Where to begin this morning. Actually the answer is easy: in Akron where Tiger Woods’ return to the PGA Tour is being treated (naturally) as slightly more important than the government not shutting down earlier this week.
Which is fine. While 99 percent of my colleagues will be chronicling Tiger’s every practice swing, deep breath and glance at his new caddie this afternoon, I’m going to walk for a while with Rickie Fowler and Matteo Manassero. I haven’t seen much of Fowler this year and I have never seen Manassero in person—something I’d really like to do. Plus, there should be plenty of room to walk around the golf course since they tee off 30 minutes prior to Tiger and Darren Clarke.
The big news yesterday—when Woods hit balls and practiced but didn’t speak to the media since he had done so on Tuesday—was that he was spotted with a Scotty Cameron putter in his bag. There was a great deal of analysis in the media center about what that meant or might mean when he gets out on the golf course.
As I listened to the discourse I was reminded of something Nick Faldo said years ago after he’d struggled on the greens during a PGA Championship:
“Nick, was the putter your biggest problem?” someone asked.
“The problem,” Faldo answered, “was the puttee.”
Exactly. If Tiger Woods is putting like Tiger Woods he could be using my old bent-shaft two-way (I putt lefty) putter and he’d make everything. If he’s not confident on the greens it doesn’t matter if he’s got a Scotty Cameron putter or a Scottie Pippen putter. It isn’t going to matter.
I actually wrote a column on Golfchannel.com yesterday (click here for the article) kind of mocking the media for their Tiger-obsession. I understand how important he is and, as I’ve said before, I’ve never seen anyone play golf the way he has played golf for very long stretches in the past. That’s said with all due respect to Jack Nicklaus.
But on a day when Woods hit balls for an hour and played nine practice holes, the announcement that Rory McIlroy has decided to come back to The PGA Tour next year was far more important than standing on the range trying to guess Tiger’s weight—which some guys were, quite literally, doing.
McIlroy’s decision to pass up a few appearance fees in Europe—he’s going to make so much as a U.S. Open champion when he does play there it really doesn’t matter—to come and play in the U.S. is a big deal. He likes the golf courses here and he likes the weather here. And, as his dad Gerry, who is traveling with him this week pointed out, there’s a tendency for people to assume a kid from Northern Ireland grew up playing links golf. Rory didn’t. Holywood Golf Club isn’t a links and McIlroy has always been a high-ball hitter. (That said I still think he’ll win a British Open and next year’s site, Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s might be his favorite British Open venue).
It’s simply impossible not to like McIlroy. On Tuesday night when I got here, I walked across the street from my hotel to grab a quick dinner at the fabulous TGI-Friday’s. Who was sitting two seats down from me at the bar? The McIlroy’s. Rory posed for photos with anyone who asked, chatted with people who came up to tell him exactly where they were when he holed out during the second round at Congressional and got out of his chair so he could lean down and chat with the little kids who wanted his autograph.
If anyone can be a 22-year-old multi-millionaire and come close to being normal, McIlroy is the guy. I know he’s been criticized for his comments about the weather at The British Open. The British media acted as if he had suggested the monarchy be abandoned.
He doesn’t like cold and rainy weather. Seriously, tell me golfers who do like cold and rainy weather? Tom Watson. That’s about the list. The notion that because he grew up in Northern Ireland so he should like bad weather is silly. I grew up in New York City. That doesn’t mean I like traffic.
Then last week he got into a twitter-exchange with Jay Townsend, who does European Tour golf for Golf Channel. Townsend was critical of McIlroy’s course-management and took some shots at his caddie along the way. McIlroy ripped him on twitter—probably going too far by calling Townsend a “failed golfer.” That’s not germane to the argument. You don’t have to be a U.S. Open champion to recognize poor course management. On the other hand, Townsend also went too far when he said he expected that sort of course management from a 10-year-old.
Okay fellas, break it up. McIlroy got a little nuts because he thought Townsend was ripping his caddie. If that’s his worst sin this year then he’s had a really good year.
What was interesting about yesterday’s column were some of the responses from Golfchannel.com readers. A couple of people wondered if I was trying to make nice with Tiger because I’m hoping he’ll start talking to me. Seriously? Others said I was still angry because he doesn’t talk to me. Again: Seriously? Folks, honestly, I don’t expect Tiger Woods to talk to me and, even if he did (ha!) what would he tell me? That he and Steiny had a really good dinner last night?
So we’ll see how Woods plays today. If he’s in the hunt the networks might break in with live coverage tomorrow. Forget the stock market being down a million points.
The most important news of the week as far as I’m concerned took place on Monday when voters in Nassau County voted overwhelmingly against funding a new arena for my beloved New York Islanders. The vote may have been the last nail in the coffin for the Islanders because I know NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will shed few tears if the team moves to Quebec or Kansas City or even Las Vegas (!!) when the current lease in The Nassau Coliseum is up in 2015.
This is a classic chicken-and-egg deal: Owner Charles Wang says he doesn’t want to sink big money into his payroll until and unless he has the guarantee of a new arena. The fans, who have watched bad hockey for close to 20 years now—the Islanders last won a playoff series in 1993—just don’t find the Islanders compelling enough to commit public funds to them at a time when the economy is what it is.
There’s no question the team needs a new building. I’ve got lots of fond memories of The Coliseum but it is ridiculously outdated and trying to convince any top-line free agent to come and play there is just about impossible even if Wang was willing to open his wallet.
Garth Snow has actually done a nice job as general manager making deals—like the signing of Michael Grabner last fall—without a lot of flexibility. But no one is going to get all that excited if the Islanders are in contention for the 8th playoff spot next spring. Last year they were eliminated from playoff contention by Thanksgiving.
I’m biased. I don’t want to see the Islanders leave. But unless some private investor comes along and makes a deal with Wang to help him come up with the funds to get a new building built the Islanders are likely to go the way of the Atlanta Flames (who they came into the league with 39 years ago) and the Atlanta Thrashers.
Where in the world are Billy Smith, Brian Trottier, Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin and my favorite Islander, Bob Bourne when you really need them? Sigh.