Murphy's Law: Lefty loses his groove

Eurosport - Tue, 02 Feb 10:37:00 2010

Brian Murphy of Yahoo! Sports looks back at the first month of the US PGA Tour and a certain left-hander losing his groove in San Diego.

Phil Mickelson - 0

So that's three full-field events on the PGA Tour so far in 2010, and three winners you couldn't pick out of a police lineup. The next Tour stop is in L.A.? Hollywood - get me re-write! We need some A' list names out here, even if you have to fly them in from sex addiction clinics in Mississippi.

Phil Mickelson's big debut as the new Kahuna on Tour went over about as well as Barack Obama's State of the Union Speech in Dick Cheney's living room. Lefty (that's Mickelson, not the Prez) got accused of cheating; hinted at possible legal action against said accuser, Scott McCarron; looked wounded when he said he was publicly slandered; flew in his swing coach, Butch Harmon, Saturday night for an emergency range session Sunday morning; then promptly went out and bogeyed the first three holes, spraying a few shots in the range of some of those Torrey Pines hang-gliders.

Plus, he was wearing white slacks before Memorial Day.

Meanwhile, we were left with Ben (Human Rain Delay) Crane. He was having a bishop-from-'Caddyshack' round early, raining in a couple of 200-footers, then couldn't make a tap-in, missing par shorties on 13 and 17 before leaving a 12-footer on 18 some three feet short. His knees were knocking over that 3-footer, but he somehow steered it in, saving CBS network executives the embarrassment of announcing to America: Ladies and gentlemen, the Grammys can be seen at cbs.com while we bring you the sudden-death playoff with four guys you've never heard of. Who needs Beyonce when you can have Marc Leishman? We thank you for your patience especially when Ben Crane is over the ball.

Crane, the winner at Torrey Pines, is probably most famous for two things: One, engendering the wrath of Rory Sabbatini for slow play a few years back, thus engendering the sympathy of golf fans who can't abide Sabbatini; and two, being the fake source of some stridently anti-Tiger quotes at Q-School, which was a bit of a geographic problem, seeing as how Crane wasn't even at Q-School. But that's life in the golf world when the tabloids start showing up at Q-School. That tabloid reporter probably made up the quote, and when his editors asked him who said it, he answered: Just say Ben Crane. Nobody knows who he is, anyway.

So, Torrey Pines will be remembered for Tiger's absence and McCarron's presence, mostly. It was a curious choice of timing and words McCarron used in the San Francisco Chronicle's nice little scoop, seeing as how the tour was investing hopes and ratings in Mickelson's debut. Instead, Lefty showed up in his hometown with some pre-1990 PING wedges, and within 24 hours was essentially being called the Mark McGwire of the PGA Tour.

It's cheating, McCarron said, and I'm appalled Phil has put them in play.

Side note: I did observe the irony that Mickelson, the new white hat on tour, was accused of cheating straight-away, while the erstwhile Kahuna on tour is in his whole mess because he was, indeed, cheating. Poor Elin must be shaking her head ruefully, texting McCarron to say: You don't know what cheating is, homeboy.

The topic, as most of you know by now, was Lefty's grooves, which are square. (At this point, we would insert the standard joke about how most golfers, of course, are square, and thus can never find a groove. Then again, there wasn't much square about Tiger's sordid tales, so I'd better get back to Lefty's grooves.) In the new PGA Tour, square grooves are against the rules, meaning players won't be able to get outrageous spin on wedge shots.

Case in point was Robert Allenby's 14th hole on Sunday at Torrey, when he caught a flier out of the rough and airmailed the green. In the CBS booth, Nick Faldo reacted as if he'd seen Nessie in the Loch: We haven't seen it for years! Decades! And now it's back! The flier!

Mickelson's reaction to McCarron became the story of the weekend. On Friday, he played it cool, accurately noting that his square-groove wedges, made by PING before 1990, have been grandfathered into the rules by the tour.

It's not my job, or the job of any players, to interpret the spirit of the rule, or the intent, Lefty said. I understand approved, or not approved.

Completely fair interpretation by Mickelson. The tour said it was OK, so he used em. So did John Daly and a few others, by the way.

But something changed from Friday to Saturday, and Mickelson went with the wounded-deer look when interviewed by Peter Kostis after the third round. He moaned that he had been publicly slandered, that a line had been crossed and warned ominously: I'll have to let other people handle that.

Who did he mean? The tour? His lawyers? Tony Soprano?

Mickelson found a strident defender in Jim Nantz, who said McCarron's use of the word cheating was far too strong. Having Nantz on your side is like having a superhero from the Hall of Justice on your side. Faldo, surprisingly, struck an appropriate tone, saying golf is a gentleman's game, handed down through the generations, and maybe all the players using square-groove wedges should do the right thing and play the same wedges as everyone else.

You know it's an unusual topic when Faldo produces one of the most level-headed takes of all, and didn't even mention any of his British Open titles, Ryder Cup record or his new title as Sir during his explanation.

How's this for Solomon-like wisdom: I agree with almost everyone. I see part of McCarron's reasoning, that a leader and veteran like Lefty should probably not even put himself in a position to be criticized. And I agree with Nantz that to use the word cheating was too inflammatory a word. What is this, baseball? As a Supreme Court justice might have once mused: Freedom of speech is OK, but to yell CHEATER in a crowded PGA Tour locker room is not an appropriate use of said freedom.

And yes, I agree with Faldo that the game itself should trump all, and the tour needs to lay down the same rules for everyone: no grandfathers. Even clocks. Those things are unwieldy, anyway.

The sad coda to all this was how Lefty came out after his quasi-Mafioso other people will have to handle this threat and posted a Sunday 73. It's pretty sad to talk tough, then drop off the leader board like you're wearing cement shoes.

Scorecard of the week

67-70-70-70 277, 11-under par, tie-5th place, Rickie Fowler, Farmer's Insurance Open, Torrey Pines.

Race you to the hat store to get one of those hipster Puma Rickie Fowler lids!

Talk about the perfect antidote to our Tiger Purgatory: a fresh-faced, free-swinging, fast-playing 21-year-old gamer wearing clown orange pants and making em look cool because he doesn't seem to care what you think. He's just here to make birdies.

Rickie Fowler has been known in the golf world for a while, since his days as a high school star in SoCal, his All-American status at Oklahoma State, and his late-season splash on the PGA Tour. But nothing says It's official like making a run on Sunday at Torrey Pines in front of Sir Nick and the hang-gliders. And did I mention the clown orange pants?

That golf swing did not, and I repeat, did NOT, come from David Leadbetter's Academy. That's a homemade move with a homemade groove, an aggressive, powerful pass that relies on a monster shoulder turn, some good old-fashioned hand-eye coordination and moxie.

Yes, we've been burned for years by falling in love with the Next New Thing, from Charles Howell to Anthony Kim to Ty Tryon, for the love of over-rated. But here's a toast to hoping Fowler keeps on breathing, because that's all he needs to do, it appears.

Barkeep, bring me another round of Rickie Fowler golf pronto!

Broadcast moment of the week

The number one thing he had was his presence can he regain that self-esteem? Nick Faldo, CBS, opening monologue Saturday afternoon on Tiger Woods' predicament.

This was a particularly strong week for B.M.O.W. candidates, but Faldo's on-point, two-minute long soliloquy on Tiger takes the prize. It beats out Kelly Tilghman's surprisingly good line when a fan climbed a eucalyptus tree to look for a wayward Lefty drive: They moved the rock for Tiger; they'll shake the tree for Phil. There's something Biblical about that line, amusingly enough.

It also beats out Phil's on-camera signing of a golf glove, handing it to the tree climber with a heartfelt Thanks, dude. Gotta love San Diego.

The reason I choose Faldo's monologue was because I credit CBS for diving headfirst into the Tiger Thing. This was CBS' first broadcast of the new year, and the broadcast on Saturday wasn't three minutes old before Nantz introduced the topic of Tiger's absence, and Faldo was off to the races.

Among his salient points: setting aside his lost endorsements and the tragedy of his family life, Tiger's next huge battle is regaining his aura on the golf course. Players will look at him differently now, said Faldo, seeing a man with golf spikes of clay, where once they saw a guy who walked on water. Faldo noted that Tiger's brand hadn't just been damaged in the court of public opinion, but in the tour locker room as well, and getting from 14 majors to 19 majors would be exponentially more difficult.

It was pretty strong stuff from Faldo. If he keeps this up, I may just allow him to be called Sir Nick one more time on-air without unloading verbal abuse via this column.

Mulligan of the week

Another final hole, another player without a PGA Tour win facing a make-or-break decision another lay-up. Heavy sigh.

Last week, it was Tim Clark playing G-rated golf with a chance to win the Bob Hope Classic. This week, promising young Aussie Michael Sim was one stroke behind Ben Crane at Torrey and faced 246 yards to the hole on the par-5 18th. Going for it would dramatically increase his chances at birdie, and give him a shot at eagle to win.

Without a breath of wind, Sim chose the road mostly traveled: He laid up.

This was not only disappointing for us couch potatoes, but also was the wrong play. The front pin on Sunday at Torrey means it's nearly impossible to spin a wedge close, and sure enough, Sim's wedge spun off the green to the front apron. He had to hole his chip for birdie, and the groans were audible all over the bluffs when he stubbed it. He made par, and settled for Miss Congeniality.

So, let's do it again: out to the 18th fairway, drop that ball down, pull that fairway wood and give that man a mulligan!

Where do we go from here?

I love Riviera. Any golf club that claims Larry (Curb Your Enthusiasm) David as a member has to be one of the coolest clubs in America. Plus, for maximum Cool Factor, this is a club that kicked O.J. off its membership roll.

Bring on the traditional shotmaker's layout, the eucalyptus trees, the drivable par-4 10th, the brutal 18th, the ghost of Humphrey Bogart somewhere in the hills and the sweet traffic of Sunset Boulevard humming by.

Oh, and Lefty is defending champ. So, chop chop. Get to work, Phil. And don't sue anybody, OK?

Brian Murphy / Eurosport

Not already a Yahoo! user ? to get a free Yahoo! Account