Want exciting golf? Just add water.
While rain played a major role at times in delaying both the PGA Tour's AT&T Classic and LPGA's Sybase Classic, wet stuff also provided thrills and, yes, spills on some of the major tours this past weekend.
As the Weekly 18 begins, the theory that two separate major U.S. tours are so disparate has never held more water.
1. Tale of two tours
So, how do you like your major professional golf tour? Ripe with parity, each tournament more unpredictable than the last? Or dominated by superstars, with only the very best ever claiming titles?
Well, here's good news: You can have it both ways.
The differences between the PGA Tour and LPGA these days are more than just slacks versus skirts. On Sunday, the men's circuit saw its 20th winner in 22 events so far this season; only Tiger Woods, with three victories, has claimed multiple trophies. The women's tour, meanwhile, has had only four different champions in 12 events this year -- and no new champion since the fourth week of the season.
What can be gleaned from this information? A few things
• The PGA Tour is deeper than the LPGA. This isn't exactly stop-the-presses news, but there is proof of a palpable difference in the amount of players who can win an event on any given week. Whereas Ryuji Imada became the sixth first-timer to find the winner's circle at the AT&T, the LPGA's Sybase title went to -- yawn -- Lorena Ochoa once again. Nothing against the awesome LoCho, but with wins in six of the 12 events this season, she's as predictable as flipping a coin.
• The LPGA's elite players are more dominant than those of the PGA Tour. Look, Tiger Woods is pretty good. (Put that one down for Understatement of the Year.) Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Adam Scott and Jim Furyk are OK, too. But the best of the best in the women's game are better, compared to the competition, than the best of the best in the men's game. Ochoa, Annika Sorenstam and Paula Creamer have accounted for 11 of the 12 titles, with only Louise Friberg representing the tour's hoi polloi based on her win at the MasterCard Classic back in March.
• The PGA Tour is currently a more exciting product than the LPGA. This, of course, is solely based on opinion. Give us a tour where anything can happen over one that looks like it stole the plot from Groundhog Day. Yes, we'll all want to tell our grandchildren about Ochoa and Sorenstam, but there's something to be said for a little unpredictability in life. Put another way, at some point we all feel obligated to move from early-evening sitcom reruns into first-run prime-time programming.
It comes down to this: Dominance is fun to watch and important to witness, but the unknown is exciting and compelling, if not more interesting, too. Unlike the LPGA, the PGA Tour doesn't showcase household names every single week. And that's just fine with us.
2. Movin' on up
Imada's win may have been somewhat unpredictable, but it hardly came out of nowhere. He already owned three career previous runner-up finishes (last year's AT&T and this year's Buick Invitational and PODS Championship) and with the victory moves up to third on the FedEx Cup points standings (behind only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson) and fourth on the PGA Tour money list (behind only Woods, Mickelson and Stewart Cink).
In 95 career starts prior to this season, Imada had earned $3,090,826. In 13 starts this season, he has earned $2,312,647.
Of course, it wouldn't have happened without a little help from a friend. With his second shot into the par-5 18th hole in the AT&T playoff, Perry saw his ball carom off a tree to the right, bounce onto the green, then roll all the way across the putting surface and into the pond on the left. (Well, he saw the first three three things, but didn't witness the result, shouting, "Where is it?" after the ball was already wet.)
Well, now it can be told. Imada, who was in the rough but two yards past Perry and therefore hitting second, laid up to about 100 yards. But he would have also gone for the green had he been the first to play.
"Yes, definitely," he said without hesitation afterward. "You know, obviously getting it past the green, chipping back down the hill is going to be a lot easier to make birdie or eagle. So I would have gone for it."
3. Greens with envy
Yes, we all know putting is important but it's perhaps never been more important than this past week, when the winners of all three PGA Tour-sanctioned events led their respective fields in putting average. Take a look:
For the record, Imada became just the fourth PGA Tour winner this season to lead the field in putting average. Coincidentally enough, the previous three came in the opening four tournaments of the season (Daniel Chopra at the Mercedes-Benz Championship; D.J. Trahan at the Bob Hope Classic; and Tiger Woods at the Buick Invitational).
4. Hangin' around
David Duval shot 78-77 to finish in a share of 145th of the 150 players to complete two rounds at the AT&T, missing the cut by 11 strokes. He has yet to earn one cent on the PGA Tour this season, with eight missed cuts and a WD in nine starts so far, and hasn't bested a score of 71 in 19 total rounds.
And yet, he maintains his game is coming back, slowly but surely.
"I'm a lot closer to playing great golf than my scores indicate or have indicated up to this point," the 13-time PGA Tour champ, who last won at the 2001 British Open, said prior to the AT&T. "It's just going to take that much more perseverance for me and gaining a little bit of confidence.
"I've learned that, in my opinion, the most valuable thing you have to protect is your confidence. I think that had I known that I may not have been as reluctant or stubborn to seek help kind of after I had gotten hurt and when I started coming back again, although I think I won my first tournament after I came back, after I got really hurt. I would have monitored my golf swing and golf game that much more closely to make sure I wasn't coming back and starting bad habits, and I think that's kind of what I did, and that's where the erosion of confidence will come from."
Duval said his recurring back injury is now a thing of the past and his biggest current issue is simply finding a way to regain his swing.
"I faced a problem that thousands and thousands of golfers have faced. I'd get on the tee and I wouldn't know where to aim because I didn't know if I was going to hit it right or left or straight," said Duval, who ranks 200th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy (above only John Daly) at 45.42 percent. "When you hear about it, it almost becomes a cliché. But it's very difficult to play this game, especially professionally, if you can't eliminate half the golf course, one side of the golf course. I've put my golf swing back together where I have physically mostly eliminated the left side again."
That means we shouldn't expect Duval to hang up the soft spikes anytime soon.
"I probably enjoy [playing golf] a lot more than people think," he said. "I've said it, and I actually do believe it, whether anybody wants to believe it or not, I think in some ways I've been tremendously blessed to taste the top of the mountain and kind of struggle at the bottom, as well, so I kind of know both spectrums of the golf game."
5. Parker's brother
David Toms cut ties with longtime caddie Scott Gneiser at the end of last season. The looper found work on the bag of Anthony Kim earlier this year, but that didn't last. Looking for a full-time job, he hooked up with Parker McLachlin prior to the Arnold Palmer Invitational and though they missed the cut that week, it's been a successful relationship ever since.
McLachlin finished T-12 the next week in New Orleans and since then has added two more top-25 results, including a T-5 at the AT&T, where he led by three on the back nine during the final round, only to finish three shots off the pace.
Earlier in the week, McLachlin told a story of Gneiser helping to keep his head still by holding the top of his hat while on the practice green.
"He was just holding it steady," McLachlin said. "And that was something that simple that I had gotten into the habit of going that way. So he would just hold it while I would make my stroke. And, you know, just something small like that can just click."
6. What a peach!
With a T-34 finish at the AT&T, Zach Johnson has now made the cut in 12 of 13 appearances in Georgia on the PGA Tour, including two wins at TPC Sugarloaf and, of course, last year's Masters victory; those three titles account for all of his first-place finishes to date. Here are his total results:
In 13 starts in the Peach State, Johnson has earned $4,698,137 -- more than $361,395 per start.
In 114 other starts on the PGA Tour, he has earned $6,477,129 -- about $56,817 per start.
Asked prior to the event why he fares so well in Georgia, Johnson answered, "I love the golf courses, certainly. I love the character they bring and certainly how my game matches up to them. Is it coincidence that I've won here three times? Maybe I don't know what it is."
7. Back-ing out
Coming off a T-6 at the Players, 2003 AT&T champion Ben Crane was a popular pick to win this year's edition of the event, too -- especially considering his comments upon finishing up at TPC Sawgrass.
"I played the best golf I played all year today," Crane said after a final-round 72 in gusting winds. "I'm extremely happy with the way I played. I drove it great and I did everything right. Overall, I'm healthy and my back is feeling good, and my game is coming around, so I'm encouraged."
And so many were dismayed to see Crane take a DNS in Atlanta due to a back injury. Unfortunately, it's more of the same old, same old for Crane, who was limited to just nine starts last season and began this year on a Major Medical Extension before easily overcoming the minimum needed to achieve full status. In 11 starts, he's made the cut 10 times and owns five top-25 finishes.
Let's see, if a score of 6-over-par on a single hole is a sexy and a score of 7-over is a septy, then an 8-over number on the scorecard must be an octopus!
It's not a number that comes up too frequently in PGA Tour circles, but Franklin Langham witnessed the rare sea creature by taking an octuple-bogey 13 on the par-5 10th hole -- his first of the day -- in the opening round of the AT&T Classic on Thursday.
From there, things only got slightly better, as Langham carded two triple-bogeys, three doubles, three bogeys, seven pars and a single birdie, leaving him at 22-over-par before withdrawing after 17 holes due to an undisclosed injury.
Believe it or not, that may not even be the most embarrassing number for Langham in 2008. Earlier this season, he opened with rounds of 90-83 on the Nationwide Tour in his hometown of Athens, Ga., no less.
9. Working for the weekend
Entering the season, Todd Demsey was already the PGA Tour's feel-good story in waiting. Winner of the 1993 NCAA Championship while a member of the same Arizona State team as Mickelson, Demsey played on the tour in 1997, but didn't keep his card and went back to the Nationwide Tour from 1999 through 2005.
In 2003, he underwent multiple surgeries to remove a brain tumor. It returned late last year, but was treated with radiation as Demsey regained full status through Q-school in December.
The feel-good story has yet to develop, however, as he missed the cut in each of his first eight starts this season. At the AT&T, Demsey finally finished in the money, but a final-round 8-over 80 left him in 75th place out of 76 competitors.
10. Young and restless
The following from Rob in Dallas receives honors for E-mail of the Week Also Disguised as a Plug For One of our Columns. He writes in regards to this recent piece on Matt Kuchar:
- It shows that while we are ready to anoint Anthony Kim as ready to play on a Sunday against Woods, we should tap the brakes and remember that there is only one Tiger and the rest of these guys might never win more than 10 times in 25 years on tour.
All plugging aside, Rob makes a salient point. Kuchar was considered a can't-miss stud when he finished T-21 at the Masters and T-14 at the U.S. Open as a 19-year-old amateur, but his journey should prove as yet another cautionary tale for those who expect to see young players like Kim make a Tiger-like leap into the world's elite. After all, Bobby Clampett and David Gossett never made it big; Ty Tryon and Michelle Wie are still trying to work their way back; and Casey Wittenberg is just now showing the potential of becoming the player many expected (seven top-25s in 11 Nationwide Tour starts this season). Whereas great athletes in other professional sports often blossom in their late-teens or early-20s, it often takes much longer in golf, especially on the men's side of the game.
As Kuchar said, "I've talked to a lot of other PGA Tour veterans and it seems like there's almost a 10-year learning curve of just getting really comfortable with everything from travel to figuring out where to stay, the equipment, the courses you like, being comfortable seeing your name on leaderboards, being comfortable hitting balls next to Ernie Els and Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and just not being intimidated."
11. Anyone for tennis?
This breaking story just into the Weekly 18 news desk: Players Championship winner Sergio Garcia has plenty of game on the court.
Turns out, Garcia can hold his own with a tennis racket in his hand, too. Kuchar revealed to the W18 earlier this week that the two have knocked it around while on tour before, though only in doubles matches, never one-on-one.
"He's quite a good tennis player," said Kuchar, whose wife, Sybi, played the sport at Georgia Tech. "He enjoys the game a lot."
Asked to rank the tennis games of other golfers, Kuchar said Jeff Quinney is "better than I thought he would be," and Arron Oberholser is "OK," but admitted Garcia and himself are "about the best on tour."
And if that head-to-head singles match ever took place? Well, predicting a winner wouldn't be easy. "We'd have a pretty good match," Kuchar said.
12. Hanging 10
Annika Sorenstam, you just announced your retirement from the LPGA, effective at the end of this season! What are you going to do next?
Well, Ms. 59 didn't go to Disney World, but she did hit some famous New York haunts in advance of the Sybase Classic in Clifton, N.J. On Tuesday night, just hours after holding a press conference to announce her future intentions, Annika threw out the first pitch for the Nationals/Mets game at Shea Stadium. (The result: Low and inside. Wait, make that very low and very inside.)
The next night, she showed up on the "Late Show with David Letterman" to read a list of the top 10 reasons she is retiring from competitive golf after this year. Here's the full lineup:
10. "Tired of Tiger Woods stealing my putter."
9. "Became less interested in aiming at green and more interested in aiming at spectators."
8. "I knew I needed a break when my golf bag began talking to me."
7. "I'm leaving to play Countess Scarlett Worthington on 'All My Children.'"
6. "When I'm in a stressful tournament, I eat golf tees like they're peanuts."
5. "Honestly, this long presidential campaign has sucked the life out of me."
4. "Who can focus on golf when Lauren and Audrina are fighting on 'The Hills'?"
3. "I want to spend more time with Brett Favre's family."
2. "I just want a job where I can sit in a cubicle instead of being stuck on a golf course all day."
1. "The only putts I have to worry about now is my fiancé."
How did Sorenstam's list compare with that of Trevor Immelman, who did the Letterman thing after winning last month's Masters? Let's check it out:
10. "I've been elevated from 'Unknown' to 'Obscure.'"
9. "Thanks to the prize money, I no longer have to buy generic root beer."
8. "Suddenly I don't look so foolish for trademarking 'Immelmania.'"
7. "I'm BFF's with Lauren and Heidi from 'The Hills.'"
6. "President Bush called to congratulate me on winning Wimbledon."
5. "When my caddie recommends a club I can say, 'Excuse me, how many Masters have you won?'"
4. "Invited to Masters Winners Week on 'Jeopardy.'"
3. "I get a lifetime supply of them little pencils."
2. "Guess who's playing 36 holes with the Pope this weekend?"
1. "Get to put my arm around Tiger Woods and say, 'Maybe next year.'"
Hmmm, interesting. They both mentioned Tiger, made a playful political riff and -- strangely enough -- joked of an affinity for watching "The Hills." The final tally: Immelman led 2-up through seven "holes," but Sorenstam fought back to win each of the final three, enjoying a 1-up victory over the guy with the green jacket.
13. Passing of the torch
In case you were wondering, Ochoa and Sorenstam did indeed cross paths after the latter announced her upcoming retirement on Tuesday. According to Lorena, here's how the conversation went:
"I just said congratulations for the week before in Kingsmill, and then I said that I heard that everything went well, that we will miss her. And then she came back and said thank you for the nice comments [to] the media, and I appreciate that very much. But I mean it; that's what I feel for her. That's never going to change. I admire her a lot and I wish her the best always."
14. Keeping a lid on it
If you watched last week's final round of The Players Championship for at least, oh, six minutes or so, then you know the story of why Paul Goydos was wearing a store-bought Long Beach State hat throughout the tournament. ("The hat itself is a bigger celebrity now than I am, it sounds like," he said.) If you missed it, here are the Cliff's Notes: Goydos doesn't have a hat deal. While on his way to the Wachovia Championship, he stopped in a Lids store in the Charlotte airport. He found a black and yellow cap from Long Beach State, his alma mater. He bought it. He wore it. End of story.
One day after Goydos lost the Players on the first extra hole, the W18 endured a one-hour layover at the very same airport and walked around until we found the very same store and, finally, the very same hat. Back right section of the store, on the bottom row of a rack, facing away from the front of the store. Though there were still about a half-dozen remaining, we asked the clerk if there had been a recent run on "LB" caps with "Dirtbags" stitched into the bill.
"Actually, a few people have asked for that hat," he told us. "I think some NASCAR guy is wearing one."
Ah, nothing like a little notoriety for Goydos. As for the hat? It fits us very nicely, thanks for asking.
15. Wet and wild
Just call him Woody 2.0.
Eight months after Woody Austin went tumbling into a water hazard while hitting a shot at the Presidents Cup, Richard Finch may have actually outdone Aquaman at the Irish Open on Sunday. With a three-shot lead on the final hole, Finch had a side-hill lie for his third shot on the par-5. He got plenty of the ball, knocking it onto the front half of the green, but the momentum carried Finch down the hill and into the River Maigue -- up to his chest.
"It was a bit of an awkward stance, but I never gave a thought to falling in," he said. "The momentum on the follow-through took me in. It wasn't that cold. And I was a good swimmer in my youth."
From there, Finch three-putted for a two-stroke victory. Consider it sort of a reverse celebration as the Kraft Nabisco Championship winner, who annually jumps into the adjacent lake after holing the final putt.
16. The Great Won
They don't call him The Great One for nothing.
One year after his wife, Janet Jones-Gretzky, claimed the pro-am portion of the Nationwide Tour's BMW Charity Pro-Am, Wayne Gretzky teamed with Chris Nallen to win the title on Sunday.
Playing off an 18-handicap, Gretzky helped his team to a final-round 62 and 46-under-par overall score. Just don't expect it to serve as bragging rights back home, as the Phoenix Coyotes head coach will share his first-place prize with his better half.
"At the end of the day," he said, "I won the car, but I'm going to give it to her, so she won, too."
Actually, they weren't the only winners in the Gretzky family this weekend. On Saturday night, Wayne's brother entered a tournament raffle and saw his number called to win -- what else? -- a new BMW.
17. Ace is the place
Life is good for Jason Dumler.
As part of a TV segment for the local Denver CBS affiliate, the head pro at Vista Ridge GC in Erie, Colo., was shown teeing off on the course's par-4 17th hole, which measures 330 yards. Dumler, who said he had never previously recorded a hole-in-one on any hole, blasted one onto the green and -- you got it -- right into the hole.
Don't believe the hype? See for yourself. Click here and watch the video in the upper right corner.
18. Quote of the week
"When I was sitting on the airplane, it was almost like the poor guy sitting next to me had to have 25 people reach their arm across like he wasn't even there, almost punching him in the face to shake my hand and say congratulations. That's when I started thinking, What's going on? I finished second. I understand if I was Sergio, you know. I would understand some of this. But I finished second. We generally don't remember who finishes second. That's generally the cliché in sports."
-- Paul Goydos on his commercial flight leaving The Players Championship.
Jason Sobel covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.