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Silly Season provides plenty of story lines, but 'best' is yet to come

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Who says golf's "Silly Season" doesn't produce some juicy story lines? First, there was the 2003 edition of the War by the Shore - the World Cup played at Kiawah Island's famed Ocean Course. The sea was angry that day my friends (catch phrase courtesy of George Costanza) as yanks Justin Leonard and Jim Furyk gave way to the gritty South African team of Rory Sabbatini and Trevor Immelman.

And speaking of South Africa, who will ever forget the "a cup halved full" episode at the President's Cup (catch headline courtesy of SI copy editors).Whether you agreed or disagreed with the decision to end the match in a tie, the President's Cup hasn't gotten this much ink since, well, ever.

Then, just when you thought things would revert back to goofy grins andbelly laughs at the Skins Game, up comes a real golf story: womancompetes against men from men's tees and hangs tough. Then she goes andmakesone of the most spectacular shots in Skins history; a 40-yard bunker shotthat found the bottom of the cup and a $175,000 skin.

The she, of course, is Annika Sorenstam, the greatest female golfer in the history of the game (there, we said it). While she didn't take first place at the Granddaddy of all Silly Season events, Annika played as well as winner and perennial champion Fred Couples and second place finisher Phil Mickelson, and better than defending champ Mark O'Meara. Some other random Skins Game observations:

Need a microcosm of Mickelson's career? How about his play on holes 10 through 12 at the host course, the Trilogy at La Quinta. Lefty pushed his drive into the rocks and shrubs on the par-4 10th and had to pick up. This downhill hole has no bunkers, no trees, and no water and yet Mickelson has his ball in his pocket walking up to the green. On the par-4 11th, he blows it 54 yards past Sorenstam off the tee to the middle of the fairway. On the par-5 12th, Mickelson's ball is back in his pocket after sending his tee shot over a fence.

The par-72 Trilogy played to 7,085 yards for the Skins Game - a distance tournament officials reasoned would make the course challenging (right) but still would keep Annika in the game on long par-4 holes. They were essentially right. The exception being the 470-yard par-4 13th, which left both Annika and O'Meara pulling long irons. However, the real difference in clubbing took place on the 230-yard par-3 17th. The men used mid and long irons while Annika had to pull a fairway wood. Stopping a spoon on the green of this downhill hole definitely put Sorenstam at a disadvantage.

Trilogy designer Gary Panks was in the group that won the Skins Pro-Am. The victory was gravy on Panks outstanding 2003. His Twin Warriors Golf Club in New Mexico hosted the PGA Club Pro Championship and his Cattail Course at the Whirlwind Golf Club outside of Phoenix was the site of a Nationwide Tour stop.

ESPN play-by-play man Mike Tirico and analyst Curtis Strange are the bestgolf booth tandem on TV today. The savvy duo can bring insight and wisdom to any golf tournament, even a Silly Season event. Strange on Annika's front-nine success: "These three guys do not want to be beat by a woman.It's a guy thing, Mike." Strange offering a tip to viewers and future Coachella Valley visitors: "The Salton Sea is the lowest point of the desert and everything (putt) goes that way. Tirico displaying his uncompromising wit whenCouples kissed Sorenstam after his victory: "That's the first time we've had kisses on the final green in the Skins Game."

The Silly Season takes a turn for the not-so-scintillating this week with the Grand Slam of Golf held at Poipu Bay on the island of Kauai. The eventpits the winner of the year's four majors against each other and is onlyremotely interesting if Tiger Woods is involved. This was to be the year Woods won his obligatory couple of major titles. This was also to be the year Ernie Els snagged one or two of his own, becoming the Watson to Woods' Nicklaus.

Instead, it is Weir vs. Furyk vs. Micheel vs. Curtis for all the marbles.


Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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