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Pressure on as top stars feel the cut

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Iain Carter | 17:41 UK time, Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Back at the USPGA Padraig Harrington was explaining how he could put behind him the disappointment of missing out on the chance of winning a big tournament.

"You know the great thing about golf?" the three-time major champion said. "There's always next week. As soon as I started hitting balls on the range here it was all about this week, what happened before is gone."

This was in the wake of the eight at the 16th that cost him the chance of beating Tiger Woods in the WGC event at Firestone, ironically the start of a run of largely self-inflicted near misses that is still continuing.

But it is probably this mentality that keeps sane the majority of professional golfers. It helps them to rationalise disappointments and ruinous moments they'd love to have over again..

There's always next week and another chance to make up for failure. It's a comfort blanket.

But now we are at the stage of the season where for an increasing number of players on the PGA Tour there isn't that "next week".

The play-off guillotine is falling on a weekly basis and now we're down to the 70 trying to squeeze into the 30 who will ultimately chase the $10 million FedEx Cup prize to be decided at the season-ending Tour Championship.

This play-off finale to the American season is starting to capture the imagination. It's taken a couple of years worth of tweaking with the points system to come up with the kind of cut-throat drama that generates fan interest beyond the majors.

At the Deutsche Bank event in Boston where Harrington surrendered another winning chance and Steve Stricker prevailed, intrigue abounded and it wasn't all centred on the top of the leaderboard.

Suddenly a 26th place finish for Sergio Garcia had something on it. His closing rounds of 67 and 68 meant more than the prize money he would accrue because he was able to secure his top 70 berth and survive another week.

Others were less fortunate. Two Britons perished, Greg Owen and Justin Rose are out of the running - Rose missing out on a trip to Chicago by fully 15 places in the FedEx listings.


And the consequences of finishing 85th on that list are pretty far-reaching for Rose, a player who in 2007 climbed to number six in the world. Since then it's been all downhill and now he has tumbled out of the all-important top 50.

Rose started the year inside the leading 20 but now he is ranked 57th and his global schedule straddling the PGA and European Tours with guaranteed spots in the majors and WGC events is in some jeopardy.

The 29-year-old isn't alone in suffering this sort of decline where the "next weeks" have failed to yield a significant improvement in fortunes. Contemporaries like Adam Scott (53), Trevor Immelman (66) and Charles Howell (110) know exactly how Rose is feeling.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly why this should be. These are players who have had struggles with injuries but they must also feel like Icarus - having soared to the heights of the game only to have their golf ultimately melt under the demands of trying to stay in such rarefied territory.

Camilo Villegas and Anthony Kim are showing signs of perhaps suffering similarly despite currently holding top 20 berths.

These are all players from a generation that many expected to produce a genuine rival to Tiger Woods and the truth is none has been able to mount any such challenge.

Instead it has been the likes of Harrington, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and now Steve Stricker who have provided the opposition for the world number one. Those and a smattering of unheralded figures like PGA Champion YE Yang who have sporadically risen to the challenge.

So why have the likes of Rose and Scott been unable to arrest such worrying declines this year? Both are fantastically rich young men and are set for life. It goes with the territory if you break into the world's top ten.

"They have to go back to the basics that got them there," says Nick Bradley, who was Rose's coach until they split after the US Open in June.

Bradley is convinced this is the way Woods approaches his golf. "He might have $100m in prize money but he's still out there working as hard as ever.

"For him it's all about the golf," says Bradley, who is making a study of the world number one's methodology. "You've got to look at the Tiger Woods formula and as long as he's alive I'd love to stick him in a laboratory to find out exactly how he goes about everything."

Bradley isn't surprised the likes of Harrington and Stricker are enjoying success in the Woods era. "Grounded and humble people," is the way he describes them.

But for those who have gone backwards, Rose's ex-coach feels there is a need to "reset the dial".

"When they've had a successful year, what they have to do is make a critical decision. Stick the money in the bank and mentally go back to zero for the next year and see where your competitive DNA takes you from there," he said.

Rose and Scott have little choice as they seek to reclaim the place in the upper echelons of the game their talents warrant. Rose is no stranger to rebounding - he climbed 120 places in 20 months to reach number six in the world.

For Scott it is unchartered territory and true test of the Aussie's mettle.

And the thought of not being able to dictate the nature of the "next week" - which is the reality of life outside the top fifty is not a happy one for either player.


  • Comment number 1.

    Good article Iain. I have always thought that Justin Rose's number 6 ranking was false, that he wasnt actually as good as that showed. Im still not sure about Adam Scott, i remember his brilliant final round 61 in Qatar a couple of years ago and remember thinking he was an absolute genius who was heading for number one. Now who knows? I hope not, he is an enigmatic player, as most Aussies are. Hope Poults can make it in to the final 30 though!

  • Comment number 2.

    Enjoyed your article Iain. Nick Bradley, Rose's former coach makes a very telling comment about Harrington and Stricker - 'Grounded and humble people' - this is why they can put disappointment behind them, wipe the slate and come out again and give it 100% the next time. Both of them have more money than they will ever need but it doesn't stop them focussing. Many of the younger players get a few good cheques and then they are more interested in their silly hairstyles, fancy clothes and fast cars. Very few of these will have any longevity in the game. I'm sure we can all think of a few (Poulter springs to mind). Reminds me of a lot of lazy footballers in the Premiership who hoover up massive salaries, have silly haircuts, dreadful dress sense and aren't performing. They're in every sport. 'Grounded and humble'- not them.

  • Comment number 3.


    I think that is a bit harsh on Poulter IMHO. He has had a very good couple of years (with a few decent major finishes and a top Ryder Cup performance), works very hard on his game and is a dedicated family man. Okay, he has an idiosyncratic dress sense, but one which he is utlising to great effect with his own clothing brand. A bit more of Poulter's fighting spirit would help some of the younger guns realise their potential. I still think he may have a major win in him, although my tip for Britain's next major winner is Ross Fisher - who conforms more to the "grounded and humble" analogy.

  • Comment number 4.

    Very fair article, Iain.
    Didn't realise Bradley and Rose had split, but that reinforces the perception that there's a lot of different stuff going on with Justin that has a nasty habit of turning birdies into pars, pars into boges. It will be interesting to see how he chooses to "reset the dial", at what level.

  • Comment number 5.

    Exclusive of the people PAID to provide golf coverage(newspapers, TV, internet), fan interest regarding the FedEx Cup is nil. A PGA promotion to help create fan interest by making millionaires more millions. No one in the 19th Hole talks about it, nor do the men who I regularly play golf with twice weekly("The Swats" has 73 golf members).
    It seems that anyone under the age of 25 who wins a professional golf tournament is deemed the "next up and comer ready to take on Tiger and Phil". This is misnomer is also a gift of the PAID coverage, not the public. Rose and Poulter have yet to win in America, Howell and Kim did not win when Tiger was in the field, and who knows what demons Scott is fighting. What an injustice to Jeev Milka Singh, K J Choi, or Rory Sabatini that Greg Norman chose his fellow Aussie and protege(Scott) for the President's Cup given his dismal performances this year.

  • Comment number 6.

    Interseting article Iain. Until now I didn't realise the BBC had a golf blog! I've been a fan of Stricker since he broke through in the early 90's and often wondered where his talent had gone. In his case it was his emotions that he couldn't control very well and that led to doubts about his ability to compete. Now he seems to have got everything back on track and finishing birdie-birdie must help in removing whatever was left of the monkey on his back. I hope so because he really does seem to be one of the nice guys. I'd be very happy if either he or Harrington could pull off the FedEx cup win.

    As far as the FedEx cup is concerned, I can find the standings and the points totals but can anybody point me in the right direction to a site that lists the points available for each finishing position in the next two events? I know the field gets reduced again but it would be nice to look at some of the 'what if' scenarios!

    By the way....highlight of my year... I just got invited to a conference at La Quinta Resort!

  • Comment number 7.

    "there is always next week"...lets hope Harrington remembers his words come Autumn next yeat when the Ryder Cup is round the corner, and he remembers that "next week" he'll be playing for a team / Continent and not just himself as he has done in the previous 2 installments. As for Adam Scott, the most false position there has ever been in World Rankings!

  • Comment number 8.

    Goos article Iain
    Adam Scott in my view is content to be a good pro who earns his million odd a year, wear white pants and look good for the crowds - He lacks the killer instinct.
    Trevor Immelman will be back, as a long as he can overcome injuries, and I think the same can be said for Kim - he is so young and looks like he has what it takes to compete for major titles for many years to come.
    I think too much prrssure was put on Rose as the next big thing, while players like Poulter and Donald and Casey fail to flatter.
    I still thinkLee Westwood is the best British player, and hope he hasnt blown his shot at winning a major title having come so close over the past year.

  • Comment number 9.

    seems a bit too easy to me to just blame a lack of form on a lack of effort because they're loaded now! lazy journalism

  • Comment number 10.

    Iain, thanks for another stimulating article. I have my views on Harrington’s recent travails, but am confident he will rebound without the benefit of my reflections.

    I was more interested to read about Justin Rose’s decline, and Bradley’s pithy insights. Rose ascended to his career-best 6th ranking when working with Bradley, presumably ‘using a very unique blend of Technical, Metaphysical and Spiritual knowledge.’ These words are taken from Bradley’s web site.

    My guess is that Rose stopped using these methods, which lead, at least in part, to his recent decline. It is a similar situation when we buy a Rotella book. Usually we enjoy a rapid improvement in our golf, but this improvement decays over time. The reason is that we are all contrarians to a greater or lesser extent. We take our advances for granted, and neglect to reinforce key messages at regular intervals.

    So too should Justin go back to what worked so well before. Justin is a wonderful golfer, role-model, and he deserves every success. Perhaps he has already found the best golf coach, and in Bradley’s words, needs only to ‘go back to the basics’ to rediscover his previous form. Often in golf ‘Less is More’. Φ

  • Comment number 11.

    Stricker is grounded because he knows the anguish of going to Tour School. Harrington is a grinder. The guy is a trained accountant - not an ounce of "flash" in him. The man simply lets his golf do the talking for him.
    As for "next week" Luke Donald currently stands at 34 in the points rankings. Would like to Luke step up and get into the top 30. Again another solid player but it must be time for him to start winning more regularly.

  • Comment number 12.

    good article but who is padraig harrington

  • Comment number 13.

    I can't understand what has happened to Rose, other than becoming a family man. I watched him at a few European events in 2007 and he was exceptional, and this was a time when he had a few niggling injuries. One things for sure, he needs to climb up the rankings or those Majors WGC's will be a thing of the past for him.

  • Comment number 14.

    There are hundred of things which might distract a young golfer from fulfilling his potential.Besides a loss of form, there are family issues,girl friends, money, sponsors etc etc Who knows why Rose and Scott have tumbled down the rankings. Only they know if it a loss of confidence or lack of practise or something else. What it does confirm is that it is very difficult to stay in the top 10 which re-emphasisies what an incredible achievment it is of Tiger's to remain No 1 for so many years.

  • Comment number 15.

    Now that Paul Casey is missing the "BMW", and hence the Tour Championship, it will be interesting to see whether the Tour will grant him a Major Medical Exemption or insist that he makes up the three events he's yet to play to fulfil his Tour obligation of 15 PGA Tournaments.

    Would hope they'll take a hard line on Casey given the number of events he chose to skip earlier in the year. Alternatively, he could play the Fall Series and miss the R2D run-up. Nah. But expect the Tour to take a hard line with Our Paul - there could be tears before they kiss and make up.

  • Comment number 16.

    "mentally go back to zero for the next year and see where your competitive DNA takes you from there"

    Just a fab comment!

    Personally I can't help but feel both Rose and Scott's sojourns into the higher echelons of the rankings were always destined to be brief. Just a gut feeling from me and maybe unfair.

    These days there are so many players described as under achieving on their talent, especially those who have yet to step up to the Major winners' circle such as Scott, Rose, Choi, Allenby, Garcia, Westwood, Casey, Poulter. (anyone else notice the preponderance of Brits?)

    There comes a point where you either assume the tour is full of under achievers, or you assume that some just simply aren't as good as everyone says they are. Take note Messrs McIlroy, Kim, Ishakawa & Villegas.

    Inevitably the truth is somewhere inbetween.

    Making it to the WGR Top 10 for even a week is a superhuman achievement. And it's just simply a fact of life that some are built to get there and stay there, some are built to get there and spend the rest of their lives trying to figure out why they didn't stay there and some will never make it - no matter how 'talented'. It's such a subjective term.

    I just always think that it's a shame that for guys like Scott and Rose, the fact that once held a high ranking does not produce compliments, but instead criticisms of why they're no longer there. Especially when the margins between success and relative success are so small.

  • Comment number 17.

    Scott has achieved a level of success that Rose can only dream of presently. He is discussed ONLY because he is a Brit, not because of his achievements on the world stage.

  • Comment number 18.

    Paul Casey number 4 in the World !! strikes me the Rankings need a review just like Tennis where Safina is ranked ladies number 1

  • Comment number 19.

    Great article!

    Jezzascfc- Where do you get the evidence that Poulter will win a major, apart from the fact that he said so? He has continually flattered to deceive and his world ranking is completely false. Shud never have played in the Ryder Cup although did well. Journey men can set themselves up for life these days. The reality is that there is no Englishman who has displayed the necessary character to win a major. Casey, Donald, Rose and Poulter will all flatter but come up short. I thought Westwood was going to be the one but he blew his best ever chance this year showed that it takes more than talent to get your name on one of the biggies!

  • Comment number 20.

    In all honesty...the world golf rankings shouldn't even have a 2,3,4,5....Tiger has distanced himself so sufficiently that to say anyone is 2,3, or 4 is riduculous. Saying someone is #2 in the world makes it sound as if the rankings could change momentarily.

  • Comment number 21.

    If the rumours about Tiger Woods are true then it's twice as extraordinary! I can't imagine the kind of work and dedication he's put in down the years to be this dominant in the modern era - but maybe this whole 'aura of mystery' he's cultivated is deeper than we thought.

    One thing though, has his aura of invincibility started to recede a bit. There have been a bigger spread of 'unknowns' cropping up on the podiums than I can remember in a long time. I don't actually follow golf that much, but for sure the rankings don't seem to reflect reality in the way that they do in, say, tennis.


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