LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Let’s not sugarcoat things: As far as golf seasons go, this one has stunk worse than Craig Stadler’s old socks.
The Masters was over by the time the final pairing reached the back nine on Sunday. The U.S. Open was over by Friday. The Open Championship was over before it even started.
The game’s most popular player went from winning to wincing, as Tiger Woods never finished higher than 25th place.
The next guy on that list hasn’t exactly dominated, either, with zero top 10s for Phil Mickelson on the PGA Tour so far.
Meanwhile, the guys who have won titles aren’t even household names in their own households. Bowditch? Hadley? Noh? No offense to any of ‘em, but each could walk through his local mall holding a trophy and still not get hassled by anyone but the perfume lady.
Even Scott Stallings, who won his third career title earlier this year at Torrey Pines, doesn’t get any respect. Following his second round at the 96th PGA Championship on Friday, the walking scorer in his group asked where he currently works as a club professional.
Cue Rodney Dangerfield and commence collar tug.
Such is life in the topsy-turvy world of parity, where anyone can win on any given Sunday.
Not to go all Sergio Garcia circa 2007 on you, but there is only one villainous organization to blame for this year’s interminable snoozefest: Those unmerciful golf gods.
The almighty beings who control the game’s landscape from behind the curtains have robbed us of our fun. They’ve taken away our excitement, our nerves, our diversion from lives spent in too many cubicles and classrooms, wishing away the hours with thought bubbles of final round drama floating above our heads.
They have rendered our Sunday afternoons into fitful bouts of burdened sleep on the couch. Or even worse, they’ve turned ‘em into the perfect time to get cracking on that honey-do list.
Maybe, though, just maybe, they were testing us.
Testing our patience, our perseverance, our love of the game. They wanted to see just how long we’d keep returning to watch listless leaderboards.
Well, entering Sunday’s final round at Valhalla Golf Club, there’s finally some good news: We’ve passed the test.
Those insidious golf gods have turned benevolent. They’ve nurtured our waning interest back to health at just the right time.
With 18 holes remaining, there are currently 18 players within six shots of the lead. And these aren’t just any players – we’ve got a handful of world-class talents in contention, from next-gen stars Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler to old favorites Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker to the underdoggiest of underdogs in Bernd Wiesberger and Mikko Ilonen.
“Jam-packed,” Fowler called the leaderboard. “You never know what can happen. It's wide open and someone is going to have to play some good, solid golf tomorrow to win.”
This is all we’ve been asking for the entire year, isn’t it?
It’s the Daytona 500 with cars racing bunched together on the final lap. It’s the Kentucky Derby with horses neck and neck down the stretch. It’s the Super Bowl with an offense driving and the clock quickly ticking down to zero.
A few years ago, the PGA of America dropped the longtime slogan, “Glory’s Last Shot,” for this tournament, but the premise remains. Sunday will mark the last major championship round for eight months and while there’s obviously still plenty more golf to be played this year, a final-round dud could leave a bad taste in our mouths for an awfully long time.
If this one goes anything like the previous day, those afternoon naps will be replaced by edge-of-your-couch anxiety, leaving the honey-do list taped back to the fridge for another week.
Not only will a cushioned course provide plenty of pin-seeking darts and red numbers on the leaderboard, but the par-5 18th hole has the opportunity to produce fireworks in the manner of an eagle to secure the win – something that has never before happened in 430 previous majors.
Then there’s the historical angle: You’ll someday want to tell your grandkids about the day you watched Mickelson win his sixth major. Or McIlroy win his fourth. Or Fowler win his first.
“You have to push yourself [Sunday],” Mickelson explained. “You can't make the mistakes, but you can't play defensive and conservative. You have to attack. The golf course is soft and you can get to a lot of pins.”
For the first seven months of this year, the golf gods needed to taketh away. Now it appears they have finally decided to giveth back.
Congratulations. We’ve waited for this day, waded through enough of the doldrums. We deserve this. We passed the test. The best day of this golf year is almost here. All we need to do is stock up on Cheetos and make sure those couch grooves are conforming.
But just in case, we all might want to pray to the golf gods extra hard beforehand.