Seeing red? Don't overreact to low numbers

8/18/2006 - Golf

MEDINAH, Ill. -- You get the sense, talking to Medinah officials and PGA presidents, that the scores were uncomfortably low during the opening round Thursday. Usually at majors, the leading score the first day is right around the winning score three days later. With rain in the forecast, the greens already soft and length obviously not an issue, Medinah No. 3 -- the longest course in major championship history -- is in danger of three more days like this.

It wasn't a big deal at Royal Liverpool, and it shouldn't be a big deal here in Chicago, where a PGA-record 60 players broke par. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia are on the board, several Ryder Cup candidates have stepped up, and the guys are starting to feel the pressure already -- as exhibited by Davis Love's whiff and Garcia's stab at a 3-footer on the 16th hole.

We have learned thus far that both John Daly and Chris Riley are alive, that Tiger and Phil can play together, that Tom Lehman (77) won't have to worry about being a player-captain, that Billy Mayfair has a shot at making the Ryder Cup team -- 11 days after surgery for testicular cancer -- and that Dave Pelz is still employed by Mickelson, although not as his spokesman.

Rumors were circulating at Medinah on Tuesday that Daly had died of a heart attack. These were proved false when the 1991 PGA champion showed up for an autograph session at a local Hooters and followed with a 71. Riley, the ghost of the 2004 Ryder Cup, shot 66 to tie Lucas Glover for the opening-round lead.

Woods and Mickelson were cordial during the round, both shooting 69s and placing three strokes back of the lead. Tiger made four birdies, Phil (using two drivers) four. They both were a little scratchy off the tee, but that was expected. Mickelson said they talked about the upcoming Ryder Cup, which is amusing because they didn't talk much in the last Ryder Cup. Woods was asked afterward to describe the dynamics of the grouping.

"Sixty-nine," he said, drawing laughter.

Glover's 66 was inspired by necessity. He has dropped the most in the Ryder Cup points race, from sixth in May to 14th. Lehman would love to take him, but he already has rookies in his Nos. 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 spots.

Asked how much the Ryder Cup is on his mind, Glover said, "Every day, every minute, every second for the last six months."

You can see why Lehman loves Glover, but he needs to see three more rounds in the 60s to use a captain's pick on the 26-year-old.

Joining Glover and Love (68) among the Cup hopefuls were Stewart Cink (68), J.J. Henry (68) and Tim Herron (68).

Brett Wetterich, 10th in the standings, was 4-under early but made two quadruple-bogeys and virtually shot himself off the team with a 76. With points doubled and so many players on the bubble in red numbers, Wetterich will need a miracle to hold his spot.

"No question it's in the back of everybody's mind," Henry said. "We all kind of know where we stand, and the magnitude of this week, but at the same time, I'm just trying to go out and just play golf. You know what, if it's meant to be, it's meant to be."

Lehman's outside chance of qualifying for his own team came to an end five days after he lost a playoff at The International, but he had to be happy with the overall effort, especially from Love, who hasn't had a top-10 in six months. Love went home looking forward to an early-morning tee time on perfect greens, not even thinking about the three strokes he dropped at No. 17. "My dad always said, 'You're only two swings away from the course record," he said. "That's the way I look at it."

How does Kerry Haigh look at it? The PGA's course setup man has a reputation of not overreacting, of making his tests the fairest of the major championships. Maybe he shouldn't change a thing. Sixty-seven players broke par last month in the opening round of the British Open, which was a major championship record. That one turned out all right.

"It is what it is," Haigh said Thursday night. "There was cloud cover, there was no wind, the greens are holding and the par-5s are reachable, so there were likely to be some good scores, which there were. We'll see what happens tomorrow."

He did not seem worried, annoyed, embarrassed or the least bit concerned.

Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine.