Let's call this week's quandary "The Gary Woodland Question."
In other words, does a win by Woodland at Innisbrook intrigue you, the golf fan? Maybe you're interested in a young American (26) who has barely played on Tour (33 starts), who hits it roughly 6,000 miles off the tee (eighth in driving distance) and who carries an unusual back story (college basketball player whose dream day was a nonconference game in Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse).
Or, maybe you're like my two sports fan friends with whom I conversed this weekend. As we channel-surfed and the notion of a Woodland-Webb Simpson duel on Sunday was broached, they balked. To them, the idea of watching Gary Woodland play golf was as appealing as a time-share pitch from a neighbor over dinner.
"Dude, I haven't paid attention to golf since Tiger started slumping," said one.
"I'm out until Tiger is back, also," said the other.
In other words, they answered the Woodland Question, and their answer was pretty much, "Sorry, Charlie."
This has been the story of the 2011 golf season. Golf fans are divided into two camps. Those who say, "Yes, a player like Gary Woodland, who will rock the 2-hybrid 284 yards off the 18th tee on Sunday, who will pump drives 337 yards uphill, appeals to me. He is fresh-faced, he is the new generation. Vote 'yes' on the Gary Woodland Question."
And then there's the other camp that says: "Gary Woodland? When I have Texas and Arizona dying to the last tick in the round of 32 in March Madness; when I have VCU introducing itself to America by way of Purdue's backside in March Madness; and when I have Duke and Michigan reviving the Fab Five v. Grant Hill wars in March Madness; why would I watch a guy ranked 153rd in the world be the next faceless winner of a tour that desperately needs Tiger Woods? Vote 'no' on the Woodland Question. And pass me my bracket, please."
Me? I'm voting "yes" on the Woodland Question. Granted, the PGA Tour has a Q-rating problem when eight of this year's winners were ranked outside the top 100 in the world (!), but now may be the time to put in the extra effort to get to know these guys. It's called "the future," sports fan, and it's never bad to be on board. There were those who once scoffed at electricity, telephones and TV, too, you know.
Woodland's distance is stunningly watchable, and when you learn more about him, you realize he could be one of the game's fun stories. An all-state hoops player in Kansas in high school, he turned down a golf scholarship to KU to play basketball at Washburn (Kan.). As a result, Woodland got to score three points in a game at Allen Fieldhouse, then decide it was time to quit basketball and play golf, transferring to KU. Now, he lists Jayhawk coach Bill Self in his dream foursome and wakes up to a world where he is $990,000 richer, has an invite to Augusta in two weeks and enjoying that Kansas is safely through to the Sweet 16.
Remember how good the Johnny Vegas story was back in January? Woodland's story is almost as fresh. And, by the way – in case you didn't remember who Vegas beat in the playoff at the Bob Hope – it was Gary Woodland.
See how it all comes together? There is "L.A.T.," friends – Life After Tiger.
Scorecard of the week
• 71-67-66 – 12-under 204, Karrie Webb, winner, LPGA Founders Cup, Phoenix.
Two odd facts jump out: 1.) Karrie Webb, who first burst on the scene in 1996 with a four-win season, has little to no interest in going away anytime soon. 2.) Turns out the LPGA does play events in the United States of America. Who knew?
The Arizona stop was the LPGA's first stateside tournament of 2011. But don't get too excited. Despite spending the next two weeks in California, including the year's first major, Kraft Nabisco Championship, at Rancho Mirage next week, there are only 11 scheduled LPGA events in the U.S. for the rest of the season. We have to take our ladies' game when we can find it.
And when we do find it, make room for Webb, or "Webby," as she was called in a congratulatory tweet by runner-up Paula Creamer. In figuring out the ladies' game, I hadn't figured on a career resurgence by the once-dominant Webb. With one win from 2007-2010, Webb appeared on her way out, making room for the new generation.
Now, the Australian has two wins in her last two starts, including last month in Singapore, and eclipsing in two starts her win total from the previous four years.
Her prize money of $150,000 was all donated to charity, as per the mission statement of the Founders Cup, and Webb chose to give to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, dedicated to fighting spinal cord injury, which is a personal mission for Webb since an Australian youth coach of hers was paralyzed.
All told, a fine weekend in the life of Karrie Webb. There may be more good stuff where that came from.
Broadcast moment of the week
• "Thank you for having the courage to come on a late-night comedy program, because it must have been a painful and awful situation, the whole thing you went through. But from a comedian's standpoint and my monologue writers, thank you! So much! It kind of wrote itself. I mean balls, shafts, holes, foursomes. It really writes itself. Thank you! Thank you!" – Jimmy Fallon to Tiger Woods, "Late Night," NBC.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this would mark the first time since Nov. 27, 2009, that Tiger Woods dove headfirst into self-mockery, a worthy bit of behavior under any circumstances.
Yes, Tiger had a video game to sell, but he could have chosen alternate venues to peddle the wares and not subject himself to late-night teasing. Fallon, to his credit, did not shy away and stared the elephant in the room straightaway, making for a good opening chuckle. And Tiger, surprisingly, chuckled right along.
Now, knowing Tiger, Fallon is probably now on Tiger's "Must Be Obliterated Soon, In Some Fashion" list, like Sergio Garcia and several golf writers through the years, when Tiger was able to obliterate, through any means necessary, his enemies. There is some question as to how much ability Tiger has to obliterate his enemies anymore, but rest assured, if he gets a chance, he will.
Still, for Tiger to sit on the couch, take the needle and not stone-face Fallon into awkward silence shows growth, in my estimation. Between that and his final-round 66 at Doral (or "Door-ell," as Fallon called it in a fine bit of lack of preparation), maybe Tiger is cobbling a small comeback.
Mulligan of the week
• The other young gun of the weekend was Wake Forest product Webb Simpson, who needed only a par on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Woodland. Alas, Simpson goosed his second shot past the flag on 18 and had an impossible up-and-down from above the hole. He could not execute, made bogey and Woodland was a winner.
So, for the sake of watching two young'uns in their 20s play a little extra-time golf, let's go back to that 18th fairway, remind Simpson of the severe slope behind the flag, have him go one club down and … give that man a mulligan!
Where do we go from here?
• Here we go again. With Bay Hill on the schedule and Arnold Palmer's soiree as Tiger Woods' last dance before the Masters, we have to ask: Is this the week Tiger breaks through?
Frankly, I'm getting tired of asking that question.
Yes, the positive vibrations are intense for Tiger at Bay Hill, a place he's won six times.
Then again, the positive vibrations were intense for Tiger at Torrey Pines; and at Augusta National last year; and at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach last year; and at the British Open at St. Andrews last year; and at Doral two weeks ago and … you get the point. He won none of them. The vibrations were not vibing.
It's a good field. Bubba Watson, who donated his check last week to Japan tsunami relief, is in. Also, Phil (Mystery Man) Mickelson is playing Bay Hill, but don't count on anything from enigmatic Lefty. Graeme McDowell also is playing, as is red-hot Nick Watney and our man Woodland.
So, for all of you who answered "The Gary Woodland Question" in the negative, fear not: Your man Tiger is teeing it up. For those of us who voted yes, we call it a win-win.
- Karrie Webb
- Tiger Woods