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Pond Scrum: Shortening Barclays great idea; what took so long?


EDISON, N.J. -- As it turns out, Irene was not even the biggest whirlwind of the week, at least as it related to teamwork and the amassing of American golfing troops.

Seemingly out of nowhere, unlike Irene, Tiger Woods got named to the Presidents Cup team, a move that toppled a few trees in cyberspace.

Then the defending NCAA champion was left off the U.S. team for next week's Walker Cup matches in Scotland, an equally ill wind in the eyes of the amateur aficionados.

It all happened while the PGA Tour's mega-money season opener in the FedEx Cup series, The Barclays, was caught in Irene's crosshairs and in danger of being washed away at cozy Plainfield Country Club, where the final round was axed for safety and practicality purposes.

Abbreviated tournament or not, rising American star Dustin Johnson won his fifth PGA Tour title Saturday, leaping to No. 4 in the world ranking, then hustled off immediately after the shortened trophy session to catch a flight before the storm shut down the rest of the region's harried airports.

Similarly, there is no shortage of fast, breezy bluster with our two in-house analysts, European Tour correspondent John Huggan and CBSSports.com senior writer Steve Elling, who meet weekly via dueling computers to break down the breakdowns in a two-man match called Pond Scrum.

Like the entertaining finale at Sunday's U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills, there's often not much separating this pair when they start saying it and spraying it. You could rename this venue Errant Hills, in fact.

With a hurricane bearing down on the Eastern seaboard, was the tour's decision to pare The Barclays to 54 holes was right call, since there were FedEx Cup spots on the line?

Elling: No question, it was a rough call, but the right one. Sure, they could have hung around and perhaps played the final 18 Tuesday -- the course was a huge lake in spots Monday -- and this week's event outside Boston doesn't start until Friday. What was most bothersome was that it took forever to make the decision. The NFL and MLB rescheduled or canceled games a full day before the tour pulled the trigger on the adjustment. Very shaky stewardship in many regards. It's never good when glacial state government moves faster to react to impending doom, is it?

Huggan: Of course it was the right call. Lives were at risk, for goodness sake. And as it turned out, the course was under water Sunday right? I mean, what other course of action could any sane people possibly have taken?

Elling: Speaking of weak, Tim Finchem was nowhere to be found. When the Golf Channel unearthed him Friday after the decision had been made to pare 18 holes, he was safe and sound in Ponte Vedra Beach, monitoring the situation from a thousand miles away. Barclays is one of the biggest sponsors in the global game, with three tournaments on as many continents, and he damned sure should have been around when any decision to chop a tournament was made. Nice leadership. No captain on board when the megamillion-dollar ship was foundering?

Huggan: Although since when did the PGA Tour do anything quickly? Other than fine people that is.

Elling: Quickly? You mean secretly. Finchem told the Players Advisory Committee on Thursday that he wanted to stay until Tuesday and play all 72 holes. So yeah, I darned well would have liked to have spoken with the guy. Some media guys were grousing about the integrity of the tournament after it was trimmed. What about the integrity of leadership?

Huggan: I'm surprised Finchem didn't show. Of course, given his diminutive stature, he knows it is raining a bit later than most of us.

Elling: Nothing small about his private jet. He should have been around.

Huggan: My goodness, how pompous can you get? "Integrity??" See my comment above about lives being at stake. Give me strength.

Elling: That Finchem bail job -- and by that I mean leaving the premises, not removing water in buckets -- was hardly the only major tactical withdrawal that raised eyebrows. The Golf Channel pulled everybody out en masse on Friday, too, and had to ask ESPN for permission to use its post-round interview footage from Saturday with Johnson. Nobody was there to ask questions. Gee, and I thought the "playoffs" were supposed to be important? Long-distance information, give me Memphis, Tenn. I'm calling FedEx to rat them out. Fifty-four holes was 18 more than Finchem or the home-of-golf network went.

Huggan: That does seem excessive. It was pretty clear when the bad weather was going to arrive, right? Maybe it was all to do with Golf Channel "talent" getting their hair mussed in the wind.

Elling: As for critics of the 54-hole decision, I thought it was slightly, mildly unfair that when the decision was made to pare 18 holes, it came in the middle of the Friday round -- after many players had started and well before some in the afternoon wave teed off. In other words, some players knew what was happening and adjusted their game plans accordingly over the entire day. Again, hardly ideal. An advantage was gained in the eyes of some players.

Huggan: You have a point there. Decisions like that need to be made when all players are off the course.

Elling: Again, that was a byproduct of stalling too long to make the precautionary call.

Elling: This is a related, bizarre note, but with the Barclays rainout, the PGA Tour will go three straight weekends in midseason without finishing on a Sunday -- the Deutsch Bank Championship this week ends on Monday, and there's no event at all next week. The fates are a funny bunch. Stage is all yours, National Football League.

Huggan: What is this obsession with playing 72 holes? Where does it come from?

Elling: That's a great question. A PAC board member said he first asked Finchem about the possibility of trimming to 54 holes on Thursday and he balked. Easy for him to say. He wasn't here dodging Irene, was he?

In the mind of Fred Couples, tabbing Tiger Woods as a member of the Presidents Cup team four weeks before the captain's picks were due to be announced was a logical move. About half the world disagrees. We're sensing that you two hammerheads might actually agree on something for once.

Elling: Well, my first-blush instinct was to excoriate Couples for being lazy and taking the easy way out, rather than actually evaluating the American hopefuls and making a prudent move. After all, Couples reportedly didn't know that Woods hadn't advanced to the FedEx Cup series, so he's not exactly paying attention, is he? But that's just for openers.

Huggan: I understand what Fred did. As I've pointed out before, the Presidents Cup is not really competitive; it is an exhibition. As such, it is subject to commercial and economic pressures from sponsors, television, etc. I'm sure Fred was told to get Tiger picked ASAP so that Woods can be used in the pre-event publicity.

Huggan: It will be the same when fellow captain Greg Norman -- if he has to -- picks Ryo Ishikawa for the International side. Japanese television money will talk.

Elling: The blog-o-sphere was afire with folks defending the notion that Woods absolutely deserved the spot. I didn't realize golf had become such a ceremonial sport. I thought that pomp was only reserved for the Masters. I stand corrected. Meanwhile, a guy who won three times last year, was FedEx champ and PGA Tour Player of the Year stands to get no love whatsoever -- Jim Furyk. I just don't understand the unconditional embrace out there for Woods. His record speaks volumes about his readiness. Period.

Elling: Now, with all my venting on that front complete, picking Tiger isn't my biggest objection in the scenario. It's the fact that Couples couldn't show the good graces to wait four weeks to announce the selection, and at least pretend to pay attention to what guys like Keegan Bradley, Gary Woodland, Rickie Fowler and Furyk -- who have not made the squad -- are doing in the FedEx series.

Huggan: Fred's decision, of course, had nothing to do with who is deserving of the spot or who has played the best golf in the qualifying period. In professional sport, it's all about cash, baby. And Tiger is spelled $$$$$ when it comes to the Presidents Cup.

Elling: Couples made one thing clear. As you and a few other scribes have stated, he underscored the fact that the Presidents Cup is a junior-varsity exhibition compared to the Ryder. He also managed to alienate a cadre of fans who will be pulling for Couples to stumble and Woods to flop. And by that, I mean American fans.

Huggan: You are, of course, correct, if we are talking about a real world where people get what they deserve. But we're not. As you well know, I suspect.

Huggan: Does anyone really care about the result of the matches? I don't. I just want the thing to be close and entertaining. And I want to watch some of the very best players performing on one of the planet's very best courses, Royal Melbourne. We should just enjoy it for what it is, without getting too worked up about who is getting screwed in the process.

Elling: I live in a sad, Utopian world. Sigh. Speaking of which ...

Are you kidding? LSU standout John Peterson, the NCAA champion and a guy who nearly won a Nationwide Tour event last month as an amateur, was left off the U.S. Walker Cup team that was finalized after the U.S. Amateur on Sunday night?

Elling: I guess Tiger wasn't eligible? The Walker Cup captain makes Couples look like a neurosurgeon. Unlike Woods, Peterson has been piling up wins and is ranked No. 7 in the world amateur rankings. As a Yank, I am not sure I have ever felt more embarrassed to be a member of the USGA. Well, the Shinnecock cock-up was worse.

Huggan: Ah yes, amateur bodies picking teams. I have some personal experience of this -- both good and bad -- and sadly these things are not always just about golf. Personalities and nationalities both play parts in this often distasteful business. Both teams will go into this year's matches with something less than their best 10 players. It has nearly always been that way and it always will be.

Elling: You have to wonder if Peterson's post-round comments after that Nationwide event, where he said that there were a bunch of guys in college capable of regularly beating PGA Tour pros, rubbed some folks the wrong way. Still, even if he had said Gadhafi should be governor of New Jersey, he should have been a lock for the team.

Huggan: On the GB&I side, the omission of Scottish amateur champion David Law -- a member of the host club, no less -- is almost impossible to justify. And it sounds like your man Peterson has been equally hosed. But let me repeat, these things are not unique. As soon as you get blazers involved, there is going to be a fire to put out.

Elling: Finally, LSU fans have found somebody who gagged worse at the final decision-making gun than their own football coach, Les Miles. It's U.S. captain Jim Holtgrieve. Embarrassingly, he red, white and blew it. There are a couple of specious picks on this team that had better make like Peter Uihlein did two years ago, when he was a huge reach as a selection after a mediocre freshman season at Okie State, and win every point.

Huggan: Ah yes, the Uihlein example. While he has played some superb golf since the last Walker Cup, Peter didn't perform that well at Merion two years ago. He won at least two of his points by being not quite as bad as his opponents.

Elling: And why was Uihlein picked? Perhaps in part because his father runs one of the biggest manufacturing companies in golf? I guess the good thing is for the American side is, it probably won't matter much. This shapes up as the most lopsided rout in Walker history on paper.

Huggan: The big problem over here is that the team is picked by a six-man committee: the captain, a chairman and one guy from Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales. Typically, each one goes in there pushing for as many as he can from his own nation. So they end up with a compromise side. If the best 10 were, say, all Irish, that would not be the team ultimately selected.

Elling: Oh, nice. I guess Monty (the real one), Eisenhower and Stalin were not around to help out. Way too many cooks toiling over the broth.

Huggan: I agree. On paper it doesn't look good for the home team here. Quite apart from the fact that they are not the 10 best players from these islands, the U.S. side -- even without Petersen -- looks quite exceptional. Unless the weather gets a bit rough -- always a possibility at the host venue in Aberdeen, Scotland -- it likely won't be close.

Once again, the American college system has come under fire. Or, rather, a player's decision to remain in school rather than turn pro. This time, Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam said that Michelle Wie needs to devote more of her attention to golf.

Elling: I could not disagree more strongly. If Wie wants to finish at Stanford and actually have a life outside the game before she makes golf her vocation, have at it. I hope she's going to every Palo Alto kegger party and fending off nerdy Stanford boys in droves. It's a rite of passage, not a wrong of passage.

Huggan: I laughed when I read Annika's comments. What does she -- a one-dimensional person from a country that spends a big chunk of the year in darkness -- know about life away from golf? Not much, I would hazard. There are a few negative things one could say about Michelle Wie, but her going to Stanford to get a great education is not one of them. Annika needs to get a life.

Elling: The same suggestion has been made with regard to Patrick Cantlay, a supremely talented rising sophomore at UCLA who finished second Sunday at the U.S. Amateur. He shot 60 in a PGA Tour event already and has been reeling off made cuts like a tour veteran. He's going back to school.

Elling: Finishing school really crushed Matt Kuchar's career. I bet Matt was really second-guessing the decision to return to Georgia Tech when they handed him that $3 million bonus check for finishing second in the FedEx Cup last year. Or when they handed him the Arnold Palmer Award for topping the money list. Or the Vardon and Byron Nelson awards for having the lowest scoring average. What a disastrous decision. He's only one of the most well-adjusted and well-liked guys on tour.

Huggan: I watched Cantlay in the final of the U.S. Am yesterday. He is clearly quite a player, as his record this summer makes clear. But he might want to take a wee look at his behavior in times of stress. He wasn't too impressive under pressure during the match. And he wasn't exactly sporting in his comments afterwards. There was no tribute to his conqueror, for example. I've seen 10-year-olds show more class in defeat.

Huggan: He did everything except stamp his foot and demand an ice cream.

Elling: Well, he was in Wisconsin. I am sure they had several flavors available. Fair point on the aftermath. He's 19. It underscores the bigger point: He is not ready for the big leagues in some ways. Or not as ready as he will be in a couple of years.

Huggan: That was obvious yesterday. He needs to go back to school and grow up a little before he hits the PGA Tour.

Elling: There's evidence to suggest that waiting a few years won't matter much for Wie, anyway, because there are plenty of folks who think she was at the apex of her game when she was 16 or 17 and playing in U.S. Open qualifiers against the men. And beating many of them. She's got physical problems with her wrists that will be always troublesome. In the women's game, players peak at absurdly young ages sometimes. Ask Aree and Naree Song.

Huggan: The last thing we need out there is another Anthony Kim or Sergio Garcia.

Elling: Think about this. How many times has a player ever said, "I should have quit school early and chased the fast money?" I can think of zero. Kuchar is the ultimate cautionary tale, and he made it to the top of his profession -- eventually.

Huggan: Kuchar is at the top? Wow, I missed that.

Elling: I would say ranking in the world top 10 is pretty close to the top, yeah. So, if you personally had been picked for a Walker Cup team years ago, when you were a top amateur in Scotland, would you have gone to college yourself?

Huggan: I did things in a strange order. I actually went to college -- University of Stirling, which produced tour players Catriona Matthew, Maria Hjorth and Richie Ramsay -- over here after I had all but given up playing full-time amateur stuff. So I'm not the best example.

Huggan: As for the Walker, my timing was awful. But if they had been picking a side at the end of 1983 rather than the beginning, I'd have been in with a good chance of making it.

Elling: Well, based on your admittedly iffy wedge game, I guess you made the right call. You are much better with a pencil and keyboard than the lob wedge.

Boys, they played a European Tour event last week at the 2014 Ryder Cup venue in Scotland. How did that turn out?

Elling: Is the five-man playoff over yet? I was not-so-breathlessly following it on the Internet from here in New Jersey. It took 75 minutes or so to complete, right?

Huggan: Well, if ever we needed proof that the Centenary course at Gleneagles is not where the Ryder Cup should be played, this was it. The five-hole playoff -- the 18th five times -- was tedious beyond belief. It's an uphill par-5 with inappropriate rough, silly trees and no chance of reaching in two. So, in other words, it was a 100-yard par-3 for the five participants. If eventual winner Thomas Bjorn hadn't finally seen off the rest, it could have gone on forever.

Elling: Course design aside for the moment, is there anything better than seeing a battalion of guys needlessly play same hole six straight times? Nothing monotonous about that call. Nothing at all. Incredible.

Elling: As for the 18th hole, it really makes you hold your breath in anticipation for the Ryder Cup there in three years, eh? Such potential drama for a finishing hole -- everybody laying up to the same 90-yard mark and hitting wedges.

Huggan: I've said this before, but the Centenary is the third-best course on the premises -- and the fourth-best in Auchterarder. The saddest thing though, is that there is a great composite course out there waiting to happen, one with a great climax -- 13-14-18 on the Kings course. That would be great, but I don't see it happening. For one thing, Gleneagles and the European Tour would have to admit that the Centenary course is rubbish.

Elling: Who owns that resort? Is the message not being heard?

Huggan: I think it is owned by a brewing/distilling company. But Gleneagles is the Scottish home of the PGA, so that is a factor too. They won't change it, even though everyone thinks they should. Besides, does it really matter? The Ryder Cup hasn't been played on a decent course over here since 1981.

Elling: They haven't had a Ryder in Scotland since 1973. And this where they elect to stage it?

Huggan: Exactly, when you think of the potential venues, it is an outrage, especially when, as you say, Scotland has had but one Ryder Cup so far. Southport and Ainsdale have had more, for goodness sake.

Elling: Missing that Gleneagles playoff on TV while being held hostage in my New Jersey hotel room by hurricane coverage might not have been so bad. It might even have been less repetitive, if that's possible.

Huggan: Again, you make a good but obvious point. But one that would see those in charge having to admit to error. Not going to happen!

We have a new FedEx points leader in Dustin Johnson, who won the Barclays on Saturday (there's an odd sentence to read). What took him so long to get his first win this year?

Elling: For all his gifts, he has a few limitations. Mainly, he is incredibly average with his wedge and putter. His new caddie, Joe LaCava was helping read nearly every putt last week. That has to be a good thing.

Huggan: That is a mystery given Johnson's obvious talent level. The only conclusion one can draw is that there isn't too much going on between his ears. Certainly, if that shot he hit OB at the 14th hole in the final round of the Open Championship at Sandwich last month is anything to go by, thinking is not his strong point.

Huggan: Having said that, I love to watch him play. He hits it miles and he gets on with things without any obvious fuss. His pace of play is a great example to all.

Elling: That boy can mash, though, huh? He was flying 3-woods as far as playing partners Kuchar and Vijay Singh were hitting their drivers. He reduced Plainfield Country Club to a series of pitch-'n'-putt par-4s. He was able to drive the green on three of them.

Elling: I am ripping off my own Twitter feed, but Johnson has won the last two PGA Tour events cut to 54 holes, at Barclays and 2009 Pebble Beach events. He would be deadly on the LPGA. He's already proven he can handle Natalie Gulbis.

Huggan: I've said this before, but I worry about that obviously shut face at the top of his swing when it comes to his wedge game, which is reputedly his technical weakness. Until he fixes that, he will win only in weeks when his talent is enough to beat the rest.

Elling: Indeed, when he has a wedge in hand, that shut clubface at the top makes him look like a guy flipping pancakes with a big spatula.

Huggan: Then again, he is America's best player and No. 4 in the world. I'll be surprised if he doesn't win a major next year. Having LaCava on his bag doesn't hurt his chances, either.

Elling: I think LaCava, who toted previously for Couples, is going to be a huge influence. I was standing a few feet away in the second round when he talked D.J. out of hitting a shot from inside a greenside hazard area. Johnson took the penalty drop and saved par. LaCava sagely made Johnson think the idea to take the drop was the player's own. Masterpiece of subtle manipulation.

Huggan: I bet the Aussie public is looking forward to seeing him down there later this year.

Elling: You mean at the aforementioned exhibition?

Huggan: And the Aussie Open the week before. A real event.

Elling: Johnson's coach, Butch Harmon, thinks LaCava can make a huge difference. As it is, D.J. already has five wins at age 27, more than any other player still in his 20s on the U.S. tour. Get Rory McIlroy back over here and let's get a rivalry started, OK?

Huggan: Rory is too busy working on his forehand at the moment, although he is due to tee up in Switzerland this coming week. Coincidentally or not, the European Masters at the endlessly picturesque Crans-sur-Sierre also sees the start of qualifying for the 2012 Ryder Cup side.

Huggan: That'll be "winning" European Ryder Cup side, of course.

Elling: Did you see the picture of Rory smooching with his tennis doubles partner over the weekend, in front of the entire Yale football team? Having those two guys, very eligible bachelors both, dueling it out for the next few years should be very interesting. Sign me up.


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