The cast reunites at Bethpage

Brian Murphy

Brian Gay – er, excuse me, I should refer to him by his proper name, “Blowout” Brian Gay – sure does have a knack for taking an afterthought tournament and wringing the thing’s neck.

Last time we saw him do his Cadillac home run trot was at Harbour Town, when the golf world was still nursing the Masters hangover. Gay surveyed the scene, realized everyone was still talking about the Tiger-Phil twosome, or Angel Cabrera’s stunner, and said, in effect: Fine, then. I’ll just win by 10 when nobody’s looking.

On Sunday in Memphis, while the golf world readied itself for the United States Open’s celebrated return to Bethpage Black and Tiger’s assault on Mount Golden Bear, Gay did it again. He signed for a card that read 64-66-66-66, an 18-under total that meant a five-stroke win over the field and another “Blowout Brian” special. He earned a ticket to Bethpage, so in honor of BB’s dominance, perhaps it would be nice to provide him with a Bethpage refresher, if you will. Back in ’02, Gay was just a face in the crowd, holding a PGA Tour card but without a PGA Tour win. He would play at Bethpage, but miss the cut.

So, for the sake of Blowout Brian, who surely is headed to Long Island thinking bigger things than a missed cut, let’s remember what the golf world was like in June 2002, when we made our first trip to Bethpage, and how it compares to June of 2009, as we ready for the Open’s return:

In 2002, Tiger Woods was King of the Universe. In 2009, Tiger Woods is King of the Universe.

Summary: No change.

In 2002, Tiger came to Bethpage with seven major championships. He left with eight. In 2009, Tiger will come to Bethpage with 14 major championships. Unless a lightning storm centers on his driver, he will leave with 15.

Summary: No change.

In 2002, Tiger came to Bethpage a bachelor with no children. In 2009, Tiger comes to Bethpage a married man with two children.

Summary: If Tiger fails to win the ’09 U.S. Open, we can likely blame lack of proper sleep and the fact that he may have to change a diaper or two between holes.

In 2002, Phil Mickelson came to Bethpage with zero majors and the reputation of a major choker. In 2009, Phil Mickelson comes to Bethpage with three majors and, unfortunately, the reputation of a guy who hasn’t won one since he choked at Winged Foot in ’06.

Summary: While Lefty has broken through since we last came to Bethpage, and his ’04 and ’06 Masters wins were particularly stirring, there remains the nettlesome fact that he hasn’t been able to close at a major since he turned the 72nd hole at Winged Foot into his own personal carnival. The situation is worth monitoring.

In 2002, Sergio Garcia was 22 years old and had zero majors, but all the promise of Tiger’s next challenger.

In 2009, Sergio is 29, has zero majors, and is essentially an also-ran.

Summary: My, oh my, how we’ve dramatically ratcheted down the expectations on Sergio. In the summer of ’02, we were readying for a decade of Tiger-Sergio duels. Ha! Excepting the Ryder Cup, El Nino has been the king of big-stage disappointments, whether losing a playoff at Carnoustie to Padraig Harrington in ‘07, or fading at Oakland Hills over the final holes at the ’08 PGA, again to Harrington. In ’02, he played in the final twosome with Tiger in what was a charged matchup. Sergio got as close as two strokes after two holes, but bogeyed the 3rd and never got back into it. Like, ever.

In 2002, Sergio was heckled relentlessly by New York crowds for his re-grip problem, and crushed by the media for complaining that he had to play in a rainstorm when he said play would have been halted for Tiger. He also flipped off the fans. In short, Sergio proved to be a major championship whiner. In 2009, Sergio left Augusta National griping about the course setup, and getting crushed by the media again.

Summary: No change.

In 2002, Phil came to Bethpage as the crowd favorite, the fallible everyman, the lovable underdog taking on the big, bad Drago that is Tiger Woods. In 2009, Phil comes to Bethpage as all of the above, plus the sympathetic hero whose life has taken a tragic turn.

Summary: If you thought Phil was loved in New York seven years ago, imagine the outpouring of support for him after the news of his wife Amy’s breast cancer. At Memphis this week, he met with cancer-stricken children. It was heart-wrenching, to say the least. Get ready for some big-time Kleenex moments if Phil is in this thing late on Sunday.

Scorecard of the week

66-70-69-68 – 273, 15-under, LPGA rookie Anna Nordqvist, first place, McDonald’s LPGA Championship.

Setting aside the fact that she totes a very Swedish “v” following the “q” in her last name, making us viewers think the leader board had a typo, or looked like a ‘Scrabble’ draw, bravo to the young Nordqvist. She won her first LPGA event, and her first major, in only her fifth start.

It wasn’t nearly as exciting as Brittany Lincicome’s Kraft Nabisco eagle close-out in the ladies’ first major, and it had that bummer aspect of summer majors on the East Coast: weather delays. (Don’t forget to find a lightning shed at Bethpage this week, by the way.) As such, Nordqvist had to play 22 holes on Sunday after a Saturday weather delay.

That few of us had ever heard of Nordqvist added to the confusion, and the championship was dealt a further blow when uber-Tweeters Morgan Pressel and Christina Kim failed to make the cut. Instead of having the insightful bon mots on Twitter from Pressel or Kim as each prepared for what could have been a climactic final round, we learned from Kim over the weekend that “Warm candied walnuts are truly a euphoric experience every person should indulge at least once in their life.” And Pressel, the frustrated competitor, took out her anger over her beloved Red Wings’ failure in Game 7 and her own missed cut to rip the GPS in her rental car, which couldn’t find her a decent bagel place on Sunday morning: “It is frustrating how unreliable and useless a GPS can be, and how yet we have so much faith in them.” On a lighter note, she saw and loved the movie “The Hangover.”

Carolyn Bivens’ idea to have the LPGA take over Twitter is both a good thing for the LPGA’s visibility, and a one-way ticket on a seemingly endless journey through the banality of life.

Then again: I learned of Michelle Wie’s ace on Saturday from a Natalie Gulbis tweet. Wie finished T-23, and my bold prediction that she would win a major this year has only two chances left to be good.

Mulligan of the week

• There will be no John Daly at Bethpage this week, and that is a shame. If the place that hosts the “People’s Open” is without the “People’s Champ,” you can call that a gigantic missed opportunity. Heck, I’d have imagined New York galleries going so nuts for Daly in his polka-dotted slacks, he might have crowd surfed at one point.

Plus, Daly is all over Twitter, and his tweets from Bethpage would have been priceless. After all, this is the guy who tweeted a photo of himself and coach Rick Smith making French toast during a rain delay in Memphis. If you don’t consider your life enriched after that, then I have no hope for you.

Alas, Daly played in the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier in Tennessee last week, but shot a 1-over 143 and didn’t come close to making it to Bethpage.

So, for the sake of our own entertainment, somebody turn back the clock to last Monday and give that man a mulligan!

Broadcast moment of the week

“Look at that beautiful extension” – Peter Kostis, on CBS’ SwingVision.

How drained of drama was the St. Jude in Memphis? Kostis’ analysis of “beautiful extension” was applied to a SwingVision breakdown of a squirrel running up a tree.

True story. CBS taped a squirrel at the golf course making the vertical run up the tree bark, and broke it down into that super-duper micro-slow motion of the SwingVision camera. After all, Gay was crushing the field by five, Mickelson was done, Daly was done, and Tiger was nowhere near the premises. Why not analyze the squirrel’s style?

It must be said, the squirrel was phenomenal, flaunting an impeccable technique honed by thousands of years of evolution. Who knew a squirrel got all four limbs airborne while running up a tree? There has to be some pronation and supination involved here. Look for Rocky the Flying Squirrel to release his teaching video, “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Tree Running” to be pedaled on a Golf Channel infomercial coming soon to a sleepless night near you.

Where do we go from here?

• In ’02, New York fans proved the most energetic, enjoyable and memorable fans in golf history. Given that the ’02 Open was so historic, it’ll be tough to match the originality of the muni-course passion that ran through Bethpage that year. In fact, the crowds do run the chance of trying too hard to mimic the epic and raw energy of ’02.

Then again, it’s New York. Somebody once sang about that place being top of the list, king of the hill, A Number Onnnnnnnnnnnnneeee …

If it’s good enough for Sinatra, it’s good enough for me. Bring on Bethpage.

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