PGA ChampionshipAugust 12, 2009

No Quick Answer

Even as the season's final major begins, opinions still vary about the slow play controversy that arose from the final round at Firestone

Paired again Thursday after their showdown Sunday at Firestone, Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington will have plenty to discuss.

Paired again Thursday after their showdown Sunday at Firestone, Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington will have plenty to discuss.

CHASKA, Minn. -- As an issue, slow play has long been the health care of the PGA Tour, and now that somebody has decided to do something about it, pressrooms have turned into town hall meetings, with players from Tiger Woods on down expressing their opinions here at the 91st PGA Championship.

The Woods-Padraig Harrington pairing today at Hazeltine National would have more eyeballs on it than any of the groupings going off Thursday and Friday anyway. But since the majors are the land of five-hour rounds, the issue is not going to go away any time soon, not with Woods and Harrington joined now by a competitive bond and a controversy still lingering from the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.

Lost in the debate of whether Tiger and Paddy should have been allowed to play by at their own pace in the final hour at Firestone was Harrington's incredible resolve in the face of Woods' front-nine 30. The bombs he was hitting off the tee past Tiger and the putts he was making to take a one-stroke lead going to 16 tee -- after a frustrating season of reconstruction -- showed the mental strength reflected in Harrington's three major championships.

Woods didn't like being 1 down, but he loved the feeling of being that late in a round of golf with a guy who loved the battle as much as he did. As Woods explained earlier this week, "Having a battle like that with Paddy when we go one on one like that and when we separated ourselves on the front nine, we were enjoying that battle, and that's why I think Paddy feels the way he does and that's certainly one of the reasons why I've said what I said because we were having such a great battle going head to head like that, and it got influenced from outside."

Meanwhile, Harrington is defending his PGA title with bolstered confidence even after realizing that Woods didn't let the clock warning affect him while he did. "I learn from all situations, and I obviously see -- I could see how quickly I got knocked out of the zone on 16, and that's something that I have to be very mindful of going forward," he said. "That's an area I can definitely improve."

Still being debated is at what point does the competition become a show -- and how much leniency should have been extended considering the circumstances of Tiger going after his 70th win. Speaking from the perspective of a player, broadcaster and event manager, Peter Jacobsen said the referee should have swallowed his whistle.

"I think the Firestone situation is one of those with special circumstances that almost make you look the other way on the slow-play rule," Jacobsen wrote in an e-mail. "Two great players battling down the stretch ... in a World Golf Championship that have been struggling for an identity anyway ... Harrington trying to regain the form he had the past 3 years and trying to do the unthinkable (beat Tiger) ... no one was behind them since they were in the last group ... on a historic golf course ... and in the big picture, in today's economy, why wouldn't you just let the drama play out in hopes of something great happening ... Just my 2 cents."

Rocco Mediate's 2 cents began with the book title he and John Feinstein used for his autobiography. "Are you kidding me?" he said, voice rising. "I did this Internet thing this morning and I'm saying, 'Wait a second, wait a minute, if you don't want to get put on the clock, play faster.' If you're in the last group what does it mean? Does it not apply? Why do we have rules? I don't get it."

Mediate, who plays as fast as he talks, told a story about the time Mike Shea put him on the clock at Riviera because Mediate was removing the giant eucalyptus leaves that were on the green, in his line. Although he has always been among the most effusive of tour pros in praise of Woods, he would not bend the rules to fit a situation.

"We have rules in place," Mediate said. "If you're out of position, and 25 shots ahead, you've still got to get timed, sorry. It doesn't matter who we are or what we do, I don't see what the controversy is all about."

As Mediate stopped to take a breath, I interjected that Harrington put the blame on himself for getting rattled; it was a forthright admission. I was able to mention that Woods hit one of his all-time great approach shots in that situation.

"You think you're going to knock him off by telling him he's on the clock?" he said, before rattling into another question—and answer. "Would Padraig have made a four if they didn't time him? I doubt it."

I'm not so sure. Whether his drive into the trees right of the fairway was induced by pressure on his new swing or the threat of getting at worst a one-stroke penalty, it was clearly a different Paddy Harrington rushing through his second, third and fourth of eight strokes. We'll see this week if the experience at Firestone sped up Harrington's pre-shot routine, or at the rate of speed at which he tries to close the gap on Woods. It may have cost him a tournament, but made him a better player.