007 Shaken AND Stirred


This column, much like the recently-concluded 2007 golf season that is its subject matter, will be all over the map. So hold on for the ride. And dont look for any particular order.
My mind keeps coming back to that Tiger Woods putt that didnt go in the hole on Friday at the PGA Championship in the stultifying heat of Tulsa.
If it had, it would have been 62 and the lowest round in the history of all four major championships. The ball was almost three quarters of the way down before it squirmed out. And it was a metaphor for the unholy grail all of us chase every time we tee it up.
It proved once again that golf is bigger and better even than Tiger. And it proved, even as it stayed out of the cup, how much bigger and better Woods is than anybody else in the game today.
Woody Austin, a born mascot, showed the U.S. Presidents Cup team what the Americans have been missing in all those recent Ryder Cup humiliations. Chemistry in golf is an imprecise science. But great play plus the ability to laugh at yourself while others are doing the same are elements U.S. captain Paul Azinger will do well to weigh when making his Captains selections for the 2008 team.
Sergio Garcia needs a genie that will grant him three wishes. Those wishes would be in the form of three mulligan cards, to be applied any time he wants, for three missed putts of less than 10 feet. If the genie had been out of the bottle for Garcia in 2007, he would have won the Open Championship at Carnoustie. He also would have been able to relax over countless other short putts, secure in the knowledge that a do-over was waiting if he missed.
Padraig Harrington, the Irishman who beat Garcia in a playoff at Carnoustie, combined with his young son to give us the snapshot of the year in golf. Harrington had just made a nervous putt to save a double bogey to force the overtime. Now came young Patrick Harrington running onto the green and up into his Padraigs arms. There was still work left for the elder Harrington but his smile for his son was winningly unforced.
It reminded me of the time I cornered Harrington at the 1998 U.S. Open in San Francisco, alone on the range late in the day, and asked him about Irish golf legend Christy OConnor Sr. Harringtons expression grew distant as he recalled watching OConnor, years earlier, practicing knockdown 6-irons into the wind in weather I wouldnt put me cat out in at Royal Dublin hard by North Bull Island in the capitol of the Republic of Ireland.
Speaking of driving range interviews, I gingerly approached Indias Jeev Milkha Singh at the WGC-Accenture Match Play thinking I might need help from an interpreter. His English turned out to be better than most Americans I know and he had more time for me than I had for him.
And speaking of Singhs, I just looked at the end-of-the-year world rankings. If you had told me before the start of the season that Steve Stricker (5), Justin Rose (6) and K.J. Choi (9) would finish ahead of Vijay Singh (10), I would have suggested that you postpone your next drug test.
Stricker, by virtue of winning the TOURs Comeback Player of the Year award for the second straight season, now owns a record no one will ever break. Think about it: How is it possible to win Comeback Player of the Year two straight years. Its logically impossible.
Meanwhile, the straightest shooter in golf, for my money, is Butch Harmon. Harmon is at that age and stage of his life where he still loves to shoot the bull but has paid enough dues so that he doesnt feel the need to sling it.
Early in the year, I asked 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy if there was anything he could tell me about himself that nobody else knew. I have to take a shower every night before I go to sleep, he said. If I dont, I feel dirty.
Oakmont is the first golf course at which Ive covered an event that I did not want to play. Great conditioning. Great atmosphere. But just too damn hard for my high single digit handicap. If I had played my best, I would have been lucky to break 100. Tiger was right about Oakmont.
Lorena Ochoa is perhaps the most unaffected and naturally charming athlete I have ever covered in 35 years of golf, baseball, basketball, tennis, football and the Olympics. We know her Mexican countrymen and women are proud. But her parents should be the proudest of all.
Finally, I wont soon forget the geography lesson I got at the U.S. Womens Open at Pine Needles in North Carolina. I was talking to Maria Kostina, the first Russian ever to play in the event. Also in on the conversation was Maria sister and caddie, Anastasia.
Somehow the subject of Solheim Cup boundaries and qualifications came up along with the fact that parts of Russia were considered to be in Europe and other regions of the same country were considered to be in Asia.
We come from the part of Russia thats in Europe, Anastasia said firmly.

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