All right! The first all-skate of the PGA Tour season means we’re officially under way with the 2010 campaign, and you know it’s all-golf, all-the-time because new Sony Open champion Ryan Palmer wasn’t once asked in his post-round press conference if he’s seen Tiger Woods anywhere near a Mississippi sex addiction clinic.
It was good to see the band get back together on the shores of Honolulu. Look over here, and there’s Ernie Els (8-under, tie-12th). Look over there and there’s Retief Goosen (12-under, 4th). Don’t look now, but Davis Love III (11-under, tie-5th) tiptoed out of the crypt to join the buffet line, too. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a tour event without another Steve Stricker sighting.
Stricker’s the Brett Favre of the sport, given up for dead at age 40, only to launch into a still-running three-year resurrection game plan. Just three years ago, Stricker was having his ID checked at the door by tour bouncers, barely able to cobble together enough sponsor exemptions to make a run at keeping his card. Now, with his 43rd birthday looming next month, he’s the toast of the tour, ripping off three wins last year and thrusting himself right in the mix again on Sunday, shooting a final-round 65 at the Sony for a third-place finish.
Perhaps Stricker’s greatest resume factoid is that he was the last guy seen with Tiger when Tiger was still Tiger: the best buds went 4-0 as partners at the Presidents Cup last October at San Francisco’s Harding Park. Just a month later, the words “Cadillac Escalade,” “fire hydrant” and “smashed-out windows” found their way into the same sentence in Tiger’s world, and the next thing you know, I’m putting the words “Mississippi sex addiction clinic” in my column lead.
Side note: I should probably apologize to Stricker for calling him the Favre of the tour. It was meant as a 40-and-over/performance-based compliment, but Stricker is the ultimate Cheesehead, born and raised in Wisconsin, and still lives there. I’m imagining he’s a monster Packers fan, and must feel about Favre advancing to the NFC title game in Viking purple about the same way as a European Ryder Cup fan would feel about Colin Montgomerie showing up in a pair of stars-and-stripes slacks.
At any rate, Stricker is the third-ranked player in the world, and has a chance to catch Phil Mickelson for the No. 2 ranking by the time the West Coast Swing is over. I hate to ruin Stricker’s plans, but this column has already announced 2010 as the “Year of the Lefty.” (Amusingly enough, the Chinese New Year, which begins Feb. 14, 2010, is officially called “The Year of the Tiger,” and I’m not kidding.) Ergo, I would hesitate to say Mickelson will surrender that 2 spot anytime soon.
With Stricker, Goosen, Els and Love all hovering around the top of the leader board, it was interesting to see Annika Sorenstam tweet on Sunday that she was watching the Sony Open and saw some “uncharacteristic” names at the top. Surely, she meant Palmer, since Robert Allenby, Palmer’s foil right down to the last putt on Sunday, is a well-known commodity and Presidents Cup team member.
But I’m with Annika on this one. Who outside of Amarillo, Texas – Palmer’s hometown – knew bupkes about Ryan Palmer? He had to be the most anonymous two-win player on the tour, mostly because his first win came six years ago, albeit impressively when he shot a final-round 62 at Disney to nip Vijay Singh. He didn’t win again until a Fall Series event in 2008, and really, who pays attention to Fall Series events? Maybe people in Amarillo, Texas, if Ryan Palmer is the one winning.
But Palmer’s win reminded us just how random it can get when 144 of the world’s best players gather in one place. It also reminded us that it’s OK to blade a chip under pressure – you just might win $990,000 for it. Palmer’s low screaming liner that clanked off the 72nd flagstick and left him five inches for birdie to win was an awesome bit of serendipity. Full credit to the lad for admitting afterwards that he got lucky.
“But you need that to win,” he said, and he was darn right, and we might add that he shot a cool 66 in the final twosome, so a smidge of credit goes his way.
With that – and with the soothing sights of Ernie, Retief, Vijay, Davis and new champ Ryan Palmer cast against swaying palm trees and Rich Lerner with the Pacific Ocean behind him – we’ll call the first full-scale party of the year a success.
Scorecard of the week
65-67-67-67 – 15-under, 265, 2nd place, Robert Allenby, Sony Open.
Setting aside the fact that he’s still a dead-ringer for “Simpsons” villain Montgomery Burns, your heart had to go out to Allenby.
Understood, it’s tough to feel pain for a guy who netted a cool $594,000 for coming up one stroke shy; and understood, Allenby can ruffle feathers as he did when he knocked Anthony Kim for late-night partying at the Presidents Cup, but if a guy knocks on a door for nine years, you’d think the golf gods would bother to at least open it once. Instead, when it comes to winning in America, Allenby’s golf gods look through the peephole, see it’s him, and keep that baby locked shut, as if he were an annoying solicitor.
Allenby now has seven runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour, and hasn’t won since the first post 9/11 event back in 2001, in Pennsylvania. Mind you, it’s not like he can’t close the deal. In fact, he’s coming off back-to-back wins last month in South Africa and at the Australian PGA, so a win at the Sony would have made him perhaps the first player ever to notch three wins in three starts on three different tours.
It was not to be when Allenby made a weak effort at a 9-footer for birdie to force a playoff. After watching Stricker roll the ball so beautifully on the greens – a stroke that had Els gushing on The Golf Channel to Lerner – it’s rough to watch Allenby jab at big-time putts in big-time situations.
And for Allenby, he wants to get a win in America for his late mother, Sylvia, who died last year from cancer. Allenby wears a pink shirt for her, and dedicated his Australian PGA win to her, but you’d think the golf gods would do him the same favor Stateside. So far? No dice.
Mulligan of the week
In fact, while we’re on this roll, let’s go back out to that 72nd green and give Allenby another look at that 9-footer. A wise man once told me that rank amateurs always miss putts on the low side, so poor are we at reading greens. If you watch the big boys on the weekend make their runs with the putter, you will see that wise man is almost always right.
To see Allenby miss his birdie try on the low side calls for an intervention. Somebody go pick up that ball, march it back to Allenby’s feet, place it down, give him a better read and … give that man a mulligan!
Broadcast moment of the week
“Oh! That came out hotter than a … “ – Nick Faldo, The Golf Channel, describing Allenby’s 5-iron through the green on 18 on Sunday.
Faldo never finished his analogy, and I point this out not to mock Faldo (even I need to take a breather every once in a while), but to sympathize with him. On-the-fly analogies are tough on live TV, and unless you have a stock of them handy, the way most Americans from south of the Mason-Dixon line do, you can leave yourself exposed.
Allenby’s 5-iron was hot, indeed, and it presented him with a problem chip back downhill for his third shot, leading to his 9-footer that didn’t fall. But how to properly describe how hot the 5-iron was?
Hotter than a pistol? Too cliché. Hotter than Halle Berry at the Golden Globes? Too leering. Hotter than a frying pan handle on a stovetop with no oven mitt? Too weird. As you can see, I’m no good at this.
Back in the ‘80s, a guy named Ken Weaver wrote a book called “Texas Crude,” which detailed in profanely obscene language some of Texas’ best analogies. They are almost all NC-17, and almost all side-splittingly hilarious, and now that the book is out of print, I’m hopeless to find one that is even barely usable. He did say something could be as “wild as an acre of snakes,” and did say a hangover could make him feel like he was “pulled backwards through a knothole.” Other than that, this column would lose its FCC license if I printed the others.
Point is, it’s hard to come with up an amusing analogy that doesn’t involve something crude. Faldo probably had a few U.K. versions of a “Texas Crude”-ism, and his “hotter than a … ” was probably ripe to be followed by a bit of bawdy English humor, but “Sir” Nick thought better of it and let the dead air hang.
Sometimes, what you don’t say is as important as what you do say, it turns out.
Where do we go from here?
To da mainland, braddah! The Bob Hope Classic kicks off our “Contiguous Forty-Eight” slate, and although Phil Mickelson won’t play, Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger will (it’s a pro-am, remember), so we’ve got that going for us.
Yogi Berra is the new tournament host, a move made to assuage any ripples left by former tournament host George Lopez, who apparently was too edgy for some. If you don’t want edgy, Yogi’s your guy. He’s 84 years old, for starters. Tough to be edgy at 84. Who’s going to rip an 84-year-old Hall of Famer as cuddly as your average bear?
Tee it high and let if fly, Yogi. And remember: it ain’t over til the last skulled chip hits the flagstick.