June 19, 2009

Alternate Universes

The key to success in this U.S. Open? It might have less to with driving or putting, and more to do with when players teed off the first two rounds

Weather conditions have been very different this week for players based on what draw they received before the tournament started.

Weather conditions have been very different this week for players based on what draw they received before the tournament started.

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- No one has to be reminded that Tiger Woods has made decent wages working on the right side of the draw. A total of 67 PGA Tour victories and 14 major championships are solid clues.

If you aren't totally sure of what the draw means, it goes like this: For the first two rounds of tournaments, players are divided into two groups -- one that starts in the morning and another that starts in the afternoon.

There isn't any particular advantage to being in the first wave or the second wave unless you're up and the weather stinks, which is exactly what happened this week at the U.S. Open.

And Tiger has gotten hosed. He's not the only one, of course, just the biggest name.

Woods, paired with British Open champion Padraig Harrington and Masters champion Angel Cabrera, got the early draw Thursday and the late draw for the second round. And as it turned out, the guys who went out early on the first day were under water and washed off the course without finishing.

Meanwhile, the Thursday afternoon guys probably never left their rooms. When they started their first-round play Friday afternoon, the Bethpage weather was perfect. The sun was shining, birds were chirping, it was all worthy of a postcard.

Woods and the early draw guys finished their first round Friday morning when it was still gray, wet and soggy, long before it warmed up, the greens turned into toasty little dartboards and the sun started blazing.

So going early first and then late was a huge loser to going late and then early. Call it a drawback.

What this means is that we've had two entirely different tournaments going on. It's like we've got U.S. Open No. 109 and U.S. Open 109.5. Now that they've actually completed a full 36 holes, made the cut Saturday and actually started the third round, circumstances should be even from here on out, but nothing can change the advantage one half of the draw enjoyed getting to this point.

There have been plenty of reminders that we've been sort of upside down getting here. Ricky Barnes, who made a splash as an amateur but who has been virtually invisible in his six years as a pro, set the 36-hole U.S. Open scoring record. Who could have thought he and his funky cap would be so visible? He was a late-early draw guy.

Nick Taylor of Canada matched the lowest score by an amateur in the history of the U.S. Open with a second-round 65. His draw was late, and then early.

Peter Hanson and Soren Hansen rattled the leader boards. And don't even think we don't know who they are. Hanson is from Sweden, Hansen is from Denmark, and the little guy is the drummer. Hanson and Hansen are also late-early draw people.

Hanson said he was introduced to the game of golf in Bokskogen, Sweden, by his neighbors, who were probably second-guessing themselves soon afterwards, when their window panes started getting pelted by golf balls.

In Sweden, they teach you how to be stoic, how to count your blessings and how to ice fish, so Hanson knew he was on to something when he saw the draw and then looked outside his window and noticed the weather.

It's all about the draw, he said.

"It's been very one-sided and I'm on the right side," he said. "I think I've been really lucky, to be honest. We had rain on the first day and cool weather and now we've been out in really nice weather . . . nice and warm. I'm lucky with the right side of the draw."

The numbers back up Hanson's position on the luck of the draw. In the first round, the late-early guys averaged nearly two shots better than the early-late guys (72.87 – 74.75). The second round numbers were closer, 71.69 for late-early players and 72.36 for early-late players.

Clearly, at this year's U.S. Open, it's been better to be late early then to be early late, if that makes any sense. If it does, that's the first time all week.