January 07, 2010
U.S. will romp, even sans Tiger
The United States has lost five of the past six Ryder Cups because our guys have putted poorly. The conjecture about captain's choices, strategy, chemistry, unusual formats and the venue favoring one team or the other is just conversation. The putts haven't dropped, and some attribute this to fate, as in "it just wasn't our week." But that's a cop-out. Putting is very much inspiration-based, and players who are motivated and eager to compete are usually better on the greens. Those players have tended to be the Europeans, but that will change at Valhalla. The Yanks are tired of getting whipped, and this time they'll arrive in a mood to drain everything. Even without Tiger, they should win easily.
Modern course conditioning, with super-firm fairways shaved to the point where the grass is barely measurable, has created the need for an extremely difficult shot -- maybe the hardest in the game. I'm talking about the short pitch from a tight lie to a slightly elevated green with the pin in the front. Geoff Ogilvy faced a similar shot from short of the 18th green at Winged Foot during the last round of the 2006 U.S. Open. Geoff pulled it off perfectly and got up and down to win the championship. That little pitch was one of the great pressure shots in recent U.S. Open history.Less successful was Phil Mickelson on the 13th at Torrey Pines in June. From a lie similar to Ogilvy's, Phil flubbed three shots in a row and made a 9, which ruined his chance of winning. There is no room for error on that type of shot. If you hit it a tiny bit fat, the ball goes almost nowhere. The key is to not get greedy and try to hit the ball higher than the lie allows. Unless you must get up and down, play the shot 20 feet past the hole. Bogeys hurt, but doubles and triples kill.
The PGA Tour knows that timing is important, hence its constant juggling of the tour schedule. Tim Finchem & Co. pretty much have it right, but there's one adjustment that would help immensely: moving the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship from February to the end of the schedule -- possibly even supplanting the Tour Championship in September. What an end to the season that would be, taking the top 32 players and having them play for the FedEx Cup trophy (and cash) in the most exciting form of play there is.Match play is always better when the season has evolved and players have established their form, rivalries are running high and fan interest is at its highest. As it is, the WGC Match Play just sort of drifts onto the schedule as a run-up to the Florida swing. Incorporate it into the FedEx Cup lineup, Mr. Finchem. You'll be doing fans and players a huge favor.