Cream persists in coming to the top and Vijay Singh is certainly creaming the coffers in Hawaii. After becoming the first player to take $10 million out of the pro pot in one season, his back to back performances in the Hawaiian Islands have already made him 20% of that figure in two weeks. On this form, if the forty-something Singh continues with the schedule that he has set himself this year he may have to open his own bank.
Singh led from the front last week in the Mercedes Open. This week, as if for entertainment reasons, he won by coming from four shots behind, making the others feel that they had a chance. Singh is certainly on song. After two days of indifferent play by his standards, opening with a 69 and 68, he did a pipe opening exercise at the last hole in the second round with an eagle at the par five ninth hole and posted his intentions. These two saved shots kept him in the chorus line as Quigley and Murayama took centre stage. Singh was still not in full voice through the third round with a 67 that left him four shots adrift. His grinding consistency, however, proved too much for the leaders; his last round 65 took him to 11-under par and a one-shot win.
Singh is not likely to become complacent about his play but if he needed a reminder about how precarious his position is at the top of the rankings, Ernie Els is always there to remind him.
Els played seven rounds of tournament golf well in the Hawaiian Islands without showing the cutting edge that can strike fear into a field. His eighth round, his last in the Sony Open at the Waialea Country Club in Honolulu, showed that his cutting edge remains razor sharp. After rounds of 71, 67 and 70 he produced a final round 62, the lowest of the week and possibly one of the finest rounds of golf that this course will ever see. This eight-under par round propelled him from roughly nowhere in the field into second place, only one shot behind Singh. Els left it late in Hawaii; the putting touch that is of primary importance in this sort of target golf came to him too late. Ominously, it did arrive and he will doubtless take it with him to the Californian mainland next week.
It is a sad reflection of American golf that less than half the numbers watching the qualifying rounds saw Singh and Els play on the last day. The reason for this does not require extensive analysis - the gimmick was gone. If American pro golf needs to include a 15-year old girl (no matter how good she is) in the field to attract attention, it is surely ailing.
After the furore that accompanied Michelle Wie's inclusion in this event last year it was surprising to find that Sony had extended a sponsor's invitation again this year. She played well last year and only failed to make the cut by one shot. Some months later, again prompting debate, the leading lady pro golfer in the world failed to make the cut in a men's event. There is clearly no good sporting reason to include ladies in men's events. Sony's invitation to the talented 15-year old Miss Wie can only be for reasons of its own corporate self-promotion or for the purely charitable reason of entertaining the delightfully charming young woman.
By her own admission this lovely young lassie never stood a chance. Her intention was simply to improve on her last year's performance and make the cut for the last two days of play. In the blustery condition on Honolulu she failed by seven shots. This was no mean achievement. Paul Casey failed by the same margin and she was not last in the field. Her presence in the event, however, deprives some aspiring young hopeful who has already gone through the rigours of qualifying school for a chance to compete and someone should be holding the US Tour accountable.
After a first round 75, Michelle was as good as gone. A player able to reach the par five holes in two shots might have a chance but a 15 year-old has little or none. Watching this girl play is an experience because she hits the ball so far with textbook elegance and style. She is, indeed, a credit to the Leadbetter School, which she advertised on her clothing. She is also a credit to the management team that is depriving her of the pleasures of a normal youth while pummelling her into a corporate enterprise.
Doubtless Michelle enjoys the limelight of the men's pro golf stage. She doubtless has genuine golfing aspirations in it and everyone who has ever seen her play certainly hopes that she will fulfil. Should Michelle succumb to the rigours of this cruel game and fall from grace, one hopes that Sony will continue to extend its annual invitation to her in Hawaii. If they do not it will surely by reasonable to ask why?
|| 17 - JANUARY 2005