Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Bridgestone Preview

It's time for Top Gun week on tour as Firestone Country Club welcomes the best of the best.  Fifteen of the last seventeen tournaments played at Firestone have been won by major champions.  Tiger (Iceman) has won it seven times with Stevie Williams (Slider) on his bag.  (Considering how much Stevie looks like Slider, I can't believe that nickname never happened.  Unless someone called him that once and he beat the guy to within an inch of his life.  In fact, forget I ever mentioned it).  OK.  Let’s push the envelope on this reference and see what it can do. 

We need a Maverick.  A feel player prone to rash decisions who’s tight with his RIO (“Radar Intercept Officer” – I never knew what it meant before either).  A player we like as much for his recklessness as anything else.  The anti-Iceman.  Enter Phil Mickelson.  We’ll just have to pretend that Maverick wasn’t five feet tall and was built more like Goose.  ("Anthony, we're going to go ahead and have you keep your shirt on for the beach volleyball scene).  Let’s throw his coach Butch Harmon into the James Tolkan roll of “Stinger” and imagine his post British Open sitdown with Phil and Bones went something like this:
"Damn you Mickelson!"

Harmon:  “Son, your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash.  You have a history of errant tee shots that cost you at least five majors and definitely one U.S. Open!”
Bones:  “Winged Foot?”
Harmon:  “And you asshole, you’re lucky to be here!”
Bones:  “Thank you sir.
Harmon:  “And let’s not B.S. Mickelson.  Your course management ain’t the best on tour.  You need to be hitting it straighter than the other guy.  Now what is it with you?”
Mickelson:  “Just want to represent my country, be the best player on tour, sir.”
Harmon:  “Don’t screw around with me Mickelson.  You’re a hell of an instinctive player.  Maybe too good.  I’d like to snap your driver but I can’t.  I got another problem here.  I gotta get you two ready to play the best.  You two characters are going to Firestone.” 
"Hey. That shot went
right in the hole. Neat."
After reaching to make that reference work (sort of), Phil has to be the pick this week.  He does have some other things going for him:  (1) he didn’t make the Power Rankings; (2)  no one is talking about him and Phil gets motivated when he's not the center of attention; and (3) I’m pretty sure he’s been gearing-up his game for the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club next week where David Toms stole one from him in 2001 by making a  hole in one in the third round (here it is if you didn't see it .- DT's Ace  Remember how Vern Lundquist’s great call of Tiger’s chip-in on 16 at Augusta added to the excitement?  Bobby Clampett goes the other way here and decides to downplay a hole in one for the lead at a major by calling it like it's a two foot putt for par in the first round.  I was wondering why you never hear him anymore.  By the way, if you think you don’t miss watching Tiger.... The Masters Chip).      

I'm tempted to pick Tiger this week because he owns Firestone with seven wins there against top flight competition.  His game has not been that far off since his stay at the Pine Grove clinic.  He's finished tied for 4th at the Masters twice and at last year's U.S. Open.  He's currently 135th in FedEx Cup points and I wouldn't be surprised if he makes a serious run at the Tour Championship but I don't think it's going to start with a win this week.  Too many uncertainties like, if a photographer takes a picture during his backswing, is Bryon Bell going to throw the camera into a lake like Slider would have?  I'm sure Bell is a swell fellow but he looks like an accountant.  Slider was part of the intimidation factor.  I don't think Bell is going to have the same effect unless he does it in a creepy Crispin Glover kind of way.    

"Do you want me to put
sugar in that guy's
gas tank tonight?"
I should pick Rory McIlroy because the weather forecast in Akron this week is for temperatures in the 80's and not much threat of rain or wind so Rory should be in his comfort zone.  I like Rory but he better choose his words carefully for the next few months because right now his post British Open quote, "I'd rather play when it’s 80 degrees and sunny and not much wind" is hanging out there like a piƱata.  Golfers only get a reputation for toughness by (a) making clutch shots under pressure, (b) playing hurt, and (c) winning in bad weather.  Rory has three wins, all in benign weather conditions.  He won at Quail Hollow by 4, the U.S. Open by 8 and at the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic where he bogeyed 3 of his last 4 holes and held on to win by one.  Not exactly Charl Schwartzel making four birdies to close out the Masters.  Remember, we all liked Sergio Garcia when he was young and precocious, before he started telling us what he actually thought.
At the end of Top Gun, after Maverick roared into the fray and saved Iceman's ass, they're back on the flight deck and they have this exchange:

Iceman: "You can be my wingman anytime."

Maverick:  "Bulls--t.  You can be mine." 

Which leads us to our final reason to pick Phil this week.  He loves to steal the spotlight from Tiger like he did at the 2010 Masters.  My favorite thing about Phil is that he's never been intimidated by Tiger and has always been motivated to beat him.  And if that's not enough, he and Bones got these parting words of encouragement from Harmon, "...and if you screw up just this much, you'll be flying a cargo plane full of rubber dogsh-t out of Hong Kong!"  (I know that doesn't make any sense but I love that line).            

P.S. - my pick for the Reno-Tahoe Open is Bryce Molder but I'd love to see a grizzled tour grinder like Paul Stankowski or Bob May win it.                 

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