Vijay Singh's Open decision mind-boggling
It is his choice, and perhaps as a Hall of Famer who has accomplished just about everything notable in his career after turning 30, he figures playing in a major championship at this point in his life isn't that big of a deal.
But that doesn't seem like the Vijay Singh who was the only one pounding balls into the early evening Thursday at Muirfield Village after the first round of the Memorial. Or the golfer who became legendary as much for his work ethic as his accomplishments.
Nick Price once told a story of how he saw Singh on the range at a tournament and was determined to keep hitting balls until after the Fijiian had left. He didn't make it. Didn't come close.
Does that sound like a guy who would skip a U.S. Open qualifier because he was tired?
Singh, 48, said after the final round of the Memorial on Sunday that he'd be taking a pass on the 36-hole sectional the next day.
"I'm just tired," Singh said. "I'm tired of shooting 71, 72 all week. I'm just going to go home and come back and try to win Hartford."
Hartford? With all apologies to the Travelers Championship -- an excellent tournament on the PGA Tour schedule that follows the U.S. Open -- is that really what Singh cares about at this point?
He has won 34 PGA Tour events, all after joining the tour in 1993. He has won more than $64 million in official prize money. But he's not thinking about adding to his streak of 67 consecutive majors played, dating to 1994? Or, more important, adding to his three major wins? And he just came off shooting 65 on Sunday.
Singh is one of just four players to shoot 63 at a U.S. Open. He has finished in the top 10 on seven occasions. He has missed just one cut, back in 1993. And he doesn't want to play?
Fred Funk, who is 54 years old and seemingly has no chance to win at daunting, 7,574-yard Congressional Country Club next week, endured a qualifier to make the field -- and got emotional about it afterward.
Sergio Garcia, who had said he wouldn't try to qualify, did just that, and now will play in his 48th straight major. He didn't like the idea of doing it but ultimately decided to do so, and now he's in.
Tom Kite, who won the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, tried to qualify and failed. He's 61 years old. But he tried.
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"You have to play them to win them," said Davis Love III, who last year qualified for the U.S. Open and is back because he finished in the top 10. He also made it through a qualifier for this year's British Open, extending his streak of starts in that tournament to 25.
"If you don't have the confidence to go tee it up in the qualifier," Love said, "then the next week you probably don't have the confidence to go play the next tournament where you think you can win."
Then Love noted the recent trend in the majors, with four straight first-time winners and seven of the past eight.
"It's wide open," he said.
Two years ago, Lucas Glover made it through sectional qualifying and went on to win the tournament. Three years ago, Rocco Mediate would not have been in that playoff with Tiger Woods had he not endured qualifying. David Duval finished second to Glover two years after qualifying. This year, he didn't make it.
"It's entirely worth it," Duval said. "You can't win the golf tournament if you're not in it. So, I guess I'm not going to win it this year."
Making the situation all the more odd for Singh is the fact that he was given a somewhat controversial special exemption last year by the USGA. Singh had not qualified for the tournament, and the criterion the USGA sort of used for Price in 2005 worked for Singh -- the fact that he was a three-time major winner. The USGA didn't give another exemption until last year, when it also awarded one to Tom Watson.
Singh has slipped to 61st in the world, and his only way into the British Open now would be a high finish at either the AT&T National or John Deere Classic or by being among the top two finishers on a special money list that concludes with the AT&T.
Tiger and the U.S. Open
For the first time since he was just out of high school, Tiger Woods will miss the U.S. Open as the tournament returns to Congressional Country Club next week. It has led to a lot of speculation about his injuries and how serious they might be. The theory goes that Woods would never miss the tournament if he could possibly help it.
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Then again, does he really want to play if he is not competitive? The nine-hole, 42-shot effort at the Players Championship should have been a clue as to what can happen if you're not ready. Same with Woods' lone missed cut at the U.S. Open in 2006, when he admitted afterward that he returned too soon after the death of his father, Earl. And he wasn't battling injuries then.
The U.S. Open also ranks up there -- very relatively speaking, of course -- with the most difficult majors for him to win. He has more top-10s at the Masters (10) and PGA Championship (8), along with more victories at each (4). And although he has just as many top-10s at the U.S. Open (7) as at the British Open, Woods has played the British one less time because of an injury absence in 2008.
Yet Woods has been in the top 10 in three of his past four U.S. Opens, with a runner-up finish in 2007 followed by the 2008 victory. He tied for fourth last year.
Golf and the Olympics
The 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil are still five years away, but in terms of golf, the clock is ticking. That is because there is no golf course at which to play the Olympic tournament, and there aren't even any plans on the drawing board.
That is because a designer has yet to be selected.
Jack Nicklaus, who would collaborate on the new venue with Annika Sorenstam if chosen -- and do it for free -- said he has heard nothing lately, even though the International Golf Federation has said it hoped to pick a designer by now.
"They're trying to make up their mind what they want to do, and I don't know,'' Nicklaus said. "I know we're obviously in the mix, but I don't know whether we'll get selected. We would love to be involved.''
Nicklaus said he believes officials are trying to decide between a reworking of an existing golf course or another piece of property that has also been identified.
"The game of golf hinges on what happens on this project,'' Nicklaus said, noting that golf is not guaranteed to be part of the Olympics beyond 2016. "They better put their best forward.''
If the toll of the Japan earthquake and tsunami -- and the resulting pressure it placed on Ryo Ishikawa -- has had a negative impact on Ishikawa's playing. He was playing at Doral when he awoke to the news of what was occurring in his homeland. Ishikawa stayed in the United States for weeks through the Masters and put up a brave front, saying he wanted to be an inspiration and a distraction for those suffering at home.
Ishikawa also took the extraordinary step of pledging all of his 2011 prize money plus more than $1,000 per birdie to the relief efforts. It was an incredible gesture.
But now he is struggling. Ishikawa missed his second straight cut this past weekend, shooting 83-77 at the Japan Golf Tour Championship Citibank Cup. Ishikawa, who has nine victories on the tour, has just one top-10 this year, although that was a playoff defeat that was enough for him to squeak into the top 50 last month before a deadline for a U.S. Open exemption.
Ishikawa was ranked 36th in the world at the end of 2010, fell outside the top 50, got back in time for the U.S. Open spot and is now at 53rd.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
A Major Chase
Birdies And Bogeys
1. Steve Stricker. His victory at the Memorial vaulted him to No. 4 in the world and makes him the highest-ranked American for the first time in his career.
2. Brittany Lincicome. The long-hitting LPGA Tour player got her fourth tour victory -- and first in two years -- at the LPGA Shoprite Classic.
3. Steve Wheatcroft. The Nationwide Tour golfer won the Prince George's County Open by 12 shots, shooting a 60 along the way.
1. Vijay Singh. It remains mystifying why one of the game's greats would blow off an opportunity to try to get into a major championship.
2. Rickie Fowler. He had 26 birdies and an eagle at the Memorial but still finished just 4 under for the tournament. Too many bogeys.
3. Jim Furyk. What happened to the reigning FedEx Cup champ? He has just two top-10s this year and is coming off his second missed cut in two tournaments at the Memorial, where he shot 77-75.
• In winning the Memorial on Sunday, Steve Stricker averaged a score of 31 on the front nine.
• Lee Westwood headlines the field at this week's St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tenn. Westwood, ranked No. 2 in the world, will be grouped for the first two rounds with Robert Garrigus and Robert Karlsson -- the players he defeated in a playoff at last year's tournament.
• Patrick Reed, a member of the Augusta State golf team that just captured the NCAA title, will make his PGA Tour debut as a sponsor exemption.
• Bob Gilder's victory at the Principal Charity Classic gave the Champions Tour back-to-back 60-something winners, a first in tour history. Tom Watson won the Senior PGA a week prior.
• Watson was named as the Memorial Tournament's honoree for 2012. Nancy Lopez accepted the honors this year.
• Steve Wheatcroft's performance at the Nationwide Tour event is even more remarkable when you consider he had just one top-10 and three missed cuts this season. His score of 255 was the lowest 72-hole effort in Nationwide Tour history. He made 31 birdies for the week.
• Luke Donald, with his eight straight top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, moved to No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings. He also leads the PGA Tour money list, leads the European Tour money list and is ranked No. 1 in the world.
"I think you stick so much energy into the whole week, and I don't let myself think about winning so much. But when it's finally over and all that emotion, I think, comes out, and you have this guy congratulating you as you walk off, it's pretty special, pretty cool time.'' -- Steve Stricker, pointing to Jack Nicklaus after winning his Memorial Tournament and explaining why he got emotional.
Catching up with '10 champ
Lee Westwood returns to the United States for the first time since the Masters, where he tied for 11th. Since that time, he has won two tournaments, one on the European Tour in South Korea, and taken back the No. 1 ranking from Martin Kaymer.
He then lost in the quarterfinals of the Volvo World Match Play Championship to eventual winner Ian Poulter before losing in a playoff to Luke Donald at the European Tour's BMW PGA Championship. That victory pushed Donald past Westwood for No. 1.
Westwood has 31 international victories, but his win in Memphis last year was only his second on the PGA Tour, joining a 1998 victory in New Orleans.