But when the sun came up on the continental United States Monday morning, there was the name of Jim Furyk right next to the number 2.
The golf world has had this fascination with the adjective Big followed by a number going all the way back to the heyday of a triumvirate of icons named Palmer, Nicklaus and Player. They were, of course, golfs original Big Three.
More recently we engaged ourselves in heated debates about our sports Big Five'Woods, Mickelson, Singh, Els and Goosen.
Furyks name never, as they say in horse racing, got a call.
Then the discussion shifted to golfs new Big Three'Woods, Mickelson and Singh.
No talk of Furyk then either.
Soon all the palaver had morphed into Big Two talk'Woods and Mickelson--after Mickelson won his second Masters earlier this year.
Then an unfunny thing happened. Mickelson gave away the 2006 U.S. Open with an embarrassing 72nd hole meltdown at Winged Foot. And suddenly the only name above base camp was Tigers.
It is interesting to note that Furyk frittered away a genuine opportunity to win that day at Winged Foot as well. And in the aftermath of Geoff Ogilvys win in New York, Mickelsons form never really returned (yet).
Furyk, on the other hand, kept grinding.
The word grinder is often a euphemism in golf for a player whose ability to try exceeds the sum total of his God-given talent. That concept does a disservice to the word and to Furyk.
Fact is, Woods is a grinder of the first order and nobody in the game today possesses his physical gifts. Furyk has a ton of talent. But because he doesnt swallow up par 5s in great big gulps; and because his swing is idiosyncratic, he is a grinder.
Well, guess what? Weve got two grinders at the top of the world rankings today. Woods and Furyk.
Golfs new Big Two.
Mickelson has slipped to third.
And isnt it almost bittersweet that Woods and Furyk will almost certainly be playing together as partners in a widely-anticipated Ryder Cup that will take place late next week in Ireland?
Bittersweet because the Americans, after all, are trying to convince the rest of the world that they are underdogs for those matches because, in part, the underdog mentality seems to work so well in this pressure cooker of a competition. The case for Americans as underdogs gets much harder to make when your bell cow pairing comprises the top two players in the world'The Big Two.
Woods and Furyk.
Probably the best tribute to Furyks climb comes from Woods himself. Too few have been listening.
For years Tiger has been asking various and sundry Ryder Cup captains to pair him with Furyk. Tiger sees things in golf that others dont. It is almost as if he knew Furyk would, one day, get to No. 2.
That day is now.
It is a day that is more important in America for remembering what happened on 9/11/2001.
But in its corner of the sports world, golf today acknowledges the steady rise of a hard-working, no-nonsense, all-business grinder.
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