|Greenbrier's eventual winner gets his first taste of media scrutiny in Sunday's final round. (US Presswire)|
CBSSports.com golf writers Steve Elling and Shane Bacon take a gander at a few of golf's latest developments in their weekly Monday tête-à-tête, Alternate Shot.
Pretty clearly, the two pro protagonists at the end of the Greenbrier Classic were not the ones most folks at the beginning envisioned battling it out.
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It was an utterly unpredictable week in rural West Virginia, and the two main draws were not around to see how the tension-packed final holes played out.
Fans figured they'd have Hall of Famers fighting it out for a title, but instead they had two players ranked outside the top 200 in the world ranking, each seeking his first PGA Tour win, trading shots and body blows down the stretch.
Nothing wrong with that. Just a complete rewrite of the statistical-probability chart is all.
• • •
In a development nobody saw coming, especially officials at the Greenbrier Classic, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were sent packing after 36 holes. What's to be gleaned from this with the season's third major just ahead?
Elling: It was one of the most memorable Fridays in years, for all the wrong reasons. Mickelson got hit with a penalty shot for a rules violation in his morning round, never established any momentum and missed the cut at Greenbrier for the second straight year, as multiple sources flatly stated that he and Woods had been paid, directly or indirectly, millions to play the event. Mickelson finished off his seventh straight round above par, setting a personal worst in PGA Tour play, and added this week's European Tour event in Scotland to try to get some needed at-bats before heading to the British Open next week at Royal Lytham.
Woods played slightly better in the afternoon, but missed his second cut this season, proving without a doubt that while he is the best player on tour at the moment, with three wins, he's not remotely the most consistent.
Again, this is why I never, ever, bet on golf.
Bacon: I think it's obvious the bigger red flag from this past week came from Mickelson, who continues to struggle and doesn't seem to have a single shred of a competitive golf game at the moment. He looked lost at Olympic Club and wasn't much better at the Greenbrier -- and this is all heading into his least favorite major of the year.
Sure, Tiger didn't play great, but you and I have both said we knew this to be the Tiger of 2012, a guy that could win one week and miss the cut the next, and it isn't really as much a knock on him as it is a good example of what the golf landscape is these days. Woods didn't play anything like he had the week before at Congressional, but it appears his golf game shows up and departs each week like luggage at an airport and not like the stable force of years past.
That said, it's Lefty who's in trouble right now, and he isn't getting any younger in the process.
• • •
Be honest: Could either of you have picked Ted Potter Jr. or Troy Kelly out of a police lineup before Sunday's playoff at Greenbrier?
Elling: I get a half-point, based purely on geography. Potter grew up just outside Orlando and was something of a local phenom after turning pro right out of high school, back when only a few others had the moxie to try that tack. He made it to Q-school finals at age 20 and proceeded to get his chompers kicked down his throat on the Nationwide Tour. Maybe my nose is pressed too far up against the golfing glass, but the way the final round played out was more interesting to me than if Phil or Tiger had been in the mix for this single reason -- the winner of the playoff between journeymen grinders Potter and Kelly was going to both the British Open and Masters, not to mention locking up his card for two years. It was a life-changing day. Sometimes, when the marquee guys pull up lame, the understudies can steal the spotlight.
Bacon: Umm, no. Absolutely not. No chance. The Greenbrier turned into one of those events that had a ton of guys chasing a title that could elude them not just the rest of the season, but possibly the rest of their careers. Sure, Webb Simpson was in the hunt at one point, but Potter vs. Kelly turned out to be a fun storyline just because it was such a random group of professional golfers. I know that ratings-wise, these two people wouldn't move the needle much, but for real golf fans it is nice to see guys battling for their careers. If Tiger or Webb wins at Greenbrier, it's just another notch in a career already defined by private jets and red carpets, but for Potter and Kelly it's a chance to do something they've always dreamed of against a sneaky-tough field.
• • •
One of the top female players, Na Yeon Choi, ran away with the biggest title in the game on Sunday, the U.S. Women's Open. It was strongly asserted during the NBC telecast that the South Korean contingent is out-working the Americans. Do you buy it?
Elling: Absolutely. Perhaps Dottie Pepper and I are both kindred spirits and loose cannons, but when Pepper said the Koreans put in more time and are reaping the benefits accordingly, I wanted to applaud. Pepper cited a recent event in which she was on the range during LPGA play, and it was nothing but players from the Republic of Korea –- not a Yank in sight.
South Koreans have won four of the past five U.S. Open titles, so even without making broad cultural assumptions, the contingent has solved the riddle of Open setups. For those who believe Pepper was simply popping off or exaggerating the point, she was unequivocally backed up by the greatest player of the past 20 years, Annika Sorenstam, who was also working as an NBC analyst last week.
This is me talking, not them: I think several of the top Americans are pampered, if not outright soft.
Bacon: I'm really torn on this issue, because while the proof does seem to be in the pudding, I know a few top Americans are working their tails off on a daily basis to get better.
The issue to me isn't really so much whether the top Americans work less hard as it is what the goals of women golfers are these days. Face it, being a really solid LPGA golfer doesn't mean you're swimming in diamonds and furs. There are fewer tournaments each year and the purses aren't exactly what the PGA Tour guys are fighting for over at the Greenbrier.
Being an American star in women's golf means you have to mix business and pleasure, which opens doors to more opportunities when the tour takes a week or two off. I think a lot of the smart American women must take companies and sponsors up on these offers because it helps move their brand, and for anyone that has ever done some business, the more widely you can market yourself, the better. Winning LPGA events is a big deal to most of the top Americans, but I sure don't see the tour jumping into another galaxy of purses and events anytime soon, and I think doing more things for yourself makes the most sense.