Charles Howell III called the Sony Open "the first week of school."
Setting aside the fact that Chucky Triple Sticks pulled the equivalent of the dog eating his homework when he 3-jacked the 72nd hole for an unforgivable bogey, I like the analogy.
The first full-field event of the PGA Tour season was, indeed, like that first day of school. You see faces you haven't seen in a while – Hey, aren't you Rory Sabbatini? And am I ready for another year of your antics? You check out all the new kids at school – Hey, aren't you Webb Simpson? And aren't you playing a little too well for a freshman? And you check out all the new threads the kids bought in the back-to-school sale – Hey, Adam Scott, no Burberry plaid? Did Kate Hudson nix it?
So, as our parents used to ask us at the dinner table, what did we learn at school today? Here's one man's list:
• Zach Johnson might be owed an apology by this column. Last week, I lumped Johnson in the "Not Real" category of majors-winners who can challenge Tiger. Apparently an avid reader of Yahoo! Sports, Johnson no doubt read it, printed it out and pinned it to his bulletin board before he grinded out a two-stroke win at the Sony Open over David Toms and Scott. That's his fifth career win, and he now has victories in three consecutive seasons. Yo, Zach, from me to you: My bad.
• When Kelly Tilghman referred to Steve Marino during the Sony Open, I could swear she was saying: "Steve-o-rino," as if she were slapping a nickname on the comedian Steve Allen. Say it fast. You'll understand. I didn't promise that all the things we would learn would be profound.
• Tadd Fujikawa has to be the best 5-foot-1 player in the history of the PGA Tour. Try coming up with somebody that good and that short, besides maybe Cristie Kerr, and she doesn't count, since she plays on the LPGA Tour and all. It is such an 18-year-old thing to do to go 62-73 for the weekend, but it's cool. Fujikawa moves the needle, and we like needle-moving, and we need more of him. Whether he should have turned pro is between him and his family, but let's wish him well and get him a tour card, soon.
• On the 17th hole of the final round on Sunday, Zach Johnson hit his tee-shot into the par-3, and as it arced toward the flag, the only sound heard on The Golf Channel was a lone, drunken fan, shouting, "GET IN THE HOLLLLLLLLLLLLE!" Nick Faldo broke the silence with a caustic: "Put a sock in it." While this epidemic is years old, and while our frustration with it as golf fans is years old, as well, it still felt good to hear it. Bravo, Cap'n Faldo.
• Nice showing for David Toms, but it would have been nice to see him play the 72nd hole better to put some heat on Johnson. Unfortunately, his drive didn't cut the corner, he had a bad lie in a bunker, and a hole that sometimes calls for eagle and often calls for birdie turned into a scramble for par for Toms. A final-round 66 is beyond commendable, but when you realize Toms hasn't won since 2006, you start to want the guy to cross the wire first.
• Any talk of FedEx Cup point standings at this point could be cause for permanent exile. You know who you are.
Broadcast moment of the week
• "… Thank you, and it is now my pleasure to introduce the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club." – Tiger Woods, thousands of miles away from the Sony Open, speaking at the "We Are One" celebration of the Obama inauguration at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday.
Red alert, red alert: Tiger in politics! Tiger in politics! Activate search engine for Earls Woods' quotes on Tiger as the next Gandhi …
Not so fast.
It was excellent to see the world's Number One again, and while it was the first time we saw him on a Sunday NOT wearing red in forever, he proved his savvy by playing it neutral in his choice of speech.
While speakers like Jamie Foxx came out full-bore in support of the President-elect, with Foxx even breaking into an impromptu impersonation of Obama that let his inner Rich Little run free, Tiger was close to the vest. No overt endorsement of Obama, no overt plea for a stimulus plan, a tax cut or a summit on global warming.
Yes, Tiger has gone on record saying his father would be emotional to see a man of color in the White House, and he's gone on record saying he's blown away by the history of the moment, but he's been careful not to say whether he voted for the man. Smart dude, that Tiger.
Instead, Tiger used his time to pay tribute to the men and women who make up the United States military, citing the need to honor them and their families. He spoke of his father's service, his golf tournament that supports the military, and even quoted Honest Abe himself, Abraham Lincoln, praising Americans who serve from an 1864 speech. He urged us to "stand by and support" the military.
And then he introduced the Navy Glee Club.
Being well-raised by Tida and Earl, Tiger stuck around for a gracious handshake with Obama after the ceremony, and then, just like that, Tiger was gone, political reputation intact, political allegiances still neutral. He likely directed his limo driver to Capitol Hill, so he could practice some flop shots off the lawn.
Scorecard of the week
• Cupid 2 up.
This week's scorecard pays tribute to the toughest match play foe of them all – true love. (Aww, isn't that sweet?)
Rare is the week that the two best women's golfers on the planet both get scooped up, but there you had it: Annika Sorenstam wedding Mike McGee on the same week that Lorena Ochoa gets engaged to Andres Conesa, an executive from Aeromexico.
Just like that, two men signed on for a lifetime of sound beatings on the golf course from their wives. Think of all the sexist jokes you men have heard on the links for years. "Does your husband know you play?" you've heard from that Neanderthal when you leave a putt short. Now McGee and Conesa can answer: "No, but my wife plays … and if you want a piece of some action right now, I can call her on her cell phone and have her buzz down here in a half-hour."
Mulligan of the week
• Charles Howell III turned pro out of Oklahoma State in 2000, with lots of hope. He has played 249 events, and won two of them.
Granted, winning is hard, really hard, but a player of Howell's talent would have figured to post a winning percentage higher than 0.00803.
So we go to the 72nd hole at the Sony, and Howell has a birdie putt from about 20 feet to get to 14-under and put some major heat on Zach Johnson. Instead, he three-whips the green for a bogey and a 12-under finish, good for fourth place.
As Faldo noted: "He's seeing old movies in his head, and you never want to pay to see a bad movie twice."
Never really thought of it that way, but I'll buy it.
Howell has been wildly successful financially, earning more than $16 million in his career. He's played a Presidents Cup as Tiger's partner, handled himself with grace and even dabbled in the J. Lindeberg fashion world for a while. I still sort of miss Howell in those Euro-styled threads. That said, it's getting more and more painful to watch him come up short.
Let's go back to that 18th green, put that ball 20 feet away, and give Charles Howell III a mulligan!
Where do we go from here?
• To the mainland, gents. Think of the amount of 40-pound tour bags in the cargo hold of all those 737s winging east from Honolulu to Los Angeles before this week's Bob Hope Classic hosted by Arnold Palmer. Baggage handlers at LAX better wear their weight belts and pop a few Advil.
With winning scores expected to dip in the -25 to -30 range, all our friends in the frigid East and Midwest won't know if they're looking at D.J. Trahan's scorecard or the outdoor temperature on the thermometer in the yard.
- Zach Johnson
- Sony Open