Was it Jack Nicklaus, or Hal the Computer who once said: "The day Tiger Woods falls to No. 5 in the world; the day Tiger Woods looks up at Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell … is the day you'll see golf in Arizona halted by snow."
It could have been Al Roker, I'm not entirely sure. I think Roker passed Tiger in the world rankings, too.
Put on your scarves, golf fans – or buffs or whatever the heck we're calling Kaymer's neckwear – because golf has a new look. Kaymer is No. 1 in the world, or as they say in the fatherland of the "Germanator," Kaymer is Nummer Eins. (Like my mastery of Kaymer's native tongue? I got that from an English-to-German Yahoo! search. Technology can be your friend, or freund, as I was just saying to my kamerade, Bernhard Langer, the last German golfer to be ranked No 1.)
Here's another German phrase the computer threw at me: der Beste. With a win at last year's PGA Championship, a win at Abu Dhabi and a recent runner-up finish at the World Golf Championships Match Play in the winter wonderland known as Dove Mountain, Ariz., Kaymer is simply der Beste.
Get used to it, too. I don't think Kaymer is going anywhere. When Lee Westwood ascended to No. 1 some 17 weeks ago, it felt like he was there because somebody other than Tiger had to be, according to both the computer and to our eyeballs. But Westwood never wore the sheen or carried the swagger of the top dog, and we had the feeling his stay wouldn't be lengthy.
It wasn't. As Johnny Miller said accurately on NBC: "Yeah, Westwood got to No. 1 and then played like he didn't want to be there." (Somewhere, Phil Mickelson just popped his head up and said: "Are you guys talking about me again?")
Remember when Tiger was der Beste, better than all the rest and all that stuff Tina Turner sang about? Now he's No. 5, and there is little indication he'll do anything but fall from there. His first-round exit against a ragged Thomas Bjorn was startling for two reasons: 1) poor shotmaking (fanning a tee shot into the water; driving into cactus with the match on the line); and 2) its lack of surprise.
Seriously – when I pondered the fact that Tiger Woods just lost a first-round match to a player who hasn't made waves in years (I know Bjorn won in Qatar this year, but he hasn't made a cut at a major since 2007), it didn't rattle my golf sensibilities. Like many of you, I shrugged and looked ahead to the round of 32.
Tiger has fallen to a point where the quality of his ball-striking is so erratic, the lethal nature of his short game has been so de-fanged and his confidence level is eroding so visibly that what's shocking is how we are not shocked when he stumbles – again, and again.
The revolution is here, golf fans. All that chatter about the oncoming European domination is no longer chatter – it's reality. We're back to the world of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam and Langer and Jose Maria Olazabal and Sandy Lyle won all the majors. American golf fans endured that cycle, then felt re-assured when Tiger and Phil won 18 majors from 1997-2008.
Now who's the best American player? Tough question to answer. Bubba Watson? Maybe, with a near-miss at Whistling Straits, a win at Torrey Pines and a semifinal appearance in the Match Play. Dustin Johnson? He nearly won two majors last year. Mickelson? He's the defending Masters champ. Mark Wilson? He's got two wins this year. The world rankings say Tiger is – and without discernible evidence to back that up.
Some would say hell would freeze over before such blasphemies are uttered. Well, either that or snow delays in Arizona – whichever came first.
Scorecard of the week
Now, about that winner.
Luke Donald is easy to forget. He doesn't do any one thing spectacularly. He doesn't drive it like Bubba Watson. He doesn't putt it like Graeme McDowell. He doesn't wear his hair like Rickie Fowler. He doesn't mainline M&Ms like John Daly.
And, his critics will note, despite a world of talent, he doesn't win like Luke Donald should win.
Donald's last win in the U.S. was at the 2006 Honda Classic, way back when Luke Donald winning an event didn't necessarily cause surprise. Like a lot of players, moderate success on the golf course translated to a financially comfortable existence, and as years passed without a Donald win, some suggested he was happy just putting on the visor, speaking in a quiet English accent, wearing his Polo clothes and cashing checks.
This rankled Donald, he admitted on Sunday, and his assassin's demeanor at Dove Mountain suggested he was up for putting some pelts on the wall, not just winning enough cash to pay for high tea and crumpets. He rolled through his opponents, dusting Ryan Moore 5 and 4 in the quarterfinals, and obliterating Matt Kuchar 6 and 5 in the semifinals.
Beating Kaymer, currently the best in the world, finished the job, and now Luke Donald joins the list of Players We Need to Watch come major championship time. That is, if he doesn't get all fat and happy with the win and take the next five years off again. Kidding, Luke! Kidding.
Mulligan of the week
• Down in Mexico, the PGA Tour held an event for the players not in the top 64. They call it the Mayakoba Golf Classic, and usually nobody pays any attention. Or did you forget to send your congratulatory text message to the 2011 champion, Johnson Wagner?
Wagner now has two wins on tour, but the key here is who he defeated – a 26-year-old firebrand from California named Spencer Levin, who would have rocked the golfing world with a win in Mexico.
Levin is a character, all emotion and shot-making and charisma. In his younger days, he wore his collar high, like a character in the movie "Valley Girl," and chain-smoked cigarettes on the golf course like Arnold Palmer in the early '60s. You'd know where to find Spencer Levin – just follow the cloud of smoke that followed the guy with the swagger.
At Shinnecock's U.S. Open in 2004, he was low amateur and made a hole-in-one, and New York galleries loved the kid's moxie, shouting: "Spen-cuhhhhh!" when he walked by.
But making it on the tour is a long road, even for the most talented, so for Levin to make good on all that promise has been a while in the making. And there he was on Sunday in Mexico, shooting 65 in the final round to force his way into a playoff with Wagner. It was his time – until he drove his tee shot into a bunker and watched Wagner close out the win. Levin rued his drive, and we rue the fact that a colorful kid didn't get his long-awaited win, so let's head back out to that playoff hole at Mayakoba, smoke 'em if you got 'em and … give that man a mulligan!
Broadcast moment of the week
• "It's a little bit like a Mike Tyson story, to be honest with you. Sort of invincible, scared everybody, performed quickly under pressure – until Buster Douglas came along. Tiger started to hit that in his life, and his life crumbled." – Johnny Miller, The Golf Channel's "State of the Game Live."
As usual, Miller rattled some cages. These are some strong words, and while USA Today's Michael Hiestand took exception with the analogy, I actually find myself siding with Miller.
Hiestand thinks it offensive to compare Tiger to a disgraced boxer convicted of rape who once bit the ear off Evander Holyfield. But those falls from Tyson's grace occurred after the Douglas fight – the point being that the Douglas fight sent Tyson into a tailspin from which he never recovered.
It's a similar thing with Tiger. His Buster Douglas moment was the Escalade into the tree on Nov. 27, 2009 – and he has yet to recover.
Tiger still has time to render moot Miller's Tyson comparison. But right now, some 15 months after the Escalade/tree/Buster moment, the analogy stands.
Signs to watch for further Tiger worry: a Maori face tattoo, a sudden interest in pigeons and any cameos in "The Hangover 3," "The Hangover 4" or "The Hangover 5."
Where do we go from here?
• Farewell, West Coast Swing. We will miss you: your craggy, romantic coastlines (Pebble Beach), your gently swaying palm trees (Hawaii), your cliff-dwelling hang gliders (Torrey Pines), your dramatic mountain vistas (Palm Springs), your eucalyptus-lined classicism (Riviera), your drunk, screaming hordes (Phoenix) and your hail/sleet/snow delays (Dove Mountain).
Off to boring old Florida: flat layouts, weird Bermuda, humidity and thunderstorms. Yes, I'm biased. Knock yourself out, Honda Classic!
- Tiger Woods
- Luke Donald
- Martin Kaymer
- Lee Westwood