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The real thing

Brian Murphy
Yahoo Sports

So it’s another PGA Tour winner born in the 1980s, another excuse to dredge up our “New Young Gun” angle, and another chance to, yes, wonder if this young’un will be TNTC: The Next Tiger Challenger.

We’ve done this before this year. We wondered about D.J. Trahan after the Bob Hope, we wondered about J.B. Holmes after Phoenix, we wondered about Johnson Wagner after Houston and … well, wait. Let’s be honest. None of us wondered about Johnson Wagner after Houston. Nice win and all, it’s just that none of us thought of Johnson Wagner as TNTC. Not even Johnson Wagner.

If we’ve been down this well-trod path before, and been disappointed so many times, then why does Anthony Kim’s win at Quail Hollow feel so different? Why does it feel like, yes, let’s say it: The Real Thing?

After all, there have been other candidates. David Gossett, a U.S. Amateur champion, won as a 22-year-old in 2001, back before Tiger went from Inter-Galactic God to Outer-Galactic God. But Gossett never cashed in. If anybody’s seen him recently, he or she is a close family friend or relative.

Sean O’Hair won as a 22-year-old in 2005 and has had a nice start to his career with another win in ’08, but let’s be serious. If we saw O’Hair and Tiger in the final twosome at the Masters anytime soon, we’d give you O’Hair and five strokes and take the bet anytime.

Famously, Sergio Garcia won twice as a 21-year-old, the second being the Mercedes Championships in 2002, days before his 22nd birthday. We all spilled several gallons of saliva over the potential of the Tiger-Sergio rivalry, but forgot one salient point: Sergio would play much of the 21st century without a putter in his bag.

With all that cautionary history, we should go easy on any Anthony Kim hype, especially since the kid sports a gaudy, self-serving silver “AK” belt buckle that only invites scorn, ridicule and beat-downs from his elders.

And yet, there remains something appealing about the Kim story. His 16-under total over 72 holes at Quail Hollow not only broke Tiger’s scoring record in the tourney’s brief history, it also was a 66-69 weekend against a dynamite field that spoke to an ability to handle pressure in the midst of big names. Heck, it was just three years ago where Sergio himself blew a six-shot lead at Quail Hollow, allowing Vijay Singh to accept the winner’s check. There was no rule saying Kim had to shoot 69 on Sunday. He could have let the others in, but refused, with that gorgeous, flawless swing holding up under pressure.

He wound up crushing the field, posting a five-shot win over Ben Curtis. It’s a good thing Kim dusted Curtis. Curtis’ NFL Gear contract had him dressed in Carolina Panthers gear on Sunday, and I couldn’t shake the notion that he was dressed like a lowly offensive quality control assistant, the kind of guy who gets ripped by Panthers coach John Fox for screwing up the order at Starbucks.

But back to Kim. His putting stroke appeared pure, and it’s not as if he’s a fluke. Kim had a T2 just last month at Hilton Head and a T3 at the Bob Hope. He’s been knocking at the door, and then finally decided to kick it in.

Like Tiger, he’s a SoCal product who watched his Dad hit golf balls while still in the high chair. Like Tiger, he’s a Lakers fan. Unlike Tiger, he said he chose the University of Oklahoma because he liked big-time college football and basketball. Tiger chose Stanford, so you know he wasn’t interested in, at the least, big-time college football.

I will end this paean to Kim by saying we’re not going to go overboard on his chances. We will take it at a measured pace, but in the same breath say he’s somebody you should start to think about in terms of Ryder Cups, top-10s at majors, et cetera.

Kim gave a quote after the tournament in which he said, “I knew my life was changing when I was lining up that (final) putt.” This is no small thing. He is a kid who dreams big, and that matters. If anybody is going to have the stones to be TNTC, he’d better have the stones to be TNTC. You know?

Scorecard of the week

73-74-71-69 – Lorena Ochoa, 3-over 287, T5, LPGA SemGroup Championship.

Based on the emails I got from most of you, the notion that Lorena is having a better year than Tiger is roughly akin to saying that Amy Alcott was better than Jack Nicklaus. While some of you appreciated that Lorena’s ’08 ledger is better than Tiger’s, the majority wanted none of it. Thus, you must all be rejoicing that our Mexican Mauler proved human this week in Oklahoma.

Ochoa hit some truly poor golf shots in the first two rounds, fluffed chips and all, and it appeared the pressure may have gotten to her to be the first LPGA player ever to win five in a row. Or, it was golf that got to her, given that the game itself is the devil’s own game, as my Dad has reminded me since the late 1970s, when I was old enough to know better.

Congrats to Paula Creamer, the champion in OT over fellow Bay Area native Juli Inkster. And to Lorena: May you start a new streak soon.

Mulligan of the Week

• If you didn’t see Stewart Cink’s birdie from the rocks on Saturday at Wachovia, you only missed the Shot of the Year.

Cink’s tee shot to the dastardly 17th at Quail Hollow nestled on the concrete moat abutting the water hazard, and lay in a depression amid the rocks. Bottom line: He was screwed.

Most of us sane golfers would have taken a drop with a penalty stroke and tried to save double bogey. Not Cink. He punched a putter – yes, punched a putter – from the rocks and … holed the damn thing.

It’s not that I don’t think Cink is a magnificent golfer. He is. I’m just saying: Somebody give that man a mulligan – and see if he can make it given 200 more tries!

Broadcasting moment of the week

“(Kim) will have no distractions … not like I have to deal with, with this tie he’s wearing.” – Nick Faldo, pointing to Jim Nantz’s tie in the Sunday intro.

Normally, we don’t endorse one of Faldo’s all-too-British sniffs directed towards America’s Sweetheart, Jim Nantz, but in this case, we have to give Faldo his due. Nantz’s tie looked like something LeRoy Neiman would design – if he spilled his paint by accident. If Nantz had worn it Masters Sunday, the elders at Augusta National might have slapped a McCordian ban on him.

Nick Faldo: Lieutenant in the Fashion Police.

Where do we go from here?

• Some call it the “Fifth Major," but those “some” are usually on the PGA Tour payroll.

Undeniably, the Players Championship is a yearly highlight, and the golf course has taken on the familiarity of a baby Augusta National. We all know the risk-reward par-5 16th, the Satanic island 17th green, and the you-better-not-hit-it-left-into-the-water par-4 18th.

Our philosophical question: If they hold a Players Championship, and Tiger doesn’t play, does the Players Championship exist?

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