This golfing season of discontent took a tantalizing turn last week at PGA Tour headquarters, where there was enough emotion and animosity emanating from Sawgrass to generate crossover appeal for fans who like their sports a little less prim and proper.
In a week that made Freddie Couples cry (Hall of Fame induction) and Jason Dufner smile (rare eagle on No. 18), the most compelling takeway from The Players Championship was a bitter aftertaste.
First came Vijay Singh vs. PGA Tour in a made-for-courtroom drama and then Tiger Woods vs. Sergio Garcia in a two-day featured rumble that extended from the course to the podium. And even Woods salvaging the event from a David Lingmerth sentence couldn’t drown out another drop controversy involving the world’s No. 1 golfer.
Delicious stuff for a non-major week.
One thing golf has long been missing is a villain, and Singh stepped up to take on the role in the classiest fashion. Not content to just drift off quietly into senior-circuit irrelevance (and it seems a good time to note that the 50-year-old Hall of Famer from Fiji hasn’t won a PGA Tour event in five years), Singh decided to cement his legacy as unlovable by suing the tour on the eve of its flagship event.
Singh’s beef is that the PGA Tour somehow besmirched his reputation – which, it should be reiterated, began all those years ago when he was kicked off the Asian Tour for cheating and banished to Borneo. All the tour did was (without comment) follow its drug protocol policies to the letter and ultimately let Singh skate scot-free despite clearly violating the rules that every player agreed to abide by.
Doesn’t seem to matter that Singh incriminated himself in a Sports Illustrated story with his laughable comments about using the explicitly banned deer-antler spray. Then he outed everything the tour had discreetly kept secret – the details of his original suspension and subsequent appeal that prompted the tour to let him off after further review by the World Anti-Doping Agency – by filing the lawsuit despite sound advice against that tactic from his agents at IMG.
Singh, whose $67 million in tour earnings ranks third all-time, even sued for the interest on the $100,000 the tour kept in escrow for three months while he appealed.
It’s not easy to make the PGA Tour look like a sympathetic character, but Singh pulled it off before promptly missing the cut in his adopted hometown. Bravo.
Just as Singh exited for the weekend to go rehearse his testimony, Tiger and Sergio took center stage and held everyone’s attention until the thrilling conclusion.
The two have long been golf’s unrequited rivals since El Niño popped out from behind an oak tree at Medinah in the 1999 PGA and skipped onto the scene. The one-sided nature of the dynamic hasn’t diminished it in any way.
Paired together in the last group Saturday, it took only two holes for their animosity to go viral. During a rain delay, Garcia semi-accused Woods of gamesmanship by stirring up the crowd and causing him to hit a bad shot from a perfect lie in the fairway that led to bogey. Woods’ view of Garcia from the trees was blocked by fans, and when he pulled out a fairway wood just as Garcia was hitting it caused the gallery to murmur at his aggressive club choice.
Garcia pointed it out, prompting Woods (who rarely says a discouraging word) to say “not real surprising that he’s complaining about something.”
On Sunday, when they were tied for the 54-hole lead but paired separately, Garcia didn’t mince words.
“He’s not my favorite guy to play with. He’s not the nicest guy on tour,” Garcia said of Woods, adding later, “We don’t enjoy each other’s company. You don’t have to be a rocket engineer to figure that out.”
While Sergio’s honesty often comes out as petulant, you have to admire his willingness to speak his mind – especially about a dominant player so many others are afraid to talk negatively about. It’s too bad the gifted Spaniard had to add another meltdown to his ledger with Woods, rinsing three balls at Nos. 17 and 18 on Sunday when he was tied with Tiger through 70 holes.
How might it have played out if Woods and Garcia had been paired? You can bet Sergio wouldn’t have been timid to offer his two cents about where Woods’ ball last crossed the hazard on the 14th hole. Woods consulted playing partner Casey Wittenberg, and they agreed on a very generous drop considering TV replays seemed to indicate Woods’ ball never crossed land near where he wound up playing from.
Despite how it looks after two high-profile mistaken drops this season (Abu Dhabi and Augusta), Woods followed proper protocol and there’s no recourse to overrule it. Chances are he would have made the same double bogey from anywhere, but a confrontation with Sergio could have made things very interesting.
The Tiger-Sergio relationship is the most colorful thing in the game – a welcome departure from the homogenized comments and competition that passes for rivalry in golf these days. Certainly more intriguing than the Woods-Rory McIlroy “bromance.” A little bad blood is what makes sports entertaining, and put that on a stage like the Stadium Course where fans revel in seeing crashes like it’s Daytona and you get a very compelling show.
While golf can do without the anchored-putter users filing their own ambush litigation, here’s hoping Woods and Garcia can continue to spice things up when the remaining majors roll around at Merion, Murifield and Oak Hill.