There is a certain nobility to brutal honesty, so let's go ahead and admit what we all, as golf lovers, don't want to admit: The FBR Open overstayed its welcome by a good 60 minutes on Sunday.
After all, it was Super Bowl Sunday, and if even the President of the United States was hosting a casual-dress party at the White House to watch football, not golf, the least the gentlemen at TPC Scottsdale could have done was finish on time so maybe, in the best of all possible sports worlds, you could watch both. As it was, no such perfect TV sports scenario unfolded. Holding a one-shot lead, Perry bogeyed the 72nd hole when he drove into a fairway bunker, and when he and Hoffman both bogeyed the first playoff hole, the masses at the golf course clad in the Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald game jerseys began to beat a sure and rapid path to the nearest big screen to see their red-clad heroes.
Not even Perry wearing a cardinal-red golf shirt was enough to keep them around. Sports fans have their limits, you know.
By the time Perry and Hoffman played their 75th hole, the par-4 17th as the third playoff hole, the TV cameras caught the undeniable background sight of reams of empty pavilion tables and chairs, and a greenside grandstand that could pass as a haunted house. For much of the ebullient week, those grandstands and tables and chairs were full of revelers, roaring when Ted Purdy waved an Arizona Cardinals banner at the famous 16th hole, whooping it up when Billy Mayfair sported a Cardinals game jersey on Friday.
But when Hoffman's drive on 17 plugged into fried-egg putridity and when Perry's chip lacked sufficient chutzpah, even the unflappable Jim Nantz might have been flapped. You could almost hear his thought bubble: I have a freaking TownCar and a suite at the Phoenican to watch SB XLIII with John McCain and Alice Cooper, so could somebody win this goshdarn thing?
When Perry saved us all and rolled in the 22-foot birdie for the win, he did several things:
• He honored his parents back home in Kentucky, whom Nantz informed us are in poor health. Anybody who remembers the sight of Papa Perry in the overalls sitting at the first tee at Valhalla last fall for the Ryder Cup Sunday singles knows the Perrys are good people. Godspeed, Perry clan.
• He won for the fourth time in his last 15 starts, meaning that he may be the ultimate 48-year-old closer, eclipsing late 40s runs by Scott Hoch, Fred Funk and Jay Haas in recent memory. That the four wins represent nearly 33 percent of his career total (13 Tour wins) means he's the veritable George Blanda of the sport.
• And he spared CBS the embarrassment of counterprogramming the Super Bowl for one more minute. As it was, I believe Perry rolled that putt in at about the same time Ben Roethlisberger's first-quarter QB run to the goal line was being challenged by Ken Whisenhunt. Or, to put it another way, the FBR Open ran so far past its scheduled close that my TiVo was on its second block of local CBS affiliate programming simply titled "Paid Programming" on the Menu. I'd love for Nielsen to give us the competitive 15-minute block ratings from 3:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. Pacific, reading something like: Super Bowl, NBC, 45.1; Interminable FBR Open Between Two Players Playing Mediocre Golf, 0.9.
• And, just for a real kick in the groin area, how about: Puppy Bowl, Animal Channel, 2.0.
Mulligan of the week
• Still, Saturday at the FBR Open is turning into some of the best non-major TV on the schedule, rivaling and perhaps even surpassing the traditional bonanza Saturday of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Now, as an avowed Pebble man myself, I am loathe to say anything knocks the Del Monte Forest down a notch, but CBS is artfully making Phoenix and its booze-soaked 16th hole into must-see TV.
So when Arizona native Ted Purdy nearly jarred his tee shot on 16 on Saturday, hitting it to nine measly inches, and followed it up with a frenetic wave of an Arizona Cardinals banner, you couldn't help but smile, even if you were rooting for the Steelers. In fact, if it were possible to harness the energy at 16 at that moment, it might be included in the economic stimulus package as an alternative energy source.
All that said, could you imagine what would have happened if that golf ball had trickled those nine measly inches … into the jar?
Scottsdale might have moved one degree latitude from the good vibrations.
Give that man a mulligan!
Scorecard of the week
• 64-68-67-70 – 269, 19-under, Rory McIlroy, winner, Dubai Desert Classic, European Tour..
While we're all sitting on our barstools, drumming our fingers on the countertop waiting for Tiger to return, the European Tour is producing a kid who may entertain us quite nicely in the meantime.
Meet Rory McIlroy, a 19-year-old Northern Irishman with a white belt like Pat Boone, hair like Peter Brady and a game that has a hefty helping of Darren Clarke's tutelage and a dash of Seve Ballesteros' teenage magic. You may remember McIlroy from his dashing debut at Carnoustie in 2007, when he held the first-round lead as an 18-year-old. Commentators filled us in on the Ulster Tiger, a kid whose golf exploits were legendary around the Six Green Fields since he was a small boy.
Now, McIlroy has cashed in as a winner at the prestigious Dubai Desert Classic, holding off Justin Rose by one stroke despite wobbling a bit down the stretch. That's OK. First-win nerves are cool. Appropriate, perhaps, that it was Rose whom McIlroy beat, since Rose was the last European Tour prodigy to garner all the headlines. But Rose, remember, missed his first 21 cuts as a pro after his dazzling amateur performance at Birkdale in 1998. McIlroy has now logged four top-five finishes in six starts, and immediately becomes a name to watch come Augusta in April.
He's not even 20 years old yet, and his world ranking should be at No. 15 this week. Northern Ireland hasn't seen a native prodigy like this since Georgie Best back in the 1960s, which is nifty, since McIlroy lists Manchester United as one of his life's passions. Best helped Man. U. to the league title as a 19-year-old. Not saying McIlroy is golf's Georgie Best, just saying it's not often we get to dust off Northern Irish sporting icons on any occasion.
Broadcast moment of the week
• Going off the board here, but when America's musical Shakespeare spreads 12 minutes of unadulterated joy across our TV sets at the Super Bowl halftime show, then The Boss gets our broadcast moment of the week.
Bruce Springsteen gets it by, like, the same margin Tiger holds the world No. 1 ranking over Sergio.
Asking a man whose oeuvre is so prolific he usually needs three hours to transmit his message live to distill his work to 720 seconds is like asking Michelle Wie to take down Tiger in match play. And yet, Bruce attacked the task with a passion that carried with it life (and golf) lessons: Live in the moment, blaze through life with confidence, embrace your lot and, if ever you need a friend, call Steven Van Zandt – "STEVIE!" – over for a little pick-me-up at the microphone.
We should all have caddies as reliable and epic as Stevie. (No, not Williams. He's the kind of guy who'd sit in the front row at Bruce, checking his watch and yelling at anybody who dared take a cell phone shot of the Boss.)
So, Bruce, welcome to broadcast moment of the week!
What, golf fans, you wanted Perry and Hoffman bogeys as your pick?
Where do we go from here?
• If they hold a Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, and Tiger doesn't play, does the tournament exist? Ponder that existential question, my friends.
At the least, we can hope that Tiger shows up in shorts and running shoes, drives out to the 18th green in a golf cart with Rocco Mediate during a lull in the action, and re-creates last summer every hour, on the hour, for the bored crowd.
Failing that, we can just root for hometown boy Phil Mickelson to make his first cut of the year.