FACT: When a player hits a great shot at the FBR Open's 16th hole, known as the Bird's Nest, he'll receive the most raucous gesture of appreciation this season.
FICTION: When a player hits a bad shot at the 16th hole, he'll receive a polite golf clap and kind words of encouragement from the gallery.
Like it or not, players' every moves will be scrutinized and vocalized by the Bird's Nest faithful. Even tour bad boy and Phoenix resident Jonathan Kaye heard from the crowd during last year's third round. "I was getting ready to putt," said Kaye, who later won the event by two strokes. "Someone started laughing really loud, so I backed off it and they booed me."
In this week's version of Fact or Fiction, our panel of experts weighs in on whether the unruly fans are good for the game and answers some other big questions.
Rowdy galleries, like the one at the FBR Open's 16th hole, are good for the PGA Tour.
Brian Wacker, assistant editor, GolfDigest.com: FACT. It's not only good for the game, it's great for the game. The energy that places like the FBR Open -- or the U.S. Open at Bethpage in 2000 -- create transcends the game and thrusts it into mainstream America. And that grows the game in an ancillary fashion. Of course there's a fine line between being rowdy and downright idiotic. But you have to take the bad with the good.
Jason Sobel, golf editor, ESPN.com: FACT. Do fans quiet down before Tom Brady takes a snap from center, then politely clap when he fires a touchdown pass? Of course not, and the gallery at the 16th hole will treat this week's competition as a sporting event, rather than just a golf event. That means cheering for good shots, booing for bad shots and plenty of fun for four straight days. How can that possibly be a bad thing?
Bob Harig, contributor, ESPN.com: FACT. In moderation. This is one week where such an atmosphere is accepted and welcomed. The players know what is coming and most of them embrace the good-natured fun that is had. It wouldn't work all the time, but in Scottsdale, it does.
Ron Sirak, executive editor, Golf World magazine: FACT. As long as they quiet down when it comes time for a guy to hit, what's the problem? The game needs a little energy around it. And the only crowd control problem I've seen in recent years at a tournament was at the 1999 Ryder Cup -- and it was created by people inside the ropes.
Justin Leonard will win another tour event this season.
Sirak: FACT. These things tend to come in clumps for people of Leonard's ability. He could be this year's flavor-of-the-month and put up some very strong numbers. Let's just hope he doesn't do something in the Presidents Cup that incites hangers-on to run across a green while his opponent still has a putt.
Harig: FACT. Leonard's victory at the Hope was just the confidence-builder he needed after nearly two years without a win. But he will have to buck a trend. Leonard has multiple victories just once in his career, way back in 1997 when he won the British Open.
Wacker: FICTION. The tour hasn't hit the Texas swing yet -- where Leonard typically plays his best golf -- and already he has a victory. But don't necessarily expect that to carry him to another one. The last time the Dallas native won more than once in season was nearly a decade ago. He'll play well, especially if he continues to putt the way he did in Palm Springs, but win? Nope.
Sobel: FACT. He needs to make up for a winless '04, his first season since '95 where he didn't claim a victory (OK, so that Ryder Cup win in '99 wasn't his, but he sure had a lot to do with it). You can talk all you want about new Nike clubs and ball, but when a guy needs only 128 putts over 90 holes he could be hitting a mashie niblick all over the course and still win the tournament. As long as Leonard keeps rolling the rock -- and continues to have that smile on his face -- his chances of winning are pretty good.
David Duval will win another tour event someday.
Sobel: FACT. Sure, his latest scores might not have placed him in the top 10 at your member-guest, but the guy is only 33 years old and has too much talent locked away. The questions are: When will his talent result in better golf scores?; and When will he finally win again? It won't be this year, but he's got plenty of time. After all, Duval is still nine years younger than Vijay Singh.
Harig: FICTION. Finishing 20 shots back of the next nearest competitor at the Hope would suggest that Duval is closer to quitting than winning and showed just how far he has fallen. Duval shot a 59 at PGA West in 1999 and couldn't come within 20 shots of that score -- in a single round -- last week. And those courses at the Hope are some of the easiest on the PGA Tour. Getting competitive is a first step, with winning not even a consideration right now.
Sirak: FACT. It may be a ways down the road, but it will happen when we are least expecting it, like John Daly's win at Torrey Pines last year. Duval will never be No. 1 in the world again and perhaps not even top 20, but there is simply too much talent there for it not to fall into place for one four-day stretch.
Wacker: FICTION. You don't go from shooting 30-over-par as Duval did in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic -- otherwise known as the PGA Tour's annual birdiefest, and where he once shot a 59 -- to winning a tour event ... ever. The fact that he played just 15 holes of golf during the offseason -- and said he planned to call Hank Haney last December, a month Haney doesn't work -- tells you all you need to know about Duval's dedication these days. He simply doesn't care about winning golf tournaments, about competing, or climbing back up the mountaintop where he once reigned. He'll play an allotted number of tournaments this year because Nike's still paying him a lot of money, but he will remain a shell of his former self on the golf course.
Jay Haas is the best over-50 player in the world.
Harig: FACT. There is nobody over 50 close to Haas in the World Rankings, where he resides at No. 30. He would have his hands full on the Champions Tour with Craig Stadler, Peter Jacobsen and Hale Irwin, but Haas is competing mostly on the regular tour and holding his own. Those players likely could, too, but they choose to play mostly senior golf. Haas has resisted that urge and still prospered.
Wacker: FACT. While Hale Irwin has been dominating the Champions Tour, Haas has been busy playing against Tiger Woods & Co. In 2004 Haas finished in the top-10 nine times, including a third-place finish at the Bob Hope and a T-9 at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock. On the senior circuit, Irwin had a pair of wins, three runner-ups, one third-place finish and 14 overall top-10s. The PGA Tour plays tougher courses, tougher setups and tougher competition because a lot of guys are still playing to put food on the table. The one event they both played on the PGA Tour in '04? The PGA Championship. Haas finished T-37, while Irwin missed the cut.
Sobel: FICTION. Haas is still pretty darn good -- for any age -- but the edge here goes to Craig Stadler, In three events this season, Stads has a T-9 and T-14 on the PGA Tour and a T-7 on the Champions Tour, and has shot 11 consecutive rounds under par. Perhaps the better question is, Who will have the more successful son this season?
Sirak: FICTION. There is a 59-year-old guy by the name of Hale Irwin who is still pretty good. And even if it were true, it would be short lived. That Australian kid -- Greg Norman -- turns 50 on Feb. 10. I kind of like his chances to be pretty competitive.