Monday, August 15, 2011

The PGA Championship Update


 Welcome to what golf was like pre-Tiger when major winners were as random as Gary Oldman roles (quite a run in the early 90’s of Lee Harvey Oswald, Dracula, Beethoven and Drexl Spivey before he climbed on board the Batman and Harry Potter money trains).  It kind of reminds me of 1991 when Ian Woosnam won the first of what we thought would be multiple majors at Augusta, Payne Stewart won the U.S. Open, Ian-Baker Finch won an overdue British Open and John Daly broke onto the scene by bombing drives all over Crooked Stick and winning the PGA.  No one won more than two tournaments that year and the multiple winners included golf icons like Billy Andrade, Andrew Magee and Tom Purtzer – all solid but unspectacular players.  It was like life before TiVo.  It was fine but only because we had no idea of what we were missing.  Watching a 5’3” Welsh guy pump his fist after making a putt to win the Masters wasn’t quite pushing us to the edge of our seats.       

"We've lost Woosy on
Camera 2, Camera 3
can you see him?"
By now you know the stats.  The last seven majors have been won by first timers along with ten of the last eleven as golf has morphed from NBA style top heavy dominance to NFL parity.  Yesterday we had the equivalent of the Jacksonville Jaguars taking down the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game.  (Note: if it had been the Masters, it would have been a Super Bowl analogy and Dufner would have been the Seahawks).  You couldn’t call it Lions versus Bengals because Bradley has a win and Dufner is a solid player who has five top 10’s this year and finished 11th in the FedEx Cup Standings in 2009.  (He had, however, missed his last four cuts coming into the PGA leading me to wonder if he had gone to see Sean Foley for a few tips back in May). 

So we got the exciting finish yesterday but we didn’t get some combination of Steelers, Packers, Patriots, Saints or Colts.  (And now I am compelled to ride this out and link all recent major winners to Super Bowl winners:
I still don't get it.

Packers - McIlroy (young and explosive – poised to win a few more)
Saints - Schwartzel (smart, solid all around game)
Steelers - Mickelson (always a factor)
Oostuhizen – Giants (we’re still trying to figure out how he won one)
Colts – Clarke (overdue, failed to live up to expectations)
Patriots – Tiger (window is closing fast) 

….and this is losing steam in a hurry so let’s get back to the golf.      

This is what we get when the top three players in the world (Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Steve Stricker) are notorious for coming-up short in the majors.  At least Westwood has finished 2nd or 3rd six times in the last four years.  Donald has finished 3rd twice but not since 2005 (7 shots back at the Masters) and 2006 (6 shots back at the PGA).  Steve Stricker’s record is worse.  He hasn’t had a top 5 in a major since the 1999 U.S. Open where he finished 6 shots out of first.  He was the one yesterday in the best position to put some heat on the inexperienced leaders and he started with a birdie but then bogeyed the second hole and then pull hooked his tee shot on the 4th into the water at which point everyone watching said “ahhh so that’s why he’s never won a major.”  He would ultimately drop from 5th to a tie for 12th.  I hate to use a word like choke with a good dude like Stricker, but he actually did it twice if you count his second round 74 when everyone else who made it to the weekend in the top 10 shot 69 or better.  He may have to settle for the being the best player in John Deere Classic history.   

"I never doubted you
Keegan.....really."
So the top three can’t bring home a major and there are about a hundred players in the field who can show-up out of almost nowhere and win.  You can debate whether parity is good for the NFL but I’m pretty sure it’s not doing golf any favors right now.  If the Buffalo Bills exceed all expectations and make it to the Super Bowl this year, at least Roger Goodell knows that (a) there will be thousands of happy Bills fans (until the end of the game) and, (b) fans of every other team are going to watch the game because the event is bigger than the teams.  Tim Finchem doesn’t have that luxury because (a) Jason Dufner’s only fans are people with the last name “Dufner” and, (b) not every fan of golf is going to tune into a major regardless of the players in contention.  In other words, not every fan is in a fantasy golf league and had the foresight to pick-up Keegan Bradley two weeks ago like I did.  Cha-Ching!  (I will cut the self congratulatory chatter there but man that was fun to watch except for the gutter ball he rolled on 15.  In the humble words of Rex Ryan on Hard Knocks, “Man I love being right.”  I think he was talking about choosing the German Chocolate Cake over the Baked Alaska when he said that).    

Many think Rory McIlroy is the player with the talent to pull golf out of this funk and I would agree that he may have the highest ceiling but all he has done since winning the U.S. Open is play above average golf and alternate between ill-advised quotes and apologies.  He finished tied for 64th this week on a course that appeared to set-up well for his game.  It’s not helping his cause that the only top 10 he’s had since Congressional was when the temperatures were in the 80’s at the Bridgestone.  At least he’s true to his word and we now have some concrete wagering information.  I put the over/under on majors for Rory at 3 and ½. 

"I can't imagine
life without you."
If there is another Tiger out there, we haven't met him yet.  After winning his first Masters, Tiger had four top 10’s in his next ten majors and never finished below 29th.  He then won five of his next six with his only miss being a 5th at the 2000 Masters.  There isn’t a player out there now with that kind of game so we’re going to have to be patient and wait for the next dominant player ….and the next great invention to get us closer to watching TV to our full potential.