The FedEx Cup playoffs are confusing, yes – what with the red color codes and the green color codes and the “Jason Bohn is in, and D.A. Points is out, but only if Marc Leishman birdies 17 and pars 18 and only if Kevin Streelman putts cross-handed and so on and whatnot” – but at least the craziness has given us one gift, made one development in the golf world clear.
The Cheesehead Assassin lives.
Every sport has its playoff legend. In baseball, it’s Mister October. In basketball, it’s Big Shot Rob. In golf, it’s the FedEx Finisher, the Playoff Punisher, the September Slayer it’s, it’s … Steve Stricker?
Don’t let the “Wisconsin accountant” look fool you. Steve Stricker will cut your heart out, and eat it with a side of his home state’s cheddar.
With his birdie-birdie finish at the Deutsche Bank Championship on Labor Day Monday, Stricker won his third event of the year and moved ahead – that’s right, I said it – AHEAD of Tiger Woods on the FedEx Cup points list.
Of course, if any of us understood the FedEx Cup points list, that stat would have a whole hell of a lot more meaning.
If the best assassins are the silent ones, consider Stricker the ninja of the PGA Tour.
For example, did you know that Stricker’s three wins trail only Tiger for most on tour this year? Did you know that in the gloried history of the FedEx Cup playoffs – yes, they actually keep stats like this, mostly for the bathroom reading pleasure of the FedEx CEO – Stricker has the lowest aggregate score to par of any player, including that guy who wears red on Sundays and can’t putt anymore?
And did you know this whopper: Stricker is currently the No. 2-ranked player in the world?
For a guy who can walk through every airport in America unscathed – with the possible exception of Milwaukee, where he might get slightly scathed – that’s saying something. And what it says more than anything else is that Stricker has more “gorgonzola,” shall we say, where it counts than other phony media-appointed challengers for the 2-spot.
At the very least, we have to thank Stricker for giving us something to watch while Tiger continues his bizarre Sergio Garcia Putting Tour. (Yes, two knocks on El Nino in consecutive paragraphs.) I mean, is this guy throwing it for gamblers, or what? I know I’ve written many times this spring and summer about how there’s no rule that says Tiger makes every clutch putt, but his latest display of missed five-footers defied scientific theory.
All those missed tiddlers meant Tiger was so irrelevant, his 63 on Monday was the quietest 63 of his pro career. Seriously. Granted, I was working the remote between the final round of the Deutsche and September ball between my Giants and the Padres, and I might have missed a flowery homage to the world’s No. 1, but I think NBC’s coverage set a record for longest stretches of time without mentioning the words “Tiger” or “Woods” in a tournament at which, in fact, Tiger was playing. Near the end of the broadcast, an “Oh, yeah, we almost forgot” montage showed Tiger’s 63.
Heck, that might also be a record for tournaments where Tiger ISN’T playing, too.
Credit to NBC. The drama was Stricker and Scott Verplank and Padraig Harrington, so the coverage let their story play out, Tiger-free. Yeah, it’s cool when Tiger shoots 63, and yeah, it’s cool when he holes out for eagle – it’s just not that cool when he’s doing it while Jason Dufner is still having bagels in the clubhouse before he even heads to the practice range.
Scorecard of the week
• 66-69-68-65 – 268, 2nd place, Jason Dufner, Deutsche Bank Championship.
On a leader board featuring Stricker, Harrington, Verplank, Goosen and Angel Cabrera, among other familiar names, came this gate-crasher from Auburn University, featuring a bit of a paunch and a rapid-fire approach – see ball, hit ball – that was, in the end, somewhat appealing.
If you’ve followed the fine print this year, you’ve noticed Dufner, and not just because his name contains A) a first syllable no golfer should ever have; and B) a first syllable that makes you crave a beer with Homer Simpson. He has six top-10s this year, and his most recent, at Deutsche, is curious because it comes after a hat trick of missed cuts.
But you have to love Dufner, rumpled and slightly-out-of-shape, telling Jimmy Roberts of NBC: “Sometimes missing a cut is a good thing,” because it lets you get your mind fresh.
Somewhere, Tiger Woods and Byron Nelson felt a pain in their chestal area.
Credit to Johnny Miller, who observed Dufner’s less-than-glamorous style, waited a beat, and said: “I guess his idol is Paul Goydos.”
Welcome to the bigs, Jason Dufner!
Mulligan of the week
• The captain’s picks are in for next month’s President’s Cup, and we just learned something we never knew – Aussie blood runs thicker than vegemite. Either that, or Greg Norman remains too starry-eyed in love with new wife Chrissy Evert to think straight.
Otherwise, we have no explanation for Cap’n Greg taking Adam Scott as a captain’s pick.
That’s the same Adam Scott who has racked up 10 missed cuts in 18 starts and hasn’t sniffed a win since the spring of ’08, way back when Hillary Clinton still was a viable candidate for the Democratic nomination and Lehman Brothers was still handing out gold-plated keys to executive washrooms.
Sure, chicks dig Adam Scott. And he’ll look good in the team photo. But that won’t help much when he’s searching the limbs of cypress trees at Harding Park in San Francisco to look for errant golf balls.
Cap’n Greg went with a countryman, dissing South Africa’s Rory Sabbatini, Korea’s K.J. Choi and India’s Jeev Milka Singh. Singh, in particular, would have been an enormously interesting pick, and drawn in a nation of, oh, a cool 1.1 billion fans.
Fred Couples played it straight and smart, taking U.S. Open champ Lucas Glover and Ryder Cup hero Hunter Mahan.
Norman went with the guy who looks good in Burberry, but looks bad making bogey. At least he’ll have one more guy to talk Russell Crowe flicks and AC/DC albums with in the team room.
Now, watch. Scott will go out and tear it up and become the inspired hero of the President’s Cup. It always works that way when a sportswriter ticks off an athlete. But until then, somebody head over to Greg Norman and –. give that man a mulligan!
Broadcast moment of the week
• “I hate when I cry all the time” – Stricker, going final scene from “Old Yeller” after his win in Boston in his NBC post-round interview.
Please accept an apology. Earlier in the column, I dubbed Steve Stricker “The Cheesehead Assassin.” Upon further review, the moniker should probably be “Golf’s Dick Vermeil.”
Just as the former Super Bowl winning coach was known to weep at stoplights, Stricker has turned moments of triumph into self-induced gullywashers on national TV.
The latest was in front of Roger Maltbie after Stricker’s win, and if you can work up tears in front of Roger Maltbie, you can obviously go to an emotional place beyond the reach of most.
And in the end, there’s nothing wrong with a man showing a little sentiment. Adam Morrison showed how deeply he cared after his Gonzaga career came to a crushing end in the Sweet 16, and it was poignant. Andre Agassi still hasn’t stopped bawling from his U.S. Open farewell tour, and it showed how much he cared. Brett Favre cried at his retirement press conference – uh, that’s his retirement from the Packers … before his un-retirement from the Packers … before his retirement from the Jets … and before he pump-faked another retirement after the Jets … aw, the hell with it.
Back to Stricker. Well done, sir, huzzah, huzzah and all that. Nice win. Just remind us never to rent “Rudy” or “Field of Dreams” with you, lest we need a squeegee to mop the floor.
Where do we go from here?
• On to Cog Hill for something called the BMW Open, which is the top 70 players standing in this FedEx Cup nonsense.
I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: I don’t care who wins the FedEx Cup, and I don’t understand the points system, and once the NFL starts, most of this will all be irrelevant anyway, but any system that gets Tiger Woods to play three consecutive weeks is a decent system, indeed.