Any comment on the particulars of the EDS Byron Nelson Championship’s thrilling 3-hole playoff will have to come later in the column. This is for a few reasons, among them:
• We need to discuss Tiger’s statement on his knee injury.
• We need to discuss the quality of the field at the Nelson.
• My TiVo ran out at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time, meaning the image froze when Ryan Moore was plucking his golf ball out of the cup after the first playoff hole. This was aggravating, especially since I had been a good boy and added 30 minutes to the TiVo scheduled time to cover myself in case of a playoff. Newman! I had to get the result at sports.yahoo.com, as reliable a place as any in cyberspace.
Back to today’s talking points.
As a faithful subscriber to Tiger Woods’ newsletter, I always enjoy its monthly arrival in my Inbox. It always contains a precious tidbit or two. In fact, it was Tiger’s emailed newsletter in December in which he said the Grand Slam was “easily within reason," and then proceeded to blame the media after the Masters for making it too big a story.
This month, we found out that Tiger was on crutches when Van Halen rocked Tiger Jam XI. We also learned that David Lee Roth contributed $100,000 to the Tiger Woods Foundation, and the Van Halens – Alex, Eddie and Wolfgang – also contributed $100,000. No word whether David Lee Roth delivered the check in sequined tights, and delivering a martial-arts-styled roundhouse kick; also, no word on how Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli dared name their child “Wolfgang."
Another gem from the newsletter: Tiger said he missed hearing birdie and eagle roars on Masters Sunday, and compared Augusta National to a U.S. Open course. He said he heard the club might be making changes to give the players “a break” next year. Translation: Tiger swung by Billy Payne’s office on his way to the parking lot and said: “Either you give us eagle-friendly pin positions next year, or I’ll start donating money to the Martha Burk Foundation.”
One last gem from the newsletter: Tiger called Trevor Immelman to congratulate him on the Masters win, and was only able to leave a voice mail. Does that mean Immelman is screening Tiger’s calls? Memo to Trevor: Take Tiger’s call. Do not screen Tiger. Do not tick off Tiger Woods. His only response will be to systematically destroy you in every future major championship.
Meanwhile, Tiger said the knee injury is likely a 4-to-6 week deal, meaning he will likely miss Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial in five weeks. This brings me to the Byron Nelson Invitational.
One of the grandest things about the royal and ancient game is its sense of history. Moreover, today’s players understand and respect that history. This is particularly impressive, especially given that if one were to ask an average MLB player if Jimmie Foxx hit 500 home runs – better yet, to ask them if Jimmie Foxx even played big-league ball – the answer would be: “Jamie Foxx was awesome in “Ray” – but he never played big league ball.”
How many NBA players know the legend of Oscar Robertson? Sadly, more probably know the legend of Oscar de la Hoya, from many excursions to Vegas to catch prizefights.
But golfers know their history, and when Lord Byron was still walking this Earth, today’s players knew his story. They knew his legend. They knew that if Byron threw a tournament in Dallas, and he invited you, your only response was to put your clubs in a travel bag and book the next flight to DFW. Period. Jim Furyk once told the tale of being a younger player just barely making a name for himself. He’d had a little success, and he was with his swing instructor when he got a call and was summoned to the phone. It was Byron Nelson, he was told. He’d watched Furyk play, and wanted to invite him to the tournament.
Furyk thought he was being Punk’d.
Once he sorted out, indeed, that it was Lord Byron on the horn, his next move was to blurt out “Yes” faster than John Daly can hit a golf shot. His explanation was simple: “It’s Byron Nelson.”
Now that’s it been nearly two years since Nelson has gone to the great fairway in the sky, the invite, sadly, isn’t as weighty. Tiger has missed the last three. Phil missed this year. Ernie has missed the last two. The sands of time are relentless, and we all move on. Same thing has happened with the old Bing Crosby clambake, regularly attended by Jack, Arnie and Lee. Now, the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am can’t get Tiger, Retief or Ernie.
That said, the respect for the living legends remains strong. The attendance quality at Jack’s Memorial and Arnie’s Bay Hill bash is still top-notch, with Tiger making the roster every year, setting an example.
I think this is all extremely cool and good. I think respect for one’s forebears is an honorable thing. I love that golf is awash in it, and I still miss the sight of Byron Nelson in the E-Z chair by the 18th green, greeting another generation of players as they play his venerable tournament.
Broadcast moment of the week
• “There have been questions out there about his ability to close, or to perform his best when he’s in the chase on the weekend … and right now, more questions are circling.” – Jim Nantz, opening the Sunday broadcast from the Byron Nelson, setting the stage for Adam Scott’s attempt to hold a 3-shot, 54-hole lead.
Considering the source – coming from, unofficially, the Nicest Man on the Planet – Nantz’s opening statement is about as close as the NMOP (Nicest Man on the Planet) will come to calling a player out on national TV.
It needed to be said. If Adam Scott had Tiger’s ticker, he’d have 3 or 4 majors by now. Instead, he’s settled for a killer instinct as savage as a Burberry plaid.
That’s why it was nice to see him bury that 9-footer on the 72nd hole to force that playoff. That was a winners-only putt, set up by a winners-only wedge spun like a guy who wanted it. We’ll conveniently overlook the fact that his 10-footer on the 73rd hole was struck with the temerity of a librarian, and instead focus on his 48-foot bomb to win it on the 75th hole. Scott said he had a “bit of luck," and that’s undeniable. But luck counts. So does making a birdie on the final hole to force the playoff. Let’s hope the win kick-starts Scott into another level of play. Nobody is convinced it will, but it’s nice to at least think so.
Mulligan of the week
• Ryan Moore needed two mulligans this week.
One came after he holed out with the lead at 7-under and signed his scorecard. His move was to stay in the scorer’s tent to see what Scott did on 18.
Bad move, R-Dog. I’d have headed straight to the putting green to work out the nerves and, better yet, avoid the CBS camera shot that showed how tense you really were. If CBS showed you pounding balls on the range, or stroking putts on the practice green, we’d have all thought you had an Eldrick-ian work ethic. As it was, you looked like a guy waiting and wishing for Scott to miss that putt.
And then there’s the matter of Moore’s painter’s-style cap. Or, as my fashion-conscious wife tells me, military-style cap. She says it was worn two or three years ago by the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and other flailing Hollywood starlets. I know PING makes the cap for you, Ryan, but considering you’re now 0 for 71 on Tour, and you have the game to win more than just one tournament, I’d ditch the cap and go hatless in the near future. For one thing, you don’t want your look to recall people named Lindsay and Britney. For another, the hatless golf look has a strong tradition, dating to the heyday of Palmer and Nicklaus.
Somebody get that man a mulligan.
Scoreboard of the week
• 68-67-70-70 – Annika Sorenstam, Stanford International Pro-Am, first place after playoff win over Paula Creamer.
Get ‘em while you can, Annika. Lorena returns this week.
Where do we go from here?
• To Quail Hollow in North Carolina, for the Wachovia Championships, a fast riser on the PGA Tour.
Full credit to the Wachovia organizers. They wanted to know how to become a premium golf tournament in a hurry, and the answer came back in a hurry: Spoil us.
As a result, players are rolling into courtesy parking spots in courtesy Benzes, wives are being treated to shopping sprees as if their last names were ‘Trump’, and caddies are dining on the freshest sushi.
Nothing like a few material creature comforts to make us all forget the pain of daily existence.