Big Easy deserved better coverage

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Several years back, when Lee Trevino, the Merry Mex, was enjoying unusual success on the PGA tour, a reporter asked him whether he felt a lot of pressure during a tournament.

His reply, and this is an accurate paraphrase, was that no, not when he was pulling down big dollars as a pro. Pressure, he said, was back when he was hustling for $5 a hole and trying to make enough money to feed his family.

All of which brings us to Sunday’s five-hole playoff in the British Open, won by one of the world’s more popular golfers, Ernie Els.

After sinking a 5-foot putt to win the silver claret jug for the first time, the South African commented that he had never experienced such emotions, despite winning his third straight major championship, despite his ranking as one of the game’s premier players and despite his runner-up losses to Tiger Woods in six tournaments, including two majors.

The British Open, played this time at Muirfield in Scotland, in the opinion of many is the most prestigious of the four majors and, by many, many years is the oldest, going back 142 years.

That’s one year before the beginning of the War Between the States, when golf was hardly on the minds of people in the New World.

So, what did that putt mean to Els, other than his third major victory? Only $1.1 million.

Speaking of money, it is difficult to generate a bunch of sympathy for the other three who made the playoff &045; Thomas Levet of France, who carried Els to the final hole; and Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington, both of Australia.

Each of the three pocketed $453,000.

A fairly tidy sum which easily covered their airplane fares and expenses.

Fans might feel sorry for Woods for missing his chance for a grand slam in 2002, but the real tragic figure in all this is Phil Mickelson.

He is one of the sport’s best ever who has never has won a major.

This time he finished at 290, 12 strokes behind the four playoff contenders, and won &uot;only&uot; $13,900.

Of course, tragedy is relative, and how many of us blokes would be unhappy to make $13,900 for a week’s &uot;work?&uot;

My problem is with Woods, obviously the world’s best player now.

Well, not with Tiger, but with the coverage.

The problem is not that he blew his chances during Saturday’s wind, rain and chill at the Muirfield course, but with the attention he received in print and on the air after his third-round 81, the highest in his pro career.

Most accounts after Saturday, instead of concentrating on the leaders, focused on the sorry round by Woods which, as any golfer can testify, can happen to the best of them.

Then, after Els gritty victory, a television network account of the British Open showed two brief pictures of Els and then spent another two minutes documenting Woods’ downfall.

Something is out of whack here, I thought.

Here is the &uot;Big Easy&uot; surviving a grueling tournament and playoff to win a major tournament, and a network devotes more time to a player who finished regulation play six strokes back. Granted, his fourth-round 65 was worth remarking, but, hey, why not give more credit to Els, Levet, Appleby and Elkington than to a big loser, and especially to Els