PARAMUS, N.J. - Golf without Tiger Woods may be a whole lot less crowded - the PGA Tour equivalent of someone dropping a stink bomb in a tea house - but there's still plenty of noise.
You just have to listen to the sounds of one of the ugliest rivalries in sport - golf's sanitized version of Shaq-Kobe and U.S.A.-China in Olympic beanball baseball. Go ahead and pull up a chair for Padraig Harrington vs. Sergio Garcia.
What's been simmering for a long time is getting good now, so good that PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem should be praying his beloved FedEx Cup turns into another duel between the Irishman who cannot stop winning big ones and the Spaniard who cannot stop tripping himself up.
So far, so good. With Garcia taking his first swings in public since his Harrington-handed PGA Championship heartbreak, golf's most compelling figure also found time to swing back at Harrington for throwing him under the bus. That's exactly what Harrington did at the PGA Championship, too. Sure, Sergio is the one who went splash at Oakland Hills Country Club, but only Harrington's well-chosen words afterwards guaranteed that it would be cast as a Garcia gag.
By telling the assembled golf media how surprised he was to see Garcia find water on the 70th hole at the PGA Championship, how he didn't think he had a chance to win the major until Garcia let it get away, Harrington assured that only the bad would be seen on a major Sunday when Garcia did shoot a 68. This wasn't just some unintentional honesty either.
Harrington seemed to be paying Sergio back for all those fluky wins and what-can-you-do-when-luck-is-against-you comments after Harrington's 2007 British Open comeback title. You can be sure Garcia heard this in the words, too.
"(Harrington) said I didn't play good," Garcia noted Wednesday, a good 10 days after the PGA that he desperately wants to convince everyone he's over. "That wasn't very nice of him."
Garcia smiled that Sergio smile, and some fawning TV reporters laughed, but if you think this is a laughing matter between Harrington and Garcia, you probably believe that Shaq was just joking when he kept screaming out, "Kobe, tell me how my (beep) tastes" in that early summer rap that's still doing heavy YouTube numbers.
You'd better believe Nick Faldo will not be as dumb as Hal Sutton and pair Sergio and Padraig up in next month's Ryder Cup Matches.
Padraig-Sergio is even better than Tiger-Phil in so many ways, though. For there's a real competition to go with the loathing. Mickelson never had a chance to block Tiger from any of the golf history that means so much to the world's greatest golfer. Sergio still does hold a shot at swatting Harrington's suddenly supersized dreams by beating him in future majors. And you know the Irishman will have a chance to do more tormenting.
There is a lot more level playing field here - even if the current majors count reads Harrington 3, Garcia 0. This is a rivalry that's already played out head-to-head down the stretch in two of the last six majors. It's much more of a real competition than Tiger-Phil ever was.
Even this manipulated, gimmicky FedEx Cup - which, let's face it, is mostly getting the players excited because there's a chance to win a boatload of silly cash ($9 million to be more precise) - provides Garcia the opportunity to at least put even more doubt in Harrington's PGA Tour Player of the Year bid.
Sure, Garcia would be helping Tiger win POY, not himself. But at least, it wouldn't be that guy.
It's a shame the PGA Tour didn't find a way to put Harrington and Garcia into the same group in the first two rounds of the first FedEx Cup tournament, the Barclays, which starts this morning. Especially considering that it only would have required going with the World Golf Rankings instead of the FedEx Cup standings to get a Mickelson, Harrington, Garcia threesome.
You don't have to work for the Ultimate Fighting Championship to see the value in this matchup.
"Think the Tour and the TV folks would mind having Padraig and Sergio going down the stretch on another Sunday?" Jim Furyk, No. 14 in the world and enemy to no one, laughed. "Maybe they'd mic them."
For what? To get the stoney silence of hate in Bose surround sound?
As Sergio Garcia walked down the third fairway of Ridgewood Country Club during the Barclays pro-am, his 18th hole of the day, he took out a cell phone and made a quick call. Then, he took a leak behind the mammoth Northeastern trees.
Nothing worth noting there, except that everything Garcia does now gets noticed. As Garcia retreated from sight behind the tree line, one Jersey guy cracked, "That's Sergio. He can't even keep it all together for a full pro-am."
Garcia was too far away to hear this, but he'll hear plenty starting today. No place demands honesty out of athletes more than the New York metro market, and no one vainly denies the truth in golf more forcefully than Sergio.
"No, it's fine," he quickly blurts, interrupting a question about if his major drought is getting to him. "I'm 28. I'm not worried about it."
Garcia went all the way back to Spain to soothe those wounds that only he doesn't acknowledge in the wake of the PGA. He isn't about to let you in either.
"Well, they said I played well and, you know, it's unfortunate what happened," Garcia says of his family and friends' reaction to the PGA. "That's pretty much it. That's the way I look at it. I think pretty much everything was positive out of (the PGA Championship). I got myself in contention, and I had a chance, and unfortunately, I came up against a guy who couldn't miss on the back nine.
"When that happens, there's not many things you can do."
Ah, Sergio, still spinning the sweet sounds of excuses that work pumping up golf's best grudge as well as a fastball to the chin.
August 21, 2008
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Davis Love III, who played the final 57 holes of the Children's Miracle Network Classic without a bogey, finished at 25-under 263 in the season-ending event played at the Walt Disney World Golf Resort in Florida. It has been a long road back for Love, who severely sprained his ankle late last year. After tearing ligaments, he needed surgery, and he's spent much of this year rehabilitating the injury.
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