Another week, another unknown prevails
As further proof that Yani Tseng is the planet’s most underrated athlete, today’s lead column topic will be on a 26-year-old Tennessee Tech product named Scott Stallings.
Yes. That Scott Stallings.
I know, I know. Tseng made history, winning her fifth major championship at age 22 at the Women’s British Open at Carnoustie, and she’s the best in the world. I addressed her criminal lack of fame in a column when she won her last major a scant five weeks ago.
And still, she is overshadowed again, this time by two names – one anonymous, one world-famous.
Stallings, of course, is the little-known player. He was fun to watch on Sunday at the PGA Tour stop at The Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia, bombing it an average 325 yards off the tee. The new champion gave a good reaction when making birdie on the playoff hole, tossing his putter to the ground and thrusting his arms aloft in disbelief. The kid is a fresh face. He even said he attended a Black Eyed Peas concert Friday night and a Keith Urban concert Saturday, just to relax. Those things count in a personality.
On top of all that, Stallings defied one of my personal Maxims of Golf.
It has long been my belief that anytime I find myself running on a golf course, nothing good is happening. It means I did any of the following: Left a club behind on the previous green; took so long searching for a lost ball, I lost track of my foursome; misinterpreted the rules and had to jog back to hit a provisional … You name it, running on a golf course is never good.
[Related: Michael Jordan offers advice to Tiger Woods]
But Stallings made it good when he made a quasi-sprint from the scorer’s trailer to the 18th tee for the playoff – such an amusing sight that CBS slowed it down for their Konica Minolta Biz Hub SwingVision camera, a promotion so effective I knew the name of it without even double-checking.
Stallings’ playoff win was many things: great for the rookie, a maiden win in his 21st PGA Tour start, a moxie-filled finish (seven birdies in his final 10 holes, including the playoff) and a classic storyline set-up for the big name of the week.
Yes, Tiger Woods will stick a peg in the ground this week at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
In doing so, Tiger will enter a PGA Tour landscape best described as a sprawling, shapeless free-for-all. With all the major championship winners of 2011 calling the European Tour home, the American landscape is, um, how shall we put this nicely … uh, lacking definition.
That’s a nicer phrase than “a totally shapeless mess full of winners you’ve never heard of, ever, not even once, in your lifetime.”
Tiger’s arrival back on the scene will seem like throwing a floodlight into a darkened room. His form will be anybody’s guess, and anybody’s guess would be wise to lower expectations given the last time we saw the erstwhile world’s No. 1, he was limping off of TPC Sawgrass after a 6-over-par 42 on the front nine of his first round.
More important, Tiger’s return will stand in stark contrast to the who’s-who of winners this year, as symbolized by Stallings. Some factoids to digest:
• Stallings ranked 224th in the world entering The Greenbrier, and yet he’s only the fourth-lowest ranked player in the world to win this year on tour. Mark Wilson, Brendan Steele and Harrison Frazar all ranked lower when they won in 2011 (not counting the events played opposite WGC events).
• Stallings is the sixth rookie to win this year, the most on tour since 1970. He joins the likes of Steele, Johnny Vegas, Bradley Keegan and Chris Kirk. Now, without looking, tell me which events each of those guys won. Ha! Knew you couldn’t.
• Stallings is the 10th first-time winner this year.
In other words, the tour is an undefined amoeba. And now Godzilla is coming back.
This can be interpreted two ways. First, the tour has minted all kinds of new kids who are now playing with confidence, youngsters who aren’t afraid to get it done on Sunday and who only know the name “Tiger Woods” as linked to the web site TMZ and late-night monologues.
Or it means none of the big dogs marked their territory in Tiger’s absence, that the only big-name players who won twice were Bubba Watson and Nick Watney, and that Tiger comes back to a landscape that is ultimately tamable.
This is the crossing of storylines as Tiger returns to Ohio. Which storyline – the revolution, or the re-establishment – takes hold, only time will tell.
Either way, Tiger’s just lucky for one thing – that Yani Tseng isn’t in the field at Bridgestone this week. You go, sister!
Scorecard of the week
• 71-66-66-69 – 16-under 272, Yani Tseng, champion, Ricoh Women’s British Open, Carnoustie, Scotland.
Dare we call Tseng’s dominance Tiger-esque?
Or should any future dominance in golf be called Yani-esque?
The statistics and records are staggering. Tseng has won four of the last eight women’s majors. She is the youngest ever – knocking young Tom Morris from the record books, from the 1870s! – to win five majors. And I’m not saying Young Tom got it done without any pressure, but when he won four consecutive Open Championships by the age of 21 in 1872, The Golf Channel had yet to launch. Know what I mean?
Also, as Golf Digest’s Ron Sirak reported, she outdrove her playing competitor, third-round leader Caroline Masson of Germany, by 100 yards on some holes. So Tseng’s win wasn’t just a triumph of skill and nerve – she trailed Masson by three strokes after the first hole – it also could have included Tseng slapping a sticker on her golf bag that read: “HOW’S MY DRIVING? DIAL 1-800-EAT-DUST.”
There are no more women’s majors in 2011, so the Yani worship, as far as majors, is put on hold until next March at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
By the way, what would Yani worshippers call themselves? “Yani’s Yellers?” “Tseng-a-lings?” They have months to work on it.
Broadcast moment of the week
• “He has to be greatly disappointed. It’s one thing to put yourself in position. It’s quite another to close the deal after you haven’t done it for a while.” – Peter Kostis, CBS, quite correctly calling out Greenbrier Classic third-round leader Anthony Kim’s tumble and Sunday 74.
“He’s battled hard, though. He will still use this as a positive.” – Nick Faldo, CBS, inexcusably defending Kim.
To which I say two things: Well said, Peter … and say WHAT, Sir Nick?
I admit, I have a thing for Anthony Kim, and it’s not positive.
Of all the stars to arrive on the scene in the past decade, maybe none has more raw talent than Kim. At the same time, maybe nobody has cashed in less on his talent than Kim – unless you’re counting big houses, fast cars and bankroll. On those counts, Kim’s a major champion.
I’m the kind of sports fan who tends to frown on squandered talent. So sue me.
Sixty-six starts have come and gone since Kim’s last win in 2008. Yes, his wrist injury in 2009 cost him three months of play and maybe stalled his development. But Kim will still do maddening things like contend two weeks ago at the British Open (T-5th), then one week later go 69-DQ, after signing an incorrect scorecard for a second-round 81 at the Canadian Open.
That he was the 54-hole leader at the Greenbrier after a Saturday 62 was encouraging and meant maybe Kim, who is only 26, would have the winds of momentum behind him heading into Firestone and the PGA Championship.
Instead, he bogeyed Nos. 8 and 9 to go out in 36, never made a birdie on Sunday and fell 13 spots to a T-14th.
How Faldo spun that as a positive is beyond me.
Mulligan of the week
• Sometimes, the mulligan can transcend the golf course. Sometimes, we need mulligans in life.
Which brings us to Rory McIlroy’s Twitter account.
In a refreshing reminder that sometimes we all need to channel our inner 9-year-old, the record-setting U.S. Open champion engaged in some playground taunting with TV golf commentator Jay Townsend after Thursday’s first round at the Irish Open. Townsend, who gets paid to offer unfiltered opinion, called McIlroy’s course management “shocking.”
Townsend apparently felt he left a good line on the table and later added that Rory uses “some of the worst course management I have ever seen beyond under-10 boys’ competition.”
McIlroy went straight for the jugular, saying essentially, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me!”
Actually, what Rory wrote on his Twitter account was: “Shut up. You’re a commentator and a failed golfer and your opinion means nothing!”
The beauty is, if you follow both McIlroy and Townsend on Twitter, you could see the playground spat unfold in real time. Townsend responded: “I stand by my comments.” Rory responded, “Well, I stand by my caddy.”
Townsend then responded: “Nyah nyah.” McIlroy then responded: “You’re a meanie.” Townsend then said: “I’m gonna tell on you.” McIlroy then responded: “You do and I’ll beat you up.”
Wait. That last paragraph never happened. Sorry about that.
It could have, though, given the childish nature of the discourse.
I’m still a Rory fan, but this one’s on him. Part of being a champion is brushing the Jay Townsends of the world off your shoulder like so much dust, a la Jay-Z. You can’t be firing back at Jay Townsend, much less firing back via Twitter, much less using the phrase “Shut up,” last heard on the monkey bars near the swing set.
Not only that, but also in checking McIlroy’s account to verify the language of the exchange, I found a flirtatious tweet from Rory to rumored girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, the tennis star. Rory wrote to Wozniacki’s account: “It needs a lot of work. Do you know somebody who can help me?” That message was followed by the all-purpose flirt icon: “;).”
Yes, Rory is using the wink/smile to his girl Caroline for all of us to see. I felt like I was reading somebody else’s mail, or tapping his phone. Rory needs to master his Twitter discipline.
So, in the spirit of Rory McIlroy trying to maintain his dignity and not stooping to crack on the Jay Townsends of the world – we expect more from our national champions, Rors – let’s go back to that Twitter account and … give that man a mulligan!
Where do we go from here?
• It gets good the next two weeks, golf fans. The world’s best gather at Firestone for the World Golf Championship, and that means Tiger and his knee and his mystery caddie (rumored to be lifelong pal and mistress-smuggler Bryon Bell), Darren Clarke and his man-flu (that’s what he called his hangover at the Irish Open) and Rory McIlroy and his wayward Twitter account. And with the year’s final major after that? Good times!
Meantime, the LPGA is off for three weeks until reconvening in Oregon. If you need to find the World’s Baddest Golfer, Yani Tseng will be chilling at home in Florida, ready to kick the rear end of anybody who dares look at her wrong.