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The Big Money

Sometimes pushing people around

Sometimes pulling out the rug

Sometimes pushing all the buttons

Sometimes pulling out the plug

It’s the power and the glory

It’s a war in paradise

It’s a Cinderella story

On a tumble of the dice

“The Big Money” by Rush.  Lyrics by Neil Peart.  Music by Geddy Lee & Alex Lifeson.

Yes, folks…it’s the BIG money this week on the PGA Tour.  Four rounds of golf…$10 million on the line.

It’s a Cinderella story that won’t be decided on a tumble of the dice…but it almost certainly will be decided by an errant drive, a few goofy bounces or on the wobbly rotation of one or two putts.

I’ve been thinking about the finals of the PGA Playoffs for weeks now.  It’s not because I’m necessarily rooting for one player to take it all this year…although there are a LOT of really compelling stories this year and I’d be quite happy to see a handful of the guys who have a shot at grabbing the glory, well…grab the glory.

My thoughts have been on the ungodly huge payday that’s involved…and how it’s likely to affect that handful of players as they prepare for, and then play in this incredible spectacle.

I can’t begin to imagine it.  I really can’t.

For a mere mortal like me, the numbers are just too mind-bogglingly high to have meaning.  As a writer, I’m probably supposed to have a more aloof attitude toward the prize money than that, but I simply can’t.  It’s ten million freaking dollars!

Here’s the thing that has my mind working the most; which of the players can actually put the gargantuan payday out of their minds and concentrate on playing their best golf for 4 days?  That also leads me to wondering; exactly how much money do you have to have before $10 million isn’t “that big a deal?” Or, what kinds of mental tricks do they have to master to develop the discipline not to think about that kind of money every time they address the golf ball.

My knees get wobbly over a putt to decide a $5 Nassau.  And you should see the sweating, shaking and palpitations I suffer through every time I put my chips on the line in a low-stakes on-line poker tournament.  It’s pathetic really.

And I know I’m not alone on this.  Several years ago, a good friend of mine, who we’ll simply call Floey Van Borkyberg to protect his real identity, was playing the 18th hole of a match worth all of ten bucks.  He meticulously lined up his 3-foot putt…backstroke nice and smooth…and then proceeded to jab his golf ball into his own foot…immediately followed by the putter head cracking into the toe of his golf shoe!  And this from a guy who earns six figures a year!

Weird what a little pressure can do to your game, isn’t it?

With $10 million on the line I think the only conceivable activity I could confidently pull off would be crapping myself and sagging to the fairway in a sobbing heap of quivering jelly.  Then again, under that much pressure, I’d probably suffer from a sudden bout of blockage, while my knees simultaneously locked up.

But enough about me and my colorectal shortcomings.

What about those pros?  Who has the bank account OR the cold-blooded nerve to completely forget the money and zone in on the task at hand?

Is Mickelson’s account loaded with enough of that boring, monochromatic Yankee money to make him immune?  How about Retief or Ernie or Furyk?  Each of them makes more money in a bad month than we’re likely to pull in, in a year…or five.  Where’s that magical point where $10 million isn’t a performance crippling distraction?

I’m starting to get cold empathy sweats just thinking about it.  So before I have to go and change clothes, allow me to take a quick break to get my bodily functions back under control.

Here’s what happened last weekend with our predictions for the BMW Championship:

Derek’s Picks D&D (Daughter & Dartboard)
Zach Johnson T15 $        116,250 Martin Laird T50 $         18,263
Jim Furyk T15 $        116,250 Vijay Singh T24 $         60,750
Luke Donald T37 $          33,000 Ian Poulter T13 $        150,000
Marc Leishman T11 $        180,000 Camilo Villegas T11 $        180,000
This Week’s Total $        445,500 This Week’s Total $        409,013
Season Total $     7,987,618 Season Total $     4,849,369

Right…pulse has dropped back to normal.  Hands are no longer shaking.  Abdominal region has stopped making those warning sounds.  I needed that!

Let’s press on with the prognostications for the Tour Championship…the final leg of the 2010 PGA Playoffs.

Derek’s Picks – The Tour Championship

Matt Kuchar – Does he have enough money in the bank to pooh pooh $10 million?  Nope…not by a long shot.  Has he won enough titles on Tour that one more trophy, even a big one like this, won’t be consequential to him?  Not even close.

So why, after babbling incessantly about the enormous pressure of this event and its paycheque, would I pick a guy like Kuchar to win?

In Kuchar’s case, I think it’s precisely for those reasons that he will win.  He’s still young enough and naive enough to believe that this tournament is just one more thing…and that there will be plenty more things for him as his career takes shape over the years to come.

At this stage in his life, and after his recent successes, he’s 10 feet tall and bulletproof.  Life insurance salesmen need not call on him…he’d look you right in the eyes and laugh at the suggestion that he wasn’t immortal right now.

He’s the golfing equivalent of 2009 World Series of Poker Champion Joe Cada, the youngest champion in the history of the event…21-years old and fearlessly shoving in all his chips, over and over again, to capture an $8.5 million payday.

Go big or go home..  Put it all out there.  There’ll be plenty more chances.  Fear is for losers.

Putting the dime-store psychology aside, there is Kuchar’s Playoff record to consider too.  No one…and I do mean NO ONE…has played better or more consistently since the playoffs began.  The Barclays?  Won it.  Deutsche Bank?  Ho hum…11th place.  The BMW?  Third.

And it’s not like he fluked his way here at the eleventh hour either.  This year, in 24 events, he’s racked up one win, one second, three thirds and eleven top-10’s.  The guy’s been on fire and getting into these Playoffs has been like throwing gasoline on him.

He doesn’t need to win this weekend to secure the BIG prize…but I think he might just do that anyway.  I can easily see him aw-shucks-ing and grinning his way through 4 rounds at East Lake and pulling off a decisive victory.

I can’t wait to see the grin if he wins…he might just swallow his own face!

Phil Mickelson – Of all the guys in the field this week, Hefty is the one player who should be the most immune to the pressure of playing for the winner’s cheque.  He should have more than enough cash stashed away to make $10 million seem fairly insignificant…if that’s actually possible.

There IS a different pressure that Mickelson will be fighting this week though; can he keep it together to wrest the World’s #1 title away from Woods, FINALLY(!!!)

He’s had ample opportunity to seal the deal from the nanosecond that Woods decided to take his car for an impromptu late-night spin into a fire hydrant and the neighbour’s tree last November 27th.  Good thing Elin happened to be jogging behind the car with that 7-iron, so she could hack him out of the wreckage!

At one time…and for a VERY long time indeed…Mickelson carried around the “best player never to have won a major” monkey on his back, putting him on Colin Montgomerie’s Christmas card list in perpetuity.  Now, it seems like Phil is carrying a similar kind of baggage into every tournament he plays…the “oh so close, but no cigar” mantle.

How Mickelson has managed to consistently snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, time and time again, is really quite mystifying to me.  How Woods could only play in 12 events, score no wins, finish top-10 only twice and STILL retain the World #1 title  simply defies explanation.  Sorry Mr. Finchem…you need a new slide rule.  This one is busted beyond repair.

Can Mickelson finally pull it off and take the top ranking in the world?  Remember, he is the defending champ at this event, so he has that going for him.  A lot of it though depends on which Phil shows up to East Lake this weekend; careful, plodding, thoughtful Phil or go-for-broke and defy the odds Phil.  His sponsors should offer Mickelson’s caddy Bones MacKay a secret bonus of a few million bucks if he can reject any and all requests to put a “stupid” club in Mickelson’s hands and keep evil Phil off the course for 4 straight days.

Steve Stricker – Yes, yes…I can hear you berating me now for not going farther out on a limb with these picks.  Remember though, we’ve weed-whacked the entire PGA Tour down to the top 30 players now…and there really aren’t too many players I could take who could accurately be described as “out on a limb” anyway.  I’ll try to find a limb for my last pick.  I promise.

So…what the hell…why not Stricker?

First of all, he hasn’t been cut in a single tourney he’s entered all year.  And, of the 18 tourneys he’s played, he’s scored two wins, two thirds and nine top-10’s.   That’s a hell of a year in anyone’s books…and it’s a LOT of positive mojo to be packing in your golf bag!

As far as his performances at this year’s Playoffs are concerned, there’s only one guy sporting a better record; Matt Kuchar…and I’ve already picked him.  Stricker was third at the Barclays, 9th at the Deutsche Bank and 8th at the BMW.  His run at the Playoffs was almost as impressive in 2009…where he finished second and first at the first two events, stumbled to 53rd in the BMW and then fought his way back to finish 6th at the Tour Championship.

It seems, for whatever reason, that the rarefied air of the playoff season agrees very well with Steve…and I’d be foolish not to have him in my picks this week.  Plus, beyond his skills, there’s just something about this guy that I really like…and I love to cheer for players I genuinely like as people.

Hunter Mahan – Welcome to the limb…at least the one I’ve chosen to climb out on this week.

It’s decidedly unfair to the man’s considerable skills to call Mahan a dark horse pick to capture the Tour Championship…but many will consider him to be a long-odds choice.

It would be even easier to dismiss him based on his Playoff record so far this season; 31st at The Barclays, 33rd at the Deutsche Bank and 37th at the BMW.

It was also REALLY easy to dismiss Charley Hoffman in Boston, Arjun Atwal in Greensboro, Martin Kaymer in Wisconsin, Stuart Appleby in West Virginia, Carl Pettersson in Toronto and Louis Oosthuizen at St. Andrew’s.

With a surprisingly low number of the “superstars” claiming trophies this year, 2010 has been a bit of a dark horse kind of year….featuring guys we’d kind of given up on, unexpectedly returning to form to rub our noses in it and shame us for our lack of faith.

With two wins this season and two other top 10’s to boot, it’s not reasonable to expect that anyone has thrown in the towel on Mahan’s hopes for even more brilliant things in his career…BUT, based on his most recent performances, I’m willing to bet that he isn’t riding high on too many Playoff pools.

I’m taking Mahan as the final dark horse winner of the Playoff season.

And now, let’s see the kind of evil my daughter managed to come up with on the dartboard this week.

D&D (Daughter & Dartboard)

  • Paul Casey
  • Retief Goosen
  • Charley Hoffman
  • Martin Laird

And that’s all for this week folks.  Enjoy the Playoffs!

Cheers,

Derek

p.s. Regarding my opening to this week’s column, if you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and go out to your nearest music or electronics store right away and pick up a copy of the movie rockumentary “Rush – Beyond The Lighted Stage.”

It’s a riveting and thoroughly entertaining watch and is a must-have for every frost-bitten Canadian boy…between the ages of 15 and 60.

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