Stricker gives start of 2012 season a namebrand feel

Brian Murphy
Yahoo! Sports
Stricker gives start of 2012 season a namebrand feel
With his win in the season opener, Steve Stricker earned his eighth victory since 2009

Not to say that the PGA Tour season-opener in Maui caused less of a ripple than a tide pool, but consider the four biggest stories from the week of golf:

1. Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo went head-to-head on The Golf Channel!

2. Hank Haney is writing a tell-all book about Tiger Woods!

3. Tiger Woods, who is the subject of a tell-all book by Hank Haney, will open his PGA Tour season at Pebble Beach!

4. Tim Tebow!

Well, Tebow doesn't play professional golf. But you know what I mean.

Nowhere on that list is actual golf from Kapalua, which doesn't speak well for the buzz created after good guy Steve (The Cheesehead Assassin) Stricker christened 2012 with a visit to the victory circle.

(First digression of 2012: I heard The Golf Channel guys saying the only thing Stricker lacked is a nickname and nearly chucked my remote at the TV. What, they can't read? I am awaiting the apology on Golf Channel letterhead.)

Back to the Cheesehead Assassin. In some ways, it was important Stricker won, since he was the field's highest-ranked player in the world and carries at least some cachet - or as much cachet as a soft-spoken, grounded, unflashy 44-year-old with zero career majors can carry. If Michael Bradley won or Scott Stallings won, we'd be at the ready with the "PGA Tour Still Lacking Star Power" storyline right out the gate.

Instead, we not only got a Stricker victory – he's now a lofty No. 5 on planet Earth – but also bonus footage of Stricker crying. The Golf Channel, never one to miss an opportunity to make Stricker weep, aired an interview Mark Rolfing did with Stricker in the off-season. When Rolfing asked Stricker how he wanted to be remembered, Stricker's eyes reddened, then moistened, before saying ultimately he wanted be thought of as a good husband and father.

Somewhere, Dick Vermeil shouted: "He's stealing my act!"

I kid, I kid. Stricker's honest emotions are part of what makes him so appealing. If Tiger's robotic excellence from 1997-2009 lacked sentiment – setting aside his 2006 British Open breakdown, shortly after his father's death – then guys like Stricker humanize the sport.

Usually, Stricker is the one making others in the field cry – with his devastating use of the putter. Oddly, Stricker's win at Kapalua featured a lukewarm-at-best blade. He missed enough putts on his front nine to see his five-shot lead whittled to two, and it appeared he was going to open 2012 by giving us an early candidate for "Choke of the Year". Martin Laird, the Scot intent on making his first Ryder Cup team this year, appeared in Sticker's rear-view mirror, as did Webb Simpson, picking up where he left off from a scorching-hot 2011 season, right down to the final-round lavender shirt. Jonathan Byrd, playing alongside Stricker, may have appeared in Stricker's rear-view, except he was playing so slowly, he was only a dot in the distance.

[ Related: What can you learn from Stricker's near-perfect part-wedge? ]

But Stricker righted the ship with birdies on the 8th and 9th holes, and sealed the deal with a devastating sand-wedge to kick-in distance on 17. The three-shot win was secured, and Stricker had his eighth victory since 2009 – tops on the PGA Tour, an impressive bit of statistical prowess.

We'll conveniently ignore the fact that the field at Kapalua was more watered down than a Primo beer. In fact, so many players are staying away from the winners-only event in Maui with each passing year, the Official World Golf Rankings points have decreased four years in a row. To think that Tiger Woods got more OWGR points for his win in an 18-man Chevron field than Stricker did for an official PGA Tour event? That's a Maui wowie.

Scorecard of the week

Hank Haney d. Tiger Woods, 1-up.

No, Haney didn't play Tiger in match play. He did, however, score a victory with his announcement that he is collaborating with the excellent Jaime Diaz on a book about his years with Tiger. "The Big Miss", they're calling it, and even the title raises brows. So does the release date – one week before the 2012 Masters.

This would count as the first time somebody from Team Tiger broke out of the dungeon and ran through the forest, shouting to the world of his or her freedom. Elin (The Mansion Razer) Nordegren reportedly has signed confidentiality agreements. Former caddie Mike (Fluff) Cowan is too mellow of a dude to have ever spilled any beans. Former swing coach Butch Harmon likes to talk, but didn't apparently think to sit down and put his interesting thoughts on the page.

[ Related: Why Tiger Woods' ex-wife demolished a $12 million mansion ]

Haney, however, is a cagy one. His breakup with Tiger was not overly amicable, so one can expect candid assessments of the game's greatest player. Even if Haney won't give TMZ-like revelations about Tiger's other life as Warren Beatty's heir apparent, the golf knowledge and evaluations alone will likely be the most intimate ever done on Tiger, who has done a remarkable job of keeping those close to him, close to him.

Broadcast moment of the week

"We'll have to try it again." – Nick Faldo, signing off of The Golf Channel's Kapalua coverage, to booth partner Johnny Miller.

"Yeah. See what your 60,000 tweet people have to say about it." – Miller.

And thus ended the Great Experiment – Miller, America's greatest and most famous golf analyst, sitting in with Faldo, Britain's greatest exposer of male cleavage.

There's one category Faldo won in the unspoken showdown with Miller – fewer buttons used on his dress shirt.

The rest? Miller in a runaway.

Whether Faldo was intimidated by Miller's presence, whether Faldo was firing pencils at the ceiling or whether Faldo just isn't as good as Miller, there were long stretches during Monday's back nine in which I wondered if Faldo was even in the booth.

Miller's takeover of the broadcast reminded me of my dog's routine marking of neighborhood territory on our morning walks – frequent and complete.

Any big topic's agenda was set by Miller. He's the one who raised the discussion about self-confidence on the golf course, asking Faldo his thoughts. He's the one who raised the question of whether Stricker would ever win a major, eventually asking Faldo his thoughts. And he's the one who wondered openly if Stricker would make a key putt on the back nine, throwing Faldo the hot potato: "OK, Nick, is he gonna make this?"

Miller's point-guard distribution often found Faldo unwilling to take the jump shot.

After Faldo hemmed and hawed, Miller moved on, asking Roger Maltbie his opinion, noting: "Nick's giving me the Bill Clinton answer here."


When Faldo eventually said "I'll say 'no', just for entertainment", it appeared too little, too late for the flow of the conversation – even though Stricker did miss the putt.

Faldo found himself just a pack dog, following Miller's alpha. When Stricker hit his beautiful second on 17, the Golf Channel slow-motion replay of his swing found Miller giving the complete breakdown of Stricker's mechanics, and when Stricker celebrated the shot by fist-bumping the Golf Channel cameraman, Miller finished his analysis with a tart: "Don't smile too much. You have another hole left."

Faldo was mum. He could only stand back and let Miller take over, like a defender unwilling to foul LeBron James on a breakaway.

I felt like Miller's sign-off to Faldo quoted above, if subtitled would have read: a) Twitter is incredibly lame; and b) If I were on Twitter, I'd have 1.6 million followers.

Mulligan of the week

Given that everything in Hawaii is set to the backdrop of warm winds, the soothing sounds of the surf and the gentle strum of a ukulele, it's sort of hard to be punctual. It's easier to show up for an appointment a half-hour late, grin and say "Howzit?" than to say: "I'll be there, pronto!"

That said, a PGA Tour season-opener may be the time you want to heed the clock. After all, the winner of the event gets $1.12 million.

Hence, our first Mully of the Week for 2012 goes to Rory Sabbatini's caddie Mick Doran, who caused his man Sabbatini to be late for his Saturday tee time. The excuse? His watch was four minutes slow.

Given that a caddie's No. 1 responsibility in the three-pronged mantra of "Show Up, Keep Up, Shut Up" is the "Show Up" part, one would think wearing a watch that runs four minutes late falls a little short on meeting that obligation.

Sabbatini absorbed the two-stroke penalty, and finished the event at 13-under, tied for 9th, earning $165,000. Take away the two strokes, and he finishes at 15-under, tied for fifth and earning $245,000.

Costing your boss $80,000 in paradise? Ladies and gentlemen … get that caddie a mulligan!

Where do we go from here

All aboard the island-hopper to Oahu, where the first full-field event of the year is the Sony Open at Waialae. The Cheesehead Assassin will be there, as will Simpson and K.J. Choi in a field that still lacks any of the top Euros like Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy or Martin Kaymer – the world's top four-ranked players. Being the charitable sort, it's also a time to welcome many of the Nationwide Tour graduates to their rookie season, so break out the cookies and well-wishes for the new faces.

Fortunately for Faldo, Johnny Miller will not be there. Sir Nick may get a word in edgewise this week.

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