Posted on: June 13, 2008 1:33 pm

Singh a song of desperation

SAN DIEGO -- Four players in the field this week have won three or more majors in their career, including World Golf Hall of Famer Vijay Singh.

He won't be winning another one if he putts like he did on his 10th hole of the 108th U.S. Open on Friday morning.

Singh, who opened with a solid even-par-71, had tossed a nice approach shot onto the first green as he began his back nine in the second round at Torrey Pines. He had a makeable 8-footer for birdie that slid perhaps 30 inches past the cup.

No worries, right?

His next effort with the belly putter horseshoed out of the cup so wickedly that is almost came back and hit him in the left heel. Worse, he then yanked a 24-inch putt from there for a double bogey for a rare four-jacked green, leaving him at 5 over midway through his round.

A handful of players have been cursing the notoriously flightly poa annua greens, which on Thursday had become bumpy and inconsistent over the course of the day in the warm sunshine, with acerbic Aussie Robert Allenby called them the worst greens he ever putted on after finishing late in Thursday's opening round. But Singh was playing in the morning wave, when they were in the best shape of the day.   




Category: Golf
Posted on: June 12, 2008 8:58 pm
Edited on: June 12, 2008 9:02 pm

Drive 'em crazy, Phil

SAN DIEGO -- As ever, he had some tricks up his sleeve.

Phil Mickelson sauntered onto the first tee in the first round of the U.S. Open with a lot less clutter sticking out of the top of his bag.

Ditching your driver will do that, huh?

The guy who once used two drivers to win the Masters used zero in the first round of the Open, despite playing what measures on paper as the longest course in major-championship history.

He's sticking with the game plan, too, barring wet conditions, which are very unlikely.

"You noticed that I didn't have a driver today, huh?" he said playfully. "My game plan was that I only want to hit it a certain distance, I don't really want to hit it past 300 yards on most of the par-4s because it starts running into the rough. And I felt like with the fairways being firm like they were today all I needed was 3-wood on the holes.

"Now if it rains or gets softer, I'll certainly pull driver out. But my game plan for months was, if it's firm fairways like I expected, 3-wood was all I needed. And I was able to take advantage of the two par-5s and get home no problem and that's all that, that's the most important thing."

Yet at times, the decision clearly seemed questionable. He drove into the rough on the 504-yard 12th hole, which played into a breeze, then tried to muscle a hybrid onto the green from the rough and moved the ball 10 feet. Had he hit driver off the tee on the same line, his drive would have been in the fairway bunker and yielded a cleaner lie, 30 yards closer to the green.

After stumbling to a 3-over start thanks to sloppy 3-woods off the tee, he eventually fought back on the back nine to shoot an even-par 71.

"I had been hitting almost all the fairways with this 3-wood in practice rounds and so forth. So when I made some terrible swings and hit in the rough it kind of defeats the game plan because now I'm short and crooked.

"But when I started hitting fairways coming down the stretch I made birdies. So I expect to swing a little bit more confidently like I did the back nine as opposed to the start and I know this happens when I play and don't play the week before a major. I'm always a little rusty the front nine. And I'm glad that I was able to keep it in check and only shoot a few over and recover on the back."

Playing partner Tiger Woods didn't seem too shocked. Mickelson was uting a 3-wood with 11.5 degrees  of loft, only a few degrees softer than many drivers. Mickelson also carried a hybrid club and four wedges. 

"It's a strong 3-wood," Woods said. "It's kind of like the old brassie, you know? So even though it's not a driver, it's a strong 3-wood."


Category: Golf
Posted on: June 11, 2008 4:43 pm

Torrey story could feature dream finish

SAN DIEGO -- The sign, as a singular entity, is fairly daunting.
Planted on the back tee box at Torrey Pines, the wooden standard says the 18th hole measures 573 yards, a longish proposition in the moist sea air for guys with guts to go for the green, if not the glory.
Mike Davis has a secret.
That signpost is about as relevant as a 15th club left in the locker room. In fact, that tee might not be used at all.
In an attempt to give the 108th U.S. Open the slam-bang ending often produced at the Buick Invitational each January, Davis plans to move up the tee and let players gun for the green on the par-5 in two.
"I kind of like that next tee (box) up," said Davis, who handles the course setup for the host U.S. Golf Association. "If everybody ends up laying up on that hole, that's a disappointment."
That would shave approximately another 30 yards from the hole, meaning nearly every player in the field who plants a tee shot in the fairway is realistically in the go zone for reaching the green in two.
In Davis' best-case dream scenario, he'd like for a player to be standing on the tee on Sunday with a chance of making history with a winning birdie or eagle. Because, as even Davis was surprised to learn, it's basically never happened.
In a staggering statistic that underscores the difficulty of the Opens in the past, the last player to birdie the 18th hole on Sunday to win the Open by a single shot was famed amateur Bobby Jones at Scioto Country Club in 1926.
That was back before leaders were paired, so Jones quite likely didn’t understand the stakes when he birdied the hole. It was so long ago, it's almost irrelevant. 

Over the years, the Open has mostly been known for its final-hole trainwrecks, like the disasters on the 18th three years ago at Winged Foot by Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie.

The 18th is guarded by a pond fronting the green, and 4-inch rough in the surrounding area behind the putting surface, meaning a player could make anything from an eagle to a double-bogey or worse.

The scenario is set. Can somebody deliver the hero shot?

Category: Golf
Posted on: June 10, 2008 6:17 pm

On this tee, Mickelson comes out swinging

SAN DIEGO -- Phil Mickelson has rarely been so blunt.

The world No. 2 usually chooses his words carefully and rarely courts controversy, but when this particular button was pushed, he let an unbridled opinion fly Tuesday at the U.S. Open.

For the first time, a new tee box on the par-5 13th hole at Torrey Pines will be used for tournament play and Mickelson, an area native, is none too pleased about what they've done to his childhood hangout.

"That new tee box is terrible," he said. "It's the biggest waste of money that I've ever seen. But it doesn't matter what I think, we're going to end up playing it and I've got to be ready for it. But it's terrible."

OK, now that the venting portion is complete, let him explain why he's so adamant that the change is asinine. From the back tee, the hole plays 614 yards over moist terrain and through ocean air that is decidedly thick. So it becomes a three-shot hole where everybody will be laying up to the same position in the fairway. And perhaps into another player's divot. 

"There's no other way to look at it, it's just terrible," he said. "The reason it's so terrible is that before, there was great risk/reward. There was great reward if you hit the fairway from the tee where you could go for it (in two shots).

"But from the back tee nobody can reach it. Everybody's going to be laying up to the same spot, some with a 6-iron, some with a 3-iron, and everybody is going to have the same pitch. It's like a par-3 from the bottom of the hill. So there's no opportunity for a longer player to take advantage of his length.

"There's no opportunity for a guy who strikes it straighter to take advantage of his skill. And there's no opportunity for a guy who wants to take a little bit of risk and try to get it by the green and be rewarded. So it's just a terrible tee box."

He was not the lone voice crying in the wilderness, either. Tiger Woods was equally shocked to see how long the hole has been stretched, in the direction of the Torrey Pines Gliderport, from it's old Buick Invitational length of 541 yards.

"We're almost on Black's Beach," Woods cracked of the famous nude beach below the Torrey cliffs. "I don't know, maybe we can hit up and over the cliff to get to the fairway. It's unbelievable how far back that is.

"That usually is where they start their hang gliding over there. It's hard to believe it's that far back."

Category: Golf
Posted on: June 9, 2008 6:00 pm
Edited on: June 9, 2008 6:28 pm

More naked truths about Black's Beach

SAN DIEGO -- Two flags fly over the seaside encampment at the bottom of the gliderport pathway below the Torrey Pines cliffs, one featuring stars and stripes and one with the silhouettes of nude people reclining in the sand.

The latter represents the colors of the Black's Beach Bares, a passionate group of nudity activists who self-police the area and try to educate the passers-by about what are euphemistically termed "naturists."

As some of the top stars in golf tuned up for the U.S. Open by playing practice rounds on the Torrey Pines course located 300 feet above them, approximately 50 members of the Bares flipped around the Frisbee, wandered into the water and played coed beach volleyball on Sunday.

"We're sort of the ambassadors," said group member Dave Cole, who often visits the beach with his girlfriend, who he met at Disneyland, of all places.

Black's is the Magic Kingdom for nudists, a mélange of couples, old and young, straight and otherwise, though the traditional June gloom has kept the sun at bay and the water is a cool 68 degrees. For the men braving waters of the Pacific on this not-so-sunny Sunday, it's a small world after all, if you catch our drift.

A steady stream of folks stumbles down the dirt access path to the sand, many of them with funny expressions on their mugs. No question, there's an adjustment period for the uninitiated. The mind races.

Random thoughts and free association:

The Bares' coed volleyball game is lively and competitive as hell, with a wide range of ages and skill levels. High-fives are being furiously slapped. Do nudists say, "Give me some skin," or would that be redundant?

There aren't many golfers among the Bares membership, Johnson said. But if there were, their favorite player would have to be Steve Flesch, right?

There's a middle-aged guy in the volleyball game who is sporting nothing but a brace on his left knee and a golf visor. He must be both a Tiger and Phil fan.

If somebody weighs more than 250 pounds, you should not be allowed to call it skinny dipping.

On the list of things you want to ask, but can't: "Hey, did that cause razor burn?"

If a nudist is covered in body tattoos, and we mean every square and round inch, like the guy presently seated a few feet north of the Bares encampment, does that still count as being naked?

Lloyd Johnson, the Bares' leader, is a nudist and a college astronomy professor. I should have asked whether his favorite planet is Uranus.

They apparently don't sell Black's Beach Bares T-shirts. Guess that would be sending a mixed message.


Category: Golf
Posted on: June 9, 2008 5:48 pm

Back it down, Bubba

SAN DIEGO -- OK, now I understand.

Suddenly, it's fairly clear why Boo Weekley doesn’t hang around with Bubba Watson, even though they are from the same tiny town in the Florida Panhandle.

I got a first-hand look at Watson's oversized ego on Monday at the U.S. Open, and it wasn't pretty or particularly enjoyable.

Mind you, I have been big-leagued by players who have earned their place atop the pecking order and been none too happy about it. But given the demands on their time, and the fact that at one point or other, we've written in frank or unflattering terms about nearly all of them, I can live with the fact that they might treat writers like lepers on occasion.

But Bubba Watson?

Watson played a practice round with Tiger Woods in the morning, and predictably, was asked a few questions about the world No. 1 looked after a two-month competitive layoff. We caught up with him later and asked Watson for his review of Woods' nine-hole round. He began to answer the questions, then turned on a heel.

"I'm not talking about Tiger," he said. "Y'all do this to me all the time."

Then he walked away. Unaware that a hot button had accidentally been struck, and not wanting to burn a bridge with any player, I waited a few moments and approached him again. Watson was having none of it.

"You didn’t hit a nerve. Tiger is my friend, but y'all need to ask about me," Watson said. "My name is Bubba Watson. Ask how Bubba Watson is doing, how I'm putting, how I'm playing."

Watson, who speaks in rapid-fire bursts, had just broken the unofficial tour record for third-person references in a two-second span, then walked away again. This is just an educated hunch, but I'm fairly certain that the world doesn’t much care how he is playing. Watson should be glad anybody wants to interview him about anything, given his meager accomplishments relative to the size of his swollen head.

Consider that Watson got his spot on the PGA Tour because of a loophole after finishing 21st on the 2005 Nationwide Tour in earnings (only the top 20 get promoted). He's the same guy who hasn’t won anything above the Hooters Tour level. Same guy who was force-fed as a budding star for all of early 2006 by the tour media officials, despite the fact that he hadn’t accomplished much of anything. Apparently, it all went to his head.

Not that he hit a nerve or anything.



Category: Golf
Posted on: May 30, 2008 6:29 pm
Edited on: May 30, 2008 6:34 pm

Lefty and Bones to the rescue

DUBLIN, Ohio -- The marquee threesome delivered exactly what was expected in the first two rounds -- a slew of attention from fans and television.

Predictably, a knucklehead or two also appeared at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

The showcase trio of Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Mike Weir drew droves in both rounds of the Memorial Tournament, and on Friday, somebody with a big mouth and perhaps a few too many beers in his system decided to get involved. As the trio played the 15th hole, a man in the gallery bellowed, "America hates you, Sergio."

To their credit, Mickelson and his longtime caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay, immediately came to Garcia's defense. Mickelson said something to the fan and Mackay barked an admonishment of his own, "Show some respect."

Said Mackay afterward: "I reminded the guy, in case he had forgotten, that he's an idiot."

Garcia, who has been subjected to more than a few taunts over the years in this country, shrugged it off.

"Unfortunately, in a perfect world, there would be no stupid people," he said after shooting 77. "You can't control everybody. I am so used it, I really don't listen to people who have bad energy on themselves."

Weir, who shot 72, was on the other side of the fairway, said he didn't hear the exchange and was unaware it had happened until he was informed after the round. Mickelson made it clear that the fans were otherwise perfectly behaved.

"It was just the one time," said Mickelson, who shot 75. "I don't want to dwell on it, because for two days, it's been great."


Category: Golf
Posted on: May 30, 2008 5:19 pm

Last Plane to Memphis

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Mathew Goggin, in an odd resersal of travel protocol, is hoping and praying that he misses his scheduled flight out of nearby Columbus airport on Sunday night by hours.

Goggin, like about half the field in the Memorial Tournament this week, is scheduled to play in a U.S. Open sectional qualifier on Monday. Unlike the vast majority of the guys in the field at Muirfield Village, however, he elected to play a qualifier in another city.

In this case, it's Memphis, site of next week's PGA Tour stop. Goggin skipped the two in Columbus because he earned an Open bid in Memphis last year.

Here's the wrinkle: After finishing 36 holes at 7 under, he was still atop the leaderboard at Muirfield, which means that he might be among the last off the tee on Sunday afternoon. He's set to leave on a commercial flight at 5:50 p.m. Sunday.

"I might not want to get on that," he said, laughing.

"Then the next one is like 7 o'clock. So I'll just see. I'll just -- it's one of those sort of things that if you miss the flight it's a good thing. But ideally I would like to get in some time Sunday night so I can play 36 on Monday."



Category: Golf
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