Posted on: October 26, 2011 12:38 pm
Edited on: October 26, 2011 1:32 pm

At last, tour defends Donald ballot botching

ORLANDO, Fla. – In the background, the sound of papers rustling could be distinctly heard, on more than one occasion, as the PGA Tour’s head of communications on Wednesday at last tried to explain the not-so-great Ballot Blunder of 2011.

So, even when finally offering an explanation, two days after the fact, the tour had to script and recite the words of its alibi?

After changing the rules Monday with regard to the timeline of balloting for the top-player honors, an award that world No. 1 Luke Donald seemingly had all but clinched with his clutch victory at the so-called season finale Sunday at Disney World, the tour has been taking some hits in the court of public opinion.

You're about to understand why.

Appearing by phone on the Golf Channel on Wednesday, communications chief Ty Votaw attempted to mount a defense of the tour's decision to hold off on the ballot mailings for two more weeks, but he certainly didn’t say anything to make Donald seem like less of a sympathetic figure.

Moreover, Votaw didn’t engender much goodwill regarding the tour’s ham-handed handling of the issue, which has become a sizeable talking point in some quarters. Below are some excerpts -- and devil's advocate counterpoints -- of Votaw’s comments on the issue during the Morning Drive chat show.

For the purposes of background: The tour said last week as Donald was winning the Disney season finale that it would mail Player of the Year ballots to the membership this week. On Monday,the ballot mailing was pushed back. The delay allows players in the HSBC Champions field in early November the chance to put a final dent in Donald’s status as the perceived POY favorite, well after the tour indicated the season would have formally concluded and the polling period would have begun. 

Said Votaw: “A journalist contacted us on Monday to confirm whether HSBC was in fact an official victory … When asking that question, it focused us on what the impact of a potential victory at HSBC would be on information that membership would receive if ballots went out this week as opposed to going out after HSBC."

That's three HSBC drop-ins already. And these are just the seemingly scripted warmup comments.

Votaw: “This is really, in our mind, a question of fairness to HSBC, so it’s result as an official-victory event could be considered by a voting member, just like it was last year; fairness to the voting body, so that the same information is possessed by all voting members when the ballots are sent out; and fairness to all those nominated [for postseason awards], so that their playing records in official events are reflected on the ballots.

“If this change hadn’t been made, you could have had members voting on incomplete information if they voted before the HSBC, versus those who chose to vote after the results of the HSBC were known. So it really came down to a matter of fairness and we felt this was the right decision to make.”

A phone call to Donald to explain this rationale might have been nice. The tour never inititiated contact. And some say Donald is an aloof sort?

Votaw: “Nothing whatsoever about this decision takes away the merits of Luke’s exemplary performance this year in voters’ minds.”

Well, except that another two weeks will have passed, and PGA Tour players have the attention span of most Americans these days – which is to say, about the length of an average text message.

Votaw: “But this is not about Luke Donald. The analysis would have been the same and the decision would have been the same if Webb Simpson had won.

“It wasn’t an oversight brought up by a journalist. The journalist simply asked the question if HSBC was still an official victory.”

Oh, and then the timing gears in the Ponte Vedra Beach drivetrain finally cranked into reverse.

Votaw: “But the analysis and the decision was made after we looked at whether HSBC was included last year as an official-victory event, and we felt it was fair to HSBC as an official-victory event to continue. That would have been disrespectful to HSBC.”

Yeah, by all means, appease all-omnipotent sponsor HSBC, with zero regard as to the fairness to Luke and everybody else who believed he had won the season finale. Trick or treat!

Votaw: “I mean, the answer is, if we had not made this decision, if the change wasn’t made and the results of HSBC were somehow impactful to this discussion, you guys would probably have come on Monday after HSBC and had a nice little animated discussion about how we should have included those results.”

Maybe so. But can we get back to the gratuitous HSBC mentions? That’s only about a dozen so far. Just think if it were a bank with a real U.S. presence.

Votaw: “If you want to characterize it as an oversight, that’s fine.”

Gee, how about if the tour admits it screwed the pooch, not to mention Donald, instead of asking the media to explain and describe the nature of the gaffe?

Votaw: “We corrected the oversight, and we think correcting the oversight was the right thing to do. I’d rather do that than do nothing and then be criticized for not doing anything about an oversight.”

At that point, the conversation swerved into the odd definition of the HSBC event itself, and whether it ought to be included in the Player of the Year discussion anyway. Donald pointed out the quasi-official nature of the tournament on Tuesday, admitting he was hardly doing cartwheels over the tour's ballot blunderings and last-minute inclusion of the China event. To wit, the HSBC isn’t fully official on the U.S. tour. The money doesn’t count, and it’s only considered an official victory if an existing PGA Tour member wins it. For example, last year, European Tour veteran Francesco Molinari of Italy won and was not granted U.S. tour membership.

Votaw: “I’m not sure there are any vagaries about this, because, again, it was considered last year as far as the Player of the Year and it’ll be considered this year as far as the Player of the Year because of the change that we made.”

If that assertion is true, and that's clearly a matter of opinion, then it's the only thing about the whole process that hasn't seemed cloudy.

Posted on: October 24, 2011 6:36 pm
Edited on: October 24, 2011 7:17 pm

Oh, wait, Luke: Tour season's not over after all

ORLANDO, Fla. -- After a season of utter parity, most of us thought we finally had a grip on the PGA Tour’s wide-open Player of the Year thing.

Not so fast.


Because the tour ain’t so swift.

Last week at the season finale at Disney World, news outlets were told that the tour would be mailing ballots for Player of the Year voting either today or Tuesday, since the money title had been clinched and the last official event had ended.

Well, turns out, there’s official, semi-official, and just plain embarrassing.

On Monday, the tour brass in Ponte Vedra Beach instead elected to wait another two weeks after realizing it had made a scheduling oversight, and will now postpone sending out the ballots until next month.

While that is arguably the most prudent course of action given that the season really isn’t over after all, it certainly raises the question of who’s minding the store, doesn’t it?

The confusion mostly stems from the fact that there are more false endings to the U.S. tour season than on the entire Beatles White Album, and this season, the last event on the ledger left the tour in a red-faced position.

The gaffe apparently was pointed out to the tour by a beat reporter on Monday who noted that because two quasi-official Asian events set for the next two weeks were moved back after Disney on this season’s lineup card, a handful of players still in the mix for top-player and top-rookie honors should be given the opportunity to make a last splash before ballots were mailed. A tour communications official said he could not speak to "the timing or what prompted the change." 

So now we get two more weeks of the season that never ends, a full fortnight of more hype, last-ditch Hail Marys and potentially ballot-bending accomplishments. Against fields that are one-half and one-third the size of a regular-season event.

This week’s event in Malaysia and next week’s HSBC Champions event in China are sanctioned by the PGA Tour, but fall into weird classification cracks. The money on the two limited-field cash grabs is unofficial, but the tour last year designated the HSBC as counting as an official tournament victory … if it’s claimed by a member of the PGA Tour.

Got it?

That means that for entrants like Keegan Bradley, one of seven players tied with a tour-high two wins this season, will get another chance to become the first player to collect a trio of titles. Masters winner Charl Schwartzel is also expected to play, and a victory could mean he gets a few PoY votes, too, or closes in on Bradley for the tour’s top-rookie honors.

Nothing wrong with that – though it should have been noticed and noted before Monday.

Beyond that central point is another concern. Frankly, anybody familiar with the thin attention span of the average tour player won’t find this prediction wildly off-base: The delay in mailing the ballots won’t help world No. 1’s Luke Donald much.

In the minds of many, Donald nailed down the Player of the Year award on Sunday when he shot 30 on the back nine at Disney to win his second U.S. event of the season, clinching the money title as well as two separate trophies for having the season’s best adjusted stroke average.

Based on the recency theory alone – and the fact that Disney World is still echoing with calls of Luuuuuuke -- it’s not a huge stretch to assume that a player with a ballot in hand by mid-week would have been much more likely to recall Donald’s Disney heroics than if the voter is asked to wait 2-3 more weeks to cast a vote.

The earnings title aside, the consensus was that Donald nailed down the PoY award, which was a huge reason he added the Disney tournament to his schedule in the first place.

Now we wait until the HSBC event in China ends on Nov. 6?

The first fake ending came at the FedEx Cup finale in Atlanta in September. You know, the one routinely marketed as the “season-ending playoffs.”

Yeah, except for the four events in the Fall Series.

Oh, and two more in Asia. Note to Ponte Vedrans: When it comes time to order 2012 office supplies from Dunder Mifflin, buy a couple of calendars.

This rant is officially over. Though just to level the field, that notion is subject to further review.

Posted on: October 17, 2011 10:00 am

Donald, Simpson paired for O-town showdown

ORLANDO, Fla. – There were obvious fairness issues.

The two players are slugging it out for the PGA Tour’s top-player and money-list awards, so it only seemed proper that they should play the same course in the same time period, to experience comparable conditions. But this was as much about feeding the fans’ appetite as anything.

Everybody wanted the 1-2 punch, and on Monday, they got it.

The PGA Tour confirmed that it has paired world No. 1 Luke Donald and money-list leader Webb Simpson in the first two rounds of the season finale this week at Disney World. The event begins Thursday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

“Why did I do it?" tour rules official Jon Brendle said Monday, laughing. “I did it for golf.”

The tour groups players by their classification category, though at Disney, which is a pro-am event for the first two days, Brendle has wide latitude and often pairs players in fun duos, often by country of origin, alma mater, or other ties.

Yet Brendle paired Donald and Simpson, who both added the Disney event to help bolster their chances of multiple winning postseason honors, because it’s what everybody wants to see.

“God bless ‘em, they did it for us by coming here to try to win the money title and all,” he said. “It’s the right thing for us to do. Besides, if I was a player, I think I’d want to see what the other guy was up to.”

Over the first two rounds, Disney is contested on two tracks, the Palm and Magnolia courses. So pairing Donald and Simpson on the same venue on the same day was the right call from a fairness standpoint, too, because the Palm usually plays several shots easier.

As he attempts to pass Simpson for the money title – he needs to finish T2 or better to have a chance -- Donald will be using a new caddie this week. With regular looper John McLaren unavailable because he got married over the weekend in London, Donald has hired Gareth Lord as a temp.

Lord has recently worked for Robert Karlsson, Alvaro Quiros and Thomas Bjorn. The latter has three wins this season on the European Tour.

Simpson lost the PGA Tour event on Sunday at Sea Island, Ga., in a playoff to surge past Donald for the money lead, taking a margin of $363,029 into the official season finale this week.

Posted on: October 14, 2011 12:00 pm
Edited on: October 14, 2011 6:05 pm

Duel at Disney: Donald seeks player, money titles

ORLANDO, Fla. – The cash dash is officially on.

World No. 1 Luke Donald isn’t giving up his precarious lead on the PGA Tour money list without a fight, and on Friday formally committed to play in the season finale next week at Disney World.

Donald, seeking to become the first dual member of the PGA and European tours to top the money lists in the same season, began this week with a lead of $68,971 over Webb Simpson, who has two wins in the past two months.

"There was never really a decision to be made," Donald tweeted Friday from London. "I have a chance of making history. See you all at Disney next week."

He added the hashtag, #bringiton.

Simpson added this week’s PGA Tour event in Sea Island, Ga., where a finish of 15th or better would allow him to pass Donald, who isn’t playing. Simpson, also trying to secure a possible Player of the Year award by recording his third victory of the season, held a share of the 36-hole lead when he finished his second round at the McGladrey Classic late Friday afternoon and then committed to battling Donald next week, mano a mano, so to speak.

"I think he's kind of thinking the same thing I'm thinking, that if one of us was going to play, the other one really needed to," Simpson said after his round. "It's going to be fun, I'm sure. He's one of those competitive guys on the Tour, and so I'm sure he's going to come guns loaded and he's going to play great like he has all year."

Few would be surprised if they were paired in the first two rounds at Disney, either.

"I think this is a great show to cap the end of the PGA Tour season," Disney tournament director Kevin Weickel said. "It's awesome. And this golf course usually lends itself to quite a shootout."

The money leader not only receives a five-year exemption for winning the Arnold Palmer Award, but it could help break the logjam in the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year race. A half-dozen players have two wins, including Simpson, although Donald has plenty of supporters based on his amazing streak of solid, consistent results. Donald won Accenture Match Play in Arizona and has amassed 17 finishes in the top 10 worldwide, including two wins at big events in Europe.

"Luke really wants to win the Player of the Year award and hopes this shows the other players on the PGA Tour how much it means to him," Donald's agent, Jon Wagner of IMG, said.

The week will bring unusual, and potentially entertaining, stresses and strains at both ends of the financial spectrum. Usually, the focus of the 5-year-old Fall Series has been on the guys hovering near the bottom of the money list, jockeying around for the final spots in the top 125 in earnings, the position needed to secure playing rights for the following year.

Next week, though, could present a slew of alternate endings at both ends of the financial spectrum. For instance, only once 1990 has the lead on the money list changed hands in the final week of the season. In 1996, former world No. 1 Tom Lehman won the Tour Championship week to blow past previous leader Phil Mickelson, who finished 12th.

The McGladrey champion receives $720,000, which means that even if Simpson wins at Sea Island, he can't clinch money title -- the Disney winner gets $846,000.

It’s a commendable decision for Donald, who had played eight of the previous 10 weeks before taking this week off. That hardly means he sat around, idle. He flew from Chicago to London on a redeye Thursday night to attend the weekend wedding of his caddie, John McLaren, and will return to the States afterward.

After missing out on winning the FedEx Cup by a stroke in Atlanta, Donald played in Scotland and Spain, finishing T9 and T11, before flying to Chicago and taking this week off.

"He was probably running a little low on fuel," Wagner said. "I can tell you that in talking with him and [swing coach] Pat Goss, he will be very focused and ready to go."

Donald’s wife, Diane, is due to deliver the couple’s second child next month and is staying home in Chicago. That was his biggest concern and he will be on full standby mode should something happen before the due date.

"Becaus eof that, it wasn't as easy a decision as people think, but with the money list and Player of the Year up for grabs, he wanted to gite it his best shot," Wagner said.

Donald has played at Disney only twice, and not since he missed the cut in 2003. He was T36 in 2002. Simpson was T40 at Disney last year and withdrew in 2009.

There's still one loose end -- With McLaren honeymooning and unavailable, Donald doesn't have a caddie for next week.

"I honestly don't the answer to that yet," Wagner said. "He is sorting through it now and has a couple of people in mind. I mean, he's just decided to go ahead and play."

Category: Golf
Posted on: November 14, 2010 5:46 pm

Rookie delivers magical, Merritt-based bonus

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It ended up being a win-win situation for PGA Tour rookie Troy Merritt.

For a while, it could have been the polar opposite. Two heaping handfuls of nothing.

Merritt shot a closing 67 at the Children's Miracle Network Classic and barely secured his playing privileges for 2011 by claiming the 125th and final fully exempt spot on the money list, then more than doubled his season earnings with his biggest clutch shot of the week to claim a $1 million bonus.

About an hour after he learned that he wouldn't get bounced back to Qualifying School, where he was the medalist last year, Merritt faced Aaron Baddeley and Rickie Fowler in a three-way playoff for the Kodak Challenge cash, a season-long, cumulative contest where players tally their best score on a designated hole. The trio had tied at 17 under for the year, and with his tour safely card in hand after a wild day of uncertainty, Merritt fast made it a doubly productive day.

Playing the 17th hole, Fowler knocked a 9-iron from 136 yards to about 40 feet, then watched Merritt drop a wedge from 133 yards to within 18 inches to all but cement the winner-take-all bonus. Badds knocked his wedge from 124 yards to about 25 feet, keeping alive slim hopes of extending the playoff.

While Fowler shaved the hole and Baddeley gave it a decent run, all Merritt had to do was keep from fainting and the money was his. Quite an extra windfall for a guy who won $786,977 in official earnings this year.

Badds and Fowler had birdied the hole earlier in the week and Merritt was unable to match the score in regulation play, forcing the playoff. He entered the week with a one-shot lead over both players. Fowler flew in from an event last week in China to play and Badds ultimately chose playing at Disney World over the Aussie Masters in his homeland, where he had committed earlier.

"He nearly holes it for a two, which is pretty good," Baddeley laughed afterward of Merritt's game-winner. "Especially when you consider he hadn't birdied it all week."

Merritt's wife, Courtney, had tears in her eyes when she hugged her rail-thin husband. They were married in March and she was already a nervous wreck after watching the top-125 scenario play out.

"Definitely watching the top-125 was harder, because it's more important than this, really," she said on the 17th green, where her husband made the winning Kodak putt. "There was definitely drama today.

"It ended up being the best of both worlds, for sure."
Category: Golf
Tags: disney, kodak, merritt
Posted on: November 12, 2010 5:40 pm
Edited on: November 13, 2010 12:57 pm

Final money list: Disney movers and shakers

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Over the past two years at the PGA Tour’s season finale at Disney World, movement on the final PGA Tour money list has been minimal.

In fact, a total of three players in that combined span have been displaced from the fateful top 125 in earnings, the standard required to keep your playing privileges into the next season.

This time around, the potential for plundering seems far greater.

Here’s how the key players on the top-125 bubble stand after 36 holes:    

$ List    Player                   Current standing            Projected $ list
120       Joe Durant            Made cut on number           122
121       Troy Merritt           Hangs in at T-47                124    
122       Robert Garrigus     Big move to T4                  100
123       Woody Austin        missed cut                        127
124       Michael Allen         missed cut                        128
125       Troy Matteson       T36; exempt in 2011          126
126       Briny Baird            rallied to T15                     125
127       Aron Price             T47, bogeyed last              130
128       Bob Estes             missed cut                         132

Selected others:
140     Mark Wilson            T5 after poor year                     123                 
145     Jeff Quinney            T5 after 68 Friday                     129     
146     Chris Tidland           T15, hoping for more                148         
153     Johnson Wagner      T5 after clutch 65                      140       
155     Brett Quigley           T5 and climbing                        146       
156     Mathew Goggin        T27 and needs rally                   158       
157     Charles Warren        T15 and needs more                 157    
178     Tom Lehman           T15, exempt on Champions       173
179     Roland Thatcher       Incredibly, solo 1st                     79      
193     Cliff Kresge              T11 after 66 on Friday               184       
206     Brenden Pappas       T15, needs miracle                   193       

Category: Golf
Posted on: November 12, 2010 4:35 pm

Merritt keeps hopes for card, $1 million alive

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Like Troy Merritt didn’t have enough information rattling around in his dome already.

Attempting to stave off a trip to Qualifying School by remaining in the top 125 in PGA Tour earnings, the slender rookie was doing quite the juggling act as he played the back nine of the Children’s Miracle Network Classic on Friday.

He had to keep his job before he worried about the fat bonus that was within his grasp.

Merritt began his back nine on the Magnolia Course outside the projected cutline, which is when the sirens began seriously ringing. He started the week at No. 121 in earnings, four spots inside the protected number for those hoping to retain their playing cards for 2011.

Then there was the not-so-middling matter of the $1 million Kodak Challenge, which Merritt was leading entering the week. By the time he played the designated Kodak hole on Friday afternoon, the 430-yard, par-4 17th, he was in a three-way tie with Rickie Fowler and Aaron Baddeley for the prize money.

Merritt missed a 15-footer for birdie on the 17th that would have all but cemented the cool million, but birdied the 18th to move to 4 under par overall, at least ensuring that he would play on the weekend and get two more cracks at making a likely clinching birdie on the hole. It also greatly improved his chances of retaining his card.

It was a hellacious two hours.

“It was the most stressful day I’ve had in a long, long time,” Merritt said.

Merritt was outside the projected cutline when he birdied the 15th to get to 3 under, which put him squarely on the number. He knocked a wedge to within 15 feet on the 17th, where Baddeley and Fowler had already made birdies this week to tie him on the cumulative Kodak scoreboard, which has been kept at 30 selected holes at various tour stops in 2010.

Merritt babied his putt and it slipped just below the hole,t insisted that he could not afford to give it a bold run, since his weekend fate and tour card were hardly secure. Nobody wants to face a three-foot comebacker for par under those circumstances.
“When you are right on the cutline, you’ve got to a little more tentative with it,” he said.

When Merritt eyed the scoreboard next to the 18th green, he saw that he was in a tie for 65th and figured the cutline might move yet again. He rolled in a 29-footer for birdie.

“One hole too late,” he said.

Not really. His card takes priority over the bonus cash, which was reinforced when he saw the scoreboard on the 18th.

“I didn’t want it [the cut] to move to 4 without me there,” he said.

Fellow rookie Fowler got a lucky break on the 17th hole, playing in the group just ahead of Merritt. He yanked his driver off the tee, but it somehow sailed through the trees and left him with an easy pitch to the green. He rolled in a six-footer for birdie to tie Merritt and Badds at a cumulative 17-under for the year on the designated holes.

“Pulled  it,” Fowler said of his drive, grinning. “But it all worked out.”

The 17th tee on the weekend is expected to be moved back to 485 yards. Since Badds and Fowler have posted birdies and an eagle from the fairway is incredibly unlikely for either player at that yardage, Merritt is realistically the only player who can break the tie. He still has two legit cracks at recording a birdie on the hole.

“Now we gotta do it with a 6-iron or 5-iron,” he said.

If he fails to make a birdie on the weekend, the trio will stage a playoff after the tournament concludes on Sunday night, playing the 17th until a winner is determined. It’s a winner-take-all prize. Baddeley birdied the 17th on Thursday to move into a tie with Merritt.

Fowler’s caddie, Joe Skovron, was on the practice putting green when Merritt finished and was happy to see that Merritt had made the cut and kept alive his chances of retaining his card. It also means Merritt gets two more precious cracks at a potential winning birdie.

“If he makes birdie on that hole from the back tee,” Skovron said, “he deserves to win the money.”

Category: Golf
Posted on: November 10, 2010 3:59 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2010 4:20 pm

Kodak $1 million might have photo finish

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- These young guys.

Forget the Three Rs as the rudimentary underpinnings of knowledge and communication. Dinosaurs roamed the Earth back when those things mattered most.

If you are a thoroughly modern PGA Tour player, the most fundamental modes of getting through the day are the Three Ts: Trash talking, texting and Twittering.

The three guys chasing the season-long, $1 million pot of gold called the Kodak Challenge this week at Disney World have been needling each other for months about their status on the race’s cumulative leaderboard, electronically and in person. Troy Merritt leads the pack by a shot over fellow rookie Rickie Fowler and veteran Aaron Baddeley. The rookies in particular have been trading smack for weeks, even on Twitter.

"Actually I've been in his ear since about the middle of July," Merritt said. "'I'm making a move. Here I come.' He said, 'All right, bring it on.' We've been having fun with it for several months now.

“He's a great kid, and he wants to win obviously just as much as I do. So it'll be probably a pretty good finish. There will be some fireworks, I'm sure."

It might even supplant the tournament proper, and the hand-wringing over the final top 125 on the money list, as the most interesting plot twist of the week, in fact. Fowler has played five straight weeks, flew to Orlando from Shanghai to participate and has logged just under 30,000 air miles since departing for the Ryder Cup.

Thursday night, assuming he stays awake, Fowler was set to battle Merritt at Disney World’s miniature golf course.

"Maybe we'll get a little skins game going," Fowler said.

The game, and the stakes, will be plenty big when the Children’s Miracle Network Classic begins Thursday.

The Kodak prize is a winner-take-all bonus that exceeds the actual winner’s share. It’s a greater sum than Baddeley or Merritt have managed in official earnings this season.

"It is a big chunk of change," Baddeley said. "It definitely adds some spice to it [the week] for sure. I know like the last couple weeks, like in Vegas, I knew making that putt [on the Kodak hole] would tie the lead. So I was pretty excited. And then Troy made eagle as well, so obviously he got in front by a shot."

The Kodak Challenge event began last year and is surprisingly simple in construct. Over the course of the season, holes at 30 different tournaments were designated as Kodak scoring holes. A player’s low score on that hole for the week counts toward his cumulative 18-hole total for the season. Merritt is 17 under for the year and holds a one-shot lead over Badds and Fowler, the favorite for the tour rookie-of-the-year honors.

Baddeley had committed to play in the J.B. Were Masters this week in his native Australia, but changed his mind. He said his primary motives were improving is station on the money list and trying to finish the season with a win.

What else could he say? If Badds said he was here for the $1 million, he’d get skewered back home. But you can bet it’s a bigger part of the equation than he’s letting on.

Fowler offers no spin about why he's here.

"I knew it was a big deal," he said. "It's a million bucks. Obviously, it got me here to Disney."

The Kodak hole on the Magnolia Course at Walt Disney World Resort is the 17th, a brutal, 485-yard par 4 from the relatively new back tee box. The hole was the third-most difficult a year ago -- yielding one eagle, 29 birdies, 184 pars and 55 scores of bogey or higher. The eagle was the first on the hole in 12 years.

If there’s one disappointment, it’s that the PGA Tour shot down a plan to move up the tee on the 17th to about 270 yards from the front of the green, which would have meant birdies and eagles were plentiful. Tournament director Kevin Weickel said at Disney media day that it could have presented a cool double whammy.

“Not just for the Kodak Challenge, but for the guys trying to win the tournament with a big eagle or birdie,” Weickel said.

The tour, however, declined to move up the tee box, claiming it would wreck the integrity of the hole.

“It just changes the hole too much,” said tour official Slugger White, who made the final call after arriving from China on Tuesday night.

“That hole was designed to play at 485 [yards],” rules official Jon Brendle said. “Joe Lee didn’t come back and change it, did he?”

Brendle, who has been working the tournament as either a Disney or tour employee since the late 1970s, was trying not to smirk. He knows that Lee, the architect of several famous Florida tracks, died seven years ago at age 81. Merritt heard over the past two weeks that Disney and Kodak were doing some tour arm-twisting in an attempt to bring eagles, birdies and exclamation points into play.

"If it were up to me, we would be playing from the middle of the 16th fairway at about 550 yards, par 4, but 485 is a good little middle," Merritt deadpanned.

Merritt, who faces some pressure as the man sitting at No. 121 on the money list, first needs to make the cut. Otherwise, he will only get one crack at the 17th because Disney is contested on two courses over the first two rounds. 

Otherwise, he’ll have to sit around and wait. If Fowler or Baddeley record a birdie and tie Merritt, a playoff will be held Sunday on the 17th, over and over on the same hole, until a winner is determined. Kodak officials are prepared to place lights on the hole, if necessary.

Fancy flashbulbs of a sort might make a nice finishing flourish, come to think of it.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com