Alternate Shot: On hungry alligators and well-fed golf champions


ORLANDO, Fla. -- Each week, golf writers Steve Elling and Shane Bacon trade shots on hot-button topics of the day, slinging around facts, opinions and projections in pretty much the same fashion they play the game -- with a certain degree of abandon. Except with no mulligans.

As it turned out, the alligators at Hilton Head Island might have provided the biggest thrills and most consistent excitement of tournament week.

An alligator lurked in the pond along the eighth fairway at Harbour Town. (Getty Images)  
An alligator lurked in the pond along the eighth fairway at Harbour Town. (Getty Images)  
Spotted repeatedly on the grounds during the PGA Tour event at Harbour Town, they had to be occasionally shooed off by players and caddies, and were nearly as big a lumbering nuisance as winner Carl Pettersson, who cruised to perhaps the least-interesting, easiest win of the 2012 season.

The oversized and easygoing Pettersson won for the fifth time, tying countryman Jesper Parnevik for most victories on the U.S. tour by a native Swede. World No. 1 Luke Donald, who lost at Hilton Head last year in a playoff, stumbled to T37 and lost the top spot in the rankings to Rory McIlroy, who didn't play.

Grumble, grumble, harrumph, harrumph.

"Obviously, I'd have liked to have played a bit more consistently this year," said Donal, who hasn't matched his consistency from 2011, when he topped two major money lists. "I built it up nicely last year through tournaments and winning a bunch. As a result, there's a little bit of fluctuation in the world rankings now."

More than a little. And more than a bit.

Whether that's good for the game or not, Shane Bacon and Steve Elling tackle that topic, among others, in this week's version of Alternate Shot.

All hail the new boy king. Wait a minute, that sounds familiar. Oh, right, we used the same phrase a few weeks ago when Rory McIlroy first climbed to world No. 1. As McIlroy again moves into the top spot, what's the deal with the repeated hot-seat changes of late in the game's pole position?

Elling: Look, nobody likes the Whack-A-Mole game that the rotating No. 1 ranking has become. McIlroy just unseated Donald, even though he took the week off. It seems like the play at the game's top tiers is so even, a victory in a big event can jump a player directly into the elite class in the top 10. Is Bubba Watson truly the No. 4 player in the world? In an era of interchangeable parity -- Watson has four victories in two years -- he almost certainly is. There's absolutely no doubt that the official world ranking can use some massaging, but the vast majority of the players atop the board at the Masters were from the world top 30, which as Lee Westwood tweeted upon reading that missive, "Don't tell me you think the world rankings are accurate?" Mostly, with the exception of some overrated players toiling on lesser tours, they are. But that doesn't mean anybody likes players moving into the top spot while spending a week sitting by the tennis court or swimming pool.

Bacon: I honestly don't really know the point of the world rankings. Do we need it to figure out the best in the world these days? Is it really a great barometer for PGA Tour players? The golf world is so even these days that it is basically a week by week world, and trying to look back over the past year and see who is the best compared to someone else just doesn't make sense. Three weeks ago, Tiger Woods was the best thing since cavity backs, and when the Masters ended, people were questioning if the guy would ever make another birdie. We have the rankings because we've always had the rankings, but it is nearly impossible to compare Rory to Luke to Bubba to Phil anymore, because each week one could win and another could miss the cut, and that could completely flip in just seven short days.

The final top four at Hilton Head on Sunday featured winner Carl Pettersson, Colt Knost and Kevin Stadler, three XXXL guys who clearly are not sweating their daily caloric intake. Does this reflect poorly on the sport?

Pettersson may not put in the workouts some golfers do, but he can still draw a crowd. (Getty Images)  
Pettersson may not put in the workouts some golfers do, but he can still draw a crowd. (Getty Images)  
Elling: Truthfully, it does, just a little, because of the eye-rollers out there who insist that golf isn't a real sport if the leaders can't out-run an ice-cream truck (and don't want to). Yet it also reinforces that there's no true "one way" to get the ball in the hole, a fact we learned seven days earlier when a power-hitting lefty who never had a lesson won the Masters while never swinging the club the same way twice. Besides, a little levity never hurts a game that can use all the humor it can get. To wit, Pettersson is called the "Swedish Bubba," Stadler the "Smallrus" and Colt Knost is clearly the size of a Clydesdale. You can bet the gators lurking in the Hilton Head lakes were eyeing those three as carefully as the trio of players scanned the post-round spread in the player dining area. Did you know Bubba Watson used to be a chubby kid? True. Hey, not everybody has the fast metabolism of a tree squirrel. Pettersson dumped a bunch of weight a few years ago, dropping under 200 pounds, and had the worst year of his career. As I recall, Sabathia and Fielder are pretty decent players on the baseball field, huh?

Bacon: A friend of mine was watching the Harbour Town event this weekend and commented that golfers and baseball players are the only two sports that could have players that look like these guys, do what they are capable of doing (which is, go really low at any given time). Does it reflect poorly on the sport? I don't think so, mostly because we've always had overweight golfers who could fire ridiculously low numbers. Is it bad that not every pro golfer looks like Kyle Stanley? Absolutely not; golf is supposed to look and feel different. I welcome the overweight golfer, because I think it makes the game that much more unique. For every fit, tight golfer out there at your local country club, there is probably a beer-guzzling equivalent that will take your money just as fast, and probably spend it on something cooler. I'm down with the big boys winning.

Inside-baseball question for the day: The PGA Tour's player advisory committee has recommended the events now located in the Fall Series be awarded full FedEx Cup points starting next year, when the tour's new wraparound 2013-14 season begins. Good idea?

Elling: The most defensible notion in a plan that is otherwise highly contentious is the idea of making the current Fall Series and quasi-official Asian events part of the real-deal calendar. That means no more Triple-A events in the fall, a move that was destined to be a disaster as soon as the "season-ending" FedEx Cup series was marketed with a wink and a nudge six years ago. It's like playing the World Series, then adding some spring training games afterward. The fall events, utterly marginalized by the tour, were destined to wither on the vine. The sentiment at the time was that top players, including Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, wanted more of an offseason ... to chase overseas appearance fees, apparently. By welcoming all the fall tournaments staged after the FedEx points finale back into the full fold, whether they offer the same purses or not, gives those events a fighting chance of getting better players. It's not a lot, but it would represent a start.

Bacon: I tend to agree with you here. Tiger and Phil are still going to go do their things in the offseason, but both are more likely to hit up the Vegas event if it actually meant something (that is, besides location to the nearest casino).

I never really understood the idea behind the Fall Series, mostly because it doesn't make sense. Why call it a PGA Tour event when it's really just a watered-down version? If you're going to play an event like this, and try to get players to show up, you might as well make it worth the same as, say, the Valero Texas Open (which, by the way, doesn't exactly have a star-studded field).


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