Watson prevails in wild week of golf

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Watson prevails in wild week of golf

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It was a tough way to finish the week for Alexis Thompson, 16, but she'll learn a lot from the exper …

The golf world was all over the map last week: World No. 1 Lee Westwood won again, in an event nobody has heard of. A Monday qualifier won on the Nationwide Tour, raising hopes for everyone who has ever been picked last in a playground pick-up game. A 16-year-old girl nearly made history the right way, and a future Hall of Fame pitcher nearly made history the wrong way.

And, of course, nobody can survive without a Tiger Woods update.

Tiger reported a knee injury will sideline him for this week's Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C., and also derailing anyone who thinks Woods will be back to winning form anytime soon. As if unbothered by any such speculation, Tiger then tweeted over the weekend about being a "big winner" at the Vegas tables with singer and noted skirt-chaser John Mayer. Good thing Tiger is single or all sorts of speculation could have broken out about the relative nature of being a "big winner" when rolling with Mayer. But now that he is single, the mind reels.

Oh, and there was that other piece of news delivered by noted duffer President Barack Obama late Sunday night from the White House regarding the demise of Osama bin Laden. That counts for something, too.

Before that late-breaker out of Washington, D.C., all other golf news was trumped by a couple of Southern boys with Southern names playing down South: Bubba and Webb; Webb and Bubba.

Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson left the Zurich Classic in New Orleans with something that will stick for a while, and I don't mean the "Debris Sandwich" down at Mother's on Poydras.

For Bubba Watson, it's the sheen of a winner. The lanky and loopy lefty notched his third "W" in a calendar year, to go with the Travelers Championship in Connecticut last summer and the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in California this winter. Throw in his near-miss in the 2010 PGA Championship playoff at Whistling Straits, and you have the increasingly popular argument that Watson is the Big Bubba of American golf – not Tiger (winless in 18 months), not Phil Mickelson (one victory in 13 months), not Dustin Johnson (winless this year after finishing three shots back of Westwood in that Ballantine's Championship in Korea last week).

Are we ready to embrace Watson as the face of American golf? You'd better be, lest he break into tears if you don't. That's the thing about Bubba: homemade swing, incredible distance and more tears than Dick Vermeil watching "Terms of Endearment." Bubba will cry at stoplights, so we best keep this country boy out of the big, stoplight-laden city.

Tears of joy spilled again when Watson won on the second playoff hole in New Orleans, but if any tears were meant to be spilled, they'd be streaming down the cheeks of Simpson, the 25-year-old Wake Forest prodigy who will never ever forget Rule 18 2-b in the ever-lovin' Rules of Golf, the one titled "Ball Moving After Address."

Nursing a one-stroke lead on the 15th hole Sunday, and after a dynamite lag putt to about 18 inches, Simpson moved to tap in his putt and clear the green for Watson. When he grounded his putter behind the ball – even though it appeared to be six inches behind the ball – and the wind slightly moved his ball, Simpson backed off and had a look that was 50 percent consternation/50 percent "Oh, For the Love of Mike That Didn't Just Happen."

But it did. The wind had moved Simpson's ball, even if barely perceptible. Simpson called for a rules official, and the bad news was handed down: one-stroke penalty. When the 72nd hole was played and Bubba and Webb were still tied, the focus, naturally, went to the penalty.

As always, there was the lauding of golf as the honorable game. Nick Faldo called it "the best game in the world" for its honor. Ian Baker Finch praised Simpson for being "extremely honest … he could have said he didn't take his stance" – which may have accidentally given us a peek into the inner workings of IBF's mind. CBS' main shot of the incident was from a blimp, and the attempt to enlarge the shot from that high resulted in a grainy quality, and forcing us to have to call it "Webb Simpson's Zapruder Moment."

As the CBS guys continued to spill praise on Simpson, noting that players will now walk up to him and talk to him about it instead of talking about it behind his back – again, giving us an insight into the tour's darker, sewing-circle side – Simpson himself wasn't too up for any celebratory high-fives in his honor. He rightfully called for an examination of the rule, noting that the table-top greens of today's game result in more oscillation and higher likelihood of movement after address.

Watson was more than happy to scoop up the debris, because that "Debris Sandwich" came with a $1.15 million check on the side. If you're going to be the Best Player in American Golf, sometimes it helps when the wind blows your way, you know?

Scorecard of the week

71-71-67-78 – 1-under 287, Lexi Thompson, tie-19th, Avnet LPGA Classic, Mobile, Ala.

Ouch! Once again, we are reminded of the relentless cruelty of the golf gods, who must warm up on Sunday mornings by burning ants under a magnifying glass.

With American women's golf looking for a fresh face to join Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie in the youth brigade, the teenybopper supreme, 16-year-old Thompson, was ready for her close-up. Her Saturday 67 put her in a 54-hole tie for the lead and had the headline writers ready for history: With a win, Lexi Thompson would have been by two years the youngest winner in LPGA Tour history.

Instead, Lexi can now pass her time sending commiserating texts to Rory McIlroy, as the two now headline the "Fresh Faces Dogged by Inexorable Fate" storyline in 2011.

A bogey on No. 1 was a bad thing, but not close to the double bogeys on Nos. 14 and 15, which included drops from the water. Her check for a little more than $14,000 will forever remind her of a bad, bad day in golf.

It's all about scar tissue, young Lexi. Once you build up enough of it, the pain will be a little less every time. Onward, kid.

Mulligan of the week

John Smoltz is a golf buddy of Tiger Woods, and none other than Tiger himself has vouched for Smoltz's talent. So, when the legendary Braves pitcher got a sponsor's exemption to the Nationwide Tour's South Georgia Classic, there was some degree of hope and interest that Smoltz would be the breakthrough crossover golf star some other athletes have failed to be, as I was just saying to my good friend, Jerry Rice.

And then the scores came, like two shanked drives: Thursday – 84; Friday – 87.

Smoltz missed the cut by 27 shots. Like all of us, he was humbled.

"Never in a million years did I think I would shoot those two rounds, but it happened," a chastened Smoltz said, adding: "I'm going to stick to recreational golf for now."

Like a pitcher who stands by his locker after coughing up seven runs in 1 and 2/3 innings, he wore it.

Now that said, let's go back to those organizers of the South Georgia Classic. They crowned a champion on Sunday named Ted Potter, who was a Monday qualifier – the first Monday qualifier to win on the Nationwide Tour in five years. Great story.

Let's imagine those organizers have a chance to re-do their sponsor's exemptions. And let's give them a chance to cross out the name "Smoltz, John" and insert the name "Potter, Ted." In other words … let's give those South Georgia Classic organizers a mulligan!

Broadcast moment of the week

"Justice has been done." – President Barack Obama, May 1, 2011, announcing the death of Osama bin Laden.

What, you wanted Nick Faldo?

Where do we go from here?

• In a very short time, Quail Hollow has achieved Bay Hill/Memorial-type status on tour, a must-play for all the big boys. It's where Rory McIlroy shot a Sunday 62 for a win last year. It's where Anthony Kim notched a key win in 2008 en route to faking us out into thinking he'd be a major factor in the golf world the next few years. And most important for the tour insiders, it's where the caddies get dynamite food tents and wives get outrageous perks – thus helping make the event one of the most popular stops on tour.

So, here come World No. 2 Martin Kaymer, and McIlroy, too; here come top Americans Watson and Mickelson; here come Nick Watney and Martin Laird and Gary Woodland and Simpson and Johnny Vegas.

No Tiger, though. He's got that knee thing. If you want to find him, I'd start by checking John Mayer's guest cabana.

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