The only question for the opening golf column of the year is how far we get before mentioning the name “Tiger Woods,” and it appears there’s the answer. Not even past the first sentence.
At least give me credit for mentioning the guy. The Golf Channel tiptoed around Tiger’s woes as if he were a deposed Soviet leader, photoshopped out of the history books. It’s like they’re afraid of offending him. Hate to break the news, but at this particular point in his life, Tiger’s well past the treat-him-with-kid-gloves stage.
Only at the end of their four-day broadcast from Kapalua did I even hear Kelly Tilghman briefly mention that the world’s most famous athlete is on indefinite leave, and I had trouble catching what she said, so distracted was I by Nick Faldo’s decision to unbutton one button more than prudent on his fancy-schmancy shirt. We get it, Nick. You’re too sexy for Kapalua.
Other than that, it was as quiet a season-opener as one could imagine: Geoff Ogilvy lulling us to sleep with that pretty, rhythmic putting stroke, Maui galleries just one level above catatonic and the NFL playoffs beckoning our fickle attentions away.
I will resist the urge to proclaim 2010 “The Year of Geoff Ogilvy.” Memories of last year linger, when Ogilvy also won at Kapalua, and we tried to divine larger meanings: a breakout star with a breakout win; a major champion building on his legacy; a rival for Tiger finally arriving.
Ogilvy lent credence to those overstatements with a follow-up win at Match Play the next month, but then spent the rest of 2009 undermining this expert. He notched only two top-10s the rest of the year after the Match Play, and didn’t sniff a major. So while yes, Ogilvy is back in the world top 10, and while yes, he now has seven tour wins, and while yes, you’ll never be called stupid for starting him in your Fantasy League, we’ll just wait for major No. 2 before we all start going on the Geoff Ogilvy Diet. How does he stay so lean?
The whole tournament felt a bit like second-rate theatre. Not only did Tiger skip it – as he has since ’05 – but so did Phil Mickelson, as is his custom. Lefty has been Kapalua-free since ’01, deciding he’d rather watch football with the kids at home every January. You know you’ve got it made when you are willingly and overtly dissing annual junkets to Maui – complete with a Ritz-Carlton stay – because it’s not convenient.
And Lefty, to my eyes, is the guy to watch this year. I mean, other than guys who drive Escalades into trees. Obviously, they rate a little higher on the prurient-interest scale. But the last time we saw Mickelson in the presence of Tiger, Lefty was a) beating him at the Tour Championship; b) matching his brilliance at the Presidents Cup; and c) dropping a late-season hammer on Tiger at the HSBC in China. Mickelson will be large in 2010, and I’m not just talking about his appetite for In-N-Out burgers.
Moreover, Kapalua didn’t feature the hot names of 2010, like Rory McIlroy, or Rickie Fowler, or Ryo Ishikawa. Heck, we didn’t even see the, ahem, mercurial Anthony Kim, from whom much is expected after a disappointing 2009.
So let’s call Ogilvy’s win what it was: another triumph for short game, steady heads, sound strategy, well-struck 5-woods and a metronomic golf style that suits one of the world’s better players. Let’s just not get too carried away just yet.
After all, none of the players at Kapalua even bothered to have the courtesy to enter my “When-Will-Tiger-Return?” pool. (I have Arnold Palmer’s tourney in March as my guess, with the King offering a warm cocoon for his guy Tiger.)
Scorecard of the week
70-68-70-63 – 271, 21-under, 2nd place, Rory Sabbatini.
If anybody was hellbent on injecting a little adrenaline into Kapalua, it was the human cyclone that is Sabbatini. He blazed around the Plantation Course on Sunday as if he had a plane to catch, and seeing as how he’s in the field this week in Honolulu, he did. Given his energy supply, however, Sabbatini could probably just swim over.
He’ll divide galleries, Sabbatini. He’s not afraid to be loud, whether in his opinions, his confidence or his trousers. He’ll also golf his ball, as evidenced by Sunday’s 10-birdie extravaganza. Sabbatini probably should have been a captain’s pick by Greg Norman in last year’s Presidents Cup. Instead, Norman went with slumping Adam Scott, who promptly rewarded the Shark with a 1-4 tour around Harding Park.
Sabbatini is the kind of guy who will hold that grudge, and use it for fuel. Starting 2010 with a 63 on Sunday is a pretty good use of Grudge Fuel.
Broadcast moment of the week
“I’m Kelly Tilghman alongside Sir Nick Faldo …” – Kelly Tilghman, Golf Channel, welcoming us to the 2010 golf season.
So let me get this straight: We get little to no mention of Tiger, but we get Sir Nick Faldo right out of the gate?
I thought that title expired on New Year’s Eve, like a coupon. Besides, do we have to remind Tilghman and Jim Nantz and Rich Lerner and all those who are dropping “To Sir, With Love” introductions on Faldo that we are, after all, Americans? Like, Yoo-nited States of Americans? That our forebears spent the better part of the 1770s fighting a war so we wouldn’t have to call anybody “Sir”?
Sorry to be so grumpy this early, but the whole Faldo thing is wearing on me. The Tony Menola shirt-unbutton thing was the last straw – especially since the guy has a much deeper tan than me. (No doubt, Sir Nick has been dropping tokens in Ye Olde Royal Tanning Booth.) Nicky, you’re there to drop golf wisdom, not re-create the “Saturday Night Fever” dance scene to Yvonne Elliman’s “If I Can’t Have You”, ok?
Mulligan of the week
Like you, I like to read as much about the tour as possible, especially from the good writers, and Larry Dorman from the New York Times definitely counts as one of those good writers. Dorman wrote a nice piece on Sean O’Hair in Sunday’s Times, detailing O’Hair’s continued growth as a person and a player. He’s a worthy topic, given that O’Hair is – get this – the only American player under the age of 30 with three tour wins.
O’Hair was earnest in his proclamations that he is intent on relaxing more this year, trying to enjoy his place in life more this year, and find his internal mojo more this year.
So there O’Hair was, in the hunt on Sunday, 20 under, playing the ginormous, downhill 18th hole at Kapalua, in the fairway and looking for a chance at eagle to take the lead. He had 280 yards, but it was downhill, and time to take a mighty rip at it.
Or, maybe not.
O’Hair found no inner peace on the swing, instead offering a rushed, quick lash better suited to yours truly than one of America’s shining hopes. Tour players may have hit quicker snap hooks in the history of golf, but not too many. His golf ball scurried to the nearest unplayable lie in the hazard, nestled in a spot to be discovered only by archaeologists centuries later.
O’Hair made double bogey and finished tie-4th.
So, for the first time this year, let’s say it … get that man a mulligan!
Where do we go from here?
Board an island-hopper from Maui to Oahu, my haole friends. It’s the Sony Open, the first full-field event of the year, and that means Ernie and Vijay and Boo, oh, my! So, might the Big Fella himself show up? I am scouring the field entries, last name ‘W’ … hmm … Bubba Watson … Charlie Wi … Tim Wilkinson … annnnnnd …
No Tiger Woods.
Good thing he’s not showing up. After all, Jesper Parnevik is in the field, and I think it’s a little early in the year for that cage match.
- Geoff Ogilvy
- Kelly Tilghman