And so begins the Great Wait for Tiger '09, a.k.a Purgatory, a.k.a the start of the PGA Tour season.
Now I'm no Biblical scholar, but if purgatory means golf in Maui, count me in.
If, however, it means that we are going to spend the next two months evaluating every tournament winner and then promptly asking the question, "Can he challenge Tiger?" then maybe purgatory is a little more painful.
That said: Geoff Ogilvy … can he challenge Tiger?
Welcome to Purgatory, Geoff.
And heck, yes, he can challenge Tiger. In fact, count wire-to-wire Mercedes Championships winner Ogilvy already as a player who has a major championship pelt on his wall in the Tiger Era, which for argument's sake we'll start in the year 2000. Those who have major championship pelts in the Tiger Era fall into two categories, really. Let's be honest and divide these Tiger Era majors winners into Real and Maybe-Not-So-Real.
In the Maybe-Not-So-Real category, go ahead and line up Shaun Micheel, Todd Hamilton, Ben Curtis, Angel Cabrera and let's be cruel and toss in Mike Weir for fun. (First digression of '09: Interestingly, the revamped Augusta National has produced three bland winners, including Weir, Zach Johnson and Trevor Immelman. Note to Billy Payne: Put those flags in eagle position on Sunday.)
When it comes to Ogilvy, he's more like the last name next to his on that "Real" list than anybody else, as Ogilvy strikes me as an Australian version of Furyk. Not the funky swing, mind you. In fact, Ogilvy's swing is about as rock-solid as any on tour, so repeatable and controlled. It's the ball striking, straight and pure, rarely crooked, that reminds me of Furyk, and the temperament. Unlike, say, Anthony Kim, who may still tilt towards the mercurial; or Camilo Villegas, who may still be tentative under the gun, Ogilvy resonates a Furyk-like calm. Like Furyk, his major win was a U.S. Open ('06, Winged Foot) and that tells you something about the man. So do two wins in World Golf Championship events. It takes a gamer to win those star-studded events.
Ogilvy shows a Furyk-like fighter's mentality, too. When he hit his batch of trouble on Sunday and his six-shot lead was down to one, it took a certain calm to eagle the par-5 9th, build the lead back up to three, and exude all the tense body language of a man out walking his dog on a Sunday morning on the beach.
Speaking of beaches, did anybody else notice that the Mercedes has now produced seven consecutive international winners, including Els in 2003, Stuart Appleby three times from 2004-06 and now Ogilvy in '09. That means five wins from guys who grew up in either Australia or South Africa, noted beach and surf havens. They come to Maui, and they win. Coincidence? I think not, friend.
So welcome to the Great Wait for Tiger '09, Geoff. We'll check your molars and have you give a blood test to see if you have what it takes to compete against the Big Boy when he comes back in late February or early March. In the meantime, enjoy the smell of the orchid lei. There are worse ways to kick off '09 than to post a win in Hawaii, in between long, peaceful stares at the Pacific Ocean.
Scorecards of the week
• 69-70-68-67 – 274, tie-2nd, Davis Love III.
68-69-73-67 – 277, tie-6th, Ernie Els.
In the spirit of the New Year, and because I'm nothing if not a magnanimous soul, let's make it Scorecards – plural – of the week.
Besides, what a duo, Love and Els, single-handedly, or double-handedly, bringing back memories of 1997 right into our 21st century, Hi-Def, iPhone-loving, wireless lives. Just to see those two playing well again makes one long for simpler times of dial-up modems, and days when you didn't have to pay to hear Howard Stern.
Think of how far we've come as a society since 1997, when both Els and Love won majors.
Back then, there was a Clinton in the White House. (Oh, wait. There will be a Clinton as Secretary of State shortly.)
Back then, Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet hit the big screen and garnered acting award nominations in "Titanic." (Oh, wait. Leo and Kate are back on screen together garnering acting award nominations in "Revolutionary Road.")
Back then, the lame teenybopper band Hanson dominated the charts with mindless drivel disguised as music. (Oh, wait. The Jonas Brothers are doing that now.)
And back then, Tiger struck fear into every golfer alive. (Oh, wait. He still does.)
Guess we haven't come that far as a society, have we?
Anyway, welcome back, Ernie and Davis. Golf is better when the old lions roar. Love will be 45 in April; Els will be 40 in October. Leaderboards that combine green and grizzled are leaderboards that sizzle.
Broadcast moment of the week
• "Is that because they know it's a Sunday?" – Nick Faldo, to Mark Rolfing, on The Golf Channel, after Rolfing said the whales in the Pacific would be having a lazy day.
The Mercedes did have that sort of Sunday feel. With no Tiger and no Phil, and with the NFL playoffs dominating the airwaves, the final round took on that devil-may-care ambiance, helped along by Ogilvy extending his lead with each passing hole on the back nine.
That said, we can't let Faldo's '09 debut pass without some snark. Seeing his tanned, Harrison Ford-esque mug in Hi-Def to start the year reminded me of the scene from "Animal House" where all the Delta members cough a profanity into their fists during the court martial from Dean Wormer. I see Faldo, and all I want to do is cough "Valhalla!" (Cough, cough) "Valhalla!" into my fist.
I half-expected Paul Azinger to drive past the backdrop of The Golf Channel set whenever Faldo spoke. In this fantasy, I could see Azinger in a golf cart, toting an enormous American flag – like, 15 feet wide. Maybe doing donuts, too.
You'll have to wear the Ryder Cup for a little while longer, Cap'n Nick. Just for fun. Hey, we haven't seen you in a while. Just wanted to start the New Year off right.
Mulligan of the week
• I want to know who served Tim Finchem the bad pineapple.
Word out of the islands is that the PGA Tour is considering abandoning Kapalua as the season-opening site. This, of course, makes total sense, since nobody in America likes to turn on his or her TV in the dead of January and see breeching whales in a turquoise sea, green hills seemingly made of velvet and an Aloha spirit that seeps through the screen and coats us in warm winter splendor.
"We're looking at options," Finchem told the AP, showing his corporate-speak is in midseason form.
If Finchem thinks a change of venue will get Tiger or Phil, he's likely dreaming. If he wants to move the event to Wailea and keep it on Maui, that's at least partially acceptable, since we – and I speak for the nation here, if you don't mind – need Hawaii on our TV. If he wants to move it to the mainland, it's time for us to hold a sit-in at Corporate HQ down in Ponte Vedra, Fla.
Yo, Commish: Take a mulligan on this one!
Where do we go from here?
• Barkeep, bring us another drink with an umbrella in it. We're staying in Hawaii, moving over for the Sony Open to Oahu, the home island of President-elect Barack Obama.
Given that Obama recently laid sod all over Oahu golf courses in his Christmas vacation, and given that he will be inaugurated two days after the final round, somebody in the field needs to say "Yes, I can" in the first full-field event of the year.
In addition to keeping an eye on former U.S. Amateur champ Colt Knost's PGA Tour debut, and welcoming back Cap'n Zinger to the fold – he's playing – let's give a special golf clap to the Comeback Story of the Year, Notah Begay III. Tiger's former college teammate at Stanford earned his card again after years on the outside, battling back injuries.
Welcome back from purgatory, Notah. And can you text Tiger and ask him when he's coming back?