West is best for Wilson after Humana win

Brian Murphy
West is best for Wilson after Humana win
Mark Wilson embraces his children after his win Sunday in La Quinta, Calif

At this rate, Mark Wilson may start hanging out with Snoop, Dre and the rest of the West Coast crew. This Wisconsin-born Cheesehead may start flashing the "W" hand sign on the golf course – for both his West Coast prowes, and his increasing number of wins.

That’s right, Mark Wilson is back, and striking fear into the golf world with his 5-foot-8, 145-pound, banjo-hitting accountant’s demeanor. Wilson’s win at the Humana Challenge in La Quinta, Calif. – formerly known as the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic – came in front of former President Bill Clinton, now the Sugar Daddy (not Suge Knight) of this event, and marked Wilson’s third win on the West Coast swing dating back to last year, when he won in Hawaii and Phoenix.

Channeling Prez No. 42, Wilson can now tell West Coast fields: Not only do I feel your pain, I am inflicting it.

Perhaps because his beloved Green Bay Packers are out of the NFL playoffs, Wilson’s mind was clear enough to make four birdies in his last eight holes. With no distractions like checking the score on his smart phone, Wilson holed out from a bunker on No. 12 and made an in-your-face birdie felt by challenger Robert Garrigus on the 72nd hole to ice the victory by two strokes.

(Good thing he’s not a 49ers fan, like yours truly. Had he sworn allegiance to the Niners and seen that heartbreaking loss on his phone, Wilson might have paid tribute to the old host in the desert by singing “Shanks for the Memories” and blowing the lead.)

The time is right for Wilson. The golf world seems ready for a jolt. After all, Phil Mickelson’s season debut at the Humana was a classic bit of Lefty ennui, tying for 49th after not even playing a practice round. He might as well have played the four rounds in sweatpants, so unbothered by chasing victory was Lefty.

And the other attempt at stirring up headlines, having Clinton play the Saturday pro-am with old buddy Greg Norman, fizzled when dangerous winds halted play and limited Bubba and the Shark to nine holes.

The first three weeks of the Tour have given us Steve Stricker, Johnson Wagner and Mark Wilson, and while each has his virtues, let’s be honest: It’s time for some needle-movers.

No sooner do we ask than we see the world’s top-four ranked players – Luke, Lee, Rory and Martin, each of whom has earned his Beatles-esque first-name only status – starting their 2012 campaigns in Abu Dhabi on the European Tour. There’s another one-name guy there, goes by the moniker of Tiger. So, uh, yeah. In terms of today’s texting and Twitter world, let’s say:

Field at Abu Dhabi’s newsmaking ability > Field at Humana Challenge’s newsmaking ability.

In the meantime, look for Mark Wilson out West – he’s the guy slapping an In-N-Out burger bumper sticker on his courtesy car, pumping Death Row hip-hop on his speakers and cashing big checks.

Scorecard of the week

68-67-66-65 – 22-under 266, tie-2nd, Johnson Wagner, Humana Challenge, PGA West (Palmer Course).

It’s official: Johnson Wagner is blowing up.

Word is, he had a small posse of fans following him at the Humana Challenge, showing their devotion to Wagner by sporting mustaches like their hairy-lipped hero. Thanks to crack reporting from WeiUnderPar’s Stephanie Wei, we learn that the quintet following Wagner avec ‘staches were from Canada, affirming the stereotype that snowdrifts can drive a man to his wit’s end.

It’s one thing to wear the Highway Patrol mustache and spray balls all over the golf course. It’s entirely another to sport the Freddy Mercury look and play lights-out golf, which is what Wagner is doing. In essence, he’s walking the walk and ‘staching the ‘stache.

Wagner is clearly letting the mustache get to his head. He told reporters in a pre-tournament press conference that the mustache actually gives him confidence. This seals the notion that world-class athletes are made by mental prowess as much as physical. Confidence from the ‘stache? Golf is a funny old game.

Rock on, Johnson. He’s logged a win, a tie-2nd, a tie-9th in three starts and leads the FedEx Cup points standings. As Jack Palance once opined in a cologne commercial: “Confidence is very sexy … don’t you think?”

Broadcast moment of the week

“How did it feel to be in a playoff with your heroes, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen?”

“Now I can say I’ve beaten them in a playoff.” – Exchange between interviewer and new sensation Branden Grace of South Africa, after Grace’s win at the European Tour’s Volvo Champions.

They don’t arrive on the scene much quicker than young Grace, the 23-year-old who two weeks ago was a winless Euro Q-School grad and now is asking Ernie and Retief: Tell me how my trophy tastes?

Grace scored his first win two weeks ago in the Joburg Open, landing him a spot in the winners-only Volvo field. He found himself in a leader board tussle Sunday at the Links at Fancourt with a who’s-who of South African legends, including Masters champ Charl Scwhartzel along with Ernie and Retief. One would expect the purple-shirt clad Grace to excuse himself to vomit with nerves along the 18th fairway – especially after he missed a 4-footer in regulation to win on the 72nd hole.

When Grace missed that, Els was shown on a nearby putting green, hearing the roar of disbelief from the crowd. His look said essentially: “Oh! I know that sound. That’s the sound of a youngster urinating down his leg on the 72nd green because he knows the Big Easy is waiting to clean his clock.” Prior, as the leaders tried to catch Ernie after his final-round 67, Els was shown in the clubhouse demolishing a post-round meal, proof of his been-there, done-that mentality. Food looked darn good, too. Hey, they don’t call him the Little Easy.

Instead, Grace, who didn’t get a chance to luxuriate over a post-round meal before the playoff, made birdie on the playoff hole and has vaulted from 258th in the world to 92nd. His comments to The Golf Channel above don’t exactly count as ‘woofing,’ but if it they do, why not? Let the kid have his day. He just slew the South African legends of his youth.

Mulligan of the week

That said … regular readers of this column know my fondness for Els’ game. Something about the big fellow’s tempo hypnotizes me, and anytime Ernie wins golf tournaments, the world seems a better place.

Ernie’s been in a rut, though. He fell from the top 50 in the world rankings, and doesn’t have an invite to the Masters. The Masters is Ernie’s bête noir. A tournament set up for his game has instead only bequeathed him heartbreak.

Winless since the South African Open in December 2010, and winless on the PGA Tour since the Arnold Palmer Invitational of 2010, Els’ Sunday 67 proved his intent on getting back on top. His slot in a four-man playoff in South Africa on Sunday handed him an opportunity to do so in style, except it all went wrong when Ernie’s tee shot on the par-5 18th found a craggy hillside. He had to pitch out, and only make par. When Grace went fairway, green, two-putt birdie, the Big Easy was the Big Runner-Up.

The good news is, Els is up to 57th in the World Rankings and bearing down on that top-50 spot needed for the Masters. The bad news is, a win would have done wonders.

So, let’s go back out to that 18th tee in the playoff, remind Els of his syrupy tempo, and … give that man a mulligan!

Where do we go from here?

We’ve gone from the Independent Film Festival of the season’s first three weeks to the Oscars/Golden Globes of this weekend. Abu Dhabi is jumping with star power, including the aforementioned Donald, Westwood, McIlroy, Kaymer and Woods. How will Tiger fare in his 2012 debut, fueled by his win in the Chevron World Challenge? The Abu Dhabi field is so loaded, I half-expect George Clooney and Angelina Jolie to play the Monday qualifier.

Meanwhile, Stateside we get Torrey Pines, meaning some big boys such as Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley and, of course, San Diego’s unofficial mayor, Mickelson, will play. So will Ernie Els, after a short commuter flight from South Africa.

The season heats up this week, sports fans. And we don’t even need Johnson Wagner’s mustache to distract us.

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