The quest for golf's true No. 1 continuesLee Westwood became No. 1 after he won the Indonesian Masters and Luke Donald lost a playoff at The Heritage
I'd open this week's column by asking if anybody remembers the late-1970's TV show "In Search Of," but I'm the same guy who opened a post-Masters column with a reference to Mel Brooks' 1987 vehicle "Spaceballs," so I probably shouldn't, in the name of dated cultural references.
Whoops. Too late.
So, somebody go find Leonard Nimoy. He used to narrate those weekly unsolvable mysteries, like UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster and, of course, the granddaddy of them all, Bigfoot. We need to sic Nimoy and his crew on another unsolvable mystery: In Search of the World's No. 1 Golfer.
After this weekend's action, ranging from Indonesia to the shores of South Carolina, we're as baffled as ever. Lee Westwood is back to No. 1 again, in case you hadn't noticed, which I'm sure you hadn't. That's only because Luke Donald nearly was No. 1. And only because Martin Kaymer doesn't play like he wants to be No. 1.
As the great Vinnie Barbarino once said: "I'm so confused." (Thus completing my "Spaceballs"/"In Search Of"/"Welcome Back, Kotter" trifecta, as I once promised my high school English teacher.)
In our heart of hearts, we know the best player in the world is Tiger Woods. But also in our heart of hearts, we know he's not playing like the best player in the world, and may not again until he figures out if he's got the yips or not. That leaves a gap atop the official world golf rankings, and while one would figure Phil Mickelson would be there to move his stuff in and sign the lease, Lefty is 40 years old now, battling arthritis and as inconsistent as an "American Idol" singer.
When Tiger fell from his top perch last fall, we barely noticed that Lee Westwood took his spot. We were too busy wringing our hands, analyzing Tiger's life, then saying smugly: "Five cents, please." And sure enough, Westwood's reign was flimsy and brief, like a Justin Bieber song.
Martin Kaymer ascended in the winter and I took the bait. I thought this kid was the goods: Young, at just 26. A major champion, having snuck away with the PGA Championship while everyone was interviewing Dustin Johnson about a bunker. Unflappable, playing with a Langer-esque stoicism to combat golf's cruel and absurd pendulum swings. I even looked up German words, telling you all that Kaymer is now Nummer Eins and that he is simply der Beste.
And shoot, he still might be. After all, he played only three tournaments after ascending to No. 1 in February. Unfortunately, he left the door to the No. 1 mansion ajar, finishing 24th at Doral (with a 74-74 weekend), missing the cut at the Masters (ouch!) and finishing ninth in Malaysia two weeks ago. Worse, when he missed the cut at Augusta National, smarting from a first-round 78, he said: "I don't know how to play this golf course." Not the words you want to hear from the top dog, but he gets bonus points for honesty, and for giving us all a heads-up to avoid him in future Masters fantasy drafts.
With the door open, other players snuck on in to taste Kaymer's porridge, if you get my drift. Hence, the unusual Indonesia-Hilton Head dynamic we had working in the golf world this past Sunday.
Westwood's winning in Indonesia meant he could ascend back to No. 1 – provided Donald didn't win at Hilton Head, where he had the 54-hole lead. If Donald won, he'd earn the big foam index finger.
The whole thing felt odd. Luke Donald, bless his pink Easter pants, is a fine player with a brilliant short game and as polite as punch. But the No. 1 player in world? The ranking seemed somehow diminished, like an item at a flea market where you see the sign say "FOR SALE," and all sorts of slashes in the prices, from $20 to $15 to $10 to finally, "ALL ITEMS MUST GO: NO 1 RANKING/TWO FOR FIVE BUCKS."
You all know the story by now. Brandt Snedeker broke Donald's heart with a Sunday 64 and a playoff victory, and Westwood is back at No. 1. Or, as I like to call these last six months since Tiger fell: "The No. 1 Ranking: The Lost Year."
The next six months will be golf's equivalent of seagulls fighting for bread on a pier. Have at it, boys!
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
• 70-68-73-66 – 7-under 277, Kevin Na, tie-ninth, The Heritage, Harbour Town Links, Hilton Head, S.C.
Sure, Snedeker is worthy of S.O.W. honors for his first win in four years, for a Sunday 64, and for a rapid-fire pace of play that could teach an entire generation how to get off the cough syrup and move a little.
Na, as a matter of fact, is one of those slow-play bandits himself.
However! When a guy's public humiliation becomes a YouTube sensation (732,223 views as of this writing), when a guy's name becomes synonymous with epic failure on the golf course ("What'd you get on that hole?" "I don't know. I Kevin Na'd it. I have no idea."), and when the grand total of 16 strokes on one hole will always be associated with your legacy, a salute goes out to Na's bounce-back effort at Hilton Head this week.
Not only did he make the cut, not only did he log his third top-10 of the year and pocket $142,500, Na also turned in 72 holes of golf where his highest score on a single hole was a six – a double bogey on Saturday and a bogey on Sunday.
That's "six" – not to be confused with "16."
Ten strokes better on his worst hole, and FedEx Cup points to boot? Now there's a lesson in putting the past behind you, digging deep, believing in yourself and all those other cliches that make those ants think they can move that rubber tree plant.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
Huge congratulations go out to Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey, who is about to receive an honor fourth in the golf world only to the green jacket at Augusta National, the plaid jacket at Harbour Town Links and a courtesy car with extra Hooters gift cards in the glove compartment: a second Mulligan of the Week award!
Back at the Phoenix Open on the Monday finish, Tommy Two Gloves had his chance to win a PGA Tour event, but roasted his drive on 17 into water. Alas. We gave him Mully o' the Week honors.
Still, T.T.G. won over a nation of golf fans who loved his nickname, the fact that he actually DOES wear two gloves and doesn't just coast on reputation, and a golf swing so stripped-down, it takes the "home" out of "homemade."
And there he was again: Tommy Two Gloves in the hunt on Sunday – in his home state of South Carolina, no less. This had the makings of a dynamite story. While ever-so-polished Luke Donald, clad in Ralph Lauren and sporting an English accent straight from the royal court, tried to close it out, he faced the possibility of rumpled Tommy Two Gloves in a playoff, complete with a local accent that would warm the cockles of the nearest Gamecock.
All Tommy Two Gloves had to do was make about a 15-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole and … oh!
He missed it.
Tommy Two Gloves settled for solo third place, one shot out of the playoff, and classily applauded his hometown gallery with both gloved hands after he finished – although one might think bare skin would make more noise than gloved paws. Still, the guy's got to stay true to his look.
Oh, what theatre it would have been to see the compare and contrast between Donald and Tommy Two Gloves. Where Donald comes from, the only guy who wears two gloves is the butler.
It was not to be. That's why it's important to run out to that 18th green, put another golf ball down for Tommy Two Glove's birdie putt and … give that man a mulligan!
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
• "He's got the best short game in the world." – Nick Faldo, CBS, on Luke Donald.
I pile on Sir Nick so much, even I get pile-on fatigue. So, for a change, I'll throw the "Royal One" a bone and thank him for a bold statement. It used to be, any planet Tiger Woods lived on, he had the best short game in the world.
Times have changed, in a world of missed Tiger shorties and chips left woefully short. In steps Donald, who could have a bunker-off with Geoff Ogilvy to find Earth's best sand player, as well. The deft short game of Donald is well worth your TV-watching time.
Shoot, Donald nearly jarred the final stroke of The Heritage, a chip from off the green that hit back-iron and bounced out. Had it fallen, he and Snedeker may still be playing.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
To New Orleans, where, as former Saints coach Mike Ditka once said: "They'd fry water down here if you'd let 'em." Amid the cacophony of Bourbon Street, a Zurich Classic will take place, with near-No. 1 Luke Donald in the field, alongside Tommy Two Gloves, Rickie Fowler and Graeme McDowell, among others.
Me? I'm headed into the woods – In Search of the World's No. 1 Golfer!