Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Players Championship

On Sunday, Tiger Woods once again proved his worth to the sport of golf as NBC posted its highest television rating for a PGA TOUR event in 2013 during the final round of The Players Championship. The network drew a 5.5 rating which is outstanding for a regular TOUR event. Woods won his fourth title of the year and dueled out a host of players down the stretch- including his arch-rival Sergio Garcia.
The Players Championship is a hybrid when it comes to professional golf tournaments. The four majors are well defined- The Masters, the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship being clearly the most prestigious in all of golf. The PGA Championship has the strongest field among the four majors and to the credit of The Players it has arguably the second strongest field in professional golf.
The Woods-Garcia rivalry is not necessarily golf’s version of Ali-Frazier, but it makes for interesting drama. Things heated up on Saturday when Garcia was apparently distracted during his swing by a crowd reaction to Woods’ club selection on a par five hole. After hitting his shot, one he wasn't satisfied with, Garcia glared across the fairway at Woods.
During a post round interview, Garcia quipped, “We really don’t enjoy each other’s company. You don’t have to be a rocket engineer to figure that out.”
When asked about his interpretation of the situation, Woods responded, “I’m not surprised he found something to complain about.”
The Woods-Garcia tiff was just the latest in golf’s ongoing “war of words” between various parties. The PGA Tour and the PGA of America have sparred with the USGA and the R&A all winter over anchoring. Peter Dawson, from the R&A, and I have traded several shots on various issues facing the game today.
Is all of this good for golf? Many purists would say that it’s probably not in best interests of the sport. Golf is probably the only major sport in the world where fist fights don’t take place. So, we stick with words in golf and let our clubs do the talking. I say the conversations have been okay and at the end of the day, the sport will be stronger.
Last week’s activities at The Players Championship started with the World Golf Hall of Fame induction of Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie, Ken Venturi, Willie Park, Jr. and Ken Schofield. Many debated the merits of the Class of ’13, but I could not disagree more.
The Couples and Montgomerie inductions drew scrutiny because between the two of them, they had only one major championship. That was by Couples at The Masters. The ever popular Couples was inducted ahead of Davis Love III and Mark O’Meara, both two-time major championship winners and owners of more PGA TOUR wins than Couples.
Montgomerie won 31 times on the European Tour, the most by any British player, and he was a stalwart in the Ryder Cup. He is the fourth player in the last five years to be inducted into the Hall of Fame without winning a major. Montgomerie also won the European Order of Merit eight times.
Venturi won the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional in torrid heat while suffering through a heat stroke. He enjoyed 35 years of distinguished service to CBS. Park won the British open in 1887 and 1889 and then broadened his influence in the game by building clubs, golf courses and writing. Schofield was the head of the European Tour from 1975 to 2004. He grew that tour from 17 to 45 events and paved the way for continental Europe to be part of the Ryder Cup.
Montgomerie told a story about how he was interviewing for a job with IMG, the top player agency in sports, in 1996. He met his two prospective employers on the 10th tee at Turnberry GC in Scotland. It’s a location that is as far removed from the clubhouse as you can get. Figuring that he wasn't a priority to IMG, he unassumingly teed it up and shot a 29 on the back nine at Turnberry.
When Monte walked off the course, the two guys from IMG said, “Instead of you working for us, we are going to work for you.”
Couples was the last to get inducted on that Monday night. Known for his poise and overall coolness, it was strange to see Freddie get choked up several times during his acceptance speech. He was overcome with emotion at the end of the night, reading two sentences from a piece of paper.
“Thanks for taking a kid from Seattle and putting him in the Hall of Fame,” Couples said as his chin buckled. “This is the coolest night of my life.”
He walked off the stage in tears, thrusting both arms in the air.
I’m wiping a tear away as I write this. It was a great kickoff to a superb week at The Players.             

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