If only each of us could channel the calm and rhythm of Geoff Ogilvy's golf swing, golf game, golf demeanor. Applied to stressful situations – traffic jams, SATs, getting up-and-down for par – a great soothing warmth would wash over us, and all would be well. Plus, we'd all be a lot richer, winning things like $1.4 million at the Match Play.
If Ogilvy's golf game could talk, it would say "G'day, mate, grab a cold one from the fridge and relax; and if we're out of beer, don't worry, something good will happen anyway."
In some ways, Ogilvy winning in Arizona, beating Paul Casey in the final with a relentless stream of made putts and delicate chips, was the perfect antidote to a week of hype and media attention surrounding Tiger's return. While we hyperventilated as sports fans over T Dub's appearance in the desert, a guy whose Match Play record actually exceeds Tiger's – Ogilvy's 17-2 mark and .882 win percentage bests Woods' 32-7 and .820 mark – calmly went about his business, not giving a care in the world about TV ratings, magazine covers or Q-rating.
Everything about Ogilvy's effort was so low-key and mellow, he wasn't the story I wound up taking away from the week. And no, to me the story wasn't all Tiger, all the time. T.W. seemed to treat the week like a bit of spring training, working on a few things, testing the knee, going two innings in the Cactus League before getting ready for Opening Day in Augusta.
Rather, amid the jumping cactus, another thing jumped out: His name was Rory McIlroy, and he is part of what I think is the best story of the '09 golf season – the Baby Brigade.
Have you people been watching this? In the last two weeks alone, we've witnessed:
• The arrival at Riviera of the 17-year-old Ryo (Adrian!) Ishikawa of Japan, the "Bashful Prince" who wears Al Czverik pants and packs star power.
• The continued ascendance of New Zealander Danny Lee, who became the youngest to ever win a European Tour event two weeks ago in Australia. The 18-year-old already has broken Tiger's record as the youngest U.S. Amateur champion in history.
• And now McIlroy, the 19-year-old kid with the Northern Irish accent that calls to mind Van (The Belfast Cowboy) Morrison, and the golf swing that calls to mind a more young hybrid of Sam Snead and Tom Watson.
McIlroy's debut in America was the story of Arizona. When the brackets came out, the showdown was obvious: Tiger vs. Ulster Tiger in the third round, if only McIlroy could make it that far.
Catch was, McIlroy made it to the third round. The other guy didn't.
He proved himself a ball striker of the highest order, and so fresh-faced he didn't care that his hair mimicked a later-years Peter Brady. McIlroy played with an obvious fearlessness, and even when he was eliminated by Ogilvy in the quarterfinals, it was only because Ogilvy turned assassin, making putts like Tiger in 2000 (as noted by Johnny Miller). On their final hole, the par-3 16th, Ogilvy hit his tee shot to 8 feet. McIlroy hit his to 6 feet. Only when Ogilvy made the birdie putt was "Rors" eliminated.
But that didn't matter. What mattered was, the kid arrived in style. His manager, Chubby Chandler, gave some dynamite quotes to ace golf writer Lawrence Donegan of The Guardian over the weekend. In the story, Chandler said that McIlroy's life story is so engaging, the kid wanted to stay up late in Arizona so he could phone his girlfriend in Northern Ireland before she went off to school. Their conversation topic: What each would do with their lives "when we grow up."
Chandler went so far as to suggest that McIlroy, Ishikawa and Lee could be the 21st century answer to Palmer-Player-Nicklaus, oozing global appeal and charisma. Granted, it was an outrageously grandiose statement, but after waiting and waiting and waiting the past decade for the "Next Generation" of Tiger challengers, we just might have found the beginnings of a hope of a challenge from something totally new, totally unexpected. It will be fun to watch.
Mulligan of the week
• Now, after waxing poetic on the Teen Beat, we can talk about the Man Himself.
Tiger in Match Play is like Sinatra at the Sands, or the Jonas Brothers at a mall – totally in his element. He lives to cut out the hearts of his foes, and his dispatching of Jones in his first match back from ACL surgery featured all the Tiger good stuff: an early birdie, an early eagle, a golf swing that appeared as sound as ever and a clinical victory.
Things got a little weird in the second round when the paunchy South African Tim Clark took down Tiger, but it wasn't a Buster Douglas-type upset. First off, Clark can play. Second, match play is funky – or don't you remember Kevin Sutherland facing Scott McCarron in the Match Play final all those years ago? And third, Tiger was playing his first golf since Torrey Pines. Add it all up, and a second-round exit is palatable.
That said, Tiger was showing a little bit of something when he holed out for birdie from a bunker on the 14th hole to move to two down. Two down with four to play? In Tiger's world, that's like being all-square.
Except … his tee shot on 15 was blocked right, and then did the unthinkable. It hit a cart path and caromed O.B.
Cart paths stink. Golf is a game to be walked, and a cart path means nothing but the invasion of man into nature's layout. And here, it knocked Tiger out of the match when he lost the hole to fall three down with three to play. Clark was dormie, and game enough to win 16 and close out Tiger.
With Tiger two down on the 15th tee, a driveable par-4, and having honors, wouldn't it have been fun to see him get another crack at it, and drive the green for an eagle putt?
Somebody, get that man a mulligan!
Scorecard of the week
• 71-69-68-66 – Lorena Ochoa, first place, Honda LPGA Thailand.
And that makes 1-for-1 for Li'l Lorena.
Her '09 LPGA debut was an Ochoa Special, a final-round 66 playing in the final group. Paula Creamer owned a three-stroke lead on the first tee, and was left to hug Ochoa on the 18th green after Creamer's own 73, seven worse than Ochoa's final round.
Last year, Ochoa opened the season with a win in Singapore, then won five of her first six events before a mid-season fade linked to personal turmoil – Ochoa endured two family deaths that derailed her season – put her historic season on the shelf.
Now she's back, and when asked if she thinks she is mentally tougher than her foes, answered simply: "Yes."
Translation: "Boo yah."
Get ready. Here comes Lorena La Reina, and '09 could be huge all over again.
Broadcast moment of the week
• This week's B.M.O.W. is not a pithy line from Johnny Miller, or a TV shot of Tiger on the range, working through his short irons.
Back together! Like a band reunited for a tour, Faldo and Azinger need each other like Townshend needs Daltrey, like Plant needs Page. There is something about each man that brings out the best in each other, a sort of golf analyst symbiosis that makes the sum greater than the parts.
Plus, it was fun to be reminded of ‘Zinger's total waxing of Faldo from Valhalla. Nobody needs a spoonful of humble like Faldo, and ‘Zinger's presence brought it. It's a shame they don't work together more. Azinger's plainspoken breakdowns seem to goad Faldo into his best work, challenging him to bring more meat to the table.
Congrats, gentlemen. Your B.M.O.W. plaque can be picked up in the Valhalla pro shop.
Where do we go from here?
To Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., for the opening of the Sunshine State swing at the Honda Classic. We say farewell to a West Coast Swing that was underwhelming without Tiger, and only seemed to gather steam when Lefty did his thing at Riviera.
The good news: "Rors" McIlroy is in the field. Maybe that's why Tiger is sitting this one out, eh?