We're going back-to-back in this week's edition of Fact or Fiction.
That's right: From one guy with a history of back problems (Fred Couples) to another (Rocco Mediate), we examine the short-term future of two of the tour's most popular players. Will Freddie make it to East Lake this year? Will Rocco keep his card for next year? Our panel of experts answers these questions and more.
" Fred Couples (currently 30th on the money list) will qualify for the Tour Championship.
Jason Sobel, golf editor, ESPN.com: FICTION. The last time Couples competed in 20 tour events was back in 1992. With this week's 84 Lumber Classic and next week's Presidents Cup, his total for this season will be at exactly 20. Don't expect Freddie to compete much more this year. Besides, the renowned sports fanatic has a lot going on this time of year: NFL football, college football, pennant-race baseball ...
Bob Harig, contributor, ESPN.com: FICTION. Couples has not made the Tour Championship for seven years and it does not appear to be a goal. If he were to play a healthy number of tournaments, he'd probably be a lock. But Couples had an outside shot last year and didn't play after the American Express Championship. Back problems are always an issue for Couples, which is why he likely will pick his spots.
Brian Wacker, assistant editor, GolfDigest.com: FACT. Couples is having his best year since 1998 when he won twice and finished ninth on the money list. With four top 10s, including a T-3 at the British Open, he's positioned nicely for a late-season run beginning at this week's 84 Lumber Classic, where players who hit it long and high are generally rewarded. A strong finish at Nemacolin Woods all but locks up a spot at East Lake in November for Couples.
Ron Sirak, executive editor, Golf World magazine: FICTION. Freddie doesn't crank his game up to high gear until the really important tournaments are in sight -- like the Skins Game.
" Rocco Mediate (currently 123rd on the money list) will earn a tour card for next season.
Wacker: FACT. Mediate tied for 15th in Boston two weeks ago to earn a little more than $70,000, moving him into slightly safer waters when it comes to securing a tour card for '06. But there's still some work to be done and with only six events remaining, he can't afford to miss many cuts. Based on last year's money list and projected totals for this year, Mediate will need somewhere in the ballpark of $30,000 per start to be in the top 125, so another top-20 finish or two would certainly benefit him.
Sirak: FACT. The man is a grinder. No way he lets himself fall out of the top 125.
Sobel: FACT. In the last two seasons, Mediate is a combined 6-for-9 making the cut (when he doesn't withdraw, that is) in September-or-later events, with three top-10 finishes. The only thing that will stop him from reaching the top 125 is if he keeps looking over his shoulder. There are some pretty good players -- Jonathan Byrd, Brendan Jones, Frank Lickliter II -- still trailing Rocco on the money list.
Harig: FACT. Mediate has had two top-15 finishes in his last five events and might very well secure his card this week in his native Pennsylvania.
" Pick to win -- 84 Lumber Classic
Harig: CHRIS DIMARCO. He's played well in the past at the 84 Lumber and is overdue for a victory.
Sirak: MICHELLE WIE. No, wait, she decided to skip the event. Vijay Singh. He likes to keep his sponsors happy.
Wacker: FRED COUPLES. Reportedly, Wie passed on an exemption into the 84 Lumber because the 7,500-yard course didn't suit her game. That's not an issue for Boom-Boom, who, despite back problems throughout his career, has managed to consistently hit it deep.
Sobel: LEE JANZEN. The last three tour winners have been 40-somethings -- Brad Faxon (44), Olin Browne (46) and Mark Calcavecchia (45). We know a pattern when we see one. Billy Mayfair won't be 40 until next August. Jose Maria Olazabal won't be 40 until next February. So we're going with the 41-year-old Janzen, who needs a big paycheck to keep his card.