Welcome, golf fans, to Fantasyland.
In Fantasyland, every drive off a cart path kicks back to the fairway. Every skulled chip hits the flagstick at 70 mph and dies, on the spot, inches from the cup. Every match-play foe concedes the 18-incher, and every cart girl looks like Scarlett Johansson.
And in Fantasyland, Phil and Tiger wage epic, Braveheart-styled battles on the back nine, while we sink deeper into the couch and pile Jujubees into our mouths, loving every minute.
Oh, and in Fantasyland, the Jujubees never stick to our molars.
Fantasyland is on our minds today after Lefty took down Riviera and flew home, in his private jet, with a pelt from Hogan's Alley. May the golf gods bless Phil Mickelson, who now has something even Tiger and Jack do not: The California Slam, with wins at Torrey Pines, La Costa, Palm Springs, Pebble Beach and now Riviera.
The California Slam doesn't exist, but it should. It should involve a prize basket that includes SPF 15, a 10-year pass into the carpool lane and a fixed-rate jumbo loan that allows you to buy 1,500 square feet for $650,000.
That, friends, beats a lousy piece of crystal and a photo with some suit from Northern Trust.
With Mickelson's win at Larry David's home club, our natural reaction is to ignore the idea of curbing our enthusiasm. Our natural reaction is to begin breathing into the brown paper bag, anticipating that a summer of Tiger-Phil waits, starting with the Match Play tournament this week in Arizona. Our natural reaction is to stamp our passports to Fantasyland.
In Fantasyland, Tiger and Phil are the final twosome at Augusta National in two months. In Fantasyland, Tiger is one group ahead of Phil at Torrey Pines on Sunday in the Open. In Fantasyland, they are fighting it out at Royal Birkdale, and in Fantasyland, they are the final twosome on the course at Oakland Hills.
Problem: Phil doesn't do Fantasyland.
I look at Mickelson's win at Riviera and I think: If only, dude.
How can we count on Lefty, when just one week ago he was slamming his trunk at Pebble, racing the likes of Ted Purdy and Omar Uresti to see who could navigate the exit to 17 Mile Drive faster on Saturday afternoon?
I, like you, want to believe in Phil. But I can't. He's as inconsistent as an episode of "Lost," as unreliable as public transportation. You want to look at his triumph at an all-time ball striker's golf course as validation that his game is here. Clearly, he's dropped a few pounds, and his focus seems more intense. That's the good part. Then, you remember he made an '11' just nine days ago.
When's the last time Tiger made an '11'? Answer: When he went 4-3-4 at Dubai on 16-17-18 to drive a pair of spiked Nikes into Ernie Els' heart.
With Phil so far this year, he's gone tie-6th at Torrey (good, except he was 13 shots back of Tiger); lost in a playoff to J.B. Holmes (excellent, full credit to Holmes); missed cut at Pebble (say what?); and win at Riviera (say what?).
Now we go to Match Play. With Phil's win, and with Tiger's win at Dubai, we're in full cardiac arrest mode: OhmyGoditcouldbeTigerv.PhilintheMatchPlayFinal! NumberOneversusNumberTwo! Whoo! SomebodypourmeaMichelobLight!
We've placed our hands on that stovetop too many times to forget the feeling of getting burned. Lefty's never even made a Match Play final. He tantalizes and teases, he plays well enough to make us think that maybe, just maybe, this is the year Phil and Tiger go 36 holes on a Sunday morning.
It's tempting, but you can't think that way.
I'm not here to be a buzz kill. I'm just here as a reality check. We won't get Phil vs. Tiger at Match Play. Odds are, Tiger will keep his date. Odds are, Phil will wander away mentally at some point – probably right at the dotted line that marks the entrance to Fantasyland.
Scorecard of the week
• J.B. Holmes: 74-66-69-70 – tie-7th.
Good playing, right?
Maybe so, but now Long John gets a first-round date with Godzilla at the Match Play.
Not to get all Nick O'Hern on you, but who's to say in match play that Holmes can't make it interesting with Tiger? At the very least, it's an intriguing matchup off the tee. Over-under on how many times Holmes outdrives Tiger: 3.5. Remember, you have to factor in that Tiger will close out Holmes on the 12th or 13th hole, limiting the amount of chances Holmes gets.
Broadcast moment of the week
• “Kikuyu” – Jim Nantz.
There is something magical when the dulcet tones of Nantz say the word “kikuyu” from Riviera. It puts me in mind of Walter Cronkite saying, “And that's the way it is.” For years, I've found myself entranced by the word. Say it aloud. Let's say it together: Kikuyu.
To some, it's just a wayward invasive grass from East Africa that has been described as a "noxious weed." To me, it's the sweet sound of winter on the PGA Tour.
Put it in Nantz's tone, and you're sold.
Mulligan of the week
• Saturday afternoon. Sixth hole. Riviera. Jeff Quinney – ace.
Mulligan? You bet – on the post-ace celebration.
Quinney and his caddie did what so many Tour players have done before at a moment of joy: totally botched it.
There is something about a golfer's peak moment that calls for the most awkward celebration possible. There is a recipe of half high five, half hug, 100-percent wince that makes for a comical letdown. Quinney and his caddie did some sort of forced pas de deux on the tee box that called to mind Elaine Benes' dance moves from "Seinfeld."
This is not to slam Quinney. It is only to point out that he is now in illustrious company.
When Paul Azinger holed out from a bunker at the Belfry on the final hole of his match with Niclas Fasth in the '02 Ryder Cup, his forced high-five with his caddy resembled not so much a moment of triumph as it did a man receiving random electric jolts in shock therapy.
And the ultimate in bad golf celebrations: Tiger's hole out on 16 against Chris DiMarco on Sunday of the 2005 Masters. We all remember Tiger's Nike golf ball hanging on the rim, then tumbling in to the sweet tunes of Verne Lundquist's "In all of your life, have you seen anything like it?" call.
The sad thing is, Verne's call was not for Tiger's chip-in, but for Tiger's horribly awkward missed high-five, missed-hug celebration with Steve Williams, his caddy. Surely, Verne checked out the bad dance floor moves of the world's best player and his white jump-suited caddy, shook his head at the memory of Disco Night in the early 1980s at the local Red Lobster and dropped his "In all of your life …" call.
So, Jeff Quinney. Don't feel so bad. It's a tradition unlike any other.
Where do we go from here?
For those of you jonesing for a Tiger-Phil, 1-2 showdown on Sunday, we refer you to the Match Play Bible, where we will read from the Book of McCarron, and then the Book of Sutherland. Please, open your books and turn to page …