Let's hear it for the 2009 golf season – The Year of the "Say What?" tournament.
Or, as it's known by its alternate name, The Year of the "You Gotta Be Bleeping Kidding Me" tournament.
Somewhere in heaven, Orville Moody is buying a round.
Your latest entry in the YOSW (Year of the "Say What?", in case you forgot) sweepstakes is one Heath Slocum, who was such a party-crasher at an invite-only event, you'd have figured Tiger, Ernie and Padraig sent security over to have Slocum's credentials checked.
Those credentials would have shown Slocum to be one of those names you always see on the fringes of leaderboards; one of those names that makes you think, "Heath Slocum … why do I know that name?", until you realize that unless you were the tournament director of the 2004 Tucson Open or the 2005 Southern Farm Bureau Classic – his only wins – you don't know that name. Boo Weekley knows the name, but that's because they went to high school together.
And yet, there was Slocum, carving out a final-round 67 and making an improbable 21-footer for par on the 72nd hole to win The Barclays by one shot over three Hall of Famers – Tiger, Ernie and Padraig – not to mention the Cheesehead Hall of Famer, Steve Stricker.
Even Lady Liberty, shining in the harbor nearby, was overheard by tourists to say: Heath Slocum? Say what?
There's no rhyme or reason to a Slocum win over the titans, coming from four shots back Sunday, to boot; no greater meaning to be divined, other than this is what happens when you a) hold enough golf tournaments; and b) let Tiger Woods start missing putts.
So, cheers to Slocum, who should enjoy his $1.35 million check and newfound FedEx Cup status points while the rest of the golf world frets over a more pressing issue. Namely, who kidnapped Tiger and put this guy who can't putt in his place?
Two weeks ago, we addressed the elephant in the living room, raising the question: Tiger doesn't have to make EVERY big putt in a big moment, does he? Old-timers will tell you Arnold Palmer started missing some in his mid-30s, as did Watson. It can happen, and while we're a long way from Tiger's putter being declared D.O.A., we are at the end of a summer where his putter no-showed at Bethpage, where he missed everything of import at Hazeltine, and where his 6-footer on the 72nd hole at Liberty National to tie for the lead never touched the cup.
Even Lady Liberty, shining in the harbor nearby, was overheard by tourists to say: Tiger missed a 6-footer with the tourney on the line? Say what?
It was that kind of day.
So the FedEx Cup gave us something to chew on – I mean, besides the fact that the private club at which The Barclays was played both requires a half-million initiation fee and is built on a former toxic waste dump.
Sure, Liberty National was gorgeous on the TV with all those Manhattan skyline shots, but when a golf club is in Jersey City, and when we're told it's a former toxic waste dump, it's hard to concentrate on the golf without thinking of names like Gotti, Hoffa and Soprano making use of the old land for, ahem, “clearance.”
No wonder Tiger had such trouble reading the greens. Who knows what, ahem, “objects” were buried under those mounds?
I mean, how many PGA Tour courtesy cars were parked at "The Bing" this weekend?
So the FedEx Cup playoffs are off and humming, and while the obvious criticisms still hold – they'll never be as important as the majors; once the NFL starts, we'll all turn away; and the whole thing seems an obscene money grab – we must give credit where it's due.
The FedEx Cup playoffs have Tiger out of his lair for what appears to be four out of five weeks, and that's saying something. Last year, of course, he was out with the knee surgery. And two years ago, he blithely blew off one of the events, mostly to just remind Tim Finchem who the real Commish is.
This year he may play all four, and that says one of two things: 1. He really wants to fix that putter; or 2. Having two rugrats running around the house in Florida might call for a little R&R on the golf course.
Scorecard of the week
• Byehoung-Hun An d. Ben Martin, 7 and 5, U.S. Amateur championship.
Rough weekend for Tiger. Not only did he watch Slocum make putts he used to make, but this An kid has now made Tiger, at 33, feel even more out of touch with his glory days.
It might seem about 50 years since Tiger himself became the youngest U.S. Amateur winner in the summer of 1994 with his fist-pumping comeback over Trip Kuehne at Sawgrass, but it was only 15 years, and at the time, it was hugely historic. Tiger was the youngest U.S. Amateur winner ever, and what 18-year-old would ever have the nerves, moxie and sangfroid to break that mark amid a playing field of grown men bent on crushing the wills of any teenage upstarts?
Well, Danny Lee, for one. Last year, Lee broke Tiger's record as the youngest man to kiss the Havermeyer Trophy.
One year later, Byehoung-Hun An broke Lee's record. An is 17.
When you break the record of the guy who broke Tiger's record, you know you done good.
The kid sports spectacles that make him look like he's spent more time at the chemistry lab than the putting green, but apparently, after moving to America from South Korea to pursue his dream of golf, the kid's four-eyed look is meant to hide a killer instinct.
His Korean parents won Olympic medals in table tennis at the Seoul Games in 1988, so he's got pedigree, too. He must be the only kid in the world who can't thrash his Mom in ping-pong.
Here's an interview we'd like to hear:
REPORTER: "Given that you've done something Tiger hasn't done, would you like to one day play against your idol, the great Tiger?"
AN: "Uh, my idol is Y.E. Yang, so can you re-phrase the question?"
Congrats, kid. And keep the specs. They make you unique.
Mulligan of the week
• Out of nowhere, Ernie Els appeared on our TV screens on Sunday.
I almost had to call my cable company and tell them there was obviously some sort of mistake: An important golf tournament was on, and Els was in contention. I would, of course, need a repairman to come to my house and wire my TV for 2009 – not 2000.
But Els had it going, and it was a sight for sore eyes. He was en route to a gorgeous 66, making no bogeys and five birdies in his first 14 holes. He arrived at 16 in the thick of the hunt, but chose to play the 324-yard, par-4 hole conservatively, laying up off the tee when one of the Big Easy's patented drives would set him up for birdie.
Gary McCord first-guessed the lay-up, and when Nick Faldo suggested that Ernie's lay-up, wedge and green in regulation set him up for a birdie putt, Faldo offered that a made putt might "shut you up, Gary." McCord answered, accurately, that not much could make him shut up.
Els missed the putt, and settled for par on a birdie hole. McCord kept talking, happily.
Given that Els' striking and charismatic presence is hugely missed on golf leaderboards, and given that every chance we get to see that golf swing is a sporting privilege, and given that Els is probably the best combination of personality and talent among the world's best players, and given that yours truly was rooting hard for Els to start a career comeback on the verge of his 40th birthday this October, let's go back to that 16th tee, give Ernie a driver and … give that man a mulligan!
Broadcast moment of the week
• “I don't remember him ever missing one.” – Jim Nantz, CBS, as the golf world tried to process the sight of Tiger missing a 6-foot putt on the 72nd hole to tie for the lead.
Such was the shock of Tiger missing an absolute do-or-die putt that even Nantz, who usually plays it cool and lays low and lets Faldo and David Feherty break down the key moments, had to chime in with his thought.
What Nantz was saying was, he doesn't remember Tiger ever missing a putt of that length (a makeable 72 inches) in that situation (one shot off the lead) at that situation in a golf tournament (on the 72nd hole).
Considering Nantz has had his catbird-seat gig since Tiger turned pro in 1996, the statement carries some weight.
It was that kind of miss.
Where do we go from here?
• Get your BBQ aprons on – we have a Labor Day finish next Monday at TPC Boston for the second leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs, the Deutsche Bank Championship. The field of 125 has been trimmed to 100, and it figures to be must-see TV. After all, you can start your betting pool now: How long will the putt be that Tiger misses to win the tournament?
Just kidding, Tiger. Please still take my phone calls.