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The Sports Gods got it wrong

It’s hard to write a column about Paul Goydos’ epic, sprawling, emotional, charismatic turn of a week at Sawgrass without denigrating Sergio Garcia and all that he represents.

I don’t want this to be a Slam-Sergio column, but when you consider the showdown that played out on an unforgettable Sunday at The Players Championship – rich, spoiled, whiny underachiever versus humble, self-deprecating, appreciative grinder – it’s hard to avoid it.

See? I told you it was going to be hard not to take sides here.

And get this – this column actually has a soft spot for Sergio.

I’ve long admired his Ryder Cup grit through the years, been slack-jawed at his work off the tee and hopeful that he’d provide a worthy foil to Tiger, way back to the Medinah days in the Bill Clinton Era. But the last 9 years have seen Sergio let our sporting instincts down time and again, with late-round fades, or getting all figuratively tongue-tied around Tiger, or missed putt after missed putt after missed putt. That he capped it all with increasingly piercing whines about his fate – his ‘04 Masters diss of Dick Enberg, his moan about the golf gods at Carnoustie, among others – made it hard to root for the guy who was putting the “Nino” into “El Nino”.

So when it came down to Sergio v. Goydos on Sunday, well, it was almost too much of a landslide to be true.

Here’s Paul Goydos, a player who, to the best of our sports fan perspective, represents everything we ever wanted as sports fans: a player who shows passion for his craft (plays in the muny games at his local Long Beach track), acknowledgment at how lucky he is to play golf for a living (his gracious tips of the cap throughout the week), zero sense of entitlement (his no-complaints “sometimes the other guy beats you” assessment of the playoff with Sergio; and his obvious understanding that a $1 million runner-up check is an obscene bit of fortune).

That he topped it all off with a Long Beach State baseball cap on his noggin at Sawgrass may have been the ultimate sartorial symbol in the history of golf. Yes, the ball teams at “The Beach” are known as “Dirtbags”, and it was all too richly perfect, again, to be believed. While Sergio was dressed, essentially, as a gigantic Adidas shoe, the endorsement-free Goydos picked up his Dirtbags hat at an airport store.

When you throw in the fact that the only person who promotes the city of Long Beach, California as much as Goydos is fellow Long Beach native Calvin Broadus, aka Snoop Dogg, the story takes on rich comic shading.

Goydos and Snoop: Coming to a pro-am near you soon.

There was more, of course. Goydos’ work before he became a PGA Tour mainstay with a 1996 win at Bay Hill was as a substitute teacher in Long Beach, a job with as much appeal as the guy who has to strap on the scuba gear and fish out golf balls from the lagoon at 17 at Sawgrass – except the guy who has to dive at Sawgrass doesn’t have kids throwing spitwads at him when he turns to write on the chalkboard.

This is all to say that, sometimes, the Sports Gods get it wrong. It was Mother’s Day, and Goydos took the time to write ‘MOM’ on his golf ball. A cynic would think this a manipulative act by an athlete playing for sympathy. Checking out Goydos all week, the only accurate read was the opposite: He wanted to make sure he used his moment in the sun to say hi to his 80-year-old Mom, who has pneumonia. I’m sure Sergio loves his Mom, too. It’s just that Goydos’ scribbling of ‘MOM’ on his golf ball never registered on the B.S. detector. It felt like a guy who wanted to make sure his Mom saw a greeting of love.

Plus, when Goydos hit his tee shot safely on 17 during regulation, he made sure to say to the TV camera: “Hi, Mom … Happy Mother’s Day … and Happy Mother’s Day to all you Moms out there.” My wife is a new, first-time Mom and she stopped in the middle of our living room to nod her head at the TV. “Thanks!” she said. Had Phil Mickelson made the same wish to the TV camera, I’m sure I’d have found it cloying and obvious. When Goydos did it, I found it heartfelt. That’s what charisma will do for you.

So how did the Sports Gods allow Goydos to miss the putt on the 72nd hole that would have won it all? How did they allow him to hit his tee shot in the playoff into the water at that nefarious, dastardly, and, let’s say it, bogus 17th hole? How did they allow Sergio to knife his tee shot to terra firma, and win the $1.7 million check?

Sometimes, there’s no explaining fate. Sometimes, there is no justice in this sports world. Sometimes, the Sports Gods miss one.

Sometimes, we need to give them a mulligan. This counts as one of those times.

Broadcast moment of the week

• Bob Costas to Paul Goydos, before the final round: “How’d you sleep last night?”

Goydos to Costas: “On my back.”

Goydos stopped just short of dusting off the old “I just flew in from Long Beach, and boy, are my arms tired.”

Mulligan of the week

• Didn’t we cover this already?

Back to the 17th tee … one more time …

Scorecard of the week

• 64-66-69-66 – Annika Sorenstam, 19-under 265, 1st place, Michelob ULTRA Open at Kingsmill.

I’ve used this slice of cyberspace to trumpet Lorena Ochoa’s ’08 season and, by definition, to begin the wake for Annika.

Idle question: Can a Swede have a wake, or is it reserved only for the Irish? And what does one bring to a Swedish wake? Videotapes of old Sweden-Finland hockey matches for viewing pleasure?

Anyway, about that wake: Not so fast, chump.

And I’m the “chump” in question.

What a dominating run by Annika this weekend, 12 shots clear of Ochoa, who is now 0 for her last 2, and starting to feel like yesterday’s news. With the next major – the LPGA Championship – four weeks away, the LPGA season now has the feel of a golf match in which the player who was 4-down at the turn has won the first two holes on the back nine. Stay tuned.

Where do we go from here?

• The big boys head to Atlanta for the AT&T Classic at Sugarloaf, otherwise known as The Tourney That Used to Be The Week Before the Masters.

Now that it’s lost that identity, the moniker “The Tourney That Follows The Players Championship” doesn’t have the same ring.

But it’s OK. Goydos is playing. And within a few weeks, he’ll be forgotten again. Here’s the catch: Goydos won’t mind. He knows how lucky he is.