Let’s quickly get the Kevin Stadler-was-wearing-Broncos-orange and Kevin-Stadler-is-a-Broncos-fan jokes out of the way early:
Q: What’s the difference between Kevin Stadler’s Phoenix Open win and the Broncos’ Super Bowl flameout?
A: One showed up on time; one never showed up.
Q: What happened to Stadler’s favorite QB, Peyton Manning?
A: Turns out spending Saturday at TPC Scottsdale’s 16th hole was a baaaaaad idea . . .
All right, all right. We could go on. But in reality, the only bad thing to happen to Kevin Stadler on Sunday was the fate of his beloved NFL team, which laid one of the biggest, stinkiest eggs in Super Bowl history. And the Broncos know from laying big, stinky eggs in Super Bowls. Oh! Cheap shot. Sorry, Kevin.
Otherwise, Sunday was Super for Kevin Stadler.
The 33-year-old journeyman’s one-shot win over Bubba Watson and the appealing Canadian, Graham DeLaet, ended a long wait, and was his first in 239 PGA Tour starts, or, as Stadler estimated after the round, his first in “295 million or something” starts. He was joking, of course, and has won just about everywhere – once each in Europe, Asia, Australia, and four times on the Web.com Tour – before seizing his PGA Tour maiden.
He didn’t say as much, and in fact he downplayed it as much as he could, but getting the first PGA Tour win as the son of former Masters champion Craig Stadler had to factor into his “295 million or something” joke. It can’t be easy being the son of the Walrus, who won 30 times worldwide, and 13 times on the PGA Tour, and the comparisons are doubly difficult when the son carries the same beefy, double-XL build as the Dad. There’s no mistaking the DNA connection on these guys.
Everywhere he goes, Kevin Stadler is seen as Craig’s son, and that means questions like: Has he won a Masters yet, like his Dad? The answer is not only in the negative, but Kevin Stadler has never even earned an invitation to the Masters – until now. He said he has gone several years as his Dad’s guest, but decided several years ago to not return until he could “tee it up”. Now, he can tee it up.
It didn’t always look like he would earn the invite to the cathedral of pines on Sunday, despite his blazing hot start of birdie-birdie-birdie to overcome a two-shot deficit to Watson. But a nightmare double bogey on the 11th hole that involved cactus and a yippy putt seemed to remove Stadler from the equation – until Bubba made bogey on the famous par-3 16th to open the door. Oddly, Watson celebrated his bogey by tossing free PING visors to the crowd, a sign of how relaxed he truly was as he stalked his first win since the 2012 Masters. Or, it was the sign of a guy who was trying too hard to show how relaxed he was as he stalked his first win since the 2012 Masters, and his visor-toss was a case of Bubba doth protesting too much.
In fact, Watson’s collapse in Phoenix – he bogeyed two of the last three holes, and his missed 5-footer on 18 would have forced a playoff had it gone in – was the other storyline from Phoenix. It was The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee who spent Sunday morning talking about Watson playing with “angst” and how he had “monsters under his bed,” as it’s been nearly two years since he won, and how there has been no post-Masters exclamation point. Don’t tell Tiger Woods, but Chamblee appeared a savant when Bubba missed that oh-so-makeable putt on the 72nd hole. He looked nervy. And he had to be bothered by playing partner Ryan Moore’s sluggish pace, as Bubba called out slow play in his Saturday press conference. It was like Moore ran the Four Corners offense, and Bubba couldn’t handle.
One golf wag emailed to say Bubba’s missed putt may have been altered by Stadler and his even-beefier caddie tilting the green off its axis. Oh, another cheap shot! Stadler can carry that family girth with even more pride now. He’s a PGA Tour winner, he’s Masters-bound, and all is well – as long as he didn’t watch the Super Bowl at his victory party.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
63-70-69-74 – 12-under 276, Rory McIlroy, tie-9th, European Tour Dubai Desert Classic, Emirates Golf Course, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
This Rory kid. Just when we thought it was safe to climb back aboard the bandwagon, he goes and does this. Confounding, he is.
Tied for the lead with seven holes to play, the 24-year-old Ulsterman blew a perfectly good chance at victory with three bogeys in four holes on Sunday’s back nine (including two par-5s). Not only did he display the lack of killer instinct he too often does, but he opened the door for his critics by having his fiancée Caroline Wozniacki follow him inside the ropes from the 10th hole onward on Sunday.
Was it a coincidence that McIlroy fell apart once his paramour – the woman so many have conjectured has caused him to lose focus on his craft – physically entered his airspace? Listen, nobody is denying the two of them happiness and we’ll be sure to send a Bed, Bath and Beyond gift card when the blessed occasion occurs. But Wozniacki’s move is a little unusual, a move more commonly associated with a team event, like the Ryder Cup.
This is a tournament in which Rory had a chance to notch his second win in three starts, dating to his December 2013 Australian Open win, especially after his opening-round 63. Tiger Woods, who finished tie-41st and is quietly off to the worst start of his pro career, was making as much noise as a desert mouse, and here young Rors had the golf world in his palm. That is, until he went all Denver Broncos on the back nine, with his babe in tow.
Bad day, bad back nine, bad look. We’ll see him next at the Accenture Match Play in a few weeks, at which point Rory fans will have to ponder all these festering Rory questions all over again. Unsolicited advice: Have lovely Caroline get a hot stone massage at the resort while you focus on the golf, big guy.
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
“Was that the way he was trying to play that shot?” – a baffled Jim Nantz on CBS, after Bubba Watson’s ground ball from the rough wound up just five feet from the 72nd hole.
The Phoenix Open seemed destined to be Watson’s much-needed post-Masters win, the kind of victory that reminded you the kooky lefty is still out there and still a threat at age 35. Watson has played 37 events now since the famous “Hook Shot from Heaven” from the Augusta National pines on the 10th fairway won him that green jacket in 2012.
Not only is he winless since then, but he’s logged only seven top-10s and has seen his world ranking go as low as No. 30. Now, many players would commit felonies for a green jacket, a top-30 world ranking and seven top-10s in 37 starts, but Bubba Watson is one of those players just compelling enough with his homemade swing and his make-‘em-up-as-we-go shot selections to make us expect grander, big-time things.
And then Chamblee gave voice to the elephant in the room, that Watson can play jittery and get jumpy when things get tight. And then, Watson played jittery and got jumpy when things got tight in Phoenix, including what he said was a misclub on 16. And then his tugged drive on 18 into the rough. And then his wicked combination flier lie/scald job when he flew the green on 18.
That brought up his chip, and he hit what appeared to be a mistake out of the rough, only it clipped a spectator rope, stayed on the ground and wound up smelling like a rose.
Now, it takes some kind of mystery for CBS golf experts like Nantz, Nick Faldo and David Feherty to essentially admit they’re not sure Watson meant to do what he did. It was like watching a guy bank in a three-pointer by accident. I mean, do you congratulate him?
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
… which leads us to our mulligan of the week, the shot that followed Watson’s chip.
He had five feet for a playoff, and certainly he’d make it. At the time, sports fans were probably thinking it would be a good thing if he missed, since the Super Bowl was set to begin in 25 minutes. A playoff would only delay the party, right?
But in retrospect, I wish Watson had made the putt and spawned a two-hour playoff with Stadler that would have kept so many of us Seahawk-disliking NFL fans away from the TV. Because once Watson missed that putt, and Stadler had his win, we all had to flip over and see Peyton Manning’s center snap the ball to Omaha when Peyton wasn’t looking for it, and the rout was on.
Had Watson made it, we’d have been spared the blowout! So, let’s go back out to 18, give Watson that 5-footer, remind him that nobody (especially us 49ers fans) wanted to see Seattle rout everybody’s favorite QB, Peyton Manning, and … give that man a mulligan!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Welcome … to Fantasy Island! Actually, welcome to Pebble Beach, and since it’s the nearest the PGA Tour gets to my San Francisco Bay Area home, I thought I’d put on the white tuxedo and welcome you all to the Monterey Peninsula, Ricardo Montalban-style.
The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am features seven of the world’s top 21-ranked players, including the always-entertaining Phil Mickelson, defending champ Brandt Snedeker and Paulina Gretzky’s boyfriend, Dustin Johnson, who will have to be on his best behavior since Paulina Gretzky’s dad, the greatest hockey player ever and a Canadian slightly more respected than Justin Bieber, Wayne Gretzky, is playing in the celebrity rotation.