If you think of the PGA Tour season like one of those dance contests from the 1960s – and yes, in my whacked-out brain, I do – then Tiger Woods just got tapped on the shoulder by the judges.
Off the dance floor, buddy. Your Mashed Potato ain't cuttin' it.
Considering we're all conditioned to seeing Tiger as the last man standing in these things – sort of the John Travolta character in "Saturday Night Fever," dominating the dance floor as it lights up in different colors, with awed observers rhythmically clapping, to continue my outdated analogies – the whole scene is nothing short of odd, weird, bizarre and final.
The Tour Championship will take place without Tiger Woods. That's like one of those philosophical queries: If a tree falls in the forest, and Tiger Woods isn't there to hear it, does it make a sound?
In many ways, it was fitting to see Dustin (Soul Patch) Johnson close it out on Sunday at Cog Hill, bagging his second win of the year and more than a little karmic redemption from the golf gods after his role as King of Pain this summer. After all, this torque-creating, tragedy-making, sideburn-sporting 26-year-old is the most compelling player since Tiger made a small spike in TV ratings, winning his first Masters in 1997.
In a golf year where Tiger missed the winner's circle for the first time in 14 seasons, we needed our drama fix. Phil Mickelson decided that winning the Masters was enough drama for him in 2010, and exited, stage left. Rory McIlroy had his 62 at Quail Hollow, but couldn't read his lines at the major-championship stage productions. Rickie Fowler was just a little too orange – er, uh, green – to arrive just yet.
So into the void came Dustin Johnson, light on verbiage and long on golf charisma. You can't look away when he hits his driver, his supple twentysomething back muscles allowing for absurd rotation on the backswing, his hips clearing with great speed through impact, maximizing his energy and allowing his natural hand-eye coordination to get as much clubface as possible.
Or, put another way, he hits the crap out of the ball.
That he couples it with a surprisingly deft touch with his irons and a praiseworthy putting stroke – all set to the rhythm of a fast-paced player – makes him a Ryder Cup qualifier and winner of more events (four) than any player under 30.
Like I said, you can't look away. The one problem is, you had to look away when it came to the major championships.
In the span of two months, Dustin Johnson: 1) blew a three-shot, final-round U.S. Open lead at Pebble Beach by going triple bogey-double bogey-bogey on hole Nos. 2-3-4 on Sunday, en route to a tidy 82. It was painful, it was public and we figured the guy's career was dead meat.
Then 2), he went "Rubberband Man" on us, snapping back into shape at Whistling Straits for the PGA Championship, playing his way into the Sunday final group, making one of the great birdies from the fescue on 16, then one-upping it with one of the greater birdies on the 223-yard par-3 17th to take a one-shot lead into the 72nd hole.
And then there was the drive that leaked right, and there were some people standing in a bunker, and young Dustin didn't know it was a bunker and, well … you pretty much know the rest, or you wouldn't be reading a golf column the day after the NFL opened its season.
Now I don't know about you, but if I've had my life dreams incinerated – TWICE IN ONE SUMMER – I'm pulling the sheets over my head for about a week, then only emerging to rent movies, wearing sweatpants and never shaving.
Dustin Johnson? He took his flat-brimmed hat, his white belts and his lip hair to Cog Hill, arrived at the 71st tee on Sunday tied for the lead, hit one of the great bombs you'll ever want to see over the trees on the dogleg par-4, cozied a sand wedge to three feet, made birdie and won the gosh-darn FedEx Cup playoff event called the BMW Championship.
Even the ants in the song "High Hopes" are rumored to be seeking motivational speeches from Johnson.
He won't create TV ratings like Tiger, because nobody creates TV ratings like Tiger, and that includes Katy Perry, President Obama and Tom Brady's Audi. But if he wins a green jacket next April, you'll start to see the needle move a little.
In many ways, his "Tragedy 2010!" summer tour made him. Every great drama needs conflict, and Johnson's conflict with the golf gods morphed him into a sporting household name.
The worldwide household name – Tiger – will next be seen at the Ryder Cup, where U.S. captain Corey Pavin has said he won't guarantee Woods five starts. That's how insane golf in 2010 has been to date.
And Tiger will have one more chance to get a win this season when he plays in Shanghai in early November in the World Golf Championships-HSBC Championships. At that point, we can fully write his 2010 autopsy.
For now, it's time for Tiger Golf Swing 3.0 – from Butch (Harmon) to Hank (Haney) to now Sean Foley. Johnny Miller says he thinks Tiger will win "two or three times" next year.
He might. But here's the damndest thing: He'll have to get through Dustin Johnson for one or two of them, probably.
Scorecard of the week (Sunday only)
• 67 – Phil Mickelson, BMW Championship, final round, Cog Hill
• 70 – Tiger Woods, BMW Championship, final round, Cog Hill
As they say in the sports world – can it be a rivalry when one team whips the other team all the time? Tiger has beaten Phil only once in their last eight pairings together.
Considering Phil spent the better part of a decade playing Wile E. Coyote to Tiger's Road Runner, this is more than a little surprising. But Lefty's association with Butch Harmon has helped demystify Tiger's aura. Harmon advised Phil to look for Tiger's use of head games, and the result is Phil cracking the "Tiger Code" in head-to-head pairings. It's the golf equivalent of stealing someone's playbook.
Don't think those things don't matter, either. When Tiger and Phil are in the same twosome, it's two alpha males looking to mark territory. Plus, it's darn juicy for the rest of us, who enjoy the Lakers-Celtics/Carolina-Duke/Giants-Dodgers of golf.
How this translates to major championships is open for debate, but ever since Tiger and Phil were paired Sunday in the '09 Masters and Phil shot 67 to Tiger's 68, Tiger hasn't won a major and Phil's won one.
We'll insert those stats into the computer and get back to you in 2011, around April.
Mulligan of the week
While the NFL raged and pennant races crunched and college football fans rested icepacks on their heads, an LPGA event played out down in Arkansas. And no, it was not officially called the "Low-Wattage Open."
In fact, an LPGA event remarkably cracked the sports page on NFL opening weekend, but that's the power of the Big Wiesy.
Michelle Wie, a winner two weeks ago, was looking to make it back-to-back W's for an emphatic spike of the cynic's football in her own personal end zone.
I use those football analogies purposefully, as Wie is a supporter of Stanford football, where she goes to school. The Cardinal dropped an historic hammer on hapless UCLA on Saturday night, 35-0, and when Wie should have been hitting putts on her hotel room carpet, instead she tweeted: "Just woke up and saw Stanford dominated!!! Love it!!!" (As a Bruin alum and football fan, I felt the sting of her gloat.)
She's even received congratulatory tweets from Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh in the past, a true mark of her pull.
For the sake of the women's game, and for Wie's growing reputation as an improving player, it would have been fun to read a Harbaugh "congratweet" after the Northwest Arkansas Championship, but Wie saw a three-shot, 54-hole lead evaporate when Yani Tseng, her nemesis since 2004, shot a super-clutch Sunday 65 and clipped Wie, who shot 69, by a stroke.
Still, Wiesy had a chance for drama. On 18, down a stroke, she was in the fairway, with good memories from her eagle on 18 Saturday. Alas, she missed the green with her second shot and had to settle for a birdie – matched by Tseng – and a one-shot loss.
Knowing how Wie-haters revel in her failures, and knowing how the more Wie wins, the better it is for all golf fans, let's go back to that 18th fairway, think eagle and … give that young woman a mulligan!
Broadcast moment of the week
"There's a reason why he's only won once in the U.S. … Are the nerves getting to him? … You think the pressure is getting to him? … Oooh, that was skanky." – A variety-pack of Johnny Miller takes on England's Paul Casey, who blew a three-shot lead on the back nine Sunday at Cog Hill.
Each of those comments was uttered as Casey went bogey-bogey-bogey on Nos. 13-14-15 on Sunday, and Miller couldn't have been more in his comfort zone.
That comfort zone is as follows: Witness player on Sunday back nine choking guts out, comment as such.
Certainly, European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie was feeling a little better after watching Casey stumble. He blew Casey off as a captain's pick, and would have been savaged by the tabloids if Casey hung a "W" in one of America's elite-field events.
Monty was probably at home on the couch, muttering under his breath: "Atta babe, Johnny. Cover my rear end!"
Where do we go from here?
I actually like the tour's move here, taking this week off. It concedes the TV-ratings high ground to the NFL, and gives the Tour Championship a little bit more of a sheen, something to look forward to.
That said, can we look forward to something if Tiger isn't playing in it?
Sure – because Dustin Johnson is playing.
- Dustin Johnson