Colonial playoff yields victory for Stricker, anguish for Clark
"I hope good luck lies in odd numbers. Away; go. They say there is divinity in odd numbers, either in nativity, chance, or death."
I can pretty much guarantee that none of the three players involved in Sunday's playoff at Colonial was repeating this ol' Bill Shakespeare passage as they stepped to the first extra hole, though for one of the trio -- Steve Stricker, Tim Clark or Steve Marino -- this odd number would indeed bring good luck.
They say it's better to be lucky than good. I'm not so sure that axiom holds true in golf, but I can tell you this much: It's better to be good than unlucky. While Stricker fired his approach shot on the second extra hole to within 3 feet, Clark watched his attempt hit the flagstick and ricochet 20 feet away.
It proved to be the difference between winning and losing.
"You need breaks to win," Stricker later said. "That's why winning is so special, so hard to do."
This edition of the Weekly 18 begins with that very notion by examining just how tough it is to triumph on the PGA Tour.
Never mind the majors. Any pro golfer worth his weight in balatas understands that winning any of the sport's four foremost championships is a task that has become even more daunting during the Tiger Woods era. On the world's most competitive professional tour, prevailing over any field on any given week is a difficult proposition.
These guys are good? Maybe the PGA Tour's new motto should be "Primping ain't easy."
Just ask Steve Stricker. After winning twice in his third full season on tour (1996), it took a half-decade to claim win No. 3 and one year longer to take the next one after that. When he won The Barclays late in the 2007 season, the Wisconsin native spoke about how tough it was to finally earn the hardware once again.
"That's what we are all out here to do," he said at the time. "You don't get in position that many times, and when you do, it's tough to pull it off. So I was just happy that it worked out my way this time at the end."
Though it took less than two full years to reach the winner's circle for a fifth time in his career, Stricker's victory Sunday at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial wasn't any less of a relief. He led entering the final round of this year's Bob Hope Classic but a final-round 77 dropped him into a share of third place. He led at one point during the final round of the Northern Trust Open but finished second, one shot behind winner Phil Mickelson. He led entering the weekend at the Transitions Championship but could only muster a share of fourth.
If nothing else, such close calls and dramatic disappointments should give Stricker a unique perspective on the post-tournament mindsets of his fellow playoff competitors, Steve Marino and Tim Clark, each of whom was searching for his first career PGA Tour victory.
In 81 career starts, Marino now owns 13 top-10s and four finishes of third or better, but is still seeking that elusive first title. All of which pales in comparison to Clark's marks. Despite winning four times internationally, he's now made 184 appearances on the U.S. circuit without a victory. His career earnings of $13,275,026 rank first all-time among players who have never won; his 35 top-10s without a win are third behind Bobby Wadkins and Lennie Clements.
"I can't take anything positive from today," said an obviously frustrated Clark, who bogeyed the final hole in regulation, then pulled a 7-foot birdie attempt on the first playoff hole. "I have a lot of work to do when it comes to closing out golf tournaments."
He's hardly alone. Other non-winners include bold, brash Ian Poulter; broomstick-wielding putting maven Nick O'Hern; annual driving distance leader Bubba Watson; and the M&M boys from the West Coast: John Mallinger and John Merrick. Each could proffer his own tales of woe, of defeats snatched from the jaws of victory.
(For my take on the top players without a victory, check out "The List" at No. 13 later in this column.)
Moral of the story? It's not easy to win on the PGA Tour. Steve Stricker knows that all too well. And it's even tougher to win for the first time. Tim Clark knows that even better.
2 Pink Out
Let's face it: When it was announced recently that the PGA Tour's most high-profile wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer, the news immediately transcended the world of golf, becoming an international story that garnered interest even from non-fans who couldn't recite Amy Mickelson's husband's career win total.
Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Ian Poulter has never been one to shy away from bright colors while playing professional golf. But his choice of pink on Saturday at the Colonial took on new meaning with many players altering their wardrobes in support of Amy Mickelson.
As such, it would have been easy for the PGA Tour -- and its PGA Tour Wives Association and Crowne Plaza Invitational officials, specifically -- to let this news stand for itself while each individual, from players to fans to concerned observers, supported Amy in her battle against the disease. That is what made Saturday's "Pink Out" at Colonial so special. It drew more attention to a cause that had already gained plenty of visibility in the past week and a half.
With a majority of players clad in pink wardrobes and gallery members decked out in shirts and buttons that read, "Amy's Army," the third round turned into a celebration of support for not only the Mickelson family, but the fight against breast cancer.
"The purpose of the Pink Out is to show Amy our love and support, to let her know we're thinking of her," said Mark Wilson's wife, Amy, who is president of the PGA Tour Wives Association. "She's going to be out there and she's going to touch a lot of lives -- those who are fighting it and those who are survivors."
"I haven't seen a wife yet that's not wearing pink, so it's fantastic that everybody was able to participate," said Tabitha Furyk, whose husband Jim has competed on each of the past 11 U.S. Ryder/Presidents Cup teams with Phil Mickelson. "And it's amazing how many different players were wearing shades of pink. It's pretty touching."
The wives weren't the only ones into the act, though. Nearly every player at Colonial on Saturday donned a pink shirt or at least wore a pink ribbon on his hat to support the cause.
"If our wives tell us to do something, we're going to do it," Zach Johnson said. "This is just indicative of how big a family we are out here, I think. When you have one of your own that's going through something, you want to lend your support and let them know you're thinking of them. This is the least we can do."
3 Principal Charity Classic drama
As my buddy Kenny Mayne used to say while voicing over Champions Tour highlights, "They're seniors but they're active seniors."
On Sunday, the seniors were pretty active on the leaderboard, too. Seven different players -- Mark McNulty, Fred Funk, Nick Price, Mark Wiebe, David Eger, Tom Kite and Joey Sindelar -- led or shared the lead during the final round in West Des Moines, Iowa.
As if that weren't enough action to get the ol' tickers on tour tick-tocking, the tourney went to a three-man playoff between McNulty, Funk and Price. After the first two birdied the second extra hole to eliminate Price, they went to a fourth playoff hole, where McNulty sank a 30-foot birdie putt to win his seventh career Champions Tour title.
"All day, it was sort of catching up, behind, catching up, behind, and [Funk] was sort of always one step ahead," McNulty said. "He's got to maintain that one step, and I've got to catch up that one step, so I'm fortunate enough that I managed to it."
Sounds like an active round, indeed.
4 NCAA's match-play format
For the first time, the men's NCAA golf championship was contested via match play this past week. The decision drew some criticism beforehand from coaches and players who believed the new format wouldn't necessarily reward the best overall team.
Perhaps, but just about every other team sport entertains a beat-whom-you-play system that ensures the eventual champion has triumphed undefeated through that particular postseason tournament. (Hold your ire, college football fans.) And if we learned anything during the first edition of such a format for golf's college ranks, it's that this can prove to be a much more exciting venture.
With the final match between Texas A&M and the University of Arkansas ultimately tied at two wins apiece, the entire championship came down to the last individual match. Bronson Burgoon of A&M had led Andrew Landry by a score of 4 up with five to play, but the Razorback rallied to win holes 14, 15, 16 and 17 to square the match entering the final hole. It was there Burgoon pulled off the late heroics, hitting a 120-yard gap wedge to 3 inches from the hole, clinching the match -- and his team's championship victory -- when Landry missed a 35-footer to halve.
"Right when it came off my club face I knew it was going to be good," Burgoon said. "I just didn't know how good. It ended up better than I could have imagined."
Better than he could have imagined. NCAA officials might be saying the same thing about the implementation of this new format, too.
Now the truth can be told.
As far back as Masters week, I had heard the scuttlebutt under the big oak tree outside the Augusta National clubhouse as to the real reason why Sergio Garcia was looking less and less like an elite-level player. And no, it had nothing to do with waggles or poor putting.
The rumor circulating back then was that Garcia had just called it quits with longtime girlfriend Morgan-Leigh Norman, whose father just happens to be Greg Norman. Of course, it was only a rumor, yet to be substantiated for any kind of public use.
That changed this past week, when the 29-year-old Spaniard not only admitted that he and Morgan-Leigh Norman were no longer together, but that the breakup affected his game, as well.
"When your head is not where it should be, it doesn't matter how much you practice, because you are not thinking about what you are doing," Garcia said before the European Open. "I didn't see results and it was getting me even more frustrated."
Since March, when the breakup occurred, Garcia's results were worth getting frustrated over. He finished T-13 (Honda Classic), T-31 (WGC-CA Championship), T-77 (Shell Houston Open), T-38 (Masters), MC (Quail Hollow Championship) and T-22 (Players Championship) in a half-dozen starts hardly befitting his résumé.
Whether time is helping to heal his wounds or he just needed a return to European soil, El Niño looked to be returning to form at The London GC, where he sandwiched rounds of 75-74 with an opening-day 69 and a closing 68 that moved him from T-47 on the leaderboard to T-13 at day's end.
That's still not the stuff of a top-five type of talent, but these baby steps can only show promise for a schedule that will continue next week in Memphis, followed by the U.S. Open and a trip to Hartford.
Is the young Aussie undergoing the same sort of lovelorn frustrations as his buddy Garcia? Maybe not, but after being romantically linked to actress Kate Hudson during the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship, it can't be too comforting seeing her name connected with that of New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez in recent dating rumors.
Instead, Scott has chalked up his recent poor results to swing "tweaks" with longtime instructor Butch Harmon.
"It was disappointing to miss the cut at the Masters and the Players by just one shot because I didn't play all that badly, and I really felt like I needed to get some more rounds under my belt, and missing the cut doesn't get that accomplished," Scott said before his title defense at last week's Byron Nelson Championship. "So just practicing and working on all the stuff I've been trying to do with my golf swing in all areas of the game this year, so hopefully it all falls into place and I can put some good rounds together."
Good, sure, but hardly great, as Scott shot rounds of 71-71 to miss his sixth straight cut. Which means scores of 68-71-69-71 for a T-64 result at Colonial this past week should be considered some kind of success: his first weekend playing an event with a cut since a runner-up finish at the Sony Open back in January.
The struggles are evident in the stats, as he ranks 163rd in driving accuracy, 111th in greens in regulation and 144th in putting average, leading to a scoring average of 71.68; 149th on tour. After beginning the season at 15th on the Official World Golf Ranking, the former top-fiver has slipped all the way to 41st.
Again, like Garcia, this latest result is mere baby steps for the ultra-talented Scott, though his game is still pretty far from where he'd like it to be.
The "other" runner-up at this year's Masters -- Campbell shared Kenny Perry's heartache but didn't garner as many headlines -- may find his status questionable heading into the upcoming U.S. Open.
In Friday's second round at Colonial, Campbell hit a bunker shot on the 17th hole (his eighth hole of the day) to within 9 feet. He heard a pop, though, and after climbing out of the hazard, appeared to faint into the arms of playing partners Rory Sabbatini and Mike Weir. Campbell was reportedly diagnosed with a torn calf muscle, though he will seek further examination on Monday.
"I'm going home to rest," Campbell said after immediately withdrawing from the tournament and exiting the course. "We'll see what happens."
Adding insult to injury is the fact that he was playing well prior to getting hurt. Campbell had made the cut in 10 of 13 previous starts and after an opening-round 67 on Thursday, he was already climbing the leaderboard in Round 2, at 2-under when the injury took place.
8 I wish PGA Tour officials understood they need John Daly more than he needs the PGA Tour.
About six months ago, Daly was suspended by the PGA Tour. Or so we believe, at least. Not sure, really. Gotta take JD's word for it, though, since the folks at Ponte Vedra Beach headquarters refuse to comment on any disciplinary actions against players.
Harig: Focus on EuropeIf John Daly knows what's best for him, he'll ply his trade on the European Tour in 2009 and not in the U.S. Bob Harig
Apparently, the suspension will be lifted prior to next week's St. Jude Classic. Again, this news doesn't come directly from the tour but Daly himself, who recently announced his intentions to compete in the Memphis-based event.
Now, I suppose I could have used this space in the column to once again take the PGA Tour to task for failing to disclose information that any other major professional sports league would certainly make public knowledge. But I've been down that road before and will no doubt revisit the issue before too long.
(For a unique -- and humorous -- angle on this situation, check out this John Strege blog entry from GolfDigest.com.)
Instead, allow me to examine this specific case. While Daly's reported suspension may have been well deserved, it's not debatable that the tour needs him more than he needs the tour right now. After all, as a past British Open champion, Long John owns lifetime status on the European Tour, which he recently parlayed into a five-tournament stretch in which he made three cuts, including a T-2 at the BMW Italian Open. More than a few insiders have suggested a full season overseas -- rather than a return stateside -- could be the cure for what's been ailing his game over the past few years.
The U.S. circuit, meanwhile, needs all the star power it can receive during the current economic downturn. Its two biggest drawing cards are the game's top two players, but Tiger Woods will play just over one-third of this year's events and Phil Mickelson is currently on an indefinite leave of absence. The truth is, though, I still maintain that if Woods, Mickelson and Daly were all tied for the lead on the back nine of a final round, it would be JD who received the loudest cheers and most support from those outside the ropes.
PGA Tour officials may not publicly acknowledge Daly's suspension, but they should welcome him back with open arms. With his return comes the potential of another superstar personality drawing attention to the sport and this tour specifically. Past indiscretions notwithstanding, that can only be seen as beneficial.
9 I wish there could be some sort of mini-Ryder Cup during odd-numbered years.
Remember the days when the U.S. was always "better on paper" than its European counterpart entering the Ryder Cup? Not so much anymore. Right now, the fourth-ranked European player is currently listed higher on the Official World Golf Ranking than the fourth-ranked American player.
Entering this past week, Paul Casey (No. 3), Sergio Garcia (4), Henrik Stenson (5) and Padraig Harrington (8) had a collective better ranking than Tiger Woods (1), Phil Mickelson (2), Kenny Perry (7) and Sean O'Hair (12). In fact, you would find the fifth-ranked European player, Robert Karlsson (11), before No. 4 of the U.S. guys.
All of this leads me to a suggestion for any deep-pocketed corporate sponsor who wants to get into the Silly Season mix: Allow me to introduce the first Mini-Ryder Cup.
The concept is simple. Our top four versus your top four. Pick some weekend in October or November. Stage it at some opulent venue. Throw money at the guys, if that's what it takes.
For all the skins games and skills challenges out there, this competition -- as near-impossible as it would be to put together -- would be the crown jewel of the postseason.
And if it were to take place right now? You could make a very strong argument that the European foursome would be "better on paper."
10 I wish I could have patented this idea.
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Q: If the PGA Tour ever encouraged players to use Twitter during tournament rounds, would you consider it?
A: If they encouraged us to, I might do it. But for now it's not a tour rule, it's a USGA rule -- no cell phones during play. You're not allowed to use them, obviously.
Q: Think about it, though: Rather than a TV analyst theorizing as to why you hit a 6-iron instead of a 7, you could inform everyone while walking to the next shot.
A: That would be pretty cool. That would be a new way to communicate and get the info out, because most of the time those guys get it wrong anyway when they talk about us [laughs]. I would consider doing it if they would allow it, but I don't see it happening.
I'm not sure whether LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens is a regular reader of the W18 or we're simply on the same wavelength, but she stated recently that the tour wouldn't be opposed to the idea of having its players Tweet their way through competitive rounds.
"I'd love it if players Twittered during the middle of a round," Bivens said in an interview, according to Bloomberg News. "The new media is very important to the growth of golf and we view it as a positive, and a tool to be used."
(Should we forgive the commish for her social networking faux pas of using the wrong verb form for Twitter? Yeah, we'll let it slide this one time.)
Now, there are some definitive pros and cons to the entire notion of using the application during competitive rounds.
Pros: Allows fans inside-the-ropes-type access; helps to display personalities of the players; gets more people involved in "live" coverage of the event.
Cons: Slows down the already tortoise-like pace on the LPGA Tour; takes players away from the main task at hand; handheld devices not deemed street legal by the USGA.
Bivens intimated that the last of those issues is currently awaiting review from the USGA rules makers; if they give it the go-ahead, expect the LPGA to seriously consider not only legalizing Tweeting (not "Twittering") but encouraging its players to take part on the course, too.
There is one other con, as well: A notion has surfaced that players could use the social networking platform as a means of circumventing the rules, whether receiving advice from a coach or other prohibited actions. That shouldn't be a factor, though. After all, if a player really wanted to cheat, that could already be accomplished through discussions with an instructor outside the ropes or via an audio device (iPods and other items are considered OK for competitive rounds by the USGA).
Final decision on live in-round Tweeting? If the USGA gives it the thumbs up, the LPGA should try it for one early round of one tournament, examine the positives and negatives of the application, then decide whether it should be implemented more frequently or never again. No reason to go all in right away, but for a tour that is currently stressing its player relationships with fans, this is certainly worth a try.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.
Each year, at the conclusion of every major tour's season, I produce a list of the top 18 golf shots -- everything from tournament-clinchers to ultra-obscure holes-in-one.
Peter Hanson's inevitable entry for this year's list was actually a little of both.
Playing in the U.S. Open qualifier at Sunningdale, Hanson was one of seven players to reach a playoff for five spots in the field. On the first extra hole, four of 'em -- Jose Manuel Lara, Jean-Francois Lucquin, Johan Edfors and Francesco Molinari -- made birdie, punching their tickets to Bethpage. That left Hanson, Richard Bland and Stephen Gallacher battling for the final spot & but it didn't take long to determine the winner.
Using a 6-iron on the 207-yard, par-3 17th hole, Hanson carded an ace to qualify for his third U.S. Open.
"This game is just so stupid sometimes," he said afterward. "Obviously, I am delighted to get through, but to do it like that is unbelievable. We were between clubs on the tee, but I thought that I would go for a full 6-iron and play for the middle of the green. You need a bit of luck with any hole-in-one, and I got my share today."
He also likely got his name on my year-end list of best golf shots.
Dire Straits once sang about "Money for Nothing." The title alone could serve as the chorus to "The Ballad of Tim Clark."
After a seventh career runner-up result Sunday, Clark increased his lead in the dubious category of most career money earned without a victory, currently edging out Briny Baird, Brett Quigley, Harrison Frazar and Skip Kendall.
But where does he rank on the list of best players without a trophy? This week's edition of "The List" names the top five -- uh, six -- with only one caveat: Only current PGA Tour members will be considered. (Sorry, Monty!)
5. John Mallinger/John Merrick. Quite honestly, most fans can't tell these Long Beach buddies apart anyway, so let's pair the up-and-comers, both of whom have played very well in recent months.
4. Kevin Na. Only 25, he's already playing his sixth full PGA Tour season; when healthy, he can go low, as evidenced by his six top-10s already this season.
3. Justin Rose. Disappointing season so far in '09, with no results of better than T-20, but the talent level is still very much there.
2. Tim Clark. He's won more than $13 million in the U.S., owns four international wins and has finished top-three at the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA, but is still searching for that elusive triumph.
1. Ian Poulter. Plays his best golf under the most high-pressure situations (see last year's Ryder Cup); only a matter of time before he wins a tourney, and it could be a big one.
Apparently, in the same manner snail mail succumbed to e-mail years ago, e-mail is now giving way to Twitter. My inbox has become more barren than Sergio Garcia's major championship trophy room.
I'm still not ready to change the title of this section to "From the Tweet Box," but allow me to go back to the well for this week's correspondence from a reader:
chrisandkay@JasonSobel Thoughts on James Driscoll? Will he earn enough to finish T125 playing on a partial exemption?
Entering the week, Driscoll had earned $714,908 in eight appearances -- more than 92 percent of which came via his solo second-place finish at the Texas Open a few weeks ago.
That figure placed him at No. 60 on the PGA Tour money list for 2009, but when put up against the final 2008 tally, he would be 141st. Coincidentally enough, the Brookline, Mass., native finished in that exact same spot last year, when he earned $708,549 in 28 total starts.
That 2008 result landed Driscoll in PGA Tour purgatory, with only conditional status for this season. He's made the most of it so far, finishing in the money in five of nine starts, including a T-27 at Colonial this week that earned him $42,160.
It should only take another $100,000 or so -- maybe even less -- for Driscoll to regain full playing privileges for the 2010 season. With the way he's playing right now, I've got to believe that will be easy money for the 2000 U.S. Amateur runner-up, who may just now be starting to come into his own on the PGA Tour.
When the phone rang earlier this week and NBA legend Jerry West is on the other end of the line, the first order of business is an offer of congratulations.
Not for his new position of executive director for the Northern Trust Open -- that will come later -- but because he recently celebrated his 71st birthday.
("Unfortunately," he says with a laugh.)
As part of his birthday celebration, the guy known as "Mr. Clutch" was announced in his new role at the Los Angeles-based PGA Tour event. He sat down on the ESPN.com Hot Seat to discuss how and why this happened.
Q: Congratulations. It's not easy finding a job in today's market.
A: [Laughs] Well, this is really not a job; it's going to be kind of a labor of love, I hope, because it's my opportunity to give back to the city, be involved with the Northern Trust people and the PGA Tour. It's really about me trying to help this tournament raise money for charity. You give a lot of yourself and & I think some of the happiest moments of my life have come at West Virginia University, the charity of my choice, and to get letters from kids thanking you for helping them go to school and receive an education is probably one of the best things about giving. Los Angeles has embraced me for so many years, and I want to try to help make a difference here in terms of giving to this city and move this tournament to the stature that it should be.
" Read Sobel's complete Q&A with West.
" Watch West discuss his new job on "SportsCenter."
Alvaro Quiros finished in a share of second place at the European Open this week, though he led the field in driving distance at an average of 324.9 yards.
He finished one stroke behind winner Christian Cevaer, who averaged 263.6 yards off the tee, dead last in the field.
For the mathematically challenged, that's an astounding differential of 61.3 yards per drive.
Pick any horror flick and chances are you'll find a scene late in the film during which the most villainous character has met his apparent demise only to return from the dead and wreak more havoc on the unsuspecting victims.
I wouldn't refer to Tiger Woods' season as a scary movie by any means, but there are some parallels to the aforementioned circumstance. Throughout his career, it seems any time Woods has appeared vulnerable, leaving room for criticism of his swing, his short game and his overall results, he has returned to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting dissenters and fellow competitors by prevailing once again.
Something tells me this week's Memorial Tournament -- site of three previous Woods triumphs -- could be yet another opportunity for the No. 1-ranked player to silence the critics in his final start prior to the U.S. Open. So I'm picking Woods for the win. The movie continues &
"Hey, you know what? I'm going down. Hey, listen, I told you: My goal is, I just got to get my game to peak at the right time."
-- Charles Barkley, after being told that Las Vegas odds on him winning the American Century Championship celebrity tournament dropped from 500-to-1 last year to 499-to-1 this year.