We find ourselves at a crossroads again, golf fans – at the corner of Trying-to-Care Boulevard and Increasingly-Irrelevant Way. On the same day a David Toms-Charlie Wi showdown at Colonial provided little national buzz, Tiger Woods fell out of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time in 14 years.
It's the chicken/egg question that we've been asking since trying to drum up interest in the Gary Woodlands, Mark Wilsons and Johnny Vegases of the golf world: Do you care about the sport because you love the sport, and thus were touched by Toms' stirring comeback from his Players Championship heartbreak? Or do you see Tiger falling off the global scale of relevance – and your golf interest tumbling – like Ian Poulter down a hillside in Spain? (More on that later, by the way.)
These are the questions that keep me up at night, friend. Well, actually, that's not true. It's heartburn that keeps me up at night, but work with me here.
On one hand, Toms' story is the stuff of goose bumps. You can picture the movie pitch in a studio office:
A fading champion who hasn't won in a half-decade brushes with glory on a huge stage but finds nerves get the better of him, leading to crushing disappointment for his teenage son, who wants to believe Dad was once good at this game. One week later, after following a pair of 62s with a cringe-inducing 74, Dad reignites all the Is-Dad-Washed-Up? storylines. But Dad holes out for eagle on the back nine Sunday and triumphs by one shot at a storied golf course like Colonial Country Club, chokes up hugging his son on the 18th green, then says it took all his guts to win out there today with a break in his voice.
And … Cut!
You can get Brad Pitt to slip on the red plaid jacket and play David Toms. Isn't that how they do it in Hollywood?
And there's the rub. It's all about star power in this sports/celebrity/entertainment world, right? The NBA is back because LeBron is a villain in Miami. The Yankees and Red Sox live on "Sunday Night Baseball" because of the history. Brett Favre spent an entire career riding a wave of TV obsession.
Can David Toms' resurgence – as captivating as it may be to the hardcore golf lunatic – sate that thirst? I have my doubts.
That said, count me as a hardcore golf lunatic, so much so that Toms immediately becomes a hot pick for next month's U.S. Open at Congressional. He pounded fairways with numbing regularity, has one of the steadiest putters on the planet (save for that nervy thing at TPC in the playoff) and brings that "savvy veteran" vibe to a major championship.
The only question left to ask – and it's a biggie – was: Can he win? Not only did Toms answer that with a Sunday 67, but he's now an inch away from back-to-back wins on tour after not winning since 2006. Moreover, he became the first player since Phil Mickelson in 2000 to lose a playoff one week and win the next week.
Them's some stones, folks.
So if Hollywood doesn't want to make any big-budget productions until Tiger climbs back into the top 10, we hardcore golf lunatics will have to settle for off-Broadway productions like "The Redemption of David Toms." I'll give it a rave review in the Village Voice, and we'll see how many people come to opening night.
Scorecard of the week
• Suzann Pettersen d. Cristie Kerr, 1-up, LPGA Sybase Match Play Championship, Gladstone, N.J.
The LPGA exists! Woot.
I kid. Sort of. The sparse LPGA schedule makes any women's golf worth catching, and this Match Play was the only event stateside this month.
All hail Norway's Pettersen, who carved through a veritable Murderer's Row of foes to win the big prize. Among the vanquished in Pettersen's Viking-style marauding: Natalie Gulbis, Stacy Lewis, Yani Tseng, top-seed Na Yeon Choi and Kerr.
You'd almost expect Pettersen, after crushing the field, to stand on the 18th green and start calling out for more: "Annika! What up? Lorena? Where you at? I'm right here, baby! Come and get me!"
Pettersen has seven wins on the LPGA now, and it's little surprise she won the Match Play. Anybody who has watched the Solheim Cup knows Pettersen has redefined the term "game face." In fact, if there is a Norwegian dictionary definition for "game face," it probably comes with a sketch of Pettersen's intense mug, staring so hard you have no choice but to shank your drive.
Good news is, we get more LPGA golf soon: After a brief trip to Brazil this week (natch), there are two more U.S.-based events before next month's LPGA Championship. Bring it on.
Mulligan of the week
• Lost in the David Toms storyline was the fact that 39-year-old Charlie Wi was aiming for his first PGA Tour win – and had a three-stroke lead on Sunday, to boot. But Toms' hole-out for eagle pushed him past Wi, who was getting a little shaky holding the lead as the day wore on. As David Feherty noted watching Wi: "He has no problem feeling uncomfortable."
Still, he was in it. Then he drove his golf ball into a fairway bunker on No. 12 and had a tall lip to clear to get back to the fairway. With an 8-iron, he didn't clear it. His ball blasted into the top part of the bunker, and careened back into it. For a guy who had blown a three-stroke lead, it was the imprimatur of Sunday failure – two out of a bunker. He made bogey.
Plus, CBS has that super-duper slo-mo camera to heighten the embarrassment, slowing Wi's ball flight frame-by-frame to capture its full pluggage into the lip. Ouch.
Wi wound up losing the tournament by one stroke.
So, let's do a brother a favor, go back out to 12 fairway, let Wi re-club to a 9-iron or a wedge and … give that man a mulligan!
Broadcast moment of the week
• "[Sound of one golfer crashing]" – Ian Poulter, Volvo World Match Play, European Tour.
You can say a lot of things about Ian Poulter, like, "Man, he uses a lot of hair product," but you can't say the man isn't a walking bit of theatre.
Whether it's the Mick Jagger-styled slacks or the gutsy match-play record – yes, he won the Volvo Match Play on the European Tour in Spain on Sunday by defeating Luke Donald – the guy makes it fun. I was one who had no problem with him eating his breakfast cereal out of the Ryder Cup, a photo of which he sent out on Twitter.
Now Poulter is back in the news for a fantastic, slapstick tumble after taking a sidehill whack at an errant golf shot. It was Benny Hill/Monty Python-type stuff – physical comedy rarely seen on a golf course (that is, short of Kevin Na's "Blair Witch Project" forest sojourn at the Texas Open.)
It's not just the tumble that makes it special – it's the belly laugh heard from the TV viewers who are re-cueing it on their DVR.
Fair play to Poulter, though. He tweeted word of his fall to his 1.1 million followers with the caption: "Check me out at the bottom of the ditch. What a laugh."
Wonder how funny it would have been if he didn't beat Donald. But with victory in hand? Laughs ahoy, mate!
Where do we go from here?
• No need to leave Texas, not with the ghost of Byron Nelson inviting y'all over to Las Colinas for his namesake tournament. Tiger and Phil used to play this but times have changed, so we'll settle for world No. 10 Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson (still looking for his maiden victory in 2011) and defending champ Jason Day, who you may remember from his fierce Masters flirtation.
In the meantime, I'll just keep watching that Poulter video.