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Weekly 18: Wagner, P.I.

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Forget long putters, belly putters or whatever it was that Matt Every was using at Sony Open. (More on that later.) Disregard 460cc drivers and softer golf balls.

If there’s one secret ingredient to success, it’s facial hair.

Think about it: Lucas Glover shaved his beard … and injured himself in a paddleboarding accident. Johnson Wagner grew a mustache … and won.

Wagner was top-10 in the field in ball-striking and putting, but all anyone wanted to talk about was the lip hugger. Referred to as everything from Thomas Magnum, P.I. to Corey Pavin’s younger brother, the ‘stache equaled cash at Waialae.

This week’s edition of the Weekly 18 begins with a look at what we learned during the season’s first two weeks in the Aloha State.

 1. Aloha Means Goodbye

Matt Every

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Yes, there are plenty of young talents on the PGA Tour right now and many of them will find their day in the winner’s circle, but the season kicked off with a couple of repeat performers from last year.

Matt Every is a lightning rod. Fans will either love him or hate him. The folks in Ponte Vedra Beach headquarters won’t admit this, but it’s good for the game to have guys like this out there.

Through two events, only two players have multiple top-10 finishes. One is Wagner, the other is Harrison Frazar. Frazar has already earned $608,000, which is more than he’s made in two of the past four seasons. From the brink of retirement to right in the thick of contention. Great story.

Charles Howell III almost has to win soon by accident, right? Last year he had seven top-10s. He finished T-2 at this past week's Sony. Dude is too good to keep missing. When it finally happens, it could happen in a big way.

Who is the biggest driver and one of the best ball-strikers on Tour? Yes, it’s early, but just check the rankings. Jason Kokrak leads in driving distance at 328.0 per pop and Bill Haas leads in greens in regulation at 87.50 percent.

 Three Up 

Jason Gore

2. Social Media

A new barrier has been broken. It may not be the polio vaccine or man walking on the moon, but we saw a breakthrough this past week.

For the first time ever, a social media campaign vaulted a professional golfer into a tournament field, as pleas for Jason Gore to compete in the Northern Trust Open were answered by the title sponsor by the way of a sponsor exemption.

So what’s next? I think it could be the wave of the future. Just as Major League Baseball allows voters to push one snubbed player into the All-Star Game from each league, I can see sponsors letting fans choose which player they’d most like to see receive an exemption. After all, if the main priority of such companies is to please the consumer, wouldn’t this be the most direct way of hearing that collective voice?

Here’s the story of how Gore got into the field at Riviera.

3. Johnson Wagner

A two-stroke cushion on the final hole is a wonderful thing.

Wagner got to the par-5 18th hole on Sunday afternoon and promptly left his birdie putt about 4 feet short and somehow brushed his weak par attempt into the hole.

That was about the only thing that went wrong for him down the stretch, though.

Wagner played the back-nine in 3 under. We’re starting to learn a little bit about him after his third career win. Some players fade under the pressure of the spotlight. He doesn’t get into that spotlight very often, but when he does, he thrives.

4. Branden Grace

I’m not going to rub it in. Not going to toot my own horn or bring attention upon myself.

Grace won his first career European Tour title at the Joburg Open on Sunday and the spotlight should be squarely affixed upon him. It’s been a nice seven-round rally for the youngster from South Africa. After a first-round 77 at the season-opening Africa Open, he not only battled to make the cut, but finished in a share of 14th place.

At the Joburg, the man dubbed “Amazing Grace” triumphed in front of the home folks for his initial win in his 50th career start.

So this should be all about him, not a prediction made prior to the season. And yet, I can’t help myself. I’m sorry. I’ve got to do it. Scroll to the bottom on this article. One down, nine to go.

 Three Down

5. David Toms

There’s really no such thing as a rough two-week stretch in Hawaii. But if there is, Toms may have just experienced it.

Toms posted rounds of 76-74-75-71 to finish 26th in the 27-man field at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He followed that with scores of 73-67 at Waialae to miss the Sony Open cut.

The second of those results should be the most concerning, as the course suits Toms’ game, evidenced by his victory there in 2006.

If there was a saving grace to his time in the islands, it’s that Toms was able to tee off first in the final round at Kapalua, flying around the course without a marker. That allowed him to finish in plenty of time to watch his beloved LSU in the BCS title game.

Of course, his good fortune dissipated pretty quickly, as the Tigers were shut out by Alabama.

6. Richard G. Gawlik, Jr.

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Gawlik, 41, a firefighter in Allentown, Pa., decided to play hooky from his job for three straight days and played golf instead.

That turned out to be a career-ending decision.

Shortly after a private investigator uncovered Gawlik’s scheme, he was fired, only to be reinstated later and forced into early retirement.

All of which begs the question: What ever will Gawlik do with all this free time on his hands?

7. Val Sills

Sills made a hole-in-one on the fifth hole at the Northern Wairoa course in Dargavilla, New Zealand, this past week, then followed up with another on the ninth hole less than an hour later.

An incredible accomplishment, of course. So why does the 74-year-old find himself in the Three Down section of this column?

Because after the round, all he could do was grumble about his poor final score of 14-over 86.

“It wasn't a very good round altogether,” he told the New Zealand Herald. “I think it was pretty obvious right from the start that I wasn't concentrating very well.'

 Three Wishes

8. I wish Matt Every’s post-round interview on Friday didn’t overshadow his play.

It was the talk of the tournament after the second round. Every walked off the course with the lead, then sat down for a live interview with my colleague Kelly Tilghman in which she asked about his arrest and subsequent suspension for marijuana possession two years ago.

Every’s response was unconventional, to say the least, as he explained, 'I just got three months off. It was just golf. I didn't think I did anything wrong. I'm the same person, I have the same friends. I don't think it's that big a deal, what I got in trouble for.'

A few quick thoughts on the entire situation:

- The question about Every’s past absolutely needed to be asked. He spent last year on the Nationwide Tour and this was his first time back in the spotlight since that incident. It would have been borderline irresponsible journalism to have him sitting there without addressing how it affected his career.

- Every should be applauded for his honesty. Most players in his situation would have recited exactly what the public relations folks had suggested, showing contrition and focusing on moving forward. He undoubtedly earned some fans for showing the type of raw honesty that is rarely displayed by public figures these days.

- Not that he cares, because Every seems like the type of guy who has absolutely no worries about what other people think of him, but maybe he should be concerned with appearing too cocky and careless. This is a guy who once failed to make it through Q-School, then contended, 'You know, 25 guys are getting through and I'm not. It's 25 I'm better than, too.'

- If it helps him to perform better with a major chip on his shoulder, then Every should continue thinking that he was wronged, both in the suspension and how it was addressed by the media this week. More often, though, a conflicted player is a struggling player. Letting his guard down a bit could allow him to focus more on the task at hand.

9. I wish the recent Open Championship qualifier made any sense.

Congratulations to Aaron Townsend, Ashley Hall and Nick Cullen. Those three Australians will be competing in this year’s Open Championship. Good on ya, mates. 

It’s certainly no fault of those three, but I have a tough time understanding exactly why they’ll be in the field.

The Open will be held at Royal Lytham & St. Annes this year. That’s in England. And it will be in July. So tell me: Why are three players qualifying for the event six months earlier in Australia?

Kudos to the R&A for wanting to spread its qualifying process around the world and I understand that it’s currently summer Down Under, but I still take issue when there’s such a strong disconnect between the qualifier and the tournament itself.

10. I wish this statistic made sense.

Anyone who watched the season-opener at Kapalua knows about the booming, wind-aided drives that often got so much roll that broadcast producers started putting a clock on ‘em.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there were 41 tee shots of at least 400 yards during the four-day event. Even with only 27 players in the field, there’s a good chance that will account for more than half of all 400-yard drives at season’s end.

But here’s the quirky part: Through that first event, the average PGA Tour driving distance was 270.4 yards, with Bubba Watson leading at 296.4.

Make sense? Of course not. It almost sounds like players were peashooting 130-yarders to bring that average down. Instead, it’s just a matter of the two measured driving holes coming on No. 3 and 15, which never yield very big drives.

According to one Plantation Course guide, No. 3 “is a hole of medium length made longer by playing directly into the trade winds” and No. 15 “is strongly defined by its slopes [and] the crossing winds.”

There’s an easy solution to the dichotomy between reality and the numbers. Either measure more than two holes or at the very least measure two holes that yield different types of distances.

 11. Stat of the Week

Johnson Wagner has made 141 starts on the PGA Tour. He owns nine career top-10s and three wins. Let's compare those numbers with a couple of Hall of Famers, just for fun:

Johnson Wagner: 141 starts, nine top-10s and three wins - that's a top-10 percentage of 6.4 and 33.3 percent of this top-10s are wins.

Tiger Woods: 274 starts, 168 top-10s and 71 wins - that's a top-10 percentage of 61.3 percent and 42.3 percent of his top-10s are wins.

Phil Mickelson: 443 starts, 158 top-10s and 39 wins - that's a top-10 percentage of 35.7 percent and 24.7 percent of his top-10s are wins.

 12. Fact or Fiction

Matt Every

More players will start using Matt Every’s putter soon.

It’s called the BlackHawk – and it was the talk of the Sony Open this past week.

The unconventional flatstick is the brainchild of an engineer named David Kargetta, who talked Every into trying it out last year.

Featuring a 6-inch-wide black putter head, it’s been described as anything from a VHS tape on a stick to the reincarnation of the game “Pong” to something that should be used to block nudity on basic cable.

It (mostly) worked for Every, though, who ranked highly in putting at Waialae – at least through the first 54 holes.

So will other players follow suit? Much like a long putter, they won’t want to simply for tradition’s sake, but if Every keeps finding himself on leaderboards others will give in to curiosity, too. He mentioned that already players such as Tim Wilkinson and Fred Funk have at least tested it out.

Yes, it’s ugly and no, players won’t want to make the switch. But consider the above to be a FACT, because some of ‘em must already be considering it.

 13. Tweets of the Week

@PGA_JohnDaly: nothing like rain all day, movies on the couch, a make shift indoor rowdy play center & now time for a hot quiet bath! #yesilovebaths

Too much information? Um, yeah! As I tweeted in response…

@JasonSobelGC: John Daly just tweeted about loving baths. Now there's a mental image we'll never be able to erase.

Much to his credit, Daly was not only a good sport about the jab, but explained himself, too. 

@PGA_JohnDaly@JasonSobelGC haha! Real men take bubble baths bc we know their woman can't resist joining them!! Works every time........

Again, TMI. But I’m pretty sure Daly doesn’t care. 

 14. From the Inbox

Two questions this week, one from Twitter, one from good ol’ fashioned email:

@brianros1: if you had to pick 12 guys for the American Ryder Cup team today who would they be?

Love this question, because someone is bound to clip and save, then taunt me for going 2-for-12 come September.

Well, here you go…

Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan, Phil Mickelson, Webb Simpson, Steve Stricker, Nick Watney, Gary Woodland and Tiger Woods.

Apologies to snubs Bill Haas and Jim Furyk. Just couldn’t find a place for ‘em on this roster.

From Patrick in Charlottesville, Va.:

Which first-time major winner will get another first: Charl Schwartzel or Keegan Bradley?

I really like both players, but I think Schwartzel is a more refined talent and ready to win another very soon.

Remember watching him down the stretch at Augusta last year? Dude was making birdie putts on the final four holes and looked like he was playing a Tuesday morning practice round. He takes the old slogan “Never let ‘em see you sweat” to the extreme.

 15. The List

There was a time when hatless professional golfers weren’t so unique, when a man’s hair served as his only head covering. 

Those were the days before deep-pocketed sponsors realized hats could serve as billboards, advertising for their companies throughout four rounds of every event.

Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo may have been the last of the ultra-elite hatless players, but there have been a few others since then who have achieved varying degrees of success.

This edition of The List looks at the best hatless players – not based on performance, but on brilliance of the coiffe.

Players who don

5. Ted Tryba: With hair like that, it’s no wonder he went on to work in television.

4. Colin Montgomerie: On the rare occasions he wears a visor, it just looks… wrong.

3. Robert-Jan Derksen: The style of an upturned collar just wouldn’t fit with a golf cap.

2. Pat Bates: Is that a bassist in a 1980s heavy metal band? Nope, it’s a PGA Tour pro!

1. Robert Rock: His ‘do looks like it was chiseled from granite. Or built by Lego.

 16. Photo of the Week

Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel, Paula Creamer

Morgan Pressel (center) was joined by Cristie Kerr (L), Paula Creamer and others to raise money at the Morgan and Friends Fight Cancer Tournament. (View Photos of the Week)

 17. Quote of the Week

 “I said last week if I got into the Masters, it was going to be around for a while.” –Johnson Wagner on his mustache.

 18. And the winner is ...

I’ll start this section with a mea culpa. In my recent “Top 25 Under 25” project, I left Cameron Tringale off the list. Not because I don’t like his game, but because I’m bad at math. Thought he was 25; he’s really 24.

So instead I’ll put him on this more exclusive list: Players who will win the 2012 Humana Challenge.

Tringale is a SoCal kid who finished T-68 in the desert last year, but may be primed for an early victory. After all, he’s one of the best under-25 players in the world. Just do the math.