Looking out for No. 1
What many people thought should have happened before, or had happened already, or would inevitably happen anyway, finally did
happen this week at the Deutsche Bank Championship: Vijay Singh overtook Tiger Woods as the top player in the World Ranking. Perhaps -- and this will surely bring the Tiger empathizers to their collective feet -- Tiger needed to lose the top spot. Perhaps that ranking had become more of a burden than a benefit. Perhaps, true to his name, Tiger would prefer to be the hunter, not the hunted. Woods will certainly have his chance and, oh by the way, we haven't heard the last from him. In fact, Tiger's last two starts (he finished T-2 at the NEC Invitational two weeks ago) were his two strongest efforts at stroke-play events so far this season. Yet when we next see Tiger Woods (at Oakland Hills for the Ryder Cup), we will see him in a different light. No longer is he the indefatigable player we had seemingly taken for granted during the past 264 weeks. Will Tiger ever return to the No. 1 spot? Absolutely. After all, Woods is only 28; most of the world's best golfers (including 41-year-old Singh) fall in the mid-30s-to-early-40s range. If he has yet to even reach his prime, Tiger's run for Best Golfer Ever is just getting under way. Just don't expect Tiger's return to the top to come soon. Unless he makes a mighty run in his final few starts this season (he'll likely only play the American Express Championship, Funai Classic and Tour Championship after the Ryder Cup), Woods will end the 2004 season trailing Singh. And it will take one heck of a 2005 season to propel him back to No. 1. The World Ranking system is based on a two-year period, meaning throughout next season Vijay will have six '04 wins to bank on while Tiger will have only one (not including wins from either for the rest of the year).
Entering Monday, we knew that all of the drama in the final round of the Deutsche Bank would be found in the final pairing. Tiger vs. Vijay. Head-to-head. Mano a mano. And it was happening, too, until some guy named Adam Scott
(he's only the defending champion at TPC of Boston) started draining putts from all over New England. Scott's barrage ended when his birdie putts started missing by inches, and he finished at 13 under, following up last year's win with a T-2. Don't be surprised in another year or two if Scott is in the same position as Woods and Singh, challenging for No. 1 in the World Ranking.
We've seen David Duval
a few times this year. At the U.S. Open, where his 83-82 score showed he was overmatched. At the International, where he failed to entertain the Denver crowds in his adopted hometown. And at the PGA, where he missed the cut for the third time in as many events. But on Monday we saw something that hadn't been visible in a PGA Tour event in quite some time: David Duval's smile. The 13-time tour winner followed rounds of 72-70-70 with a final-round 67 -- good enough for a T-13 finish. On a day when so much emphasis was placed on the No. 1 ranking, it was fitting that the last player to hold that position before Woods took it over more than five years ago was eminently visible. Everyone in golf -- Tiger included, who speaks often of his pal, "Double-D" -- is rooting for a successful return from Duval. This weekend, he took the first major step in that direction.
The son also rises
The PGA Tour allows non-exempt players to use a maximum of seven sponsor's exemptions to gain access to the tour by winning enough money. Entering this week, Bill Haas
had used up these sponsor's exemptions, so he went through a Monday qualifier and made it through to the Deutsche Bank. Haas entered the final round at T-3 and with a solo fourth finish would have netted $240,000 and qualified for the tour as a Special Temporary Member. Unfortunately for Haas, the 2004 NCAA Player of the Year and son of Ryder Cupper Jay Haas
, a Sunday 73 dropped him into a T-9 finish, meaning he'll have to keep grinding at Monday qualifiers in order to gain tour status. Incidentally, the last Monday qualifier to win a PGA Tour event was Fred Wadsworth
at the 1986 Southern Open.
Two-way player Daniel Chopra
played in three Nationwide Tour events earlier this season and won two of them. He remains 13th on that tour's money list, and has tried his hand at the PGA Tour since then. He entered the week at 117th, but a T-4 finish in the Deutsche Bank, including what looked like about an 80-foot putt for birdie on 17, moved Chopra well into the top 100. Since the top 20 on the Nationwide Tour and the top 125 on the PGA Tour are considered fully exempt members of the big show for 2005, Chopra has earned his card for next season two ways.
After losing to Luke List
in the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur, recent University of Arizona graduate Chris Nallen
turned professional. He MC'd at the Deutsche Bank, his second straight start on the PGA Tour after a T-49 at last week's Buick Championship. At Arizona, Nallen played in the shadow of '02 Amateur winner Ricky Barnes
, but that doesn't mean he didn't make a mark of his own. In addition to winning various college tournaments, Nallen once shot a practice-round 58 at Arizona National. Just how serious is he about golf? Nallen once told the school paper that the craziest thing he ever did in college was five-putt a green in New Mexico.
Creamer rising to the top?
For years, young tennis stars have turned professional in their teens, skipping high school
competition, let alone attending college. Baseball players often head straight from the prom to the minors. Kevin Garnett and LeBron James, among others, have proven that NBA stars don't need university schooling. Even the NFL has issues with the Maurice Claretts and Mike Williamses of the world. Now it's golf's turn. Kevin Na
and Ty Tryon
skipped college and turned professional in recent years with varied levels of success (Na is currently 89th on the PGA Tour money list; Tryon is 190th on the Nationwide Tour list). Now comes word that 18-year-old amateur Paula Creamer (along with Brittany Lincicome, 18, and others) may forego further schooling if she qualifies for the LPGA Tour at Q School later this month. There is little doubt Creamer has the talent to become, someday, an excellent LPGA pro; her T-13 finish at the U.S. Women's Open is evidence of that. Just as those involved in the aforementioned sports are divided on whether such young players should be competing on a professional level, so too are those in the golf world who wonder: Is this a growing problem or simply an inevitable trend? Perhaps it's a little of both, though those Americans who are striking while the proverbial iron is hot are hardly the only golfers doing so around the world; most young international golfers eschew college in favor of turning pro. At 14, Michelle Wie
has used sponsor's exemptions to play close to a full summer on the LPGA Tour. She's been soundly criticized by the professionals in those tournaments who think she should be learning to win on the amateur level (Wie lost in the second round of match play at the U.S. Women's Amateur) before making the jump to the big leagues. Still, should Wie turn pro at age 18 she will have benefitted from years of competing against the world's best, rather than only those her age. Unlike team sports where most of a player's income is derived from salary -- and where most salaries mirror a player's performance -- golfers' tournament earnings are only a small part of their total revenues. Sponsorships, endorsements and even appearance fees make up for a large part of a golfer's bottom line. When young players turn pro, they will command a hefty sum in each of these departments since so much value is placed on potential rather than performance. Another reason for these teens turning pro so early is the overall unpopularity of college golf on a national level. If a guy like LeBron can do without raucous crowds and the Final Four, then players like Na or Tryon or Creamer can certainly do without toiling in relative anonymity on college courses around the country. Right now, the PGA and LPGA tours have a minimum age of 18 years old. If the current trend continues, don't be surprised to see plenty of young golfers waiting for that birthday, then signing on the bottom line for their first professional contract.
Martha Burk's protest of Augusta National and Casey Martin
's battle to use a cart in competitive play were both firestorms of controversy in the golf world, but each will be considered small potatoes if Mianne Bagger ever decides to test the U.S. court system. Bagger, a 37-year-old Denmark native, was born a male, but had sex reassignment surgery. This past week, the Ladies European Tour changed its rules to eliminate a previous "female at birth" clause for its members, opening the door for Bagger to play in tour events and try to qualify as a full-time tour member.
Use the force, Luke
When Chris DiMarco
left his ball just outside of Phil Mickelson
's on the 72nd green at this year's Masters, he spawned a new term in the golf vernacular turning DiMarco into a verb, as in: I DiMarco'd my playing partner when I slid my par putt 12 feet past the hole.
Perhaps Stewart Cink
gave way to a new phrase at the NEC Invitational a few weeks back. After being named to the U.S. Ryder Cup team that Monday, Cink clinched a wire-to-wire victory just six days later. This week, Luke Donald pulled a Cink
at the European Masters, winning the tournament just one week after European Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer
named him to the team. Langer had to be smiling while watching the event: The three European Ryder Cuppers entered in the tournament (Donald, Miguel Angel Jimenez
and Sergio Garcia
) finished 1-2-3.
All hail Irwin
With the $46,000 he received for a 13th-place finish in last week's Tradition, Hale Irwin
became the first member of the Champions Tour to surpass the $20 million mark in career earnings. Gil Morgan is next in line, but nearly $6 million behind Irwin, who's in his 10th year on the senior circuit. Irwin's 40 Champions Tour titles doubles the number he had on the PGA Tour, while the $20 million is more than three times what he made on the regular tour.
Philly stakes its claim
The Deutsche Bank marked the second consecutive year the PGA Tour came to Boston after a five-year layoff. Now comes news that Philadelphia could return to the regular rotation as early as next season. With the full support of the tour, IMG is spear-heading a campaign to line up a major sponsor for the event as soon as possible, the Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported. IMG also represents Tiger Woods, but can't guarantee that Tiger would compete in the future Philly event.
Poor Scott Verplank
. First he lost at Doral when Craig Parry
dunked an eagle from 176 yards. Then he got snubbed from the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Now Verplank is the odd man out on the PGA Tour's scoring average list. Entering the Deutsche Bank, Verplank was averaging 69.67 per 18 holes -- good enough for sixth on the list. But he remains the only player in the top nine without a victory this season ( Davis Love III
, also without a win, is 10th). He's also the only player other than Retief Goosen
(who has made only 13 starts due to injury) in the top 10 on the scoring average list, but not on the money list; Verplank is 20th on that list. Coincidentally, the top four in scoring average are also the top four in the world -- Phil Mickelson (68.81 entering this week), Ernie Els
(69.06), Vijay Singh (69.16) and Tiger Woods (69.21) -- meaning shooting good scores equates to wins. For everyone, that is, except Verplank.
No matter what happens for the remainder of the season, Todd Hamilton
has that Rookie of the Year trophy all but polished up and shining on his mantle. That doesn't mean he's the best rookie on tour. Sure, Hamilton's British Open win was one for the ages, but Zach Johnson
is on the verge of becoming one of the top Americans in the game. So far this season, Johnson has a win at the BellSouth Classic to go along with two other top-10 finishes. He owns 11 top-25s and 19 made cuts in 25 starts in '04. Already one of the top putters on tour, Zach is no Johnson-come-lately; a year ago, he finished atop the Nationwide Tour money list with an impressive array of high finishes: two wins, four seconds, three thirds and a fourth. Don't be surprised to see Johnson grab another title or two down the stretch (he had three top-3 finishes in five September-and-beyond events last season) and start making a case for next year's President's Cup team.
The Deutsche Bank attracted many of the tour's top names, but conspicuously absent was FBR Open champ Jonathan Kaye
. Sure, he's got a tour card through 2006, but entering the week Kaye was precariously hanging onto the 30th spot on this year's money list. The top 30 earn a trip to the prestigious Tour Championship at the end of the season, but Kaye can take heart in the fact that his four closest competitors for the 30th spot -- Darren Clarke
, Rod Pampling
, Luke Donald and Jeff Maggert
-- also failed to show in Boston. Kaye's absence is even more curious considering his solid play at the event a year ago. He entered the final round of last year's Deutsche Bank in second place, just three strokes behind eventual winner Adam Scott, but shot a Sunday 74 to finish in a share of ninth.
Ground control to major Tom
It seems like only a few years ago that Tom Lehman
was one of the world's top golfers. Actually, it was
only a few years ago. In 2000, Lehman finished 12th on the PGA Tour money list, punctuated by a win at the Phoenix Open, his fifth career title. He seemed destined to stick around for a while, but dropped to 74th on the money list in '02 and remains mired at 118th this season. So far in '04, Lehman has made the cut in 11 of 14 events, but has no top-10 finishes; in fact, he hasn't seriously contended for a title since the '03 AT&T Pebble Beach more than a year and a half ago. At 45, Lehman's been through some injuries but should still have plenty of good golf left in him, as can be attested to by forty-something tour winners Vijay Singh, Joey Sindelar
and Woody Austin
Woody? Yes, he would
With his victory at the Buick Championship, Woody Austin moved into the top-100 on the all-time PGA Tour career money list. The $756,000 he won in Hartford moved Austin, now a two-time winner on tour, past such luminaries as Jack Nicklaus
(73 career wins), Raymond Floyd
(22 wins) and Mark McCumber
In this space a week ago, we explained the similarities and differences between Joe Ogilvie
and Geoff Ogilvy
. Here's another reason to keep a sharp eye on Ogilvy (he's the Australian): A close look at the current PGA Tour All-Around stat (which combines everything from driving distance to sand saves to putting average) shows him in third place behind Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen and directly above the likes of Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh. Entering the Deutsche Bank (where he missed the cut by a stroke), Ogilvy was tied for fourth in sand saves and fifth in driving distance, meaning it's only a matter of time until he puts it all together and starts cashing in on his talents.
Quote of the week
"We thought we were holding a golf tournament. We didn't realize we were ending up with Ali/Frazier III." -- Seth Waugh, Deutsche Bank CEO Information from ESPN.com's wire services is included in this report. Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.