I’ve sat down at this damned computer four times to write this article…and have walked away in frustration each and every time. It appears that I’m suffering from an acute case of cranial constipation. Nothing will come out!
Most people call this “writer’s block,” but I reserve the word “block” solely for matters of the intestinal tract.
No amount of grunting or groaning or sweating seems to cure the malady. So please bear with me as I bear down and make one last feeble attempt to get my imagination to bear some fruit…all the while trying to avoid typing the word “bare” by accident.
This is a tremendously goofy time of year on the PGA Tour. Most of the heavy hitters have packed up their bags for the year and are enjoying some R&R with family and friends at a variety of fun spots around the planet…spending more in a few days of frivolity than you or I make in a year (or two…or 10).
For the rest, it’s an entirely different matter. No vacations to Disneyland, no Hawaiian beaches, no ski trips to the Alps, yodelling outrageously at the locals in an attempt to communicate.
Nope, for the guys who are still reaching for clubs, they’re playing for their very existence, folks. The Doomsday clock is counting down all too quickly and they’re facing a rapidly diminishing number of opportunities to salvage their season and earn the right to play golf with the big boys for a living next year.
The target is the top 125. Play your way anywhere inside that line AND stay there by season’s end and you’re golden. Come up short and you can look forward to hauling your ass off to the cruellest of golfing tests; the dreaded Q-School. Just the name alone sends shivers up the spine of every professional golfer on the planet…and sends their puckering parts into violent spasms. ‘Cause if you fail there, you get an immediate and dramatic demotion to the Nationwide Tour…or worse. Doomed to compete against guys who probably thought you god-like, schlepping yourself from B Market to C Market to D Market each week in events where the tournament volunteers probably outnumber the spectators by about 3:1.
Oh the humanity.
So, the next 3 weeks on Tour are all about survival. Winning would be great, but the BIG focus is on just doing well enough to avoid the ignominy of defeat. And, in this case, defeat is getting punted off the Tour…or at least having to go through the multi-day, televised rectal exam that is Q-School and re-qualify for playing privileges.
And during this period, weird, wonky, wonderful things happen. Consider the Frys.com tournament last year for proof positive. Going into the event, Rocco Mediate was firmly nestled in 172nd place on the PGA Money List…with an anchor. His 2010 season showed a few rare glimpses of the genius we know he’s capable of…but those were camouflaged by a plethora of moments that were more suited to a muni course on Saturday morning with your buddies than in the biggest events on the planet.
Then a weird, wobbly, wonderful thing happened. Mediate put together 4 stellar rounds and won the Frys.com trophy! And even the well-below-normal first place cheque was enough to vault him from 172nd to 75th and guarantee that he’d be rubbing elbows with his PGA Tour buddies for another season.
4 decent days. 4 great rounds. 1 good-sized cheque. He went from the outhouse to the penthouse in the grand tradition of The Ballad of Jed Clampett. From Pucker Time to Miller Time in 269 strokes. (I would have written “Dom Perignon Time,” but Rocco strikes me as a guy who would celebrate with an ice-cold, watery American beer, rather than something fruity and hoity-toity).
Tragedy also happens during this stretch, of course. It doesn’t happen explosively, with the same kind of instantaneous gratification that a win like Rocco’s does. Instead, it’s that slow, painful, insidious slide into oblivion…a missed putt here, a flubbed chip there, a pushed drive into the rhubarb over here. During the countdown to season’s end, every bad stroke counts…but they hold so much more weight and gravity than they do in March or April.
The difference between making the top 125 or not could easily come down to one week where you finished T40, instead of solo 40th. A few bucks are all it will take to define victory or defeat…and whether you’ll fly to Pebble Beach next year, or share a rented van with 3 other guys to drive to the Moe’s Vittles ‘N Such Open in Frozen Groin, Idaho.
And so, with one pressure-packed “Fall Series” event under our belts now, let do a quickie re-cap and see how my daughter and I fared with our picks last week:
Results – the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open
|Derek’s Picks||D&D (Daughter & Dartboard)|
|$ 475,200||Bob Estes||
|$ 15,420||Richard S. Johnson||
|$ 15,420||Aron Price||
|$ 8,228||Anthony Rodriguez||
|This Week’s Total||$ 514,268||This Week’s Total||$ 24,836|
|Season Total||$ 19,954,007||Season Total||$ 6,859,237|
So much for my brilliant, well-though picks for last week! Then again, I guess I should be a little thankful for what they did do (since we are in Thanksgiving week here in the Great White). When I dialled in the leaderboard Friday around lunch time, all but one of my players was either hovering at, or was well below the cut line. How they all ended up making it to the weekend is something bordering on miraculous, based on what I saw then.
Special thanks to Nick Watney for finishing second and balancing out the performance of the rest of my team.
The Frys.com Open
And the pressure is ratcheted up a couple more notches this week. Three chances left to do something good and stick around for another year.
Remarkably, the guy who is under the most pressure this week, whether he’d admit it or not, is the guy who will ultimately be impacted by his results this week the least. That guy, of course is Tiger Woods.
Unlike the vast majority of the field, he doesn’t need to win, place, show or even make the cut this week to secure his playing privileges for next year. He’s already racked up more than enough victories on Tour to earn a lifetime exemption…times 3.
No, for Woods the pressure is of an entirely different nature; trying to prove that he can play serious golf again…and actually be a threat to win. And the really wonky thing about Wood’s appearance at CordeValle this week is that no matter how well he does, or how poorly, he simply CAN’T win. He essentially lost as soon as he added this event to his schedule…even if he does go on to win it.
If he actually hoists the trophy Sunday night, many will say that it doesn’t prove a thing…because the field is so anaemic that it doesn’t really count as a real win against the game’s best. Fair point.
And if he loses, he’ll look like an even bigger loser for exactly the same reason; that he couldn’t beat a field made up mostly of B-grade players, golfing nervously and fighting for their very survival. A somewhat harsh point, granted…but also a fair one too.
At this point I’d like to stress that none of this is meant as any disrespect to the players who are competing this week. Those guys are good! What I’ve written is just a simple statement of how Wood’s performance will be measured…and inevitably interpreted, based on the strength of the competition he faces this week. Yes, there are a couple of giant-killers in the field, but there’s also a generous number of guys who are cannon fodder based on the way they’ve been playing this season.
Makes you wonder why he would show up this week, doesn’t it? Seriously. For Woods, this tournament is the Kobayashi Maru…the no-win scenario…and he can’t break into the holodeck to change to program, like Captain Kirk.
But, just as Woods can’t win this week, even if he wins…there are plenty of groups who have a serious vested interest in how he does, either way.
First, there’s Rolex, who just signed him to a new endorsement deal. Surprise! They’d love to see Woods win and immediately vindicate their decision to sign him up. They’d also relish an opportunity to toss around some competitive “in your face” stuff at main rival Tag Heuer, who dropped Woods like a David Feherty fart as soon as his infidelities with the waffle waitress surfaced. Apparently they were okay with the porn stars and strippers, but a waffle waitress was simply too much of a departure from their core demographics.
On the sponsorship flip-side, you can bet your bottom dollar that Dick’s Sporting Goods is rooting for a big Tiger failure this week. Another bad week means Woods’ hawking price tag drops even further and he becomes a little more desperate for endorsement money. Okay, maybe not desperate for the money as much as for the implied corporate love and acceptance…but you know what I mean.
And if you think that Letterman and Stewart and Colbert and Ferguson aren’t cheering for a Tiger – Dick’s corporate alliance, you’re doing much cheaper drugs than I am. Tiger and Dick’s is karmic comedy gold baby! Those gags write themselves!
Next in line, we have the tournament sponsors….Frys.com. They’ve already seen ticket sales for this week’s event quintuple last year’s totals and you can bet they’ll be running the photocopier 24 hours a day, trying to pump out and sell more passes before Friday play is done. I’d wait a few days before printing off extra Saturday and Sunday tickets though. No sense killing any trees unnecessarily.
It goes without saying that the TV networks also have a big stake in Tiger’s successes this week. People are actually going to watch the Frys this year, rather than hunkering down in front of the TV with a bowl of Cheesies and a Dancing With the People We’d Really Like to Convince You Are Actually Stars marathon! It seems the networks are already salivating over the unexpected ratings bump…and maybe just a bit too vigorously too. I’ve seen promos running all week telling people they can “catch every shot of ALL FOUR rounds of Tiger’s return…”
Based on his last few outings, there’s a good possibility that’s 2 rounds too much to promise the fans. But again, we’ll see.
Moving right along, the next player with a vested interest is, of course, Freddie Couples. Poor old Freddie had the incredible bad luck to have been chosen as Captain of the President’s Cup team during the period in which Woods imploded off the face of the golfing world. Talk about no-win scenarios…this poor bugger has been absolutely damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t since the moment that it became obvious that Woods was free-falling out of the top 10, 20, 30…I have 40 over there in the corner to the man in the straw hat…50 here, thank you ma’am…60, 70, who’ll give me 80? 100? 130?
To his credit, Freddie did the only thing he possibly could have; he pre-empted all the second-guessing as early as he could by saying that no matter what, Woods would be on the team. And then as soon as he shut his mouth, he’s spent every waking second and every sleepless night since then, hoping and praying that Woods would do the honourable thing and decline the position. Unfortunately Woods didn’t get that memo…or didn’t read it…or just doesn’t like turning down positions…and at least one very qualified and unfortunate golfer (who has actually accomplished a hell of a lot this year) is going to watch the tournament on TV.
At this point, Couples only has two hopes left; either Woods starts limping on Thursday or Friday and has to withdraw, or he gets waxed so badly this week in California even his massive ego can’t justify the guilt of taking up a spot on the team that rightfully belongs to someone else.
From a political perspective, the 8 candidates for the US Republican party nomination are pulling big time for a spectacular Woods re-birth…or an equally catastrophic slide into oblivion. Either one is fine with the Republicans, as long as there’s something going on for a few days to take the spotlight off of them and their non-stop, cross-country tour of foot-in-mouth disease, bigotry outing and other political pratfalls.
And finally on the list of those concerned are the golfing fans. The rabid lovers and haters have been and will continue to be out in full force for weeks on end debating what this tournament means to Woods’ future…or doesn’t. This story will be spun in so many convoluted directions by so many people, you’ll need an advanced degree in quantum mechanics, algebra and psychiatry to keep it all straight.
Lovers will cling to every good shot or any kind of positive result (like making the cut) as divine proof that he’s finally “BACK!” Haters will point to the fact that he shouldn’t be here and wouldn’t ordinarily be in this tournament in the first place…so he’s already a loser just by teeing up. And even winning (in this field) proves nothing at all.
It’s hard to measure how many are in each camp at this point, because they inundate sport and golf blogs with so many postings that keeping track is next to impossible…but it does make for some fun and/or infuriating reading. The BIG winners here are the sports and golf websites who host these forums (fora). All those visits drive impressions through the roof…meaning more and more piles of cash value in advertising on those sites. Why do you think Woods captures headlines every day?
As for myself, I’d give Woods a 50-50 chance of just making it to the weekend. And if he does, I’d say his odds of winning this week at CordeValle are no better than 5%. Time will tell.
So now that you know who I’m not picking this week, it’s time to stick my neck on the line and declare who I am going to go with.
When Gainey gradiated from The Big Break a few years ago, everyone loved him. They needed subtitles to understand him…but they loved him just the same.
Very few probably gave him much of a chance of ever making it onto the PGA Tour though, or of doing well there. Surprise…he’s done both!
Gainey has had a real breakthrough season in his debut year on Tour. He’s been in contention more than a few times and has consistently shown that he can hold his own against the big boys. Last week’s T3 finish at the Shriners Blah Blah Blah, confirms that he’s still a danger, if not more so, as the season winds down and the fields are less star-studded. I think Tommy Two-Gloves has a great shot of earning his first victory this week.
By his high standards, Cabrera has had an appalling year…only two top 10 finishes all season; T7 at the Masters and T7 in Puerto Rico. And many would argue that Puerto Rico doesn’t count, because the real stars were playing in the WGC Cadillac at the time.
Despite the lousy season Cabrera has had though, it’s tough to discount him this week…at least for me. He’s a fiery competitor who hits the ball a ton…and isn’t afraid to win. He’s beaten the very best heads-up and is more than capable of taking down any field when his game is “on.”
You just know that he’d love to finish the season with some redemption under his belt. This week in California is one of his last, and best chances, to end an otherwise dismal year with a win…and the laid-back Argentinean will be givin’ ‘er from the start.
Brendan Steele – It’s been a truly great year for PGA rookies hasn’t it? By my count, 6 of the top guys who graduated from the Nationwide Tour have won tournaments already…and the competition for Rookie of the Year has seen the strongest bunch of contenders in a very long time.
Steele is one of those guys…and he didn’t take very long to make his mark. He won the Texas Open back in April to put everyone on notice. Since then, he’s put in a mixed bag kind of year, but he’s shown some moments of brilliance that suggest he’s not a flash in the pan…including a nice T16 finish last week.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see another rookie to join Keegan Bradley in the multi-win category before the season is done. And I think Steele has a very good shot at being the guy to get it done this week.
In 21 starts he only has 8 top 25’s…and a mere three top 10’s. His best finishes of the season came before May…and then he basically fell of the face of the earth. With the exception, that is, of last week’s T10 finish at the Shriners.
Once a consistently good performer, this season, on an average week Crane wouldn’t be considered a shark by anyone’s yardstick. But, this week…in this field…I think he’ll be sporting at least a little dorsal fin and is worth a look (inset sinister Jaws theme music here…played at Alvin and the Chipmunks speed).
And now that I’ve had my say, let’s see how daughter did downstairs in the recroom:
D&D’s Picks (Daughter & Dartboard):
- Paul Goydos
- Troy Matteson
- John Merrick
- Tiger Woods*
* I swear, on a stack of Golf Digest back issues, and a copy of “Golf My Way,” that this was an honest-to-god, un-doctored, completely random pick. She threw the dart…and that’s where it landed. Honest.
And that’s all for this week folks. As always, thanks very much for reading and playing along…and enjoy the tourney this week. And if you live in Ontario, don’t forget Thursday is Election Day. Vote early…and vote often!