Forget your Masters fantasy golf pools. Forget spending Father's Day glued to the U.S. Open. Forget those glorious early July mornings with just you, coffee and the British Open on your TV.
It's FedEx Cup playoff time. Woot!
Just like in the NFL, when it's time for Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to lock horns, we get to look forward to Tom Gillis and David Hearn sticking a peg in the ground. Just like in the NBA playoffs, when Kobe and LeBron seize the attention, we have Kevin Chappell and Chris Kirk grappling for glory.
And just like the MLB playoffs, when every pitch in October drips with meaning, we have a race of guys in tailored slacks vying for … $10 million bucks.
Correction: We have guys using belly putters who are vying for $10 million bucks.
A quick digression on belly putters: Like William Wallace taking on the English, I will take on all you emailers who defend the belly putter. You may take my money in a Nassau, but you will never take … my FREEEEEDOOMMMM (to believe a club should never be anchored to the body).
For the second week in a row, a practitioner of this should-be-illegal club won a PGA Tour event. Perhaps just as astonishingly, the winner at Greensboro, Webb Simpson, is also a young buck (26 years old) like last week's belly-putter-using major champion Keegan Bradley (just 25).
Feeling generous, I could make an exception for the belly putter on the Champions Tour. After all, most of those over-50 guys are so yipped out from a lifetime spent making a living on putting greens that they need physical aid.
Allowing these kids at the peak of their physical powers to use a putter more like a putting tool given by a teacher on a practice green is like allowing 23-year-old kids to board airplanes before senior citizens, because they need room to spread out their video games.
Back to the FedEx Cup playoffs. I've used Yahoo! cyber space to rail against the folly of the "playoffs", but if you need a refresher, I'm your man. We all know the four major championships are golf's true playoffs, and we all know the idea of a race to make one player richer than the Sultan of Brunei is not exactly our idea of sports theatre at its finest. After all, when Bobby Thomson stormed around the Polo Grounds bases in October, 1951; or when the U.S. Olympic hockey team collapsed in a joyous 1980 heap; or when Joe Montana rolled right to find Dwight Clark for a "Catch" to remember, none of them did so for the express purpose of a $10-million check.
In the spirit of not being a buzzkill, I'll make a pledge right here, right now: The next four golf tournaments are to be enjoyed on their own merit, for climactic finishes on the 72nd hole or for the arrival of a potential star like Webb Simpson or for one more blast of glory from a player like Ernie Els. How the golfers advance, and what algebraic logarithms needed to figure out who's advancing, I'll leave to Tim Finchem's numbers guy.
After all, how many of you remember Phil Mickelson's 6-iron off the pine needles at Augusta, 2010? And how many of you remember who won the $10 million at the close of last year's FedEx Cup?
Still waiting …
Don't worry. Jim Furyk doesn't care that we were watching the NFL when he won in the rain at East Lake. He got paid, after all. And isn't that why we watch golf in the first place?
OK, OK. I promise. No more snarky anti-FedEx Cup playoff items.
At least until next week.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
66-65-64-67 – 18-under 262, Webb Simpson, winner, Wyndham Championship, Sedgefield CC, Greensboro, N.C.
That makes twelve first-time winners on the Tour this year. Boy, when Tiger Woods takes yet another year vacation from the victory circle, they come rushing in like sugar-starved kids to a birthday cake.
All through 2011, we got to know youngsters like Brendan Steele and Johnny Vegas and Gary Woodland; and veteran late-arrivers like Freddy Jacobson and Harrison Frazar; and major championship studs like Charl Schwartzel and Bradley.
"You're seeing a generational change," Webb Simpson said.
And then along comes this kid nicknamed "Webb", a good North Carolina nickname (real first name: James), with a golf pedigree from Wake Forest, a good North Carolina golf school, and a win that seemed inevitable arrived with four great rounds of golf. Not only did the kid post four rounds in the 60s, his Sunday 67 was the worst of the bunch.
Simpson is a classic breakthrough tale. He spent his first two years, 2009 and 2010, playing 61 events and only notching six top-10s. This year, it clicked. He arrived at Greensboro toting 14 top-10s in just 19 starts, and by the time he won enough dough to buy all the Carolina BBQ he wants ($936,000), he'd made it 15 out of 20.
That's growth, son. His stats are so rock-solid, you'd be advised to keep an eye on young Webb for 2012: third on the tour in scoring average, second on the tour in birdie average, 15th on the tour in greens in regulation – and first on the tour in all-around ranking.
Plus, he led the field in deserved golf karma after enduring the hard-luck "blown golf ball after address" in New Orleans earlier this year. Simpson was the guy in May who had the lead in the Bayou late on Sunday, and grounded his putter well behind the golf ball when a Louisiana gust moved it. He had to call a one-stroke penalty on himself, causing psychosomatic pain for all viewers. Simpson wound up losing a playoff to Bubba Watson, and sympathetic cries for a rule change followed his unfortunate turn.
On top of that, even at age 26, he's already got the beautiful blonde wife, Dowd, and cute infant son, James, ready for greenside celebration.
Webb Simpson, thou hath arriveth.
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
"During that layover, when Hal Sutton and I were walking to the tee, we looked like two old men. It's not my back, it's my hip. I just flailed at a few." – Fred Couples, winner of the Champions Tour Senior Player Championship, the Tour's final major of the year, in a post-round interview on The Golf Channel.
Possible new slogan for the Champions Tour: It's not our backs … it's our hips!
Or try this: The Champions Tour … walking to the tee, we look like old men!
You had to laugh at Freddy's insouciant honesty. Despite Gary Player, at age 75, still sporting washboard abs and able to do 1,000 crunches at a moment's notice, most of the over-50 crowd could use some WD-40 on the joints. Heck, Couples was like that in his prime, always nagged by the back injuries.
As Freddy does, however, he produced one of those gorgeous golf swings at the most important moment at Westchester (N.Y.) Country Club. Despite barking joints, he lofted a wedge to three feet away on the third playoff hole of his showdown with longtime pal John Cook. When Cook made par, all Couples had to do was tap in his birdie, and he'd joined Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd as the only golfers to win the Players Championship on both the regular and senior tour.
Couples now gets an invite to TPC Sawgrass for 2012. He laughed: "I get to play with the studs." Despite the flurry of twenty-something winners on Tour this year, I'd never count Freddy out at any high-level golf competition.
Just as long as he has plenty of Advil on hand.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
The LPGA was back in action up in Oregon at the Safeway Classic, and the tournament was all gift-wrapped for Korea's Na Yeon Choi. She's a gamer, with four LPGA Tour wins, a runner-up at last year's U.S. Women's Open and a T-7 last month at the Women's British Open.
All she had to do was par the 18th hole. Granted, it was a difficult 430-yard par-4, but when it's winnin' time, the best come through, right?
Ack. Choi left a chip well short, and made bogey.
The bogey allowed Norway's Suzann Pettersen to compete in a playoff with Choi, a remarkable feat in itself. Pettersen was a nifty NINE shots off the lead Sunday morning, but her 64, combined with Choi's disappointing 73, equaled playoff time in the Oregon forests.
Back to 18 they went. Pettersen handled her drive and her second shot was just over the green. Choi hit a fine drive and then standing over her second shot, surely wasn't thinking of having just leaked a final-round 73 and blowing a 54-hole lead, right? Because if she was thinking about that, she surely wouldn't want to … chunk her second shot short and right … ker-splash … into the water hazard.
Pettersen got up and down for a stirring comeback win. While that's great for the Norwegian, who bagged her second win of the summer, you had to feel for Choi.
So let's go back to that 18th fairway, clear her head of all evil thoughts, and … give that woman a mulligan!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
With the last weekend of August approaching, all sporting thoughts turn to the FedEx Cup playoffs, right? Right?
Actually, the field is strong at the Barclays, held at Plainfield CC in Edison, N.J. The top 124 will be there, with Charl Schwartzel taking a powder. Tiger will not be there. He didn't qualify. Chew on which is more surprising: That he didn't make it … or that you're not surprised at all.
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- Webb Simpson