Monday, August 15, 2005

Birdie Boom, Birdie Bing: Mickelson Makes Good In Jersey

Glory's last shot, as the PGA of America melodramatically dubs its major championship, was a day late but not a dollar short. After threatening weather suspended play Sunday afternoon, Phil Mickelson returned to Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey Monday morning to win the 87th PGA Championship.

That they couldn't finish on time had less to do with the Almighty than the Almighty Dollar. The networks that air golf's U.S. major championships (and pay the big bucks to do so) - CBS for The Masters and PGA and NBC for the U.S. Open - want those events to end as their Sunday night prime time programming begins. So the organizations which run those respective tournaments and get rich off rights fees happily schedule the tee times to end at 7 p.m. Eastern, which they usually do. Except when dangerous weather butts in, as it did twice Sunday in Springfield.

Mark Twain was right when he said everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it. In this case, championship officials could've done something. Like move the tee times up a couple of hours to account for the forecast storms. Instead, they left the schedule as it was and kept its Sugar Daddy - in this case, CBS - fat and happy. (I do applaud the PGA for rebuffing network requests for "King of Queens" star Kevin James to play with Mickelson and Davis Love in the final group.)

The irony is that the PGA actually shortsighted itself. Every tournament organizer in the world and every network executive - no matter what they say publicly - wants Tiger Woods to win their event. For tournaments, it means the opportunity to put the world's most popular athlete on all of its promotional material for next year's championship. For TV execs, it's about the ratings, which are exponentially higher when Tiger's in contention than when he's not.

Tiger finished just ahead of the second weather delay Sunday, the one that ultimately suspended play 'til Monday. A furious final nine flurry that saw him birdie three of the last five holes and nearly birdie the other two left Tiger at 2 under par. Had tee times been moved up and the leaders been forced to play the last four holes in those brutally tough conditions, 2 under might've been good enough for at least a playoff instead of a tie for fourth. What would CBS have given to lead into its Sunday night lineup with a Tiger/Mickelson duel 'til the dark, if not death?

The notion that Woods would even figure in the final outcome seemed as unlikely as a self-serve Garden State gas station for most of the week. Tiger, whose voice is baritone at best, spent the first three days of the championship mimicking a Soprano, specifically Tony. Like New Jersey's most famous fictional citizen, Tiger specialized in Waste Management.

Thursday, he botched Baltusrol's only easy hole, the reachable-in-two par five 18th, when he jerked his tee shot into a hazard and made bogey. An opening 75 (par 70) left his place on the leaderboard at roughly the heat index: 113. Friday, he got greedy with a front pin at 4 and splashed his tee shot with a short iron en route to a scrambling bogey. Only a two-putt birdie at 18 allowed Tiger to make the cut and prolong his agony. Beginning Saturday a dozen off the lead, he played brilliantly through 16 but couldn't birdie either of the closing par fives - thanks to a three-putt from 25 feet at the last - and settled for a solid but wanting 66. Needing a fast start Sunday, he instead bogeyed 1 and 3. And only his unparalleled penchant for the impossible got him back into some semblance of contention.

So Tiger went 1st-2nd-1st-T4th in the major championships this year, the best cumulative finishes since (who else?) Nicklaus more than three decades prior. Unthinkable for anyone else. But if Tiger never realizes his dream of winning all four in the same year, it's hard to imagine him having a better chance than in 2005.

Meanwhile, Mickelson turned the tables on his season, going from major disappointment (10th Masters, T33 U.S. Open, T60 British) to major champion for a second consecutive year. In so doing, he turned back two past PGA champs - Steve Elkington ('95) and Love ('97) - and one Great Dane, the doggedly determined Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, whose Saturday 63 matched the low round in Baltusrol and major championship history and whose play late Sunday and early Monday reversed a trend of recent major meltdowns.

Nearly everyone had melted by Sunday afternoon from the weeklong steambath. Yet somehow, the guy previously voted Most Likely to Have His Gym Membership Lapse, kept lapping the field. Mickelson slept on at least a share of the lead not three nights but four because of the Monday finish. And he couldn't have cared less about the sleepover.

Because while he may not be a gym rat, Phil Mickelson knows his way around the Wait Room. He was 0 for his first 46 majors. One more day wasn't too much to ask to make him 2 for his last 8.


steve said...

God Bless!

If you get a chance could you please say a prayer for a little girl named "Rebekah" who has cancer. God knows who you will be praying about! Thank you so much!

Trying to rally some good Christian Prayer for her and her family!

golfing-babes said...

Are you good at golf? I need lessons!! come play with me tomorrow! get tee times here tee times for golf see you on the first hold ;-)


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