Posted on: July 8, 2008 9:57 am

Silence isn't golden, it's deafening

That strange sucking sound emanating last weekend from Washington, D.C., wasn't some politician kissing up to voters or lobbyists.

It was the considerable vacuum created by Tiger Woods' absence at the AT&T National.

We're not going to belabor the point because it doesn't exactly come as a surprise. Everybody knew that, minus Woods, interest in the PGA Tour product was going to suffer a falloff, from the turnstiles to the television. Same for the two remaining major championships, and quite possibly, the Ryder Cup.

But the D.C. event apparently represented the imperfect storm, if you will. Woods serves as the host of the second-year event, and since he was unavailable to attend -- much less play -- because of his surgery last month, the tournament's approval rating dropped at a presidential clip.

According to Washington-area media outlets, the third-round attendance tally of 22,000 represented a drop of 15,000 from last year's inaugural event, while the final-round numbers fell off 7,000 fans to 30,000. Both are still solid numbers for most tour stops, but disappointing in that the AT&T, unlike last year when it was pulled together in three months, had a year to market itself and exploit its enviable position on the July 4 weekend.

As for the ratings on CBS Sports, as was the case when Woods didn't play at the Buick Open two weeks earlier, the data remains grim. The overnight ratings for the final round were down 48% from last year and the third round dropped 35%.

The long-held belief is that Woods is the lone guy who really "moves the needle" on the tour. In fact, based on early fan and media-coverage feedback, that appears to be selling him short.

Woods actually is the needle.

The rest is just a haystack.


Category: Golf
Posted on: July 7, 2008 10:48 am

Thrust-and-parry over Perry begins

If only the Brits had been this understanding about civil liberties and personal freedom a few hundred years back, we could have avoided all those unpleasantries in 1776. Not to mention 1812.

Simultaneously proving how unpredictable the British press can be, and how awful I am at predicting the outcome of anything related to golf, the first salvo from across the pond with regard to the Kenny Perry situation has been launched.

At Jack Nicklaus?

Perry announced last week that, despite the fact he had secured an exempt spot into the British Open, he was staying home to play in the PGA Tour’s weak and so-called “opposite event” the same week in Milwaukee.

Given that American Woody Austin was slapped fairly brusquely abroad for skipping the British last year, we figured that Perry would be in for comparable treatment, especially since Perry is seemingly a lock for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. The Brit press, would surely shred Perry for skipping the oldest championship in golf, especially after the 47-year-old declined to participate in qualifying for the U.S. Open earlier in the year.

Wrong. The Brits have gone all French on me.

From respected golf scribe Derek Lawrenson in London’s Daily Mail, balancing the dismissive comments made a few weeks ago from Nicklaus regarding the overhyped Ryder Cup with Perry's right to play where he wants in order to potentially secure a U.S. team berth:

“American Kenny Perry is continuing his one-man assault on Jack Nicklaus' belief that the majors are the only things that matter, and that the Ryder Cup is a glorified exhibition.

“In May, you may recall, Perry listened to all the great man had to say before grounding his words into the soil with a delicious double; winning Jack's tournament and then combining it with the announcement that he wouldn't be competing in the U.S Open as it would impede his Ryder Cup bid.

“Now Perry is about to repeat the trick, after winning again in Michigan on (June 29). Instead of playing in the Open at Birkdale later this month, he will be competing in some low-key tourney in Milwaukee, because he believes it offers him a better chance of clinching his Ryder Cup place.

“I suppose I should be appalled, like many of my American colleagues. But there's something about Perry's hellbent desire to play in the Ryder Cup in his home state, and never mind whatever anyone else thinks, that is most appealing.”

What can we Yanks glean from this? Foremost, that the Ryder Cup means far more to European observers and players that it ever will to the majority of their American counterparts, who place a greater value on the major championships.

Call it a cultural divide, one of those inexplicable things nobody can explain. You know, like Brits generously allowing Amy Winehouse to live in London.


Category: Golf
Posted on: July 2, 2008 4:13 pm

Minus Tiger: Storylines or snoring lines?

OK, so it’s not exactly the morning after.

But they’re still mourning in some circles, nonetheless.

Already having heard Monday’s news from Tiger Woods that his rehabilitation from reconstructive surgery June 24 could take anywhere between 6-12 months and that he had no guess about his recovery timeframe, the PGA Tour this week is staging a tournament in which Eldrick the Absent is the official host.

The AT&T National begins Thursday, but Woods said he isn’t likely to attend in any form or function. It’s truly the first week where the void created by the world No. 1’s injury has really been felt, since he helped hand-craft the event from scratch last spring and was excited about both hosting and playing in its second incarnation. Not to mention, quite possibly, winning.

Nonetheless, where some see Armageddon, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem sees opportunity. While nobody is arguing that the absence of the world’s most visible sports figure will hurt the game’s ratings, newspaper coverage and fan attendance, that doesn’t mean the game can’t somehow profit in a less-direct, less-financial fashion, he said.

Wednesday at Congressional Country Club, Finchem unveiled his unbridled, optimistic side, and while it surely raised a few eyebrows among the predisposed cynics, the boss man raises a few valid points.

“When Tiger is in the tournament, and by the way, I'm not being critical because he's by far and away probably the mostrecognized personality on the globe; he just eats television coverage,” Finchem said. “So it's very hard for a guy who is playing well, coming through, to get the amount of television coverage.
“And so the same performance for a player next week, or this week or at the British Open or a John Deere, any of the weeks we have for the rest of the year will be magnified significantly with Tiger not in the field. 

“That allows players to become better-known to fans, to step up, maybe create some situations where there's a lot of speculation by you (media) folks. ‘Here is a guy who has really played great,’ and you start speculating on how it’s going to shake out when these two or three guys come into next year and Tiger is back.

“So there's a lot of good storylines that will come out of it.”

Finchem has been asked many times over the years if Woods’ presence as the unquestioned alpha male is a mixed blessing. Usually, his answer has been fairly emphatically in the negative. Wednesday, he acknowledged that the world No. 1 overshadows nearly everything, not without good reason.

“In our business, the only problem in having a dominant player is that it's harder for us to continue to grow the list of stars,” he said. “When somebody is as dominant as Tiger, it's even more difficult, because they pale in comparison to somebody of that stature.

“So this is a great opportunity for us, and I think in many ways, it could generate real value for the tour for the next few years.”

Category: Golf
Posted on: June 29, 2008 12:11 pm
Edited on: June 29, 2008 12:18 pm

Early fireworks for the Yanks?

EDINA, Minn. -- With the July 4 holiday looming next weekend, we have mixed news to report to those flying the colors of the red, white and blue entering the final round of the U.S. Women's Open on Sunday.

First, the good news.

American players top the leaderboard, with newly minted professional Stacy Lewis and 21-year-old veteran Paula Creamer leading the charge. Lewis is the best American prospect produced from the college ranks in years and Creamer, at No. 4, is the top-rated Yank in the world rankings.

Now the bad news.

Americans have won a mere six of the past 30 major championships on the women's side of the ledger. Creamer has never won a major and Lewis turned pro earlier this month. The only other American on the board is defending champion Cristie Kerr, who is seven shots off the lead.

Now, a smidgen or two of hope.

Of those six American victories at the majors, four came at the U.S. Open. Two of the players on the leaderboard, Inbee Park and Angela Park, have never won a professional tournament  in the States on the LPGA or Futures tours. Sweden's Helen Alfredsson, two shots behind Lewis, has blown two huge chances at winning the Open in the past and  is 43.

The only player within six shots who can claim a major champoionship to her credit is South Korea's Jeong Jang, a former British Open champion, at 3 under.





Category: Golf
Posted on: June 28, 2008 12:58 pm

Welcome surprise: Wie does the right thing

EDINA, Minn. -- Admit it, you are a little surprised.

When second-round play was suspended because of darkness on Friday night at the U.S. Women's Open, Michelle Wie had one hole remaining to play and had zero chance of making the cut. Based on some of the questionable decisions and stunts her camp has pulled over the years with regard to poor judgment and unprofessional behavior, it was no foregone conclusion that she'd show at the crack of dawn to finish her day.

Yet when play resumed Saturday morning at 7 a.m., Wie played the ninth hole, where she had made a 9 in the first round, swallowed her medicine and missed the cut by a Minnesota mile -- six shots at 10 over.

In what might result in a major game-plan reversal in her personal camp, Wie's father indicated that she might be entering LPGA Qualifying School in the fall. Wie, 18, isn't exempt on any tour at the moment and has been playing on an apparently dwindling supply of sponsor exemptions.

I specifically asked Wie about her Q-School plans earlier this week, and she indicated it was not an option because it conflicted with the fall semester at Stanford, where she will begin her sophomore year in a few weeks. She said she hoped to secure a card by making enough money in her LPGA-sanctioned events this year to forgo Q-School. So far, while her results have improved over a forgettable and injury-ravaged 2007,she's made $21,457 in four starts this season. She has three more exemptions remaining this year.

"I think the qualifying conflicts with school, so I probably won't go to that," Wie said Tuesday. "But hopefully, I'll make enough money this year to get exempt for next year. I'll see how it goes. I'm having a lot of fun playing good again, so that's all I'm focusing on now."

However, her father made it sound as though Q-school was a distinct possibility.

"What other options do we have?" B.J. Wie told the Associated Press on Saturday morning.

As it stands, Wie would have to navigate through two stages of Q-School in order to secure her card for 2009.

Say this: Showing up to finish the round was at least a minor step toward demonstrating some professional maturity. Earnings her spot in the Open this week by going through sectional qualifying was another. Gaining a card by surviving Q-School would earn her even more respect for a player for whom rules have been rewritten to allow her access.

Funny how fast things can change. Two years ago, she was No. 2 in the world rankings. At this point, Wie is earning at least $10 million annually from various commercial entities, but her playing options are limited and they aren't getting much positive exposure. In short, Wie needs the LPGA far more than the tour needs her.



Category: Golf
Posted on: June 27, 2008 8:10 pm

Sorenstam poised for last hurrah

EDINA, Minn. -- Don't look now, but a certain Swedish somebody is back in striking range at the U.S. Women's Open.

On second thought, do look now, because this is her last Open rodeo.

Annika Sorenstam, halfway through her final season, shot a 3-under 70 on Friday morning to move within five strokes of the lead as a weather delay settled over Interlachen Country Club.

As Sorenstam pointed out, it happens seemingly every year at the Open -- players start fast on Thursday, then slam the gearbox into reverse and try to make their early numbers stand up through the weekend. When the weather horn sounded Friday, the low number stood precisely where it was after Thursday's opening round -- at 6 under.

"I expect it to happen even more this weekend," Sorenstam said. "That's what U.S. Opens are all about. This golf course is set up very well and and yesterday a lot of people might say there were a lot of red numbers. I think that will change by Sunday."

That's good news if it transpires for Sorenstam, who has three Open titles already. This is he swan song at the national championship and it would be nice to depart with the trophy. As it stands, fans have already been incredibly supportive given that they won't likely see her again.

"You're walking out there and you hear everybody saying, 'Thanks for the memories, thanks for what you have done,' and it's true," playng partner Paula Creamer said. "She definitely has raised the bar for women's golf and she has had such a big impact on where we are today."







Category: Golf
Posted on: June 26, 2008 12:31 pm
Edited on: June 26, 2008 3:50 pm

Wie wheezes in opening round

EDINA, Minn. -- The comeback has stalled.

Michelle Wie, seeking to reclaim both her reputation and status as a world-class player, made a round-ruining nine on the ninth hole in the first round of the U.S. Women's Open on Thursday, dropping her into last place in the early hours at Interlachen Country Club. She finished with an 8-over 81. 

Here are the grisly details for those who enjoy pulling the wings off butterflies, picking at scabs and other sadistic pursuits:

Wie was a respectable 1 over for the day as she played the par-4 ninth hole, then shoved her drive into the right rough.

2. She punched out a shot that left her short of the green and in the rough.

3. Her third shot sailed over the steeply sloped green and into the deep rough in the collar area.

4. Her fourth, a wedge, moved only a few feet.

5. She grabbed her putter from there and rolled the ball all the way off the front of the sloping green.

6. Her sixth shot, a pitch, failed to fully climb the crown in the middle of the green and rolled back nearly into her footprints.

7. Her seventh, another pitch, finished within five feet of the hole.

8-9. She two-putted from there, dropping into dead last among the 78 players in the morning tee-time wave.

"Nine was like a blur," Wie said afterward. "I had trouble countng how many strokes I had. That's the U.S. Open -- it'll bite you in the butt."

Despite her travails over the past two seasons, Wie insisted she would not hang her head over the day's disappointing results.

"I had a couple of bad holes, but I'm more than confident that I can spring back and shoot a low score tomorrow."




Category: Golf
Posted on: June 25, 2008 3:58 pm
Edited on: June 25, 2008 4:24 pm

USGA sees the light about the dark

EDINA, Minn. -- Obviously, there was no need for hesitation.

U.S. Golf Association executive director David Fay nearly jumped out of his chair with glee Wednesday when asked about the success of the U.S. Open experiment earlier this month at Torrey Pines, where tee times were pushed back so that the NBC broadcast would be beamed into homes during prime time on the East Coast.

Fans can absolutely expect to see more of the same in future years when the event is played along the Pacific Coast. In fact, he gushed so profusely, I only half-jokingly asked whether the USGA had installed lights for next year's Open at Bethpage Black in New York, so it could be broadcast at night, too. 

"I think it was great not just for the U.S. Open, it was great for the game of golf because golf is a prime-time sport," Fay said. "It was a big-time, prime-time sport. And the reaction that I've heard from people, and you all must have been hearing it too, from people back in the east saying, 'this is fantastic.'

"It was late, but it wasn't that late. It's not like World Series game or some playoff games where they're ending around midnight. And I think the discussions that we have had with NBC, they're of course elated with what the numbers produced. And I believe that going forward it would make sense to have the same type of broadcast window when we're at Pebble Beach (2010), when we're at Olympic Club (2012), when we're at Chambers Bay (2015). So why not?"

Well, for one, it caused a significant dropoff in coverage from media outlets on the East Coast and Europe, which in some instances could not get results into the morning paper. Several Eastern dailies, including the major papers in Miami and Atlanta, didn't staff the Torrey Pines event at all. It's a tradeoff of sorts, he acknowledged.

"But the main thing is, golf was a prime-time, big-league sport by having that broadcast window, in my opinion," he said.

Apparently, thanks to a perfect storm of a contending Tiger Woods and a dramatic course backdrop in San Diego, the folks with the remote controls have seconded that opinion.


Category: Golf
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