The Ryder Cup is set for the end of the month in Scotland, and a Team USA that is already a two-touchdown underdog to Team Rory – errr, Team Europe – might as well take a flyer on the hero of Labor Day, one Chris Kirk.
USA captain Tom Watson makes his final three captain's picks Tuesday night in New York, and some of his top choices include:
a) Tiger Woods, the greatest player of his generation and … NEWS ALERT: Tiger announced his withdrawal from Ryder Cup consideration last month.
b) Jason Dufner, a major champion and … NEWS ALERT: Dufner withdrew from last month's PGA Championship with back/neck injuries, and is unlikely to play.
c) Dustin Johnson, a multiple-winner and dynamic athlete who … NEWS ALERT: Johnson announced he is on a leave of absence to take care of "personal challenges."
So, Cap'n Tom: You could do worse than Chris Kirk.
Kirk is the 29-year-old Georgia native who played his college golf at Georgia and had a couple of Tour wins in events you probably didn't pay much attention to. He made his name Monday on national TV on a national holiday by doing something nobody else dared do, and that is beat the stuffing out of Rory McIlroy.
Paired with McIlroy in Sunday's third round, Kirk fired a sizzling 64 to match Rory's sizzling 64. Back for more in Monday's final round, paired again with Rory, Kirk took stock of the Ulsterman with four majors at age 25, owner of the best driver on Earth, recipient of endless reams of praise, and dropped a 66 right in Rory's face. Rory shot 70. Kirk was the Road Runner. Rory was Wile E. Coyote.
And so, Chris Kirk won the Deutsche Bank Championship – aided greatly by a final-hole disaster from contender Billy Horschel – and now leads the FedExCup playoff standings and is a serious contender for the $10 million prize. And all of a sudden Watson is rifling through Kirk's Wikipedia page to figure out who the dude is, and is asking anyone he knows for Kirk's cell phone number.
The last time the U.S. won the Ryder Cup, they did it with a bunch of 2008 no-names like Anthony Kim, Boo Weekley, J.B. Holmes and Hunter Mahan. Europe fell asleep. The U.S. clocked 'em. Maybe Chris Kirk can show up with guys like Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth and Jimmy Walker and clock 'em all over again.
Kirk handled the questions about the Ryder Cup in ways both curious and impressive. Impressive, because when he was asked by NBC's Steve Sands about whether he deserved the captain's pick, Kirk said it would sound entitled to say so, and only hoped he'd put himself into contention. And curious, because NBC's Dan Hicks reported that Kirk had said earlier in the week that his Saturday, Sept. 27 plans – Ryder Cup weekend – involved going to a Georgia-Tennessee football game, and that he didn't want to be a captain's pick, preferring to earn the points or not go at all.
Now that is some SEC football devotion.
Imagine Watson calling Kirk and saying in that earnest, nothing-is-more-important-than-the-game-of-golf manner of his, "Chris, I'd like you to represent the United States in the Ryder Cup" and Kirk answering, with a bulldog barking in the background: "Sorry, Cap'n. I've got some pork butt marinating and have been busy putting together my Kenny Chesney playlist for the tailgate. Can't make it. Go Dawgs!"
We shall see how it plays out, but for an American side with no Tiger, no Dustin, no Duf and really no chance, Watson owes it to U.S. golf fans to see if Kirk can't re-arrange his schedule and go chase down Rors again, this time overseas. Besides, Georgia-Florida is a way better game than Georgia-Tennessee, and that's not til Nov. 1. Just some useful college football information for you, Cap'n Tom.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
70-71-65-65 – 13-under 271, Geoff Ogilvy, tie-2nd, FedExCup playoff Deutsche Bank Championships, TPC Boston, Norton, Mass.
Look who's back.
Ogilvy, one of the more thoughtful, measured and liked players on the PGA Tour, is crafting a comeback. Cool by most of us.
The Aussie was once one of the world's elite, ranked as high as No. 3 on the planet and the winner of the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. But a shoulder injury in 2011, and swing changes, and open admissions that maybe, at age 37, the stress of golf was not for him led to a plummet. Ogilvy fell to No. 216 in the world before a magical week in Reno last month – the Barracuda Championships played opposite the WGC-Bridgestone – got him his first win since 2010.
That got him a top-125 FedExCup invitation to the Barclays, where a missed cut made Ogilvy think the Reno win was going to be his 2014 highlight. He thought his season was over, knowing the odds were he wouldn't finish in the top 100 of the FedExCup points. He went home, put his clubs away, and started thinking about taking the kids to school, relaxing on the couch on weekends, watching American football and having a cold beer.
But the obtuse FedExCup points system worked in his favor, and Ogilvy was told he was the No. 100-ranked player after – get this – Brendon Todd made par on the 18th hole at the Barclays. Yep. A Brendon Todd par for a tie-46th at the Barclays somehow, statistically, earned Ogilvy the last invite to TPC Boston. Gotta love computers, baby.
And now look. Ogilvy found something over the weekend with his pair of 65s, and has vaulted back onto our TVs. He's now 24th in the FedExCup, headed to Cherry Hills for the BMW, has a good shot at the season-ending Tour Championship and – who knows? – is alive in the race for $10 mil.
The lesson, sports fans: Taking kids to school can wait. The golf course is calling.
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
"We're going to make a change to the top 70 players…" – Dan Hicks, NBC, announcing a new field for the BMW Championship, mid-Deutsche Bank Championship.
Speaking of which!
Just as Ogilvy was gifted the news of Brendon Todd's all-important par and all-important tie-46th at the Barclay's, we had another tale of "Computer Craziness" from the FedExCup on Monday.
Late in the Labor Day broadcast, Hicks told us that a birdie by Jason Day had changed things. Somehow, after Day's birdie, the computer decided to wholly screw a player named Robert Streb. The computer decided Streb's body of work wasn't up to snuff. The computer vaulted Jerry Kelly – who'd earlier eagled the 18th hole – to the 70th and final spot at the BMW in Cherry Hills.
So, Hicks told us that Streb was out. Kelly was in. That's how we do it these days, FedExCup fans.
Sport is at its best when we see magical things happen before our eyes: Rory swings his driver. LeBron drives to the basket. Mike Trout swings his bat.
But in the FedExCup playoffs, never mind. All information will be given on a need-to-know basis.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
This may be the easiest Mully o' the Week for 2014.
Blown pressure shots don't come much more naked than Billy Horschel's 6-iron from 212 yards out, on the 18th hole Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
On Sunday, Horschel birdied the final three holes for a 67 and a spot in Monday's final twosome with Russell Henley. And Horschel, whose only career win came in April 2013 at New Orleans, was delivering the goods. He was three-under for the day on Monday when he arrived at the 18th tee, one back of Kirk. And when Kirk only made par on the birdie-able par-5 18th hole, the door was open for Horschel. The door was pushed further ajar when Horschel hit a beautiful drive, and had 212 in. Granted, the ball was below his feet. But Horschel does this stuff for a living. Birdie was probable; eagle and a win was possible.
Until Horschel made his swing.
"Chunked it, chunked it," Roger Maltbie told us, as the ball took flight.
Horschel's golf ball fell, feckless, into a hazard dramatically short of the green. Awful. One press room wag wondered if it was the worst pressure shot ever. Even a fan, off-camera, was heard to shout: "WHAT THE …"
Horschel tossed his club into the air, and performed the universal move of professional players who know they've swallowed the olive: He laughed at himself. Openly.
He would bogey the hole and finish tie-2nd, still earning a trip to the top-70 BMW Championship, but a far cry from the victory he was eyeing as he stood over his ball. Horschel faced the music and did an NBC interview, almost as self-flagellation, calling it "the worst swing I made all week." Given that it happened at the most important time of the week, it was hard to avoid thinking about Johnny Miller's favorite word. It rhymes with "smoke," which is what Horschel's chances went up in.
So, let's go back out to 18 fairway, remind Horschel the principles of striking a ball below his feet, maybe encourage him to do some Zen breathing exercises, hand him that 6-iron all over again and … give that man a mulligan!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Down to the final two weeks of this stuff, friends. The top 70 players remain, and they head to the Rocky Mountains for the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills. Rory McIlroy is bringing his driver to elevation. Watch out, NASA.