That was quite the leader board down the stretch at the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook on Sunday: a rogue collection of wounded players, old players, players looking for a break, players looking to turn it around, aspirants, dreamers. It was like a "Skid Row" of PGA Tour scufflers, except on this "Skid Row," guys wear tailored slacks.
Give Tiger and Phil the week off, and you get a glimpse at the seamy underbelly of professional golf – players fighting like seagulls for that last scrap of bread. Again, we must reiterate, this seamy underbelly involves men who travel in private planes.
A list of some of the scrappers:
• Tom Lehman turned 50, got whisked to Bora Bora by his wife, and admitted to NBC he spent time on the beach pondering this trail of tears, saying, "You start to thinking what you want to accomplish the rest of your life." He held the 54-hole lead, but apparently couldn't channel the soothing sounds of the south Pacific surf in his head, shooting 75. Shooting 75 with the lead will surely lead to more "Is that all there is?" moments inside Lehman's dome.
• Brett Quigley finished one stroke out of a playoff, and won $475,200. In this economy, that counts as a quality paycheck, unless you're an A.I.G. exec, in which case it counts as a partial payment. But there's a downside. Quigley's tie-2nd reminded us of the fact he now has 342 PGA Tour starts without a win. That's a hell of a drought, considering some of the players who have fallen bass-ackwards into wins over the past decade, even at major championships. (Now, now. No naming names. We're all smart adults here, and can use our imaginations.)
One more side note on the Quigley drought: He can slumber peacefully, knowing he has absolutely zero chance of ever overtaking the top spot. Instead, Jay Delsing sits atop the list with a staggering 556 Tour starts without a win. That has to be one of those "unbreakable" marks in sports. You know, like Cy Young's 511 wins, Johnny Vandermeer's consecutive no-hitters and Wilt Chamberlain's 20,000 women.
• Steve Stricker flirted with the lead, but made consecutive bogeys on 17 and 18 to finish, tragically, out of the top spot once again. In keeping with Sunday's theme, Stricker's fade only shined a brighter light on his inability to close this year. It wasn't a good sign when NBC's broadcast opened with a shot of Stricker, and Gary Koch commenting that Stricker was having a banner year of competing. To which Johnny Miller added, dryly: "Except on Sunday." As Andrew Dice Clay might have said once upon a time: OH!
• Charles Howell III nearly won the thing, which would have gotten him into the Masters. He still isn't in. The kid grew up in Augusta, Ga., and arrived on Tour in 2001 with all the promise of a "Tiger Challenger." Instead, he has just two Tour wins, and last year missed the cut at the Masters, U.S. Open and Players Championship. While life is generally excellent for Chucky Triple Sticks, with more than $17 mil in career earnings before the age of 30, you'd have thought he'd have sniffed a major by now, and to see him come up one stroke shy only reminded us all of his once-enormous potential still, mostly, untapped.
• And finally, we had the winner – a guy who, two years ago, would tell you he was 20 pounds overweight, had a bad pair of eyes, and had tumbled from No. 3 in the world ranking to a place amid the hoi polloi. So, welcome back, Retief Goosen.
In his prime, Goose owned the sweetest swing this side of his countryman Ernie Els, and featured an implacable makeup. Only a player with a heart rate as low as the Goose could blow a chance at a U.S. Open from two feet at Southern Hills, then turn around and win the playoff the next day and add another one, for good measure, three years later at Shinnecock.
His tombstone will likely read: What, me worry?
Unfortunately, Goosen had plenty of worry when 2006, '07 and '08 passed without a win in America. He admitted that his motivation began to wane, and his mind wandered to his wife and two children, back in London. He even dabbled with the unsightly offense that is a belly putter. Worse, he endured a botched laser-eye surgery, had it fixed, and then used his new eyes to look at himself in the mirror one morning and notice his formerly sleek torso now featured accordion-like layers of fat. He knew what to do: read the Book of Player, Chapter One.
South African legend Gary Player upbraided Goosen for too many ice cream sundaes and not enough abdominal crunches. Next thing you know, Goose looks a little more lithe, and finds himself winning again at Innisbrook on Sunday in incredibly Goose-like fashion: An all-world up-and-down out of ankle-deep greenside rough on 17, and a 5-foot knee knocker on the bathtub porcelain that was Innisbrook's 18th green.
It was Redemption City for a player who emerged from a pack of stragglers and found himself in the penthouse once more. He will recognize the guys who finished behind him. They're the ones on the side of the road with the cardboard sign that reads: "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? I Need to Mark My Ball."
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
68-70-68 – 206, Pat Hurst, 10-under, 1st place, LPGA MasterCard Classic.
Every time we try to reduce the LPGA Tour to Lorena's World, or make a case for Paula Creamer as her prime challenger, or pump up Michelle Wie beyond any sense of reality, along comes a veteran like Pat Hurst to steal the show. No hype, no bluster and six LPGA wins now.
I have a particular fascination with Hurst, not least of which is because she's a Bay Area product, and that's home. Rather, my fascination with Hurst dates back to October 2003, when I covered the Longs Drugs Challenge near Sacramento. Hurst had a one-shot lead on the final hole, and instead rocked a 4-putt on the last green to blow the win. It was one of the more awkward things I've covered, but the memory of Hurst's grace afterward lingers. She came to the pressroom, which was tough enough, and even joked, "Can I say what I want to say?" It was a lesson in rolling with golf's punches, and I've always admired Hurst since then.
No surprise, six years later, she's still racking up Ws, and with a final-round 68 to boot. The golf gods, sometimes they chuck you a bone. Nice.
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
Thanks to NBC for another update on the ongoing phenomenon that is Ryo Ishikawa, the 17-year-old Japanese kid who has to charter a plane to bring his media contingent with him. When Jimmy Roberts did a brief piece on the Ishikawa scene at Innisbrook, it featured two notable things: 1. A media cluster on par with the New York media assigned to A-Rod's bedroom antics; and 2. A pair of red slacks on Ishikawa last seen on an Avis rental car employee.
Ishikawa made the cut, but shot 75-76 for the weekend. He finished 71st and yet was still grilled for what seemed like hours after his round. What more can you ask the kid? Ryo, breakfast today – Eggos or Cocoa Krispies? Ryo, Obama's bank plan – pro or con? Ryo, the red pants – should we describe those as ‘fire engine'?
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
Sometimes, the boom microphone used by networks yields us treasures, as when we get to hear the overly formal conversations between Phil Mickelson and Jim (Bones) Mackay, his trusty caddie. Even though those two know each other inside and out, they speak with an oddly rigid tone in discussing club selection and strategy, as if they only met that day. Check it out sometime. It'll strike you.
At any rate, boom microphones giveth, and taketh away when it comes to enjoyment. At Innisbrook, some jabroni chose the 18th tee on Sunday to park it, and to launch an extremely loud and far-too-clear shout when the leaders teed off in the final groups. This nerd screamed "DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU SEE??" the moment after impact, as if trying to start a new trend to replace the ever-fresh "GET IN THE HOLE!!" It was neither amusing nor relevant.
Somebody give us viewers a mulligan … so we can press the mute button!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
The varsity is back at it this week. The Arnold Palmer Invitational brings us Tiger and the sweet memory of the King and the Tiger having that embrace after Tiger's Hat Spike Heard ‘Round the World. Not only that, the Big Wiesy shows up in Phoenix for the LPGA event. Tiger and Michelle on the same weekend? Put those Sweet 16 games on TiVo, my friends.