You had to do a lot of squinting by the end of the PGA Tour stop at Greenbrier in West Virginia on Sunday night. An event that could have been called the 'Gloaming at the Greenbrier' ended at darn near 9 p.m. local time, meaning we were about five minutes away from 'Sunday Night Golf' making its debut on The Golf Channel. Surely, somebody was prepping Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth to helicopter in to call the next golf hole.
Plus, you had to squint to figure out that leaderboard. Jonas Blixt … Stephen Bowditch … Matt Jones … Johnson Wagner … Jimmy Walker … heck, if it wasn't for a cameo tie-9th by Davis Love III, your top 16 finishers at The Greenbrier Classic in White Sulphur Springs had zero majors, and just about as much name recognition, too. At one point, Jim Nantz told the audience that eventual winner Blixt was from a small town in Sweden that had 18,000 people, and I couldn't help but wonder if the only people left watching by the end were, indeed, about 18,000 people somewhere in Sweden.
Put it this way: when Blixt won – by virtue of a solid 67 and a back-nine collapse by Wagner – a fellow Swede greeted him green-side with a hug, and Nantz had to inform us: "That's Lingmerth, greeting his countryman." That would be David Lingmerth, who at one point this year missed eight cuts in 10 starts. Star power, thy name was not Greenbrier this week.
But that's OK. Not every week can be Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy duking it out at a major. Wait, that hasn't happened at a major yet, either, so scratch that one.
As our mothers told us, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all, so at the risk of making this the shortest column of the year, let us say that Blixt's reaction to the win was a warm, human moment, and put a likable face on a name that's sorta hard to pronounce, unless you're spitting out some bad cheese.
Blixt, 29, also won the Frys.com Open last year in the Fall Series, but you were all watching the NFL, so you didn't notice. That group who didn't notice includes the normally infallible Nantz, who repeatedly referred to Blixt as a first-time winner on Sunday eve. The good people who host the Frys.com Open at Corde Valle, a gorgeous golf course near the San Francisco Bay Area, would beg to differ. Of course, Nantz probably couldn't see his notes without a flashlight at that point.
If you want to know what kind of golfer Blixt is, there isn't much to brag about. Statistically, the former Florida State golfer ranks in the top 100 on the PGA Tour in only sand saves (87th) and strokes gained putting (67th), so we know he's OK around the greens, and not much else. (It was not unimportant that he led the field at Greenbrier with just 104 putts.) In 16 previous starts this year, he had zero top-10s, so it's not like he's a cold-blooded killer.
Or is he? Blixt only earned his PGA Tour card last year, and now he has two wins in 38 starts, which suggests that when he – rarely – does sniff the top, he can close the deal. Plus, by finishing 1-under in his final five holes, he spared CBS and The Golf Channel the notion of a Monday playoff against Wagner or Johnson or Bowditch, which nobody really was aching to see.
Kidding aside, Blixt's post-win tears about how he'd get to back to Europe and see his family now, and be so proud of his win, were touching. Of course, they would have been more moving had they not been filmed in the dark, where he was barely a silhouette, but what can you do? Life is imperfect sometimes.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
69-69-70-67 – 9-under 275, Graeme McDowell, winner, European Tour French Open, Le Golf National, Paris, France.
And look who's heating up with the British Open set to start a week from Thursday at Muirfield in Scotland.
Yep, the guy who … missed the cut at the Masters and the U.S. Open.
After all, you can't spell McDowell without 'MC', right?
McDowell's win in France, a steely final round to surge past South African Richard Sterne, was a few things: It was his third global win of 2013, added to the European Tour Match Play at Wentworth and the PGA Tour stop at Harbour Town; it was a reminder that the 2010 U.S. Open champion's game is back after a winless 2011 and 2012; and it was one of those cool things a player can do in his career, affect a French accent and say to anybody who asks: "The French Open? Mais oui, yes, of course, I am the champion. Garcon, more champagne!"
Crazy thing is, McDowell has either won or missed the cut in his last eight starts. Three wins, and five Friday exits. That's not just a statistical oddity; that's a surefire way to make you both an intriguing pick at Muirfield, or a silly pick at Muirfield. On the one hand, you see the guy who made three birdies on his back nine at Le Golf National; on the other hand, you see the guy who saw a side-door putt somehow fall in, and a tee shot on 17 get a hugely fortuitous bounce to get that win.
Even McDowell credited luck in his win. But, last I checked, 'rub of the green' counts when you get to hold big, shiny trophies.
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
"Jonas, we've seen that name, Jonas Blixt, close to the top of the leaderboard, again and again this year. It seems that you've been really close, congratulations, it's gotta feel great to get it done." – David Feherty, CBS, somehow confusing Jonas Blixt with somebody who had more than zero top-10s in the year 2013.
"I don't know about this year. It's been kind of a bad year for me … but I'm just really happy right now." – Blixt, politely explaining to Feherty that, "No, dude, you must have the wrong guy."
I reach out for a solidarity fist bump with Feherty. As a guy who has a live radio show in San Francisco, I've had my five-star brain cramp moments, like the time I asked Jennie Finch what her plans were for the summer and she had to explain to me that she was on the U.S. Olympic team; or the time I confused Dwyane Wade's 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medal with thinking he was on the 2012 London Olympics gold medal team, which he wasn't.
So, you know, sometimes broadcasters stumble, bumble, fumble.
Feherty's confusion over the relative success of Blixt's 2013 season only underscored how rapidly we were all losing interest in the event. It was dark, everyone was surprised it finished in the gloaming, and nobody really knew what to make of Blixt's victory.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
I was all set to offer Johnson Wagner the Mully o' the Week. After all, Wagner is the guy who grew a mustache a couple of years back for nothing other than a lark, then kept it for quite some time after that, somehow looking like both Burt Reynolds and Inspector Clouseau at the same time. I am fairly certain he was the only player on Tour under the age of 40 who rocked the 'stache. Heck of a look. I applaud it. That kind of guy deserves a mulligan.
Wagner is now free of the caterpillar atop his lip, and was gunning for his fourth PGA Tour win when he held the 54-hole lead. But a 3-over 73, and a 3-over back nine cooked his goose. He officially lost the lead when he missed the green on the par-3 15th hole and couldn't save par, so I was prepared to offer Wagner a mulligan on 15th tee to keep things interesting, but then I realized: If Wagner had kept things interesting, we likely would have had a Monday playoff. And I'm quite sure Sir Nick Faldo wasn't interested in coming back for a Monday playoff between Wagner and Blixt, so let's go back out to that 15th tee at Greenbrier, thank Wagner for the 2012 laughs with the mustache, remind him that he shouldn't go three-over on his back nine on a Sunday with the lead, congratulate him on a tie-2nd and . . . do not give that man a mulligan!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
It's almost time to start smelling the haggis. We're in pre-British Open mode, which means the European Tour Scottish Open should draw as many American eyeballs as the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill.
Keegan Bradley, Louis Oosthuizen and Zach Johnson are some of the names at the Deere, but no name resonates like the face of the Midwest, the 'Cheesehead Assassin' himself, Steve Stricker. Stricker won this tournament three years in a row, from 2009-11. That makes him sort of the LeBron James of the John Deere Classic, except Stricker, a quiet and humble gent, would have trouble holding a press conference with hydraulic lifts and dry ice and saying he would win the John Deere, "Not once … not twice … not three times … "
Because you know Stricker, who was in the hunt for the four-peat last year until he bogeyed 15 and 16, has his eyes on number four.
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