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Shotgun Start: Most memorable shot? Kids' route? Party Kim?


Well, too bad the past two weeks haven't been entertaining, right? Lengthy last-ditch eagles have decided the winner in consecutive events on the PGA Tour, Italian players are suddenly cooler than gelato, and the Fall Series takes an inconvenient break in Asia with one full-field week left to play. senior writer Steve Elling and Augusta Chronicle columnist and golf writer Scott Michaux try to capture an unusually wild Fall Series period, here and abroad.

Jonathan Byrd just became the first player in PGA Tour history to ace a hole to win a sudden-death playoff. But was it the most memorable shot of the year?

Steve Elling ELLING: That task is tougher than trying to describe Jim Furyk's golf swing in print. It was a massive, massive shot, but even as Byrd admitted in the broadcast, he hit a good shot and "the rest was luck." There is no lack of candidates for the most memorable shot of the season, which have certainly generated some terrific endings now that Woods and Mickelson aren't winning every other tournament. For my money, just because it's such a rare feat, I will take the 11-footer for birdie that Stuart Appleby made to not only win the Greenbrier Classic by a stroke, but to shoot 59 in the process. Sure, it was just a straightforward putt and not Byrd holing a 6-iron from 204 yards in the semi-dark, but some of us puke our guts up just trying to make a putt for a 79, 89 or 99. Five players have shot 59 on the PGA Tour and only David Duval did it in the final round to win. Now that's rare.

Scott Michaux MICHAUX: There were certainly a lot of memorable shots this year -- some good and some bad. Tiger's opening tee shot out of exile at Augusta was pretty memorable. Hunter Mahan's nervous chip in the Ryder Cup won't soon be forgotten. Rocco Mediate's hole-out the week before Byrd's ace was dramatic (if not widely seen). But I'd say two shots really stood out. One was Dustin Johnson's bunker-gate blast on the final hole of the PGA. No shot was more analyzed. But the best moment by far was Phil Mickelson's heroic (some might say crazy) shot from behind two pine trees and over Rae's Creek to 6 feet on the 13th hole at Augusta. My boss and I checked out the spot he hit from later and there's no way any of us would have dared to consider that gutsy play with a Masters on the line. This came a day after Phil came within inches of going eagle-eagle-eagle on 13-15 to erase Lee Westwood's five-shot lead. All those dramatics set up the most emotional moment of the year when Phil and his wife Amy hugged for a minute in front of the world. With all that family had been through in the previous year, it was an unforgettable major moment.

First it was New Zealand's Danny Lee, and now it's 17-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero, as teenage kids keep winning European Tour events and lowering the professional age bar. Is the college route still the best way to develop as an American player?

Steve Elling ELLING: Don't forget Rory McIlroy, who won a PGA Tour event at age 20 this spring, or Ryo Ishikawa, who shot a 58 in the final round to win at age 18 on the Japan Tour. It's interesting how nearly all of the best truly young talent springs forth first from outside the States, mostly because international youngsters don't spend 1-4 years going the NCAA direction. That's been the template in the States for roughly five decades, dating to when Arnold Palmer went to Wake Forest, if not before, and the breakthroughs by young internationals seems to lend credence to the notion, espoused by Hank Haney and others, that college isn't right for every American. Junior golf tours and coaches in the States are doing such a terrific job in fast-tracking kids that within the next decade, I confidently predict that you'll see far more players raised in America, as did PGA Tour veterans Sean O'Hair and Kevin Na, turning pro and eschewing the college route. Manassero is the complete package who finished T13 at the 2009 British Open as a 16-year-old, his lack of distance off the tee notwithstanding. For all the knocks he took for turning pro at 17, maybe Ty Tryon was a trailblazer. Then again, a couple of years for extra maturation at Okie State didn't seem to wreck Rickie Fowler.

Scott Michaux MICHAUX: There is no one formula that is the best. Three years of college certainly didn't hinder Tiger Woods' starting kick. College didn't prevent Mickelson from winning as an amateur. Every player needs to find his own path. What works for one might not work for another. Englishmen Justin Rose (teenage pro) and Paul Casey (U.S. college) found their strides with conflicting road maps that took them to the same place (and I don't mean being snubbed from the Ryder Cup team). Frankly, I think some young Americans might fare better if they struck out to see the world and played the Challenge Tour and Euro circuit to jumpstart their careers instead Q-school or the vastly deeper talent pool that makes up the minor tours in the U.S. There is a reason that players from South America choose to go to Europe to start their careers, preferring to compete against 40 or so guys a week instead of 100 or more. The European route has proven to be more valuable in terms of world ranking points if not dollars, and once you can establish yourself in the top 50 it's easy to transition into a world schedule. But there will always be some appeal to a four-year free ride without having to worry about sponsors and such. The very best will be identified whichever route they take.

Anthony Kim, who says he is trying to rehab his image as a party boy, was spotted in several hotspots living large on the Las Vegas Strip last week before he withdrew, citing pain in his surgically repaired thumb. Was the media reaction overblown?

Steve Elling ELLING: After the torrent of bad pub began raining down on Kim like the $25,000 bottle of Dom Perignon he reportedly sprayed on a Vegas dance floor, he spoke to Sports Illustrated and insisted the initial report in the Las Vegas Review Journal was exaggerated. That's a far cry from denying the fact that he was painting the town red and asked to tone it down by casino management in the first place. Look, I'm not too old to get it. He's 25, wealthy, single and enjoys having his rat pack-type pals flitting around him. It's his prerogative if he wants to spend a reported $80,000 on a one-night bar tab. But if he does it in a town that's as public as Las Vegas, in the era of instant social networking, he shouldn't be surprised when somebody pays attention and it generates unflattering accounts, especially when you already have a well-chronicled reputation as a party animal who doesn't take his physical gifts seriously enough. Kim says he doesn't personally worry about the bad publicity, but worries that it bothers his parents. Fair enough. I'm not sure that making it rain champagne in Vegas is going to make them brag to the neighbors. If I was the marketing guy at conservative Royal Bank of Canada, which signed him to a lucrative bag and endorsement deal, I'd be a little worried about my investment.

Scott Michaux MICHAUX: Anthony Kim is not the most worldly guy. He doesn't have the faintest idea about politics or recessions or how many majors Tiger has won or who might be the next Ryder Cup captain. And that's fine. He's like about 100 million other Americans who don't have a clue about the world around them. Kim has found his trade and is enjoying the life that comes with it. No reason to begrudge him that. He's a rich, young, single guy and he can live his life however he wants. I hope he can have it all -- the lifestyle and the career milestones. It worked for Ray Floyd in his day. Who says Kim can't make it work, too? Golf needs characters who add a little color to the khaki landscape. But to truly get the most out of his talent and career, he'll have to work hard to keep up with a world full of guys who have just as much talent as he does and a focused desire to be great. Kim could be one of those guys. We'll find out eventually whether he will be a world beater or just another spark that never quite ignites. This injury is a serious matter that he needs to get fixed in order to be the champion we expect he can be, judging from some of the gifts he flashed at the Masters the last couple of years. One green jacket would shut all of his critics up. And my guess is that would be one helluva Champions Dinner, though the folks at Augusta would probably prefer he pour the Dom and not spray it.


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