Now we're talking.
The golf world barrels into the final major of the year, this week's PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, S.C., with drama, big names, crazed stares, emphatic fist pumps, more tragedy and, of course, biorhythms.
All were on display in a memorable World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in Ohio. While Keegan Bradley should be massively praised for his Sunday 64, his steely up-and-down for par from a bunker on the 72nd hole and for adding a WGC title to last year's PGA Championship, you know I'm homing in on the biorhythms.
After all, this is the week Deadheads around the world celebrated what would have been the late Jerry Garcia's 70th birthday. And here comes a wild-eyed kid from New England, oozing intensity and summoning his best at the most important moments, citing "biorhythms" in both his Saturday night press conference, and again live on CBS with Peter Kostis moments after securing his big win. I'm seeing a connection here.
Bradley believes the upcoming anniversary of his major championship win carries with it particles of good energy, apparently. And that's what's fun about Keegan Bradley. He's different.
He exudes originality. His deep knee-bend maintained throughout his swing, his quick pace of play, his ability to stare down a shot as if he's trying to actually burn a hole into the golf ball with his eyes … all these factors make up one of the Tour's more compelling characters. And he'll talk biorhythms, which makes me think that his Vermont background may have brought him in contact with the band Phish, a Vermont-based jam band with a cult following like the Grateful Dead, all of whom live in a world where praising biorhythms is acceptable.
Yes, he uses a belly putter. This is the only uncool thing about Bradley, and only goes to prove the world is imperfect. The rest of his act is refreshing. He even chugs bottled water on a tee box with intensity, because he's incapable of an alternate method.
Starting the day four shots behind Jim Furyk (we'll get to him in our next chapter), Bradley played bogey-free golf, surging with birdies on Nos. 3, 7, 10, 11 and 14 to climb within one shot of Furyk, who wasn't playing poorly at all. At No. 16, things got even more fun when Furyk made a 20-footer for birdie, and Bradley answered with a 12-footer on top of him to stay one back.
At 17, Bradley was so keyed up he seemingly willed two massive breaks: A drive left kicked off a spectator for a favorable lie, and an overcooked approach bounced off the grandstands to keep hope alive. He paid off his debt with an otherworldly chip from the rough for a kick-in par, and off to 18 we went, Furyk one up on Bradley, two up on a game Louis Oosthuizen.
It was there when Bradley's entire look struck me through the hi-def. He roped his drive, and then never took his eyes off it. A year ago, none of us knew who he was (yes, he'd won the Byron Nelson, but still), and yet looking at him laser-focused on his tee shot on 18 at Firestone, we saw a "Keegan Bradley Moment": lanky frame bent at the waist, ice-blue eyes locked on his Srixon golf ball, a red visor perched atop his mop of dark hair, and … never … fixing … his … gaze … elsewhere. You could have banged pots and pans next to his ears, and he wouldn't have known you were there.
That he missed the green with his second? All part of the drama. That he had a 15-footer for par knowing it might give him the win? All part of his comfort zone, reaching deepest when he needs it most. (The man can putt, by the way. His 104 putts were 18 fewer than Tiger Woods' unsightly 122.) We saw the same at Riviera in February, when he made a 20-footer to get in a playoff and nearly levitated with energy when he rolled it in. In the CBS booth Sunday, Nick Faldo called him "one of the best 'intensity players' out there," and when the network replayed his fist pump in super slo-mo, Jim Nantz dryly observed: "That'll knock you out."
Another quote came to mind that might relate to the kid who cited "biorhythms." It comes from Garcia, the Grateful Dead legend, who famously said of his band, and of life in general:
"You don't want merely to be considered the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do."
That'll work for young Keegan Bradley, just 26 years old, doing what he does.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
63-66-70-69 – 12-under 268, Jim Furyk, tie-2nd, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Firestone C.C., Akron, Ohio.
That's the thing. Look at those four rounds of golf. Furyk did almost nothing wrong.
Except for one hole.
Which happened to be the last hole.
When he held a one-stroke lead.
After a 71-hole tour de force of golf that was set to avenge his U.S. Open collapse at Olympic, and set to vault him onto Davis Love's U.S. Ryder Cup team, Furyk instead doubled down on his summer of pain in one lousy golf hole.
His double-bogey 6 to close out Firestone not only gave a one-stroke win to Bradley, but also must have caused Adam Scott, watching somewhere, to reach for the remote control and put on a Discovery Channel documentary about Alaska, or somewhere as far away as the mind can travel.
Just two weeks after Scott, one of the game's classiest players, bogeyed his final four holes to blow the British Open at Lytham, Furyk – also one of the game's classiest players – doubled his final hole to blow his second huge tournament of the summer. If you need reminding, Furyk's one-shot lead at Olympic vanished when he duck-hooked his drive on No. 16, made bogey, then chased it with a 72nd hole bogey, shot 74 and finished tie-4th when the trophy should have been his.
This time, the culprit was a bad shot – his 7-iron from 180 yards missed the green right – and a bad break. Instead of nestling into a greenside bunker, it hung on the lip above the bunker, leaving an awkward chip – which Furyk promptly fluffed.
He still could have gotten up-and-down from the greenside rough for a bogey and forced a playoff, but his 6-footer for bogey was simply "the worst putt I hit all week," he admitted in a candid interview with David Feherty of CBS.
It was all hard to watch, and smacked of a man battling nerves, and losing said battle. Furyk played beautiful golf until those final, jangly moments. Holding the wire-to-wire lead, he was 3-under for his round on the 72nd tee box, holding back charges from Bradley and Oosthuizen – and even Steve Stricker and Rory McIlroy – like a lion tamer with a whip and a chair.
But one hole can do a lot to a man's psyche, as I was just saying to my good friend, Jean van de Velde.
Now, Furyk heads to the PGA Championship alternately playing some of the best golf of his life (darn near winning the U.S. Open and a WGC event) and some of the worst golf of his life (not winning the U.S. Open and a WGC event) despite late Sunday leads. I recommend some sort of mental cleansing for Furyk at Kiawah to take his mind off the game, like getting Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" stuck in his head for all 72 holes, or perhaps an endless rendition of "99 Bottles of Beer On the Wall."
At the very least Furyk made my Broadcast Moment of the Week and Mulligan of the Week no-brainers, so …
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
"When things go wrong, it's an empty pit. I'm disappointed. I hated to see my boy crying right after the round. It reminds you as an adult, as a parent, you have to act the proper way, and do and say the right things to try and show them the right lessons … the thing I love about golf is, I have no one else to blame but myself." – Jim Furyk, open, candid, raw, with Feherty.
There were many fun moments from the CBS crew down the stretch Sunday, including Faldo's accurate observation that maybe Furyk was playing too fast down the stretch, and Feherty's praising of Furyk holding off the challenges all day long, and the boys enjoying the birdie-birdie-birdie performance of Furyk, Bradley and Oosthuizen on the 16th hole.
But all paled compared to Furyk opening a vein of civil honesty with Feherty after the double-bogey on 18. As Feherty noted, it took something for Furyk to even agree to the interview just moments after having his guts sent through an industrial-strength shedder, much less to give perspective and pain.
If it helps at all, Jimbo, America's golf fans have an automatic sentimental favorite this week in Kiawah.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
I could be cruel and offer Tiger about 80 mulligans for his sloppy 122 putts, but if you've read closely over the past couple of years here, that'd be nothing new. I've been concerned about Tiger's putting for a while, and keep being haunted by the words Johnny Miller said to a handful of golf reporters in 2001, when Tiger was making putts blindfolded, behind his back and through some loop-de-loops. Said Miller: "You know, there's no rule that says these putts have to always fall all throughout his career."
The man speaketh not with forked tongue. Even as he puts on some lovely displays of ball striking in the Sean Foley Era – 13th in greens in regulation, 1st in scoring average – the putter remains a reluctant companion for Tiger these days.
But Tiger doesn't get the Mully this week. After hearing Furyk's pain and watching yet another blown biggie for the lanky Pennsylvanian, we have to give Furyk a mulligan. Question is, which shot? His second to 18 could have changed everything if it didn't earn that awful lie. His third was fluffed, and is a candidate.
I'm going with his fourth shot on 18, though.
In greenside rough, but playable, Furyk seemed to rush the shot. Normally a deliberate tactician, Furyk seemed to let the game get too fast, and didn't carefully calibrate his effort. The result was damn near a "T.C. Chen Special," almost a double-chip. As it was, the chip was uninspired, and left too much meat – six agonizing feet – on the bone.
Let's go back greenside at 18, give Furyk a brown paper bag in which to breathe, remind him that he gets up-and-down from spots like these in his sleep, tell him none of us wants to see the U.S. Open at Olympic replayed in early August and … give that man a mulligan!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
When you finished the British Open and looked past Adam Scott's career wreckage and focused on Ernie Els' victory, you asked yourself: How much longer until I get to see the highs, the lows, the pain, the joy, the drama – and, let's face it – the chance that someone will self-immolate again at a major championship?
The answer, golf sadist, is: Not long!
The PGA Championship, just three weeks after the British Open, tees off Thursday at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island on the coast of South Carolina. The winds off the Atlantic Ocean are expected to blow, and may carry with them the remnants of scar tissue from Mark Calcavecchia's and Bernhard Langer's 1991 Ryder Cup, in which each man made himself famous for the wrong reasons – Calc for blowing a 4-up lead with 4 holes to play against Colin Montgomerie (tears were shed) and Langer for missing a 6-foot putt that would have won the Cup (no tears shed in public, but horrified looks nonetheless.) This is the first major championship to be held at the Ocean Course, so beware.
Don't ask me for a winner, dear reader. If you had asked me for one last year, and I had told you Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley would tangle in a playoff, you'd have draped a butterfly net over my head.
I will say I think Tiger's putter is too inconsistent, Phil Mickelson is too much of a mess, Lee Westwood/Luke Donald/Ian Poulter and that crew have never gotten it done and Rory McIlroy worries me, despite good play at Firestone, because he might be sending "Do you like me? Check 'yes' or 'no' " texts to his girlfriend mid-round.
Of the top 10 players in the world, Matt Kuchar excites me the most, because that's his neck of the woods – sort of – and because you're forcing me to make a pick.
Let's put it this way – the guy with the best biorhythms is my man.
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