Posted on: August 26, 2011 10:08 am

Couples call on Tiger wrong for a hundred reasons

EDISON, N.J. -- Corey Pavin, wherever you are, accept this belated olive branch.

Like many, I spent the latter half of 2010 having a field day with your captaincy of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, belittling the sieves that passed as team raingear in Wales, poking fun at your colorless quotes, making cracks about your height, questioning whether your wife was actually running the show.

There's only one thing left to say after the developments of the past few hours: Bring back captain Corey, because the guy steering the Presidents Cup team is steering the team headed toward the Great Barrier Reef.

U.S. captain Fred Couples, in a remarkable admission, said Thursday night in Seattle that he has already told Tiger Woods that he's assured one of the two captain's picks, even though Woods' season has been punctuated by missteps, missed cuts and missed fairways.

Couples is having none of it. Or all of it, whichever way you hook or slice it.

"In my opinion, when you’re the best player in the world for 12 straight years and you’re not on a team, there’s something wrong," Couples said.

That's the crux of the critical blowback here. Woods was indeed the best player on the planet for 12 years. Problem is, we're in Year 14 now.

“I don’t know how you can criticize someone for choosing Tiger Woods," Couples said. "If he goes there and doesn’t play well, I would be shocked."

Hopefully, Couples doesn’t scare easily, or he could be in for some fainting spells when the matches begin in Australia, based on the way Woods has played in 2011. Perhaps Couples missed the parts at the PGA Championship where Woods missed the cut, hit balls in 22 bunkers, and hit a 20-foot putt so fat, it came up six feet short of the hole.

Woods hasn’t won in 23 months in the States and others have blown past him so fast, he has plummeted from second to 36th in the world, a spiral that will continue because he is ineligible to play for four weeks and his last PGA Tour win is about to fall off his two-year ranking period.

Couples sounds about as stable as Captain Queeg, rolling around two ball bearings in his hand and trying to figure out who swiped the strawberry ice cream.

This call is wrong for so many reasons, it's nothing short of astounding. Let's list a few.

At No. 11 in points is Jim Furyk, who has had a forgettable season on the whole. But Furyk is the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year, a guy who won the FedEx Cup last year after finishing with three wins. Furyk, unlike Woods, has shown far more recent signs of life, including T9 last week.

Keegan Bradley not only isn’t on the team, he's 18th in points despite two victories in his rookie season. Phil Mickelson noted this week that Bradley is the perceived front-runner for tour player of the year, opined that Bradley ought to be the first player named as a captain's pick. Oops. Mickelson and Bradley are represented by the same management firm, so there's a bias here, but Mickelson's got a point. No other American won a major this year. Woods hasn’t won a major since mid-2008.

Even though Bradley, now No. 18 in points, was unable to amass a single Presidents Cup point last year, he is 10 spots ahead of Woods in the standings. Woods is 28th and sandwiched between immortals Kevin Na and D.A. Points.

Couples, a guy who will never be confused for Vijay Singh for his work ethic, is taking the easy way out. The captain's picks are not set to be finalized for four more weeks, until after the Tour Championship in Atlanta. What, he didn’t want to face questions for a month about his two at-large options?

Even for those who believe Woods deserves a pick, there is absolutely no defensible reason to announce the selection a month early. Too many other players who play well over the next month could get left at the curb as they angle for the last remaining spot.

The doltish Couples move certainly underscores the fact that the Presidents Cup is an exhibition, and not held in nearly the same esteem as the Transatlantic swordfight called the Ryder Cup. Making the pick now makes the PrezCup, a thinly veiled Ryder knockoff, look even more farcical.

Think the PGA Tour, which invented and runs the Presidents Cup, wasn't giggling in the hallways when their savant captain tabbed Tiger on Thursday? Moments after Couples told reporters in Seattle that Woods was already a lock, the tour sent out Couples' comments in a blast email, cementing the deal and trumpeting to all the world that Tiger was on the team.

Twelve years ago, after watching a couple of balls take cruel bounces at the 1999 U.S. Open, David Duval stoically answered a question about the caprices that had just cost him the title. "There is no such thing as 'deserves,'" he said. Well, looks like he was wrong. In a game known as the ultimate meritocracy, Woods was grandfathered in based on his resume from two years ago. If he handed any employer a resume with a gap that large in is performance history, the boss would say, "so, what's the deal with the last two years?"

If Woods wanted to earn a spot on the team the right way, he should have played last week in Greensboro, his last chance to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, which began this week at The Barclays. He was outside the top 125 positions required to make the FedEx series, tied in with rookie Will McGirt, who not only played well enough at Greensboro to get in the series, he was an overnight co-leader at The Barclays on Thursday night. Woods didn’t play. He said he had family commitments. Then he participated in a corporate PR stunt for EA Sports last Tuesday, sending a nice message of indifference while others were trying to grind their way into the FedEx picture.

Couples is so out of touch with affairs on the tour, he was unaware that Woods had not qualified to play in the FedEx series, and told him he wants him to add another tournament before heading to Australia to play in the Aussie Open (where he will receive an appearance fee) and Presidents Cup. Couples didn’t even wait to see whether Woods followed through and signed up for a Fall Series event before picking him. The Australian Open is Nov. 10-13 outside Sydney and the cup matches follow the next week.

Couples' assistant captain is Jay Haas, whose son Bill is 10th in Presidents Cup points at the moment. Guess who gets bumped if anybody makes the slightest move over the next four weeks and displaces him from the automatic-pick perch in the top 10? Right. Haas would then need to be picked to make the team. Awkward.

Plenty have compared Couples' decision to pick the skidding Woods as comparable to International team captain Greg Norman's decision to tab Adam Scott two years ago. Scott was in a months-long slump, and Norman figured being on the team might give the young Aussie a lift. What people forget is that Scott finished 1-4, however.

Picking Woods is akin to juggling dynamite. Couples, especially has ensured that a decent faction of Americans will be pulling against the U.S. team. 

Nice call, captain America.

Posted on: August 24, 2011 4:15 pm
Edited on: August 24, 2011 5:03 pm

Belly ban wouldn't necessarily surprise Mickelson

EDISON, N.J. -- Phil Mickelson sometimes finds the urge to stand on the soapbox to be a bit irresistible.

Exactly one year ago at The Barclays, for instance, he lobbied for a rule change after Jim Furyk was disqualified for being late for his pro-am tee time, and the bylaws were actually modified in short order thereafter.

So when Mickelson was asked for his views on the belly putter, which has become a major PGA Tour talking point after three consecutive events have been won by players using longer-shafted models, the tendency was for listeners to duck. Mickelson, somewhat remarkably, said he doesn’t have any major objection to the long-putter devices, which are anchored to the abdomen or across the chest as a means of steadying the putting stroke.

But once he got rolling, it was trademark Lefty.

"I think that there's more to it than just starting the ball online and putting," Mickelson said Tuesday.  "You have to read the green correctly. You have to start the ball online, which the belly putter I think really helps, but you also have to have the right speed.
"If it were going to be banned, it should have happened 20-plus years ago.  But now that it's been legal, I don't think you can make it retroactive. There have been guys that have been working with that putter for years if not decades. I just don't believe that it should even be a consideration."

Mickelson paused, then said that given the unpredictable nature of the game's two rulemaking bodies these days, he has no idea what happens next. So in that regard, he's like the rest of us.
"Having said that, we've been retroactive on grooves," he said. "We've outlawed the paddle grip, for crying out loud. I don't know why -- that was legal for three decades. So I don't know what the process is, but I think it's very unfair to let guys play with it competitively for however many years and then try to take it away."

Mickelson also fired a clear shot across the bow of Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples, who must make two at-large picks to the American team next month. One of them is presumed to be Tiger Woods, but Mickelson lobbied hard for the inclusion of Keegan Bradley, a two-time winner as a rookie this season.

Bradley won the PGA Championship two weeks ago, the season's final major, in his first career Grand Slam appearance.

"This is his first year, meaning he was not allowed to make Presidents Cup points [in 2010], and he's had arguably the best year for any U.S. player," Mickelson said. "I think he needs to be a pick if he doesn't get on it on his own."

Category: Golf
Posted on: August 19, 2011 3:24 pm

Bring a boat to FedEx series Barclays opener?

Already short the services of a guy who won the overall points bonus in two of the first four stagings of the FedEx Cup, the series opener next week might be missing something nearly as desirable.

Forget the absence of Tiger Woods. We’re talking about decent playing conditions.

Moving to Plainfield Country Club in Edison, N.J., for the first time, the FedEx-opening Barclays event looks like it’s going to be a sloppy, soppy proposition.

In a tournament notice released Friday by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, it was noted that it’s been raining buckets in the Northeast and more is in the forecast.

Plainfield’s tournament course was designed by famed Donald Ross in 1916 and has hosted the 1987 U.S. Women’s Open and the 1978 U.S. Amateur. It’s sometimes called the Green Monster.

Muddy Monster might be the case come tournament time. The course had been stressed by high heat before the summer deluge began a few days ago.

"This year has been especially difficult in the Northeast,” said Dennis Ingram, a PGA Tour agronomist. "[Plainfield] took a less-is-more approach this summer by not really pushing the envelope on green speeds and mowing heights.

“That discipline helped the bentgrass greens survive the high heat and humidity in July. Now we're basically where we need to be with heights, but with nine inches of rain in the last 10 days we haven't been able to get the speeds and firmness desired yet.

“Hopefully the course can dry out a little bit and we can get back on schedule, but it looks like Mother Nature isn't cutting us a break, with more rain likely on the way."

Next week marks the first time The Barclays has been held at Plainfield. A rotation of courses in the New York metropolitan area has been established, including Liberty National, two-time U.S. Open site Bethpage Black and two-time Barclays host Ridgewood C.C.

Pack your snorkels.

Category: Golf
Posted on: September 4, 2010 3:29 pm

Mickelson finally at one with the world?

NORTON, Mass. – Phil Mickelson might need to coin a new cliché, just for his own sanity.

Maybe the 11th time is a charm.

After failing in every opportunity over the past four months to overtake struggling Tiger Woods as the top player in the world rankings, Mickelson is positioned to make yet another challenge this weekend at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Yeah, we know the lyrics to this tune already.

In his last 10 starts, spanning two global tours, Mickelson hasn’t remotely threatened to win on the final day and Woods’ tenuous stranglehold on the No. 1 spot has remained, white knuckles or not. Worse, during some of those weeks, all he had to do was finish in the top four and the throne was his to claim.

Yet after shooting a 6-under 65 at TPC Boston on Saturday, his lowest score of the year, Lefty cemented a spot in the top 10 and is within striking range of taking over the rankings top spot for the first time in his 18-year, Hall-of-Fame-bound career.

“It was a fun day to see some putts go in and drive the ball in play,” Mickelson said.

Absolutely, especially when coming off a missed cut last week at The Barclays, where he was the de facto tournament figurehead and the only Lefty sightings all weekend were in the title sponsor’s commercials aired during the TV broadcast.

Mickelson can climb to No. 1 based on some admittedly crazy scenarios. In the most digestible permutation, he can claim the position by winning no matter what Woods does. Otherwise, Mickelson ascends if he finishes second and Woods is outside the top three, by finishing third provided that Woods is outside the top nine, or by placing fourth given that Woods is outside the top 24 and Steve Stricker doesn’t win.
Get all that? Let’s make it easy – just win, Lefty. Do it in style, not based on Woods’ slow attrition rate over the year.

Despite his utterly forgettable season, Woods has been ranked No. 1 for 273 weeks, and if you think he’s not aware of the reign, you’d be wrong. Just last week, a reported mentioned to Woods that he had been the top dog for five years when Woods interrupted him.

“Longer than that,” Woods said.

After the MC hammer last week in New Jersey, Mickelson flew home to Southern California for yet another session with Butch Harmon. Mickelson has been monkeying around with this driver for weeks, using more loft, shortening the shaft, and trying to keep the ball on planet Earth more consistently. Reviews have not always been positive.

“You know, I felt pretty good heading into the week because I went home and got some things dialed in and felt really good,” he said, echoing statements made at several previous tour stops. “I feel really good. I feel confident. But again, you've got to go shoot the numbers. 

“It doesn't matter how you feel or how you're striking it, the most important thing is getting the ball in the hole, and today I was able to do that.”

So, now what?

He was within a shot of the lead and taking down Woods from the top rankings slot after 36 holes at the Bridgestone Invitational, but fell apart on the weekend and skidded to T46 after a closing 78. He was a solid T12 at the PGA Championship, but it was thanks almost entirely to a closing 67, the low round of the day.

His round Saturday in Boston was his lowest relative to par since a third-round 66 at the Players Championship. Despite fourth months of lackluster results, there’s still so much on the table for Mickelson, it boggles the mind. With a win, Mickelson not only could move to the top of the world rankings and tour money list, but move to the fore of the Player of the Year conversation. He’s never claimed any of those three honors.

Maybe the stars will finally align. The last time Woods was unseated as No. 1, Vijay Singh accomplished the feat by winning the Deutsche Bank title in 2004, though Woods reclaimed the spot a 32 weeks later.

Mickelson won the Deutsche Bank title two years ago, holding off Woods by two strokes in the process. Not surprisingly, he has been gushing all week about the layout, which never hurts mentally.

“This is one of my favorite courses we play on tour,” Mickelson said. “I think it's one of the best courses we play on tour.  It's got a lot of character and definition.”

Maybe he can add some definition to the rankings picture, too. For the 11th time this summer, it’s pretty much up to him.

Posted on: August 28, 2010 6:06 pm
Edited on: August 28, 2010 6:14 pm

Woods psyched about syncing feeling

PARAMUS, N.J. – For those expecting pouting or petulance, Tiger Woods is sorry to disappoint you.

Even though the scorching 3-wood he yanked out of bounds on his first swing on Saturday likely cost him any chance of winning The Barclays, Woods continued to sing a song of contentment after his 1-over 72 at Ridgewood Country Club.

In fact, after starting the round with his first triple bogey in nearly 3½ PGA Tour seasons, Woods settled in nicely and played the rest of the day in 2 under, continuing a gradual renaissance of sorts this week after bottoming out three weeks ago in Ohio.

“I pretty much striped it on the back nine,” he said.

While Tiger isn’t getting his stripes back overnight, he still sounded as upbeat as he had since last year about his prospects, especially since he’s only three weeks into some swing tweaks orchestrated by Orlando-based swing coach Sean Foley, although he admitted that his gaffe on the No. 1 tee was a direct result of his resistance to the new ideas. In case you hadn’t heard, he can be a little stubborn at times.

“Simple, I got caught between the two swings,” Woods said. “I wasn't committed to what I was doing, and that's strictly from lack of commitment. I wasn't focused on exactly what I should have been doing, what I've been doing on the range, what I've been doing the last couple of weeks, and it backfired. 

“After that I just said, ‘Hey, put it away.’ Be committed to what I'm doing each and every shot for the rest of the day. And I hit the ball really good all day.”

As one observer noted, Woods talking about commitment? Insert own punchline here. At any rate, it’s been a long while since Woods, who is T28 and stands nine shots back, was able to express the latter sentiment for three consecutive days without drawing raised eyebrows from his listeners.

Not long ago, and we’re talking about a matter of days, jerking a tee ball into a parking lot and making a triple on the first hole would have signaled disaster for the day.

“In the end, it will end up probably costing me a chance to win the golf tournament,” he said. “But I'm pleased how I sucked it up and got it back the rest of the day when it easily could have gone the other way. Hitting a ball like that, it can derail you and it didn't. I got it right back.”

He needed to.

On two different occasions in the third round, Woods slid out of the top 100 in projected FedEx Cup standings, the points threshold on Sunday night needed to advance to next week’s second event in the so-called playoff series. As it stands, his birdies on the last two holes saved the day and he stands a projected 81st.

This is inside-baseball fare, but Woods has been hitting fairways and greens at a better clip than he has in just shy of forever, and his distance control has been mostly unerring. It’s hard to believe he’s made this in three weeks with the new swing adjustments.

“I'm very excited about what I'm doing, how I'm hitting the golf ball,” he said. “The shots that I'm hitting, the crispness coming off, and how many shots I hit the last three rounds pin high, exactly pin high.  That's something I haven't done all year.”

Woods reiterated that he isn’t quite sure how much more work is left to be done with Foley, or if he will establish a formal teacher-pupil accord. But so far, the bigger question might be, why wait? Foley had him on the practice range last week in his bare feet, trying to get the sequencing back in proper rhythm.

“It's not necessarily rhythm, it's putting my legs and my upper body moving correctly at the right times, the sequence of it,” he said. “As we all know I can move my hips pretty good but they're moving at the wrong time. So it's just a matter of syncing that all up.”

Syncing stops sinking. Woods cracked that it had been awhile since he hit balls without shoes. Before, it was mainly for vanity reasons.

“I used to do it all the time,” he said. “But just to kind of work off my sock tan.”

The first shot of the day notwithstanding, Woods has been in bright sunshine all week. He has hit 34 of 42 fairways to rank first in the tournament. He isn’t sure how much more of the Foley swing principles there is to absorb, how long it might take, or if he even wants to sign on for another full-blown overhaul. But the early results have been impressive.

“I don't know, just continue down the road,” he said. “Continue down the process. It's a process. Anytime I've made a change in my golf swing it's a process and I'm very pleased at what's been going on.

“The results are there. I'm driving the ball better than I have in years. And the distance I'm hitting it now, it's amazing.”

Posted on: August 28, 2010 4:10 pm
Edited on: August 28, 2010 4:13 pm

Barclays future: Dunno or not saying

PARAMUS, N.J. -- What it lacked in illumination was offset by the unintentional hilarity.

Bob Diamond, the CEO of Barclays, the title sponsor of this week's PGA Tour event, held his annual luncheon with the media on Saturday and was a fount of obfuscation and deflection whenever the topic of future tournament sites was broached.

The tournament has been held at three sites in the past four years -- longtime tour stop Westchester, the lightly regarded Liberty National and twice at this week's venue, Ridgewood Country Club, easily the best of the three locales. Next year, the tournament moves to Plainfield Country Club in nearby Edison, N.J.

Q: What's your read on Westchester?

Diamond: "I think it's in discussions and I'd rather not say anything about it."

Q: Do you have a sense of when they may come back here [to Ridgewood]?

Diamond: "We have not discussed it. I don't think it's even been discussed at all."

Q: Have you decided on [a site for] the year after next?

Diamond: "We have not announced anything. I think, generally speaking, we are not locked into anything, but the idea of having three or four courses in the rotation will create kind of a rotation." 

Q: Does Liberty National have a future?

Diamond: "There's no decisions but there's real engagement. I think there's interest and intent but no decision."

Well, glad we got the "rotation" issue all cleared up, huh?

But the truly classic bit of tid from the transcript of Diamond's brunch discussion related to an apparent question about the disqualification of Jim Furyk after he missed his pro-am time Wednesday, when some off-the-record comments -- which were still completely unenlightening -- were still included in the text of his comments distributed in the media center.

Diamond: "Off the record, if I could. What I said to Commissioner Finchem, I wasn't aware of it. I completely respect -- the reason for the rule is to protect sponsors. Once you have a rule, you have to enforce it."
Posted on: August 25, 2010 3:47 pm
Edited on: August 25, 2010 3:48 pm

Phil bares teeth over "ridiculous" pro-am regs

PARAMUS, N.J. – Phil Mickelson is sticking to his vegetarian diet.

Which doesn’t mean he won’t sink his teeth into meaty affairs relating to the PGA Tour.

Hours after he felt compatriot Jim Furyk was unreasonably disqualified from this week's event for missing his pro-am tee time on Wednesday morning, Mickelson launched into an thorough criticism of the rule on the eve of The Barclays at Ridgewood County Club.

Mickelson, whose objections about the rule prompted some off-season modifications, thought he had succeeded in getting the DQ provision rescinded for those who miss their times.

He learned when Furyk was benched that he was mistaken. A total of 54 players in what was originally a 125-man field were in the pro-am field, which stands at the crux of Mickelson’s beef.

“The rule itself applies to only half the field,” he said. “So if you're going to have a rule that does not apply to everybody, because not everybody played the pro-am, you cannot have it affect the competition.

“It's got to be a different penalty. It can't be disqualification if it only applies to half the field. So this rule, it's not protecting the players, it's not protecting the sponsors. It applies to only half the field and yet it affects the integrity of the competition.

“I cannot disagree with it more. I have no idea how the commissioner let this rule go through. It's ridiculous.”

It’s hard to dispute his points.

Players such as John Daly at Bay Hill and Retief Goosen at Riviera have been disqualified in the past for missing their appointed pro-am time slot.

The pro-am rule is six years old and Mickelson has been trying to force a revision ever since. Over lunch after his pro-am round Wednesday, he gave dining partner Tim Finchem, the tour commissioner, another earful on the topic.

“I made my viewpoint very clear to him, yes,” he said.

Mickelson cracked that he is 1-for-22 in the policy proposals he has pitched to Finchem for consideration. Ironically, his lone “win” related to the pro-am DQ policy. This year, with certain restrictions, players have been allowed to make appearances at golf clinics, sponsor dinners or meet-and-greet sessions in lieu of playing the pro-ams.

“I went 1-for-22 recently with what I thought was the pro-am modification this year where we're able to opt out of one or two pro-ams, but change it with a dinner or a stop by the hospitality tent,” he said. “I thought that that also included if you missed your tee time you were able to make it up by going to the hospitality tent Thursday or Friday.

“Which is why I was so shocked that he [Furyk] ended up being DQd because I thought that was included in that rule change.”

So maybe it’s 0-for-22?

“That was my one,” he said.

Mickelson said he would support a player fine in the event of a missed tee time and that Furyk should have been allowed to join his group on the second or third hole after he arrived. The battery on Furyk’s cell phone, which he uses as an alarm clock, went dead overnight.

“But either way, the penalty, whether it's fine him or what have you, it cannot affect the competition,” he said. “This is not a competitive round. It's the pro-am and only half the players are playing it. So whatever penalty you have, it cannot affect the tournament when it only applies to half the field. That's just wrong.

“And again, how the commissioner let that slide or get through is ridiculous.”

Since he was on the bully pulpit, Mickelson was asked for his views on the proposed designated tournaments rule, wherein top players will be forced to add an event from a group of preselected, third-tier events with weak fields. He made his position clear even without fessing up. He's not a fan of the proposal.

“Do I support it? I don't know,” he said. “I mean, we'll see what happens. It will be kind of interesting to see how it plays out. But I'm not really a part of the discussion.”

Well, unless you count the ones he’s already had with Finchem.

“No, I have lot to say, but just not publicly yet,” Mickelson added. “I've made sure that he knows my feelings on some of that stuff, yeah.  I don't know if it matters, but I know that he knows at least how I feel.”

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com