FROM THERE TO O'HAIR: Five weeks after blowing a five-shot lead at Bay Hill against Tiger Woods, Sean O'Hair was able to clinch a victory – and perhaps some redemption – over the world No. 1 at the Quail Hollow Championship. O'Hair rallied from a three-shot deficit Sunday for a one-shot victory over Lucas Glover and Bubba Watson. Woods finished two back.
The kid with a history of folding, made back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th holes and kept his hands (and his head) steady at 10-and-2 to charter the green mile and cross the finish line first – and all with you-know-who looming behind him as an Object That May Appear Closer Than It Is. O’Hair's come a long way in the last few years, and even in the last few weeks. After starting the season as No. 59 in the world and now at a career-high 12th, the 26-year-old suddenly appears closer to a major champion candidate than some ahead of him in those rankings.
I'M A LOSER, BABY...: As David Feherty pointed out, Tiger Woods was not a champion Sunday. "It’s difficult to think of you as a loser,” Feherty said in his post-round interview with Woods, “but hey, you’re a loser." Entering the final round, just two shots out of the lead, Woods wasted several birdie chances and an eagle opportunity (when he drove the green on the par-4 14th and almost four-putted), closing with 10 straight pars for a 72. While, on Thursday, Woods did card a back-nine 30 (he started on No. 10), on Friday, he bogeyed 16 and 18 to finish even par. And on Saturday, bogeys at Nos. 17 and 18 gave him a disappointing 70.
Years ago, Tiger once (maybe more) said firmly, "Losing sucks." On Sunday at Quail Hollow, however, he was a lot more jovial about his loss with Feherty: “I was (a loser). And not even first loser, either.” Tiger freakin' Woods doesn’t stumble down the stretch and Tiger freakin' Woods doesn't joke around about losing afterward. But as we saw on Masters Sunday, Tiger has had problems shutting the proverbial door in crucial moments lately, seeming more pedestrian than herculean when a victory was within reach. What has happened to the Tiger we know – or used to know? The red-caped crusader used to be robotic, methodical and predatory. In Charlotte he was a friendly goldfish in a kiddie pool rather than a ruthless shark in dark waters. Barely recognized the dude. Perhaps, after the 9-month layoff and with another baby in tow, that distinct killer instinct is little less killer. We can't remember a time when, on a Tiger Blood-In-the-Waters-Red Sunday, we saw the him “hang around” after losing, to spend time with the guy who bettered him. It's still TBD on whether this new Eldrick is here to stay, but this softer side of him is indeed curious. One upside, though, might be something Cup captains might want to utilize in team competition – where camaraderie and chemistry help a team flourish. Playful Tiger seems more and more like a candidate for Team USA.
PANTS PARTY USA: John Daly returned to the golf scene this week – while still serving the six-month suspension from the PGA Tour – and not without some fanfare. But how else would you expect Long John to re-enter the little white dimpled sphere stratosphere? Armed – or panted – with a new wardrobe (thanks to Loudmouth Golf), a more svelte look (thanks to lap-band surgery), and a new social media life (thanks to Twitter), the fan favorite 43-year-old posted scores of 70-72-74-69.
For awhile there, we were worried JD’s pants and tweets would get more attention than his play on the course. Err, well, maybe they did. Thanks to his studious, daily tweeting, we learned that Daly's many things, including that his stomach surgery doesn't stop him from craving white cheddar popcorn and Olive Garden breadsticks. While he's gone low on the poundage, not so much with his golf score. However, there's hope. One highlight was his Sunday in Spain where he closed with a 69 to tie for 31st – and that is certainly laudable. It’s just that we couldn’t hear it over his pants calling audibles. As much as JD's personality is fun for the game, seeing the two-time major winner actually win a tournament again, would be even more fun.
IN THE PINK: Eight-time LPGA winner Paula Creamer has been dealing with a mysterious stomach ailment for over five months. And doctors and specialists have no answer for it. Creamer has played through the pain and discomfort, though, with six starts on tour this season and her best performances coming back-to-back with third-place finishes. She had to withdraw from the Phoenix tournament, however, because the malady had gotten the better of her that week.
Willis Reed?, Kirk Gibson? Tiger Woods? Wimps. Creamer might be the LPGA version of the Game 5, 1997 NBA Finals Michael Jordan, except for more than one game, try several tournaments. Hyperbole aside, we realize the 22-year-old hasn't put a "W" in the win column, but the Pink Panther has still put herself into contention a few times in 2009, for a tenacious "E" in the effort column. The young LPGA star is a great talent with a great personality – fiery, competitive, and heart-on-her-sleeve passionate. We hate to see this sickness drain the color from her cheeks. The color pink misses her at her best, and so do we.
DOUBTING THOMAS(ES): Thomas Levet shot a 4-under 68 Sunday at that one tournament where John Daly was playing, for a two-stroke victory to become the first Frenchman to win five European Tour titles. Why does his name sound familiar?
You may remember Levet from 2002 at Muirfield where he finished second at the Open Championship after blowing a chance to win by bogeying the final hole of the four-hole playoff to fall into sudden death with Ernie Els, where he again bogeyed to lose. Levet suffers from severe vertigo, which almost forced him out of the game. So it's a heart-warming story to see him overcome that obstacle to notch a victory at the Spanish Open and continue to have a solid career, rather than disappear into obscurity as many have after such hardships. Which made us wonder about another Thomas ... Thomas Bjorn. Bjorn also came close to winning a major title – twice – at the 2003 Open Championship and at the 2005 PGA Championship, both times finishing as a runner-up. Where the heck has the Dane been? Welp, he was right there on the leaderboard in Girona, Spain, finishing four shots back of his namesake. Surely, print and web editors around the sporting world are now rooting for his full career comeback, if only for "Bjorn Again," to be put into bold headlines.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods were paired Wednesday in the Quail Hollow pro-am ... Sergio Garcia missed the cut in Charlotte after posting a 71-78 … Seve Ballesteros, who is currently undergoing his fourth round of chemotherapy, made his first public appearance since undergoing four separate surgeries to remove a cancerous brain tumor. He attended a Spanish league match and received a standing ovation from the fans.
Remember when we mentioned Jordan above? Peyton Manning, you sir are no MJ. Get his Airness back on the links with Tiger to Cut. That. Meat. ... Your 2008 Players champion would like to take this opportunity to once again thank Tiger for not playing last year because now it seems El Nino may never win a big tournament again. Odd that Woods and Garcia have more in common now than before: Both don't seem like their old selves – and neither can seem to make a clutch putt down the stretch ... It's really good to see Seve, the five-time major champion, again. After reading an old golf magazine from the ‘70s, in which the author questioned whether the Spaniard could be a star in golf being so wild off the tee, it's sweet to know he hit it right down the middle of the fairway of life with a memorable, Hall-of-Fame golf career, with a memorable, Hall-of-Fame spirit to match. When you've seen a loved one suffer through similar circumstances as Seve's, you cannot underestimate how valuable even these ordinary moments – like attending a soccer match – can be for lifting everyone's spirits.
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