By Herschel Caldwell
Here we are five tournaments into the 2010 PGA Tour golf season, and for all the talk about the tour being healthy and guys coming out of the woodwork to take Tiger's place at the top….it's not happening.
Not one of the top ten-ranked players in the world has finished in the top ten of any the first four PGA Tournaments. Geoff Ogilvy (ranked 12th) won the SBS; Ryan Palmer (unranked in the top 50) topped the Sony; Bill Haas (also unranked in the top 50) won the Hope; and Ben Crane (you guessed it—unranked in the top 50) finished first in the Farmers (formerly the San Diego Open).
Ogilvy repeated as champion of the season opener. Ryan Palmer (no relation to the Great One) played well at the Sony and took advantage of some poor play by a few higher-ranked players. The Hope became “hopeless” with no player in the field ranked higher than twenty-five. The only notable European players in the field were Alex Cejka and Jesper Parnevik….Very exciting. Neither player made the cut at the Hope or the Farmers.
Anthony Kim skipped his hometown event in La Quinta, California to play in the desert at Dubai. He skipped the Farmers, too.
John Daly was denied a sponsored exemption at the Hope and didn't play well in the Farmers. He also tried to add a little excitement to the week by announcing and renouncing his retirement from golf. He's now back with a new nickname: “The Bret”.
Out of the top 20 world-ranked players, only one “Top Ten-er” showed up at the Farmers: Phil Mickelson. There was (as one would imagine) a lot of anticipation and expectation surrounding Phil's first official start in 2010. Article after article across the golf world these days suggests that Phil is the one to fill Tiger's shoes on the tour, if and until Tiger returns. Mickelson has the fan base, the game, the skills and the perfect opportunity to assume the throne of leadership on the PGA Tour. Alas! [pc1] And yet, Phil’s rise to Number One stardom is not without controversy. Phil's decision to play with a 20 year-old, grandfathered Ping wedge drew both support and harsh criticism. We know that all the players are authorized to use the “square groove” relic, but how many would; even they had access to one? Nobody knows. And while Phil is perfectly well inside the ropes of the rules to use the controversial club, one questions whether his insistence on exercising that right demonstrates the mark of the new “leader” in the clubhouse. Some, like Scot McCarron, would argue not.
A golf tournament? [pc2] You mean there was golf that created the excitement at Torrey Pines? Don't think so. What we viewed was a golf meltdown and a Sunday afternoon “chokathon” as the 54-hole leader fired a sizzling three-over-par to finish well back in the leadership pack.
Ben Crane, and congratulations to you and anyone who can win out there, you are in the record books and on your way to Augusta. Good for you, Ben.
I have to tell you though, I've seen better finishes to a pressure-filled round of golf at some of the off-tour matches that Trevino, Elder and others had in their day at Cedar Crest in Dallas or the old Western Avenue course in South Central LA. On Sunday in San Diego, all the guys who wanted to win so badly allowed their emotions to open the floodgate of organized “yips”. I haven’t seen so many bad drives, missed greens and missed putts in years. The best round of the day was a six-under-par score turned in by Alex Prugh. This kid is good and deserves to be followed in future events. However, his good round only netted a fifth place finish.
And Phil? Tiger's heir apparent? What did he do on Sunday? Starting the day only three shots back, Mickelson was set to pound the earth, shake the trees and strike fear in the hearts of opponents and fans alike, so all would stand aside and wave him to victory. But that didn’t happen. Instead of shaking the trees, (One fan had to literally climb a tree to shake Phil’s ball loose) Phil reverted to a stroll in the park, turning in a lackluster, one-over-par round that secured him a solitary spot in 19th place. Phil’s 73 on Sunday in LA was nothing to write home about either.
Come on guys. Yes, I am a Tiger Woods fan, but more importantly, I am a GOLF fan. That’s why I believe that while Number One is away, game aficionados in America and the World deserve a better product than what we have been given these past few weeks.
Historically, the best golfers found a way to keep interest high. When Jack was off his game, Arnie rolled in with his “Army.” In those former days there was Lee Trevino to add fun, excitement and high-level play kudos also went to the likes of Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Nick Price and Johnny Miller, and others who always provided world-class play that kept the game exciting. They also didn’t forget that golf is not a TEAM sport—but is all about INDIVIDUAL play. We miss following swashbucklers like Nelson, Stewart and Nicklaus. And other greats like Nick Price, Seve Ballesteros, and Tom Weiskopf, not to mention the great Charlie Sifford with his trademark cigar. Those guys didn't fly private jets and first class to events they chose to play…naw….they doubled up in vans and mini buses and got to the next event the best way they could.
Twenty years later, Tiger Woods came along and wrote the tour a billion dollar stimulus check that expanded the world of golf and guaranteed lucrative earnings for everyone, and after a while the quality of play has leveled off and some would say it has gone down, despite today’s high technology equipment and superstar swing gurus. Many of the tour players have become fat with big paychecks and seem to have forgotten what it means to provide QUALITY play.
Has the tour grown so complacent that it needs the likes of a Tiger Woods to create “golf excitement”? Or will the tour players finally realize that those in the top 20 in ranking should step up to the high quality bar set by Tiger as he began to take his rightful place alongside the aforementioned legends of the game? Will they take up the charge by winning, as opposed to not showing up to play or choking down the stretch?
Tiger’s indefinite leave could possibly be the best thing that could happen for the Tour.