I watched a good bit of the PGA Tour for the first time this weekend. Ben Crane walked away with the win in San Diego by doing as little as humanly possible for the last nine holes. It wasn’t the Mickelson blowout that the Tour would have liked, but Mickelson was there doing his routine, and Rickie Fowler even made the cut for the first time this year. Good signs. I took a few things away from watching the event, and all of them come back to one thing. The large percentage of the guys out there are playing for pay check first, and trophies second. They shepherd the ball around for the cash, and if they coast into a win like Ben Crane, that’s great. Maybe it’s hard to blame them considering the stakes, considering how important it is to make enough money to earn your card, but it doesn’t make for very exciting golf.
The lay-up has been the story of the year. Last week at the Bob Hope Tim Clark opted to lay-up on the final hole. Earlier in the round, long-hitting Bubba Watson did the same on a par five. On Sunday at Torrey Pines, I thought they’d brought back the balata. Two hundred forty-five yards out on 18, and it was red light. Now, it’s hard to be critical of one specific shot. Who knows about a lie, or a player’s comfort level with hitting a certain shot, and yes going for the green is no guarantee. In all cases, there were hazards around the green. But, it’s starting to feel like a mind-set. Down by 2, Brandt Snedeker didn’t go for the green Sunday on 18. Michael Sim, who was only one shot behind had a clean look from 245-250, and hit a 7-iron down the fairway. That yardage sounds daunting, but these guys are on Tour! You can’t hit a three wood down there somewhere on dry land, and hit a chip and a putt?
Yes, the pin was tucked, so much so that Snedeker and Sim didn’t get all that close with their 3rd shots, then missed their birdie efforts (Sim gorked a simple chip, but we’ll get to that later). All this allowed Ben Crane to play 18 in bumper bowling mode, not that he didn’t make it interesting. I guess the problem I have is, from where Sim was in the fairway, 1 shot behind there’s no way Phil Mickelson doesn’t hit 3-wood. It’s not possible he lays up there. Why? Because, he’s probably thinking about making eagle to win, and not giving himself a 15-footer to maybe get into a playoff. I just wonder how many of today’s pros would take a rip in that situation. With a tightly packed leaderboard a 6 or 7 could have been a big hit to the wallet if they ended up in the drink, but if you can’t hit a 3 wood solid enough to get over the water, what are you doing out there? Block it into the gallery, rope hook it into the grandstand, you’re getting a drop, and you still have a chance. Pretty maddening.
Not only has the lay-up become a must have shot, but we got a little taste of the Tiger effect without Tiger on Sunday. We’re accustomed to seeing players wilt down the stretch with Woods on the property, but it was in full effect on Sunday with Woods nowhere to be found. Ben Crane played beautifully to start the round, but as the holes dwindled, his nerves seemed to leave him. A hideous stroke on a 3-footer on 17 let some people back into the tournament, and a nervous par on 18 followed. Ryuji Imada imploded down the stretch. Michael Sim, who aggressively hit driver on 17, backed off the pedal on 18 and then chunked a chip he needed for the tie. Rickie Fowler made the old “two-chip, two-putt double” on 17. Where are the guys who know how to win? More importantly, is everyone out there focused on winning?
Lastly, can the guys stop whining about the grooves and the guys using the Ping wedges? Scott McCarron cried about Phil Mickelson cheating, because he used the Ping loophole. Said he was appalled that Mickelson put the club in play. I’m appalled that someone put a mic in McCarron’s face and asked for his opinion. Phil would beat him every which way with square grooves, v-shaped grooves, a tennis racket, whatever. Get off your stump, McCarron. The Tour can’t make up its mind on whether to allow the wedges, then they’re legal. End of story. Go get one on Ebay. Then you’ll only miss the cut by 4 shots. Do I think the PGA should enact a local rule banning the use of the grandfathered Ping wedges? Yes, but until they do, you can’t fault a guy for playing them. And, casting Phil as the villain, I’m no Phil guy, but he wasn’t the first or only one to do it this season. Move on.