Florida, like its European equivalent, the Costa del Sol, is littered with made to measure golf courses. The differences between these courses appears to be the extent of water and the density of the rough. To most they are uninspiring, indeed, repeated play must dull the mind. Vijay Singh, however, seems to be inspired by them.
Singh has had 17 top-10 finishes this year and clearly came to the Copperhead Course near Tampa with enthusiasm. He had, of course, reason to be enthusiastic for a win would have propelled him to an unassailable winning position for the leading money winner of the year in America. In the event it was not to be. Despite a third round 65 which hoisted him into the final threeball with Briny Baird and Retief Goosen, the latter held on to a three-shot win. Singh nevertheless came away three-quarters of a million dollars ahead in the money order and looks every inch the winner.
Tiger Woods may yet have something to say about that for he can overtake Vijay with the $1 million winners cheque at the Tour Championship at Houston this week. Vijay would have to be well down the 30-man field not to collect enough bucks to maintain his place - but Texas is a long way from Florida. Singh has now finished 1st, 2nd, 1st and 2nd in his last four events and this tough guy is not likely to fall at the last hurdle.
The conclusion of the European Tour season provided its own special brand of excitement in the Volvo Masters at Valderama. This event has probably produced more sudden death playoffs than any other and, no matter what you think of the place and its golf course, it certainly gives value for money in entertainment.
Few will forget Sandy Lyle's shank at the 17th hole when he had the title in the bag in 1992. It resulted in a playoff with Colin Montgomerie which Lyle went on to win, but it was also the event which posted Monty's intent and signalled Lyle's demise. Even fewer will forget last year when Monty again figured in a playoff with Bernhard Langer. Unbelievably, they ran out of light and were declared joint winners of the Volvo trophy. The Tour at least left margins this year so that such a debacle could not recur.
Although the weather tried its best to wash out this tournaemnt at Valderrama, it failed to dampen the spirits of Carlos Rodiles and Fredrik Jacobson.
The European Tour needs cheerful, colourful characters like this vital pair. It especially needed a closely contested event at a time when the Order of Merit was long since won. Ernie Els has led all year and such is his margin of victory that he did not even bother to turn up in Spain. He was not missed for this end-of-season event produced a nail-biting finish comparable with anything that has gone before.
Carlos Rodiles from Malaga led the Swede Jacobson by two shots when play was stopped after a late start of the second round. Jacobson had opened with a 64 and looked as if he was enjoying the stiff breeze and bright sunshine when he finished his second round at 11 under with a three shot cushion over Rodiles.
Although it seemed unlikely that this event would finish on time it did, but it required 10 hours of play on Sunday and what a day's play it proved to be. The two were nip-and-tuck all day when Jacobson, who was becoming increasingly erratic, drove into the cork trees on the 17th and put his third shot into the pond in front of the green. Rodiles stood on the 18th tee with a two-shot lead but consistent with everything that had gone before, pulled his drive. A bogey followed while Jacobson inevitably birdied the hole.
It took them four extra holes to resolve the Volvo Masters title despite Jacobson scrambling par halves at the first three, visiting the cork trees twice and leaving his ball an inch from the water once. Head-to-head golf is never just. At the fourth extra hole Rodiles missed the fairway and riccocheted his second off a tree. Jacobson had the luxury of a lagged putt to win.
This year's Volvo Masters will not be remembered for its brilliant conclusion but rather for Monty's greatest flip. The whole field was doubtless frustrated when the second round started 24 hours late after two inches of rain and 50mph winds.
But Monty showed his frustrations over the delay and a succession of lipped-out putts on an altogether different plane from mere teddy-throwing or dummy-spitting. It surpassed threatening photographers or arguing with rednecks in the crowd for it was a show of utter disregard for his playing partners.
Playing with Thomas Bjorn and Brian Davies, two men very comfortable with themselves, Monty missed a short putt on the ninth green. Instead of the standard grimace or scowl, or maybe even a threatening look at an unsuspecting spectator, Monty marched directly off the green and through the crowd while Bjorn was about to putt. Bjorn waited and relieved the communal embarrassment by waving a mock good-bye.
But if it was not enough to storm off the green, Monty then hurled his ball at the cart track, ignoring its trajectory as it bounced perilously close to some nearby windows. He was a 100 yards away when Bjorn and Davies finished the hole.
Monty will doubtless have a copy of the new Royal and Ancients guidelines on etiquette and be familiar with the section dealing with the spirit of the game. If he does not, then let me quote: 'All players should conduct themselves in a disciplined manner, demonstrating courtesy and sportsmanship at all times, irrespective of how competitive they may be. Players should remain on or close to the putting green until all other players in the group have holed out.'
Monty may not be alone in his disregard for etiquette but he is certainly a consistent leader of the field. He should spare a thought for the effect of his actions on small children and irritable old ladies and, above all, the ire of elderly men who treasure the values of the game.
|| 3 - NOVEMBER 2003