Those who live in glass houses ...
When you get beyond the semantics of whether someone accused of cheating is also a cheater, Scott McCarron meant well. Not as it relates to Phil Mickelson -- linking Lefty's name with cheating was not a good thing -- but to the issue of non-conforming grooves in general.
But there is some irony in McCarron's passionate plea that dominated last week's talk at the Farmers Insurance Open and is continuing this week at the Northern Trust Open outside of Los Angeles.
This week's tournaments
So where are the world's best golfers teeing it up this week?
• PGA Tour: Northern Trust Open; Feb. 4-7; Riviera Country Club; Pacific Palisades, Calif.
• European Tour: Omega Dubai Desert Classic; Feb. 4-7; Emirates GC; Dubai, United Arab Emirates
• Nationwide Tour: Moonah Classic; Feb. 4-7; Moonah Links; Fingal, Victoria, Australia
McCarron uses the long putter. So does Rocco Mediate, who was also critical of the use of the Ping Eye 2 wedges which are deemed legal only because of a court ruling.
It is both those players' feelings that the Ping Eye clubs should not be used, legal or not. The clubs -- with any other brand name stamped on them -- would not be conforming. Their kinder assessment is using the clubs is "bending the rules." Fair enough.
And yet, how often have you heard chatter over the years about the long putter or belly putter?
Both are legal under the rules, so there is no problem there.
But there are plenty who think the clubs should be banned, that using them gives the putter an advantage, due to the ability to anchor the club or the hands on the body. Isn't that bending the rules?
Not to pick on McCarron -- who has since apologized to Mickelson -- because the debate about the long putter dates to the 1980s when a number of players started using it successfully on the Champions Tour. Charlie Owens was the first to do so in 1985. Orville Moody, a notoriously poor putter in his regular PGA Tour days, won the 1989 U.S. Senior Open using a long putter.
The rules of golf state that a putter cannot be shorter than 18 inches. But there is no maximum length. Not that long putters didn't cause plenty of debate.
In the 1990s, the long putters started to gain popularity on the regular tour. Mediate became the first player to win using one in 1991 at Doral. In 2004, Vijay Singh switched to a belly putter and his putting statistics jumped from outside of the top 100 to inside the top 10.
"They should definitely be banned," Ernie Els once said. "I believe nerves and the skill of putting are part of the game."
And yet, nothing has happened.
Part of it has to do with the notion that those using a long putter or a belly putter are not significantly better putters than those using a conventional putter. It simply helps them jump from bad to average. It should be noted that Singh did not win any of his three major championships using a belly putter. And that Angel Cabrera at last year's Masters became the first player to win a major championship using a belly putter -- although he putted with it conventionally.
Then there is the notion of being "grandfathered." While that notion might seem odd with golf clubs (amateurs, by the way, do not have to conform to the new grooves rules for 14 years!), it is a way of life, even on the PGA Tour.
For example, this week's Northern Trust Open, like almost every tournament, is required to be set up as a non-profit organization with proceeds earmarked for charity and its income and expenses a public record.
But there are a handful of tournaments -- the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Jack Nicklaus' Memorial, for example -- that are not required to abide by the arrangement. They are for-profit ventures "grandfathered" in when the new rules were put in place several years ago. Is that fair?
McCarron last week even made the analogy with the long putter.
"It's my opinion that anyone who is using those wedges is really bending the rules," he said. "It's like me using the long putter. Let's say we're going to ban the putter, but anyone who has been using it since 1995 can continue using it. That would be me. I would be the only one who would be able to use it. Do you think that would be fair? Probably not. So it's basically the same situation."
Maybe so. But if the rules makers were to allow for the loophole, you would have situations like the one we have now with the non-conforming but legal Ping clubs.
Ernie Els turned nostalgic for a bit at Torrey Pines last week. The South African made his first visit to the United States as a wide-eyed 14-year-old back in 1984 to play in the World Junior at the same venue. And he won.
Chat with the expert
There is no shortage of controversial issues floating around the world of golf these days. ESPN.com golf writer Bob Harig sorts through many of them during his SportsNation chat. Read transcript.
"Coming from South Africa in those days, it was like the U.S. is the land of milk and honey, wonderful place and wonderful place to play golf," Els said. "To have that experience at 14 was a hell of an experience."
But Els has played the Torrey event infrequently over the years. He admitted that the lure of appearance fees in the Middle East at this time of year has been a prime motivating factor.
Now that he lives in Florida instead of London, however, Els is sticking closer to home. He is also playing this week's Northern Trust Open at Riviera, taking a week off, then playing the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
In many years past, he would play the European Tour events in the Middle East, including this week's Dubai event, and not start his PGA Tour schedule until either Los Angeles or the Match Play.
"I've gone to the Middle East for 15, 16 years, and just felt like staying at home this time," said Els, who tied for fifth at Torrey Pines. "Moving to Florida, family is back there; Samantha [his daughter], I promised I wouldn't travel too far out of the country."
Harig's head-scratcher of the week
Phil Mickelson did not deserve to have the word "cheating" associated with him. He was within his right -- and still is -- to play the controversial Ping Eye 2 wedges, as they are deemed conforming. But you wonder why Mickelson even went down this road, and why he risked being part of this mess.
When Mickelson admitted that he didn't see much difference between the Ping wedge and the Callaway club he could have put in his bag instead -- but wouldn't change just to give the appearance of caving -- it raised the issue of whether Mickelson was doing this to make a point.
Mickelson has been frustrated by the new grooves rule, finding that clubs he had tested were conforming but ultimately not approved anyway by the United States Golf Association. All of this happened last summer, and Mickelson on Wednesday was not shy about voicing his displeasure. He said he would not play the Ping club this week.
"I've made my point," he said.
Still, was it worth it? Hunter Mahan used the Ping wedges, too, but didn't endure anything near the scrutiny of Mickelson, who is obviously viewed in a different light.
The cheating charge was unfair, but the discussion of whether or not the Ping wedges should be allowed in play is ripe for analyzing. And Mickelson could have easily avoided the entire fiasco. Perhaps his actions will pay off in the long run.
So you want to play
... Riviera Country Club. The site of this week's Northern Trust Open is one of the country's most famous golf courses. It is also private. Designed by George C. Thomas and opened in 1926, it has been home to many big tournaments, including the 1948 U.S. Open won by Ben Hogan -- hence the nickname, Hogan's Alley.
The club has had a slew of celebrities as members over the years, given its proximity to Hollywood. The club is located in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and also hosted the 1983 PGA Championship (won by Hal Sutton) and the 1995 PGA (won by Steve Elkington in a playoff over Colin Montgomerie).
For the tournament, the par-71 course plays to 7,298 yards, although members get a break at a more reasonable 6,505.
The tournament dates to 1926 and was played at Riviera for the first time in 1929. This will be the 46th playing at Riviera and 12th in a row.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
Birdies and Bogeys
1. Ben Crane. Ignorance is bliss. Despite not knowing where he stood, Crane managed to par the last hole at Torrey Pines to pick up his third PGA Tour victory.
2. Robert Karlsson. The No. 1 player in Europe in 2008 had his 2009 season derailed by a strange but scary eye infection that kept him from playing for months. His victory at Qatar is a sign he is seeing clearly again.
3. Brandt Snedeker. He came up one birdie short at Torrey Pines but took a nice leap to 75th in the world rankings. Another leap like that -- short of a victory -- and he'll be in the Masters.
1. Scott McCarron. There is no problem having an issue with the grooves rule, and McCarron is right for speaking out. But he crossed the line when he used the word "cheating" in reference to Phil Mickelson. He has since apologized.
2. Michael Sim. The Aussie, who graduated to the PGA Tour via the Nationwide Tour, had a chance to force overtime on Sunday and decided to lay up on the par-5 18th. Sim said he thought it was a stretch to get there in 2, but when he spun his third shot off the front of the green, his chance at birdie and tying was gone.
3. John Daly. Did anybody really think Daly was quitting? Other than when he tanks a round of golf? Maybe Big John needs to give himself more time to adjust to the extreme weight loss.
• Due to the new grooves rule, Padraig Harrington had a bunch of clubs in his garage in Ireland that he knew he could not use in competition. So he sold them for charity. "Cleared out everything I had," said Harrington, who later found out he had sold seven of the Ping wedges that are considered conforming. "It's amazing. I must have had them for 20 years, and I said I'm getting rid of everything, I had a total clean-out, and sure enough you need them next week."
• Two-time defending champion Phil Mickelson has a chance to become the first player to win the Northern Trust Open three straight times. Before his past two victories, he lost the 2007 tournament in a playoff to Charles Howell III.
• Fred Couples makes his 28th straight appearance at the Los Angeles-based tournament. He has also committed to next week's ACE Group Classic on the Champions Tour.
• Japan's Ryo Ishikawa returns to the course where he made his PGA Tour debut in 2009. Ishikawa, 18, led the Japan Tour's money list, posting four victories and 10 top-10s in 22 starts.
• This week's tournament offers the last opportunity to qualify for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. The top 64 in the world -- or 66 if Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson do not play -- will qualify. Ben Crane made a big move last week, jumping from 109th to 56th.
"Tiger has to take ownership of what he has done. He must get his personal life in order. I think that's what he's trying to do. And when he comes back he has to show some humility to the public. I would come out and I would do an interview with somebody and say, 'You know what? I screwed up. And I admit it. I am going to try to change. I am trying to change. I want my wife and family back.'"
-- Tom Watson at a news conference in Dubai, where he is playing in this week's European Tour event.
Catching up with the '09 champ
It has been an interesting start to the season and far more notable for what has taken place off the course than on. Mickelson opened the 2010 season with a 19th-place finish at the Farmers Insurance Open after a final-round 73. But he returns to Riviera Country Club, where he has won the past two times.
Mickelson got off to a slow start last year in his three tournaments before Riviera, then won the tournament and a month later won the WGC-CA Championship at Doral. He was looking to have a big year, then disclosed the breast cancer diagnosis for his wife, Amy, and later his mother, Mary. Mickelson missed the British Open but finished the year strong with a victory at the Tour Championship and then again in China at the HSBC Champions.
Ranked No. 2 in the world and with the No. 1 player out of action indefinitely, Mickelson, who turns 40 later this year, has a great opportunity. He has never won the money title, the scoring title or been ranked No. 1 in the world.
Northern Trust Open picks
Horse for the Course. Phil Mickelson. Lefty had two victories and a playoff loss in his past three appearances at Riviera.
Birdie Buster. Ernie Els. The Big Easy is coming off a nice finish in San Diego, where he tied for fifth. He won at Riviera in 1999.
Super Sleeper. Fred Couples. The now senior golfer is playing for the 28th straight year and tied for third in 2009.
Winner. Robert Allenby. The Aussie is due for a victory on the PGA Tour and won at Riviera in a playoff in 2001 -- the last year he won on the PGA Tour.