Who to Root For on the Tigerless Tour

published January 28, 2010

The PGA Tour season got underway three weeks ago, but it’s no surprise if you didn’t realize that.  The first two tournaments were in Hawaii, which is barely part of America, and the third was the dimly glowing ember of the Bob Hope pro-am, a five-round slog with no big stars among the ams or the pros.   If Bob Hope had done his USO shows with so weak a crew, half his audience would have volunteered for KP.

This week, the Tour comes to Torrey Pines, the San Diego-area course where Rocco Mediate made himself a household name by finishing second in the 2008 U.S. Open.   It will be the first network telecast of the season, and CBS will be sure to show the cliffside views of the Pacific and the hang gliders riding wind currents out beyond the third green.

The winner of that ’08 Open will not be there, and we can all long for the days when the lower extremity of his that got all our attention was his knee.

Contrary to popular impression, the Tour has not moved its headquarters to a sex addiction clinic in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  That clinic’s most famous occupant is an almost unavoidable topic of conversation on Tour, deftly addressed Wednesday by Phil Mickelson in his first comments about the situation.   He began with a statement that he would not respond to questions about Tiger’s situation (or the new rule about grooves, or his wife’s or mother’s health), and went on to say, “The game of golf needs him to come back.  I mean, it’s important for him to come back and be a part of the sport. But right now he’s got a lot more important things going on in his life. Amy and I are good friends with both Tiger and Elin, and we care deeply about how this turns out. But I’m going to choose not to talk about it publicly anymore, and I appreciate your understanding on that.”

He stuck to that, an intelligent stance for a player who sometimes speaks too eagerly and too much.  Nobody stands to gain as much from Tiger’s absence as Phil, who will inherit a lot of the fans that the world’s number-one player has lost.

If you’re one of those fans, but can’t quite bring yourself to pull for Lefty after all these years (Tiger v. Phil is the Patriots/Colts of the golf world), here are a few suggestions to tide you over until the Striped One comes back (or beyond):

Steve Stricker. Blond, like they all used to be in the Nicklaus-Miller-Norman age.  A grown-up (43 in February), who came back from years of ineffectiveness to play better than ever before, rising to number three in the world rankings.  Renowned for his smooth putting stroke.  A proud Wisconsinite, makes his home in Madison.  His wife caddied for him on tour until the birth of their first child; it was a way to save money, not just keep an eye on him.

Geoff Oglivy. “Thoughtful Aussie” is not an oxymoron.  Oglivy is genuinely interested in golf history, and the architecture of the world’s great courses.  This is more uncommon than it ought to be.  Genuinely interesting and entertaining, Oglivy deserves to be better known.  His only major title so far is the one Phil Mickelson bounced off a merchandise tent at Winged Foot in 2006.  He won the season-opening tournament of champions in Maui three weeks ago.

Rory McIlroy. The Next Big Thing.  Twenty-year-old from Northern Ireland with messy dark curls and a Colin Farrell accent.    He was second last year in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, its season-long money list.  Tied for third in the PGA Championship last August, tied for tenth in the U.S. Open.  Expects to play at least a dozen tournaments in the U.S. this year.  He started the year ninth in the world rankings, just the second player his age to hit the top ten.  Has an agent/handler named Chubby Chandler, whose pronouncements are more like a boxing promoter’s than anything known to golf.

Paul Goydos. Golf’s Everyman, if Everyman had a wickedly sardonic sense of humor.  Sole parent to two teenage daughters, which is enough to affect a high-handicapper’s game, never mind a Tour pro’s.  Took center stage in the 2008 PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP (the capital letters aren’t my idea – take it up with Tim Finchem), when he dueled with Sergio Garcia into a playoff, which he lost memorably on the island-green 17th.  Goydos’s best lines can be found in any book by John Feinstein.

Tim Clark.  Ranks 59th on the PGA Tour career earnings list, having pocketed over $14 million despite never winning a tournament.  He has finished second in at least one tournament for each of the past six years – got around to it early this year, finishing second at the Bob Hope.  Would love to get the monkey off his back, but at that income level, at least it’s well fed.

There will be pro golf without Tiger Woods.  If we got through the Tom Kite era, we can get through this.

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