UFC 184:

Tiger in cruise control at the Buick

Poor Michael Letzig.

Well. I mean, not really poor Michael Letzig. After all, “poor” Michael Letzig has made $877,968 this year playing golf. I haven’t checked my W-2 just yet, but there’s a fair chance it’s a couple of nickels short of that.

Still. At the Buick Open on Sunday, Letzig drew Tiger Woods in the final Sunday pairing for the second time in two months. That’s right. A rematch of the legendary Woods v. Letzig showdown you’ve been waiting for. Jack had Arnie, Lee, Gary and Tom. Tiger has Michael Letzig.

Seven weeks after Tiger (65) outfoxed Letzig (75) at the Memorial, you can almost hear the audio from the tee box handshake from the Buick.

Tiger: “Good luck, Mitch.”

Letzig: “It’s Michael.”

Tiger: “Sorry about that, Max.”

Letzig: “It’s Michael.”

Tiger: “Yep. Play well, Miles.”

Thank goodness Tiger decided to play the Buick, which seemed a nice way for the Red Shirt to thank GM for all the dough through the years. Just think if Tiger sat this one out. Anybody up for a Roland Thatcher-John Senden smackdown?

Seriously. Did you see that leader board? When it comes to world rankings, it was the All-Area Code team chasing Tiger. You had Vaughn Taylor (319), Charles Warren (343) and Greg Chalmers (251) in hot pursuit.

So while other columnists on this web site pooh-pooh Tiger’s win as invalid because it wasn’t a major, I’m here to say a golf world ‘Thank you!’ to Tiger for saving the weekend and giving us something to watch.

Not that Tiger took his job that seriously. If you saw that attempt to hit a choke-down fairway metal and cut it 100 yards on the par-5 13th – a bit of folly that met a watery grave – you realize he was essentially playing a recreational round and just happened to scoop up win No. 69 along the way.

At the least, Tiger deserves credit for giving those crazed fans at the Buick’s 17th hole something to toast. Then again, after seeing some of those crazed and lubricated fans at the Buick’s 17th hole, you get the impression they would have raised a toast if Peter Oosterhuis broke wind.

Idle question: Do you, dear reader, salute or reject the idea of wacked-out galleries chanting and carrying on? I’m of two minds on this one. Part of me wants to say that Phoenix and Bethpage and the Buick are representative of America at its most boorish, a loud group of blowhards who produce little in the way of wit and a lot in the way of headaches. Compared to the appreciative applause and golf savvy of the Scots at Turnberry just two weeks ago, the WOOOOOOOOO-ization of the golf crowd can be an embarrassing turn-off.

Then again, another part of me says: Pass me a frosty and let’s party! WOOOOOOOOOO!

See? It’s a tough one.

Bottom line: Tiger got us through the weekend and even looked like he was having fun, daring to let that game face break into a bit of a smile when the zanies serenaded him with the relentless ‘Let’s go Ti-ger! (clap, clap, clapclapclap) Let’s go Ti-ger!’ chants. Tiger throwing not one, but two golf balls to the gallery on 17 and 18 was the golf behavioral equivalent of Queen Elizabeth doing the Macarena, to dust off an ancient pop cultural reference. If these galleries could make the Great Stone Face have some fun, then they must be doing something right.

You will notice, however, that they did not chant “Let’s go Let-zig! (clap, clap, clapclapclap) Let’s go Let-zig!”

It’s OK. He can console himself by checking his bank account this morning. Tiger will take the trophy and set his sights on two more weeks of play, first at Firestone and then at Hazeltine, otherwise known as Tiger’s Last Stand of ’09.

Don’t look for him to toss any golf balls into the galleries there, my friends.

Scorecard of the week

74-67-71-73 – 285, 3-under, Catriona Matthew, champion, Women’s British Open, Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s.

Yeah, yeah, Tiger this, Tiger that. Let’s see Tiger win a major 10 weeks after pumping a human being out of his body.

All hail our wives and mothers who endure childbirth with the style and bravery none of us males could ever hope to pull off. Ten weeks ago, Matthew gave birth to her second child. On Sunday, she outfoxed Hee-Won Han, Paula Creamer, Ai Miyazato and the irrepressible Christina Kim to win her first major at age 39.

This counts as an incredible feat and Scorecard of the Week status, an honor Matthew will count second only to the Women’s British trophy.

Other thoughts from the Women’s British: Paula Creamer’s flirtation with major championship glory is turning into something both cruel and fascinating. Five times in the last seven majors, she has logged a top-10. Five times in the last seven majors, she has not won a major. Watching her come to the 18th tee box at Lytham with a chance, only to see her well-struck tee shot kick into a bunker and tuck in, tight, against a lip guarded by thick shrubs, means that somewhere in the ether the golf gods are testing the young lady’s patience. Stick with it, Paula. You’re on the verge of winning, like, five of the next seven majors.

Also, credit to Solheim Cup captain Beth Daniel for her captain’s picks – Juli Inkster, 49, and Michelle Wie, 19. The story on Wie has now changed dramatically, from a woman trying to win the Masters to a woman who now considers an 11th at the Women’s British as progress. Still, she’s the most fun to watch of any player on the women’s tour, and her inclusion was beyond no-brainer, as I’m sure was impressed upon Cap’n Daniel by TV execs and sponsors in a back-room arm-twisting session.

As for Inkster at 49 – this whole concept of “aging” is for wussies, as I was just saying to my caddie, Tom Watson. Listen, I just saw 69-year-old Smokey Robinson perform at Konocti Harbor in California over the weekend, and his “Tracks of My Tears” still produced triple-goose bumps. So, Inkster at 49 should be carving out some European hearts and eating ‘em for breakfast this fall at the Solheim.

Broadcast moment of the week

“Maybe, maybe, maybe … just maybe … maybe this is the day we see something dramatic. “ – Nick Faldo, CBS, setting the stage for the Buick Open’s final round with Tiger holding the 54-hole lead.

Nice try, Nick. Oops. Wait. Nice try, Sir Nick.

Bill Macatee did, indeed, refer to his on-air partner as “Sir Nick Faldo” in the introduction, which causes me to, once again, turn to the great Dan Jenkins for inspiration. Jenkins tweeted from the British Open last month: “Sir Laurence Olivier, yes. Sir Nick Faldo? Not so much.”

Tough to blame Faldo for trying to inject some competition into Sunday’s round, but his comment had the whiff of Hail Mary all over it. Tiger’s record of 35-1 with a 54-hole lead is one of the more remarkable statistics in all of sports, sort of golf’s equivalent of Joe DiMaggio hitting safely in 56 of 57 games.

Ed Fiori would be the equivalent of Cleveland Indians 3B Ken Keltner, who twice robbed DiMaggio of hits in Game No. 57. Fiori’s comeback win over Tiger at the 1996 Quad Cities will live forever. Somewhere, somebody should buy Big Ed a cold one.

Mulligan of the week

• Just saying the name “John Daly” inspires all kind of reaction, and when you toss in the fact that J.D. posted an 88 on Friday at the Buick and came away from it baffled, bewildered and bummed, you can only marvel at the never-ending saga that is his existence.

The fallout from Daly’s 88 is nearly as interesting as the 88 itself. Daly spoke of his body’s inability to react to hitting a golf ball, speaking of the kind of demons golfers never speak of, admitting he nearly forgot how to advance the golf ball. His swing coach Rick Smith went further, saying Daly’s weight loss – he recently weighed in at an alarmingly light 205 – has involved a lack of nutrition and proper diet. Smith sounded some major alarm bells over Daly’s health. The whole thing was both a mess, and a downer.

Not to be too flip here, and not to dismiss the problems of obesity in this country, but there are some people, it seems, who shouldn’t lose weight. Some people are just right when they’re heavy, and Daly might be one of them. A buddy of mine works with a guy who recently lost about 60 pounds, and there’s a lot of discussion about how different he looks, and how you don’t know if you can trust the guy now that he’s lost 60. It’s like: If our heavy friends don’t stay heavy, what else can we count on in this world?

Daly might need to put some weight back on. Get back to being J.D., as the golf gods intended it.

So, let’s go back to that Buick Open on Friday, cue up a couple of side dishes of bacon, some biscuits and gravy, get Daly a proper breakfast and … give that man a mulligan!

Where do we go from here?

• It’s rare to see Tiger three weeks in a row when the major is the third week, and we get Week No. 2 at Firestone this week, where he’s won once before. Oh, wait. I’m sorry. I got that wrong. We see him this week at Firestone, where he’s won SIX times before, including a three-peat he’s currently working on.

The field includes all of the world’s top-10 ranked players, including the world No. 2, who gets a special welcome back. Three cheers for Philly Mick, who deserves his own chant from the fans.