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Archive for August, 2009

Tiger’s Season is a Failure

August 31st, 2009 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

This may be sacrilegious and I may be the only one that sees that the emperor has no clothes. I probably am forfeiting my invite down to Windemere for a round of golf, but Tiger’s season is a failure. There, I said it. Tiger’s season is a failure. I expect to be excommunicated from the golf world and there are probably a couple of hit men on their way right now to beat me with a three iron. But, as remarkable season as he is having, it still is a failure.

By anyone’s measure, Woods’s 2009 is stacked with unbelievable statistics. In fourteen starts he has five wins, two seconds, twelve top tens, leads the PGA Tour in scoring average, All Around Ranking, FedEx Cup points and the Money List ($8.1mil). Tiger’s 2009 season is a career for ninety nine percent of the PGA pros. He may go on and win more tournaments and win the FedEx Cup, but it does not matter. He is still a failure. He has no majors in 2009 and it is major championship that drives Woods.

Tiger wakes up in the morning and knows how many days until the next major. His entire training and practice routine are geared around the majors. This year he was shut out, the first time since 2004 he has not won a major. He started the season with fourteen majors and ended with fourteen majors. He gained no ground on Jack Nicklaus and his record eighteen wins.

Tiger is too much of a gentleman to say this year is not successful. Tossed clubs and curse laden tirades aside, Woods is a gentleman and he would not disrespect his fellow competitors and the PGA Tour by saying anything negative about his 2009 accomplishments. He has said that considering where he started this year from it is a successful year. He started this year still recovering from major knee surgery and his fractured leg. Many golfers and most athletes would have taken much longer to comeback from such a serious injury. He was not in true game shape until the US Open but he still was able to win twice before teeing it up at Bethpage. When Woods spoke of this year he always qualified his remarks with a reference to his injuries. “It’s been a great year, either way,” Woods has said. “For me to come back and play, and play as well as I’ve done and actually win golf events … to be honest with you, I don’t think any of us would have thought I could have won this many events this year.” To comeback so quickly and to win with such frequency is nothing less than astounding, but the major tally for this year is zero and that’s all that matters.  Personally, I think Tiger’s season is unbelievably successful, by my standards, it is by Tiger’s standards that it is not.

For years we have listened to Tiger talk about the majors. It is all that motivates him. Regardless of what he says publicly, and he will always say the right thing in public, you can’t help but think that he is genuinely disappointed in this season. A year passing without him notching another win towards Nicklaus has to leave him frustrated. Five wins and counting, that’s a lifetime of wins for most golfers. For Woods, who is used to multiple major wins in a season it is an exercise in check cashing. Watch out for Woods next season. He has some ground to make up.

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The Playoffs: #124 Wins Beats #1

August 30th, 2009 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

This is what Tim Finchem and The PGA Tour had envisioned for “The Playoffs”: a leader board with marquee names on the final day. They got just what they wanted. Big names dominated the leader board late Sunday afternoon: Woods, Els, Harrington, Stricker, Slocum…wait, Slocum? Yes, Heath “Party Crasher” Slocum was able to hang with the big boys and sink a clutch putt on eighteen to shock everyone from Tim Finchem to Tiger Woods to Lady Liberty and win the first leg of the playoffs at The Barclays. Slocum barely made it into The Barclays as he was ranked 124th in FedEx Cup points and only the top 125 made it. What a difference a week makes, he now ranks at number three in Cup points. Slocum started in sixth place and after he eagled the fifth with a 158 yard from the fairway he was at eight under for the tournament and in the hunt to stay.
Slocum wasn’t fazed as he watched the big names climb up the leader board. A resurgent Ernie Els shot five under to get to the clubhouse at -8. Padraig Harrington continued his good play and managed a 67 to tie Els with the lead in the club house. Tiger Woods had struggled with reading the greens all week but he putted much better during the final round, until the eighteenth hole. Woods was a little less than seven feet from the cup on his final hole for birdie. His birdie would put him at nine under in the club house and force Slocum and Steve Stricker to play solid golf coming in. Woods seems like the most clutch putter in history and almost never misses these when there is something on the line. The impossible happened: he drove his put three feet past the hole and settled for par. He was tied with Ernie and Paddy and had to hope for Slocum and Stricker to stumble as they were at nine under. It looked as if there might be a five way playoff after Stricker and Slocum found fairway bunkers with their tee balls at eighteen.
Both hit the lip of their bunkers as they hit out and were left with wedge shots into the green for their third shots. Slocum could only manage to get the ball to twenty-one feet from the hole while Stricker fared better and left himself with a ten foot par putt. It looked like Stricker had a better chance to sink his and stay at nine under. That was until Slocum stepped up and rolled it in the hole. With that putt he knocked out Woods, Els and Harrington, and Stricker needed to make his to tie Slocum for a playoff. When Stricker missed and took bogey Slocum was left as the last man standing in a big name Battle Royal, only the big names fell short and #124 was the winner.
It is difficult to choose between the two biggest surprises of the day. Was it Heath Slocum winning? He was on no one’s list of players to watch, not even a sleeper pick. Or is it more shocking that Tiger missed a putt on the eighteenth that would have at the very least, got him into a playoff. Woods and his putts on eighteen are legendary, but today his putter failed him. The first week of the playoffs delivered just as The PGA Tour advertised. It was a shocking and surprising ending and probably not quite what the Tour had planned, but it was close enough.

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Rookie Webb Simpson Leads The Barclays

August 28th, 2009 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

The weather wasn’t the only thing that changed at The Barclays on Friday. The leader board saw a lot of movement too. It turned cool and rainy at Liberty National as if the golfing gods were punishing all those players who had criticized the course all week. The course played about four strokes higher than it did in the first round and players found conditions as difficult as they have played all year. A sub-par round was to be cherished and PGA Tour rookie Webb Simpson was able to squeeze a three under par 68 that enabled him to take a two stroke lead into a warm, dry clubhouse. Simpson came into the Playoffs sitting at 85th in FedEx Cup points with the bulk of his earnings coming early in the season. He opened the season as the hottest rookie on tour with a T9 in Hawaii and a T5 at The Bob Hope. He has since cooled off but he appeared to be in control of his game at Liberty National and a win here could propel him into the lead for Rookie of the year. Check out our interview with Webb Simpson’s college coach Jerry Haas.

If you have watched any golf over the past few weeks you’ve seen plenty of Padraig Harrington, some of it good, some of it bad. Harrington had two meltdown holes at the Bridgestone and The PGA Championship that cost him any chance at winning and still had the grace to face the media afterward. Harrington answered all the questions candidly and showed that he is a standup guy. He has earned the reputation of giving sincere and intelligent responses to all the tough questions. Harrington isn’t without a sense of humor. When asked about the rain and cold at The Barclays the Irishman said, “When it rains like this at home, we stay indoors.”

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Liberty National; Phil Loves It, Tiger Hates It

August 28th, 2009 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

I was wondering, as Lady Liberty stood by and watched the PGA Tour start its third “playoff” season at The Barclays if she was thinking “Who are these guys?” Tiger and Phil were both five strokes back of the leaders at one under and the leaders were probably unfamiliar to Miss Liberty and most of the casual fans strolling around Liberty National. Paul Goydos, Steve Marino and Sergio Garcia are all tied for the lead at six under. Can you guess who has the highest FedEx Cup points ranking of the leaders? I’m sure you knew it was Steve Marino. These points are a strange thing and after day one there were plenty of golfers with low point totals near the top. Marino is 30th, Goydos 49th, Garcia 89th, tied for fourth are Webb Simpson 85th, Frederik Jacobson 107th and Heath Slocum at 124th. Oh, the joys of a day one leader board. Where are our major champions? Stewart Cink is T27, Y E Yang is T42, Angel Cabrera is T57 and Lucas Glover is T94. I know it is only day one but that a pretty poor showing for the 2009 major champs.
The reviews of the three year old Liberty National are mixed and many players refusing to discuss the course. John Hawkins exposes the player’s underlying distain for the course in Golf World.
“Even those who consider Liberty National unfit for a tour event, much less a tournament of this magnitude, are blown away by the aesthetics.”It’s like this beautiful birthday cake you bring into the room and slice into pieces, everyone takes a bite and realizes there’s [bleep] inside,” is how one player put it, a quote that earned the award for creative criticism of the day among the two dozen or so tour pros and caddies I spoke with Wednesday.”
According to Hawkins there are other reasons the Tour is playing here: “Beyond all that, however, is the issue of why the tour is playing here. The Liberty National deal was agreed upon before the Westchester fallout, the idea being that this FedEx Cup playoff event would move around the New York area. The course couldn’t have been open even for a year at that point, which suggests this deal was built on something other than the best interests of the competitive standard.”
I think it is easy to understand why the PGA Tour is at Liberty National. They want a presence in the New York Metro area and Liberty National is the closest club to Manhattan, even though it is in New Jersey. The course may well be a dog, but those views of the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline are worth a million or two television viewers. From the looks of things on the broadcast you would think you were in New York City, not an old dumpsite in New Jersey.

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Tiger, Phil and “The Playoffs”

August 27th, 2009 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

Tim Finchem’s latest try at convincing golf fans that golf needs a Nascar-like playoff kicks off today at The Barclays. All of Finchem’s tweaking and adjusting of the “Playoff” format goes into motion when they tee off at Liberty National. Liberty National was designed by Tom Kite and Bob cup and built on a former toxic site. It was a mess in 1992 when Rebook founder Paul Fireman and his son Dan looked at the property. At the very least they created a course with views like no other. At its best it could be a major championship venue. It all depends on who you listen to.
I’ll be enjoying the views of Lady Liberty and The Big Apple while Tiger, Phil and the boys try to figure out the greens and Finchem’s points system. These guys will make the weekend interesting.
*** Tiger Woods will be trying to get back in the win column. They say there is nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal. Tiger is still smarting from his major shut out and he could take revenge by sweeping all four playoff events. Do four playoff tournaments equal a major? Sorry, not a chance.
*** Steve Stricker is number two in FedEx Cup points and has won twice this year. He is having his best year.
*** Hunter Mahan is still playing too well not to have won this year. In his last six outings he has four top tens.
*** Phil Mickelson is back in his adopted hometown and he loves The Big Apple. I know, Liberty national is in New Jersey, but don’t tell the PGA Tour that. All the cameras will be facing New York all week. Phil is a member here, so he should have some local knowledge but I think he still has too many distractions on his mind.
*** David Toms is number one in driving accuracy and that bodes well for him at Liberty National, a very demanding driving course. He has seven top tens and should be close on Sunday.
*** Mr. Consistency, Jim Furyk hasn’t been setting the world on fire lately, but he has a great history in the “playoffs”. In 2008 he had three top tens and a T12 in the playoff tournaments.
*** Sleeper Pick: John Merrick. If he makes the cut he usually finishes well. He has four top tens this year.


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Playoffs? Don’t Talk About Playoffs.

August 26th, 2009 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

Remember when you were a kid and you were sick and your mom tried to give you some cough syrup. She’d say “it doesn’t taste that bad” and you being a good kid would go ahead and swallow it. Then you start to gag because it tasted like gasoline mixed with pond scum. I have the same feeling about these “FedEx Cup Playoffs”. I just can’t swallow it.
The PGA Tour has been force feeding us this playoff format for three years now and I am not ready to submit to them trying to ram this playoff idea down my throat. It tastes too much like cough syrup. It is easy to understand what the PGA Tour is trying to do. They are trying to promote their product, get more fans to watch their players and make their players and themselves more cash. I have no issue with that at all; good businesses are always trying to increase their bottom line. But, don’t try and sell this as being as important as the majors because they aren’t. There are four majors and four majors only. The Players isn’t a major and the next four tournaments are not majors. John Feinstein thinks the Playoffs are just good tournaments. They are regular tour events with great fields. The majors are universally recognized as majors. No one confuses The Barclays with The US Open and The BMW Championship sure isn’t The Masters. If you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.
The FedEx Cup Playoffs are not without some redeeming factors. The Tour has improved the format each year to get more of the top players (Tiger and Phil) to commit. They have tweaked the points system to give more players a chance at “winning the cup.” It is a welcome sight to see the top players showing up for these tournaments but majors they are not. I think it is great that we all get to see more of Tiger, Phil and the boys. But the fact is they play these events for the ten million dollar payoff at the end, not the trophy. I wonder if Tiger’s FedEx Cup trophy is in the same trophy case as all his major trophies. I bet he tosses his car keys in it.
Whatever you call these tournaments, they aren’t majors. They do serve a good purpose in getting top players to play at a time when they have previously taken some time off. Anytime we get all these top guys to play is fine with me. I don’t care if they offer ten million or a gazillion bucks as a payoff to the champion. Do we need playoffs? The guys at Devil Ball Golf debate the need for playoffs. I don’t see a need for this force fed, manufactured format, but if they get the boys to keep playing golf it is fine with me. Just don’t tell me they are as important as the majors. Just like the cough medicine, I can’t swallow that.

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Michelle’s Coming Out Party

August 25th, 2009 No comments

“Hooks and Slices” will bring you our view on whats happening in the golf world.

Anyone who watched any of the action at the Solheim Cup witnessed the coming of age of Michelle Wie.  Wie played astounding golf and finally met the huge expectations that have been heaped upon her for the last few years.  Wie said, “It was definitely the highlight of my career.” Her play and her poise showed that she may have made a huge step in her maturity as a player and a young lady.   Her play this week showed how dominant she can be when she plays her “A” game.  Only Tiger Woods plays a similar game and Wie has the skills to be a dominant player in women’s golf.  She chose the biggest stage in women’s international golf to stage her overdue coming out party.  Wie’s performance is being recognized around the world as her breakout performance.
***  Nancy Armour in the Scotsman says that Wie was “freed up by the support of her teammates” and looks like she will finally deliver on her considerable promise.”
*** In the Telegraph, Mark Reason screams that Michelle’s parents must let her go and allow her to finally be herself. “Finally the parents let Michelle Wie go out of the house alone and she found a fabulous future.”  Michelle Wie is now the biggest draw in women’s golf.
*** Karl MacGinty in the Belfast Telegraph thinks that Wie has finally found herself. “The girl who’d always seemed to be on the outside, plainly had found acceptance within.”  “Wie was asked if she’d call this the best week of her life or the best golf. After a short pause, she smiled: ‘Both. This week has given me a great confidence boost.’
*** In the London Times, Peter Dixon says this is the week that “Wie came of age.”  He believes that she is ready to win tournaments, plenty of tournaments.  Dixon thinks that this week,”she was finally accepted by her peers and feted for an outstanding talent that some had even questioned.”

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Michelle Wie, A Star is Born Again

August 23rd, 2009 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

In a year that women’s golf has taken more than its share of setbacks it may have been rescued by The Solheim Cup.  The Solheim Cup was the necessary shot in the arm for the LPGA Tour.  The tour got what it needed the most from the Cup, a victory and great play from its most recognized face, Michelle Wie.  When Captain Beth Daniel made the LPGA rookie a captain’s pick there was some discussion whether she deserved to be selected.  Without a doubt she certainly justified the pick, she was the most successful American player on the team with a 3-0-1 record.  Wie displayed the enthusiasm and joy of a kid at Christmas and at the same time played such spectacular and determined golf you would think she was a veteran instead of a rookie cupper.
When Captain Daniel selected her picks for the Sunday singles she wanted some points early and put her heavy hitters out first.  Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford and Wie were chosen to set the tone for the American side.  Each of them won their matches and gave the US team just what Daniel had hoped for.  Michelle Wie’s match against European superstar Helen Alfredsson presented Wie with the opportunity to make a statement.  Alfredsson has years of experience as a Cup player and is a former Solheim Cup Captain.  She is playing the best golf of her career so Wie was facing a formidable challenge.  Wie was not intimidated by Alfredsson or her reputation and played a round of golf that we have all been expecting for years.
Wie took it to Alfredsson early and went one up with a birdie on the second hole.  She had played well all week but her Sunday round was her best of the match.  Her driver was long, longer than Alfredsson who is one of the longest out there.  After stretching her lead to three up on the seventh hole Wie looked to be in command of her game and the match, but Alfredsson wasn’t about to let Wie walk over her.  She battled back to win three out of four holes and get the match to all square at the eleventh.  If Wie had faltered then it could have been attributed to experience triumphing over a rookie.  Wie was not playing like a rookie.  It remained all square for the next four holes until the fifteenth.  On the par five 15th Wie boomed it 305 yards, hit it to twenty feet and two putted for birdie.  With that birdie she took the lead and went into the eighteenth with a one up lead.  Wie hit her drive on the eighteenth tee with a little Gary player move; she started walking down the fairway in her follow through.  Alfredsson needed to sink her eagle putt to halve the match but left it inches short.  After Wie tapped in her birdie putt the most important round of golf in her life came to a successful and emotional end.
The emotion of these team events can be overwhelming.  The players feel the pressure of representing their country and playing for their team.  Wie embraced this format and played the finest golf of her young life.  It is easy to forget that Michelle Wie is still only nineteen years old.  She has been in the public eye for years and has been forced to grow up in under a microscope.  Wie’s entire life and schedule has been dictated by outside forces for years.  Whether it has been her parents or her sponsors, there is always someone advising or directing Wie’s every move.   This week things were different.  Beth Daniel, like other captains, limited the team’s exposure to outsiders.  There was no non-team members allowed in the team room, locker room, inside the ropes or at team meals.  That meant Michelle Wie was Michelle Wie the player and person, actually Michelle Wie the kid.  She is still a teenager!  The team accepted her and she was thrilled to be a teammate.  It showed in her golf and it showed in her emotions.  She was one of the most enthusiastic and animated players on the team.  Her skills on the course were equaled by her team spirit on the sidelines.  She was able to be herself and act like the teenager she is and it was great theater.  We got to see a great young player raise her game on the biggest stage and watch a kid revel in the joy of winning, winning for her team and enjoying every minute of it.  Good for you Michelle.  Enjoy yourself; there are many more Solheim Cups to come.

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Michelle Wie Thrives at the Solheim Cup

August 22nd, 2009 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

After two days of exciting, back and forth golf the US and Europe are tied at 8-8 going into the final day of The Solheim Cup. Europe fought back during Saturdays Four-ball outing to grab one more point than the Americans and tie the match. The afternoon Foursomes (alternate shot) had two blowouts and two matches that went the distance. The previously undefeated Creamer/Inkster team lost 4 & 3 to Gustafson/Moodie and Gulbis/Kim were beaten soundly by Brewerton/Nocera 5 & 4. The US was able to salvage a tie by winning the other two matches. In what was a battle of the longest hitters out there versus two of the shorter hitters on tour, McPherson/Pressel took down Pettersen/ Alfredsson. That had to be the upset of the day. Those two Europeans are much longer than the Americans but McPherson/Pressel hung on to the lead they had gained on the third hole and went on to beat them two up. In the final match of the day, a twelve hour day, Kerr/Wie played just good enough to beat Nordqvist/Hjorth. Kerr hit some uncharacteristic shots over the last few holes. On seventeen she hit her approach in the lake and on eighteen her drive found the fairway after hitting a tree. In her first Solheim Cup Michelle Wie has stepped up and performed well under pressure. She recovered from Kerr’s loose shots and the two of them were able to match the Euros over the last two holes and hold on to win 1 up. Wie has blossomed in the brightest spotlight in women’s golf. She was sticking her irons and seemed to be dropping every putt. Wie was alternating between cheerleading and playing her shots. It is obvious she is enjoying herself and at the same time earning the best record (2-0-1) on the American team.

There are plenty of surprises on these two teams. For the Europeans their star is relative unknown Gwladys Nocera who is 3-0. Rookie Anna Nordqvist and Becky Brewerton are 2-1 and Maria Hjorth is 2-1-1. Most surprising is the lack of points from its top stars. Suzan Pettersen is 1-3 and Helen Alfredsson is 1-2. Europe was expecting more from its marquee players.

On the US side the player with the best record may be the most surprising. Captain’s pick Michelle Wie is 2-0-1 and looking very comfortable in the team format. She has embraced this team and they have done the same. Stalwarts Creamer, Kerr and Kim are 2-1, along with Angela Stanford.

It couldn’t get any closer for the teams when they tee off in the singles matches. Both Captains have sent out their big guns first. Paula Creamer and Suzann Pettersen will face off in the opening match followed by Becky Brewerton versus Angela Stanford. Then two long ballers will go at it. The experience of Helen Alfredsson will face the enthusiasm of rookie Michelle Wie. It has the makings of a classic match and a thrilling end to a great competition.

Here are the singles matchups:

11:05 a.m. ET – Suzann Pettersen vs. Paula Creamer
11:15 a.m. ET – Becky Brewerton vs. Angela Stanford
11:25 a.m. ET – Helen Alfredsson vs. Michelle Wie
11:35 a.m. ET – Laura Davies vs. Brittany Lang
11:45 a.m. ET – Gwladys Nocera vs. Juli Inkster
11:55 a.m. ET – Catriona Matthhew vs. Kristy McPherson
12:05 p.m. ET – Sophie Gustafson vs. Brittany Lincicome
12:15 p.m. ET – Diana Luna vs. Nicole Castrale
12:25 p.m. ET – Tania Elosegui vs. Christina Kim
12:35 p.m. ET – Maria Hjorth vs. Cristie Kerr
12:45 p.m. ET – Anna Nordqvist vs. Morgan Pressel
12:55 p.m. ET – Janice Moodie vs. Natalie Gulbis

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USA Takes the Lead at the Solheim Cup

August 22nd, 2009 No comments

So the US team was able to finish the first day of the Solheim Cup with a one point lead over team Europe. Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr lead the way in the morning matches and Creamer and super mom Juli Inkster finished up with another win in the afternoon. The spirit displayed by the fans and the players was amazing. Cheers for players on both teams were the norm for the day. Do you want to know what this means to the US players? Six time LPGA Tour winner Pat Hurst did not make the team this year. She is not an assistant captain and has no official ties to the team. She came anyway. She said she wanted to root on her team and her close friend Inkster. These women are so into this match and the team spirit on both sides is obvious. Of course Cristina Kim was the number one cheerleader, leading the fans in cheer after cheer. Rookie Michelle Wie and Morgan Pressel played well but squandered their one up lead and let Catriona Matthew and Maria Hjorth steal a half point.
Wie will be paired with her good buddy Christina Kim for Saturday’s fourball matches. Captain Beth Daniel has also has decided to sit Creamer for the morning round. Daniel may want to try and keep Creamer fresh since she is such a critical part of the team. Creamer has not missed a round in her two previous Cup matches. Coverage starts on The Golf Channel at 9:00am.
The Saturday morning fourball matches are as follows (European team on left):

9:05 a.m. ET – Helen Alfredsson/Tania Elosegui vs. Christina Kim/Michelle Wie
9:20 a.m. ET – Catriona Matthew/Diana Luna vs. Angela Stanford/Brittany Lang
9:35 a.m. ET – Suzann Pettersen/Anna Nordqvist vs. Nicole Castrale/Cristie Kerr
9:50 a.m. ET – Gwladys Nocera/Maria Hjorth vs. Brittany Lincicome/Kristy McPherso

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