Five things we learned this week
1. Presidents Cup play-in match
On Tuesday, Fred Couples will hopefully take Bill Haas with the second captain's pick after Haas' Tour Championship and FedEx Cup playoffs victories. Couples won't have to fret about nepotism now since Bill Haas' father, Jay, is an assistant captain.
The younger Haas earned his way to Australia. Sure he blew a three-shot lead with three to play, but he showed a lot of courage when he must have been melting inside.
With two wins including the PGA Championship, Keegan Bradley had to have been the captain's favorite. He didn't play himself off the team. He had a 16th at the BMW and a tie for 11th at the Tour Championship. It was simply a case of Haas showing his mettle when it mattered the most. Still, Couples might pick Bradley.
Brandt Snedeker, another captain's favorite, finished 17th in Atlanta. He came into the week in the 11th spot and with the most consistent record in the playoffs.
This little play-in match within the larger tournament was a nice subplot. Couples was able to see three fairly even players showcase their gifts under big pressure. On the International team side, Aaron Baddeley earned Greg Norman's confidence with a tie for third.
The Tour Championship is the gift that keeps on giving. Whether it's the Presidents Cup or the Ryder Cup, a player or two from the matches should be determined here every year.
2. Tiger's new looper
Joe LaCava is leaving Dustin Johnson after just four months on the job to go work for Tiger Woods, beginning in two weeks at the Frys.Com Open. Woods has been without a caddie since he fired Steve Williams in June at the AT&T National. At the PGA Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Woods' close friend Bryon Bell was on the bag.
With Johnson, LaCava probably earned his biggest single career tournament check when the 27-year-old long hitter won the Barclays in August. Yet their split is not surprising. LaCava is 20 years older than Johnson and he admittedly doesn't have much in common with the cocksure Myrtle Beach native. Also, Johnson has talked about playing more in Europe in 2012.
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With Woods, LaCava will work no more than 20 weeks a year. After his win with Johnson at the Barclays, I caught up with him at the Deutsche Bank. He didn't sound like a guy looking to get caught in the Tiger Woods media storm -- he lives in the same small Connecticut town where he grew up -- but I guess Tiger gave him an offer he couldn't refuse.
My advice to him is to not become friends with Tiger. Go to work and go home. Secondly, Tiger takes everything personal and few of his relationships end well. So don't be surprised when he is distant and cold. Third, he's not Fred Couples. The only perspective that Tiger has is the number of days since his last win and what he needs to do to beat Jack's record.
Oh, one more thing. It's not his golf swing that's causing him to not win. It's his head. He needs a mental coach. Push him toward anybody. Almost anything at this point that a sports psychologist can tell him will help.
3. Solheim Cup Expansion
Truth be told, the 2011 Solheim Cup could never lay claim to having the best players in the world. The 24 players in the matches have combined for just seven wins in 2011 on the LPGA Tour. Twelve of the top 20 players in the Rolex Women's world ranking couldn't play in the biennial matches because they are from Taiwan, Korea, Japan or Australia. Christina Kim, the excitable 27-year-old American player, made her team despite having no top-10s on the season and just two top-25s.
Yet on Sunday these women put on a great show at the Killeen Castle in Ireland as Europe beat the U.S., 15-13. The Europeans hadn't beaten the Americans since 2003.
The organizers couldn't have drawn up a better scenario going into the final day of the matches. The sides were knotted 8-8 going into the Sunday singles. The Suzann Pettersen-Michelle Wie match was one of the best of the day. Pettersen rallied from 1 down with birdies on the last three holes to win her match. Spain's Azahara Munoz locked up the clincher to push the Europeans to 14½ points needed for a European win by going up 1 up against Angela Stanford with a birdie at the 17th hole.
It was the most exciting Solheim Cup in recent memory and was a great three days for women's golf. Still, the matches could be stronger if it expanded the format to include an Australian-Asian team, which would fully represent the full power of the women's game.
Harig: Playoff Problems
The fact that one player claimed both the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup title was by no means a sure thing. That alone shows the playoff system still needs fixing, writes ESPN.com's Bob Harig. Column
When the Solheim Cup was first held in 1990 at the Lake Nona Golf Club in Orlando, the Asian explosion onto the LPGA Tour was close to a decade away. There was no Se Ri Pak or Yani Tseng to dominate the game. Asian women on the LPGA Tour don't need a female version of the Presidents Cup to allow non-European players a chance to face the Americans in an international match play competition. The women's game can barely support one match play event.
Moreover, by adding a third team to the matches, the Solheim Cup would firmly assume its future in the game. Why would it want to continue with an out-of-date format that continues to bypass a train that is headed increasingly, year-by-year, to the Far East?
4. Daly woes
Kenneth Ferrie won the Austrian Open on Sunday for his third European Tour title in a playoff over Simon Wakefield. But John Daly made the biggest news of the tournament on Friday when he walked off the Diamond Country Club in Atzenbrugg during his second round after a dispute with rules officials over a ball drop and two-shot penalty.
The 45-year-old two-time major championship exploded after he was penalized for making a bad drop at the 15th hole. At the time, Daly was 1 under for the day after shooting an opening-round 74.
Andy McFee, a European Tour rules official, determined that Daly's drop was too close to the position where the ball initially landed. "He said, 'What's the penalty?' I told him it was a 2-shot penalty, at which point he said, 'I'm done,'" McFee said.
After Daly paid his respects to his playing partners, Martin Wiegele and Miguel Angel Jimenez, he left the course.
Since Big John stormed on the scene 20 years ago at the PGA Championship, where he got into the tournament as the ninth alternate and then won it with a still unprecedented display of accurate long driving, he has captivated the golf world with his otherworldly talents and his self-destructive pursuits into alcoholism, gambling and marital problems. Still no professional golfer outside of Tiger Woods attracts bigger galleries than the former Arkansas Razorback. Whenever he plays, and these days it's mostly due to sponsor's exemptions, he is congenial to his playing partners and one of the most eager autograph signers, even as he struggles miserably with his game.
In 18 PGA Tour events in 2011, he has missed 12 cuts and his best finish was a tie for ninth at the RBC Canadian Open. Big John hasn't had full status on the PGA Tour since 2006.
This latest episode at the Austrian Open is a clear sign of his frustration with his game, despite his best efforts to better his lifestyle after a dramatic weight loss with gastric band surgery in 2009 and a recommitment to his golf game.
Is it time for golf tournaments to stop granting him sponsor's exemptions, forcing him to try to Monday qualify or try to get his PGA Tour card through the Q-School? Last year he told me that he would never go to Q-School, fearing that if he didn't make it through, it would really hurt his confidence. Perhaps it's time the sponsors force him to go by giving him fewer exemptions. Sure, he has contributed greatly to the game, but golf has also gifted him too many opportunities he has squandered with his bad behavior.
Daly's antics at the Austrian Open are very similar to what a spoiled adolescent boy would do after an argument with his parents. He can't have his way so he runs to his bedroom. Maybe Daly should go back home to Arkansas and shut the door to his room for a while and figure out how bad he wants to play pro golf. Because the game doesn't owe him anything.
5. FedEx Cup Fix
At around 4:15 p.m. ET on Sunday when Webb Simpson finished his final round at the Tour Championship with a 3-over 73, he was in 22nd place. Aaron Baddeley, who started the day tied for the lead, was playing the 12th hole and he was two shots back of the leader, Bill Haas.
At the start of the day, Baddeley needed to win the golf tournament and have Simpson finish 23rd or worse for him to have a chance to win the $10 million FedEx Cup playoff first prize. Now, regardless of how well he played the last six holes, he couldn't win because Simpson had held him off with a 3-over round on the Sunday of the biggest tournament of the PGA Tour schedule.
There is something wrong with that. It's understandable for the tour to want the season to culminate with the Tour Championship, but in the current format they have made the event at East Lake an almost afterthought. Would it be the worst thing in the world to reset everyone's points to zero? Wouldn't that make getting into the top 30 even more special?
It's just a thought.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at email@example.com.
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