This column comes to you today with a heavy heart, sports fans. As a lifelong resident of the San Francisco Bay Area and avid 49ers fan, the sting of the NFC championship loss in Seattle has me grasping for something, anything to ease the pain.
Patrick Reed, come on down. Why the heck not?
The stocky 23-year-old not only dazzled the record books with his trifecta of 63s to open the Humana Challenge in the California desert, he closed the deal when he had to on Sunday with some key putts at the finish of his final-round 71 to win for the second time in just 46 starts. The kid is a winner, a finisher.
Does that make him, say, the Richard Sherman of the PGA Tour?
I don't know. My head was buried too far in a couch pillow to see if Reed chased down runner-up Ryan Palmer to offer him a sarcastic slap on the rear and accompanying needling handshake while woofing in his ear. I was too busy staring off into the darkness to see if Reed grabbed The Golf Channel microphone and shouted: "THAT'S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU BRING A SORRY PGA TOUR FIELD UP AGAINST ME, THE BEST IN THE GAME!" I was too preoccupied with what might have been with the 49ers to see if Reed offered a "choke" sign to Zach Johnson, who nearly caught Reed with a final-round 62.
On second thought, only a lunatic would challenge Zach Johnson right now. In the calendar year of 2014, Johnson has played 12 rounds of golf and only failed to shoot in the 60s once. He logged a win at Kapalua, a tie for eighth at the Sony and a third at the Humana. He is taking four weeks off to kiss his biceps and admire his scorecards.
Point is, get to know Reed. The kid who had his wife caddie for him until she became pregnant with their first child is the latest new name to rush into this post-Tiger landscape. He's now top-50 in the world at No. 42 and earned his way into the 64-player Match Play field, in all likelihood.
A Texan who played college golf at Georgia before transferring to Augusta State and helping them win two national championships earned his Tour card at the December,2012 Q-School with his bride on the bag. He's got an all-around game, and when his putter gets going like it did at the Humana – a "putting coma" he called it – he is fun to watch.
As for those consecutive 63s to start the first three rounds, it's nothing short of record-breaking golf. Steve Elkington was asked on Twitter if he'd ever shot three consecutive 63s, and responded with an exclamatory curse word and added: "Nobody has … it's the scoring record."
Even without the Sherman-esque antics, a pretty fine weekend for the kid.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
73-70-63-69 – 13-under 275, Phil Mickelson, third place, European Tour Abu Dhabi Championship, Abu Dhabi Golf Course, United Arab Emirates.
Lefty, how we've missed you. It's so much more fun when you're around.
Not having teed it up since Shanghai in early November, the San Diegan opened his 2014 season in the Middle East for a handsome appearance fee, and he delivered the goods. Not only did Mickelson gift us with Pure Phil-ness on the golf course, he also opened the week by tripping the light fantastic, appearing in a cultural dance with Rory McIlroy and his U.A.E. hosts to begin the week – must-see video if you haven't.
Abu Dhabi was really the best event in the world last week, with four of the world's top 10, adding Rory McIlroy (second place), Henrik Stenson (missed cut) and Sergio Garcia (tie-19th) to the mix.
But as usual, Lefty was the most compelling player, even eclipsing the Spaniard winner, Pablo Larrazabal. His 63 on Saturday reminded us that nobody beats Phil when it comes to microwave-hot rounds, and his adventures in the scraggly bush on the 13th hole in the final round – a triple-bogey that cost him the win after he tried to hit a right-handed/baseball-swing/crouched stance shot that had no shot whatsoever of success. Entertaining as heck, though.
As Phil said with a laugh, according to Steve Elling of the international golf media on Sunday: "I enjoy challenging myself to hit shots, and sometimes I pull them off, and sometimes I don't …We're all along for the ride. We're up, we're down, we see where it goes."
And where it stops, nobody knows. Welcome back, Phil. Happy New Year.
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
(Phil Mickelson dancing) – Video from Abu Dhabi opening ceremony.
Not only is this clip notable for Mickelson's enthusiastic left-right swaying, it's also a stark contrast to Rory McIlroy's two-left-feet party-pooper lack of moves.
As Phil said, as only Phil can: "I quite fancy a dance … I love learning about different cultures."
This guy must have been phenomenal at Arizona State fraternity parties. I see him placing some cardboard down, dusting off late '80s break dancing moves. Maybe inspired by "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo." Again, bless you, Phil. You're the golf gift that keeps on giving.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
Let the record show that this column has always been a fan of young Rory McIlroy. His golf swing, when dialed, is as pretty as a Northern Irish morning; and his attitude, when right, is as likable as a Phil Mickelson dance.
So, yes, when his 2013 season went awry, we went with the "Tough Love" approach in this cyberspace, chastising Rors for his head-over-heels obsession with his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, and his failure to seize the career momentum he launched with the 2012 PGA Championship win. His money-grab move to Nike smelled bad from the start, and predictably, things went haywire.
That's why it's so great to see the dust settling in the Ulsterman's career about now. Things turned in the right direction when he birdied the last to chase down hometown hero Adam Scott in the Australian Open to start December. Things got better when he proposed to Wozniacki to start the New Year – "I was sweating, but I'd an idea she'd say yes" he told the Belfast Telegraph – to give an auspicious start to the calendar.
And then, on to Abu Dhabi where, despite his unenthusiastic hoofing, he played great golf, rounds of 70, 67, 70 and 68. And that third-round 70? Yeah, it should have been a 68.
Here's where our Mully o' the Week comes in.
After hitting his tee shot on the second hole into a pedestrian crosswalk, McIlroy took a drop and hit his next shot. Only, it turns out, his left foot was straddling the crosswalk – a no-no for a stance after relief. It was only noticed by the caddie of his playing competitor, who told McIlroy after the round that he may have violated a rule.
McIlroy appreciated the heads-up, went out with tour officials to the spot, determined he'd violated the rule and had to sign a scorecard with a two-stroke penalty attached.
You'd think McIlroy, enraged, would go Keith Moon on the scorer's trailer.
But this is 2014 Rory; engaged-to-Carolina Rory; Aussie Open champ Rory. He dealt with it, nearly won the darn event, and even tweeted out a clever response: "Foot fault, " he wrote, and a nod to the sport of his betrothed.
So, in the spirit of smoking the peace pipe with Rors in this column, and to get his 2014 off to an even better start, let's go back out to that second hole, get a better drop with no "foot fault" and … give that man a mulligan!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
There was a time when Tiger Woods' first tournament of a calendar year would be stop-the-presses type stuff. But Tiger is 38, and there are youngsters like Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy entertaining us, and there's a brave new world to behold.
So, Tiger makes his 2014 debut at Torrey Pines this week. It's news, but it's not Richard Sherman-level woofing news. That'd take some doing, to eclipse that guy. Tell me about it. Sigh.