Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Another major and another winner

These days trying to figure out who is going to step forward and capture golf’s major championships is like trying to read Braille, without actually being able to read Braille.

It makes no sense at all and you’re basically guessing. PGA Tour Rookie Keegan Bradley became the latest nobody, to become somebody by capturing the 93rd PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club. That makes twelve different winners in the last twelve major championships. Unlike the three previous titles won this season, where Charl Schwartzel, Rory McElroy and Darrin Clarke all played great golf to win their championships, Bradley had a lot of help from Jason Dufner who gave the Wanamaker Trophy away over the final four holes.

Dufner who’d played holes 15 thru 18 at -3 under par over the first three rounds, went three over on Sunday, blowing a four shot lead, which led to the three hole playoff he lost. "Everybody has struggled on them," Dufner said of the final four holes. "Unfortunately, I had the lead and I struggled on them. ... That was the deciding factor, and Keegan made a couple birdies there, and I made a couple bogeys." In the playoff he didn’t fair much better as Bradley birdied 16 while Dufner pared the hole. At 17, Bradley played the hole even, while Dufner bogeyed it again. That left the rookie with a simple two-putt on 18 to win his first major in his first attempt! "It feels unbelievable," he said. "It seems like a dream and I'm afraid I'm going to wake up here in the next five minutes and it's not going to be real." What’s even more real is the sad state golf seems to be in at the current moment.

Today’s win makes Bradley the seventh straight player to win a major championship that’s never won one before. Now some will say they love how wide open each major is on the present golf landscape. The problem with that mindset is the exact example of how Bradley captured the title on Sunday. Sure he made clutch shots on 16 and 17 to give himself a chance, but with a real seasoned pro in front on the back nine, there most likely wouldn’t have been the collapse that gave him the opening. We all know Tiger Woods issues are far from over, watching him miss the cut for just the third time in a major since turning pro, but that’s just one shot in the bunker in what’s turning into a beach full of big names not producing on the big stage. U.S. Open champion Rory McElroy, supposedly the next “it” player injured his wrist in the first round and was never in the hunt afterwards finishing 64th and 19 shots back. Phil Mickelson, the guy who should be taking advantage of this almost two-year Tiger slumber, again failed to even challenge finishing even for the tourney and eight back of the leaders after 72 holes. Lefty has not won a major since his 2010 Masters victory. Bridgestone winner Adam Scott was just good again, but far from great, never taking the tourney lead over the weekend and settling in at a tie for eighth. Padraig Harrington, the last man to capture back to back majors and seemed to be on the brink of breaking out into pure elite status, eleven over and never in the running.

Golf is at its best when its superstars play super. Natural rivalries intensify Sunday’s, when the entire nation is glued to the final 18 of a major. When Tiger, Phil or one of the more seasoned players leads down the back nine with the others challenging, the storyline is simply that much better and captivating. Who’s going to make an unbelievable shot? Who’s going to miss that five foot par putt? Does Tiger have enough holes left on the back side to make up a four shot deficit? With Phil and Tiger tied entering the final nine holes, who’s the crowd pulling for? Golf is missing all this stuff badly right now. All golfers have to start somewhere in terms of making a name for themselves. Today it was both Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner but for different reasons. The problem is, how long until we hear from either one of these guys on one of golf’s four special Sunday’s again? The way things have played out over the last three years, we might not ever again. And if the superstars don’t get their games together before next season expect four more new names to grab headlines and continue to dull the sharpness the game has captured over the last dozen years.

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