Originally Published: January 9, 2011

One wild start to PGA Tour's 2011 season

Sobel By Jason Sobel

Boy, it's too bad there's nothing to write about after the first week of the PGA Tour season.

In the opener, we witnessed defending champ Geoff Ogilvy being forced to withdraw, Camilo Villegas disqualified one day after a violation, a Shot of the Year candidate from Bubba Watson and a Worst Shot of the Year nominee from Jason Day.

Oh, and there happened to be a pretty entertaining final round at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, too, as Graeme McDowell set a blistering pace, falling short of a playoff between Jonathan Byrd and Robert Garrigus.

This edition of the Weekly 18 begins with the idea that Byrd's victory on the second extra hole was so unpredictable that we should have seen it coming.

1. Byrd is the word

Entering the PGA Tour's season-opening event, all of the punters, pickers, prognosticators and predictors tried to figure out which attribute of a player's game best suited Kapalua's Plantation Course.

Experience? Length? Ballstriking? Turns out it was none of the above.

Strangely enough for the first event of the year, the most important aspect was momentum, as the last two men standing were the final two winners of official PGA Tour events last season.

Since moving to Maui in 1999, the champions list for this tournament reads like a who's who of the PGA Tour, with winners including Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk and Sergio Garcia. Byrd becomes -- by far -- the lowest-ranked player to win these past dozen editions of the event, but it's almost fitting.

After all, we're only a week removed from previewing the season with discussions about the game's elite players reaching new heights and its talented brigade of youngsters challenging them. Byrd's victory -- not to mention Garrigus' title contention -- serves as another reminder that today's fields are deeper than ever and any player can step up and beat anyone else on any given week.

Case in point: In his first 241 career PGA Tour starts, Byrd won three titles. He's now two for his last two, though, meaning he's either ready to break through into the next echelon or simply proving the any-given-week mantra.

The victory not only seals his place as the first qualifier for next year's tourney at Kapalua, but also punches his ticket for both the Masters and U.S. Open. (He wasn't previously in either field.) Will it launch the traditionally slow starter toward bigger and better things this season? Maybe, maybe not.

Only one thing is for sure: Even in fields featuring superstars, there's a very fine line between players of differing levels these days. Byrd didn't teach us that this week, but he did prove it once again.

Three up

2. Graeme McDowell

In the days before his first career tournament in the Aloha State, McDowell was asked about the similarities between Hawaii and his native Northern Ireland.

"It's green, very green ... [and they] serve beer in bars," he said. "That's probably about the only similarities."

Well, the consensus worldwide player of the year from 2010 felt at home by the end of the week.

McDowell tied a Plantation Course record with a final-round 11-under 62 that included 11 birdies and seven pars, eventually leaving him in third place, a shot out of a playoff.

"When I birdied 13, 14, 15, 16, I thought, 'Hold on, I might have a little shot coming in here,'" he said afterward. "But the boys played fantastic this week and I was just happy to have a little sniff today."

After a season that included four wins and the clinching point at the Ryder Cup, on the surface he didn't need to prove anything else about his game, but McDowell made a controversial decision to switch from Callaway sponsorship to Srixon/Cleveland. It's the sort of move that has prohibited others from flourishing in the past; instead, it appears that GMac will only continue his torrid play this season.

That goes for everywhere from Northern Ireland to Hawaii.

3. LPGA Founders Cup

On the surface, the newest LPGA tournament sounds like a disaster waiting to happen -- or at the very least, a terrible precedent to set. Here's the gist: The tourney will be played March 18-20 at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Resort & Spa and will feature 132 players competing for ... nothing.

That's right. No paychecks will be handed out at the end of the week, as all proceeds will go toward the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program. There will be a "mock purse," though, meaning competitors will receive money toward their season-long earnings, though they won't actually get paid.

I'll admit that when I first heard the idea, I was more than a little skeptical. Then I spoke with LPGA commissioner Michael Whan and, well, I'm sold.

"You know, this isn't a company that you grow, then sell or give to your kids," he told me. "The LPGA is kind of a baton you get to run with for a few laps, then you hand it to the next group. We've got to make sure we hand it off better and this is an opportunity to make sure we do something that not only harkens back and pays respect to the people who put us here, but probably more importantly leaves the future of the game pretty cool.

"When I presented it to the players for the first time, I won't lie to you, I was holding my breath. They gave it a standing ovation and I remember saying, 'Before you sit down, I want you to remember next year when it's the Sunday before Founders and you're packing your bags and thinking, I can't believe I'm going to go play for no money, remember why you're standing and clapping right now. Because that's what we need you to do. One week a year, every year, let's make the game better.'"

It's a noble concept. As long as the LPGA's top players buy into it -- and it appears they already have -- it's an unconventional yet superb way to grow the game. And it could serve as Whan's legacy long after his tenure as commissioner is over.

4. Louis Oosthuizen

Entering the week, the reigning Open Championship title-holder was making headlines as one of five qualified players who chose to skip the PGA Tour's winners-only season opener. Unlike Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer, though, Oosthuizen eschewed the Pacific Ocean and palm trees to play in another event instead.

Good call.

Competing in the Africa Open for the first time in his career, Oosthuizen posted a final-round 70 to join a three-man playoff with Manuel Quiros and Chris Wood. After hooking his tee shot on the par-4 18th hole -- the first extra frame -- Louie knocked his approach to 8 feet and sank the birdie putt to claim his eighth career victory at a pro.

"It's been one of those weeks where the putter was very cold, but my caddie kept me calm and said it would go in eventually," Oosthuizen said. "So I kept on trying and made that nice one on the last which I will remember."

Despite skipping the PGA Tour's first week, the man called Oosty will indeed be a full-time member for the first time this season. Red alert to those who thought he was a one-hit wonder at St. Andrews: Might want to rethink that stance.

Three down

5. Preseason injuries

You know who has a lot of preseason injuries? Football players. Between minicamp, training camp and four exhibition games, those guys undergo bumps, bruises and a whole lot worse before the games even mean anything.

Not to be outdone, a couple of high-profile golfers sustained injuries before the Tournament of Champions, too. Except, uh, they weren't exactly on helmet-to-helmet hits.

Zach Johnson hurt the big toe on his right foot when he tried to put out a fire while on vacation with his family. He later reported that the fire didn't do any damage -- other than to his toe, which developed an infection. His solution? He cut a hole in his DryJoy spikes and wrapped the open area in a plastic baggie. Wearing his shoe like that throughout the tourney, he was able to complete 72 holes and finish in a share of 23rd place.

Geoff Ogilvy wasn't so lucky. Going out for a quick ocean swim two days before the opening round, he tripped and broke his fall on some coral, cutting his right index finger in the process. The wound needed 12 stitches, knocking the defending back-to-back champion out of the event. He said he expects to return to action at Torrey Pines later this month.

6. Robert Rohanna

While Camilo Villegas' rules violation might have been the most noteworthy of this past week, it was hardly the only one. Rohanna walked off the course after the final round of the Hooters Tour Winter Series event on Thursday believing he was the winner. He signed his scorecard -- and then came trouble. Tour official Ben Larsen explains:

"During the play of the 16th hole, Mr. Rohanna hit his tee shot [original ball] and an announced provisional ball near a similar area of out of bounds. The group searched for the balls and found a TaylorMade with Mr. Rohanna's similar markings. The other ball was not yet found. Mr. Rohanna played the hole out with the found ball and completed his round.

"In the scoring area, a formal complaint was issued by one of Mr. Rohanna's fellow competitors regarding the score he made on the 16th hole and whether the ball they had found was his original or his provisional. Mr. Rohanna believed the ball to be his original.

"Mr. Rohanna signed his scorecard and returned it to the committee for his score with the original ball. However, Mr. Rohanna, in announcing his provisional ball said he was playing a TaylorMade 5 (with his markings) and his original ball was a TaylorMade 3 (similar markings). An official was sent out to the 16th hole to search for the other ball to determine which one Mr. Rohanna had played. The official returned with a TaylorMade 3 (with similar markings), retrieved from the area in question.

"Mr. Rohanna now realized that there was a possibility that he played two golf balls with the same number and markings, as both his original ball and his provisional, and now was unable to determine which was which. In the USGA 2010-11 'Decisions on The Rules of Golf,' decision 27/11 'Provisional ball not distinguishable from original,' [it's stated] in situation 3 that 'The ball in bounds must be presumed to be the provisional ball.' So, by rule, Mr. Rohanna had signed and returned a lower score for the 16th hole and was disqualified under rule 6-6d 'Wrong score for Hole.'"

7. Sponsorship roulette

Walk into a ballpark before a baseball game and you'll invariably be greeted by the constant hum of a stadium vendor, shouting, "You can't tell the players without a scorecard!" Maybe the PGA Tour needs a few of these guys in the early part of the season.

That's because more than in any recent year, big-name players have switched equipment manufacturers, and it sounds like some wacky love triangle -- or in this case, maybe a love hexagon. Trevor Immelman switched from Nike to Callaway; Graeme McDowell switched from Callaway to Srixon; Tim Clark switched from Srixon to Titleist; Davis Love III switched from Titleist to Bridgestone; Charles Howell III switched from Bridgestone to Mizuno; Jeff Overton switched from Mizuno to Cleveland. Toss in the likes of Jim Furyk (switched to TaylorMade), Camilo Villegas (TaylorMade), Brian Davis (Titleist), Kevin Streelman (Wilson) and probably a bunch more I'm either forgetting or haven't heard about yet, and we'll need to get used to plenty of guys wearing different hats, not to mention playing new sticks and carrying new bags.

(Rocco Mediate, on the other hand, has not only eschewed all manufacturers, but has embraced the notion of playing mix-and-match, appearing in a commercial for sponsor Dick's Sporting Goods with dozens of logos appearing all over his clothing.)

On the surface, it's not a bad thing for these players. Each has likely moved onto a new company because he believes that is what's best for the long-term prospects of his game. But as we've often seen in the past, these changes don't equate to certain success right away.

Expect some growing pains for at least some of the aforementioned players. And if you see a vendor selling a scorecard of these changes, take him up on the offer.

Three wishes

8. I wish it made sense why Francesco Molinari was in the Tournament of Champions field.

I like Francesco Molinari. Good guy, good player. Deserves any accolades that come his way.

Except entry into this past week's field.

Actually, I don't mind him being included so much as I'm still scratching my head over why and how it happened. You see, Molinari triumphed at last year's late-season HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai, a WGC event that is PGA Tour-sanctioned, but counts as unofficial money and doesn't come with the two-year exemption granted to all other winners.

It does, however, include a ticket to Kapalua for the season opener.

Consider it the PGA Tour's version of being a little bit pregnant.

Kudos to Molinari, who unlike a handful of his international brethren, decided to make the long trip to the Aloha State and compete in the event, finishing in a share of 15th place.

It still feels a little strange, though, that his officially unofficial victory -- or was it an unofficially official one? -- comes with a Kapalua consolation prize.

My solution: If the PGA Tour wants to sanction the event, it should go all in and afford the winner all of the same rewards that come with every other title.

9. I wish the finality of signing a scorecard would change.

I'll let you click here for my thoughts on the Camilo Villegas disqualification, which came one day after the opening round at Kapalua.

As I've often stated in this space, there's no point in bringing up a problem unless you've got a solution, and there's one that has been gaining a groundswell of support in recent days.

Change the rule which states signing an incorrect scorecard is grounds for disqualification on the PGA Tour.

I couldn't agree more with this one. You see, Villegas wasn't disqualified for flicking away a loose piece of turf as his ball rolled down a slope and back toward his feet. He was disqualified because he didn't assess himself a penalty, signed his scorecard and was later found to have violated the rule.

Of course, if the signing of the scorecard wasn't sacrosanct, Villegas could have returned the next day, given himself the appropriate penalty and continued playing for the remainder of the tournament.

This is a matter of the punishment fitting the crime. When the Rules of Golf first put this one into place, there were no television graphics or live Internet scoring or even electronic scoreboards on the courses. A player's scorecard was the only efficient way of knowing a player's score.

While the USGA and R&A might want to keep this rule in place for other levels, the PGA Tour can certainly adopt its own laws when it comes to similar situations. If that doesn't make sense, consider this: If Villegas' scenario had taken place in the final round instead of the first, he wouldn't have been DQ'd afterward.

It's a silly, outdated rule that cost him 54 holes and official earnings at this tourney. It shouldn't have to cost anyone else down the road.

10. I wish for some great stories to tell in 2011.

You're a fan. You root for your favorite player and stand by him at all times, from the highs of tournament titles to the lows of Friday afternoon trunk-slamming.

Maybe he tossed you a sweaty golf glove after an otherwise forgettable practice round back in 1989. Maybe you went to grade school with his cousin's neighbor's friend. Or maybe he's just, you know, good at golf. Whatever the case, we all have a rooting interest.

Me? I'm a journalist. I root for the story. Here are 11 of 'em I'd like to see take place during the upcoming 2011 season. Full Story

11. Quote of the week

[+] Enlarge
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesGraeme McDowell reeled off 11 birdies to tie the course record at 62. McDowell owned one of six bogey-free rounds Sunday at Kapalua.

"I would play him for the presidency. I would play him for hundreds of millions of dollars." --Donald Trump on Golf Channel's "Morning Drive," when asked about the prospect of playing golf against President Obama.

Interesting idea. Of course, if the presidency was determined by winning golf matches, the United States would probably be under British control again.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.


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