On the weekend Nick Watney – talented but essentially bland – rolled to his second big win of the year, and on the weekend Rickie Fowler wound up looking silly dressed in orange while disappointing on Sunday yet again, and on a weekend where Bubba Watson had to apologize to the continent of Europe via Twitter, I found myself missing the hell out of Tiger Woods.
See, I just finished an advance copy of the novel "The Swinger," co-written by Sports Illustrated golf aces Michael Bamberger and Alan Shipnuck. Bamberger and Shipnuck did what excellent writers do – they wrote a book that had to be written, taking the mind-blowing events of Tiger's downfall and putting them into the fictional form of multiracial golf superstar Tree Tremont, a sex-addicted international icon whose world comes tumbling down when his perfect home life is blown up, one sordid revelation at a time.
I won't reveal too much about the entertaining book that essentially details Tiger's tumble, except to say it's a must-read for golf fans, and to say that a particularly R-rated joke about Vijay Singh made me put the book down in my lap while I laughed out loud.
The literary types call this form of novel "roman a clef," taking real-life events and overlaying them in fictional form, right down to a sheepishly grinning, visor-tipping rival named "Will Martinsen." I just call it a reminder of how precipitous Tiger's – excuse me, Tree's – fall really was, and how much, in a 2011 season devoid of any real action on the PGA Tour, we miss this flawed, temperamental, once-in-a-lifetime superstar.
Love him for his athletic genius, or hate him for his on-course profanity and petulant club tossing, the pre-downfall Tiger was America's most compelling athlete, a surer bet than a waffling LeBron in the NBA Finals; a more iconic figure than a helmeted Tom Brady; a more Madison Avenue-friendly smile than the odd Alex Rodriguez. And since his fall, after all the late-night punch lines and all the tsk-tsking from a Puritanical public, we still feel the void on Sundays in the golf world.
In other words, Nick Watney – for all his skill and promise – isn't the symbol of a golf world that will easily forget Tiger. Watney has two wins this year, at Doral and at Aronimink, and each time he's played brilliantly over the weekend: 68-67 at Doral, 62-66 at Aronimink. It's impressive stuff.
But there's something missing with Watney, an "it" factor. Funny enough, his caddie nicknamed him "Melba" at Doral, saying he was "toast" after two so-so opening rounds. In reality, "Milquetoast" would be a better nickname for a player whose talent I admire, but who fails to move the needle in living rooms across America.
It says something that the fans at Aronimink showed up at the first tee ready to cheer on Rickie Fowler. Some wore flat-brimmed caps in honor of the flat-brimmed Fowler, while others cheered loudly for Rickie. Even Watney admitted it felt like an "away" game.
But Fowler, whose all-orange outfits pay tribute to Oklahoma State, his alma mater, failed again to come through on a Sunday. The AT&T National was his 50th career start without a win since turning pro in 2009. For a 22-year-old likeable player a lot of us think can be the "American Rory McIlroy," that zero is gaining weight.
Fowler even admitted Rory's romp at Congressional was a "kick in the butt" to get going, and added that the strong summer being turned in by amateur Patrick Cantlay of UCLA (three top-25 finishes) motivated him, too. He said that when he visited Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo in the CBS booth after a Saturday 64 put him in the final grouping for Sunday. After arriving Sunday in orange to shouts and tumult from fans, he shot 74.
Faldo made a big deal about how Fowler always tweets "IT'S GO TIME" before his rounds, and justifiably asked if "GO TIME" would be less a cute tweet and more a call to victory. Fowler's Sunday answer was not inspiring.
Tiger's Sunday answers were always inspiring. That's why I miss him now, more than ever. I can blame Bamberger and Shipnuck for reminding me.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
74-74-MC – Missed Cut, Bubba Watson, European Tour French Open, Le Golf National, Paris.
Considering Fowler's foul-up on Sunday, and Watson's work setting back the international image of Americans last week, perhaps we should consider some merit to a "Curse of the Golf Boyz" jinx?
After all, Watson and Fowler formed half of the boy-band send-up video, "Oh Oh Oh" that lit up YouTube for 1.9 million hits – and counting. It would be cruel to think that such a well-executed piece of comedy might carry with it some sort of dark cloud, but maybe the golf gods for some odd reason frown on PGA Tour stars in overalls, fur vests and leather pants. Beats me. I thought it was a scream.
At any rate, good ol' Bubba – and of course, it would be a guy named Bubba with as Southern an accent as you'd want to find – found himself in a heapin' mess when he took a $240,000 appearance fee to play in France, then essentially dismissed French culture as if it were a fly on a picnic roast, if you listen to the French howls. He described the Louvre as "a building that started with an ‘L,' " and said his visit to the Arc de Triomphe was an "arch that I drove around in a circle."
He also said he missed home, and reportedly stiffed a fellow player who wanted a ride in a courtesy car.
Truth told, Watson's verbal mishaps should have rated about a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10, but because Europe's been cranky ever since we invented Disneyland and the Super Bowl, Bubba had to fly back Stateside after missing the cut and tweet out some apologies.
"If I offended anyone, I apologize – definitely wasn't my intention," he tweeted. Later, he wrote: "Hope to learn how to deal with new & different challenges in my life & golf career."
Suffice to say, Bubba's work at Royal St. George's next week – where there are no Chik-Fil-A's, I might add – will be interesting to watch, since he's turned himself into one of the world's best players, but also since he missed the cut at the British in '09 and '10.
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
"I personally don't think he's got any intentions [of playing the British Open]. His whole career is totally around that left knee. It controls the rest of his career. He's got to get it 100 percent fit." – Nick Faldo, CBS, on Tiger Woods.
In 2008, Tiger hosted a tournament to benefit his foundation – and couldn't play in it. His mid-week news conference, naturally, made headlines, partially for the beard he sported, but mostly for his declaration that he has "no timetable" to return to play.
David Feherty had Tiger for a Sunday interview, and described Tiger's oft-repaired knee as being like "Joan Rivers." I wondered if Tiger even knew who Joan Rivers was, or her proclivity for plastic surgery, but his answer of: "That's one way of looking at it" was classic Tiger, and very reminiscent of Bamberger and Shipnuck's Tree Tremont character.
Of missing out while watching Watney hold off K.J. Choi and Jeff Overton, Tiger said: "It's fun to see, but then again, it's not fun to see," and that made sense, given his thirst for the fight. But when Tiger admitted he hasn't hit any golf balls yet in his rehab, it not only wrote off Sandwich's Open (in my mind), but also cast next month's PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club into doubt.
Faldo and Peter Kostis said Tiger's absence at the British Open was a foregone conclusion, and with each missed major, one has to wonder about that pursuit of Jack Nicklaus.
I still miss him. Tiger, too.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
Some of this column may read harshly toward Rickie Fowler who, in the end, remains just 22 years old. Everything about Fowler is easy to root for – his homemade swing, his down-to-earth attitude, even his millennial-generation flat-brimmed hat.
I'd like to see the kid win, and launch a great career.
And yet, tied for the lead at Aronimink, Fowler made a mess of the second hole, in a hurry: From a greenside bunker, he barely got out; laying three, his putt barely made it up a slope; laying four, he ran a bogey try three feet past, and tapped in for double-bogey six.
Good night, Irene; good night, Rickie; good night, all-orange outfit.
So, in the interest of nurturing youth, let's go back to that second hole, start all over again, re-tee and … give that kid a mulligan!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Here's an odd one: One week before the British Open at Royal St. George's, the PGA Tour is putting on the John Deere Classic near Moline, Ill., and the defending British Open champion, who plays on the European Tour, is signed up to play.
Louis Oosthuizen, your travel plans baffle me – as does your given reason of wanting to play the event so you can visit the John Deere factory. Oosthuizen told reporters he's a farm boy at heart, and part of his Open winnings from St. Andrews went toward buying a John Deere-made tractor.
Granted, the Deere organizers provide a private jet to fly to the British Open, but still …
OK, then. Bring on Moline and Looie O's pretty golf swing.
Also of major note: the U.S. Women's Open at Broadmoor in Colorado. Hide the kids – Yani Tseng is coming to kick more major rear end. She's the closest thing to Tiger since Tree Tremont in "The Swinger."
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