November 25, 2008

The Editor's Desk

In the magazine...

Editor-In-Chief Geoff Russell

Editor-In-Chief Geoff Russell

Question: How do you feel about the 18-hole playoff the USGA uses to determine a winner when the championship finishes in a tie after 72 holes?

I'm guessing a majority of you don't like it (because you miss the gratification of a Sunday night conclusion, and also because most of you work Mondays and can't spend four or five hours watching the playoff on TV). But I love the U.S. Open's 18-hole playoff. Special occasions demand special circumstances, and as far as I'm concerned, breaking the tie at our national championship requires more than a sudden-death or three- or four-hole format.

I generally find myself in the minority camp on this topic, and at no time are the naysayers more loud in their objections than during a particularly tedious Monday showdown that pits two less-than-compelling combatants. (The 2001 playoff at Southern Hills between Retief Goosen and Mark Brooks, a runaway win for the South African which took more than four hours to complete even though they were the only two players on the course, comes to mind.)

But all it takes is one scintillating 18-hole Monday playoff to (hopefully) change some minds. And that's what we got at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, when the David-and-Goliath duel between Rocco Mediate and Tiger Woods took a championship that had already had more than it's share of thrilling moments (most of them courtesy of Woods, of course) and raised it several spine-tingling notches on the historic meter.

This week's issue of Golf World features our annual ranking of the top 25 Newsmakers of the Year in golf. The ranking is determined by a vote of the magazine's editors, and in our opinion, the Woods-Mediate playoff was the No. 1 newsmaker of 2008.

Senior writer John Hawkins' story about the playoff, which appears in this week's magazine, demonstrates why: For golf fans across the country, the playoff forced all other events in their lives into the background. More than 10,000 spectators showed up at Torrey Pines to watch the showdown. The NBC telecast drew a 7.6 rating (about five times higher than the network's Sunday telecast of the final round of the Tour Championship three months later). More than 2.3 million people followed the playoff on the USGA website, making it (the association claims) the most popular single sports event in the history of the Internet.

But this was my favorite anecdote from Hawkins' story: The Monday charter flight carrying a contingent of PGA Tour players, their families and caddies from San Diego to Connecticut (the Travelers Championship was the tour event the week after the Open) landed in Hartford with Woods and Mediate having just hit their tee shots on the 18th hole. The passengers -- who had watched the entire playoff on the TV sets on the plane -- asked the pilot to remain on the runway long enough so they could watch the two players finish the hole.

"I spent the last two months interviewing people -- players, fans, officials, my friends -- about the Woods-Mediate playoff," Hawkins says, "and what I found is that most of them put their lives on hold that afternoon. No one expected Rocco to perform as well as he did, and by the middle of the back nine [when Mediate made three birdies in a row to take the lead], a lot of people of people quit work early. One guy I know left his office and went to a bar to watch the last few holes.

"It was the most exciting round of golf of the year," Hawkins says, "and one of the most exciting of Tiger's career."

The other story in this week's issue I think you'll like is a profile of the person who made the No. 25 spot on our list: Paul Goydos. In May Goydos, a 44-year-old PGA Tour journeyman, very nearly won the Players, contending all week and leading for much of Sunday's final round before bogeying the 72nd hole and losing a playoff to Sergio Garcia. At the time, the Goydos story seemed like one of those "15 minutes of fame" sagas sports dishes up every now and then.

But in his profile of Goydos this week, senior writer John Strege fleshes out some of the aspects to Goydos's life that were only hinted at during his performance at the Players. He's a single father raising two teenaged daughters. He used to substitute teach in some of Southern California's toughest schools. He's one of the tour's few admitted Democrats. I always sensed that Goydos was a pretty interesting and appealing guy; Strege's story confirmed it.

The one question John didn't ask Goydos that I wish he had: What does he think about 18-hole playoffs? I bet, in hindsight, Goydos would be in favor of them. At least at the Players.

-- Geoff Russell