SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Let me get this straight: The No. 1 player in the world, rehab patient Tiger Woods, has a fractured life and just chopped his way to 18 over par at Firestone, a place he has owned.
The No. 2 player in the world, Phil Mickelson, has been suffering from psoriatic arthritis since the weekend before the U.S. Open, a tournament he came close to winning.
The No. 3 player in the world, Lee Westwood, isn’t even at the PGA Championship because he’s in the midst of 6-8 weeks of rehab for a ruptured plantaris muscle in his right calf.
Fracture, arthritis and slight tear at the top of the world ranking. How’s golf doing? That sounds more like General Hospital than World Ranking.
What, you can’t be in the top three in the world unless you’ve been to a medical center for treatment?
There are a couple of ways to look at it. They’re pretty good if they can overcome such obstacles, or everybody else must not be so good if they can’t overtake the wounded trio.
• Should Woods be on the Ryder Cup team? It’s too early to tell. Let’s see how he plays over the next month. We’ll have a clearer idea after this week.
My sense is that he could help the U.S. team paired with Steve Stricker. But let’s sit back and watch a bit more.
As Paul Azinger told WSCR radio in Chicago the other day, “If he continues to play poorly, the decision would be very easy.”
After Woods said Tuesday that he would accept a captain’s pick, Golf Channel’s Jim Gray quoted U.S. captain Corey Pavin as saying Woods would be on the team. But on Wednesday, Pavin vehemently denied saying that. After the two had a heated exchange in the Whistling Straits media center, Gray said he stands by his story.
My reaction to the idea of putting Woods on the team right now? Where’s the fire? What’s the hurry? Why not wait a few weeks and see where Woods is then?
Afterall, that’s why the deadline for U.S. captain’s picks was extended three weeks, to Sept. 7. And that’s exactly what Pavin said he intends to do.
• Mickelson revealed here at the PGA at Whistling Straits that he suffered intense pain in hip, ankle, elbow and shoulder joints and tendons, to the point he couldn’t walk when he woke up in the morning several days at the U.S. Open.
He tied for fourth.
I want some of that arthritis.
• Mickelson said Enbrel medicine has him back at 90 percent and that he’ll be fine. He’s able to work out now after seven weeks of not exercising. On top of all that, he’s been a vegetarian the past two months and says he feels great.
Phil Mickelson, vegetarian.
Steak-and-potatoes Phil. Five Guys Burgers Phil. Hefty Mickelson.
When I get done laughing in a few hours, I’ll probably be hungry enough to dive into a Porterhouse.
• Whistling Straits, a difficult track where wind tends to blow, is no place to try to find your game. Woods will be doing just that after finishing 30 strokes off the lead Sunday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Woods has hit an all-time low with performance. It will be interesting to see whether he improves this week, or whether his confidence erodes even further.
What Woods would appear to need most now are closure (on reported divorce negotiations) and normalcy. Say what you will about his swing, but Tiger Woods won’t forget how to hit a golf ball. And as my friend Bill Kratzert, the ex-Tour player, said over lunch Tuesday, “Every player is one swing thought away from winning.” It’s happened hundreds of times: A player hits a couple of good shots in a row in competition, and he’s off and running.
Woods’ problem has been an unquiet mind. Internal stress affects the body in ways we can’t explain. And one can only imagine how much stress has racked his body as he has played in a fish bowl with guilt, embarrassment, shame, a broken family life and an open checkbook.
“Every time I come out here, it’s been a little bit more difficult,” Woods said. “Off the golf course, it’s been a lot more difficult. A lot of things have gone on, but in both instances it’s about attaining balance and find an equilibrium.”
It wouldn’t surprise me if Woods missed the cut this week. Not sure I’ve said that more than once before. Fourteen majors aside, it would shock me if he won.
His climb back probably will take a while.
• Trivia question: Who are the five players with two top-10 finishes in the first three majors in 2010? Answer below.
• Crazy stat of the year: Tiger Woods is 119th in FedEx Cup points. Not 1. Not 11. Not 19. But 119.
Sounds like a misprint but isn’t.
That means the FedEx Cup playoffs could go on without golf’s No. 1 draw. That sound you just heard was hybrid of grunting and groaning out of Camp Ponte Vedra.
• No surprise, Padraig Harrington had a thoughtful, big-picture take on Woods’ decline. Short version: Woods is hardly alone in losing terrific form.
“There’s a hundred guys out there currently competing who have had highs and lows in their careers,” the three-time major winner said. “It happens all the time. All the time. We become immune to it and go on and do our thing and by the grace of God hope it’s not us.”
Harrington went on to say that “probably the most fascinating thing in the whole game is how players … have 2-3 wins, the game comes easy to them and 2-3 years later they are not holding their Tour card and not making a living out here. It’s a very fickle game, and the difference between success and failure is a hair’s breath at times. I remember a European Tour player beat me down the stretch of an event in Ireland, and he missed the next 23 cuts. Then he beat me down the stretch in another event.”
The difference with Woods? The spotlight’s always on his slump. Others can chop without much attention.
• Graeme McDowell said last week that he hasn’t felt like himself on a golf course since he won the U.S. Open. “A little bit too much partying,” said the man from Northern Ireland.
But apparently his out-of-kilter isn’t too bad. Joining the crowd, McDowell shot 59 a “couple of weeks ago” at the Valley Links at Royal Portrush, a 6,304-yard layout designed by Harry Colt. He lipped out a putt for 58 on the last hole.
He also has lipped a few champagne glasses of late. But he said he’s prepared to put the victory party behind him. “Now I feel fresh and ready to play golf again,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”
That wasn’t the case at the British Open. He said he found all the post-U.S. Open attention “overwhelming” and more exhausting than expected. He said he played the British Open first round feeling “weird emotions. … I wasn’t as focused as I should have been. I guess the enormity of it all was still hitting me. It’s been strange. But these are good problems to have. I don’t want to give the U.S. Open trophy back.”
• Trivia answer: Mickelson, Woods, Westwood, Nick Watney and Martin Kaymer.
• Whistling Straits might be the best 16-hole course in the world. The 18th, altered more often than Cher, is a bit of a sick hole, and the par-5 fifth doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the holes.
A couple of other opinions I agree with:
McDowell called it “Pebble Beach on steroids.” One has to hit several more drivers here.
Mickelson called it a “Scottish-looking course that plays like an American course. … It’s too soft and the ball stops, so you have to fly balls onto the green.”
• Players agree that soft, smooth greens and no wind are the main contributors to the proliferation of low scores of late, including a pair of 59s and 60s over four PGA Tour weeks this summer. Equipment advances and talent are other factors. As a result, Woods accurately said shooting 59 probably doesn’t have the same aura.
He’s not alone. Having taken a look at all the low scores, three-time major winner Ernie Els shook his head.
“It’s starting to look like the Nationwide Tour, you know?” he said, smiling. “The positives are, these guys are good. That’s our slogan. But you don’t want to make it look like a Mickey Mouse Tour, either. I’d like to see it a bit tougher.”
Els has never shot 59 but has posted several 60s, including one at the difficult Royal Melbourne in Australia. He said he was 12 under through 15 holes and “kind of choked.”
There might have been a reason. “Those Aussies were (crapping) themselves,” Els said, smiling. “Nobody could shoot under 60 at Royal Melbourne and they were trying to talk in my backswing the last three holes.”