I KNOW THIS muchabout Oakland Hills. It's brutal, and it's pretty high up there in the courserankings [18th by GOLF MAGAZINE], but I don't know any players who say,"God, I love Oakland Hills." It's a ballbuster. ¬∂ The greens are overthe top. They're straight from Putt-Putt, minus the swinging logs and clowns'mouths. Plus, you're hitting three-irons into most of them. I have no idea whyOakland Hills is rated so high. What's the mystique? Because Ben Hogan won theU.S. Open there a million years ago and bragged that he finally tamed theMonster? That's prehistoric. The last Open there, in 1996, was uneventful. Onthe 72nd hole Davis Love III three-putted and Tom Lehman hooked his drive intoa fairway bunker to allow Steve Jones, a qualifier who scrambled his tail off,to win. I don't know why we keep going back there.
I don't want todiminish next week's PGA Championship, but I have to say that with Tiger Woodsnot playing for the rest of the year, pro golf seems a lot less interesting.That sounds bad, I know, but not even Greg Norman (page G15) could save theBritish Open for me. It was great to have the old Shark in contention, but Ican't imagine that anyone—other than Chris Evert—thought for a minute that he'dpull it off, even with a two-shot lead going into the final round.
David Duval andRocco Mediate provided some interesting early story lines, but in the end theOpen was a boring event with a boring winner. Nothing against PadraigHarrington (left) who's a wonderful guy and played a gutsy back nine on Sunday,but as the low TV ratings proved, people don't enjoy watching playersconstantly hacking out of the hay and making doubles and triples and havingtheir putts blown off-line. The conditions were a joke and turned the Open intonothing more than a survival contest. Usually you might get one or two baddays, but this was four straight days of it. Those were the worst conditions Ican remember, and crazy weather usually leads to a wild-card kind ofwinner.
August 3, 2008
I know I rippedKenny Perry (below) for skipping the British and playing in Milwaukee [GOLFPLUS, July 14], but in hindsight I see that it was a genius move. He not onlystuck to his guns and honored his commitment to the U.S. Bank Championship, buthe also got another top 10 finish. Not that he needs it—he was already a lockfor the Ryder Cup team. The point is, I should've known better than tosecond-guess a guy for a decision like that. If your heart isn't in it, youshouldn't go. The facts are that Kenny is 47 and hits a high ball with analmost exclusive right-to-left ball flight. How do you think that would'veplayed in 40-mph wind and rain? I'll tell you—not very well.
Even the TV guys,normally big cheerleaders, talked about how the winner of the British shouldget an asterisk because Tiger was missing, and you can bet the topic will comeup again next week. (Funny, though. I didn't hear anybody say that SergioGarcía [above] should've gotten an asterisk for winning the PlayersChampionship.) Regardless, it's a legitimate point.
A THREE-HOLEPLAYERS PLAYOFF?
I heard from agood source that the Tour and NBC are discussing a three-hole playoff—the 16th,17th and 18th at TPC Sawgrass—in case of a tie at the Players Championship.Starting a sudden-death playoff at a par-3 like the island-green 17th (below)was always kind of goofy and quickly killed any drama this year when PaulGoydos dunked his tee shot to lose to García. The three-hole playoff is a greatidea and one that I've mentioned here before, just like I suggested that theMasters should go to a three-hole playoff at Amen Corner.
Of course, bothtournaments would have to move up the tee times a little on Sunday to leaveenough daylight for the extra holes, and I'm not sure either the Tour or TVwants to do that, but I'm glad they're at least taking a serious look atit.
A FEDEX CUP HALFEMPTY
I can't tell youhow much Tiger's absence will hurt the FedEx Cup, which may have to be renamedthe CareLess Cup. The majors are still majors, no matter who plays, but Tigerdidn't simply lift last year's FedEx Cup playoffs, he was the FedEx Cupplayoffs. Sure, he skipped the first event, the Barclays. But his duel withPhil Mickelson at the Deutsche Bank may have been the best tournament of theyear, and then he had that sizzling finish to win the BMW and crushed everyoneat the Tour Championship. So now we're missing our top A-lister, and our No. 2,Mickelson, isn't exactly burning it up. Who's going to get fans excited aboutthe FedEx Cup? Perry? Stewart Cink? Anthony Kim (right)? Brandt Snedeker?
Our TV ratingsget killed when Tiger doesn't play, and I can only imagine how bad they'll befor the two tournaments played during the NFL season, the BMW and the TourChampionship. Fans used to watch the NBA playoffs just to see Michael Jordan.It's the same in golf with Tiger.
RYDER CUP UPDATE:BULLISH ON THE U.S.
I probablyshouldn't say this because our strategy is to go in as underdogs, but our RyderCup team is looking good, even without Tiger. There's no question that the newsystem, based on money won, is doing what Paul Azinger (left) wanted it todo—get guys who are playing well onto the team. Perry and Kim are arguably thehottest players in golf, and they'll be on our squad for sure. Kenny is goingto bring the passion, and will also fire up the Kentuckians in the crowd, whileAnthony is going to bring the attitude. Without Tiger around I wouldn't besurprised if Mickelson has a good week too. Nobody is tougher than Jim Furyk.Cink was one of our few bright spots in the last Ryder Cup. After that, we havea nice mix of younger guys and veterans fighting for the remaining spots. I'dbe pretty happy to have Justin Leonard and Steve Stricker on my team, as wellas young guys like Snedeker, Hunter Mahan or D.J. Trahan. They all canplay.
Obviously, Tigeris a hard man to replace. That said, we've relied on him too much. We assumehe's going to win all his points, and that simply doesn't happen. And when youlook at his record [10-13-2], he seems replaceable. The problem isn't just thatwe've had trouble finding him a partner. The other side gets jacked up to playagainst him, same as when lesser teams face the Yankees in baseball or Duke inbasketball. They have nothing to lose, so they play without fear. If someoneelse is the opponent, they might not get the same competitive high. And whileTiger has a presence, once you get past the opening hole, the intimidationfactor pretty much evaporates—especially when Tiger pulls a three-wood into awater hazard on the 1st tee, as he did in the first session in 2006. I'll sayit now: The Americans are going to be in these matches until the very lastpoint.
There sure were alot of stories about drug testing on Tour when the policy went into effect atlast month's AT&T National. You haven't heard much lately because as far asI can tell, there hasn't been any testing since. Is that all there is? Whatwith even commissioner Tim Finchem (below) filling a cup, I guess the testingat Congressional was simply a big dog-and-pony show.
As far as I'mconcerned, we only need to test one guy, and I understand that he has alreadypassed two privately administered drug tests. I wonder if he was worried aboutsomething?
MY NEW GAME PLANFOR PHIL
I'm not pickingMickelson (left) to win the PGA because he's not driving it straight enough towin anywhere. The bigger question is whether Phil is still the second-bestplayer in the world. My answer is yes, only because nobody else with a résuméis on fire at the moment. Where are all those guys who are supposed tochallenge Tiger—Sergio, Ernie Els, Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott, Vijay Singh? Theyaren't doing anything. But I do think Phil needs to change his approach. Heshould show up at Oakland Hills on Tuesday without his scientist and hisastrologer and the rest of his posse. He's a feel player who plays withimagination. Charting the greens and all this excess preparation is out ofcharacter for him. Phil wants to leave nothing to chance, but everything ingolf is chance. You don't know how you're going to feel, which way the windwill blow, whether you'll sleep well, what kind of lie you'll get in thebunkers. There are a million variables.
My advice to Philis to pull a Padraig. Because of a sore wrist Harrington had no expectations atRoyal Birkdale and played one hole on Wednesday after having gone maybe fiveholes the day before. Phil: Show up at Oakland Hills on Tuesday and play nineholes. Play another nine on Wednesday, then gun it on Thursday and see whathappens.
Perry is theobvious choice. Some might even consider him the favorite. Jones and Lehman didwell in '96, and, like Perry, they're big hitters who play a draw, which isKenny's game in a nutshell. Plus, I love the way he has turned around hisputting. Kim is too good to call a dark horse. Anthony could definitely makethis PGA his first major title. He hasn't won a major, but he tied for seventhat the British. If he were playing against Phil or Ernie right now, I'd takeKim. I'd take Perry over them, too.
Love is myofficial dark-horse pick. Don't laugh. It's been almost a year since his anklesurgery, and he's been quietly playing and putting better. He came close atOakland Hills in '96, so I think he'll feel the good vibes. My understudy darkhorse is Ian Poulter (right), for no good reason other than he came to the lasthole at Birkdale thinking he needed to make a putt to have a chance, and hedrilled it in the center. I like his guts.
AND THE WINNER IS...
Jim Furyk(right). I know, I've picked him to win several majors since the '03 U.S. Openand have been wrong every time. Still, I believe in Jim. He played well at theBritish, and I saw that old determination in his eyes. He has gotten back onhis game, and he's putting better. He's a great scrambler, which you have to beat a place like Oakland Hills, and he's too good of a player to go all yearwithout a win. Plus, he's now one major behind Harrington, and I think he hasmore game than Padraig. Jim drives it well, which is usually critical at a PGA,and he's flat-out due.
News and viewsfrom SI and Golf Magazine writers at GOLF.com/presstent
AUGUST 7--10,OAKLAND HILLS COUNTRY CLUB, BLOOMFIELD HILLS, MICH.
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
Next week's PGAChampionship will be the 14th significant event contested at the South courseat Oakland Hills in suburban Detroit. The course was designed by Donald Rossand opened in 1918, with Walter Hagen as head pro.
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
|2002||U.S. Am||Ricky Barnes|
|1996||U.S. Open||Steve Jones|
|1991||U.S. Sr. Open||Jack Nicklaus|
|1985||U.S. Open||Andy North|
|1981||U.S. Sr. Open||Arnold Palmer|
|1961||U.S. Open||Gene Littler|
|1951||U.S. Open||Ben Hogan|
|1937||U.S. Open||Ralph Guldahl|
|1929||U.S. Women's Am||Glenna Collett|
|1924||U.S. Open||Cyril Walker|