Eurosport - Tue, 09 Feb 11:42:00 2010
Brian Murphy of Yahoo! Sports chews over the factoid that Steve 'Cheesehead' Stricker could become the new Tiger Woods.
So here's how most golf fans have been spending time since Thanksgiving 2009:
Clicking on tmz.com for our daily sleaze update on the world's No. 1 player.
Learning how names like 'Rachel', 'Joslyn' and 'Jaimee' have nothing to do with the LPGA.
Poring over photos of unidentified men walking around sex addiction clinics, wondering if the photos are, indeed, of a) the world's No. 1 player; b) a fake; c) Yeti.
Entering divorce pools, betting on the month the wife of the world's No. 1 player becomes the ex-wife of the world's No. 1 player.
Marveling at the fact that sex addiction clinics exist in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Can't speak for you, but all that sort of behavior can make a guy forget about - oh, I don't know - actual golf. And while most of us were forgetting about actual golf, strange things happened, like waking up today to find the new world order in the royal and ancient game is ruled by a Cheesehead.
Chew on this factoid: Steve Stricker is the new Tiger Woods.
That's right. Steve. Bleeping. Stricker.
Understand, I drop the all-purpose Bleeping on Stricker not out of enmity. I am a huge Stricker fan, for reasons ranging from his agreeable Wisconsin-bred personality to his gorgeous and repeatable putting stroke to his mighty thirst for victory, as evidenced by Sunday's triumph at venerable Riviera.
The Bleeping middle name is more out of slack-jawed respect for a guy who has decided to become the best player in the world not named Tiger. And as long as Tiger continues to stay on the sidelines, Stricker is now The Guy.
(By the way, rumblings say mid-March is the return, as predicted in this column. If it happens, you will all read the appropriate boo yah column item. If not, I will deny ever making a prediction.)
This is an amazing thing, Stricker as The Guy. We all thought Phil Mickelson would be The Guy. Instead, it's a guy who lost his card in 2004, had to invoke Past Champion' status in 2005 and missed 11 of 21 cuts, then spent 2006 as a hobo, knocking on doors with a kerchief tied to the end of his golf club, holding all his belongings, asking for sponsor's exemptions into events.
That guy should never be, by rule, The Guy. You can't be The Guy when most people think of you as just another guy. Except Stricker, who's making new rules on how to be The Guy.
Next thing you know, Stricker will turn 43 later this month and he's No. 2 in the world. With Tiger out, that makes Stricker, de facto, il capo di tutti capi, as Constantino Rocca might say.
Steve Stricker. For real. Steve. Bleeping. Stricker.
He went to a Lakers game on Friday night, and said one guy recognized him. Meanwhile, he said he was gawking at Jack Nicholson and Kim Kardashian. The one guy who recognized him probably yelled out: Hey, Stricker! You're blocking my view of Kim Kardashian!
His win at The Riv means that, dating back to the Colonial in 2009, Stricker has won four times in his last 14 starts. I'm serious. That doesn't include a win at the Shark Shootout in the Silly Season, or his insane blitzkrieg of the International Team at Harding Park in the President's Cup, when he teamed up with some other guy to go 5-0.
It was quite eerie to see NBC roll out highlights of Stricker and Tiger playing together at the Prez Cup. It was like seeing a ghost, seeing Tiger.
Meanwhile, Stricker is no ghost. He's a presence, in a large way. Usually when a guy has a career surge at age 42, it's time to start coughing the word steroids into our fist in mixed company. We've been trained as sports fans, down this road in baseball: Bonds, Clemens and McGwire have unsuspended our suspension of disbelief.
Not the case with Stricker. He still looks like your neighborhood paper boy, still hides in the middle of the pack in driving distance. He just scores the ball like few others: chipping and putting like, well, Tiger himself.
The last knock on Stricker was his ability to win. He could contend, sure, in the last couple of years. But win? That was the whisper. He couldn't do it.
At the Riv, he turned a six-shot lead into a two-shot lead, then steadied himself with birdies at 8 and 9 to fend off
All that's left is a Major championship for Stricker. Augusta is two months away. Tiger will probably be there, and we'll all have our knickers in a twist. Meanwhile, nobody will notice Steve Stricker. That's just how The Guy likes it. Watch out.
Scorecard of the week
72-66-71-73 2-under, 282, tie-45th, Phil Mickelson, Northern Trust Open, Riviera Country Club.
What gives with Lefty? I was among the stampede to sprinkle holy water on Phil after his flurry of haymakers to end 2009 and Tiger's subsequent fall from grace. The stage was set for a Mickelson West Coast coronation, leading to a monster 2010, but now Torrey Pines and Riviera have come and gone and Lefty has gone all blah' on us.
Worse, it's sloppy. Lefty made five bogeys in Sunday's 73, and 14 bogeys in 72 holes at The Riv, where he was defending champ. Everything's off, from tee to green. Johnny Miller thinks Phil is trying too hard with the absence of Tiger. Could be.
I won't freak out about Phil just yet. His history indicates slow starts. In 2007, he went tie-45 at the Hope, tie-51 at Torrey, and missed the cut at Phoenix in his first three starts. When jerkos like me began to bury him, he won the next week at Pebble.
Just last year, he went MC at Phoenix, tie-45 at Torrey, tie-55 at Pebble, and when jerkos like me began to bury him, he won in L.A.
Lefty will be fine. I think.
Mulligan of the week
Speaking of Lefty, did you catch his cross-over plug during CBS' Super Bowl pre-game show? Now that's exposure: be seen on NBC playing golf, while simultaneously being seen on CBS, as part of a Callaway plug/skit.
Deal was, Lefty was using the new Callaway driver and would hit two drives, with one golf ball labeled INDY' and another golf ball labeled N.O.' for the Saints. Whichever ball went farther, that team would win the Super Bowl, according to Phil.
All right it was cute and all and entertained us all for its allotted 60 seconds or so. Phil walloped the drives, and when he and caddie Jim (Bones) Mackay went to find them, Mickelson announced, with authority, that the Saints ball had gone farther, therefore the Who Dats would win the Super Bowl.
Aha, I thought: I have my Mulligan of the Week. Surely, the Colts were to win SB 44 behind the infallible Peyton Manning, necessitating a mully for Lefty.
Four quarters later Saints 31, Colts 17. Mickelson's driver test turned out to be the infallible part of the equation, stripping me of a Mulligan of the Week.
So, in a new twist just for this week do NOT give that man a mulligan!
I'll take one, however, if you're still giving em out.
Broadcast moment of the week
He's damaged the game of golf. It's been hurtful. He's lost a lot of respect and his integrity is pretty shattered right now. And more importantly, he's injured his marriage and his family. He'll come back strongly because he's got so much talent, so much game, but he'll have to go through a lot of media blitz. Johnny Miller, NBC, in his first 2010 comments on Tiger.
You knew Miller wouldn't hold back when asked. He lives to not hold back. He went on to say Tiger would have to navigate the 'Entertainment Tonight' media crowd upon his return, since he's become such a gossipy story.
Miller also said Tiger will have to show genuine sorrow when he returns, which is where things begin to get dicey. Listen, I'm as susceptible to prurient interest as much as the next guy, but ultimately, does Tiger owe any of us any apologies about his marriage? I understand the part about blowing it with his corporate sponsors, because they paid him for an image, and that image is blown, but when it comes to apologising to any of us about his marriage, I'll take Jack Nicklaus's side on this: it's his marriage, his business.
I expect Miller to be absolutely on fire, however, by the time Tiger returns for his first NBC tournament - probably Arnold Palmer's in mid-March. Let the broadcasting fireworks begin!
Where do we go from here?
For the rest of you, it's time for TV shots of breeching whales and Ray Romano's rushed backswing, deciding which is the more natural beauty. For your loyal correspondent, it's time for a home game: Pebble!
The nearest regular tour stop to San Francisco is the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and the 2010 version should be a tad more interesting than your average Kenny G hybrid from 220 out to a back left pin. Two things at work: one, the US Open is at Pebble this year, so players are coming to warm up, thus beefing up the field with names like Sergio and Retief. And two, the rotation of courses has changed, adding the fab Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, a TV-watcher's dream of crashing waves and 17 Mile Drive vistas.
Word was, Tiger was going to play this year to get ready for Pebble. Alas, he's got other things going on. Steve Stricker, aka The Guy, is taking a pass. That leaves the stage for Lefty as the highest-ranked player in the field, and time for a splashy bit of golf from the southpaw.
Race you to the Tap Room at The Lodge!