At least one golfer isn't too pleased with new playoff system
Belly up to the bar folks. In this week's edition of the Weekly 18, we've got a virtual smorgasbord of golfing delights to wet your whistle including a trip to Bizzaro World, a playoff beard plus some memorable quotes from the newly minted U.S. Amateur champion, writes ESPN.com's Jason Sobel.
Up is down. Left is right. In is out.And Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh each made clutch putts under pressure on the first extra hole at The Barclays on Sunday.
Even though he hasn't swung a golf club for more than two months, Tiger Woods remains the most important person in determining the success of the FedEx Cup playoffs. No, we're not talking about TV ratings or fan interest in these four events. As the No. 1 seed entering the postseason, Woods' decline in the standings will serve as the perfect barometer for the PGA Tour's new format.Much has been made about the increased volatility involved with the new points system, but talk is cheaper than numbers.
Kenny, Kenny, Kenny -- you've done it again. Just a month removed from hearing the catcalls for failing to fly overseas and compete in the British Open, Kenny Perry has left himself open to criticism again after taking issue with the new points system. "I liked last year's version better," Perry opined prior to The Barclays, "because you couldn't move much last year." Of course, that's exactly what most players didn't like about the previous format. The problem with Perry's remarks is that they sound like sour grapes coming from the guy who was No. 1 among active players on the points list entering the playoffs. As such, he had the least to gain and the most to lose from a more volatile system. "What I think is kind of a bummer, if I don't play well these three weeks, I won't be in the Tour Championship," Perry said. "I mean, I've had a great year, and I think that's not right. I don't think that's fair at all for me to win three times and be kicked out of the Tour Championship, but I've kind of been kicked out of all of the tournaments anyway. I won the Memorial and that didn't get me in the U.S. Open." Again with the sour grapes. It all seems too self-serving for Perry, who now ranks seventh on the points list despite winning three more times and earning more than $3 million more than Kevin Sutherland, who parlayed his T-2 finish into a third-place spot in the standings. The answer, as with any pro golfer's gripe about points formats and tournament invitations and anything else? It's the same as always: Play better.
Of course, the new points format doesn't totally disregard player performances during the regular season. Of the 28 different tournament champions who competed this past week, only one failed to reach Round 2 at the upcoming Deutsche Bank Championship.
FedEx Cup Standings
For his win at The Barclays, Vijay Singh earned 11,000 points to leap to the top of the standings for the Fed Ex Cup playoffs. The Fijian is now the front-runner for the $10 million bonus.
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In case you missed any of the, oh, 25 or so separate instances during the PGA Championship in which we claimed Ben Curtis is one of the world's most underrated players, let us take this opportunity to write it one more time: Ben Curtis is one of the world's most underrated players. Even if he doesn't necessarily think so. When presented with such a notion prior to The Barclays, Curtis said, "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." Still just 31, Curtis already has a British Open title and two other PGA Tour victories to his credit. At the PGA, he finished in a share of second place, qualifying for a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. And at The Barclays, he got himself into contention once again, finishing one shot out of the eventual playoff. He's never going to be the longest hitter in the field and he may never finish in the top 10 every week, but Curtis is better than he's given credit for. It's about time he was given his due.
Shot of the week? Those putts on the opening playoff hole by Garcia and Singh were pretty money, but it just may have been Kevin Streelman's approach on the final hole of regulation. After spraying his tee shot on 18 and having it ricochet back into the fairway, Streelman was left with 246 yards into the green. He pulled a 3-iron and knocked it to pin high, 16 feet from the hole. Though Streelman missed the putt that would have made it a four-man playoff, he did finish in a share of fourth place and rocketed up to 37th in the points standings. It should lead to an interesting discussion about the Rookie of the Year race. After a 2007 season in which Brandt Snedeker earned more votes than a strong crop that included Henrik Stenson, Anthony Kim, Jeff Quinney and John Mallinger, this year's battle is, uh, not quite as strong. The only first-year player with a victory to his name is Chez Reavie, but he hasn't exactly been a model of consistency, earning more than twice as much for his Canadian Open win than in his other two dozen appearances combined. His main rival is Streelman, who made headlines for strong starts at the Buick Invitational and U.S. Open, but finished T-29 and T-53 at those tourneys, respectively. Further down the list are the likes of Tim Wilkinson, Justin Bolli, Martin Laird, Michael Letzig and Brad Adamonis.
If you've been watching any PGA Tour golf over the past month or so, you've no doubt caught the promotional advertisement for the FedEx Cup in which hockey legend Wayne Gretzky implores fellow Canadian Mike Weir to grow a playoff beard for the late-season events. The punchline: Weir shows up at the first tee with a bushy, unruly mass of hair covering the bottom half of his face. Turns out, that was only a slight exaggeration. Weir played The Barclays with a trimmed version of the playoff beard, but the meaning behind it remained the same. "I was on vacation last week down at a lake and let it grow and got back and I thought, 'Hey, it's playoff time, maybe I'll just keep it,'" Weir said. "It's a hockey thing. In hockey, guys grow the beards, so I thought I would give it a shot and see if it works." Obviously, it worked wonders, as Weir shot symmetrical scores of 72-67-67-72 to finish T-7 for the week. In related news, there's no truth to the rumors that Ernie Els was wearing eyeblack based on Phil Simms' suggestion and Jim Furyk followed Jerome Bettis' lead by "showing up hungry."
Considering the last names of Sergio Garcia, Mike Weir and Dudley Hart, each of whom finished in the top 12 at The Barclays, we couldn't resist this ode to a trio of their namesakes: With games that were seemingly Built To Last, Garcia, Weir and Hart were determined to Not Fade Away at Ridgewood, just a Ripple away from the Sidewalks of New York. The Eyes of the World were watching each Dark Star, and though Weir and Hart were unsuccessful in their attempts to Don't Mess Up a Good Thing, forcing them to Beat It On Down the Line, Garcia looked like Big Boss Man in reaching a playoff with Vijay Singh. He likely did Feel Like a Stranger after making a clutch putt on the first extra hole, but was left muttering, "I Need a Miracle" after hitting way left on the second. Eventually, Garcia found himself in Brokedown Palace after Singh's birdie, which left him Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad. Greatest Story Ever Told? More like Hell in a Bucket for Garcia, while his opponent was left Sittin' On Top of the World.
Ridgewood, we hardly knew ye. Nice showing by the tree-lined A.W. Tillinghast track, highly acclaimed by all involved as it bridged the gap between Westchester CC, which hosted this tournament for each of its previous 41 editions, and Liberty National, which will serve as host venue next season. After that? Well, it remains anyone's guess. The PGA Tour is under contract to return to Westchester at least once by 2012. Ridgewood's fate, however, remains in doubt as the tour explores its options for a long-term residence for this event. Expect a decision to come down in mid-October. Whether Ridgewood continues to be involved remains to be seen, but its chances certainly haven't diminished after holding the tournament this past week.
We cannot tell a lie: Until seeing Jason Day on the driving range prior to The Barclays, we had no idea the rookie even qualified to make the field for the first playoff event. Widely heralded as the top first-year player entering the season, the 20-year-old Aussie faced an up-and-down campaign during which he made the cut in only eight of 19 regular-season events, but did finish in the top-10 at both Pebble Beach and Houston. His biggest problem? According to the stats, it's been Day's ball-striking; he ranks outside the top half on tour in greens in regulation from every measurable distance. This week, however, Day hit 69 percent of greens in reg over the first three rounds, moving into a share of sixth place entering Sunday. Paired with Garcia, he closed with a 3-over 74 to drop all the way to T-31, but the week should still be considered an overall success for him. Don't be surprised to see Day parlay this late-season surge into a run as next year's sophomore sensation, a la Anthony Kim this season.
CBS televised its final PGA Tour event of the year this weekend, and we've got to admit, it's been enjoyable and entertaining to hear an active Ryder Cup captain discuss his intentions -- veiled as they may be -- on the air, with European skipper Nick Faldo often being asked about his team's prospects. It certainly made for some playful banter from the booth on Sunday. With potential captain's pick Paul Casey lining up about a 20-footer for birdie on the final hole, Faldo nonchalantly proclaimed, "If he makes it, he's on the team." As Casey's ball rolled into the cup, Faldo tried to recant, but was rebuffed by his broadcasting colleagues. Later, when Garcia holed his putt on the same green during the first playoff hole, the Ryder Cup stalwart smiled and pointed to Faldo in the nearby tower, as the captain admitted he was blushing from the gesture. With a T-7 result, Casey certainly helped his cause at The Barclays. That final putt in front of the captain was just the icing on the cake. Interestingly enough, earlier in the week Casey intimated that he was rooting for fellow captain's pick candidate Ian Poulter to go low over the next few weeks. Why root for a guy who's angling for the same position? Casey made the case that if Poulter, who sat just outside those qualifying on the points list, played well, he would earn a spot on the team and that would essentially eliminate a main competitor. Instead, Poulter missed the cut at Ridgewood. Adding more intrigue to the race, however, was Darren Clarke, who won the KLM Open by four shots, his second victory in recent months. If the automatic qualifiers remain the same, it will be interesting to see whom Faldo selects for the squad on Aug. 31. All signs point to two of the three players mentioned getting the call, but for all of his candidness, the captain has been predictably tightlipped throughout the year. What's it all mean? We can only guess as to what Faldo is thinking. Heck, for all we know, Colin Montgomerie and Carl Pettersson could be named to the team. Don't be surprised by anything.
As for the U.S. team, once again none of the players just barely on the outside of the points list made a strong push toward impressing captain Paul Azinger. Of those who finished in the top 20 on the final points list, only Steve Stricker (T-19) placed inside the top 20 at The Barclays. J.B. Holmes was next on the leaderboard (T-24), followed by Hunter Mahan (T-31), Chad Campbell (T-65) and Brandt Snedeker (T-68). Meanwhile, Woody Austin, D.J. Trahan, Sean O'Hair, Rocco Mediate, Zach Johnson, Jeff Quinney and Bart Bryant all missed the cut. There were, of course, a handful of American flags near the top of the leaderboard. Kevin Sutherland (T-2) was 31st on the final list, while Streelman (T-4) was 81st and Nicholas Thompson (T-7) was 32nd. Ben Curtis and Justin Leonard also finished in the top-10, but are already on the roster. Forget the recent results of the Ryder Cup. Forget how Europe has cruised past the U.S. team in each of the past three competitions. The easiest way to see why and how the U.S. is a considerable underdog for next month's competition at Valhalla is to look at the players who aren't making each team. While guys such as Pettersson, Monty, Daniel Chopra and perhaps one of the Poulter/Casey/Clarke triumvirate will be watching on TV, you can bet that any one of 'em would be a shoo-in to play if he owned a U.S. passport.
Don't say we didn't warn you. In this space last week, we noted the recent misfortunes of the stock market when professional golfers began the day by ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. There was more bad news for investors Tuesday, when Phil Mickelson did the deed and the Dow Jones followed by dipping 129.54 points. The only silver lining? It was still less than half of the decrease on Aug. 28 of last year, when Tiger Woods rang the bell. Even though the PGA Tour has left the New York area, don't get too bullish just yet. Ringing the bell Monday? None other than tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
We've seen the future and his name is Danny Lee. On Sunday, the 18-year-old New Zealander (by way of South Korea) beat Drew Kittleson, 5 and 4, to become the youngest champion in U.S. amateur history, eclipsing the previous record set by Tiger Woods in 1994 by nearly seven months. Unlike the exploits of less heralded international players who have won the prestigious event in recent years -- Nick Flanagan, Eduardo Molinari and Richie Ramsey come to mind -- Lee's victory was no surprise, as he entered the week as the world's No. 1-ranked amateur player. Check out this recent record: Lee won both medalist honors and the match play portion of the Western Am, was top-10 at the Porter Cup, Northeast Invitational and Dogwood Invitational, and finished T-20 at the PGA Tour's Wyndham Championship. In the final against Kittleson at Pinehurst No. 2, Lee was a veritable birdie machine, going 11-under for 32 total holes. For as serious as his game was on the course, Lee may make bigger headlines for his post-round comments during this banter with USGA official Craig Smith: Lee: "It's a special thing that I'm the youngest U.S. Amateur champion, but I don't think that -- it's not a big deal, I think."
Smith: "It is a big deal, however, if we do traditional parings next year [at the U.S. Open]."
Lee: "No, not for me."
Smith: "I feel like Ed McMahon. We do traditional parings and you've got one with Tiger Woods next year at the first two rounds of the U.S. Open."
Lee: "Oh, my God. Yeah. That's a, oh, that's a special thing for me."
Lee: "Wow. I'm going to beat him." Wow. Maybe, Maybe not. But if you're looking at the next generation of players who will someday usurp Woods as the world's top player -- whether it's five, 10, 15 or even 20 years from now -- right now Lee would be on the short list of such candidates.
Calling out Tiger wasn't the only memorable part of his winner's news conference. Lee showed the kind of youthful exuberance and interview-room inexperience not often seen in the professional ranks, but it made for some excellent entertainment. On winning the tournament: "Well, I played well. I played really, really well today. That's all I can say. This is my, like what should I say? This tournament, this is my third year trying this U.S. Amateur and I think I never felt -- I tried the tournament three times and I never felt like -- I don't know what to say -- I'm just so excited I don't know what else to say right now. I have no idea." On what his parents said to him after the win: "Just, Danny, I'm so proud of you and blah, blah, blah." On his caddie for the week: "Bob. And I don't know his last name. Sorry." (It was Bob Scheirer, a longtime caddie at Pinehurst.) On a good shot out of a fairway bunker: "That was an easy shot, actually. It wasn't that hard, you know. You can just swing the club and the ball goes straight to the flag, you know. Everyone knows that." On his plans to visit Fort Bragg on Monday: "I'm going to go to the Army place tomorrow and throw some bombs and shoot some guns. I'm definitely going to try that." On his short-term plans: "I think I'm going to stay over there [in New Zealand] for probably 20 days and then I'm going to come back here [to the U.S.] I don't know why I'm coming back here, but I'm going to come back."
Not sure if Lee has Colt Knost's phone number, but he might want to hit up last year's U.S. Amateur champ for a little advice. After qualifying for the Masters and U.S. Open, Knost relinquished his spot in the fields of both tournaments, instead turning pro and competing in PGA Tour Q-school late last year. "It was time for a new challenge. I had nothing left to prove in amateur golf," Knost said at the time, adding that missing those majors would be "difficult to watch, but I know I'll get back there someday." The decision has, in effect, paid off for Knost. Though he failed to reach the tour through Q-school, he already owns a pair of Nationwide Tour victories this season and has punched his ticket to the big leagues for 2009. For his part, Lee had planned to compete in the qualifying tourney as an amateur, with an eye toward turning pro if he qualified for the PGA Tour. With exemptions into Augusta National and Bethpage, however, he was singing a different tune following his most recent victory. "Maybe not," Lee commented when asked whether he still plans on attending Q-school. "I've got to play those major tournaments before I die." That means turning pro may wait until next summer -- or longer -- but it's a decision Lee hasn't made yet. And it's not all his to make, either. "It is my parents' choice, it's not my choice. I don't have that many choices. But I don't real want to turn pro next year, I just want to play -- I want to play in those big events, and maybe after that I'll discuss turning pro then," he said. "I can't give you the 100 percent answer right now, I want to be a professional golfer, but I want to be a student of college as well."
Long, long ago in a place far, far away, there was a golfer named Lorena who was said to be even more dominating on her tour -- the LPGA -- than Tiger Woods was on his. In reality, that time was only about three months ago. While Lorena Ochoa remains a lock to claim the LPGA's Player of the Year award, she's no longer the dominant presence that we witnessed over the season's opening few months. In her first nine appearances of the season, Ochoa won an incredible six times, but she's now 0-for-6 since the beginning of June. It's not as if Ochoa is playing poorly, though; over that span, she owns five top-10 results, including a T-6 at the Safeway Classic this past week, six strokes behind winner Cristie Kerr. And perhaps that is what's most befuddling with Ochoa's -- dare we say it? -- "slump." Known for having the Eye of the Tiger, so to speak, the woman nicknamed LoCho made a living the past few seasons by seemingly winning in every instance she got herself into contention. It's not happening anymore, but considering her past history, expect Ochoa to find the winner's circle again sooner rather than later.
Golf is a game in which a player competes within himself and tries not to damage his own chances at success but this is a little ridiculous. At the De Vere Collection PGA Seniors Championship on Sunday, Gordon Brand defeated Gordon Brand in a six-hole playoff. Yes, you read that right, but no, they are not the same person. Gordon J. Brand, from Ilkley, England, prevailed over Gordon Brand Jr., a Scotland native and former Ryder Cup player. "It's a shame it had to end that way for Gordon," said Gordon J., apparently not speaking in the third person, "but he's a great player."
"Going to drink a beer. No, I'm kidding guys. Kidding."
-- Danny Lee, 18, on how he planned to celebrate his U.S. Amateur win. Jason Sobel covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.
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