Sunday, August 22, 2004
Updated: August 23, 2:44 PM ET
Cink goes belly-up at NEC
By Jason Sobel
"Rain does not fall on one roof alone."
The above is an ancient proverb, steeped in values and morals, with no thoughts to 21st Century golf when the term was first proclaimed. However, that doesn't mean it wasn't the most apt description of the weekend; each of the six major tournaments in North America incurred weather delays, not to mention the thousands of foursomes looking to play a quick 18.
Rain, right in the middle of the golf season -- it's enough to make your stomach churn.
But the Weekly 18 has less to do with stomachs than bellies: What's touching them? What should be done about it? And why should it even matter?
|Cink used the belly putter to claim the first wire-to-wire victory on the PGA Tour this season.|
No more belly-aching
Hot drivers have had their day in the spotlight. So has talk of a conforming ball. But the big controversy in professional golf -- this week, at least -- is the growing debate on whether belly putters should be allowed in tournament play.
Why this week? Stewart Cink won the NEC Invitational with his version of the gangly, walking stick-type of device he used on the greens.
The belly putter, called such because the top of the putter's grip rests against the golfer's stomach to help balance the club, is becoming increasingly popular on all professional tours. Certainly it doesn't guarantee victory -- or even more putts made -- any more than a standard putter; before Cink won with his belly putter, Vijay Singh ditched his and won in each of his next two starts.
So the question remains: Should the belly putter be allowed?
The PGA Tour, USGA and R&A all say yes. Perhaps they are wrong. Using a belly putter requires different muscles and nerves than a standard putter. This underscores one of golf's foremost laws -- that all players use similar styles of equipment to lessen the variables amongst competitors. In some long drive competitions, players use non-conforming drivers (those longer than the USGA's 48-inch limit) to crush the ball off the tee, yet these clubs would never be allowed in tournament play.
Sounds like a double standard from golf's reigning organizations. Either make every club legal, despite length or clubhead size (which will never, ever happen) or make a conforming length and size for all putters. They shouldn't be able to have it both ways.
Somewhere, Hal Sutton was watching his TV and smiling this week. Six days after choosing Cink as one of his U.S. Ryder Cup captain's picks, Sutton watched him complete a wire-to-wire victory against a strong field of the world's best players at the NEC. With the win -- his second of the season -- Cink has vaulted into fifth place on the PGA Tour money list and is playing as well as any U.S. player right now. If Cink and Chris DiMarco continue their hot play, expect them to bump players like Kenny Perry and Fred Funk from possible Friday and Saturday matches.
|Coming up this week
Long ago and not so far away from ESPN's Bristol, Conn., campus, the University of Hartford made a bold move from Division II to Division I. The Hawks succeeded, thanks in part to the efforts of team members Jerry Kelly, Tim Petrovic and Patrick Sheehan. Each returns to the familiar area this week for a tournament with an unfamiliar name -- the former GHO is now the Buick Championship. Hartford's known for having one of the better galleries on the PGA Tour and they'll be cheering on the one-time locals. Look for Kelly and Petrovic to play well, but Sheehan could be the man who finally breaks through for his first career win on the home turf.
If the PGA Championship is "Glory's last shot," as the motto states, then this tournament -- the Champions Tour's fifth major of the season -- must be "Glory's absolute last shot. No other chances. Seriously." Craig Stadler hasn't exactly had a sophomore slump on tour; he's third on the money list and owns eight top-10 finishes in his 14 starts. But it's hard to imagine the Walrus going 0-for-5 in the ones that really matter. He's the pick at the Tradition, where he finished T10 a year ago.
Wachovia LPGA Classic
Meg Mallon has already enjoyed the best season of her illustrious career. Now she needs one or two more wins to really give Annika Sorenstam a run for Player of the Year honors. Once again, Sorenstam is not in the field, but Mallon, who finished in a share of second here last year, is seeking a fourth win this season. The tournament's in Kutztown, Pa., and Mallon's fans travel well; expect a solid contigent of supporters from Ohio State and Massachusetts to make the trip and cheer Mallon's toward victory.
Still the one
With a share of second place at the NEC, Tiger Woods held onto the No. 1 spot in the World Ranking and put more space between himself and his closest competition for the title, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els (who finished T32 and T65, respectively). Still, Tiger's 7-under 273 was a lot uglier than it sounds. From the first hole of the tournament (where Tiger slid a two-foot par putt three feet past the hole) to the 16th tee on Sunday (where he blocked a driver toward the cart path on 17), Woods' game looked like it was in disarray. But don't be fooled: This is a great sign for Tiger. When he can play in a field of the world's best and finish second without being on the top of his game, then perhaps Woods really is as close as he's been telling us all year long.
Same ol' song
With a 3-over 283 for the week at the NEC, Singh never got into contention to beat Woods and claim the No. 1 ranking. Singh did have one great moment, however. On the 18th hole in Sunday's final round, he punched an iron shot under some tree branches, through the fairway and to within inches of the hole. After being in trouble off the tee, Singh tapped in for an easy birdie.
On the DiMarco
In a recent Golf Digest interview, Chris DiMarco revealed that he was content being a solid PGA Tour professional, and didn't want to put in the work it takes to become among the world's best. If he's not careful, the latter just might happen without any extra work. DiMarco has finished T6, T2, T6 in his last three starts and has five top-10s in his last eight events. He is now 13th on the money list, though he hasn't won since 2002 in Phoenix.
He didn't make the Ryder Cup team, but Scott Verplank did have the distinction of being the only player who didn't make it to receive a phone call from Sutton before Monday's press conference. Verplank went into the NEC looking like he had something to prove, shooting 69-69-67 before a final-round 74 left him in a tie for 19th place.
Maybe he was running a little late Thursday morning. Maybe he just had some dirt on his chin. But that sure looked like a goatee that Phil Mickelson was trying to grow on Thursday at the NEC. Interesting look for Phil, who's always been one of the more clean-cut guys on tour.
Congratulations to Vaughn Taylor, who won his first career PGA Tour title with a birdie on the first hole of a four-man playoff at the Reno-Tahoe Open. But the bigger question is: Why is there even a Reno-Tahoe Open? Or a Chrysler Classic of Tucson, B.C. Open or Southern Farm Bureau Classic? Each of these four events is played at the same time as another event with a stronger field (the B.C. is the same week as the British Open; the other three are played simultaneously with WGC events), meaning weaker players becoming tour champions. So far this season, Taylor, Jonathan Byrd and Heath Slocum have qualified for next year's Mercedes Championships with their wins. Sure, these events give platforms for the players not yet on par with the world's stars, but it cheapens the value of a tour win when these three players hold titles and guys like Davis Love III are toiling without one, but playing against higher caliber players. Tournaments like the Reno should be done away with. One way for the Taylors of the world to qualify for the higher quality events? Simply play better in the all-inclusive tournaments where the best fields are competing.
The marshal plan
Strange story from last week's PGA Championship: During the second round, K.J. Choi hit his drive on the fourth hole into the rough. The marshals in the area pointed Choi and his search party toward the wrong spot. Choi re-teed and made a triple-bogey. Adam Scott, playing in the next group, found Choi's ball sitting up in the rough. Not finding the ball penalized Choi at least two, maybe three strokes. The worst part? He finished two strokes out of the three-man playoff.
Eighteen and life
Ever have one of those days when you missed every single putt by inches? Had they all gone in, you figure, your score would have been 18 strokes lower. Perhaps that's what happened to Richard Johnson between the third and fourth round of the Reno-Tahoe. Johnson shot an 82 on Saturday, only to come back with a 64 on Sunday, dropping 18 strokes from his score.
Little big league
PGA Tour rookie Rich Barcelo shot a 75-74 to miss the cut at the Reno-Tahoe Open, but he may have an excuse in that he was distracted by this week's action on ESPN -- not golf, but the Little League World Series. Barcelo competed in the series as a member of the International Little League of Tucson. A first baseman, Barcelo helped his squad win the U.S. title, 4-1, over Sarasota, Fla., before losing to the Far East, 12-0, in the final. Barcelo still refers to the experience as "like living a dream."
When a player finishes four strokes out of the lead, there's usually a few holes that can be looked at as the ones that really hurt. For Michelle Wie at the Wendy's Championship, all of her hurting came on one hole. Wie made a quadruple-bogey 7 on the par-3 17th hole in Saturday's third round, plunking two balls into the water during the disaster. Wie finished in a share of sixth place at 6 under, while a par on that hole would have led to a 10 under finish and a spot in the playoff with Hee-Won Han and eventual winner Catriona Matthew.
One Moore time
Meet your newest superstar, golf fans. His name is Ryan Moore. You may not have caught him when he won this year's NCAA Division I championship or the U.S. PubLinks or the Western Amateur, or when his 1-under 139 won medalist honors in the first two days of stroke play at the U.S. Amateur, or when he won his first five matches in the match play part of the Amateur (four of the come-from-behind nature). But maybe you were able to catch a glimpse of the 21-year-old UNLV rising senior on Sunday, when he came back from four holes down against Luke List to claim the Amateur for the first time. Perhaps Moore will not become the next Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods -- three of the most successful winners in Amateur history -- but expect him to have more of an impact on the PGA Tour then recent winners like Matt Kuchar, David Gossett and Jeff Quinney. Look for Moore to have success similar to that of 1992 Amateur winner Justin Leonard, the most successful player since '90 not named Tiger or Phil.
Put him on the List
Luke List is only 19, but he established himself as one of the nation's top amateurs this week. In Saturday's semifinal match against Chris Nallen, List pulled off two spectacular shots. He holed out from the fairway for eagle on No. 4, then almost holed out again on the first extra hole, settling for a tap-in birdie and the win.
Andy Svoboda is a four-time club champion at famed Winged Foot GC, giving him pretty good home-field advantage at this week's U.S. Amateur. Svoboda finished fifth in the two-day stroke play qualifier, then made it to the quarterfinals while crowds of his fellow members cheered him on.
It ain't easy bein' Green
Danny Green, a 47-year-old from Tennessee, reached the quarterfinalsof the Amateur, leaving such players as 20-year-old future star Spencer Levin in his wake. But if you ask fans and TV viewers about Green, it's not the fact that he won three matches that's so special; it's that he did so with such an ugly swing. Green, an All-America tennis player in college who didn't take up golf until after graduation, uses a herky-jerky motion that doesn't look pretty, but was pretty successful at Winged Foot.
Kuehne vs. Keeney
Trip Kuehne has a couple of siblings who play a little golf -- brother Hank is on the PGA Tour; sister Kelli the LPGA Tour -- but he never thought he'd be seeing another Kuehne in this week's U.S. Amateur. Well, he did ... and he didn't. In Wednesday's first round of match play, Kuehne faced Ryan Keeney (pronounced the same way) and beat him, 4 and 3.
Quote of the week
"Hal and I had a little small talk and then he said, 'We would sure love to have you on the team,' and I was kind of waiting for a 'But...' "
--Jay Haas, on his reaction to Hal Sutton telling him he had made the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
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.