CBSSports.com senior writer Steve Elling and Augusta Chronicle columnist and golf writer Scott Michaux watched the first two legs of the Florida Swing firsthand and take stock as the four-event stretch heads up the Turnpike into Tampa and Orlando, sans Tiger Woods. North toward Augusta we go.
Fan and media favorite Ernie Els just fashioned his biggest win in at least six years, since before his 2005 knee injury. At 40, does he have one more run in him at the majors?
ELLING: Call me optimistic, which might be a career first, but I think Els is going to contend at multiple majors over the next few years. Take a look back a decade ago, the last time the majors were at St. Andrews and Pebble Beach, the sites this summer. He finished second both times and was the runner-up at the Masters that year, too. The last time the PGA was at Whistling Straits, he three-putted the massive final green to miss a playoff by a shot. It isn't like he was out of the picture completely. He was second at a WGC event in China last fall and had top eight finishes at the British Open and PGA Championship last year. As he did on Sunday during a performance reminiscent of a decade ago, he has to make the meaningful putts down the stretch. That's been the common thread to throwing away chances over the recent past. The Masters seems as wide open as any in recent history, so why not Els?
MICHAUX: It has taken a long time for Els to recover from the scars he accrued in the 2004 majors, when he quite possibly could have won them all but came away with bupkis. But he showed real signs of snapping out of that funk last year. His putter let him down Sunday at Turnberry and Saturday at Hazeltine or he might have walked away with one or both of the last two majors in 2009. Now he seems to have found that inner confidence just in time for the major prize he wants more than any other: a green jacket. Els was crushed waiting on the Augusta putting green in 2004 when Phil Mickelson drained his birdie putt. How sweet would it be if the South African could gain a little bit of redemption? Only his own demons stand in the way of Els being a major contender at each venue this season. Those demons certainly looked to be exorcised last week in South Florida. And as fresh as Els is from paring back his global schedule, you have to like his chances in Augusta.
It's time for our seemingly annual postmortem on the prone WGC body after the match play and Doral events have finished up. Neither drew many fans, the electricity was sorely lacking, and the Doral is headed out of town on the South Florida commuter rail. How about some fix suggestions?
ELLING: For one thing, don't charge $55 for a ticket to an event that presents perhaps six hours of live golf, thanks to its field of only 68 players. Scott and I are in complete agreement on nearly every point, including that World Golf Championships have been a success in bringing together the top players more frequently, just like the FedEx Cup series, but golf has too many short-field events. Pad the field to 120 and institute a cut. Add some stress. Perhaps even pay the guys who miss the cut, since some have come from tours situated around the world -- Asia, Africa, Australia and beyond. The winner can survive on less than $1.4 million. During the first two rounds at Doral -- granted, weather was an issue -- it was a ghost town out there. Remember the old philosophical question, "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" Well, you have to have at least one fan with one hand to know. CA announced Wednesday it won't extend as the sponsor, which means the Doral event in 2011 will have its sixth different title and moniker since 1999. Small wonder fans can't identify with their hometown event, right?
MICHAUX: You see how effective all our complaining has been. They actually made the field smaller this year. Unbelievable. Clearly we're not of like minds with the powers that be. Shocking, isn't it? Well, maybe it will take losing a big sponsor like CA to wake them up to what is wrong with this tournament philosophy. You ask someone to pony up $12 million, you better give them some bang for their buck. There was no bang last week (though I must admit Sunday was quite enjoyable to watch). Perhaps it's time to consider making the players do a little extra work for their guaranteed paychecks. Explain to me why this event doesn't have a Wednesday pro-am to let the sponsors mingle with the performers they're paying for. I heard one journalist polling guys afterward whether they'd object to adding a pro-am, and the votes were leaning heavily toward an admirable willingness to do whatever it takes. Since I don't expect them to change the qualifications or field size any time soon, doing this simple thing to make the sponsor satisfied seems like a no-brainer.
The Tavistock Cup, an unofficial and private 36-hole event next Monday and Tuesday pitting high-dollar golf clubs from Orlando, Lake Nona and Isleworth, has gotten a lot of attention lately because of the outside chance Tiger Woods will play. Woods' presence notwithstanding, should such events be staged in the middle of a season?
ELLING: It's a safe bet that I'm the only guy who has been to all six of the annual T-Cup matches, which is a cause of some ribbing among my golf-press peers. But what the heck, I figure that if players like Tiger, Ernie, Sergio, Goose, Poulter, Rose, McDowell, Janzen, Immelman, Holmes, Allenby and Sorenstam are going to play, I might as well show up to see what happens, exhibition or not. Sure, it's largely a testament to conspicuous consumption, but the host Tavistock Group donates huge sums to charity, which buys them some currency and credibility in my book. The only time is doesn't pass the smell test is when players don't bother to sign up for the tour events scheduled around the T-Cup, which guarantees its players a payday just for showing up. For instance, Poulter indicated he was playing in the matches, but isn't entered in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which starts two days later. He has his reasons, but that just looks plain bad.
MICHAUX: Actually, Poulter has a very good reason. And it's why the PGA Tour needs to pull the plug on releasing its players to collect this not-so-well-concealed appearance fee in the middle of the regular season. You don't like the fact that Poulter is skipping Bay Hill. OK. But he is playing the week before in nearby Tampa. That means he's playing a pro-am, then presumably four tournament rounds and then two Tavistock days. That's seven consecutive days of golf. If Poulter were to also play Bay Hill, he'd be adding up to five more rounds right on top that for a grand total of 12 straight days of golf. That's a little excessive, even if it is just golf. There are a few guys who happen to not live in either Isleworth or Lake Nona planning to play three consecutive weeks in Florida, but you'll never get one of these marquee guys to do that as long as the T-Cup exists. It's a bad deal, forcing these guys to choose Bay Hill or Tampa but never both. With Tiger Woods in no position to push back and complain, now is the time for the tour brass to stand up and yank the TV rights to this thing so it either dies on the vine or moves to the silly season where it belongs.