Rose wins first world title but gets upstaged by Tiger
Memo to Justin Rose: If you're going to win a World Golf Championship event and would like some media love, try doing it on a Sunday where Tiger Woods doesn't walk off the golf course on the 12th tee injured.
You can almost hear Rose as he reads the headlines: "Tiger this! Tiger that! What about my cool Grecian urn?"
Sorry, Justin. You have a well-earned reputation as one of golf's classiest acts and this is your second PGA Tour win in six months – your fourth overall – and you're a guy we should think about in three weeks at Augusta. That's fine. Enjoy the $1.4 million. And the urn.
In the meantime, the rest of us are all earning our PhDs in T.I.S. – Tiger Injury Speculation.
The facts of the case are simple: Tiger started Sunday with an outside chance at his first win since 2009, but also with a real chance to keep building positive momentum heading into April. But two early bogeys on his front nine showed he was off, and TV cameras caught him wincing and flexing his knee after hitting into the water on No. 10 at Doral. By the 12th tee, despite smashing an excellent drive, he shook Webb Simpson's hand and headed to the parking lot.
Though PGA Tour public relations ace Chris Reimer was able to get Tiger to roll down his window long enough to utter the words, "Tell them it's my leg … my left leg," Tiger aimed to leave a patch of rubber in the Doral parking lot. Thankfully, the MetLife Snoopy blimp gave us aerial shots of Tiger driving his Benz onto the highway, calling to mind great aerial sports stalkings of all time. I'd give the Tiger Aerial Stalking a decent score, about on par with recent aerial stalkings of Peyton Manning on various airport tarmacs.
At any rate, Tiger Woods left the building.
Later, his publicist released a statement identifying the injury as a tight Achilles tendon and that Tiger will get it checked early this week. Simpson's caddie, Paul Tesori, told reporters that Woods' caddie, Joe LaCava, indicated Tiger's Achilles was "puffed up" and sore. Hmmm.
If it was Selection Sunday in college basketball, maybe it was in golf, too. As in: Select your theory on how serious Tiger's latest injury is. Among the guesses and their effects on his Masters chances:
• The grim reaper theory: At 36, Woods is feeling the full effects of four surgeries on his left knee and will never fully be right again. For golf's poster boy of physical fitness to walk off the golf course for the third time in three years (also the 2010 and '11 Players Championships) means his healthy days are over, and the inevitable decline is upon us. Effect on this year's Masters: He won't even play, and the future is murky. Cue sad trombone.
• The cautiously optimistic, slightly upbeat theory: We don't know the severity of Tiger's injury, and considering he just shot 62 last Sunday and was gunning for a top-10 finish at Doral, he can't be hurting too badly. Let's let time take its course, see if he plays at Bay Hill next week, and remember that Tiger has proven he can play hurt in the past. Tiger also has proven he'll miss a major for health reasons, too. We just need to be patient. Effect on this year's Masters: Some hedging of bets, but still a belief that Tiger wouldn't miss a chance at a green jacket. He likely will play, and contend.
• The Tiger, Tiger Woods, y'all! theory: Tiger knows his career is about one thing, and it's not wins at Doral. In an effort to preserve his maximum effort for four majors this year, when Woods felt a slight twinge in his Achilles, he was mindful of past years when he pushed it too far and decided it was smarter to get off the course. In this theory, Tiger will be out on his one-million square-foot practice area by Monday, then spending his lunch hour on his iPad, using photoshop to see how a green jacket looks on his 36-year-old shoulders for the first time since 2005. Effect on this year's Masters: He will crush Rory McIlroy like a small insect and resume his inevitable conquering of Jack Nicklaus' major record in three weeks.
Ladies and gentlemen of the golf world, commence theorizing!
Scorecard of the week
73-69-65-67 – 14-under 274, Rory McIlroy, third place, WGC-Cadillac Championship, Doral GC, Doral, Fla.
How does one celebrate his arrival at No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings at the wildly young age of 22? If you're the mop-topped kid from Northern Ireland, you:
Wing it to New York for the night. At the urging of your girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, you head down from Madison Square Garden and play a point against Maria Sharapova, assuring your global sports icon status. Wing it back to Florida. You shoot 73 in first round, appearing worn out and fueling speculation you shouldn't be winging it to NYC. Bounce back with 69 on Friday. Go to dinner with countryman Graeme McDowell and families on Friday. Feel good. Go 9-under in first 12 holes on Saturday, admit later that 59 was in your head. Wind up shooting 65 on Saturday and get in the hunt. Feeling so loose, you make sure to rip Doral as "outdated" and a "resort course" to media. Then, go sit courtside at the Miami Heat game on Saturday night. As if inspired by D-Wade and LeBron, you blaze up the leaderboard Sunday by holing out of bunker for eagle on No. 12 and to one shot off the lead. Make two bogeys coming home, settle for 67 and third place. Head off on a break until the Masters.
Phew! That's a helluva week. Thank goodness Rory will get some shut-eye soon. He's been on the road, playing high-stress golf – and tennis – in the last month, and needs a few nights to vegetate in front of the TV. You've earned it.
If last June's U.S. Open was McIlroy's introduction to American golf fans as a household name, his last three weeks (second place, win, third) have been the equivalent of him taking up residence in the household, kicking off his shoes and raiding the cereal cabinet.
Few of us missed the symbolic timing of his hole-out for eagle on No. 12. It happened about a minute after NBC showed Tiger's Benz motoring out of Doral. NBC director Tommy Roy must have shouted for "Symbolic Shift of Eras! Camera TWO!" in the TV truck.
The kid's got it. That's for sure.
Broadcast moment of the week
"My head is just everywhere … Getting my mind to calm down is my biggest thing. If I could do that, golf would be a lot easier." – Bubba Watson to NBC before Sunday's final round
Now playing at a local cinema: "The Curious Case of Bubba Watson."
It's not just the hot pink driver. Or the homemade swing. Or the massive distance, which at 316 yards is the longest on tour by nearly 10 yards. Or the iron play, second on tour in greens in regulation. Or the near-major, losing in a playoff at the 2010 PGA Championship.
It's also Bubba Watson's brain that fascinates.
The player himself admits to concentration troubles, telling NBC that he needs his caddie to repeat numbers to him several times before he absorbs them. Watson, disarmingly open and honest, also said that sometimes his caddie will catch him drifting off and admonish him: "Hey, you're supposed to be hitting a golf shot here."
An elite athlete admitting mental weakness? You'd just as soon catch Tiger Woods penning a guest column titled "My Flaws: What I Need To Do Better" for the Huffington Post.
It's no problem for Bubba, though. Part of his attractiveness as a player is his candid nature. Unfortunately, sometimes we all have to witness things like Sunday's final round.
Watson started Sunday with a three-shot lead over Rose and Keegan Bradley, and he lost it all in four holes. Worse, he kept losing it. He missed every fairway on the front nine, and hit two water balls in his first five holes. If it wasn't for a couple long putts, his front nine would have been far worse than 39.
As it was, despite an inspired back nine and one of the best shots this year on No. 18 – a punch cut 4-iron from behind a palm tree to nine feet – Watson finished with the silver medal. He missed the nine-footer, unable to cap what would have been an ode to his mental strength by bouncing back with a back-nine 35.
Bubba remains unpredictable. Again, it's part of the charm.
Mulligan of the week
I could take it easy on Sergio Garcia and just say that Watson's 9-footer for birdie deserves the honor. After all, his 4-iron into 18 was so dazzling that TV cameras caught Justin Rose clasping his hands atop his head while he watched from the scorer's trailer. For Bubba to miss the putt was tragic and surely he'd like another go at it.
But then there's Sergio.
Coming into 2012, Garcia was a bit of a trendy pick among the cognoscenti to have a breakout year, maybe even win that elusive first major. Quietly, he finished tied for 12th at last year's PGA Championship and prior to that had a tie-7 at the U.S. Open and tie-9 at the British. There were stirrings, to be sure.
At Riviera last month, a Sunday 64 gave Sergio a top-five finish and more momentum among the chattering class. He sat down for a lengthy interview with David Feherty on The Golf Channel's "Feherty" and in general seemed to be in a good place.
But Doral got weird on Garcia. He shot 75 and 74 on the first two days playing alongside Woods. Though he shot 68 on Saturday, it's his work Sunday on the par-4 No. 3 that may haunt him.
His tee shot leaked right, into the water. Sergio dropped behind the water hazard, and promptly deposited his next three shots into the water.
His ninth shot reached terra firma, behind the green. He chipped on for 10. He two putted for a dirty dozen.
That Garcia fought off the octo-bogey to finish with a 4-over 76 may be some sort of athletic miracle. If he thought so, he wasn't saying, declining to speak to reporters afterwards.
This is a guy some people think can win the Masters in three weeks. Now, maybe not so much. So please, for the love of El Nino, let's go back to No. 3 tee and … give that man a mulligan!
Where do we go from here?
It's been crazy good out there, golf people. Starting with Phil Mickelson's in-your-face-Tiger 64 at Pebble Beach on Sunday, we've been on an insane run of great and compelling golf, including: Phil making the playoff at Riviera, McIlroy and Lee Westwood battling to the death at the WGC-Match Play, McIlroy ascending to No. 1 at Honda, Tiger shooting 62 one week and WD-ing the next at Doral … It's almost like we need a breather.
Enter the Transitions Championship.
No Rory, no Tiger, no Lee, no Phil. Not even Bubba or Keegan. Instead, it's defending champ Gary Woodland, Jim Furyk, a Luke Donald sighting and – oh! – Sergio. No "dirty dozen"-related heckles, I trust, from the good golf fans of Innisbrook.
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