With the Tour Championship in the books and the main part of his 2009 golf season over, Steve Elling has some thoughts on the week in golf.
Making his Bones
Jim (Bones) Mackay, Phil Mickelson's longtime caddie, gets a double thumbs up for suggesting to his man that he give putting guru Dave Stockton a call as a means of emerging from a two-year funk on the greens. Not only that, but in weeks when the tour plays on Bermuda putting surfaces, Florida native Mackay reads all the greens for Mickelson because he grew up on the grainy surfaces. Tiger Woods was bothered by the grainy East Lake greens all week but Mickelson rolled it like it was 1999. Mickelson didn't get too emotional about the travails of his season, which included both his wife and mom being diagnosed with breast cancer within days of each other, but Mackay knew how much the victory meant. Afterward, as he tried to gauge the importance of Mickelson's first win since the spring cancer scare, he got so emotional, he had to walk away as the tears started welling.
Lefty makes it right
What's not to like about this guy? He shoots a 3-over 73 in the first round, which included a jarring quadruple-bogey 8, and he doesn't give up. Then again, Mickelson has had plenty of flat tires in his careening career, and he's like a baseball closer. He comes back the next day begging to be given the ball again. As Mickelson left after the Thursday score, which left him two spots out of the basement, he said, "You guys don't want to talk to me, I'm close to DFL." That's tourspeak for Dead Efffing Last. Well, by the time the week was over, he was Front Freakin' First. In case you missed this note Sunday, Mickelson became the first winner in six tour seasons to have a quadruple-bogey on his card. Yawn. Just another seasonal first for Phil.
And now, a very brief FedExhumation
I swear to you, for those of us who stood on the 18th green and watched beaming PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem hand trophies to his biggest stars, Tiger Woods and Mickelson, he looked like he was standing a good foot taller. Which would make him about 5-feet-6. Seriously, if Finchem was bursting buttons, he had every reason, since the final day of the FedEx Cup chase had so many subplots and script changes, NBC didn't bother to track most of them. As soon as they explained a scenario, it changed. Confusing, yes. Hard for fans to follow, undoubtedly. But in the end, the deserving player won the tournament and "the right guy" won the FedEx bonus, as Mickelson freely admitted. Woods and the hottest players in the game at the moment, Steve Stricker, Sean O'Hair and Padraig Harrington, all had a chance to win either the tournament or big bonuses on the back nine. Thanks to a great tournament, the FedEx seemed to work.
All aTwitter about golf
It had to happen. Given his short attention span and quick wit, the guy was made for Twitter. Golf analyst/standup comic David Feherty began posting one-liners over the weekend while watching the East Lake coverage on NBC and quickly pulled down the pants of old pals and broadcast peers Mark Rolfing and Roger Maltbie. Especially Maltbie. Feherty Tweeted that Woods was aiming away from Maltbie "to allow for the gravitational pull" and said the portly Maltbie was such an athlete, "he gets winded eating chips and salsa." And, "Maltbie is sweating like a fat girl at his sister's wedding." Too bad he waited until the season was effectively over to start reeling off the zingers, which the game sorely needs. Hopefully, the bosses at CBS won't rein him in, because he has had enough issues this year already. What, no one-liners about Mickelson? He must be saving up for 2010.
The paddling of Paddy
Irish star Paddy Harrington has created a legion of fans over the past three seasons as he won three major championships, took the wrecking ball to his swing, then crawled back out of the hole over the past few weeks to regain his form. But as he heads back to play in Europe for the remainder of the year, Harrington's performance against the toughest yardstick of all was nothing short of forgettable in the States. The Irishman played in the same group with Tiger Woods a total of nine times and beat him exactly once, by a shot. Woods topped Harrington in every tournament overall, too. Overall, Paddy finished a combined 24 shots behind Woods in those head-to-head pairings, which included rounds at the PGA Championship and U.S. Open. Harrington says he enjoys playing with the world No. 1, so there's no fear factor there, but his performance in the spotlight suggests the same wall exists for him as the others. On a positive front, Harrington last week halted one of the most bizarre streaks of the season: Atlanta marked his first PGA Tour event in 14 starts where he didn't have a double-bogey or worse on his scorecard.
Finchem said ... what?
Clearly, Finchem is a believer in the not-so-old axiom, "The only truly bad pub is an obit." In a moronic statement that didn't generate nearly enough jeers from national media or fans, Finchem said he likes college football's controversial, nonsensical BCS system because it generates acres of print and hours of water-cooler discussion. But if everybody is bitching and whining, that can't be a good thing as it relates to his own indecipherable pseudo-playoff scheme, the FedEx Cup. His ratification of the BCS was spoken like a guy who went to college at Richmond, which has an I-AA football program, or whatever those nincompoops at the NCAA are calling their first-flight division these days. BCS: Boneheaded Commissioner Statement.
Meanwhile, across the Pond
The Presidents Cup, the odd-year team matches in which a 12-man team of Americans plays an International team, is set for next week in San Francisco. In case you failed to notice, and apparently several top European players did, the overseas version of the PrezCup was last week. The event known as the Vivendi (formerly Seve) Trophy, which pits continental Europe against Great Britain & Ireland, was about as well-attended by European Tour stars as a lecture on the ills of drinking Guinness beer. Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia elected to stay home, drawing something of a rebuke from Colin Montgomerie, the Ryder Cup captain for Europe in 2010. Monty appeared particularly peeved at Poulter, which is ironic, because Ian was the hand-picked and fair-haired favorite of Nick Faldo, the 2008 Ryder captain. Monty had a valid point about the absenteeism, though he was off-base in singling out Poulter. So, just asking aloud, what would happen if an American star like Woods or Mickelson skipped the Prez Cup without a good reason? Public-relations thermonuclear holocaust, that's what. The Vivendi was on the press-room TV in Atlanta last week, and the highlight of the matches seemed to be when a completely oblivious woman, walking her dog in the fairway during play, interrupted Ross Fisher's match. Sort of summed up the week metaphorically, we suppose.
Are times really this tough?
It's the most excruciating moment in televised golf (outside of when Johnny Miller makes crazy statements like he "wouldn't be surprised" if Mickelson won Player of the Year in 2010; note to Miller: Mickelson turns 40 next year and has never won the POY, so don't hold your breath). Every week, the CEO of whatever company sponsors that week's tour event gets a few moments of blather time during the broadcast to toot their corporate horn and spout clichés about what a great week it was. In Atlanta, the top dog at Coca-Cola used his TV opportunity to hoist a bottle of Coke during his live interview with NBC's Dan Hicks. Then the guy showed up for the awards ceremony with Mickelson and Woods on the 18th green drinking from yet another bottle of the company's product. Times may be tough, but this is way beyond gauche and bordering on crass. It's a golf tournament, not a swap meet.
Saving the worst for last
We've pretty much made it clear that the 235-yard par-3 18th at East Lake is a bad way to finish a golf tournament, especially one with a potential $11.35 million riding on one shot. There's a reason why the mass majority of courses in the world don't end on par-3 holes and why East Lake is the lone tour stop that does: There's little strategy and less potential for dramatics. Here's our parting shot on the issue and why we hope the tour flips the nines in 2010. The top eight finishers at the Tour Championship played the 18th in a combined 6 over for the week, with no birdies. They played the par-5 ninth in a collective 12 under. Which sounds like it has more potential for theatrics to you?
Fore-casting the 2010 FedEx
Woods learned from a reporter last week that, because of the way the points played out in the FedEx chase, he could have skipped the first three series events and still won the $10 million bonus in Atlanta. He grumbled a PG-13 word under his breath, and rightly so. Unless they make the laughably titled "playoff" events mandatory, good luck landing him in all four stops in 2010. As though the docket isn't crowded enough at this time of year, Woods noted Sunday night that the Ryder Cup in Wales is set for the week after the Tour Championship next year. In other words, the team will leave for Europe immediately after finishing at East Lake. "Enough time to shower and get on the plane," he said. Woods just finished playing a draining seven times in nine weeks, and 2010 looks like it might be even busier?
LPGA loses more fizz
In a week when Sweden's Sophie Gustafson became the 14th consecutive foreign-born winner on the LPGA circuit, extending the record for American futility, the tour learned it had lost another of its biggest purses when the folks at Anheuser Busch pulled the plug on the popular Kingsmill event. (Guess I can no longer joke that Budweiser is the Queen of Beers.) At any rate, the LPGA already has lost two Ginn events -- each ranked in the top four in purse size –- and failure to extend the Kingsmill contract takes yet another bite out of the 2010 money pot. According to reports, only 17 events are under contract for 2010, down from 34 in 2008. Coincidentally, the Kingsmill stop was the last tournament won by an American, Cristie Kerr, way back on May 10. On a related front, the search for a new commissioner continues. Best of luck to whoever takes that job. Does it come with a blindfold and a cigarette?