Monday, March 5, 2012

The Honda Classic Update

Tiger Woods, R.N.
That was the best day golf has had in a while. First, Tiger showed glimpses of his old form by shooting a 62 that included a second shot on the par 5 18th, the likes of which we haven't seen since his sex addiction cruelly robbed him of his ability to control the high fade.  (I hope this means science has found a cure).  We knew it was going to be a good day for Tiger as soon as he stepped onto the first tee because the recent problems with his game had nothing to do with his driving, putting or short game and everything to do with the fact that he was dressing like Gaylord Focker.  Either Nike finally relented and put some soft spikes on the bottom of a pair of Zoom Hyperdunks or Tiger took matters into his own hands with a black Sharpie.  Either way, it worked.          

 Tiger Woods, F.U.
Second, in Rory McIlroy we now have a No. 1 ranked player worthy of the title.  No offense to Luke Donald, but for the past 40 weeks he has been the most unqualified player to sit atop the World Golf Rankings (ok, maybe that was slightly offensive).  He and Lee Westwood are the only two players without a major title who have ever held the top spot but the difference is that Westwood has finished 2nd or 3rd in 6 of the last 16 majors with a legitimate shot at winning a couple of them.  Luke Donald on the other hand is always the guy pulling his ball out of the 72nd hole with a satisfied smile as the announcer says "another fine showing for Luke Donald." Unfortunately for Luke, he is the king of the "fine showing" which is a euphemism for "you started Sunday in contention and never sniffed the trophy."  

Hey, Did I Mention "The Bear Trap"?            

Shortly after Tiger eagled 18 to move into second place at 10 under, Jack Nicklaus graced the announcing booth to regale us with his rapier wit and sunny disposition.  (For the record, the FGR admired Nicklaus the golfer and, out of respect, we'll leave it at that).  At the time, McIlroy had a two shot lead on Tiger and was standing on the tee of the par 3 15th hole which is the first of a difficult three hole stretch known as "The Bear Trap."*  It's named after Nicklaus (a/k/a "The Golden Bear") who designed the holes and then apparently had the following conversation with the owners of the course:
Let me guess.  The
bear's name is "Jack."  

Nicklaus:  "Hey fellas, wouldn't it be clever to call these three holes 'The Bear Trap'?"

Owner 1: "Well Jack we hadn't really planned on naming the holes . . ."

Nicklaus:  "Look, I went ahead and had this really neat sign made."

Owner 1:  "OK Jack I guess we could have a small sign over . . ."

Nicklaus:  "And if you think that's great, check-out this giant statue of a bear standing on its hind legs that we could put next to it."

Owner 1:  "You've got to be kidd . . ."

Owner 2:  "Jack, what my partner wants to say is that you've got to be kidding me that we didn't come up with that great idea first.  And here we thought naming every item on the menu after one of your 18 majors was brilliant.   What will you think of next?"

"Buuuullllllshit."
When asked for his assessment of the current situation with McIlroy holding the lead and Tiger in the clubhouse at 10 under, Nicklaus said that, at that point, if it were him, he'd rather be in Tiger's position.  Johnny Miller really let me down here because he should have responded with, "so let me get this straight.  You, Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer and one of the most fierce competitors of all time would rather be the guy sitting in the clubhouse with no control over his destiny than the guy standing on the 15th tee with a two shot lead?"  I only wish Roger Maltbie's microphone had been live at that moment so we could have heard his reaction.**

What Nicklaus was implying was that he had designed three holes that are so hard that even he, the best player of all-time, wouldn't be able to hold a two shot lead while playing them.  You have to admire the relentlessness of the man's arrogance.  At 72, he can't beat the best players in the world with his game so now he has to rely on his golf courses to do it and damn if he was going to concede that some punk Irish kid with one measly major under his belt was going to weather "The Bear Trap" and bring home the prestigious Honda Classic trophy.  (I bet that is one reliable and affordably built trophy.  Unfortunately, no one made an ace on the 15th hole to win the minivan.  I think Rickie Fowler and Kyle Stanley intentionally hit it into the water just to make sure they didn't have to be photographed while sitting in it).            

Oh Danny Boy

The start of the Florida swing on tour also means the return of Dan "The Man" Hicks (there is no way people don't call him "Dan the Man" or at least "Action Dan").  I'm pretty sure Hicks was hired straight out of game show host school to counter-balance the caustic Johnny Miller and their relationship actually works because Hicks is always upbeat and enthusiastic so the audience never gets too beaten down by the fact that, even when Miller is being complimentary, he's negative.  (Their relationship would be exactly like my marriage to the FGW if Hicks periodically leaned over and told Miller, "ok, now you're just being an asshole and you need to stop talking").          

"Johnny, I'm starting to feel like I
did when we used to climb the
rope in gym class.  You?"
The problem with Hicks is that he tries too hard to manufacture a story instead of letting the game speak for itself and sometimes it makes him sound like a knucklehead.  Announcing golf would seem to be a lot like playing golf.  You can't force it.  For example, after Tom Gillis and McIlroy hit their tee shots on 15, Hicks said of Gillis who was one shot behind Tiger at the time, "with [Justin] Rose making bogey at 15, other than McIlroy, Gillis is really the only guy Tiger has to worry about."  (Let's ignore for a second that he somehow managed to make that non-Tiger moment all about Tiger). The problem with his logic was that Rose was still very much a factor as he was just two shots behind Tiger at the time with three holes to play including the reachable par 5 18th where Tiger had just made eagle.  At that point, however, Hicks was so obsessed with the prospect of a Woods/McIlroy playoff that it was making him shift in his khakis and all he could think about was getting the other golfers out of the way to make it happen.

We're already fans
of the McIlroy era.
Alas, it didn't happen this week as McIlroy somehow managed to survive "The Bear Trap" with three pars and cruised to a two shot win.  (Nicklaus was later overheard complaining about how modern technology is ruining the game . . . and also that his iced tea was just too darned cold).  Rory then did just what you would want your 22 year old new number one player in the world to do.  (He went back to his art studio, put on a smock and ate imported cheese?)  Nope.  He hopped into his private jet and flew to New York to hang-out with his hot tennis star girlfriend.  A good day for golf indeed.  

Endnotes

* To hear the announcers describe it, you would have thought that there were literally hundreds of bear traps hidden all over the 15th, 16th and 17th holes. Fortunately, no one was maimed . . . this year.

** Roger Maltbie is a former player who made no bones about how he liked to spend his time away from the course as evidenced by his staff bag with "Michelob" written in giant letters down both sides.  He infamously once said that he divided his drinking into "Michelob when the sun is up and Scotch when the sun goes down" and when asked his favorite hole he responded, "the one in the top of the can."  He now works as an announcer for NBC, usually walking with one of the lead groups and providing some of the best commentary in the game while crushing more cigarettes than the sonar operator on a Russian submarine.