124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2


Summer's Last Call

August 28, 2008

NORTON, Mass. -- This weekend is not only the last weekend of summer, but last call for the respective Ryder Cup teams, which to this point has overshadowed the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup Playoffs. Tim Finchem can't wait until Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo make their picks so he can host at least one post-season event, the BMW Championship, without somebody asking if Ian Poulter made the proper decision or if Zinger is going to trump Faldo with his wild cards. It's something to talk about until Tiger Woods jumps out of his new EA Sports game and starts doing his Michael Phelps again.

Woods and Phelps met for the first time in Manhattan Wednesday night, at a party following the unveiling of Tiger's video game. Kelly Tilghman, the Golf Channel's host, was talking to Woods when Phelps came up and introduced himself. Phelps has started to play golf. There is no truth to the rumor that it's either David Leadbetter or Rick Smith as his swing coach.

Early reports have Tiger emerging from the first stages of rehabilitation built more like a swimmer than a free safety. He had just returned from a golf course visit to Dubai, stopping off in New York for the EA Sports extravaganza in Gramercy Park. His presence was certainly missed at a tour stop benefiting his foundation, the Deutsche Bank Championship. As Phil Mickelson duly noted Thursday, "I think we're lucky to have the most recognizable icon in all of sports playing ours." And he wasn't talking about Phelps.

Ryder Cup talk started heating up about the time Woods went in for his second surgery this year, just after winning the U.S. Open on one leg. Once Woods went to the sidelines, Padraig Harrington took over. Give the Irishman credit. He has stepped up, as Mickelson, the defending champion at the TPC-Boston, woefully has not. But when Harrington came into the media tent earlier this week, it was not so much to discuss his back-to-back majors; it was to add his opinion to the Ryder Cup race.

Poulter is an intriguing case. The Englishman kept changing flights last weekend, going back and forth between flying across the ocean to play the Johnnie Walker at Gleneagles, where he needed a top-five finish to automatically qualify for the European team, or staying in the United States, where he was still in the Playoffs despite missing the cut at The Barclays (playing in Boston would also allow Poulter to reach his 15-tournament minimum to retain his PGA Tour playing privileges for 2009).

Poulter's decision has turned into the week's soap opera for the European press. There has been an accusation by countryman Nick Dougherty that Faldo told Poulter he was on the team, which is why the Englishman chose to play in Boston instead of England. To that, Poulter cried rubbish. There is also indignation in some camps, as if this were a snub to the European Tour.

With his hand on his heart, Poulter said he hasn't been given the nod. The twist? Faldo makes his picks Sunday at 2 pm Eastern, just when the leaders will be teeing off at the Deutsche Bank -- for their third round. The Monday finish could hurt Poulter, unless he's in one of the final groups. Then he hopes somebody comes out to the first or second hole with good news. If it's bad news, he doesn't want to know.

The other story developing is what Poulter aptly described as the over-tweaking of the FedEx Cup points table. Finchem should have just taken it to MIT (or maybe he did?). Paul Goydos was laughing about how he finished last at The Barclays among players who made the cut, 72nd out of 72 players, and he still moved up the points list. "If I keep playing bad, I could win this thing," the Players runner-up cracked.

In some ways, the system is on point: Kevin Streelman, the 29-year-old Dukie, who had a putt on the last hole to join the playoff at Ridgewood, has zoomed up to 37th in the standings, locked down his card for 2009, and has taken on the role Steve Stricker filled last year, providing golf fans a good guy to root for. After his news conference, Streelman talked about the summer of 2003, when he caddied at Chicago GC in groups that included Davis Love III and Mickelson.

Garcia stopped off at the U.S. Open tennis event to hang out and hit balls with fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal, and continues to radiate a positive vibe, in spite of his recent string of close losses. He played the pro-am with Donald Trump, who requested the pairing from Deutsche Bank chairman Seth Waugh, who gets more than a few votes for best host on tour. Trump usually prefers an afternoon starting time, but for Sergio he got up early.

In the featured pairing, Waugh played with Mickelson, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, and a hedge fund manager who was arguably worth all of them put together, Chase Coleman of (get this) Tiger Global Management. It was perfect alchemy for Mickelson, who got to talk his plan to save the Social Security system with Bloomberg and Coleman, plus share his thoughts with Kraft on the NFL. The day ended when Waugh opened the blade on his wedge and got it up and down with a Mickelsonian-like flop shot at the 18th to win the wager over Phil. It's been that kind of year for Mickelson.

Waugh's shot from the deep rough to tap-in range should come as no surprise to friends. A good athlete who played shortstop at Amherst, he finished par-par-par from the tips of the famed composite course at The Country Club in a charity outing for the Hyde Park YMCA Wednesday. As smooth as that was, Waugh was just as deft when a CNBC reporter nailed him coming off the course at the TPC with a question about taking over Fannie Mae.

Meanwhile, there's Singh, who no longer answers to "Vijay." After missing the cut at the Wyndham Championship, he was working on his game back home in Ponte Vedra Beach, when he ran into Finchem. The Fijian instructed the commissioner that from now on, he should be addressed "World's Greatest Putter."

So that's how it shall be, entering week two of the playoffs. With a win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Singh comes in as more than a wild card. "The World's Greatest Putter" made the bomb to match Garcia on the first playoff hole at The Barclays, but players are raving about the way he's driving the ball, and this venue has been good to him.

When he beat Tiger in 2004, it was one of nine victories, and raised "The World's Greatest Putter" to No. 1 in the world. "Hopefully I can top that one this year and make another win," he said, happy with the state of his game, but with his game face on.