Kelly hit his tee shot to the 178-yard par 3 hole long and left, up the hill. Though only about 25 feet from the hole, the grass was going against him, the green sloping away from him and the green was as hard as it was fast. Not the place to be, but then again, I certainly didnt expect to watch our monitor from the booth, and see Kelly slide his club underneath the ball not once, but twice. Thats exactly what happened. It ultimately cost Kelly a triple-bogey on the hole and the tournament as well. Kelly came up one short in his bid to find his way into a playoff for the 2nd time in his career, and probably what seems to him like a million short of his first tour win. John Cook collected his 11th Tour win in the process.
As hard as that was to take, it was perhaps more amazing to see youth not only appear on a leaderboard this week, but nearly walk away with the trophy. Not that we dont expect Charles Howell III or Bryce Molder to earn their share of victories before their time is done, its just that its all coming so fast.
Howell is, officially, the real deal! He nearly won Milwaukee after a final round 64 put him in a playoff, and has been raking in the cash ever since. The 22-year-old is already assured of official PGA Tour membership at years end because of his awesome feat of turning sponsors invitations into cold hard cash that will put him into the Top 125 at years end. What turns my head is that thats just not good enough! He wants a win so he can lift the special temporary member tag from his name and make his money officially count toward things like the gasp ... Tour Championship! After a 4th place finish this week and $144,000 this week, dont count him out.
As for Molder, this 22-year-old made his professional debut THIS WEEK - and all he did was finish solo 3rd. Which, by the way, earned him $204,000. Its important because a top 150 spot on the money list at years end will earn him unlimited sponsor invites for next year. (As though every tournament wouldnt take advantage of that) Still, Molder, who was a four-time All-America at Georgia Tech and a two-time Academic All-America as well, said at weeks beginning that he was just excited to play for a CHANCE to earn his card. Right! I believe him, its just that I didnt expect it to almost happen in one week!
So what does this all mean? I say its great for the game, especially if you get a chance to talk to these two kids who combined for 43 birdies this week. They are the new face of the game, a classy duo of youth who is not afraid to win, and certainly willing to be humble about the process. They are role models for young kids with aspirations of success, and at the same time, exciting to watch play this great game. I just cant believe they are this ready this soon. But they are. And get this ' Howell just told me in our hotel lobby that he Couldnt believe Molder was ready so soon. It even took me a while to get comfortable out here, he added. Surprise, surprise youth amazed about youth.
And oh yes, I cant forget about John Cook. Hard to believe that a 43-year-old veteran can still get it done out here! Two rounds of 64 in a week is something to tell your kids about. Unless, of course, theyre already shooting rounds of 63 and thinking about being the next Charles Howell III or Bryce Molder!