It might have been Johnny Carson who once advised show biz folk to “never follow animals or kids” on stage. Carson’s point: It’s a no-win. Everybody loves animals and kids. They just might not like your act afterward.
The PGA Tour found itself in a similar predicament on Monday, except we could change the adage to: “Never follow Freddy Couples or Tom Watson.” How could the Monday finish at the Bob Hope measure up to the “Haymakers at Hualalai”?
Disturbing answer for the Tiger-less Tour: It couldn’t.
The Hope tried its best with a fairly engaging four-man race to the 90th hole between Matt (So Easy to Like, I’m Sort of the Kid/Animal Act of the tour) Kuchar; Bubba (Please Take Me to Hollywood, Simon) Watson; Tim (What, Me Win?) Clark; and eventual winner Bill (I’m Much Balder Than My Father) Haas.
Yes, congratulations to the younger Haas, and to the Haas clan, whose patriarch, Jay, is so unbelievably nice and gracious, he makes Jim Nantz look like a misanthrope. That makes two full-field events on this year’s tour, and two winners named Ryan Palmer and Bill Haas.
This is an interesting – and precarious – time for the PGA Tour. In fairness, Tiger Woods, who needs to know that he's missed by a few folks, wouldn’t have shown his red shirt until this week, anyway, so any pre-judging of the tour’s fallen star power can’t be assessed until after Torrey Pines. Already, The Golf Channel is promoting Phil Mickelson’s 2010 debut as if he were, well, Tiger, because that’s the hand it's been dealt. Smart play.
For sure, Lefty will add some pizzazz to the proceedings, but Mickelson is also capable of doing one of his Lefty things and turning in a ‘blah’ week that ends up in the middle of the pack, or worse, with a missed cut. Tiger never did that. Tiger always gave you a show.
The tour needs Phil to come out guns blazing, launching a West Coast win streak to get us going again. If reports of the Hattiesburg Hideout are true for Tiger – and there are far, far, far too many credible reports insisting it is so – his return to the tour for Arnold Palmer’s gig in March now seems doubtful. It even is beginning to look as if he’ll skip the Masters, which would speak for itself in terms of gravity – not to mention provide a tidy little birthday gift for Jack Nicklaus, who just turned 70.
Happy birthday, Jack! I couldn’t go shopping because I was tied up, but my belated gift is my "Regret" RSVP to Billy Payne. Enjoy.
In the meantime, we’re left to write the most imponderable sentence in golf history: The Champions Tour provided better theater than the PGA Tour.
Couples and Watson were so good, they exerted a magnetic pull on my remote control away during commercials from the epic Brett Favre Tragi-Comedy playing out on Fox. I never thought I’d live to see the day that I was hitting "Last Channel" from an NFC championship game to a Champions Tour event, but Boom Boom and Watson were that good, eventually ending in my decision to DVR the entire golf event to give myself peace of mind.
It made for great next-day viewing, like excellent fried chicken the day after a picnic, or the second half of a Ben and Jerry’s pint that you started the night before. The Golf Channel was so enthused, it announced it will replay the final round Tuesday night. Instant classic! You will note, sadly, they have no such plans to re-run the Hope’s final round later this week. Good event, yes. Good finish, yes. But second banana to Freddy and Tom. That’s either a fluke of nature, or cause for concern.
Lefty? It’s up to you, big boy.
63-66-65 – 22-under, 194, Tom Watson, first place, Champions Tour Mitsubishi Electric Championship.
65-66-64 – 21-under, 195, Fred Couples, second place, Champions Tour Mitsubishi Electric Championship.
In the final scene of Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 classic “Pulp Fiction,” the Samuel L. Jackson character, Jules, outsmarts a robber, played by Tim Roth, at a diner, and makes the robber return his wallet. Roth has to ask Jackson which one it is. Jackson replies, memorably: “It’s the one that says ‘BAD MOTHER’ on it.”
Now. This is a golf column on Yahoo! You can appreciate that I did not include the full script here. (But you can see for yourself, here) There were two more syllables after MOTHER, but you get the point.
And our point is this: Tom Watson’s Sunday 65, Tom Watson’s flushed 6-iron on 17 to six feet for bird to tie Couples, Tom Watson’s second shot on 18 on Sunday, a wedge off a sidehill, uphill lie to four feet, Tom Watson’s birdie putt for the win … it all could have been written by Tarantino.
SCENE: INTERIOR. HUALALAI CLUBHOUSE, BEFORE SUNDAY’S FINAL ROUND
. FRED COUPLES, ambling past Watson with easy gait, not a care in the world, smiling: “Hey, Tommy. Looking forward to today. Let’s have some fun.”
TOM WATSON, pulling on pinstriped pants, unsmiling: “Fred, could you walk my golf bag over to me?”
COUPLES, perplexed: “Sure. Which one is it?”
WATSON, still unsmiling, buttoning pinstriped pants: “It’s the one that says ‘BAD MOTHER’ on it.”
COUPLES: “But there are two more unprintable syllables after MOTHER.”
WATSON, still unsmiling: “I know. But this is a Yahoo! golf column. It’s rated G. Just bring me the golf bag and get ready to deposit the runner-up check.”
And … SCENE!
(I do believe, by the way, that that’s our first attempt at a screenplay in this column’s history. Look for us soon with James Lipton on “Inside the Screenwriter’s Studio.”)
Is there a badder dude working than Tom Watson? He’s 60. Sixty! His heroics in his seventh decade make Brett Favre at 40 look like yesterday’s news. (Actually, Vikings fans, Favre is yesterday’s news. Sorry about that. But 12 men in the huddle? Come on! Plus, he should have just tucked it and ran. Anyway …)
Certainly, Watson has to make the short list of Baddest Dudes Ever to Wear Pinstriped Pants. Al Capone might be the only other one on the list, and Capone surely didn’t wear them in Hawaii.
After last July at Turnberry, you had to wonder if Watson’s unreal performance there was just some sort of “Golf in the Kingdom” magic, a mystical blast from the past that speaks more to the supernatural than anything else.
Nope. It was legitimate golf, is what it was. Watson, right now, is striking the ball about as well as anyone on the planet. Surrendering 50 yards off the tee to Couples, and 10 years on the birth certificate, Watson not only outfoxed Couples down the stretch by accepting his dare of hitting pin-seekers on 17 and 18, Watson proved once again what a rock-solid golf swing, a crisp pace of play and a fearless attitude can bring.
“It was game on,” Watson told The Golf Channel, unable to hide the gap-toothed grin we’ve come to identify with world-class golf. “That’s what I’m out here to do – hit shots that count under pressure.”
It is surely a damning indictment of today’s under-30 crowd that nobody on the PGA Tour could provide the charisma and thrills Couples and Watson provided on Sunday. Couples’ arrival on the Champions Tour has already done what the Champions Tour was desperately hoping it would do – inject some life into a corpse. By way of example, did you know that last year’s Hualalai event was won when Bernhard Langer clipped Andy Bean? Thought so.
So, welcome, Freddy. Way to bring out the best in Watson, and have Watson remind us of his enduring style. And way to be Freddy all the while – from your laid-back Ecco golf shoes, to your drool-inducing swing, to your always-charming insouciance. The Associated Press reported that Couples walked off the 18th green, slain by Watson, and asked: “Hey, who won the football game?”
It’s a new era for the 50-and-over crowd.
Broadcast moment of the week
“It’s easy to forget you’re watching the Champions Tour.” – Mark Rolfing, The Golf Channel, caught up in the Watson-Couples duel.
I understand what Rolfing meant – the golf was so good, it could have been Augusta National, circa the early 1980s – but unwittingly, he underscored the Champion Tour's problem. Namely, that nobody cared.
After Hualalai, we all care a little bit more.
Mulligan of the week
Of all the contenders at the Bob Hope, two stood out: Matt Kuchar, for his eminent likeability and ability to move the needle; and Bubba Watson, for the same qualities. Hamstrung by so many world top-20 players racing to Abu Dhabi for the beautiful smell of cold, hard cash, the Hope’s field was left with Mike Weir as its highest-ranked player.
But Kooch and Bubba provided some intrigue – especially Watson, since the bombing left-hander has never won on tour and could become a star if he started piling up ‘W’s. He’s got the name, the distance, the swing and the personality. Or perhaps haven’t you seen his homemade videos, including one where he sings "Happy Birthday" to "American Idol" judge Ellen DeGeneres in an intentionally goofy way, bucking for a trip to Hollywood.
So there’s Watson, in the thick of it, back nine, final day, at the par-5 14th. Understand, Watson eats par-5s for breakfast. He smoked his drive, 312, center cut. He’s got 240 to the hole, 230 front. It’s Eagle City. Except Bubba decides to do an un-Bubba thing and lay up. Ouch!
The Golf Channel commentators wanted his hide, especially after Watson’s lay-up didn’t even net him a bird. His par would haunt him after finishing one shot behind the winner Haas, and Rich Lerner’s words would hang in the air: “It’s like Babe Ruth laying down a sacrifice bunt … and not even getting the run across.”
Nice line, Rich.
So let’s go back to that 14th fairway, take dead aim at the flag and … give that man a mulligan!
Where do we go from here?
To Torrey Pines, with no Tiger in sight. How far has this event fallen? Buick bailed out as a sponsor, and only at the last minute did Farmer’s Insurance step in. This revolving door of sponsors should lead to a populist revolt in which we fans refer to the events only by known names such as “Torrey Pines,” “Pebble Beach” and “Riviera.” And next week, simply “Phoenix.” Oh, I’m sorry: Did you want to call it the “Waste Management Phoenix Open”? Thought so.
Lefty could be huge in 2010. It starts now, on the bluffs of La Jolla – about 15 worlds away from Hattiesburg, Miss.