A Wild Week in Vegas

The two most exciting, heroic, unlikely finishes of the year have happened in the Fall Series.

A week after Rocco Mediate holed out from 116 yards on the 17th hole of the final round to grab the lead as he won the Frys.com Classic, Jonathan Byrd made a hole-in-one from 196 yards on the fourth playoff hole to emphatically capture the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital Open in Las Vegas.

It was the first time that a PGA Tour playoff has been won with an ace, and the second time with a holed-out full shot. Craig Parry beat Scott Verplank at Doral in 2004 by jarring a 6-iron from 176 yards. Byrd also used a 6-iron to stun fellow playoff participants Martin Laird and Cameron Percy at TPC Summerlin.

Adding to the drama and craziness was the fact that it was getting so dark that there was some debate about whether the playoff should continue before the players agreed to play one more hole. In that way, Byrd’s ace was reminiscent of Tiger Woods’ “shot in the dark” at the 2000 WGC-NEC Invitational. At that event, Woods had a 10-stroke lead and nobody wanted to come back on Monday, so he and Hal Sutton played the 72nd hole in near darkness, with Woods hitting an 8-iron to within inches of the hole. Byrd bettered that.

Mediate, by the way, also had an ace on the way to victory last week at CordeValle, that coming in the first round—one of four hole-out eagles he had during the week, one in each round. Mediate was well outside the top 125 on the money list before earning a two-year exemption with his victory. Byrd was 117th, and not quite assured of a spot in the exempt top 125 with two tournaments remaining.

Those are the kind of stories that the Fall Series is supposed to provide. We just don’t expect them to come with such drama attached, but you never know when lightning is going to strike in golf.

It’s an argument for the continuation of the Fall Series, which some feel should wither away now that the FedExCup ends the “regular” part of the schedule, leaving the fall events as orphans. Others argue that the Fall Series should be given more importance, with players earning FedEx points toward next year and reaping a Masters invitation from the victory, neither of which is the case now.

I think the PGA Tour has it right. It makes sense to have a big end to the regular season in September, before the nation’s attention fully turns to other things like the heart of the football season and baseball’s post-season. But it also makes sense for the Tour to provide playing opportunities for its members in the ensuing month or two. There’s no rule that says every PGA Tour event has to be on network television. The only question is continuing to find sponsors to put up enough money for an under-the-radar PGA Tour event. In the first year of the FedExCup, there were seven Fall Series events. This year, there are five.

These tournaments of course will not draw all that many players from the top 30 on the money list, and usually not many from the top 50. For that reason, they really shouldn’t offer FedEx or Masters rewards—but that doesn’t mean they should cease to exist.

One other bit of excitement out of Las Vegas last week involved Anthony Kim and his wild night out on the town on Monday. It was reported that he and a group of friends were told to tone it down at a casino because of boisterous, profanity-laced behavior, and then that they moved on to a night spot where, according to a Twitter posting by a disc jockey, Kim’s party ordered 115 bottles of alcohol and that he was “spraying the dance floor” with a $25,000 bottle of Dom Perignon.

The next day, Kim withdrew from the tournament, blaming aggravation of an injured thumb that underwent surgery in the spring.

I buy that explanation. Would he have withdrawn out of embarrassment or in order to avoid the attention he would have received? I don’t think so.

Kim told Sports Illustrated’s Alan Shipnuck that he had practiced 36 holes a day the previous week after taking six weeks off to rest the thumb (he had returned to action in August, but struggled). He knew going into Las Vegas that the thumb was sore and he had been told by doctors not to hit any balls until Wednesday.

Granted, it’s not exactly unknown for a group of twentysomething guys to get out of hand on a trip to Las Vegas. But whereas most such groups go to Vegas specifically to party, Kim was ostensibly there to play in a golf tournament.

Periodically, we get quotes from Kim saying that he used to party too much but now he is dedicating himself to the game. Those quotes get harder to believe with stories like this. Nor is it a good sign that he surrounds himself with an entourage of fellow party animals. (We also have to question Kim’s judgment on golf matters, too. Why play 36 holes a day on a thumb that is still fragile?)

For the possible effects of a wild life on a golf career, Kim need look no further than John Daly. Wild Thing was in Las Vegas, and managed to stay out of the gossip columns. Daly made his 14th cut in 20 tries this year as he attempts to resurrect his career, but his play on the weekends has been so bad that he ranks 192nd on the money list. Twice, he has withdrawn on the weekend after making the cut. He has shot 76 or worse on Sunday four times, including an 82 at the Frys.com and a 78 at Las Vegas the last two weeks—performances fully as bad as Mediate’s and Byrd’s were great.

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