If the insane, out-of-this-universe scenario barreling into the Masters was Tiger Woods still working on his Sandy Koufax/Perfect Game routine, then at least we have the second best.
At least now we learned the other guys can fight back a little – and the other guys are a little ticked off, too.
It wasn’t just that the highly skilled and evenly tempered Geoff Ogilvy from Australia won the CA Championship at Doral to break up Tiger’s no-no. It was that another major champion like Retief Goosen finished ahead of Tiger, also – and then the duo pulled off the golf equivalent of popping their jersey for the cameras.
Trash talk in golf is a highly subtle thing, unless you’re Rory Sabbatini, and prefer to use blunt instruments and leave lots of blood at the crime scene. Most all the others like to speak softly and carry a big Roth IRA, after collecting handsome fourth-place checks. Mostly, when highly paid Tour pros use the phrase popping off”, they’re talking about popping off the cork on another bottle of Dom on their private jet.
But when Ogilvy says after his win, “The chitchat about ‘Is he going to win every tournament this year?’, that’s frustrating stuff to hear," you get a peek into some of the sterner competitor’s mindset. And when Goosen says afterwards, “As players, it’s nice to see somebody else lift a trophy for a change”, you have to take notice.
First, you have to take notice that the soft-spoken Goosen was able to speak audibly enough for tape recorders to pick up his voice.
Second, you have to realize what the rest of the field has been thinking during the past six months, when Tiger was blazing past them, driving the golf cart with the “HOW’S MY DRIVING? DIAL 1-800-EAT-DUST” bumper sticker.
Finally, somebody fought back.
That they also engaged in some smack-talk afterwards makes it all the juicier. Granted, golf smack talk doesn’t really measure up in the world of smack talk relativity, but it’s a start. Truthfully, the last quality sighting of a guy running his mouth on the links was Al Czervik’s brazen and table-setting “I bet you slice into the woods, 100 bucks” dare to Judge Smails. And even then, Czervik was kind enough to cut Smails a break with an “OK, you can owe me” after Smails delivered a banana ball into said woods.
What Ogilvy and Goosen said and did has the makings of a good back-alley brawl two weeks hence in Augusta National. Certainly the genteel gentlemen who run the “tooh-na-ment” – not to be confused with Tuna Mints, a spectacular failure in the breath lozenge test market – wouldn’t allow any trash talk, but would welcome a back nine showdown on Sunday. We usually know how these things turn out. After all, when Goosen asked, famously, six years ago, “Do I get the green pants for finishing second?” (still one of my all-time favorite sports quotes), there was a sense that the field was always going to settle for the green pants.
Tiger is still the guy bringing the gun to the knife fight, and if you don’t pick him in your office Masters pool, you should be sentenced to watching the Champions Tour for four weeks. But by having four excellent players, majors-winners all – Ogilvy, Goosen, Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh – finish ahead of Tiger at Doral, we know at least that the rest of the field is not legally dead, and we don’t have to call the coroner just yet.
Maybe I’m begging for some drama here. But if Tiger isn’t going to win every tournament he enters, then we have to start somewhere, right?
Mulligan of the week
• All that said, I’d love to give Tiger a re-do of the 16th at Doral on Monday morning. He’d birdied 12 and 15 to get to 14-under, and was just three shots back. At 16, his history was rich. He’d launched orbital tee shots there before, most memorably in his famous duel with Phil Mickelson at the Blue Monster.
Here was a chance for Tiger to make it all happen: unleash the physical fury that is his golf swing under pressure, give himself a chance at eagle at best, birdie at worst, and most important, give the guy who ran the Blimp Cam at Doral something to do at 9 am on a Monday.
Sure enough, he crushed the drive. But the game of golf, she is a cruel mistress. His tee shot landed near the greenside bunker, then kicked into a lie you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy – unless you’re Geoff Ogilvy, at which point you would wish this lie upon Tiger Woods. Even the world’s best could only make par from that horrific lie, and the drama was over.
I just wish, if we could give Tiger one more go-round at that tee ball, and land that bad boy just a few feet to the left, and give himself that eagle try …
Somebody get that man a mulligan.
Scorecard of the week.
• 71-69-64-68 – Retief Goosen, 16-under par, tied-2nd, CA Championship.
Raise your hand if you know the last time Retief Goosen won on U.S. soil. How about this answer: Two thousand and – five! At the International in Colorado. Shoot, if you count tournaments that don’t use Esperanto as their scoring system, he hasn’t won here since the 2004 Tour Championship.
Confession: I’ve always been a huge fan of The Goose. The purity of the golf swing, the placid demeanor that defies all form of human animation, the ability to get up-and-down under the most aching of pressures, the clutch putting stroke – I’ve been fascinated by it all since having a ringside seat at Southern Hills in 2001, when he won his first major and launched to stardom his psychological guru, a funky little Belgian man named Jos Vanstiphout. Without The Goose, we’d have never learned about Jos, who sported a suspiciously deep tan and the bizarre resume of having once been a pop music star in his native country. You can’t make this stuff up.
Anyway, Goose’s dry humor (again, the “green pants” line, all timer) and massive skills make the golf world a better place. We need The Goose. And if you study his resume, this is just about the time The Goose goes for a waddle. His last three finishes at Augusta National? T-3, T-3, T-2.
We could do worse than a tiger and a goose in our final twosome amid the pines.
Broadcasting moment of the week
• “That gets my vote as worst shot of the last decade.”
The always-sensitive Johnny Miller, crushing Sweden’s Robert Karlsson.
Let’s give NBC a ton of credit. When their cameras were fortunate enough to catch Karlsson pull off a 22-handicapper deceleration on a greenside chip shot, resulting in a chunk-pull-muff that got wet, they were savvy enough to rush the shot to our TV screens, allowing us all a moment of schadenfreude on our Easter Sunday.
It’s rare when we get to see the world’s best choke like we all do, but there’s something dark in our souls that enjoys it. Or, at the least, takes comfort from it. Miller did not miss the opportunity to point that out for us. For that, we always love Johnny Miller.
And we wish Karlsson well in his future. May it be prosperous and bright, and without any chunk-pull-muff decelerations. No use putting negative golf karma out in the universe.
Where do we go from here?
• Tiger goes home to Orlando to play in the Tavistock Cup, a sort of country club Ryder Cup that is both odd and intriguing. Later, he will post Ogilvy’s and Goosen’s quotes on his bathroom mirror, and plot his shot-by-shot game plan to win the Masters by 15 strokes.
The rest head to New Orleans, for the Zurich Classic, a tournament that has seen its share of low-profile winners of late, including Chris Couch and Tim Petrovic. Doesn’t matter the name. There’s a ticket for the Masters awaiting the winner, and Johnny Miller in the booth to cover any chunk-pull-muff decelerations.