With the Memorial Tournament looming and the U.S. Open two weeks down the road, CBSSports.com staffers Steve Elling and Ross Devonport spray around a few shots in our weekly look at events facing the game of golf. Better find your hardhats.
A new proposal being floated by PGA Tour brass would require players to appear at designated downtrodden tournaments. Does it have a snowball's chance in Phoenix?
ELLING: I sure hope so, because the title sponsors at second- and third-tier events have been paying prime money for star-starved products for far too long and sponsors are becoming harder to retain. The simple facts are, the tour has so many huge-money events with the majors, FedEx Cup and WGC events, the big boys essentially already have their schedules two-thirds filled. So for tournaments like Greensboro or the John Deere, they never see the biggest names. The new plan would designate a series of sputtering tournaments (say, Bob Hope) and require players to tee it up in one of those events annually. Personally, I'd much rather see the tour raise the required tournament minimum for player membership from 15 to 17 or 18, which would fix plenty of issues. I don't care much for the players' contention that, as "independent contractors" they should get to dictate their schedules without mandates from the tour. They are, in fact, independent contractors with health insurance and one of the richest pension plans in professional sports. Spare me the whining and go play another week or two. I hope the tour makes it happen. With his mounting PR issues, guys like Tiger Woods should be playing in places like Greensboro just to rebuild the public trust.
DEVONPORT: I can't say for sure whether this thing will pass or not, but if the players have any say in the matter it won't, and that's just fine with me. Look, the season is too bloody long as it is, so I won't be shedding a tear if a few of these tournaments vanish. As much as I love my golf, having an event every single weekend for nine straight months is just ridiculous. Just look at the NFL. They have the shortest season out of any major sport, yet their product is the most successful. I know America hasn't always embraced quality over quantity in many things, but I'm hoping in this tough economy that golf will buck that trend soon. Plus, if they do pass this thing, any player who didn't like the policy could just wander off to Europe and play over there instead, even pocketing appearance fees on occasion. Wait, they're allowed to pay players to show up over on that other continent? What a great idea! If the tour is so concerned about star power, then why not let sponsors who really want stars to play in their tournament drop Tiger and Phil a little financial incentive to show up? No other players should really have any beef with that happening, as everyone has a shot to earn a little extra if they play their way to the top of the world rankings.
Will Phil Mickelson ever make it to world No. 1? If not, how will that impact his reputation?
ELLING: For the first time, I'm having serious doubts as to whether Mickelson can muster enough of a charge before Woods recharges his batteries. Mickelson fell down dead in the spring, when Woods wasn't playing and the door was wide open. He has had two chances to win and move to No. 1, at the Players Championship and Colonial, and whiffed both times. Interestingly, Mickelson indicated last month that it's the presence of Woods that makes him fire on all cylinders, offering a "you complete me" speech at the Players. Funny, yes, but Lefty needs to find motivation elsewhere. He has been second banana for most of his career to the most successful player in the sport's history. It would be a shame if Lefty never topped the rankings, money list or won Player of the Year honors. Woods is damaged goods for now in too many ways to count, and Mickelson still hasn't capitalized. Pretty much everybody in the game wants to see him climb the mountain because he means so much to the tour. Hire a sherpa or something.
DEVONPORT: Every time I think Phil is ready to take that next step, he loses his footing a bit and slips backward. But I think eventually he will, at some point, surpass Tiger as the world's No. 1 golfer. And it might be as soon as this summer. We seem to forget that, from when he first won as an amateur in 1991, it took Lefty 13 years and 22 victories before he finally picked up his first major win at Augusta. For a while, it wasn't a sure bet that he was even going to take that next step to being named among the elite. Then, just when it looked like he was going to give Tiger a real run for his money in 2006, Mickelson choked at Winged Foot on the 72nd hole and didn't win another major until this year's Masters. Mickelson just seems to have that habit of, when we think he's on the wane, he finds his game again and pulls something out of his hat. As you mention, Steve, he has had a couple of real quality chances recently to kick Tiger while he has been down and swipe the top spot away from him, but we still have three majors to play this summer and I wouldn't put it past Phil to struggle even more before Pebble Beach and then summon his magic once again to lift his first U.S. Open title and finally reach the summit.
Here's a question just for Ross, a native Brit. The English have four players in the world top nine at the moment, clearly signaling a rebirth that has been years in the making. But with all that perceived firepower, why the lack of important titles?
ELLING: Koreans and Canadians, individually, have won as many majors over the past 18 years as have the English. Argentina has twice as many and Fiji has thrice as many. You get the point, right? The last Englishman to claim a Grand Slam event was Nick Faldo in 1996, when he won the last of his six majors. It has been a long drought since, with players from nine other nations winning Slam titles in that same span. Faldo was such a dominant force he was knighted by the queen. The latest crop, she ought to whack in the head with a 9-iron. World No. 3 Lee Westwood has been the most consistent player at the majors for two years, playing alongside winner Mickelson at the Masters, but still hasn't delivered the goods. Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Luke Donald are Nos. 7-8-9 in the rankings, and despite plenty of tools on their workbenches, none has been a consistent contender on the four biggest Sundays in the game. Scotland has won as many majors in 18 years as England -- and there isn't a Scot in the world top 100.
DEVONPORT: While all four of these guys are undoubtedly world-class golfers, they all just seem to have that one thing that has stopped them from taking the next step to a major title. Westwood's driver is as unreliable as John Daly's mental state, especially under pressure, while Donald's lack of distance really hurts him on some of the monster major tracks. He can putt though, which is something Poulter has never been superb at. In fact, Poulter isn't particularly good at anything except looking like someone who spends WAAYYYY too much time on his choice of pants and not enough on his game. As proof, just look at his 119th spot in the all-around ranking this season, behind such powerhouses as Chris Tidland and Derek Lamely. OK, so Poulter has only played in seven events on tour so far, but that number is still just unacceptable. Finally, Casey, who I think is the most likely member of this group to pull a major out of his bum, has been struggling with injuries. If he can get healthy, which it looks like he might be after shooting three 66s last week, I would put some money on Casey ending the drought somewhere later this season.