Murphy's Law: Slow start to season
Yahoo! US golf expert Brian Murphy offers a critical review of the opening to the US PGA Tour season in Hawaii.
Not to say the US PGA Tour is off to a quiet start after a fortnight in Hawaii, but somehow the storyline of Mark Wilson, the 239th-ranked player in the world, bagging a win at the Sony Open never came up during the post-game press conferences of Tom Brady or Rex Ryan in New England.
This is the time of year, fellow duffer, when the NFL play-offs tend to obscure US Tour Sundays, especially when it's Sexy Rexy leading his New York Jets to a major upset at New England. Meanwhile a guy most of you have never heard of is plodding away at Waialae, holding off the likes of Steve Marino (112th in the world), Matt Bettencourt (237th) and Jimmy Walker (263rd).
Sure, Matt Kuchar (13th) was in his customary contending spot; and yes, the underrated Tim Clark (26th) made a charge with a final-round 64 - but suffice it to say that the buzz at the Sony Open was as gentle as the strum of a ukulele.
This is not to overlook the accomplishment of Wilson, who now has three Tour wins and a ticket to his first-ever Masters. It is, however, to acknowledge that a Hawaiian swing that produced Jonathan Byrd and Wilson as winners doesn't exactly fit the gameplan laid out by Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who would have preferred a headline-grabbing win from a young blazer like Anthony Kim (tie-13th) or Jason Day (tie-20th). With no Tiger, Phil, Rory, Graeme or Lee – yes, we're all on a first-name basis with our heroes now – leaderboards can get a little low on the buzz-o-meter.
To compete with American football in January, maybe golf needs a Rex Ryan figure, claiming the Sony Open is "personal" between him and the trade winds. Maybe golf needs an Antonio Cromartie, calling another player an expletive, as the Jets' Cromartie did to Patriots QB Tom Brady. Maybe golf needs a salacious scandal, like Ryan's foot-fetish videos starring his wife, to stir up the prurient interests of golf fans.
Wait. Stop right there. The golf world (cough, Tiger) has gone down that salacious road (cough, Tiger) before, and it didn't work out too well (cough, Tiger).
What counts for scandal these days is the Dustin Johnson-Natalie Gulbis 'are they or aren't they?' dating story, which says more about golf's current lack of interesting storylines than it does about the true degree of interest in whether or not Dustin and Nat were going one milkshake/two straws down at the soda fountain. For the record, Johnson told the AP they are not dating. I'm sure that went over well in the Gulbis camp, especially after the Golf Channel cameras caught her following Johnson around Kapalua like a puppy dog last week.
The Sony Open could have used Johnson's skill and charisma, but he pulled out to allegedly take care of some things on the mainland – and no, he said, it had nothing to do with Gulbis. (Again, Natalie's self-esteem must be soaring.)
Back to Wilson, our winner. If you're reading this column, you probably want to know who this 36-year-old Wisconsin native is, aside from his 2007 Honda Open win and his 2009 win in Cancun – the dreaded 'alternate' event held opposite the WGC-Match Play, where the top 64 players in the world do battle. Winning the 'alternate' event always carries with it a stigma, that attitude from media jackals like me of "Yeah, you won, but... "
Wilson actually has an interesting past as a junior golf phenom who played road kill for a teenage Tiger Woods at the 1992 US Junior Amateur at Wollaston G.C. in Milton, Mass. Two holes up on Tiger with six holes to play, Wilson got flattened by Tiger in a 1-down loss that, as Earl Woods might have said, let the legend grow that much more. It was the second of Tiger's three consecutive US Junior titles, before he won three consecutive US Amateurs – and I'll wrestle anybody, including Rex Ryan, who doesn't think Tiger winning six consecutive USGA Junior and Amateur championships in the fickle format of match play while going through puberty isn't his most impressive achievement in the game.
Nineteen years later, Wilson made no bogeys on a marathon 36-hole day of golf in Oahu, caused by Thursday's cancellation due to weather. His par save on 17 was the key to his win: getting up and down on a tricky par-3, then making a 12-foot slider to stay one shot ahead of Clark.
He birdied 18 for a two-shot win, and told us afterward that he recently attended church where the pastor noted in his sermon that a worried mind was wasting energy, to control what you can control and let the positive vibes flow. Nice lesson, that.
So, if we can't control the fact that the first two weeks of the 2011 season have been quiet as a church mouse, let's not worry. Thanks, pastor. And thank you, Mark Wilson.
Scorecard of the week
65-68-66-69 – 12-under 268, tie-5th, Matt Kuchar, Sony Open, Waialae Country Club, Oahu
Matt Kuchar is the hitmaker on today's golf landscape. Is there any surer bet week-in-week-out than a Kuchar top-10 finish?
Last year, he logged 11 top-10s in 26 starts. It's sort of surprising only one of those top-10s was a win – at the Barclays, in the FedEx Cup play-offs – but that's the way the golf ball kicks sometimes.
Now, two weeks into 2011, 'Kooch' has a tie-6th at Kapalua and a tie-5th at Sony. No wonder the cameras caught him whistling before he placed his golf ball on his tee at the par-3 11th on Sunday: not only is it good to whistle while you work, but also it's good to whistle while you rack up six-figure checks by the bushel.
Mulligan of the week
A couple of years ago, Steve Marino was a punchline. The story went: Marino was introduced to Ernie Els, and when Els was informed Marino was a pro golfer, he asked Marino: "What tour?"
Marino laughed and said: "PGA Tour."
Clearly, Marino wasn't having lunch with the cool kids in the junior-high locker room that was the US Tour back then.
Now, however, they may be clearing space at the table when Marino walks by with his tray. He's playing good golf, including a tie-14th at the Masters last year, and 10 top-25s in 2010. One week into 2011, he has a tie-2nd on his ledger after finishing two strokes behind Wilson at the Sony.
Not only that, but he's already challenging Bubba Watson for 'coolest shot of the year' after his remarkable approach on 18 yesterday on the 72nd hole.
His drive on the par-5 nestled on the side of a hill abutting a bunker. No good. Marino had to take an uneven stance in the bunker and address a ball about knee-level with the green 246 yards out. For many of us, it's Chunk City coming up.
For Marino? He flushed it, smoking a fairway metal onto the green and leaving himself an eagle try. It was the sort of hand-eye coordination that would make a lesser man (cough, me) weep. Kuchar was so impressed that he slapped five with Marino in the fairway. Then again, Kooch is always happy – he's living in the top 10, right?
That said, Marino's chance for an all-world eagle from 39 feet just trickled one revolution past.
Aaargh! The eagle would have tied him with Wilson and made for some serious drama.
So, given the chance to make the best up-and-down in forever, let's trot out to that green, place Wilson's ball 39 feet away, hand him his putter again and … give that man a mulligan!
Broadcast moment of the week
"If a guy likes to talk on the golf course because it relaxes him, don't talk to him. If he doesn't like a yellow shirt, I'd wear a yellow shirt. If he doesn't like me munching in his backswing, I'd get a bag of crisps out."
Nick Faldo revealing his secret to success – and to being a total jerk on the golf course. But I have to give Faldo credit. They're out there to win, right? That he admits to Machiavellian ways increases my respect for the codger.
Where do we go from here?
•The PGA Tour heads to beautiful Palm Springs, California, for the five-day Bob Hope Classic, but that may not concern you, friends. In fact, this could be a turning point in the golf season, as the European Tour features the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in the United Arab Emirates.
And let's be honest: the field at Abu Dhabi makes the Bob Hope field look like a Hooters Tour event.
If the off-season buzz was about how Europe may have the more attractive tour, it's hard to argue with an Abu Dhabi roster that includes Martin Kaymer (PGA champ), Graeme McDowell (US Open champ), Louis Oosthuizen (Open champ), Rory McIlroy (hair champ), Ian Poulter (trousers champ), the Molinari brothers (pasta champs) and Miguel Angel Jimenez (hair champ long before McIlroy).
Even Phil Mickelson (sheepish grin champ) is scheduled to play in Abu Dhabi. Lefty used to be a regular at the Bob Hope, which this year feels like an abandoned town on Route 66 while the gleaming interstate goes up a few miles away.
Wake up early, golf fans. The best golf this week is timezones away!