It would be impossible to
come away from the week of the AT&T
National at Aronimink GC and not consider it an unqualified
From the golf course, which
as drawn high praise
from the players, to the fan support (45,000-plus Friday and Saturday, 36,000
Sunday, 192,633 for the week), to Aronimink’s ability to host a modern, big-time tournament,
it has all been good.
Even the weather cooperated,
which it did not the last time Aronimink hosted a major, the 2003 Senior PGA Championship,
when it rained virtually all week.
It is no secret that even before
the AT&T came off well, Aronimink had
designs on bigger fish: namely, another major to follow up on its 1962 PGA Championship. Aroniminkpresident
David Boucher acknowledged Sunday
that the club has indeed put out feelers to the PGA of America and in conversations about a future event.
"The very early stages," Boucher said of the conversations.
Assuming the PGA of America is as enthusiastic about
how the AT&T came off, the first
available open date for a PGA Championship
is 2017.The first open date for a
Ryder Cup, which is also run by the PGA of America, in the U.S. is even
further out, in 2024.
A bid for a U.S. Open at Aronimink is not completely out
of the question, although it is less likely than a PGA Championship.The Open is coming to Merion GC in 2013, of course, and another Open wouldn’t likely return to the area for at least 10 years, or
Beyond that, U.S. Golf Association officials have
acknowledged privately that when they think of Philadelphia, they think of Merion.It has, of course, hosted more Opens (four) and more USGA championships
than any other club in the country.
In addition, clubs tend to
gravitate toward one or the other, the PGA
of America or the USGA.Merion
is clearly in the USGA camp,
has more of a history with the PGA.
One other possibility for Aronimink could
be a Presidents Cup, which is run by
the PGA Tour, as is the AT&T National.Like the Ryder Cup, the Presidents
Cup is played every other year and rotates between U.S. and International
venues. The next available date for a Presidents
Cup in the U.S. is 2017, like next available date for a PGA Championship.
After a 70 on Saturday that gained
no him no ground in the AT&T
National, Tiger Woods stepped to
the microphone for his usual post-round debriefing.
Still grinding out there?
"Always," said Tiger."Always."
didn’t look happy, and why would he?He didn’t look happy on Friday, either, when he also shot even par 70
and said more or less the same thing.
For Philadelphia golf fans
getting their first up-close look at Tiger
this week at Aronimink,
the bummer is that he is out of contention – a non-factor in the
tournament -- and he will be streaking home on his private jet before leader Justin Rose tees off, let alone
Obviously, this is not fans,
tournament organizers nor the PGA Tour
want, certainly not for the long term.The current state of affairs calls to mind the old salt: "As goes General Motors, so goes the nation."
How about, "As goes Tiger Woods, so
These are not good times for
Tiger, in his personal life or in
his golf game. The possibility that nobody wants to ponder is, what if this is
the new reality, the new normal?
What if Tiger’s best golf is behind him and that he will never again
achieve the kind of dominance and success that made him a global icon?
We still see flashes of the
old Tiger, like that third-round 66
at the U.S. Open that got everybody
excited over the possibility of a major charge on Sunday.Didn’t happen.He fizzled.It was hard to tell who was more disappointed, him or golf
As the huge and enthusiastic
crowds following Tiger at Aronimink have
demonstrated, the worst of his personal problems are in the rearview mirror and
fans seem willing to forgive and forget.
What they want, and what
golf needs, is the old Tiger back.
For as long as Tiger has been on the scene, what wowed
fans the most was his awesome power.Up close, his tee shots sound different.The ball flight looks different,
But while his power game is what
drew all the oohs and aahs,
it was his putter that really won tournaments and made him the No. 1 player in
Remember a few years ago,
when the standard line in trying to describe Tiger was often, "He’s is like Nicklaus,
only with a better short game."
No question, Tiger was the No. 1 putter in the
world.Ask any player on the PGA
Tour who they’d want to putt a 6-footer to save their life and the answer was
It wasn’t so much that he
sank long putts, although he sank more than his share of them; it was that he
almost never missed a putt from 10 feet, and he literally didn’t miss anything
from inside 5 feet.The more the
putt mattered, the more certain Tiger
was to make it. (See U.S. Open, Torrey
But lately, Tiger isn’t making all those putts.He missed a baker’s half-dozen makeable
putts during his first round at Aronimink, none more telling that the 5-footer for birdie at
the 18th , which followed a 329-yard blast off the tee and a perfect
little half-wedge. He needed that
put to get him into better position for Friday, yet he lipped it out.
I was standing 20 feet away,
with a good look at the line, and it wasn’t a tricky putt – not for me,
let alone Tiger.More to the point, It was exactly the
kind of putt he used to bury 99½ times out of 100.
If you watched the
highlights on the Golf Channel, it surely
wasn’t the only formerly sure-thing putt Tiger
missed during his first round.Same thing at the U.S. Open
at Pebble Beach, and the Memorial before that, and...
None of this is news to Tiger."I putted awful," he said after his round Thursday.You can say that again.
If Tiger is going to get his mojo back, the
putter is the key.
If Tiger Woods’ image is at a rock bottom, you wouldn’t know it from
the reception he is getting at the AT&T
National at Aronimink GC.
Not only did Tiger have the largest following during
Wednesday’s pro-am, around the golf course he was greeted with applause and
pre-scandal respect and awe.No
catcalls, no hoots or hollers, no thumbs-down, no embarrassing banners being towed
overhead behind airplanes.
It almost feels like Tiger is still the host of the
tournament, despite the fact that he was famously dumped by communications
giant AT&T at the wake of his
personal life meltdown and his name was scrubbed from the tournament.
On Tuesday, Tiger was ushered into the media center
for his pre-tournament press conference, which felt no less official than when did
them as the host of the three previous AT&T
Nationals at Congressional CC in
And late yesterday morning, Tiger was seated front and center at
the tournament’s opening ceremonies on the back lawn behind Aronimink GC’s ornate clubhouse.He was right there with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and rocker Jon Bon Jovi.
So confusing is his role
here this week that earlier today CBS
Sports, which willbroadcast
the tournament Saturday and Sunday, issued a press release headlined:
WOODS HOSTS AND AIMS TO DEFEND TITLE IN "AT&T NATIONAL" ON
JULY WEEKEND, JULY 3-4 ON CBS SPORTS
Minutes later the network
sent out a corrective press release:
PLEASE NOTE PREVIOUS RELEASE ...."TIGER WOODS HOSTS AND AIMS
TO DEFEND TITLE AT AT&T NATIONAL" .....
TIGER IS DEFENDING TITLE, NOT HOSTING
Of course, whether Tiger is hosting or defending doesn’t
seem to much matter to golf fans.All they seem to care about is that they’re finally getting to see the
No. 1 golfer in the flesh.
golf’s star attraction, will be here, thank heavens, despite having been dumped
from his endorsement deal with title sponsor AT&T over his recent peccadillo.If you are wondering why he would bother, it’s because the
tournament is actually run by the Tiger
Other rising stars (and fading
stars) of note in the field include suddenly-hot Ricky Barnes, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Justin Leonard, Jeff Maggert, Lee Janzen, Webb Simpson, Rocco Mediate and Davis Love III.
After that, things get
ho-hum in a hurry. It is surely not to be confused with the powerhouse field we
saw two weeks ago at the U.S. Open,
or even the quality of fields that flock to top-tier non-majors, such as the Memorial
Tournament or the Quail
With the exception of Tiger, the AT&T National field is more like what you’d expect see at a second-
or even third-tier tournament on the PGA
Tour, say, the Valero Texas Open or the just-ended Travelers
Most notably absent is Phil
Mickelson, the popular and
flamboyant No. 2-ranked player in
the world. He has played in only one of the three AT&T Nationals, and it seems to be permanently off his
schedule.He is headed to Europe
this week to prepare for next week’s The
Barclays, followed by the British
But Phil is hardly the only big-name no-show for the AT&T.Of the Top 10
players in the World Golf Rankings, the only two who will be here are Tiger
(No. 1) and Furyk
Also absent are Lee Westwood (No. 3), Tiger pal Steve Stricker (No. 4), Ernie Els (No.
6) Englishmen Luke Donald (No. 7), Paul Casey (No. 8) Ian Poulter (No. 9) and up and coming
Irishman Rory McIlory
Other players who won’t be
here include Camilio Villegas, Retief Goosen,
Geoff Ogilvy, Matt Kuchar, Stewart Cink, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott.
The question is why?
Is the Fourth of July week a
lousy date on the calendar, when players want to be home with their families?Is it because the tournament is sandwiched
between the U.S Open and the British Open?Is it because of the two-year move from Congressional CC in Bethesda, Md., to Aronimink GC, a course the players don’t know?Could it be because of Tiger’s
To be sure, whatever it is, it
is not the fault of Aronimink GC, one of the elite clubs and courses
in Philadelphia, which has done all that was asked of it.
It will be interesting to
see how golf fans and sports fans in general support the tournament this
week.In 2002, when the PGA Tour was licking its wounds from
the lukewarm reception to the SEI
Pennsylvania Classic at Wayneborough CC, I
recall a conversation I had with a top Tour
He said, "Well, we learned
one thing from this:Don’t bother
to come back to Philadelphia unless you bring your A-game."
Eight years later, the Tour is back with an A-game tournament
but a B-game field.
What’s disappointing is
that, because the PGA Tour has been
gone from Philadelphia for so long, and because of the AT&T National’s connection to Tiger, it would have been nice to have a cavalcade of stars. It
would have been nice to be able to demonstrate to the PGA Tour that Philadelphia is such a golf town that it’s crazy not
to give this city a regular annual Tour stop.
That could still happen, and
let’s hope it does.But the depth
of the field this week won’t make it any easier.
If Tiger Woods is true to form, we may have just seen the beginning of
the end for caddie Stevie Williams.
In you missed it, in his interview
after the final round of the U.S.
Open on Sunday, in which he shot 75 and failed to mount any kind of charge,
Tiger did something he never does:
He blamed Stevie.
Not totally, of course, but
for a crucial club selection and plan of attack when it really mattered, at Pebble Beach’s 10th.
"I fired at the pin on 10," Tiger said Sunday. "Steve said
take dead aim right at it, and in my heart I said no. There was no chance. I
have a sand wedge in my hand, and I can't play at that flag."
That quote speaks volumes.For one thing, Tiger always refers to Williams,
his longtime and deeply loyal caddie, in the more familiar "Stevie." For another, no matter what goes wrong in a round, Tiger has never laid so much as a hint
of blame at anybody else’s feet.
is indeed out or on the way out, we’ll probably know soon enough –
perhaps as soon as next week’s AT&T National at Aronimink GC.
It will interesting to see if Williams is on Tiger’s
bag at the AT&T.Even if he is not, an announcement or full
and candid explanation is unlikely.Williams’ absence would more likely
be explained away as him taking a week off to take care of some business back
home in New Zealand.
is a goner, it would also mean that Camp
Tiger, which was already a tiny inner circle of advisors and intimates
– most notably agent Mark
Steinberg, PR man Glenn Greenspan
and Williams -- just got even smaller.
The trail of cast-offs in Tiger’s wake is already big.There was his first agent, Hughes
Norton, caddie Mike "Fluff" Cowan
and swing coaches Butch Harmon and,
more recently, Hank Haney.
In the case of Haney, Tiger didn’t even
need to officially fire him.He
simply gave him the cold shoulder for a few weeks.Hank got the
message loud and clear and quit by text message.
senses he’s out, my guess is he would do the same.He may have earned an image as a gruff bully as he tried to
protect Tiger at tournaments, but Williams is his own man.Nor was he at all happy to learn of the
double life Tiger had been leading
right under his nose.
In 12 years on Tiger’s bag, Williams has
made millions and he is presumably financially set.He also has plenty of other interests, especially auto
racing. He could walk away and
live a full life back home, with his fellow Kiwis.
Remember just a year or so
ago when it was a foregone conclusion that Tiger
Woods would break Jack Nicklaus’
record of 18 majors?
These days, the only
foregone conclusion about Tiger’s
future is that his image will never be the same.
On the eve of the U.S.
Open at Pebble Beach, the scene of
his most remarkable single achievement – his 15-shot victory in the 2000 Open --
the odds makers still say Tiger is a
favorite to win, along with Phil Mickelson.But I don’t see it.I don’t think his game or his head are
in the right place to win major No. 15.
Considering how he dominated
golf like no one ever before him – not even Nicklaus – this current state of affairs is tragic and almost
inconceivable.For the first dozen
years of his career, this guy was the prohibitive favorite to win any
tournament he entered, especially the majors, where he somehow managed to find
And yet, when he sticks a
peg in the first tee tomorrow, the Open will be only the fifth tournament Tiger has played all year. If not for his fourth place finish at
the Masters, his first tournament
back after his self-imposed post-scandal exile, Tiger would be much worse than his current 145th ($405,300) on the PGA Tour money list.
In his three other
tournaments, Tiger’s showing has ranged from bad to embarrassing: He shot 74-79
at Quail Hollow to miss the cut, he
WD’ed from the Players Championship
with a sore and he finished tied for 19th at the Memorial, a tournament he has won four
Despite his insistence that
his game is coming around, most indicators suggest otherwise.He is spraying tee shots left and
right, his putting isn’t what it once was, and, most ominous, he seems to have
lost his aura of invincibility.
I used to stand on the
practice range at tournaments and watch Tiger
arrive.He would stride to the end
of the range, past the other pros, without so much as a smile or a glance in
their direction.He was sheriff,
the man, and they knew it.Half
the guys averted their eyes, as if they felt unworthy in his presence.
Those days are over.They all know Tiger is human, vulnerable, beatable, from Phil to Steve Stricker
to Lee Westwood and beyond.Many knowledgeable observers are coming
to believe that Tiger’s best golf
could very well be behind him,
In his personal life, the
bad news just keeps coming.Reports of his impending divorce from Elin are as incessant as those vuvuzelas horns at the World Cup.In his pre-Openpress conference at Pebble Beach, when a
reporter asked if there was any resolution between he and Elin, Tiger replied
testily, "That’s none of your business."
Only today, the New York Daily News reported that porn star Devon
James, who claims to have had a 2½ affair with Tiger, also claims that he is the father of her 9-year-old son.
I don’t care how strong you
are mentally, or how much money you have to insulate yourself, standing up to
the pressures and humiliations that hang over Tiger like a dark cloud takes its toll.Even when he finds sanctuary between the ropes at a
golf tournament, it is only temporary – and Tiger surely knows from the hoots, catcalls and thumbs-down
treatment that he has alienated half the fans at the tournament and at home
watching on TV.The man has made a
mess of his life, and how can it not be eating away at him?
If he can ever get his game
to the point that Jack Nicklaus’ Mt.
Everest of a record once again appears to be scalable, Tiger will have demonstrated himself to be even better than we once
all thought.That’s saying
I don’t expect it to start
happening this week at Pebble Beach.