In almost every way, the 86th PGA Championship won by Vijay Singh on Sunday typifies the weird upheaval the PGA Tour has undergone in 2004. Just take a peek at the game’s New World Order:
- Singh wins a major championship with a final-round score of 76, proving in the process — and for the first time this year in a major — that it’s better to be patient than prolific. Even though the big Fijian probably is better than his No. 2 world ranking (he is 0.1 points from No. 1 Tiger Woods), his victory was more about default as Justin Leonard simply gave it away. Then again, Vijay means “victory’’ in Hindu.
- So this is what it’s come down to for Tiger, rallying to make cuts rather than coming back to win majors. Seriously, Woods never was a force, his best finish — and only top 10 — being a tie for ninth in the British Open. With Woods’ scant schedule, it’s only a matter of a few meaningless tournaments before Singh ascends to the top spot.
- After going winless in 2003, and 0-for-46 in the majors, Phil Mickelson breaks through to win the Masters, and finishes second, third and tied for sixth in the other three Grand Slam events. Unfortunately, Singh’s improbable win at the PGA coupled with his other four Tour wins will keep Lefty from player of the year honors. It’s not official yet, but Mickelson would have to win two or three more times and prevail at the season-ending Tour Championship to reverse his fortunes.
- Ernie Els, who logged runner-up finishes in the Masters and British Open and was in the running at every major going into the final day, has now fallen from No. 2 to No. 3 in the world through no fault of his own. Considering what Els has done lately in Europe and the United States — nine wins, $10.5 million and two 72-hole scoring records that currently are standing — perhaps a better nickname these days might be “the Big Uneasy.’’
- Resurrected from the dead, John Daly almost lived up to his long-drive hype, and then fell back into his old ways with an 81 to open the PGA. No Ryder Cup, no redemption for Daly, who remains one of the three most popular players in golf along with Phil and Tiger. Given Daly’s erratic track record (and life), it figures. Hard as it seems to believe, Long John found out on the day he opened the PGA that his wife, Sherrie Miller Daly, may face trial on drug and money-laundering charges after her plea-bargain agreement was thrown out of court in Oxford, Miss.
Even though it feels like the 2004 season is over, considering all the emotional drain (and Vijay) we’ve been exposed to lately, it’s not. The Ryder Cup is coming, the Ryder Cup is coming! And, yes, on paper the U.S. team looks like the heavy favorite over the Europeans when the two teams meet in September at Oakland Hills near Detroit.
But let’s not get too carried away as we seem to do every (other) year. Fact is, the Euros have taken six of the last nine Ryder Cup matches, the majority of them as the “underdogs.’’ It could have been worse if not for the “Miracle at the Country Club’’ in 1999.
As one of the tour’s “good ol’ boys,’’ it was not surprising to hear U.S. captain Hal Sutton say that his selection of 50-year-old Jay Haas and journeyman Stewart Cink as captain’s picks were “just the people we needed on this team.’’
But Sutton must be kidding himself if he thinks that Daly’s electricity, Leonard’s past Ryder Cup heroics, and possibly Scott Verplank’s steady hands might not have been a bigger boost to the Yanks.
“We’re hungry,’’ Sutton declared Monday in the wake of the PGA shakeout, “and if you add up the world rankings, the U.S. team is pretty strong.’’
Wrong. Let’s see, Woods is No. 1 but playing like he’s not in the top 10. Mickelson is No. 4, and as legit as it gets. Davis Love III, ranked No. VI, missed the cut at the PGA and remains suspect. Jim Furyk is No. 9 but has spent half the season on the injured list, as his ranking is more about 2003 than ’04. Of the other six who made the team outright, Chris DiMarco and Chris Riley are as good as it gets lately.
The Europeans might not have the same worldly clout, with only No. 8 Padraig Harrington in the top 10. But Sergio Garcia is No. 12, Darren Clarke No. 13, and the other seven — from Lee Westwood to Paul Casey — all have lofty positions on the world chart. Even though European captain Bernhard Langer’s picks are still two weeks away, bank on him picking veterans like Colin Montgomerie or Paul McGinley.
So sit back and readjust the La-Z-Boy for the upcoming Patriot Games, but be forewarned. Five of the top 10 players in the world today — Singh, Els, Retief Goosen (No. 5), Mike Weir (No. 7) and Adam Scott (No. 10) — are of the International variety.
Translated: The New World Order means the Presidents Cup is a bigger challenge than the Ryder.