving each other a lot grief. But deep down we both knew what was going to happen, so it made it easier."

The player and caddie didn't seriously discuss the matter until Curtis qualified for the U.S. Ryder Cup team on the strength of his co-runner-up finish at the PGA Championship two weeks ago. But really, there wasn't much of a discussion at all.

"We were both pretty mutual on it," said Curtis, who shot a 68 on Friday at the Barclays. "He said he would do it if I really wanted him to, but it just worked out better if I just found an American."

Once that decision was made, Curtis knew who his caddie would be.

"I've worked with Tony [Navarro] before," he said. "I just think it will be good fun and a good relationship. … He's just kind of a name that came to my mind. He's worked for Adam [Scott], who's won quite a few tournaments. This will be his fourth Ryder Cup. … For him, having that kind of experience in this competition, is only going to help me."

For his part, Sutton will be "on holiday" in Florida, rooting for the European team, while keeping a soft spot for Curtis, too.

"My idea was Ben wins all of his matches, has a great Ryder Cup," said Sutton, who caddied in the event for Joakim Haeggman in 1993, "but Europe takes your pants down."

Sutton will continue to work with Curtis in all regular PGA Tour events -- they first teamed up for the 2003 British Open, which Curtis won -- but felt like wearing the red, white and blue was too much for him to handle.

"I don't want to detract anything from Ben," he said. "If he has an American caddie, it will be great. They can be patriotic and they can get together and do all your American high-fiving bulls--- and everything, too."


11:50 a.m.: Comment from an anonymous caddie (not the previous mentioned Tony Navarro) who I spoke with just a little while ago:

"Expect Steve Stricker to get hot these next few weeks. He really likes money."

So do I, but it doesn't mean I could go 6-under through my first 13 holes of the day, as Stricker has done so far. On the heels of yesterday's 68, he's now 9-under for the tournament, tied with Hunter Mahan, who will begin his round off the 10th tee at 1:05 p.m. ET

The FedEx Cup playoffs were built for guys who like money. There needs to be a little extra motivation to play well in these events, and while $10 million is pretty good coin for anyone, those who really the need the cash -- like Anthony Kim, who as I mentioned yesterday, is trying to buy a pricey house in Dallas -- may have more incentive over the next four weeks.


11:35 a.m.: Heard this rumor on the range the other day, but wasn't able to confirm it until now …

Tony Navarro, who regularly caddies for Adam Scott, will be on the bag of Ben Curtis for the upcoming Ryder Cup.

Why is this significant? Because Curtis' usual looper, Andy Sutton, is from England and declined to compete against the European team in the competition.

"[Curtis] asked me last week and I think he's a hell of a nice man," Navarro told me a few minutes ago. "He's shown a lot of heart in some tournaments and I'm honored to be working for him."

Navarro intimated that he hasn't discussed monetary compensation with Curtis, but he didn't seem worried about such a prospect, either.

"The Ryder Cup is a lot of work for a caddie," he said. "I wouldn't call it fun until the matches start, but then it's quite enjoyable."

This isn't the first time that Navarro and Curtis will work together. A few years ago, he filled in when Curtis needed a caddie at the Accenture Match Play Championship. Obviously, with Scott ineligible for the Ryder Cup, there was no conflict of interest, either.

(In other Ryder Cup caddie news, Sergio Garcia is apparently entertaining the thought of employing two caddies for next month's event.)

Curtis, who is currently 4-under for the tournament and has five holes left to play, should be off the course in about an hour, so I hope to get some reaction from both him and Sutton.

In the meantime, let's hear it, golf fans: If you were asked to caddie for a player on the opposing Ryder Cup team of your affiliation, would you do it? I'll post the most thoughtful answers in a little while.


10:55 a.m.: Standing at No. 2 green … after Robert Allenby and Carl Pettersson find the putting surface with their tee shots, Sergio Garcia steps up, swings and … backs away. Can't tell from here whether it was a bug buzzing around him or someone in the gallery bugging him, but that's a good way to hurt yourself, stopping on the downswing like that.

Meanwhile, at the adjacent third hole, Stuart Appleby just hit a tee shot that sounded as if it caught about 10 tree branches, but he never found it. And here he comes … walking back to the tee to hit his third shot. Ouch.


10:25 a.m.: Perfect scoring conditions again today. Sunny, warm but not humid. Barely a hint of a breeze.

And the leaderboard is reflecting those conditions. Steve Stricker is making a strong charge right now, which begs the question: Who was the last player to successfully defend his title on a different course?

Don't think too hard about this one.

The answer: Padraig Harrington, who won last year's British Open at Carnoustie, then followed with a victory at Royal Birkdale.


9:55 a.m.: First e-mail of the day from Benjamin in Parts Unknown:

    I have to say the most interesting thing about this tournament could be watching the pros play the 291-yard par-4 fifth hole. In just 30 minutes of watching last night, I saw six pros go for it and end up in all kinds of trouble, including Sergio Garcia escaping what looked like a bogey with a par after a sprinkler head allowed him to drop on the green and Stewart Cink's crazy approach from 50 yards away but pin high. I wish this hole finished the round like 17 at Sawgrass.

If you're watching the live feed right now, keep an eye out for me. I'm the one standing just off the green in a blue shirt. Yeah, that guy -- right there.

I've seen two groups come through so far and no one has gone for the green, which has a back left pin position today. Like I wrote on Wednesday, I think that's definitely the play. Hit a mid-iron down the fairway, a flip wedge into the green and make your birdie putt. No point in making it too much of a risk/reward hole when birdie is a definite option with two fairly easy shots. Yes, it's a small green, but if a PGA Tour player can't knock an 80-yard wedge shot to 10 or 12 feet, he's got bigger issues than figuring out how to play the fifth hole.

As if to help state my case, Joe Ogilvie and Nick Watney both hit their wedge shots close and made the birdie putts. Easy as that.


9:30 a.m.: Just walked onto the course. First shot I see? Angel Cabrera tee shot on 12 … waaaaayyyy left. It stays in play -- somehow -- but I can't help, but wonder …

Is taking the Live Blog onto the course a recipe for disaster, consider its tendency to jinx players?

By the way, seeing Cabrera in a New York-area event reminds me of a scene from the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage. Cabrera was waiting to tee off the 12th tee when one overzealous fan, standing about 5 yards away, started yelling to him: "Hey, AIN-jell! AIN-jell! Look over here, AIN-jell!" After a few minutes of that, the guy's buddy informed him that maybe he'd have more luck if he pronounced the player's name correctly. And so he proceeded to yell "Hey, ahn-HELL! ahn-HELL! Look over here, ahn-HELL!"

No fans like that out here today. In fact, there aren't many fans at all. About as quiet as you'll ever hear a big-time golf tournament in a big city (or just outside of one, at least).


9:00 a.m.: If Round 1 is considered (for lack of a better term) Opening Day at a golf tournament and Round 3 is consistently hailed as Moving Day, then what, exactly, should Round 2 be called?

My proposal: Trunkslam Day.

By the end of play today here at the Barclays, close to half of the 135-man field will be tossing their clubs into the trunk of the BMW courtesy car, slamming it shut and driving off to the airport, having failed to collect a paycheck for the week.

One player who won't have to worry about checking out early is Hunter Mahan, who shot a course record 9-under 62 yesterday and entered Trunkslam Day with a four-shot lead.

Can he extend his control on this leaderboard? Will someone catch him today? Will there be plenty of red numbers once again?

I'll be live blogging from Ridgewood CC throughout the entire day, so check here early and often for the answers.

Want to see some of what I'm witnessing here at the course? Check out this live feed from the quirky 294-yard, par-4 fifth hole, which will be showing players throughout the day.

And as always, any questions, comments, suggestions or threats can be sent directly to the e-mail listed above. Let's go watch some golf …

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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