Davis turns into HonorMan

Brian Murphy
Yahoo! Sports

Thank goodness for Brian Davis.

After all, if the Englishman hadn’t single-handedly revived sportsmanship, honesty and chivalry by calling that penalty on himself in his playoff at Harbour Town, nobody would have even known there was a PGA Tour event on this weekend.

Talk about your post-Masters letdown. Harbour Town is always “hangover golf,” a shhh-quiet, pretty, sleepy tournament that is the equivalent of a morning-after Bloody Mary, nursed after a raging Masters.

And this week’s event was filling the bill of anonymity quite nicely. With the NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs launching, and with families headed to the ballparks for some April weekend baseball, a leader board – albeit crowded – filled with the likes of Davis, Luke Donald (who hasn’t won since 2006) and your Heath Slocums, your Bo Van Pelts and your Kris Blankses wasn’t moving many needles.

Sure, Jim Furyk was there, and sure, Furyk won for the second time this year, but his missed cut at Augusta National last week dimmed his wattage.

It was all playing out as a quite-forgettable event – until Brian Davis turned into a little-known Marvel Comics superhero: HonorMan.

HonorMan is a noble superhero, flashing powers of virtuosity, fairness and the ability to settle for $615,600 in cash for a runner-up finish.

Given the black eye golf is nursing with Tiger’s plummeting approval ratings, the combination of a lovable Phil Mickelson Masters win and HonorMan’s appearance can go a long way to healing some scars.

Able to remind all of the sport’s integrity with a single penalty! Able to see loose impediments where others cannot! He’s HonorMan!

Further, we must give credit to Davis for tremendous rules knowledge under pressure. How many of you out there knew Davis had violated a rule by brushing that reed with his backswing? Duffers like me know you can’t ground your club in a hazard, but knowing that brushing a reed on your backswing is a penalty, with no effect on the outcome of the swing, is to have a sturdy grip on the Rules of Golf.

That’s “inside baseball” rules knowledge on one’s self, as I was just saying to my friends Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, all of whom have experience calling penalties on themselves in competition.

Oh, wait. Never mind.

An amusing sidelight to all this is how rules officials like Slugger White have to become experts on marsh foliage. White got into his business because he loves golf, and the next thing he knows, he’s on national TV, crouching on a South Carolina beach, trying to determine whether a reed is rooted or not. He didn’t know he was going to turn into a high school biology teacher.

Again, golf shines like a Harbour Town lighthouse amid the sports landscape. Just one week after Tiger polarized the populace with his return from serial philandering, we’re reminded of golf’s singular nature as an honor-bound sport. At times like these, we dust off the old Bobby Jones chestnut, when he once said, “You’d just as soon congratulate a man for not robbing a bank,” after someone complimented him for calling a penalty on himself.

And really, when have you last complimented a man for not robbing a bank? Do it today, friends.

Almost without fail, all other sports go the other way. Baseball players pop up from diving catches, holding their gloves high to convince the umpire the ball did not bounce first – even if it did. Football teams rush to the line of scrimmage to get a play off before an official can review the previous play – because they know their player may have gotten away with one. Soccer players flop like fish tossed onto shore in an attempt to sway officials’ calls.

But in golf, guys like Brian Davis kiss a million bucks and a two-year exemption on tour goodbye because he saw a rules violation no one else did.

After all, he’s HonorMan. Up, up and away!

Scorecard of the week

68-66-68-71 – 15-under 273, 1st place, Y.E. Yang, European Tour China Open.

Answer this trivia question: Name the only player who finished top-10 in the Masters, then won an event the next week.

Addendum: Name the only player who finished top-10 in the Masters, then FLEW TO CHINA, then won an event the next week.

Y.E. Yang grows in stature with his latest act. In his first major since his Tiger Takedown at Hazeltine – really, have you pondered lately how epic were his chip-in eagle, and his 3-wood from Mount Olympus on 18 that week? – Yang turned in a dynamite week at Augusta.

He even stayed above the fray when Dan (The Ancient Twitterer) Jenkins had a tweeting misstep; dropping the ill considered “I think I got takeout from him last night” tweet on Yang Sunday at Augusta.

Yang then flew to China (!), picked up his clubs at the baggage carousel, and notched a big fat ‘W.’ I’m thinking the flight from Augusta to Suzhou Taihu International Golf Club was not a puddle-jumper, either.

All hail Y.E. Yang – a player to watch at Pebble Beach in June.

Broadcast moment of the week

“You’re as good as me now at Augusta.” – Nick Faldo, CBS, after Phil Mickelson won the Masters.

Yeah, yeah. So it happened last week. I don’t care. I’m still so ticked off at Faldo’s outrageous arrogance; he gets BMOW honors a week late.

For those of us who remain fascinated by one man’s fascination with him, the Masters was a bonanza of Faldo-given riches, and it deserves dissection, even at this late date.

First off, let the record show that Faldo made sure to get his “you’re as good as me now at Augusta” line within three minutes of Mickelson winning his third green jacket. The timing is important, because the moment was so immediate, and the emotions still so euphoric for Phil’s heartfelt win, Faldo’s insertion of himself was the broadcasting equivalent of a man passing loud gas during marital vows.

Worse, it was at least the third example that day of egregiously selfish commentary by Faldo. Earlier, when Jim Nantz made reference to a player being six shots off the lead, and wondering if that deficit was too large, Faldo harrumphed: “Mmm. Six shots. Interesting number, Jim.”

Oh, I get it! You came back from six shots back to beat Greg Norman in 1996, right? Clever!

Later, when Anthony Kim made birdie on 16, Faldo shouted to heavens: “A 2 on 16, Jim, could be a magic number! I made ‘2’ in 1988 and 1989 when I won.”

Wait – you won the Masters? Really? I hadn’t known.

Bottom line: If Faldo took on Humility in match play, I think Faldo would win, 5 and 4.

Thank you, dear reader, for allowing me to get that off my chest.

Mulligan of the week

We can debate the merits of an NFL star taking a spot in a Nationwide Tour event, because the decision to grant him one is debatable. When Jerry Rice, Canton-bound this summer, got a spot in the Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae in the San Francisco Bay Area, more than one player wondered: Why would he deny a spot to a guy trying to make a living on golf’s Triple-A circuit?


However, there is more to life than fairness. Rice’s presence brought a far more significant media presence to the event than before, and that’s a good thing for the Nationwide Tour. I know, because I was part of it.

Our radio show, the ‘Murph and Mac’ show on all-sports KNBR in San Francisco, set up camp and broadcast from Stonebrae on Wednesday. Whereas our listeners would normally get strong doses of Tim Lincecum talk and 49ers draft gossip, instead we spoke of the merits of Nationwide Tour player James Hahn; and interviewed Nationwide Tour player Jason Gore; and talked up Dicky Pride’s first-round lead at Stonebrae.

So those are all good things.

What wasn’t as good was Rice’s first-day effort, an 83 that lent fuel to the fire of the doubters. Rice is better than that, and may have a chance to try and make a few fringe appearances on the Champions Tour when he turns 50 in three years. He proved his worth with a bounce-back 76 on Friday, but the 83 still lingers, because first impressions linger.

It started on Rice’s first tee shot of the day on Thursday, when he got quick and pulled his ball left, into a gopher hole. It led to a double bogey, and the rout was on. Rice never put the wheels on after that opening double.

So, for the sake of 49ers fans everywhere who remember the good days, and for the sake of anybody who’s ever stood, shaking, over his first tee shot, and for the sake of Rice appearing in another Nationwide Tour event next month, and for the sake of knowing Rice probably wouldn’t have shot 83 if he hadn’t doubled his first hole… let’s give that man a mulligan!

Where do we go from here?

The tour heads to New Orleans for the Zurich Classic. We golf fans, meanwhile, head to purgatory for one more week.

After all, the news is official that both Tiger Woods AND Phil Mickelson have committed to next week’s Quail Hollow Championship in Charlotte.

Cue the music from “Rocky” – not the obvious “Gonna Fly Now” theme, though. Rather, give me the mid-round Bill Conti music, when Creed and Balboa are really hammering at each other, and ring girls are flashing by, showing us how epic the bout is with each passing round.

That’s what Quail Hollow is for us: Balboa and Creed back at it, mid-round fists flying.

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