In honor of Selection Sunday, the PGA Tour gave us a winner named Senden. So, for all you combination golf/Bill Raftery fans, we can say to the 2014 winner of something called the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook:
"SENDEN IT IN, JOHN!"
Truth be told, the wind-whipped final round at Innisbrook could have used the charisma of a Raftery. The post-Doral leaderboard featured some low-wattage names that Valspar, which is apparently some sort of paint company, would have liked to whitewash. Nothing against Robert Garrigus and Scott Langley and Kevin Na and John Senden but … well, I guess it is something against those guys. None of them was ranked in the world top 100 entering Sunday's final round.
So you began to choose which story you liked best. You had the villain Na, excoriated for his slow play as if he were Attilla the Hun himself. Might be fun to root for the black hat, yes? Langley, at 24 another young gun in an era of young guns, would have fit the 2014 motif. And then there was Senden, the 42-year-old who put the "journey" into journeyman, an Australian who has played heavily in his home country, in Europe and in the States – and hadn't won since the 2006 John Deere Classic and 2006 Australian Open.
Don't want to say that was a long time ago, but Tiger Woods was winning major championships back then. Yeah, like I said. It was a long time ago.
And the book on Senden began to take shape as NBC honed in on him: great swing, awful putter. When Senden missed par putts on Nos. 13 and 14, and fell from the lead, you figured he was cooked. Then, golf's strange and unpredictable energy entered the scene.
After missing the fairway on No. 16 and hitting his approach from the pine needles heavy, Senden was staring at another bogey, unless he could get up and down from some rough. Instead, he chipped in the bloody thing. Bam. Birdie and the lead. Just like that.
Senden admitted he wanted to only get it close to save par and staunch the bleeding, and instead got "a magic shot." All of a sudden, a guy ranked 123rd in the world, a guy who had played 200 PGA Tour starts since his last win, a guy with only one top-10 in his past 43 starts, was two holes from a big check and an invite to Augusta National.
It was like giving a starving man a piece of bread. Senden wanted more. He came to long par-3 17th, hit his tee shot to 21 feet and took that maligned putting stroke and charged it up, burying the putt for emphasis. That made for back-to-back birdies and enough cushion for a one-stroke win over Na. Senden went 64-70 on the weekend, and that was good enough to earn him some post-round screen time with Steve Sands on NBC.
Just like that, in a season with 23-year-old Patrick (Top Five) Reed and 24-year-old Russell (Rory Who?) Henley and 26-year-old Jason (Watch Me in the Majors Again, Bud) Day in the winner's circle, all of a sudden we had a player win who is old enough to remember when MTV showed music videos.
Senden is the first player in his 40s to win on Tour this season. He's the oldest since Woody Austin, at 49, won something called the Sanderson Farms Championship last July, but that was held opposite the British Open, so I don't want to say it doesn't count, but you get my drift.
Cool story for the affable Aussie. Countrywoman Karrie Webb tweeted her support from an airport tarmac. Not sure there are any great conclusions to be drawn about the future of the game, or the future of John Senden, except to say that the Tour will do this. It will give you a winner who rises up for a key moment, delivers the "magic." Sometimes on Sundays, the selection is as random as it is compelling.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
70-68-68-72 – 6-under 278, Kevin Na, 2nd place, PGA Tour Valspar Championship, Innisbrook Resort, Palm Harbor, Fla.
Is it ironic that the player with the shortest last name takes the longest time to strike a golf ball?
Slow play will stir up emotions on the PGA Tour like arguing bubble teams with Dick Vitale on Selection Sunday.
Na and playing competitor Garrigus were put on the clock Saturday, mostly because Na, who is to slow play what Reed is to post-round boasts, fell into some bad pre-shot habits. Afterward, Garrigus' caddie Brent Henley uttered what will surely become a rallying cry around plush PGA Tour locker rooms: "It ain't fair playing with Kevin Na. It ain't fair."
You'd think Na would have some good karma coming his way after enduring the public humiliation of his "16" on No. 9 at the 2011 Valero Texas Open, an unforgettable video clip in which he is so deep into some Lone Star brush he disappears from TV view, only to be heard chopping, muttering and cursing as he hacked around in it. It was like something from "The Blair Witch Project."
Na does have a win on Tour, the 2011 Shriners Hospitals event in Las Vegas, and even finished tie-12th at the 2012 Masters and tie-10th at the 2011 U.S. Open. But he achieved all those results while earning the enmity of his fellow players, who find slow play to be exasperating at best, and counter-productive to the actual task of scoring one's golf ball, at worst.
They have a point. It detracts from our viewing pleasure, the same way four-hour Red Sox-Yankees nine-inning games, replete with each pitch buffered by a complete softshoe outside of the batter's box, dulled our brains into mush. The PGA Tour says it is on the case, but it will remain an ongoing issue as long as players feel guys like Na distract from their game.
While Na says he's worked to play faster, and while Na was not put on the clock Sunday, Na almost brought that slow-play reputation to a playoff on Sunday. After a shaky front-nine 39 that seemed to doom him, Na shot a back-nine 33 that left him just one shot shy of Senden, and brought the tournament to the 72nd hole before his 40-foot birdie try never sniffed the hole.
In the meantime, he can take consolation by being part of Golf Boys 2.0 lyrics from last year, in the Dylanesque words of Watson/Crane/Fowler/Mahan: "One time I got asked to play in a bikini/Said it was for a really good cause/I thought about it then said Kevin/Na."
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
"I'm glad there's trees and wildlife out here, because I'm looking at everything. I'm just trying to keep my mind occupied on anything but watching Kev." – Robert Garrigus, NBC, on playing with Kevin Na.
There's a plus. Garrigus' awareness of Innisbrook resort bird life and tree life is on the uptick, because the alternative – watching Kevin Na approach a golf shot – is unthinkable.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
Sure, it'd be easy to say Na's birdie try on 18 was worth another look, or that young Langley deserved a do-over on his critical 16th hole bogey, but Justin Rose stands above all here.
He was the guy Gary Koch, sitting in for Johnny Miller, who doesn't do Valspar Championships, tabbed at the start of the broadcast as the safest bet to emerge victorious. After all, in windy conditions, experience and patience and discipline – all things Rose flaunted in his U.S. Open win and in his Ryder Cup rampages over the U.S. – would come into play. Surely, Rose had the edge on his lesser foes atop the leader board.
Except, Rose had an awful day. He shot 74, and was 4-over on his final 12 holes, when everyone else was in neutral. Rose hasn't won since his mighty Merion triumph, but that's not a huge concern. What may be concerning is that on Sunday, he hit a golf shot that yours truly could hit. That's a problem.
With about 100 yards in, Rose absolutely, no-doubt-about-it, 3,000-percent chunked it. His golf ball went about 50 yards. It was the High Handicapper Special down at Hacker's Diner. NBC tried to make excuses about wind blowing him off his line, but come on, man. It was just an embarrassingly awful golf shot, in the heat of Sunday contention, struck by a guy who is usually a cold-blooded killer.
So let's go back out to that spot, remind Rose that he is the flippin' United States Open champion, tell him to hit that wedge stoney, and … give that man a mulligan!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
It's good to be the King. The American treasure himself, Arnold Palmer, is back hosting the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. Arnie is 84, and awesome. That's why his tournament is drawing the top-four-ranked players in the world – Tiger, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Jason Day – as 11 of the top 20 will play.
Reed is playing, too. Maybe the King can get his autograph?