Hate to be Rude: Donald is no-brainer PoY

Luke Donald

I hear people debate Player of the Year, and I don’t quite get it. Luke Donald would seem a no-brainer choice because he clearly has the best body of work.

As Joe Ogilvie, widely considered the smartest PGA Tour player, said Tuesday at media day for the Children’s Miracle Network Classic: “He’s in the top 4 every week. It’s an amazing body of work.”

Donald has 13 top 10s and eight top 4s in 18 Tour starts, including a victory at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. Plus he won twice in Europe. Plus he leads the Race to Dubai and was one stroke from winning the FedEx Cup. Plus he’s No. 1 in the world ranking and Tour scoring and putting.

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The main news regarding the Presidents Cup picks is that there was no surprising news. The chalk picks of Bill Haas, Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley were right on, as was Fred Couples’ early choice of Tiger Woods.

If there’s an injustice, it’s that PGA champion Keegan Bradley is on the outside. For the moment, anyway. He’ll join the USA side if Steve Stricker, whose MRI on Tuesday revealed a herniated disk, can’t go. The lingering neck problem has weakened Stricker’s left arm.

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If you agree that international match-play teams need good putters, then perhaps this will make you feel better about Haas’ selection: He led the Tour Championship in putting-strokes gained, at 2.048 strokes per round.

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It used to be silly to suggest that any tournament between September and April was terribly important for Tiger Woods. And maybe it still is. But these are different times, and his start in next week’s Frys.com Open does qualify as a telling weigh station for golf’s former terminator.

Woods says his game is rounding into shape. Healthy for the first time since spring, he has been practicing and trying to make the motions of his latest swing second nature.

He and Sean Foley have worked together now for about 14 months. On the other hand, Foley says Woods has played only 11 tournaments under his guidance, adding that Justin Rose hadn’t necessarily made huge progress after 11 events with Foley. Rose himself has said the Foley system took at least a year to kick in.

Anyway, how Woods fares next week is anyone’s guess because we don’t know which Woods we’re dealing with at this point. I’m thinking anything in between a victory and a missed cut wouldn’t really surprise.

A top 10 or 15 would seem to make sense. But then we’ll know soon enough.

The real litmus test comes next year. Let’s gather at the end of 2012, when he turns 37, and it should be clear what track he’s on – the Jack track or not.

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Woods has collected about four PGA Tour events for every major he has won. And his 4-1 ratio already is far lower than most.

If he were to continue with performance similar to that pattern, he’d have to win about 20 Tour events if he were to add five more majors and pass Jack Nicklaus’ 18.

Considering that task and trend, passing Nicklaus looks more difficult. Whatever, if he does break the record, the last five majors, coming after his life changed dramatically in 2009-10, would qualify as his greatest act, more impressive that the first 14.

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Joe LaCava leaving Dustin Johnson to caddie for Woods makes sense on a couple of fronts: A family man, LaCava would be able to spend several weeks more a year at home. And if Woods reclaims a large measure of his former form, he’ll be inside the ring for a run at history.

That said, it would’ve been nice had Woods given Johnson a heads-up.

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The Tour got lucky with a dramatic Tour Championship playoff. Until then, the myriad FedEx Cup projections, changing by the second, detracted from the golf, even for the savviest of fans.

The system is complicated to the point winner Bill Haas said didn’t know he had claimed the Cup and $10 million bonus until afterward.

“The fact Bill Haas didn’t know he won is a bit of a problem,” Ogilvie said. “If you are in the Super Bowl and in overtime, you know if you kick a field goal before the other team, you know you’ve won.”

Ogilvie suggests a final-week system in which players receive handicaps: Players No. 26-30 in points at the Tour Championship giving 12 to 14 strokes to the leader, Nos. 6-10 starting six strokes behind, etc.

“If I start last and I’m 10 under and the leader Webb Simpson is 2 over, we’re tied,” Ogilvie said. “It’s easier to understand.”

Not bad. But I still like this best: Tour Championship Wednesday-Saturday followed by a Sunday shootout for the $10 million between the top four in points. Then the final focus is on the golf, not the numbers.

• • •

The topic: Tour threesomes taking 5 hours to play a round. The reason: Ogilvie says a lot of players aren’t ready to hit a shot when it’s their turn.

Ogilvie figures penalizing a player a stroke or two would speed things up, but that Tour commissioner Tim Finchem doesn’t want stroke penalties. It follows that a player hasn’t been docked a stroke for poor pace since 1992.

Then what’s the solution?

GPS or laser devices would speed things up and keep caddies from spending several minutes getting yardages for shots from weird angles. Ogilvie said yardages are incorrect from most marked sprinkler heads.

Good luck getting that past the U.S. Golf Association. The Tour would have to make use of measuring devices a local rule.

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Further evidence this has been the Year of the Kid: Fifteen players in their 20s have won 17 times on Tour this year, matching the same numbers by guys in their 30s. Historically, men in their 30s have dominated.

What’s more, the oldest winner in the last 11 Tour events dating to the Viking Classic was Scott Piercy, at 32. The average age of winners during that period was 28 years, with eight of the 11 champions under age 30.

“Now guys get on Tour and there’s no learning curve,” Ogilvie said.

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Yes, Roland Thatcher is the new Kent Jones, the guy who seems to end up near the top 125 bubble at the end of the year.

Heading into the four-event Fall Series, Thatcher is 126th on the money list. He finished Nos. 121 and 122 the last two seasons.

Let the sweating begin.

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Jeff Rude’s “I Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.

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