Harding Park Scoring Watch

hardingpark18.jpgLet the number crunching begin! Alan Shipnuck in SI (subscription req.) talks to Sandy Tatum about this week's World Championship at Harding Park.  The focus is on the winning score and how the course will be perceived for a possible USGA event (even though we know they don't care about winning scores, nope).

Here's the key portion of Shipnuck's story:

"It's a nice old-style course," says PGA Tour vet Joe Ogilvie, who shot even par during a recent corporate outing at Harding. "It has a good routing. I like the big, old cypress trees. It's nice to be able to think your way around a course."

Glad you enjoyed it, Joe, but cut to the chase -- is this little muni good enough to host a $7.5 million World Golf Championship extravaganza? "Well, I think it ought to be fine," says Ogilvie.

Hmmmm, not exactly a ringing endorsement. Ogilvie's Tour colleague Kevin Sutherland played Harding about a year ago, shooting one under par in a casual round with friends. Sutherland's assessment? "It's a beautiful course," he says. "I thought it was very fair."

Uh-oh. In Tour parlance fair is a code word for easy. Mount Juliet, in Kilkenny, Ireland, is considered exceptionally fair. That's where Tiger Woods went 25 under on his way to winning the 2002 AmEx and where a victorious Ernie Els shot 18 under last year. Scores like that will do nothing to enhance the stature of the new Harding Park, and everyone associated with the course hopes to avoid a birdie bonanza.

"I think eight under is a realistic winning score," says Tatum, who while president of the USGA oversaw the Massacre at Winged Foot in 1974, when seven over par won the U.S. Open. "I would hope it's not more than 10."

This is not about vanity but viability. Going forward, Harding is slated to host the AmEx every three years, but there is an understanding that the Tour will cut and run if Harding's playability or conditioning is deemed subpar. San Francisco officials also have their sights set on a USGA championship. Last year Mayor Gavin Newsom wrote to USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J., formally requesting that Harding host the 2009 U.S. Women's Open. Newsom was rebuffed -- the '09 Women's Open was instead awarded to Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa. -- but discussions are ongoing about future Opens at Harding. Tatum's ultimate dream is to land not only the Women's Open but also the big enchilada, the men's Open. These grand ambitions add even more frisson to how Harding will be received this week. "You bet it's an audition," says Tatum, "not only for more WGCs but also for the USGA."