Alternate Shot: Scribes debate event that's not even over when it's over


Jason Dufner could have helped matters by reminding Zach Johnson to replace his mark. (Getty Images)  
Jason Dufner could have helped matters by reminding Zach Johnson to replace his mark. (Getty Images)  

Well, that was unusual.

In Texas, a 70-man field morphed into a two-man showdown, like cowboys meeting in the dirty main street under a hot sun to settle the score.

Outside London, it became largely a two-man sword fight between the defending champion and a top-10 player clearly at the peak of his powers over the past two years.

The devil was in the details.

First, Luke Donald missed two putts inside five feet over the opening holes to give fellow Englishman Justin Rose a look at the title at Wentworth before reverting to form and holing putts from anywhere, everywhere and nowhere to win the European Tour's top event and reclaim No. 1 in the world.

At Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Zach Johnson and rising star Jason Dufner lapped the field, then traded memorable birdies and head-shaking miscues all the way to the end -- and beyond -- before Johnson logged his eighth PGA Tour win.

For those enjoying a three-day weekend, golf scribes Shane Bacon and Steve Elling were tracking the travails at both venues for this week's Alternate Shot session -- even after the last shots were hit.

Which, in the case of Texas, is when much of the action began.

In one of the most bizarre final holes in recent PGA Tour annals, Zach Johnson was docked two strokes moments before signing his card and ultimately won at Colonial by a shot on Sunday. Where would this have ranked in terms of debacles if he had not been informed of the violation before signing the card and been disqualified?

Elling: It would have been the worst ending since Roberto de Vicenzo blew the title by signing an incorrect card at the Masters a thousand years ago, an epic disaster. Piecing together what happened via reports filed in Fort Worth, Johnson forgot to re-mark his ball in its original position before putting out on the 72nd hole, having moved his marker from the putting line of playing partner Jason Dufner's line. It seems that on-course analyst Peter Kostis was the only man on the property who noticed -- that would include about 10,000 fans -- and mentioned it on the air. Had Johnson not learned of the two-shot infraction, he would have signed for an incorrect score and been disqualified. So the five-footer he made for par and a three-stroke win was actually a must-have putt for a double-bogey and a one-shot victory, but nobody knew. Here's a question for everybody to mull -- should Kostis have said anything? If the media contingent is there to provide unbiased reportage, should reporters let the chips fall where they may and not influence the outcome? Don't get me wrong -- there's no way Johnson deserved a worse fate, but some believe the media's function isn't to act as the referee. What if Kostis hadn't said anything? Pity it somewhat overshadowed another nice win by Johnson, who has four victories in Texas.

Bacon: I think being able to influence the actual outcome of a tournament is what makes golf so special. You or I could have called in to tell Johnson, or whoever would have listened, that he didn't move his mark back, and if our fingers were fast enough, we could have saved the guy a PGA Tour event and an absolute mountain of cash. I don't think that this is a practice that should stop, because I think the rules of golf are so expanded, one official following the match might not be able to have his eyes on everything. In basketball or football, referees are trained to keep their eyes on the continuous action, but in golf, it's tough to see everything that is happening on every shot. Johnson was saved because Kostis had a quick eye and noticed something that, like you said, nobody else saw, but that's why the game is so cool. At the LPGA event in Australia, a fan yelled out at Karrie Webb for not moving her ball back in a similar rules circumstance to Johnson, and it saved her two strokes. No other sport allows something like that to happen.

One of the biggest stories of the week happened well before most folks began their three-day holiday weekend in the States. For the second time in as many starts, world No. 1 Rory McIlroy missed the cut, this time at the European Tour's flagship event at Wentworth. What happened to that blistering run he crafted earlier in the year en route to the No. 1 ranking?

Elling: McIlroy is wrestling with his swing, which is appropriate, because he just experienced a full reversal. He had just missed the cut for the third time in a row at TPC Sawgrass before taking a week off and then tanking at Wentworth in the European Tour's biggest event. McIlroy even admitted that he probably didn't practice as much as he could have, and it took, oh, about 30 seconds before the social media began declaring McIlroy as hopelessly lovesick and characterizing girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki as golf's Yoko Ono. McIlroy shot 79 in the second round at Wentworth, playing a horrid stretch of eight holes in 9 over and causing a few observers to wonder whether he was giving it his best effort. Look, McIlroy is easily the most talented of the under-30 contingent, and maybe even the over-30 crowd, but he has showed a disappointing inability to fight through hard times and tough rounds, including weekend debacle at the Masters and his missed cuts at the Players and Wentworth. A player of his caliber needed to birdie the 18th to break 80? That's shocking by any objective yardstick. Good news is, he's got about 25 years to figure it out.

Bacon: What McIlroy's play, and effort, shows is just what Tiger Woods did to our golfing minds. Before Tiger, nobody would have started questioning McIlroy's efforts if he missed two cuts in a row, because everyone did that, but Tiger changed all that, and when The Next Big Thing struggles in two huge events, the world starts wondering just what's going on. I was a bit disappointed in the way Rory played that stretch that you mentioned, but almost every golfer in the world has that "give up" switch in their heads when things are going south. Tiger never had that, and always fought hard to make the cut even if it didn't really mean anything, but McIlroy is still a kid who expects greatness, and when he plays like he did at Wentworth, it's probably hard to stay in the round. As for his play the past two weeks, I think it says more for the venues than the way Rory played, since he has never really had a ton of success at Sawgrass or Wentworth, much like Andy Roddick on clay, yet he continues to try to play well there even if the golf courses don't fit his eye.

In case you blinked, the No. 1 ranking changed again on Sunday thanks to another transcendent victory by Luke Donald, who reclaimed the top spot for the fourth time in exactly 12 months. Is musical chairs a positive thing for fans, or have they even noticed the turnover?

Elling: The casual fans don't track the inside-baseball data that closely, but many aficionados have certainly noticed, and their eyes are getting blurry, too. For the love of all things arithmetic, the margin between new No. 1 Donald and McIlroy is so thin, Donald could have reclaimed No. 1 last week by finishing eighth. But at least he did it in style, exactly as he did a year ago, by winning a massive event at Wentworth. Incredibly, since Tiger Woods finally spiraled out of the top spot in October 2010, we've had 10 changes at No. 1 in exactly 20 months. It changed nine times in a two-year span from 1997-99, with Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, Ernie Els and David Duval all involved. So, truth be told, the lengthy runs of Woods and Vijay Singh over the past 15 years were probably the anomalies. Put another way, McIlroy has held the top spot on three different occasions ... for a combined span of seven weeks. One more mundane Monday fact -- eight of the last nine tenures in the No. 1 spot have lasted eight weeks or fewer. Dizzying, ain't it?

Bacon: This is one of those things that isn't going to change anytime soon. If it isn't Rory or Luke handing this back and forth, it'll be Lee or Phil or Bubba or Webb. The game of golf is up for grabs in a way it has never been before, and each week a new person is going to come along and steal the show (Jason Dufner was the last three weeks, and now it's Zach Johnson). I think the casual fans don't really care about the world rankings because it doesn't seem to mean anything right now. One week you're No. 2, and the next you jump to the top without having played an event, so it's hard to really find the numbers that exciting. Interestingly enough, I think this season might be better described by how the FedEx Cup plays out, because I feel that is giving us a better indication of who is playing the best golf this season, unlike what the world rankings might be saying.


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