I understand the rules are there for a reason, but sometimes the rules should be broken.
Like, for instance, when breaking the rules gives us what everyone wants to see.
Alright, Y.E. Yang probably doesn’t want the rules changed, and nothing against him, but there’s probably only a few dozen people outside of South Korea who does not want to see Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington paired together Sunday. And I’d bet that most of those other people are fellow golfers who would rather Tiger was home so that they could possibly win this tournament.
Yet, for the second consecutive day, Harrington has bogeyed the final hole, dropping him into a tie for second, behind only Woods. And for the second consecutive day, Harrington will not be playing with Woods in the final group because of the so-called “last in, first out” rule.
Put simply, if two golfers are tied entering the third or fourth round of a tournament, the one who finished last will be put in the earliest pairing of all those tied. The first person to finish, Yang in this case, would then be put in the latest pairing.
Generally, it’s a good rule. If you make a nice push on Saturday, you should be rewarded by a later tee time than someone who just shot even par. But sometimes, we need to ditch the rules.
Imagine, for a second, if Tom Watson had missed his miraculous Saturday birdie putt on 16 at Turnberry. He would have finished tied for the lead, but in a three-way tie. As the last person in, he would not have been in the final pairing on Sunday.
But Watson averted that, and thus he was right where he should have been on Sunday, playing last, having the honor to hole out on 72 and not worry about who was behind him.
Sure, he missed that birdie putt, but the tragedy would have been if there was still someone behind him trying to join him in the playoff.
We dodged a bullet there.
Yet Sunday at Hazeltine, we won’t dodge it. We’ll have Tiger paired with Korean Republic journeyman Yang, a 37-year-old sophomore on the PGA Tour who had previously only made two cuts from seven major appearances and won only two tournaments on the world’s two largest tours.
Putting Sunday’s pairing in perspective, Woods was already a 13-time major champion by the age that Yang turned professional at 32.
The alternative, of course, is Harrington.
Beyond being the defending champion and the only man to have won three majors over the past three years, Harrington has proven to be the only person in the past couple years who can stare Tiger Woods in the eye and play comparably.
Tomorrow, Paddy can play comparably or better, but not together with Woods. Thus we’re robbed.
Name one other sport where the two best competitors would be trying to a championship on the same day in the same event, yet they would always be at least 100 yards apart? Any?
Football? Soccer? Baseball? Cricket? I can’t think of any.
Sure, in auto racing you’ll get that far apart, but at some point you’ll be side-by-side.
Just imagine if to win the Kentucky Derby, each horse had to run a mile and a quarter separately, run his own race, and the best time would be declared the winner. Sure, it would take out some of the aspect of poor post position and getting caught in traffic, but it would be silly.
Same if Laszlo Cseh had to swim his final ten minutes before Michael Phelps did the same for Olympic Gold.
Yet, in golf, the two best might not be together, and because of the rules of the game, there’s nothing we can do to get it right.
Sure, I understand that’s it’s part of the game. You can’t just have 20 people playing together; it would take all day to finish the round.
But when we have the chance to pick and chose and get it right, why can’t we?
Again, no disrepect is meant towards Y.E. Yang. Yang has put it three great rounds and deserves to be in contention. Heck, it would be the story of the year, bigger than Kenny Perry at the Masters or David Duval and Phil Mickelson at the U.S. Open or Watson at the Open Championship ever could have been had they won.
A journeyman from a country that loves its golf finally winning the country’s first major by going through the two toughest players in the game today, two of the toughest to ever play the game? I can just taste how succulent that story would be.
But until it’s done, the better story would be Woods and Harrington playing together on Sunday at Hazeltine.
It would be a different story if Yang was alone in second, Harrington a shot back in third. In that case, I’d understand why Yang was in the final group.
However, that’s not the case. They’re tied. And because of some archaic rule, one of many the game is built on, Sunday’s final pairing won’t be the one everyone on both sides of the pond wants.
I wish Yang the best of luck, but I can’t say I won’t be disappointed. I’m not going to get to watch what I want to watch.
It’s too late to fix this year’s final round, but let’s add a little common sense in for next time. PGA, put a clause in that allows you to alter final round pairings if a more appetizing pairing is available.
You already changed the format of your tournament from match play to stroke play to placate television, so this isn’t big. It’s just a tweak.
And while we’re at it, Augusta National, USGA, and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, why don’t you do the same. It’s a small sacrifice to create pairings that are so much more desirable.
I know it’s a pipe dream, but it’s one worth dreaming, especially when Tiger and Paddy on Sunday at Hazeltine is on the line.
Now that’s a modern day “Duel in the Sun” I wouldn’t miss for the world.