The old Joaquin Andujar line about baseball being summed up in one word – "youneverknow" – pretty much summed up your 2009 Quail Hollow Championship, otherwise known by its new name, "Revenge of Bay Hill."
Five weeks after Sean O'Hair blew a five-shot lead and played the role of the guy who goes ker-splat when the Tiger Woods Semi rolled through the final round of Arnold Palmer's Invitational, O'Hair on Sunday was the one doing the smiling post-round interview with Peter Kostis. O'Hair was the one who shot a final-round 69 on a challenging course setup. And O'Hair was the one whose career arc, already successful as the 12th-ranked player on the planet, was slotted one level higher after his third career win at age 26.
Tiger? He was the one being called a "loser" by David Feherty. True story. More on that later.
See? The Quail Hollow Invitational: Youneverknow.
Heck, that even applies to the name of this event, which has grown into a major non-major event thanks to an excellent track and absurd amenities for players, caddies and wives, who are pampered as if CEOs in the pre-recession economy. When Stewart Cink is tweeting about steering a Mercedes S550 as a courtesy car, you know they've got the players eating from their palm.
Formerly the Wachovia Championship, that name wouldn't fly when Wells Fargo bought Wachovia. Wells Fargo, however, wasn't interested in the P.R. fallout of attaching its name to a golf tournament in this era of Troubled Assets Relief Programs. Hence, the refreshing tournament free of a corporate title in its name, bringing back sweet memories of the 1970s, calling to mind a Phoenix Open or an L.A. Open or a Bing Crosby Invitational. A non-corporate PGA Tour stop? Youneverknow.
It was hard to get a grip on this one. Through most of the afternoon, the names were blowing around the leaderboard like cottonwood spores blown about the golf course. Zach Johnson had the lead? Yeah, until he tripled No. 2. Bubba Watson had the lead? Yeah, until he bogeyed 12. Lucas Glover is our new man? Yeah, until he bogeyed 12, too.
The one looming constant was the guy in red. Sunday was a day where we waited and waited and waited for Tiger to take charge, with the small problem being that he never did. When Tiger Woods opens a day in the penultimate twosome, with a two-shot deficit, you figure he's a pretty good bet to park it atop the leaderboard at some point. But he opened with a bogey, and when he made his first birdie of the day at No. 5, he backed it right up with another bogey on 6.
Who is this guy?
Perhaps the most surreal Tiger Moment came on No. 14, when he drove the par-4 with a stunning 3-wood that was more art than golf shot. Now Tiger had an eagle try to tie for the lead, or at least a two-putt birdie to get within one. That is, until he inexplicably three-whipped and walked off with a humbling par. By the time he was done, he'd shot an in-neutral 72 with no birdies over his final 10 holes.
Once more, with feeling: Who is this guy?
Given that his last three starts have gone first (Arnold Palmer Invitational); tie-sixth (Masters); and fourth (Quail Hollow); and given that he's teed it up only five times this year (with another top 10 at Doral) after major reconstructive knee surgery 10 months ago, you could make the argument that "this guy" is currently one of the hottest players on the PGA Tour.
But Tiger Standards are different, and we're left pondering the thought that Tiger's very, very normal work with his putter at both Augusta National and Quail Hollow has the rest of the field thinking that the gap, at long last, has closed a bit, and that right now, he's not the automaton on Sundays he once was. At this rate, the world's No. 1 might start going low profile on the final day and start wearing beige.
With the mighty Players Championship on deck for this week, it could be a great chance, then, for some of the young challengers to grab a few ounces of flesh from the Striped One.
Meanwhile, Sean O'Hair chuckles, one win and $1.17 million richer. He made bogey on 17 and 18, part of the so-called "Green Mile" of 16-17-18, which should probably be called "Green Death" based on how ruthlessly it slays the world's best players. It didn't matter, though. Five weeks ago, O'Hair was road kill. Five weeks later, he's the one getting the handshake behind the 18th green. Golf's a funny game. Maybe Joaquin Andujar should take it up in retirement.
Broadcast moment of the week
• "It's difficult to think of you as a loser, but hey, you're a loser. Good luck next week." – David Feherty, right to Tiger's face, in the post-round interview Sunday.
Feherty's wacked-out sense of humor is what makes the man so great, but even by his standards this one was edgy. The premise was sound: That Bubba Watson's tie for second-place finish had to make Bubba feel good; and that Glover's tie for second-place finish had to make Glover feel good; but when Tiger Woods finishes fourth, does he feel like a loser?
To Tiger's credit, he rolled with it. He laughed and said: "I was. And not even first loser, either."
Which is when Feherty dropped his double-loser bomb on Tiger and threw it back to Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo in the booth. Nantz made sure to note that Feherty's two-time use of the "L" word was all Feherty; while Faldo rightly judged that even that moment of levity will serve to stoke the inner bonfire inside of Tiger that much more.
Even though he looked pinched and tight on the golf course, credit must be given to Tiger's off-course behavior, including what appeared to be a hearty congratulations to O'Hair, complete with million-dollar smile, and a good session with reporters afterward, in which he talked of his woes off the tee, his "spotty" and "streaky" play, even joking about making a "wonderful" six-footer for par on that three-putt on 14.
That said, let's make one final comment on Tiger's last two starts. At the Masters, he had an outside chance to make a final run at Kenny Perry from the 17th tee box. Instead, he bogeyed each of the final two holes.
Flash forward to Quail Hollow. Tiger was en route to a 70 on Friday – until he bogeyed 16 and 18 and finished even par. On Saturday, he was 4 under – until he bogeyed 17 and 18 and had a bad-taste 70. The Tiger who bogeys 18 at key moments is a weird Tiger. The sample size is far too small to draw any meaningful conclusions, and while Feherty was only joking (right?), I'm just making a point here folks.
Scorecard of the week
• 70-72-74-69 – 285, 3-under, tie-31st, John Daly, European Tour Spanish Open.
Hard to say what was more notable: Daly's first action in 2009, or Daly sporting the plaids and pastels of Loud Mouth Golf, an apparel company outfitting our Mulleted Friend in clothes that combine campy style with some colors and designs Johnny Miller might have drawn up on a mescaline trip in the early '70s.
It's a whole new Daly. He had a surgical procedure to help him lose weight, and while nobody would mistake the current, 220-pound Daly for a binging Lindsay Lohan, he's at least down from his weight of three months ago, a hefty 280. He's serving out the remains of his six-month PGA Tour suspension by playing in Europe on sponsor's exemptions, and though I'm no currency expert, I have his haul of Euros translating to around $19,500.
He'll play again this week in Italy. I know this because of the other part of the "new" Daly: He's tweeting. In fact, he only signed off from Italy at around 2 a.m, Torino time, as he said he was still "wired" from his flight.
Some of his tweets from the airport in Spain have me worried about how long he can hold out with the weight loss. For example, at about 1 a.m Italy time, he tweeted: "I really miss my mama lou's chocolate gravy & buscuits over here in the mornin." (sic) Moments later, he tweeted: "I AM CRAVING FRITO LAY'S 'SMART FOOD' WHITE CHEDDAR POPCORN need a hook up!" (sic)
Think about this, sports fans: Daly as Twitter-user. This has massive potential.
Mulligan of the week
• Zach Johnson arrived at the golf course Sunday morning with a two-shot lead. He gave a very laid-back and thoughtful interview to the Golf Channel's Steve Sands in which he talked about ignoring the proverbial rearview mirror, about his ability to try and not overpower a golf course and about how watching him play can be "boring."
"But I like boring golf," he said.
He then went out to the par-3 second hole, fanned his tee shot in a damn-near shank, watched it bounce off the cart path into the forest, punched his second shot square off a tree, made it to the green in three, then three-jacked for a cherry on top and a triple-bogey "6."
There are many words to describe that kind of hole, but "boring" is not one of them.
Johnson would wind up shooting 76. It was tough to watch, so let's go back to that second tee, give him a tee, a new golf ball and … give that man a mulligan!
Where do we go from here?
• To Sawgrass, where the 17th hole is calling to golfers already, saying in a low, haunting moan: "I'm thirrrrrsty … I'm thirrrrrsty … "
The Players Championship is always great theatre, and Sawgrass' finishing holes – the par-5 16th, the island-green 17th and the kick-your-teeth-in par-4 18th – deliver memorable moments, from Hal Sutton's "Be the right club TODAY" to Craig Perks' out-of-body experience of chip-ins to Adam Scott's nervous yank into the water en route to a win to Paul Goydos' tragic dunk job in his playoff with Sergio Garcia last year.
Speaking of the defending Players champ Sergio: Anybody seen him lately? El Nino is El Vanish-o, notching zero top-10s on tour this year and missing the cut at Quail Hollow.
Maybe he'll show up and repeat. After all, youneverknow.
- Tiger Woods
- David Feherty
- Quail Hollow