Four questions for the remainder of the season
The major championship season is over, and the Player of the Year (Tiger Woods) and Rookie of the Year (Sean O'Hair) have been determined. Yet 12 tournaments remain in the fourth quarter of the 2005 PGA Tour season. This -- plus the upcoming NFL season -- is exactly why commissioner Tim Finchem is floating the idea of a season-ending Tour Championship on Labor Day weekend, but that's two years away. For now, we're left with the Fall Finish, the top-30 and top-125 bubbles and a short list of story lines:
What's Tiger's magic number?
He has five victories after winning the WGC-NEC Invitational. He'll play the Deutsche Bank Championship, the WGC-American Express Championship and the Tour Championship for sure, and maybe the Funai Classic at Walt Disney World. Conceivably, he could match his nine-win total from 2000.
"I've seen a lot of parallels, maybe more to '99 than to 2000, with him finally getting comfortable with what he's doing," close friend John Cook said. "Now he's starting to trust it on the golf course."
Since missing the cut at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship, Woods has not finished out of the top five. Cook believes there are motivational forces driving Woods that will make him play hard to the finish line. "He won't say it, but I will," Cook said. "He was tired of everybody second-guessing him, saying that his marriage to Elin was bad, that working with Hank was bad. He's now won five tournaments, including two majors and a World Golf Championship event. Like 2000, he wants to finish it out and put a stamp on it."
Will Vijay Singh return to the belly putter?
The Fijian told Never Compromise reps at the NEC he was tired of making changes, that he was going to stick with the cross-handed grip and the mallet that made everything at the Buick Open, where he dusted Tiger. But what everybody will remember is not that Singh finished T-10 in putting at Firestone. It was his tentative stroke on a 5-footer on the 72nd hole which would have put him in the clubhouse at 5-under. That miss -- after two perfectly executed shots -- encapsulated Singh's year.
"It looks like he's not putting with any confidence," CBS analyst Lanny Wadkins said Monday from his home in Dallas. "From all the times I've watched Vijay, he seems to be much more streaky with the regular putter. He has good days and bad, but it doesn't seem like he has steady days."
The statistics say his putting average and his putts per round are on par with last year (1.757 and 29.24 in 2004 against 1.771 and 29.42 in 2005). And he's doing better in the money zones -- from 10-15 feet and from 10 feet and in. What they don't show are the crucial misses, such as the 2-footer that cost him a playoff at Honda, or those weeks like Pinehurst, when he was fifth at the U.S. Open, while finishing last in putting.
"With the belly putter, from 10-12 feet and in, I don't remember him missing," Wadkins said. "If he was putting like that this year, it would be something to watch, but it has been pretty good anyway."
Pretty good as in four wins, four top-10s in the majors and $7.3 million in earnings -- with at least six tournaments remaining on his schedule.
Who will win the Presidents Cup?
The International players will be more enthused -- because they don't have the annual Cup obligation -- but the U.S. team was in good spirits when it met last week at Firestone CC. Woods is on board with a good attitude, and four players (Chris DiMarco, Fred Funk, Scott Verplank and Justin Leonard) have said they want to visit Robert Trent Jones GC early for a practice round.
Gary Player is going to miss Ernie Els -- although the Big Easy will probably be on site to provide moral support. The X factor is that an American team has not won a Presidents Cup or a Ryder Cup since a rout of the International team at RTJ in 2000. They'll be fired up to win for Captain Jack, who is 0-2 in these affairs and smart enough not to force a Woods-Phil Mickelson pairing. "You know, this year, I've had nothing but enthusiasm," Nicklaus said.
Who is this year's Andre Stolz?
The field at this year's Mercedes Championships included late-season first-time winners Stolz (Las Vegas), Bart Bryant (Texas) and Ryan Palmer (Disney). The current consensus is the best player on tour without a victory is either Bo Van Pelt or Lucas Glover.
Glover was hot at midseason, with six top-10s topped by a tie for third at New Orleans. But he has missed his last five cuts and has dropped to 49th on the money list. Van Pelt is coming off a strong PGA Championship (T-17) and has three top-10 finishes, including a tie for third with Woods at the Memorial.
Both Glover and Van Pelt hit it long and have made more than $1 million despite struggling on the greens. The guy to watch is Jason Gore. The Big Lug returned to the tour this past week for the Buick Championship after three straight wins on the Nationwide Tour.
"He's got the game," Golf Channel analyst Curt Byrum said. "He's got the ability and he can make putts. That's what it takes."
• Is it an indictment of DiMarco and the World Ranking that he's ranked seventh in the world, despite having only three career wins? Or does it simply say DiMarco, who finished second in back-to-back majors, and who has four top-three finishes this year, is one of the tour's most consistent performers? Other than New Orleans (39 on the back nine Sunday), DiMarco hasn't thrown away a tournament. At the Match Play, David Toms annihilated him -- but Toms had a career day. At Augusta, he shot 68 in the final round, had a chip to win lip out and lost to Tiger Woods' playoff birdie. At the NEC he bogeyed 17 coming in, but shot 68 on a day when Tiger didn't break par. All of this is little consolation. The bottom line, as DiMarco knows, is winning.
• Finding a new player for the PGA Tour's 2007-10 TV package may be as simple as following the puck. The Outdoor Life Network just signed a multi-year deal to broadcast the National Hockey League and wants to be a player in golf. How much of a player? OLN is owned by Comcast, the largest cable operator in the United States, and owner of The Golf Channel. So while TGC wants product, there are larger forces at work. OLN, which hopes to grow from 64 million to 80 million viewers, also is looking to make plays for NASCAR and Major League Baseball.
Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine
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