Woods, Singh could battle for top spot this week
Heavy rain in Los Angeles not only drowned out 36 holes of the Nissan Open, but also washed away Tiger Woods' chances at re-staking his claim for the No. 1 spot in the World Ranking.
Woods finished T-13 at the Half-Nissan, failing to earn enough points to overtake Vijay Singh. Meanwhile, Adam Scott beat Chad Campbell in a 15-minute, one-hole playoff that was hardly the stuff of championship golf.
Yet, like on any soggy day, we must look at the bright side of things.
And so the Weekly 18 begins, setting the stage for what could be the most entertaining week we'll see all year.
The tension is palpable, the drama unmistakable, the suspense crucial. The biggest actors on the grandest stages, playing out scenes in front of their audience, each step in the journey more fraught with peril than the last.
No, it's not some new action flick featuring The Rock or Vin Diesel; it's professional golf. Welcome to the fun-filled thriller of the year, "World Ranking: Who's Next?"
If we get our way, the full-length feature will happen this Sunday over 36 holes at La Costa, with Woods and Singh vying mano a mano for the right to be called No. 1 Golfer in the World. In case you missed the prequel, it took place last September outside of Boston, as Vijay bested Tiger in a Labor Day matchup for the ages, becoming the first man not named Eldrick to ascend to the top of the rankings in over five years.
OK, so this thing's hardly a given at this week's Accenture Match Play Championship. Each man would have to sweep through five matches in order to face the other on the worldwide stage. And it's not like they, um, even care about the No. 1 ranking anyway. (Wink-wink.)
Case in point:
"[Becoming No. 1] wasn't my goal coming over here," Singh said after taking over the top spot at the Deutsche Bank Championship. "My goal was to come over here and win the golf tournament."
Hmmm ... and this, from Tiger recently:
"It doesn't matter whether you're No. 1 or not," he said. "The goal is ... to win the event."
It's evident that Singh and Woods each has his goals firmly in place. If they say it, it's got to be true, right? But we have a few goals of our own, and seeing another head-to-head battle between the world's best players is at the top of the list.
With any luck, the next showing for this film will be on Sunday.
With the weather seemingly always an issue at some point during the tour's West Coast swing, there have been discussions about flipping that leg of the tour with the Florida swing. And with the rainy season in southern California destroying the Nissan and threatening to damage this week's Match Play, there are even more rumblings about such a switch. If the tour was to make such a move, it would surely see colder, but dryer weather during the early season in the Sunshine State, with perhaps just some frost delays in the mornings. However, the biggest issue is tradition. Pebble Beach and the Nissan are always in February, Doral and Bay Hill are always in March and the tour would rather not mess with what's worked so far.
Just two years ago, Campbell was thought to be the next great American golfer, but we may now be finding out exactly what to expect from the 30-year-old Texas native. Rather than a consistent top-10 finisher, Campbell looks like the type who will string together a bunch of unimpressive starts, then break out with a superior performance. Before losing in the playoff to Scott, he finished T-17, T-47, MC in his first three starts of the year. This comes after a 2004 season in which Campbell earned top 10s four times in a nine-event span early in the season -- including a win at the Bay Hill Classic -- but failed to crack that mark in his other 19 starts.
There was a lot of debate this week over whether Retief Goosen's disqualification from the Nissan was warranted. In case you missed the story, Goosen overslept for his 6:40 a.m. tee time in Wednesday's Pro-Am (a time requested by Goosen himself). According to PGA Tour rules, if a player has an unexcused absence from a Pro-Am, he cannot play in that week's event. But here's the rub -- only a handful of pros are even invited to a given Pro-Am, leaving about 130 players automatically exempt from this rule each week. Reminds us of a story we covered in high school: Three members of the varsity softball team were caught defacing school property and were subsequently kicked off the team. What would the punishment have been if they weren't athletes? Yeah, we always wondered that, too. The same rationale can be used when examining Goosen's case. Just because he's doing something extra to promote the tour as one of its elite players doesn't mean he -- or any other Pro-Am competitor -- should be held to higher standards. After all, the punishment should fit the crime.
Perhaps the most disappointing by-product of the past week's 36-hole event is knowing that Colin Montgomerie was just two strokes off the lead after two rounds. Monty shot a 7-under 64 -- equaling his best career score in 342 rounds on the PGA Tour -- in Scotland-like conditions at Riviera. What a story it would have been if Monty had finally claimed a title on U.S. soil.
Perhaps one of the smartest moves of the week was made by Jonathan Kaye after he withdrew from the Nissan following an opening-round 76. Knowing it would be tough to make the cut and possibly looking ahead to the weekend's weather, Kaye escaped the event before it turned into the Nissan Closed. Look for him to have the upper hand at La Costa this week.
Tiger Woods is an excellent match-play competitor, as evidenced by his three U.S. Amateur titles and back-to-back Accenture Match Play wins. That could also explain why he has a lifetime 6-1 record in PGA Tour playoffs, which are essentially match-play format. His lone loss? The 1998 Nissan Open to Billy Mayfair, who was once again on the leaderboard in L.A. with a T-7 finish. In fact, Mayfair has enjoyed a bit of a comeback so far this season, finishing in the money in all five of his starts. This comes after an '04 season when Mayfair had only one top 10 and finished 140th on the money list.
Jose Maria Olazabal needed a sponsor's exemption to play the Nissan, a result of finishing 145th on the 2004 money list. He's doing his best to ensure a ranking that low won't happen again. The 5-foot-10, 160-pound Spaniard worked out in the offseason to gain more distance off the tee. So far, it's not working. Notoriously one of the shorter hitters on tour, Olazabal is averaging 273.1 yards off the tee, down almost five yards from a year ago.
If there was one player in the top 40 of the money list last season whose game you have not watched, whose face you cannot recognize, maybe even whose name you do not know, it is probably Bo Van Pelt. Ranked 39th on the 2004 money list, the seven-year pro was easily the most anonymous name among the PGA Tour's top players. And since it took Van Pelt so long to get on our radar screen, it may not take too long for him to fall right off. That's because through his first five starts this year, the Oklahoma State alum had yet to see a Sunday round. Van Pelt missed the cut in his first four events, then received an MDF (Made Cut, Did Not Finish) at Pebble Beach, worth a measly $10,547. At the shortened Nissan, he made more than seven times that amount with a T-13 finish after rounds of 70-67. Last season, Van Pelt made the cut in 23 of 30 events and had 13 top-25 finishes.
Sure, Mike Weir failed to make it a three-peat at Riviera, but he almost made history in another way. On Friday, Weir's tee shot on the drivable par-4 10th hole rolled right past the hole, failing to go in for a hole-in-one double-eagle. The only previous ace on a par-4 hole in PGA Tour history happened at the 2001 FBR Open, when Andrew Magee drove the 17th green at TPC of Scottsdale and saw his ball carom off Tom Byrum's putter into the hole.
Rookie James Driscoll was an alternate at the Nissan, making it into the field only after Mark Hensby withdrew just days before the event. But Driscoll made the most of it in the first round, shooting a 4-under 67 to move to T-5 after Thursday's play. He started the back nine of his second round well, too, making eagle on the easy par-5 first hole (he started from the 10th tee), but played the next seven holes in 6 over and finished T-47 for the week -- his second made cut in five starts this season.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the first round was Chris Starkjohann, a 48-year-old journeyman pro, who shot a 3-under 68 before a second-round 78 led to a missed cut. In two previous starts on the PGA Tour this season, Starkjohann missed the cut at the Buick and finished T-61 at the Bob Hope, earning $9,917. That might not sound like big money, but consider Starkjohann's previous four seasons on the PGA and Nationwide Tours -- in 37 total events, he earned just over $14,000.
We don't like to pry into the personal lives of players, but this one could carry over to the course. Annika Sorenstam and her husband of seven years, David Esch, have filed for divorce. So what effect could this have on her play? Well, a positive one, actually. Sorenstam has often said she might retire early to have children. If that is not in her immediate future, look for Annika to keep plugging away on the LPGA Tour, more than holding her own against the several young guns on the scene.
The LPGA kind of resembles the WWE these days. Stick with us here, this is a touch analogy, but just might work. Even if you're not a big wrestling fan, you know the form of entertainment is divided into two sides -- good guys and bad guys. While the ladies' pros won't be hitting each other over the head with folding chairs anytime soon, there is a certain separation between two groups. Instead of good and bad, they're divided into young and, um, not so young. Michelle Wie will be in the field for this week's SBS Open at Turtle Bay, the first full-field event of the season, and while she may have more talent than any of the young guns in the long run, the near future belongs to the likes of Lorena Ochoa, Aree Song, Paula Creamer and Christina Kim. On the other side are battle-tested vets like Meg Mallon, Juli Inkster, Beth Daniel and Rosie Jones. As for Annika? She's in a league all her own.
It's only a matter of time before Thongchai Jaidee becomes one of the more recognizable international golfers. Already the most successful player from his native Thailand -- he is the all-time leading money winner on the Asian Tour -- Jaidee won his second straight Malaysian Open Sunday. Even with such accomplished players as Tim Clark, Peter Lonard and Angel Cabrera battling for the final spots on this year's International team in the Presidents Cup, don't be surprised if Jaidee makes a run at a roster spot, too.
While Jaidee was busy racking up a wire-to-wire victory, fellow countryman Prom Meesawat was almost equally impressive in Malaysia. Just 20 years old, Meesawat finished T-6, bettering final-round playing partner and Euro Tour veteran Thomas Bjorn by four strokes with a 73 on Sunday. But it might be Meesawat's "look" that we like even better than his game. Sporting glasses, a crew cut and plenty of baby fat, Meesawat is a U.S. fan favorite just waiting to happen.
Speaking of successful youngsters, 21-year-old Australian Steven Bowditch had a pretty impressive week, winning the Nationwide/Australasian Tour's Jacob's Creek Open despite his Saturday troubles. Bowditch entered the third round with a five-stroke lead, but made bogey on five of his first seven holes (with an eagle sprinkled in). By day's end, Bowditch shot an improbable even-par 72, hitting only three of 15 fairways during his round.
"My main goal right now is to try to get that lonely jacket a little buddy to hang with."
-- Phil Mickelson, speaking of this year's Masters
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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