Fab Five has Americans and Euros beat
On the opening weekend of the NFL season, the PGA Tour's Canadian Open contained all the qualities that make football so popular:
This week's Ryder Cup will certainly have a football-like atmosphere, with the Detroit gallery rooting hard for the home team. But the Weekly 18 starts with one reason the event will lose a little luster this year. In football terms, the Americans and Europeans are getting the score run up on them.
One reason the Ryder Cup grew in popularity during the 1970s, '80s and '90s is that it pitted the best players in the world in head-to-head competition. But not anymore.
Sure, the Ryder Cup will be contested, as it has since 1979, between teams of 12 players from the United States and 12 from Europe. The only problem is that the world's best players are spread throughout the world, from such countries as Fiji, South Africa and Canada. Sure, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia are excellent players and rank among the world's greatest, but some of their teammates most assuredly do not.
A quick check of the current World Ranking shows that five of the top nine players will not be competing this week at Oakland Hills. These five players -- Singh, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Weir and Adam Scott -- have 13 PGA Tour victories this season. The 12 Americans on the Ryder Cup team, who play more tournaments in the United States than the aforementioned five, own a combined seven wins. The Americans together have 12 major wins (eight of those from Tiger Woods) compared with nary a one for the Euros. The Fab Five? They have nine majors among them.
There have always been great golfers from places other than the United States and Europe -- does the name Gary Player ring a bell? -- but never have they been as prevalent as now. If the Ryder Cup is to remain the immense attraction that it has become during the past 25 years, the American and European players will have to once again rise to the top.
Either that, or wake us when it's time for the Presidents Cup.
Weir wanted to win the Canadian Open more than any other player in the field. You could see it in his smile when he was atop the leaderboard on Saturday, and read it in his scowl as he walked up the third playoff hole after putting an approach shot into the water, all but eliminating his chance to win. Even Singh, who was the beneficiary of Weir's Sunday slide, said after his round: "I feel for Mike. That was the one person I didn't want to beat." The Canadian gallery didn't want him to, either, as Weir is easily its most identifiable golfer. This one will stick with Weir. After all, no Canadian has won the national Open since Pat Fletcher in 1954.
It's official: Singh is really good. OK, so you already knew that, but this is just about official, too: Singh will end the 2004 season in the same spot he holds now: No. 1 in the World Ranking. With his win at the Canadian Open, Singh claimed his seventh title of the year. If he already had one hand on the Player of the Year trophy, he now has it in a firm two-handed grasp.
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The No. 1 ranking, POY award and seven titles -- you might think Singh has nothing left for which to play for this season. He, in fact, still has one major goal to achieve. With $8,699,566 in earnings this season, Singh is less than $500,000 from the mark Woods reached in his record-setting 2000 season. Singh not only wants to break this record, but he also wants to keep it for a while. Don't think $10 million isn't a realistic benchmark. Singh has already committed to the 84 Lumber Classic; if he also enters the same events that he did down the stretch last season, he should play in five more events. He's currently averaging just over $343,000 per tournament. If Singh continues that average through the end of the year, he will surpass $10.4 million.
If Woods is going to reclaim the No. 1 ranking, he'd better do so this season. Entering the Canadian Open, Woods trailed Singh by only .45 points in a mathematical World Ranking system that is part-BCS, part-B.S. (Singh obviously widened his lead with the win this week). Because the formula is based on a rolling two-year calendar, Tiger (along with all other players) will soon lose his final three finishes of the 2002 season: A win at the American Express Championship; a third place at Disney; and a T-7 at the Tour Championship. (He will play in each of these events -- and no others -- to close out this season, as well.) It doesn't get much easier for Woods in 2005. By mid-March, he will lose any points gained for victories in three of his first four starts of the 2003 season.
Unless it's a major, the first round in a PGA Tour event doesn't usually generate much buzz. Thursday's opening day of play at the Canadian Open held true to form until about mid-afternoon, when even the casual golf observer started checking the broadcast and scanning the leaderboard. That's because the name at the top was one that hadn't been there in quite some time -- David Duval. Starting his round on the back nine, Duval made a birdie, followed by two bogeys to go out in 37. He then made three birdies to claim the lead at 2 under -- yup, that's when you probably started paying attention -- but quickly lost it with a double-bogey on his final hole of the day to finish at even-par 71.
Callaway's new deal with Mickelson will bring the already-mainstream equipment company even further to the forefront and should help boost sales for a company that hasn't recently relied on big-name pitchmen. Previously, the company's highest-ranked player was Charles Howell III, who is 38th in the world. But with the man known as "The People's Champion" now in the fold, expect more stars to also consider Callaway come contract time.
Though Mickelson's long-term deal with Callaway makes sense for both player and company, you have to wonder about the timing of the announcement. Certainly Hal Sutton was underwhelmed at Mickelson's first competitive event with his new clubs, one week prior to the Ryder Cup. Mickelson finished T-57 at the Canadian Open, including a third-round 79 (his worst tournament score this season by four strokes).
You'll hear a lot of talk about front-loading as the Ryder Cup heads towards its singles matches Sunday. Ben Crenshaw did it with incredible success in '99; Sam Torrance followed suit with similar success in '02. In Ryder Cup terms, the practice refers to placing the best players in the first matches, hoping to gain momentum with some early wins and run away with it from there. Sutton and Bernhard Langer have done their homework. Expect Woods, Mickelson, Harrington and Sergio to be among the early competitors on Sunday, making way for late-day heroics from some of the lesser-knowns.
If the Korean Open were a movie, it would have featured one big-name, Tom Cruise-like superstar and several no-name, C-list actors just happy to see their names roll on the credits. So it wasn't surprising that unknown Australian Terry Pilkadaris faded from a third round lead with third-ranked Els (yes, he's the A-lister in this group) hot on his heels at two strokes back. The shocking part is that Els faded, too, leaving the starring role to 26-year-old Texas native Edward Loar. A final-round 71 bested Els' Sunday score by four strokes and gave Loar his first international victory of the season.
Choi probably wasn't thinking about it a year ago, but his victory at the German Masters let down a lot of fans in his native South Korea. After winning the 2003 version of the Euro Tour event, Choi felt obligated to defend his title this year, meaning he wouldn't be in the field at the Korean Open in Seoul, South Korea. Instead, Choi finished 13 shots off the pace in Germany.
Like Matt Gogel and Bob May before him, Grant Waite almost tasted victory in 2000 before Tiger Woods snatched it away in the final round of a PGA Tour event. Unlike Gogel (who's maintained moderate success, including a win at Pebble Beach in 2002) and much like May, Waite has yet to return to form after being "Tiger-ized" at the 2000 Canadian Open. Just in case you missed the flashback video throughout the telecasts all week, Waite fell victim to a final-round 64 by Tiger, including a miraculous 6-iron from 218 yards out of a fairway bunker to set up a birdie on the event's final hole. Since then, Waite has seen his ranking on the PGA Tour money list drop each year, from 38th (in 2000) to 93rd (2001) to 152nd (2002) to 188th (2003). This season, Waite is 171st on the money list and has made the cut in only eight of 24 starts. He couldn't recreate any magic at this week's Canadian, shooting four rounds in the 70s and finishing T-70.
It's a move most people only try on the driving range, where topping a ball or hitting a big hook can be overlooked. But in the first round of the Canadian Open, Jonathan Byrd pulled out a driver to hit his second shot on the par-5 fifth hole from the fairway. There are plenty of reasons most tour players won't try this stunt: Larger, oversized driver heads are tougher to hit "off the deck" than fairway woods; these clubs are also easier to hit with precision than a driver. As for Byrd? He left his driver approach in a greenside bunker, but got up-and-down for birdie.
With PGA Tour Qualifying School right around the corner (the entry deadline is this week; the event takes place the first week of December in La Quinta, Calif.), you might be looking for golf's next superstars to play their way into the big time. As Lee Corso might say ... Not so fast, my friend! Of the 34 players who achieved fully exempt status through last year's Q-School, only eight had maneuvered their way into the top 125 entering the Canadian Open. Tops on the list is Todd Hamilton, who won the Honda Classic and a little thing called the British Open; he was 10th on this year's money list. But the dropoff is huge. After Hamilton comes Brian Bateman, who checks in at 71st on the list, followed by Daniel Chopra (89th) and Kevin Na (92nd) as the only golfers inside of 100. If the season ended now, many of the same names would be heading right back to school.
One of the more anticipated tournaments of the year for PGA Tour players -- for obvious reasons other than the golf -- is the annual October tour stop in Las Vegas. Now they'll be able to roll the dice and take their chances there for possibly another three years. The event formerly known as the Las Vegas International has a new sponsor; starting with next month's tournament, it will be called the Michelin Championship. The company has the option to renew the deal through 2006.
Ho-hum. Just another five-win, Player of the Year season for Annika Sorenstam. Whereas last year, she drew the eyes of the world by competing with the men at the Colonial, Sorenstam seemingly sleepwalked her way to the top of the LPGA this season. On Sunday she claimed her fifth win of the season for the fifth straight year and all but clinched the season-ending award; when her name is etched on the trophy, she'll tie Kathy Whitworth with seven in her career. Sorenstam has spoken in the past of quitting the game to have children. She could do so tomorrow and still go down in history as one of the most prolific LPGA players ever, if not the all-time best.
Colin Montgomerie's divorce from Eimear, his wife of 14 years, was finalized on Friday. According to the court papers, the marriage "irretrievably broke down" because of Montgomerie's unspecified "unreasonable behavior," believed to be, at least partially, Monty's admitted addiction to golf. Certainly, there were other factors that contributed to the decline of that marriage, but here's hoping the phrase "golf addiction" doesn't become popularized in divorce courts around the world.
"I don't know of anyone who's hitting the ball as well as I am right now. Maybe Vijay. I guess he's playing pretty well."
--David Duval, after shooting an opening-round 71 in the Canadian Open
Information from ESPN.com's wire services is included.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.