THE RACE IS ON, ALREADY: In the aftermath of the worst U.S. defeat in Ryder Cup history, myriad changes have been proposed, including narrowing the qualification period. The Europeans don't start accumulating points until a year before the matches, and the result seems to be a team that more accurately reflects current form. For this year's Cup, the U.S. team began accumulating points at the beginning of the 2002 season because the 2001 matches were postponed. But instead of shortening the selection period, the PGA of America extended it. The NEC Invitational in August was the first tournament to count toward 2006 in Ireland. Stewart Cink, who won there and finished second at the 84 Lumber Classic, is the early leader. Players earn points for top-10 finishes. In 2005, the points are doubled, then doubled again in 2006, with majors also counting double.
GOOD MOVE IF IT WORKS: Sometimes changing equipment gets a lot of attention, as in the case of Phil Mickelson, who switched his driver, fairway woods and ball on the eve of the Ryder Cup then performed poorly. Other times, nobody notices. That was the case with Vijay Singh who, curiously, went with a standard-length Never Compromise milled series before the 84 Lumber Classic and won. Singh had won four of his past five events using a standard-length Bettinardi MC-3 putter. He has won five times since switching from a belly putter in August.
CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?
When 84 Lumber Co. founder Joe Hardy offered a free round trip on a chartered 747 to last week's American Express Championship in Ireland to any player (and guests) who played in his 84 Lumber Classic, more than 30 PGA Tour players accepted. Perhaps they wished they'd have gone on their own. When the 747 that was specially equipped with only first-class seats didn't pass an FAA inspection, two 737s were used. That meant instead of a nonstop flight, there were two refueling stops, one in Canada and the other in Iceland. As they landed in Iceland, one of the plane's cabin's filled with smoke due to an electrical short, resulting in a four-hour delay. The trip took 19 hours. "We got what we paid for," Scott Verplank said. "It was a tremendous gesture," Brad Faxon said. "But it's cheaper to pay sometimes." Hardy, of course, was embarrassed and apologized profusely - even though it was out of his control. He made up for it by getting a 767 to bring the players home.
"This is a new start for me and my life and my career. It helps me to forget all those near misses." - ERNIE ELS, after his victory at the American Express Championship, referring to his close calls at all four major championships this year.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Els' victory was his third of the year on the PGA Tour, the first time he has had as many as three wins in a season. It was his 15th career PGA Tour title.