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SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF

PGA Tour Must Know by Now That It's Spinning Its Wheels

March 10, 2000|THOMAS BONK

Dear Commissioner:

As far as the Casey Martin matter goes, just one really brief piece of advice: Forget it.

Sincerely,

Yours Truly

*

Now, for anyone keeping score at home, here's the latest: Casey Martin 2, PGA Tour 0.

And while the tour is coming to bat once again, you can be sure it's the bottom of the ninth.

It's fairly clear that the sentiment of the courts is on Martin's side. The appeals court decision--a 3-0 shutout--upholding a two-year-old federal magistrate's finding that Martin has the right to use a cart while playing pro golf should tell the PGA Tour what it needs to do next.

Drop the matter, the sooner the better.

No need to take it to the Supreme Court and spend another bundle on one more legal battle in what is clearly a losing war.

The best stance for the tour is to say, "Well, we tried." Then do what it should have done in the first place, which is to throw its arms around Martin, warmly welcome him into the fold and put an end to this public relations disaster.

This Martin thing has been a long, costly and losing mission for the tour. And it has never made sense. At a time when professional golf has represented itself as belonging to all peoples, with its First Tee initiative and with expanded racial demographics to showcase new stars such as Tiger Woods and Notah Begay, Shigeki Maruyama and Carlos Franco, the Martin case has been nothing but wrong-headed from the start.

It's so simple what to do. Open the door to the disabled. The PGA Tour events aren't going to be overrun by disabled pros in carts. There isn't anyone like Casey Martin, at least there hasn't been before . . . someone good enough to earn his PGA Tour card despite being disabled.

So far, four judges have ruled in favor of Martin--one federal magistrate in Oregon and now three appeals court judges in San Francisco. The tour hasn't convinced a judge its side is the right one. It looks like the perfect time to quit.

WEBB PAGE

So the hottest golfer on the planet is . . . no, not Woods. It's Karrie Webb, whose only mistake so far this year is that she's playing on the LPGA Tour.

Webb has won all three of her official LPGA Tour events in 2000, a streak that hasn't happened since Jo Ann Carner did the same thing in 1982. That's good for Webb. What's bad for Webb is that hardly anybody has noticed.

She won the Office Depot in Florida, the Australian Ladies Masters and the Takefuji in Hawaii. What's next? The Lisbon Open?

Despite having its deepest wealth of talent in years, there is so much to knock the LPGA about, but its penchant for weird scheduling has to be No. 1.

Case in point: After beginning the year with two events in Florida, there were no events for two weeks, then the Los Angeles Women's Championship, then an event in Hawaii, one in Australia and another in Hawaii.

Most people get jet lag just thinking about it, much less finding some continuity in the thing. As for Webb, she is far and away the No. 1 women's player in the world. Webb is only two short of Nancy Lopez's record of five straight victories, in 1978.

Actually, Webb has won four in a row, but the Australian Open isn't counted because it is not an official LPGA event.

Webb, who is taking this week off, returns to the tour next week at the Standard Register Ping in Phoenix. When the Nabisco Championship starts at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage in two weeks, Webb doubtless will be the favorite to win the LPGA's first major of the year.

Webb already has nine come-from-behind victories in her career, including last week in Hawaii when she ran down third-round leader Annika Sorenstam and beat her in a playoff.

Webb's $345,000 is the best on the tour and nearly double that of second-place Laura Davies' $173,403. Of course, Webb's money total for the year is about what Franklin Langham made last week when he was second at Doral.

But let's not quibble. So far, Webb also leads the LPGA Tour in victories, player-of-the-year points, scoring average (69.27) and rounds under par (10 of 11).

And you should add one more category: miles traveled.

THE TIGER-TV FACTOR

Does this really sound surprising? According to a report in the New York Times, the 11 CBS telecasts of golf events in 1999 that had Woods as a player averaged a 4.1 rating--about 71% higher than the seven CBS telecasts that didn't have Tiger as a player.

What's more, the paper reported that final-round golf coverage the last four Sundays have had better ratings than the NBA telecasts they were up against.

THE TIGER FACTOR II

In its March 20 issue, Forbes lists its "Celebrity 100," the top sports and entertainment celebrities in the world, ranked according to income and "media buzz." Woods checks in at No. 2, behind Michael Jordan.

PRICE OF FAILURE

Since losing the British Open in spectacular fashion, Jean Van de Velde has signed endorsement or equipment deals with E-commerce sporting goods retailer Fogdog Sports, Never Compromise putters, Cleveland irons and Dunlop's Srixon golf.

Defeat must have its advantages.

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