Aloha, golf world. We've missed you. After all, it's been – what? – a whole five weeks since we saw you last.
That was back in December, at the Chevron World Challenge when Graeme (The Ulster Magician) McDowell eviscerated Tiger Woods for all the world to see. It was so thorough a gutting, Tiger not only hasn't been seen since, but also he's been dropped by Gillette and broke up with Golf Digest. If you see Tiger on the side of the road with a "WILL PLAY GOLF FOR FOOD" cardboard sign, be gentle.
Turns out golf knows no offseason. The PGA Tour is in full swing, and it's probably a smart move by commish Tim Finchem to keep the events rolling. After all, in the post-Tiger world of TV ratings, Finchem's darkest fears – outta sight, outta mind, outta title sponsors – rumble in the background like indigestion. The lid-lifter at Kapalua used to be sponsored by Mercedes. Now, it's sponsored by Hyundai. Not that there's anything wrong with that …
Fear not, commish. As long as you keep churning out characters like Robert Garrigus, we'll tune in.
Well, at least I will. And some of my colleagues who like golf will, too. The rest of the free world will watch the NFL playoffs.
Garrigus saved the Tournament of Champions nearly single-handedly with his 390-yard drives, his 28-inch putter straight from your local miniature golf course and his oddly charismatic unkemptness. Tom Brady, with the coiffed hair and shiny white teeth, this guy ain't.
He's a survivor, eight years clean and sober after alcohol and drugs nearly derailed him. His Van de Velde-esque meltdown at Memphis last year became his claim to fame: blowing a 3-shot, 72nd hole lead with a drive into a water hazard, a drop and a quick snapper into the forest en route to a triple bogey, all played out with a copious amount of unfortunate sweat staining the gluteus maximus area of his khaki pants.
But survivors don't roll over. Faced with the prospect of losing his card, Garrigus won the final event of the year, at Disney World, for a top-125 finish and a ticket to Kapalua – where it turns out he felt the burn of losing in painful fashion all over again.
See, that's the beauty of golf. One week in, and we're already cringing for a guy.
It was a tough miss from three feet for Garrigus, and I like the guy, but you could almost see the "thought bubble" in the air screaming "Memphis!" above his head on that par putt. I know, I know, the guy has come back from Memphis and won, and he had a great attitude afterward on Sunday, saying he's confident in his game, happy about his big check ($635K) and looking forward to watching the Oregon Ducks (Garrigus is from Idaho) on Monday night. But still, scar tissue is scar tissue.
Maybe next time, Garrigus won't be the ebullient post-round character he was in Kapalua. Instead of heading to the range before a possible playoff with Byrd, he signed autographs, did a Golf Channel interview, gave away so many golf balls he had to re-stock in the locker room and played with his newborn son. You'd hate to see a guy like Garrigus change his act, though.
The TOC was one of the tournaments where you almost forget the winner, so dominant was the storyline of Garrigus. Jonathan Byrd is the quietest five-time winner on tour, and that's maybe because 40 percent of those wins have come in his last two starts. Byrd's entry to Kapalua came from his thrilling walk-off ace in the playoff at Las Vegas for the win, but nobody really remembers that because the San Francisco Giants were on their way to an epic World Series victory for the ages, and NFL and college football were in full swing.
Byrd is one of those guys with a golf swing so technically sound, you wonder why he doesn't factor into more major championships and Ryder Cup teams. While the golf swing may be Hoganesque, the results haven't been, including six consecutive missed cuts last year. Why hasn't he been better in majors? Heck, he hasn't played in one since the 2008 PGA Championship. Worse, Byrd hasn't made the cut in one since the 2007 British Open. Here's to a more consistent product from a guy with one of the most consistently pretty, balanced swings on tour.
It was appropriate that a quiet player won the TOC. All told, it was a quiet week – no Tiger, no Phil, no Lee, no Rory. You know it was a low-wattage week when word of a budding romance between Dustin Johnson and Natalie Gulbis qualified as news. An emailer to my radio show on KNBR tried to compare Dustin and Nat to another power couple from another country-club sport: tennis' Jimmy Connors and Chrissy Evert. I rejected it outright on the grounds that Connors and Evert used to at least win major championships.
On the bright side, I'm pretty sure Sir Nick Faldo buttoned up one more button on his I'm-too-sexy-for-Maui shirt this year. Last year, this column was appalled by Faldo's gratuitous amount of overly tanned cleavage and called for a buttoning-up. To my amateur eye, I think he conceded.
Let's call the season off to a good start, then.
Scorecard of the week
• 71-68-68-62 – 269 (23 under par), Graeme McDowell, third place, Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Plantation Course, Kapalua
You'll note I dubbed McDowell "The Ulster Magician" in the lead to this column. It's my attempt to fight the depressing trend of nicknames the past decade or two, in which we simply take the first initial of a name and the first syllable of a last name, put them together and think it's a nickname. Call it the "A-Rod syndrome."
Hence, one of the more likable, talented, gutsy and attractive players in the world is now simply known as "G-Mac." Come on. We, as a sporting world, have to do better than that. I'm not saying "Ulster Magician" is the answer. It's merely an attempt to push back the tide and get the conversation started.
Point being, G-Mac needs the sort of nickname that emblemizes what kind of player he's become. First came the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Then, winning the Ryder Cup in the final singles match in Wales. Then, the Tiger Slaying at Chevron. It was all so ridiculously good, the amiable McDowell took to YouTube to post a silly video with his pals Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy, poking fun at his absurd run of golf. And now, a 62 on Sunday in Hawaii – after he flew around the world to get to a place he'd never been. There is no one overwhelming aspect of McDowell's game – perhaps his putter, from longer distances – but rather a complete sense of a player arriving at a place where his talent meets his confidence. The good news stateside is, in a year where the U.S. tour lost McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer to Europe, McDowell will play as a PGA Tour member this year.
So, get cracking on that nickname.
Broadcast moment of the week
• The New Year is christened with a BMOW shout to Dave Andrews of Daytona Beach, Fla., aka The Viewer Who Busted Camilo.
By now, you all know of Camilo Villegas' ill-advised – and illegal – flick of a loose impediment as his ball rolled back to him on the 15th hole on Thursday. Andrews saw it on TV and didn't just find the rules infraction offensive, he did something about it: He tweeted the PGA Tour and the Golf Channel, eventually finding ears. Because Villegas had already signed his card, he was DQ'd, and in a no-cut event, actually performed the difficult feat of not earning a check.
Ian Poulter immediately found a problem with the messenger, not the message, tweeting something you might find in a junior-high locker: "No 1 likes a snitch."
Ernie Els was a little more reasoned, suggesting that there be some sort of time limit as to when players are responsible for their violations, namely during the round. Once the card is signed, Els suggested, a late call can't affect a player.
Interesting thoughts, but as we all knew when busted by our parents for a wrongdoing at home, you can't fight The Man. Villegas broke the rules. No dessert for him.
Mulligan of the week
• While watching the world's best golfers is inspiring and entertaining for most of us, sometimes I find it a little depressing. After all, can't any of these athletic geniuses ever just flat screw up?
We see things like Garrigus' 5-wood bullet from 295 out on the 72nd hole at Kapalua, resting 10 feet from the flag. We see things like Bubba Watson's driver off the deck from 305 out on 18 at Kapalua, a mind-bending, ball-bending bit of talent that ended 12 feet from the cup. And we see McDowell pepper the flags all day on Sunday, one stoney iron shot after another.
So where's the dogged victims of an inexorable fate in all this?
Enter Jason Day.
The wildly talented, young Australian came to the 13th hole on Friday, teed his ball up, swung his driver and – THUD! – hit about a foot behind the ball, kicking up a large chunk of Maui sod and smothering his ball an embarrassing 106 yards off the tee box.
To which I say: Yes! I know that shot! I am that shot! Thank you, Jason Day!
Of course, the part that makes Day a pro golfer is that he still made "4" from there, for one of those garden variety, all-world pars.
Still, given the macho world of the PGA Tour and that it's January… give that man a mulligan!
Where do we go from here?
• Hop a puddle-jumper to Oahu for the Sony Open, the first full-field event of the year. Old standbys like Els, Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh will play; so will exciting rookies like Joseph Bramlett, the Stanford graduate whose father is African-American, inspiring stories about the Tiger Effect in golf.
Garrigus is playing. Camilo Villegas is, too. He'll be the one with the sign on his bag that says: "HEY, DAVE ANDREWS OF DAYTONA BEACH, FLA., GO WATCH THE TENNIS CHANNEL."