Sunday, July 11, 2004
Updated: July 14, 11:58 AM ET
Vijay does good, defends title
By Jason Sobel
In a week dominated by British Open anticipation, some of the other noteworthy story lines included:
rain, at the oft-weather delayed John Deere Classic;
reign, by Meg Mallon, owner of national titles in both the U.S. and Canada; and
no rain, at the Scottish Open, where the calm conditions could be a possible precursor to those at Royal Troon.
But the Weekly 18 begins with a big decision by a big-time golfer.
Singh defends his title
For all the criticism that Vijay Singh has received the past few years, he should be lauded for the example he set at the John Deere Classic. While most of his peers in the elite ranking of golfers were competing at the Scottish Open or getting in some practice rounds at Royal Troon (or combining the two, such as Phil Mickelson), Singh was toiling in Silvis, Ill., thousands of miles from the claret jug.
When the PGA Tour shuffled the Deere from a September tournament to pre-British event this year, it ensured that most of the world's top-ranked golfers would excuse themselves from competing; in fact, the third-ranked Singh was the only golfer in the world's top 15 to play.
Would Singh rather have spent the week in Scotland with the Phils, Ernies and Retiefs of the world, getting a feel for British Open golf? He'd never say so, but he had never before played in a tournament the week before the British Open.
Singh was rewarded with a T-4 finish at the Deere and, no doubt, immeasurable gratitude from the tournament's organizers.
|He may not have wanted to, but Vijay Singh did the right thing in defending his title at the John Deere Classic.|
Mark of a champion
Mark Hensby is for real. If the four top 10s in 17 PGA Tour starts before this week didn't show that, then his win at the John Deere on the third playoff hole surely did. On the 18th hole in regulation, Hensby got up-and-down from a tough greenside bunker to save par and enter the playoff. After an hour-long rain delay, Hensby showed he has ice water in his veins, calmly two-putting for par and winning on the next hole.
One has to wonder what Hensby was thinking when he decided not to use the automatic British Open exemption he received for winning the John Deere. Sure, Hensby would have to make some quick travel plans and wouldn't have much time to check out Royal Troon, but playing in a major is a necessary experience for an up-and-comer.
|This week's winners
John Deere Classic
1st career tour win
Canadian Women's Open
17th career tour win
Senior Players Championship
1st career tour win
3rd career tour win
Scholarship America Showdown
2nd career tour win
John E. Morgan provided some much-needed excitement to Sunday's final round at the John Deere. The backwards Nike cap-wearing second-year tour pro wasn't bashful with his emotions, as he birdied 15, 16 and 18 -- each time wildly pumping his fist while walking off the green. Morgan showed more of the same on the first playoff hole before the magic ran out against Hensby. Despite making only one cut in his five previous tour starts this year (236th on the money list), Morgan's fiery finish provided just a flash of what the future may hold. On a tour where so many players look and act in a similar stoic fashion, Morgan could soon earn many fans -- much like another Nike-sponsored, fist-pumping golfer you may know.
Hit the road, Jack
Congratulations to Robert Gamez, who earned $62,700 with a T-14 finish at the John Deere. Gamez now has $5,741,485 in career earnings, pushing him past none other than Jack Nicklaus on the all-time money list. The Golden Bear now falls to 99th, inching ever-so-close to dropping out of the top 100 in career earnings. Of course, Gamez -- whose only two wins came in 1990 -- still trails Jack by 71 career wins and 18 majors.
It ain't easy bein' Green
One has to wonder what's going on with the oft-troubled Ken Green. The five-time tour winner (though none since 1989) withdrew from the John Deere after an opening-round 77, his third WD of the season. In eight starts this year, Green has made only one cut -- a T-54 at the HP Classic.
Casey at the tee
Don't be surprised to see Casey Wittenberg earn enough money in the second half of the season to clinch his PGA Tour card for 2005. After missing the cut in his first pro start at the Western Open, the ex-Oklahoma State Cowboy shot a closing round 69 to finish T-20 at the Deere.
I am not the Walrus
In only one month -- with no status on any tour -- Kevin Stadler has claimed two Nationwide victories, outlasting three others in a playoff on Sunday to take the Scholarship America Showdown. The son of longtime PGA Tour pro Craig Stadler, Kevin made waves at this year's U.S. Open, showing up on the first round leaderboard before finishing 65th. His burly figure has prompted some to call him "Maxi-Me" in reference to the Austin Powers "Mini-Me" character, only Kevin's possibly larger than the original.
Don't forget the B.C.
With so few first-time winners on the PGA Tour this season (only Hensby, Heath Slocum, Todd Hamilton, Zach Johnson and Stephen Ames have claimed their first titles), don't underestimate the importance of this week's B.C. Open. While the world's elite golfers will be playing for a major in Scotland, someone in upstate New York will qualify for next year's Mercedes Championships and clinch a tour card through 2006.
Looking for a surprise name that could show up atop the leaderboard at the PGA Championship? If he qualifies, Ted Purdy could be a worthy sleeper candidate. The first-year tour pro was ranked 45th on the money list prior to the John Deere, where he picked up a T-46 finish. Purdy has ties to the new-yet-prestigious club; he is sponsored in part by Herb Kohler, the owner of Whistling Straits (and just about everything else in his eponymous town in Wisconsin).
|Mark James lost a three-stroke lead, but came back to claim his first win on the Champions Tour.|
On the Mark
In Sunday's final round at the Senior Players Championship, Mark James saw a three-stroke lead evaporate down the stretch. But Jose Maria Canizares, who was surging while James was fading, inexplicably knocked one into the pond from less than 100 yards on 17 to make double bogey and end the threat. James called the victory "the biggest win of my career."
Riding the quad
Dana Quigley's 250th consecutive start on the Champions Tour looked like it could have a happy ending until he reached the par-5 17th hole in Saturday's third round. Quigley made a quadruple-bogey on the hole, slipping to four shots back of the lead. "I probably blew the tournament right there," Quigley said. "But I hear there is another one coming up."
No laughing matter
Gary McCord held a share of the second-round lead at the Senior Players, but a final round 74 left him with a T-5 finish. Said CBS analyst David Feherty, upon watching McCord's reaction to a missed putt, "Most of the time on the golf course, Gary's either insanely happy or just insane -- seldom in between."
Sure, it was in Canada and there was no Annika or Michelle in the field. But if LPGA commish Ty Votaw wants to capitalize on the popularity of the sport coming off its biggest weekend (the U.S. Women's Open drew record crowds in South Hadley, Mass.), then he needs to find U.S. television coverage for tournaments like the Canadian Women's Open.
Entering the final round of the Euro Tour's Scottish Open, it seemed the tournament's automatic British Open exemption (given to the highest finisher who hadn't already qualified for the Open) would be a battle between Australia's Marcus Fraser and France's Gregory Havret. Thomas Levet wasn't even a blip on the radar until he came to Loch Lomond's 11th hole, where he started a birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie run, shooting 29 on the back nine to claim the title and the Open exemption. The Frenchman, who was part of a four-way playoff in the major two years ago, said, "I don't have any clothes. My wife was planning a holiday next week. She'll go to Troon instead."
Unlucky No. 14
Leading the Scottish Open by a stroke heading into the 14th hole of Sunday's final round, Michael Campbell made an ill-advised decision on the short par-4 risk/reward hole. Campbell attempted to drive the green, but pulled his tee shot left into a hazard. He bogeyed the hole and finished -- you guessed it -- one shot back of Levet.
Go West, young man
Don't be surprised to see Lee Westwood, who finished T-10 in the Scottish, in contention for the claret jug. The Englishman, who rose to as high as No. 4 in the world, then sunk to below 200, is now ranked 67th and playing his best golf since 2000.
One small step for man...
...one giant leap for Phil Mickelson, who made progress by not recreating his Masters celebration after winning last Monday's Telus Skins Game against Singh, Hank Kuehne and John Daly. Since the famed 18th hole leap in April, Mickelson has been trying to rewrite history, leaping around courses at various Skins Games and other non-sequitor events. Maybe Phil finally has learned he should stick to leaping on Sunday afternoons.
Information from ESPN.com's wire services is included.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.