Sunday, August 10, 2014

Valhalla Rising

No one is ever going to mistake Valhalla for Augusta, Pinehurst No. 2 or Royal Liverpool (Hoylake), the sites of the year's first three major golf tournaments, but sooner or later people are going to have to admit that Valhalla has carved its way into the history books simply because of the dramatic events it has hosted.  First there was the 1996 PGA Championship which ended in playoff; then the 2000 PGA which featured the historic duel between Tiger Woods and Bob May; which was followed by the 2008 Ryder Cup that saw the prohibitive underdog American team pull off an unlikely victory; and following that up today with what was probably the best of them all, a dramatic 2014 PGA Championship that saw Rory McIlroy prevail under unique and historic circumstances, beating the clock against the dark and barely holding on in the end when it looked like Phil Mickelson was going to pull off one of the most miraculous shots in the history of major championship play.

It was a long and great day of golf, and kudos are due not just to the players but to those working the course who somehow managed to help it recover from a 45-minute drenching that left the bunkers looking like ponds, the greens like rivers and the fairways like lakes.  Or maybe the biggest congratulations are due to whomever designed the course's drainage system.  In any event, it certainly didn't seem likely when CBS went on the air at 11 a.m. PST that there was any chance that the tournament would end on Sunday.  But end it did, if only because the final pair was allowed to play up on their tee shots and approach shots as the penultimate pair (Mickelson and Fowler) struggled to pull of the miracle that would tie McIlroy.  It was not to be, and Rory is quite clearly the King.

Some thoughts on the season that heads to a playoff season that ultimately means nothing, because at this point we all know who the world's best golfer is - and right now, there's a huge gap between McIlroy and #2, and that will remain the case regardless of who captures the Fed Ex cup or whatever they're calling it these days.

- Tiger Woods is not finished.  His bid to pass Jack Nicklaus is probably over, but I'd be shocked if he doesn't pull at least one more major out of his hat.

- Before we anoint Rory as the next Jack-slayer, let's see how the beginning of 2015 plays out.  We got spoiled by Tiger's relentless and consistent brilliance over the course of a decade, but we've already seen that McIlroy is prone to slumps.  And winning major tournaments is hard - just ask Phil Mickelson - or better yet, Sergio Garcia.

- Kudos to Rickie Fowler, who won an award that doesn't really exist by turning in the lowest composite score in this year's majors.  A 5th at the Masters, a T-2 at the U.S. Open and the Open, and a 4th at the PGA is nothing to sneeze at.  But as Sergio Garcia and Colin Montgomerie can attest, it's majors that separate the very good from the great.  Fowler is only 25, and is one cool, classy customer.  It would be easy to say that he's going to win several.  Just like Sergio, Colin and Luke Donald were going to.

- Get your shit together, Bubba Watson.  Maybe watch the tape of Fowler's round, or buy one of Wil Wheaton's "Don't Be a Dick" t-shirts and pin it to your ceiling.  But whatever you do, it's time to start to acting like a major winner.

- Could the U.S. team be any bigger underdogs going into the Ryder Cup than they are this year?  Which is good - they can go over there feeling like they have nothing to lose (because they don't), with Captain Tom on their side convincing them (but not in public, please) that they are the 12 best golfers in the world.  I'll still be surprised if they win, but I won't be shocked.

No comments: