Purdy, crowd top FBR\‘s endless possibilities

     The leader board for today’s final round of the FBR Open is loaded with possibilities, a solid group of proven PGA Tour winners that starts with 48-year-old veteran Kenny Perry.
     The Kentucky-bred Perry, who has defied his age by winning six times since he turned 40, snared the top spot Saturday with two birdies on his final two holes at the TPC Scottsdale. Being out front has been a familiar theme for K.P., who last year had career-bests in wins (three) and money ($4.66 million).
     At the same time, chances are great that Perry, who is at 12-under-par 201 after a 66, will only be as good as his last 18 holes. That’s because each day of this wild-and-crazy tournament there has been a new hot hand.
     Now it comes down to who gets dealt the winner and the challengers with PGA Tour wins are many: Brian Gay and Charley Hoffman are both at 10 under; Geoff Ogilvy, David Toms, Matt Kuchar and Ted Purdy are all at 9 under; and Rocco Mediate, Zach Johnson and Nick Watney at 8 under.
     Actually, the closest player in pursuit is rookie Scott Piercy, who is 11 under after blowing a four-shot lead. Piercy looked like he might run away and hide – he was 14 under through 13 holes – before three bogeys brought him back to Earth.
     Beyond 8 under would be a reach. Certainly the crowd favorite will be Purdy, a born-and-bred Phoenician who played for Brophy Prep and the University of Arizona, and thrilled the rowdies at the notorious 16th hole – “The Coliseum’’ – when he nearly made a hole-in-one Saturday.
      Being a local, Purdy is well aware of Tiger Woods’ "modern shot heard ’round the world” that rocked the TPC in 1997. That’s why he got a little carried when his “hard’’ sand wedge from 123 yards at the 16th — the shortest yardage the hole has ever been played — just missed the cup for an ace.
       “I wish it would have gone in,’’ said Purdy, who waved an Arizona Cardinals banner from the tee there to the green, then tapped in from 9 inches as the crowd never stopped roaring.
      “I remember Tiger said you have to be focused when you play that (16th) hole, and that’s all I was thinking: stay focused,’’ said Purdy of his moment in the sun. “Seriously, that would have been the highlight of my career.’’
     Purdy, whose only win came at the 2005 Byron Nelson,  was just overly excited with the shot, because obviously winning the Nelson was a bigger deal. But he was very serious when he said he’ll be wearing Cardinals red today.
      Outside of who wins this thing, the biggest question that remains unanswered might be how many people will turn out today at the TPC to watch the final round. With the Cardinals playing the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl, the interest in who wins the FBR’s $1,080,000 first prize might wane noticeably.
    Kickoff for the Super Bowl is set for 4:15 p.m., while the FBR should end sometime around 3:30 p.m., provided there is no playoff. If it does go extra holes, as it did last year when J.B. Holmes beat Phil Mickelson in a playoff, chances are there won’t be many in attendance to watch the sudden death.
     That Mickelson and Holmes, as well as Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas, missed the cut also does not bode well for building a crowd. After all, the TPC Scottsdale is the “House that Phil built,’’ and his absence along with rising stars Kim and Villegas most probably will impact the gate in a negative way.
    What the FBR has going for it is the Thunderbirds announced that anyone wearing Cardinals apparel will get in free today. Hey, the T-Birds are no dummies, and if you can’t beat the NFL, why not join ’em, right?
    It might be a huge challenge, as crowds for the Open have been down 10 to 20 percent every day this week compared to a year ago, when a record crowd of 538,356 fans stormed the TPC for the week. It must be noted that those big numbers in ’08 came on Thursday, Friday and Saturday – all single-day tournament attendance records — while Sunday’s crowd actually declined from the prior year by over 20,000 fans — the lowest total (71,805) in the past six years.
    The reason, of course, was the Super Bowl was hosted right here at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Chances are that Super Bowl factor will once again hold the numbers down, and most of the Valley won’t be around to see their very own Ted Purdy as he goes . . . ALL . . . THE  . . . WAY!
 Bill Huffman has covered golf in Arizona for over 20 years for the Arizona Republic and East Valley Tribune as well as writing the book Arizona’s Greatest Golf Courses. He co-hosts Backspin the Golf Show on XTRA Sports 910 AM each Wednesday (6-7pm) and Saturday (9-11am).  To reach Bill directly please email him at [email protected] or call 480-540-1780. 


Unpredictable Phil misses FBR Open cut

        If there is one thing we know about Phil Mickelson by now, it’s that we never really know for sure which “Lefty’’ will show up.
        That point was driven home in a big way Friday, when Mickelson missed only his fifth cut in 19 appearances at the FBR Open. But coupled with a missed cut at the 2007 Open, which also is held in Scottsdale, that’s three missed cuts in his last four appearances in the Valley including an MC at the 2007 FBR Open.
         Perhaps more disturbing for Mickelson, it was the first time in 17 years on the PGA Tour that he had missed the cut in his season debut. And he didn’t just barely miss the magic number of even-par 142, it was more like a mile.
        “It just didn’t come together. I just didn’t perform,’’ said Mickelson, a former Arizona State star and Scottsdale resident who opened with a five-over 76 at the TPC Scottsdale and was gone with the wind following a 73 and a fat 7-over total.
        “I’ll go home (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.) and get some work done over the weekend and see if I can get things on track for San Diego next week.’’
       Give Mickelson credit, he always is a gentleman no matter what the score. And he doesn’t get rattled when he falls on his face despite many thinking he was among the heavy favorites this week.
       For the most part, he does play well at the TPC Scottsdale, where he has won twice, lost a playoff last year to J.B. Holmes, and has six other top-10 finishes, many that came while he was in contention on past Sundays. 
      “This will give me a few more days to get my game sharp. Again, it didn’t feel as far off as the score indicated,’’ the 38-year-old Mickelson said of his two days of frustration, in which he had almost as many penalty strokes (four) as birdies (five).
      “I feel I hit the ball fairly solid. I just made some errors here and there. So now I’ll have an extra couple of days to get ready for Torrey (Pines), a place that I have grown to love, and hopefully I’ll play well next week.’’
     Funny, that was pretty much the scouting report coming into the FBR Open, where Lefty was gunning for his 35th win on the PGA Tour. Making his 2009 season debut here, Mickelson said he was mentally rested, physically robust, and looking forward to the familiar confines of the TPC Scottsdale.
     “I’ve had good work the last eight, nine days, working with Butch (Harmon) and (Dave) Pelz, and I feel like I’m as ready as I can be,’’ Mickelson said prior to what turned out to be a huge disappointment. “But again, until I’ve been out playing, I won’t know the status of my game really until I test it on a tournament course like the TPC Scottsdale.’’
     Unfortunately, now we know: he’s not quite ready to go. Then again, that could all change by next week considering the diabolical nature of the up-and-down game that has brought Mickelson undying adulation and steadfast fame.
    Asked if he remembered what happened the last time he missed the cut here (2007), the big fellow shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “What, me worry?”
    For the record, Mickelson won going away the next week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He also did the same thing – win after missing a cut – last season, when he pulled off the unlikely scenario at the Northern Trust in Los Angeles after bombing out eight days prior at Pebble, where he was defending champ.
      Yes, when it comes to being completely unpredictable, that’s seemingly when Mickelson is the most predictable.Then again, that’s also the nature of golf.
      Just ask the defender Holmes, who also missed the cut badly on Friday. But the difference between Mickelson and Holmes is, we know J.B. won’t win next week in San Diego.
Bill Huffman has covered golf in Arizona for over 20 years for the Arizona Republic and East Valley Tribune as well as writing the book Arizona’s Greatest Golf Courses. He co-hosts Backspin the Golf Show on XTRA Sports 910 AM each Wednesday (6-7pm) and Saturday (9-11am).  To reach Bill directly please email him at [email protected] or call 480-540-1780. 


Kaye gets toe in the door at FBR Open

       Playing on the final year of a five-year exemption for winning the 2004 FBR Open, long-time Phoenix pro Jonathan Kaye made the most of his opportunity.
      “Yeah, it’s nice to be back out here,’’ said Kaye, 38, who was among the leaders at the FBR Open after he opened Thursday with a 3-under-par 68 at the TPC Scottsdale, or three shots behind co-leaders Lucas Glover and rookie James Nitties.
       Kaye, who made only eight starts last season on the PGA Tour, and never hit  a shot in 2007, has been plagued by a bad big toe on his right foot.
       “I thought I was ready to come back (last year), and I wasn’t,’’ he reported. “It still bothers me, and truthfully, I don’t think it will ever get better because there is no cartilage left in there. I guess I’m just kind of managing the pain better.’’
       It’s been a rocky road for Kaye, who at one time looked like he might be a future star on the PGA Tour. That was 2003, when he finished 16th on the money list then followed it up with the win at the FBR the next year. Even 2005 was a pretty good season, as he finished No. 53 on the money list.
      But the foot went bad in 2006, and got worse the following year when he underwent surgery and a lengthy rehab.
     “I shouldn’t have even tried to play (in 2008) because I couldn’t walk,’’ Kaye explained. “After Memphis (in June), well, that was my last tournament until today.’’
     Kaye always has been a “character,’’ a former rebel on tour who listed things like “coloring’’ and being a “jalapeno farmer’’ under his special interests in the PGA Tour media guide. And even though his career has been a little hit-and-miss, the self-taught pro has proved he can golf his ball when he’s healthy, racking up over $10 million in winnings in 13 seasons in the big league.
     There are other claims to fame. For instance, the former Sunnyslope High School standout and University of Colorado star once shot a course-record 58 at Encanto, the course where he grew up on as a kid. And as a Buffalo he once beat Phil Mickelson in a playoff to win a college tournament in Tucson.
     These days he and his wife, Jennifer, who also played golf professionally, have two daughters – Ryelie and Breeze. That’s why Kaye said staying home and hanging out with the family basically the past two years has been the silver lining to the terrible toe.
     “My kids declared me, ‘Dad of the Year,’ ’’ said a beaming Kaye, who lists his special interest in the media guide these days as “avid indoorsman.’’
      “They tell me I’m the best dad in the ‘whole wide world,’ and I’ll take that any day. I really do have some great kids.’’
     As for his future on the PGA Tour, he needs to return to the glory days of old, he admitted.
     “Right now they’ve got me listed at the back of the Q-School guys, and I need to make a bunch of money real soon to keep playing,’’ he said of his current status, which wouldn’t have been good enough to get in the FBR Open had he not been a former champ.
     “But lately I’ve been playing pretty well – like today – and that’s all you can hope for.’’
Bill Huffman has covered golf in Arizona for over 20 years for the Arizona Republic and East Valley Tribune as well as writing the book Arizona’s Greatest Golf Courses. He co-hosts Backspin the Golf Show on XTRA Sports 910 AM each Wednesday (6-7pm) and Saturday (9-11am).  To reach Bill directly please email him at [email protected] or call 480-540-1780. 


No debate:  FBR leaves Dubai in the dust

        When it comes to comparing various tournaments in professional golf, it’s hard to look past the Official World Golf Rankings, which are measured by strength of field and change weekly. As proof I offer the FBR Open vs. the Dubai Desert Classic, which tee off this week on opposite sides of the Earth.
      When the season started, Dubai clearly had the edge in the World Rankings with six players in the top 10 (not counting the rehabbing Tiger Woods) compared with just two players for the FBR Open. But four weeks into the season and a lot has changed already, with the FBR now boasting four players in the top 10 (not counting the rehabbing Vijay Singh) compared to three for Europe.
      That comparison can be taken a tad further by noting that the FBR Open has eight in the top 20 – No.4 Phil Mickelson, No. 6 Geoff Ogilvy, No. 9 Anthony Kim, No. 10 Camilo Villegas, No. 15 Kenny Perry, No. 16 Steve Stricker, No. 17 Stewart Cink and No. 20 Mike Weir. Ogilvy and Kim are new to the top 10, while Stricker, Cink and Weir all got into the top 20 lately.
     Dubai, meanwhile, had No. 11 Lee Westwood and No. 12 Ernie Els fall out of the top 10, and No. 3 Padraig Harrington withdrew. (Maybe the $500,000 appearance fee wasn’t enough?) That clearly makes No. 2 Sergio Garcia the biggest draw in the “other’’ desert.
     Does that make the FBR Open the clear winner for once when it comes to strength of field against Dubai? Well, what if I told you the FBR always beats Dubia, hands down, whether Tiger players there or not, and regardless of the rankings.
    Yes, while the world rankings don’t lie — and are more accurate than the money lists — the truth is the FBR Open is the exception to the rule. It’s because strength of field can’t always measure the true marquee value when it comes to this early season event. (That, and our weather is usually the best on tour!)
      Besides, you won’t find crowd favorites like Michael Allen, Woody Austin, Paul Azinger, Aaron Baddeley, Mark Calcavecchia, Chris DiMarco, Tim Herron, Jerry Kelly, Tom Lehman, Justin Leonard, Billy Mayfair, Rocco Mediate, Arron Oberholser, Ted Purdy, Jeff Quinney, Chez Reavie, David Toms, Kirk Triplett or Scott Verplank in the top 20 – or in Dubai.
     The FBR also has the three hottest sticks in the game right now in Ogilvy, Zach Johnson and Pat Perez, who have won the initial three PGA Tour stops in 2009. That takes nothing away from Europe’s recent winners in Paul Casey and Alvaro Quiros, who won against weaker fields.
    Everybody knows that “chicks dig the long ball,’’ and two-time champ J.B. Holmes and big-hitting Bubba Watson will certainly add some punch to the FBR’s lineup.  Of, course, the ladies probably will be more focused on Villegas, especially if he dips down a couple of times into the “Spidey’’ pose.
   Add the notorious Birds Nest and the equally infamous 16th "stadium” hole to the FBR equation, and no wonder the Dubai Desert Classic eats the dust of over 500,000 fans at the TPC Scottsdale each year. Seriously, how much would the presence of Tiger Woods really tip the scale this time around when everyone already will be wearing red – Cardinals red — on Sunday?
   For once, I’d have to say not one little bit.
Bill Huffman has covered golf in Arizona for over 20 years for the Arizona Republic and East Valley Tribune as well as writing the book Arizona’s Greatest Golf Courses. He co-hosts Backspin the Golf Show on XTRA Sports 910 AM each Wednesday (6-7pm) and Saturday (9-11am).  To reach Bill directly please email him at [email protected] or call 480-540-1780. 


Nine Storylines for the \‘09 Season


     I’ve been covering golf in Arizona for over 20 years now, and I’ve never known a season that is filled with more storylines involving unresolved questions and uncertainty than this one.
     Blame it on the current state of our scary economy. With no one having a clue how far we have to fall to hit rock bottom, here are nine stories that are a lock to unfold in 2009:
1. Does Tiger have us by the tail?
      Most of us never have put much stock in the website for obvious reasons even if “The First Church of Tiger Woods’’ gets a lot of hits these days. But it’s a gimme that nobody drives the game like the guy we haven’t seen (except for EA Sports commercials) since mid-June of last year.
      Yes, Tiger has us by the tail, especially with golf in a state of disarray due to the global economic gloom and his prolonged absence. That’s why – hopefully! — Tucson and the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship can’t come soon enough. Yes, we need him that bad.

2. What lies ahead for AZ golf?
     Foreclosures and failings and falling revenues, oh my! And where are the tourists and the snowbirds when you really need them?
      The next four months will go a long way in defining what 2009 has in store for golf course operators and employees in the Grand Canyon State, a period of time in which no one really knows what to expect. At this point, only Mother Nature’s fickle wintry finger might be able to save the day in sunny Arizona, and at the moment she’s doing a nice (translated: sub-zero) job.
3. Is this the last FBR Open?
    With its stock staggering to an near-sinkable six cents a share recently, only the U.S. government’s billion-dollar baby, better known as the bailout, can save Friedman, Billings and Ramsey, the East Coast banking firm that goes by the acronym FBR. Actually FBR doesn’t exist, as Eric Billings – the “B’’ — is the only guy left, as Manny Friedman and Russ Ramsey left long ago.
    Barring a Hail Mary, chances are strong that the tournament that was known as the Phoenix Open for 70-some years will be going by a new name in 2010. Or, who knows? If things get really down and dirty, economically, maybe it’s back to the future with the Phoenix Open.
4. Where will the LPGA play?
    With the tournament two months away, no one has yet to say if the event – now called the Phoenix LPGA International, at least temporarily – will again be played at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club or elsewhere.
     Obviously, Superstition Mountain would be the first choice, but the elite private club in Gold Canyon is in the throes of a financial quagmire under its third management team in less than a year. Adding to tournament’s woes, there is not a corporate sponsor in sight for 2010.
5. Can Lefty still get it right?
    Phil Mickelson is one year away from his 40th birthday and hasn’t won a major championship since the 2006 Masters. Even worse, Lefty hasn’t had a chance to right his career-defining wrong at Winged Foot, where he blew the U.S. Open on the final hole along with a golden opportunity to win three straight majors (four overall).
    “I am such an idiot,’’ Mickelson said afterwards. It is one of the game’s most infamous moments, right up there with Roberto de Vincenzo’s notorious “What a stupid I am’’ following the 1968 Masters. Can Phil find future fame? Stay tuned.
6. Will Europe rise to the challenge?
     Much has been written about Dubai’s mad dash for $10 million in cash, a season-ending, FedEx Cup-like event that will conclude this season’s European Tour. And there is room for concern when budding superstars like Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas commit – at least part-time — to that tour.
      No worries, really, as Tiger and Phil have yet to go Euro, and A.K. and Spiderman are coming to Scottsdale. Alas, the Euros will have to settle for an exiled John Daly and red-hot Padraig Harrington, who can tie an all-time record at the Masters by winning his third straight major.
7. Can Michelle Wie turn LPGA tide?
    It took Michelle Wie seven sometimes grueling years to finally get her LPGA card – and now she’s all of 19. Loading the LPGA’s future onto anyone’s back would be a giant task, but a teen-ager?
     Wie is a symptom of what the LPGA has become – a tour hedged on youth that might have eaten up its future even before it had a chance to flourish. But everyone seems to be having trouble these days when it comes to building equity. The long shot is that Wie immediately looks like the reincarnation of Annika, while even money says she doesn’t win.  
8. Who will take Double K’s place?
     He is now a living Arizona legend in his early 50s, but as he continually reminds us on an annual basis, Ken Kellaney still stands tall in the Sonoran Desert. He did nothing to disprove his greatness in 2008, and only a handful of challengers are awaiting him this time around.
    That list starts with Paul Welle, and includes Michael Wog II, Tim Duffey, Bryan Hoops, Chris Kessler, Rob McIver and a bunch of kids like Doug Smith, Jin Song and Andrew Yun. Any, and all, would need career years.
9. Who are the new kids on the block?             
    In recent years Arizona’s junior ranks have been a pipeline producing such outstanding talent as Philip Francis, Drew Kittleson, Richard Lee, Esther Choe, Cheyenne Woods and Taylore Karle. But there will be lots of new faces once Nicholas Losole III, Lauren Weaver and Kimberly Kim graduate in 2009.
     Among the new kids on the block who are ready for their time at the top are Trey Kaahanui, Alberto Sanchez, Brett Wilson, Lindsey Weaver, Stephanie Kim and Sabin Kim. The Kims aren’t relalted, but keep an eye on Sabin’s little sister, Younjin.  
Bill Huffman has covered golf in Arizona for over 20 years for the Arizona Republic and East Valley Tribune as well as writing the book Arizona’s Greatest Golf Courses. He co-hosts Backspin the Golf Show on XTRA Sports 910 AM each Wednesday (6-7pm) and Saturday (9-11am).  To reach Bill directly please email him at [email protected] or call 480-540-1780.