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Pond Scrum: Enjoying Donald's finale charge, Sergio's surge


Updated Oct. 24

ORLANDO, Fla. -- As with Luke Donald in his U.S. season finale, they aim to make every shot count, mindful of the calendar on the wall.

After a dizzying 10-month run of nonstop manic Mondays, the weekly mix of trash and panache we call Pond Scrum is shutting down for the next few weeks, until the Presidents Cup matches in Australia and season-ending Race to Dubai event on the European Tour are contested.

With the eye-popping conclusion of the PGA Tour's regular season over the weekend complete, our two protean pro protagonists, European Tour correspondent John Huggan and CBSSports.com senior golf columnist Steve Elling, will be forced to find other outlets for their profundities, abstract absurdities and occasional cheap shots.

Thankfully, it was a particularly strong week in terms of developments on the sports and gossip pages, with world No. 1 Luke Donald making a defining, heroic charge to secure the PGA Tour's money title by shooting 30 on the last nine holes of the U.S. season, former world No. 2 Sergio Garcia resuscitating his career, and a few other tabloid odds and ends with the usual stars and suspects.

Have you been keeping score? It's hard to guess which scribe has amassed more belly laughs, low blows and witticisms. Heck, in the latter category, it might even be a zero-zero tie.

For good or bad, or somewhere in between, here are their official parting shots for the PGA Tour's 2011 regular season. Well, until they next come out swinging.

In the most remarkably clutch display of his career, world No. 1 Luke Donald came from five strokes back with 10 holes to play to cement the PGA Tour money title Sunday. Fellas, what was most striking or compelling about the victory?

Elling: I can't recall another instance in 11 years as a golf beat writer when, upon arriving at a tournament, hearing a player say, "I have to win," then doing exactly that. Given the way he accomplished it at the end, with the lowest closing round on the PGA Tour this year by a winner, relative to par, was astounding. What a fitting finale.

Huggan: For any professional, this was the ultimate: getting it done when he had no other option. Anyone who has ever played golf knows that the hardest thing is to make a birdie or par when you absolutely have to -- Luke made six birdies at exactly the right moment. It was little wonder that, by the end, Webb Simpson looked like Joe Frazier after George Foreman was done with him.

Elling: I can only imagine the sense of gratification Donald must have felt, knowing there was only one outcome that would suffice, then delivering the grandest of goods. What a defining victory. I barely know the guy, in all honesty, yet somehow felt proud of him professionally. He added the tournament to his schedule with one thing in mind, and came up huge.

Huggan: It is a safe bet that every one of Luke's friends and rivals on tour were enormously impressed by what he achieved. They know what he did is the reason why they spend so much time on the range and practice green. And, unlike some occasions in the past, Donald's famous rhythm did not quicken noticeably under pressure. He was like a metronome right to the end -- a sure sign he was fully in control of what he was doing.

Elling: Simply put, in the non-Cablinasian division, it was the most exciting performance I have personally seen, under duress, with the stakes being utterly obvious. Donald knew what he needed to do. And he did it. With a furious rally that won't be forgotten soon. It had been 15 years since the money title changed hands on the last day of the season. They will be talking about this win for years to come.

Huggan: Of course, all of the above only adds to the pressure when we get around to the majors next year. Donald will be expected to break his duck -- pardon the pun -- in 2012. And that is perhaps the ultimate pressure. Of course, if he continues to improve as he has this year, winning at least one Grand Slam event should be no more than routine. He has clearly been the best player in golf this year and his position atop the rankings is well deserved.

Elling: Pinnacle, indeed. As I scribbled late Sunday, in a season of question marks as it relates to the top-player honors, he ended it with exclamation points. If he doesn't win U.S. Player of the Year honors, somebody ought to symbolically toilet-paper tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, because it would be utter crap.

Huggan: Of course, it all comes as no surprise: the man is half-Scottish after all.

Elling: You might have mentioned that fact once or a hundred times. Ballots are mailed to PGA Tour members next month and are due Dec. 9. What happens now? For obvious reasons, professional golfers are a notoriously self-absorbed lot. But some of his peers certainly took notice. Graeme McDowell on Monday morning dubbed Donald "The Machine" and suggested the nickname might stick. "Ball-striking machine? Putting machine? Definitely a money-printing machine," McDowell opined. Hard to argue. Especially after he earned a seven-figure bonus from Ralph Lauren for winning the cash dash.

Huggan: Perversely, I am almost rooting for Simpson to win the Player of the Year thing. If he does win the vote, any credibility it still retains would be destroyed forever.

Elling: I get the gist of your point. Sadly, I would not be slack-jaw shocked if it happened. Appalled, but not totally surprised. I live in Florida, where elections and deserved outcomes are never taken for granted.

Luke Donald was joined by perhaps a more famous Donald after winning the PGA Tour's season finale at Disney. (Getty Images)  
Luke Donald was joined by perhaps a more famous Donald after winning the PGA Tour's season finale at Disney. (Getty Images)  
Huggan: I can't forget last year, when Rickie Fowler was named Rookie of the Year ahead of Rory McIlroy, who actually won a tournament. As someone said only recently, you can never fully trust a predominantly American electorate to get things right. I mean, you guys did elect Reagan and Bush. So you never can tell.

Elling: Two Bushes, to be precise. It has been nice to see Donald come out of his shell a bit this year, too, like when we were teasing him about American football -- he was supposed to attend the Northwestern game on Saturday as honorary captain. He was making throwing motions like Tim Tebow. He scrambled like Tebow on Sunday, too.

Huggan: Luke should win in a landslide after the year he has had, but there will still be those reluctant to pick a foreign-born player. Goodness, even Simpson said yesterday that he would be voting for himself. A shocking lack of sportsmanship, surely.

Elling: I was dismayed when the third member of their Sunday group, Scott Gutschewski, said he was undecided about who he would vote for. Come on, buddy, you just played with Simpson and Donald and didn't come away with any clarity? (See aforementioned note about player myopia.) I guess we'll all find out shortly after the ballot box is tallied Dec. 9.

With perhaps the most impressive victory of his career, everything considered, Sergio Garcia won by 11 strokes in Spain on Sunday, seemingly announcing that his comeback is complete. Do you buy it?

Elling: It marked his first win in exactly three years, and it came at the same venue, which happens to be his home track. Garcia climbed about 20 pegs to No. 31 in the world, which means that unlike this year, he won't be sweating his appearances in the majors and going through sectional qualifying. This win was big for manifold reasons, including his crisis of confidence.

Huggan: Not complete, but getting there. I mean, is there anyone out there who doesn't think Sergio is one of the 10 best players on the planet? I am certainly of that opinion. If he gets his putting even halfway sorted out, he is sure to contend at the very highest level again next year. And I bet Jose Maria Olazabal is happy to see him playing well again. If this continues, Europe is going to get what amounts to another player -- at the top of their team, too -- at the Ryder Cup next year.

Elling: It was downright odd seeing Sergio in a cheerleading capacity at the Ryder last year, wasn't it? Standing all week among the player wives and girlfriends? Although, standing among a flock of attractive women probably didn't bother him much. That part of his game never left him.

Elling: Honestly, I figured Garcia would wobble a bit on the weekend, as he has done all season when presented with multiple chances to secure his first victory, anywhere, this decade. Instead, he ran away with it.

Huggan: Which is why I can't help but root for him. Even in these technological times, Sergio's technique sets him apart tee to green. There are few, if any, better with a driver in their hands. Watching Sergio hit balls is one of the top 10 things to do on any tour. He makes some of those in the world's top 20 look like nothing more than choppers.

Sergio Garcia finally broke through Sunday to capture his first victory in three years. (Getty Images)  
Sergio Garcia finally broke through Sunday to capture his first victory in three years. (Getty Images)  
Elling: It was nice to see the guy smile after some seriously lean times. Maybe this will stop the doom-and-gloom cloud that only he seems to see hovering over his head. Hard to believe that at the start of the 2009 season, he was ranked No. 2 in the world behind Eldrick the Entertainer.

Huggan: Indeed, I made a point of watching Sergio at Celtic Manor. He didn't put a foot wrong and was obviously rooting for his friends to win. But there was a melancholy air about him. He knew -- like everyone else -- that he should have been out there playing.

Elling: He belongs on that team. In fact, with a Euro team potentially featuring match-play scrappers like Donald, Ian Poulter, McDowell and Sergio, I can hardly wait to get to Chicago next fall. That's a "home" game for Donald, by the way. Scary thought.

Apparently, Rory McIlroy has decided to take over from Tiger Woods as the game's biggest soap-opera lighting rod. Last week, he bailed on his agency, ISM, for another management firm, creating quite a ripple overseas. Boys, some pithy analysis, please.

Elling: This thing is seriously Inside Baseball, but the bloggers and U.K. papers are eating it up with both hands. McIlroy spent nearly two weeks touring China and in Bermuda with his management firm squiring him around, then cut ties after the cash parade came to an end. Business is business, but that seems a bit rude. And I'm a bit of an expert on the latter.

Huggan: My mind goes back maybe three years, to a Golf Digest photo shoot at the Players Championship. Rory was hitting shots for a swing sequence and it started to rain off and on. So it took longer than we expected. The guy from ISM kept trying to get Rory to leave. But he wouldn't. He was quite happy shooting the breeze with myself and the photographer. So he knew his own mind and wasn't going to do something he didn't want to do. That same trait manifested itself again last week.

Huggan: So, this was a surprise more than a shock. A few weeks ago I spoke with someone close to both Chubby [Chandler, McIlroy's now former agent] and Rory. He could see problems ahead. To no one's surprise, Rory was starting to behave like anyone would if they were 22 years old, hugely talented and rich beyond imagination. I see this as part of a young man exerting the power he is just starting to realize he has. There have been huge changes in his life over the past year. The new girlfriend. Moving to America -- again. This latest event is just part of all that.

Elling: At first, I laughed when a USA Today blogger characterized McIlroy's girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, as Yoko Ono, who broke up the Beatles, depending on who you want to believe. Now I am wondering if maybe there is something to it. Either way, The Ballad of John and Yoko has been stuck in my head for two days.

Huggan: My one hope is that he doesn't become distracted from the thing that has got him where he is -- his game. He remains an enormously likable lad, but he is changing. Given all that is going on in his life, we should not be surprised by any of it. Besides, I have a feeling his parents -- especially his mum -- will sort him out if he gets too out of control.

Elling: Chandler told one outlet, "I don't know whether it was his girlfriend getting in his ear or someone else but I thought we were doing a pretty good job, to be honest, and I think that's how the outside world saw it." From where I sit, I have to agree with the Chubbster. I thought he had a good rapport with his clients. He certainly spoiled the hell out of them, flying in caterers from overseas to cook them food at a rented home at the majors? That's way above and beyond the call of duty. I attended one of his backyard cookouts at the Masters. Impressive hand-holding, I thought.

Huggan: Don't worry about Chubby. He's a big boy and will survive, even if this has to be a bit of a blow to his ego. And, in time, bank balance.

Will Caroline Wozniacki become Rory McIlroy's Yoko Ono? (Getty Images)  
Will Caroline Wozniacki become Rory McIlroy's Yoko Ono? (Getty Images)  
Elling: The curly-headed kid clearly has a mind of his own, as his dad pointed out earlier this year when McIlroy elected to take his PGA Tour card again for 2012. McIlroy is 22, but he skews a bit on the teenager capricious side as far as predictability. Takes up his U.S. tour card against the advice of Chandler, then drops it after one season, then picks it up again for 2012. Loses girlfriend, gets her back, drops her for star tennis player. Glad I don't have to make his private-jet arrangements or pay for the fuel.

The PGA Tour announced last week that beginning in 2012, it will back a new tour in Latin America, which will provide a pipeline to the Nationwide and beyond. Why didn't this move get much attention?

Elling: Don't get me started. Explain the idiocy of announcing something like this exactly 20 minutes after Luke Donald and Webb Simpson have finished playing their first round at Disney in the most important season finale in years? The tour has an army of well-paid PR folks and spin doctors, and this is the best they can do in terms of timing? I boycotted the whole deal. The tour finale was more compelling than it had been since the Fall Series began, if not in a decade, and this announcement could not have waited until this week, when there was no tournament to upstage?

Huggan: Probably for the same reason that Triple-A baseball isn't headline news. We're talking about golf's third division here. Plus, you are dead right about the timing. If the PGA Tour clearly doesn't care about this new tour, why should anyone else?

Elling: Not sure they care enough about their Fall Series events, frankly. The timing was baffling. A teleconference with the commissioner was staged minutes after Donald had taken the lead. Unlike the commissioner, I am at a loss for words. Another sign that the tour is asleep at the publicity wheel: Last week, the tour issued an 800-word press release regarding a temporary writer it had hired to cover the Presidents Cup matches for the tour's website. So, in other words, the tour thought that competing news organizations would actually write stories about this development that would steer traffic to PGATour.com? Be serious.

Elling: Another flash observation: The tour is announcing it will prop up a new tour in Latin America, at an indeterminate cost, yet it has nobody in line to take over as the Nationwide circuit's title sponsor after 2012? Talk about odd priorities. I believe the phrase in Espanol would be something like "loco en la cabeza."

Huggan: I'm sure PGA Tour officials were devastated when you didn't deign to write about their new baby. It would seem obvious to me that the Nationwide Tour should be a bigger priority. It does a great job training young lads how to be touring pros.

Elling: Don't get me wrong, I am not against the new Latin American circuit, per se. In broad strokes, the U.S. tour is attempting to gain a foothold in Central and South American, before the EuroTour does likewise. The Yanks are way behind in Asia, clearly, without an official tournament on offer in any locale. With the Olympics coming, the PGA Tour sees the possibility that golf might gain traction in Brazil and elsewhere. Given the paucity of players from that particular country specifically, a new grassroots tour can't hurt.

Huggan: In an ideal world, there wouldn't be any qualifying schools, which are basically obsolete in a competitive sense. But in Europe -- where they charge every entrant an astonishing 1,300 euros -- the school makes a seven-figure profit every year. So it continues for reasons that have nothing to do with golf and everything to do with money.

Elling: I believe this would fall under the category of Tim Finchem marking his territory in the annexation battle with our man George O'Grady at Wentworth. Game on.

Huggan: You may be right. The world of professional golf isn't exactly rife with cooperation is it?

Elling: Come on, I like Q-school. You know how many of the young U.S. players have sailed through right out of college in their first try and secured cards? Off the last Ryder Cup team alone, that would include Dustin Johnson, Jeff Overton and Rickie Fowler. They should not have to spend an apprenticeship season on the Nationwide.

Huggan: Q-school may be fun to watch but it isn't fair. One week of your life counts for that much? Come on. Surely play over a full Nationwide season paints a much clearer picture of who can play and who can't.

Elling: That point is indisputably true. But it also demonstrates who can play under extreme duress, too. Luke Donald sailed through Q-school in his first try in West Palm Beach a decade ago. I was there when he did it. I rest my case.

Even when idle, Tiger Woods makes news. This time, Aussie Geoff Ogilvy took exception to the manner in which Woods was named to the Presidents Cup team, to be played next month at Ogilvy's backyard track in Melbourne. Is Ogilvy off the mark?

Elling: Hardly. I wanted to stand up and applaud. In fact, it looked like one of us had scripted his words for him. I would have gone even farther than Geoff did, in fact.

Huggan: As I have pointed out before, I have no credibility when commenting on Ogilvy, since he and I are friends. But, as usual, he was spot on. My suspicion is that forces other than those milling around in Fred Coules' head had much to do with Tiger's early selection. I would like to strap Fred to a truth-machine and ask him if he was feeling any pressure from either Ponte Vedra or NBC to pick the striped one.

Elling: Forces in Fred's head? Meaning cobwebs and empty space?

Huggan: Maybe I should have said "rattling" rather than "milling."

Elling: The thrust of Ogilvy's statements echoed what many writers have claimed, that there was no defensible reason to name Woods to the team several weeks before the deadline. He's right. The fact that Keegan Bradley, who was snubbed, won the four-player Grand Slam event last week underscores the issue again. Woods was the best player in the game for 13 years. But we're at the butt end of Year 15 now.

Huggan: It does seem pretty obvious though. Tiger was picked because he remains the biggest draw in the game even as he plummets on the ranking list. Yet again, this has everything to do with viewing figures and nothing to do with what is right.

Elling: To that, I would only add, Amen.

Huggan: If we went down that path, Keegan Bradley would be playing ahead of both Tiger and Bill Haas. But I suspect Tim Finchem wasn't going to leave the winner of his FedEx baby out of the Presidents Cup -- another of his offspring.

Finally, the rulemakers at the U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient on Monday tweaked three rules, including one in which balls that move because of gusty winds during putting no longer will result in a penalty stroke being assessed to the player. Webb Simpson called this penalty on himself in New Orleans and eventually lost later that day in a playoff. Did they go far enough?

Huggan: Nice to see the "ball moved by wind" rule change. Bit late for Webb Simpson and Padraig Harrington, though. Both have been hurt by that rule, including a DQ of Harrington in early 2010.

Elling: Yeah, Simpson is probably sitting at home saying, "I'd rather have this new 'Simpson rule' informally named after something that didn't cost me my third tournament victory this season." Speaking of tweaks, the joint announcement by the two rulemaking bodies called it "an exhaustive, four-year review of golf's 34 playing rules." You ever seen a USGA or R&A guy who looked exhausted?

Huggan: If exhausted means the same as "mildly inebriated," then, yes.

Elling: I guess they were too tuckered out to weigh in on the real rule issue du jour, the belly putter and the question of whether anchoring the club to the body in some fashion should be permitted. Oh, well, there's always 2015!

Huggan: I interviewed USGA director Mike Davis at length during the Walker Cup last month. It was for another media outlet, but I can tell you not to expect any action there any time soon.

Elling: Isn't inaction an action?

Huggan: In R&A and USGA world, anything is possible. And nothing.

Elling: Sage words, my Scottish cousin.

Huggan: In their defense, I'm not sure that rules changes should be made in anything like haste. I like the fact that they consider every angle before diving in. Try wording a rule change for yourself. It isn't easy.

Elling: Hey, I'm just thankful we found words to crank out this weekly transatlantic exchange, uninterrupted, for 10 straight months. A million words and brain cells later, the PGA Tour season has ended. And for now, we have, too.


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