What were we, a golf-loving nation, to do with ourselves when a week on the PGA Tour unfolds without a Rory McIlroy walk-off, without a Rory McIlroy apology, without a Tiger Woods butt-whuppin' of the field? Heck, even Johnny Miller took the week off when the Tour swung thru Innisbrook Resort for the Tampa Bay Championship.
Thanks, then, to Kevin Streelman, who reminded us that it's not always about Nike money, or glitzy win totals, or global fame. Sometimes it's about a running down a dream.
In his 153rd PGA Tour start, winless, bereft of star power, riches or glory, Streelman played damn inspiring golf at a brutal Copperhead course. In the process, he locked down his first Tour win, impressed anyone who wants to know what seizing a golf moment looks like and even caused his wife to shed a few tears of long-waited joy.
On Sunday, knowing that Boo Weekley's 8-under total was burning on the leader board, a daunting number on a daunting golf course, Streelman got to 10-under with a bogey-free 4-under 67. He put two of the better swings on the golf ball you'll see all year – aggressive, fearless irons on the brutal par-3 13th and 17th holes, two holes replete with sadistic flagsticks. But Streelman, saying after the round that he felt confident with his numbers on those holes, stuffed both his tee shots, and made birdie on both holes, the keys to his two-shot win over Weekley.
His golf was so sturdy, so much a mental triumph, he should consider removing the "r" from his last name: Kevin Steel Man.
Streelman walked the back nine with a mesmerizing, focused stare, so much so that I even forgot for a while that he bears a resemblance to former "Gremlins" star/"Goonies" star/Michael Jackson pal Corey Feldman. (He's certainly more successful than Feldman, whose latest credits include a turn in the United Kingdom's version of "Dancing on Ice.")
How easy is it to like Streelman? He worked as a caddie at prestigious Whisper Rock G.C. in Arizona a decade ago. Today, he's a member. That's your garden variety American Dream, amigos.
He told Steve Sands of NBC that it wasn't long ago he was driving around in a car, "dead broke." The lesson, he said, is to have determination, hard work and "keep chasing your dreams." Cue the soaring theme music and call it a wrap.
So, no Rory, no Tiger? That's OK. Sometimes you can make do with an old-fashioned inspirational tale to get you through a Sunday. Good playing, Kevin.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
71-67-72-69 – 5-under 279, Sergio Garcia, tie-fifth, Tampa Bay Championship, Innisbrook Copperhead Course, Palm Harbor, Fla.
Look who's on a serious roll of quality golf: the major-less, tortured, canary-yellow-wearing Sergio Garcia. At age 33, I think Sergio has forfeited the copyright to "El Nino," but he could be bucking for a new nickname, "El Ready to Play Better In My Thirties-o."
The top-10 finish at Tampa Bay is Garcia's seventh consecutive top-25 finish on the PGA Tour, dating back to his win at the Wyndham Championship last August. If you'd forgotten that win, or forgotten Sergio, you're forgiven. When he teed it up at Wyndham last August, he was coming off a severe missed cut at the PGA Championship and hadn't won Stateside in more than four years, since the 2008 Players Championship.
But quietly, Sergio had won twice in Europe in 2011, and now he's darn near one of the more consistent players in the game. If you include Europe, he's logged 10 consecutive top 25s, including a tie for second in Qatar, where both Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy missed the cut. For good measure, he won in Japan in December 2012, too.
Dare we even suggest Garcia as a dark horse at Augusta National in early April?
I know, it's tough to pick a guy who publicly told us on the very grounds of Augusta National last April: "I'm not good enough. I don't have the thing I need to have. In 13 years, I've come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place." Goosebumps, Serg! That quote immediately takes its place among legendarily inspirational sports maxims, like Notre Dame's "Play Like a Champion Today," Muhammad Ali's "I am the Greatest" and Jim Valvano's "Don't ever give up – ever."
On second thought, maybe Sergio's "Masters Moment" takes its place in history alongside the great Micheal Ray Richardson analysis: "The ship be sinking."
Watch Sergio play, though, and you still see one of the great ball strikers of our time. No player is better from 125 yards and in, no player scrambles better from 60 yards and out. It's tempting to think he has a great run of golf ahead of him now, and for the next few years.
As for the putter? The less said, the better. If you think his brutally inconsistent and often unwatchable putting is the insurmountable hurdle between Sergio and major championship glory, I can't argue with you for a moment. His putter inspires about as much confidence as his post-round news conferences in which he buries himself as a dogged victim of inexorable fate.
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
"What were you planning to do after today's round?" – Steve Sands, The Golf Channel, to Boo Weekley.
"I was gonna catch me some bass up there in Orlando … but that's fine. I'll wait around." – Boo Weekley, after a scorching final-round 63 put him in the lead.
Hey, it's Boo Weekley! Man, it's been so long since we've seen everyone's favorite redneck, he's actually now everyone's favorite graybeard. Weekley, at 39 and nearly five years removed from his last win (at Hilton Head in April 2008), turned up on our TVs sporting a scraggly gray beard, the kind of facial hair grown by a guy who doesn't mind sporting a little bit of a beer belly and is more concerned with fishing than shaving.
It's been a while for ol' Boo. Dating to the start of the 2011 season, he logged 53 starts and produced exactly three top-10s, until he broke through with a tie for eighth last week in Puerto Rico. Still, nobody gave him a second thought Sunday morning when he started tie-35th, seven shots back.
But in one of those rounds which even Weekley said he didn't see coming, and teeing off three hours before the leaders, he began lasering golf shots all over Copperhead. Everything was hit close, and when he birdied No. 16, Weekley had eight birdies in 16 holes and was threatening to salt away a win before the leaders even had a chance to get their early-round jitters out of the way.
Weekley told Sands the round had an ethereal quality, that he was visualizing shots before he even pulled the trigger. Of course, he didn't say the word 'ethereal.' He probably thinks I'm a weirdo for even writing it. Either way, his round resonated on a golf course that savaged the world's best players all week. Tweeted out an impressed Hunter Mahan: "What a round by Boo Weekley! -8 on that track is filthy!"
Boo wasn't overly impressed with himself. All he knew was, he was missing fishing time, and it wound up not even being worth it, when Streelman put on his impressive display of mettle. On the bright side, when Sands checked in with Boo halfway through the round, Boo reported that he'd been enjoying some pizza in the clubhouse. For Boo, a man of simple pleasures, that's half a win.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
Jordan Spieth, the kid who dazzled at age 16 at the Byron Nelson three years ago, is back and doing it the old-fashioned way. He's sweating it out.
Surely, there were doubters when the Texas Teen turned pro last December at the tender age of 19, with the added bonus of having NO status on any tour. Talk about a high-wire act. No safety net comes with that kit. It does come, however, with quickened heartbeats and sleepless nights trying to make cuts, earn checks and, in the best of all worlds, get a win.
Last week in Puerto Rico, he went a long way by finishing tied for second on the PGA Tour event opposite the WGC event in Doral, pulling in a check for more than $300K. That'll help a huge amount toward conditional status on the PGA Tour, and Spieth is chasing more. He's already accepted an invite to the 2013 Byron Nelson and found himself in the hunt on Sunday in Tampa Bay after rounds of 72-68-69.
One shot back of the lead on the ninth hole Sunday, Spieth had an 18-incher for par to stay one back and take on the back nine, a great story about to unfold. After all, it's tough not to root for a guy who's not silver-spooning it on endorsement money, and is grinding for a living.
So, make the putt, take on the back nine, and get ready to – oh, wait. The 18-incher for par power-lipped out, cruelly accelerating away from the hole. Spieth would have to make a four-foot comebacker for bogey, even. Ouch. Two shots back, and he never threatened again. Spieth did shoot 70 and finish tied for seventh, but the chance of becoming the second-youngest winner in PGA Tour history died a cruel death with the missed kick-in.
So, in the interest of supporting teenagers not named Justin Bieber, let's go back out to the ninth green, remind Spieth that he could almost blow that putt in and … give that man a mulligan!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
We go to the red carpet of Bay Hill, hosted by Arnold Palmer, 82 years young, and with more charisma in the pinky of his golf glove than three-quarters of today's Tour. What a lineup: Tiger is back in his final pre-Masters turn, looking to deliver another I'm-Back-Baby butt-whuppin' on the field. Phil Mickelson plays, too, and quietly played fine golf at Doral two weeks ago.
More names at Bay Hill: Bubba, Lee, Keegan, Sergio, Rickie … oh, and welcome back to Brandt Snedeker, recovered from a rib injury and in his first tournament since winning at Pebble Beach oh, about 10 years ago, it seems. Don't forget, Snedeker took second at Torrey and second at Phoenix before giving Clint Eastwood a soul-shake and hoisting crystal on the 18th green near Stillwater Cove. He was the best player in America just six weeks ago, until he wasn't anymore, and ceded ground to Tiger, who is planning on more butt-whuppins, pronto.
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