highlight start to season
Three of the top five seeded players were knocked out in the first round
of the Match Play Championship, and everyone started trying to figure out
how to bring some stability to golf's most unpredictable event.
By the end of the week, it was Tiger Woods against David Toms in the
final match, and no one had any problems with that.
"If the No. 1 player in the world has played four times and been
in the finals twice, I don't see anything broken with it," PGA Tour
commissioner Tim Finchem said.
"You've got to look at these things over time," he said. "There's
a role for match play, and you have to accept it for what it is."
Indeed, the first two months of the golf season have been a case study
in knee-jerk reactions - including the left knee of one particular player.
Exhibit A comes from the Mercedes Championships, where Ernie Els hit
a tee shot on the 15th hole at Kapalua that traveled about 400 yards to
the bottom of a hill. Equally alarming was his score, 31 under par, which
shattered a PGA Tour record.
A week later at the Sony Open, Els reached the 501-yard ninth hole at
Waialae Country with a driver and a wedge, and there were murmurs about
the ball going too far.
Never mind there was virtually no wind on either island.
True, Finchem and the U.S. Golf Association are starting to look more
closely at equipment issues, particularly the golf ball.
But a case can be made for waiting until the PGA Tour has gone to a variety
of courses in a number of states under all kinds of weather conditions.
Woods was hitting 4-iron into some of the par 4s at Torrey Pines, which
was soaked by rain that kept the fairways from rolling like linoleum. The
pins were tucked at the Buick Invitational and Nissan Open, although Riviera's
greens are so tough that no one has come close to the 72-hole record -
20-under 264 - that Lanny Wadkins set in 1985.
"Look at the conditions at Kapalua, Hawaii, Phoenix, Hope and the
AT&T," Jeff Sluman said. "Beautiful weather. Hard, fast fairways.
I don't care what ball you were playing, it was going a long way."
All of the top 10 players in driving distance are averaging more than
300 yards off the tee, although Finchem says the data is "overblown
a bit" at the beginning of the year.
USGA executive director David Fay also preaches patience.
"I'd like to reserve my comments until we hit the straightaway,"
he said. "And the straightaway is usually some time after Florida."
It will take a little longer to overcome the knee-jerk reaction that
women are taking over the PGA Tour.
So far, Annika Sorenstam and Suzy Whaley are the only women who have
entered PGA Tour events. Whaley qualified for the Greater Hartford Open
by winning a club pro sectional from a shorter set of tees.
She went from a national story to a local story when Sorenstam, the best
woman in golf, decided to play the Colonial in May.
Sorenstam has brought the LPGA Tour more attention during its three-month
break than when the tour is in season. There is enormous curiosity over
whether she can contend, compete or keep up - and what the outcome will
mean for women's golf.
"I hope she shoots her best," Finchem said.
Others are shooting off at the mouth. One guy who finished dead last
at Q-school is so offended by a woman playing on the PGA Tour that he said
he would enter the U.S. Women's Open - which is against rules that say
an entrant must be born a woman.
If Se Ri Pak wins three majors this year, will she want to play on the
PGA Tour? What about Michelle Wie, the eighth-grader from Hawaii who already
tried to Monday qualify at the Sony Open and beat half the men in the field.
Finchem isn't bracing for a wave of women.
"I think the novelty will probably wear off," he said. "It
creates interest, and I don't think there's any huge danger."
No one is overreacting to Woods - only to his knee.
After taking off two months because of arthroscopic surgery on his left
knee, Woods won two of his three starts and might have won them all if
not for a tee shot that was closer to the tennis courts than the first
fairway at Riviera.
Not a round went by at La Costa that he wasn't asked how his knee was
holding up. At one point, Woods jokingly said he would have to get it amputated.
During his practice round two days before his official return, Woods
said he probably would get at least one question about his knee every day
through the Masters.
Oh, yes - Augusta National.
The club added 300 yards to its golf course last year. After one tournament
- a wet and sloppy week - everyone said the extra length took away from
the back-nine drama that helped make the Masters so special.
A month from now, that might prove to be another knee-jerk reaction.
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