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Weekly 18: A Friend in Need

Bryon Bell and Tiger Woods
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Renowned sportswriter Grantland Rice once famously wrote: “…the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases …”

On the surface, such a description would have fit this week’s fearsome foursome of tournament venues – perhaps the best single-week, cross-tour array of courses we’ve seen this year.

Instead of Death, Destruction, Pestilence and Famine, though, Carnoustie, Killarney, Inverness and Greenbrier were more like Zest, Creation, Prosperity and Happiness.

Birdies were available in bunches at this quartet of world-class tracks, nowhere more than at Carnoustie. Formerly nicknamed Carnasty, it took on the role of Carnicely instead – and it was a very nice place for Yani Tseng, who captured her fifth career major title.

This edition of the Weekly 18 begins with an examination into her recent brilliance.

 1. The Drive for Five

Yani Tseng

Anytime a player romps through a field or displays a definitive period of dominance, writers like myself toss the thesaurus out the window and claim we’ve run out of superlatives for that player.

Yani Tseng is different. Her five major victories by the age of 22 not only supersede superlatives, but comparisons to others, too.

Patty Berg, the all-time leading women’s major winner with 15, owned just three at Tseng’s age. Annika Sorenstam didn’t win her first until age 24. Rory McIlroy is the same age as Yani, but four majors shy. Tiger Woods needed two more years to claim his fifth.

Tseng is not only in a class by herself versus current peers, but against those throughout history. No one has accomplished what she has to this point in her career. Not this quickly, not this young.

“In my mind, I say, ‘Wow, five times major.’ I never think about that,” she said. “It just feels really, very special and I'm very happy and very appreciative that I worked hard and finally all the hard work has paid off.”

Her title on Sunday came in come-from-behind fashion, as she chased down playing partner Caroline Masson and ran away with a four-shot victory.

Not that Tseng ever felt like it was going to be so easy.

“Normally if I come from behind, I don't even feel nervous. I just go there, have no pressure,” she said. “Today when I practice, I feel OK, but when I get to putting green, when the tee time is getting closer and close, my stomach is getting worse. I just feel like this is the real deal; I feel nervous. But I told my caddie and told my coach today, I feel nervous, and they told me, ‘That's OK, the other players are going to feel as nervous as you are.’ So that just made me feel a little relaxed.”

Tseng is now chasing history, each major victory helping her ascend into rarer air, especially for a player her age. There are any number of factors that can derail the train to the record books – whether it’s other players catching up or Yani losing her swing or early retirement like Sorenstam or Lorena Ochoa.

Right now, though, it looks like full steam ahead for Tseng. Perhaps the only person who can stop her from setting history is herself.

 Three Up 

2. Olin Browne

Some winners sound positively elated after a victory. Some can’t stop smiling. Some pump their fists all the way home.

And then there’s Olin Browne.

If we didn’t know any better, the U.S. Senior Open champion’s comments sounded more like a guy who was disappointed in the result than anything else.

“I’m a little numb, because the day was so tough,” he said after shooting a final-round 71 to win by three. “I drove it absolutely horrendously all day. … I two-putted every green – it was a joke.”

The title was no joke for Browne, who adds a first career Champions Tour win to three career PGA Tour victories and four on the Nationwide Tour, becoming just the fifth player ever to record triumphs on all three PGA Tour-sanctioned circuits. And he did it in wire-to-wire fashion, just the second player in 32 editions of this event to hold sole possession of the lead after every round.

No doubt Browne was a proud guy come Sunday night. Even if he didn’t show it.

3Scott Stallings

Midway through his final round at the Greenbrier Classic, Stallings was leaking oil in a major way.

He posted a front-nine 4-over 38 that included four bogeys and no birdies. With a packed-house leaderboard, it appeared his chances of contending were over, let alone his chances of winning.

And then Stallings turned it all around – in a hurry.

He birdied the 10th, 11th and 12th holes. Then the 14th. And the 16th. After a bogey at the 17th, he stuck his tee shot on the par-3 final hole to within 4 feet and made the birdie putt to get into a playoff with Bill Haas and Bob Estes.

Stallings didn’t stop there, either, posting his seventh birdie in 10 holes and finalizing an unlikely comeback for his first career win.

He joins a list of first-time PGA Tour champions that has now reached double-digits – the most since 1970. Along with Stallings, Jhonattan Vegas, D.A. Points, Gary Woodland, Charl Schwartzel, Brendan Steele, Keegan Bradley, Harrison Frazar, Fredrik Jacobsen and Chris Kirk have all punched their cards through 2013 and qualified for Kapalua next year.

What does that mean? Either it’s getting much easier to win or much more difficult.

Put me down for the latter.

4. Chubby Chandler

While Yani Tseng continues to dominate the women’s game, the men’s side has been devoid of one true dominant figure throughout this season.

Or has it?

The truth is, the most dominant man in golf doesn’t even play the game anymore. Former Euro Tour regular Chubby Chandler and his ISM management team own a stable of clients that would make any other green with envy. Not only does Chandler represent all three major champions so far this season – Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke – but his players have also claimed a bevy of other wins, too.

The latest came at the Irish Open this weekend, where Symon Dyson outlasted Richard Green for his fifth career title on the Euro circuit.

'It's amazing, it really is,” he said. “The golf I've played this week is probably the best I've ever played.'

Though he was fifth alternate less than a week prior to the Killarney-based event, Dyson not only got into the field, but he’ll also be earning guaranteed money in this week’s field, having qualified for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with the win.

And hey, another win in the U.S. isn’t out of the realm of possibility. After all, when you’re repped by Chubby, you’re apparently never too far from the victory circle.

 Three Down


5. Mother Nature

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it many more times in the future: I love how the R&A sets up courses for its championships. Which is to say, officials set up the venues the way they want them to play and allow weather to determine the scoring.

Of course, Mother Nature always plays her part and wreaks havoc on these tournaments.

Well, almost always.

When the Open Championship was held at Carnoustie four years ago, she treated us to heavy wind and sideways rain. The result was a winning score of 7 under, with only 19 players in red figures for the week.

This past week, Mother Nature never bared her teeth, as Women’s British Open competitors saw four days of nonthreatening conditions. And it showed in the scoring. Yani Tseng set the pace at 16 under and 10 total players bested Padraig Harrington’s mark from 2007, with a total of 36 finishing under par for the week.

How very un-Carnoustie-like.

6. Bruce Lietzke

During his playing days, Lietzke was a cult hero for the fact that he didn’t play much golf and rarely practiced, but could still compete with the world’s best on any given week.

Lietzke was in the news going into this week’s U.S. Senior Open, as the last player to win at Inverness, when the tournament was held there eight years ago.

Turns out, he hasn’t changed much.

“I haven't played a golf hole since April,” Lietzke boasted in a Wednesday press conference. “The fishing has been good. I've been mowing my pastures in an air-conditioned tractor. It's been way too hot in Texas to be in anything other than an air-conditioned tractor, so I'm not going to act like I'm out there toughing it. … I stay busy, but the golf clubs haven't been out, other than I did a junior clinic in June and a junior clinic in July, and that's the only time the golf clubs have come out of my garage.”

They didn’t come out for long in Toledo, either.

Bothered by a shoulder injury, Lietzke played 13 holes in 8 over on Thursday before withdrawing from the tournament. No doubt he was disappointed by the result, but if there’s anyone who doesn’t mind three more days away from the golf course, it’s Lietzke.

7. Michael Sim

Two years ago, Sim was a Nationwide Tour wunderkind, earning a battlefield promotion to the PGA Tour with three wins and posting a half-dozen other top-10 finishes in just 14 total starts.

In his second go-round on the major circuit last year – he also played full-time in 2007 – the Aussie showed strong signs of breaking through, with a T-2 at Torrey Pines and T-3 results at both Turning Stone and the Wyndham. All told, he finished 65th on the money list, easily retaining his playing privileges for the current season.

This year has been a much different story, though.

He has made the cut just four times in 16 appearances, with a best finish of 53rd coming in his first start of the season at the Sony Open.

Sim missed some time due to a shoulder injury and it’s apparently still bothering him, as he was forced to WD from the Greenbrier this past week following an opening-round 75.

He’s already shown he definitely has the talent to compete against the world’s best, but until Sim is fully healthy, don’t expect a return to previous form.

 Three Wishes

8. I wish I knew what to expect from Tiger Woods this week.

I’m going to take up playing high-stakes three-card Monte games with street hustlers. Maybe figure out Stonehenge. Solve the debt ceiling while I’m at it.

Hey, anything is easier than predicting the future of Tiger Woods these days.

Once thought to be the heir apparent to Jack Nicklaus’ throne atop golf’s storied food chain, Woods has instead taken over “Most Enigmatic” honors from the likes of Sergio Garcia, David Duval and John Daly.

On Thursday, Woods announced that he will return to competitive golf after a three-month hiatus at next week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which means we should expect the unexpected. That’s a cliché, sure, but what isn’t a cliché in Tiger’s life these days? His story is that of the quintessential star athlete. He had everything – fame, popularity, money, bikini-model wife, 2.3 kids and a golf game that even at its most mediocre was better than 98 percent of his peers. (Read more here.)

9. I wish Rory McIlroy feud with announcer was being seen for what it was – a Twitter problem.

It should come as no surprise that a golfer – or any professional athlete – would take exception to criticism leveled against him in a public forum. While most competitors will contend that they don’t read the news or listen to announcers, it’s difficult not to pay attention when your name is being called out – especially in a negative light.

The real story here isn’t that [Jay] Townsend criticized McIlroy or that McIlroy took exception to such criticism. It’s that the player resorted to bringing up the commentator’s past career as the reason he isn’t qualified to own such an opinion.

There are two major problems with this theory. (Read more here.)

10. I wish Tom Watson’s decision to skip the U.S. Senior Open wasn’t met with criticism.

Watson won the Senior PGA Championship, finished T-22 against the flatbellies at Royal St. George’s and shared third place at last week’s Senior British Open.

Most other players – any other player – would be issuing a mea culpa for the late turn of events.”I know I said I’d play your event. I really wish I could. But doggone it, I’m just playing so great right now and the U.S. Senior Open is a biggie for me. I’m sorry, but I just won’t be able to make it. Good luck, though!”

That’s not the way Watson works. Even when given an out by the tournament host. (Read more here.)

 11. Stat of the Week:

Yani Tseng has won exactly one-third of the last 15 major championships. The world’s other 3,499,999,999 women (approximately) have combined to win the other two-thirds of ‘em.

 12. From the Inbox

All the twit-questions are about a certain red-shirted player who will make his comeback this week. As always, you can reach me on Twitter at @JasonSobelGC.

@TheSLReport are you surprised tiger is seemingly rushing back to play pga at course where he has limited experience and finished 14 shots out of the lead in 2001?

Rushing? If taking nearly three full months off – four if you don’t count his nine holes at The Players – is “rushing” back from an injury that didn’t even require surgery, then I’d hate to hear your idea of taking things slowly. But no, it doesn’t surprise me. As Woods often states, he wants his game to peak four times per year. The upcoming PGA Championship is his chance to salvage what’s been a lost season. As long as he’s healthy enough to play, why shouldn’t he?

@BDutton1 how many majors would tiger have if bbell had been on the bag instead of stevie?

There’s no way to quantify what a caddie means to a player. One shot per round? One shot per tournament? One shot for every 10 tournaments? A good looper will not only help his player choose the right club, give him proper yardage and help read the greens, he will execute all of the intangible things that go along with the job, such as knowing when to allow his player to let off some steam and when to reign him in. Steve Williams had such things down to an art form and Bryon Bell most likely does not. But can I definitively say that Tiger would only have, say, 11 or 12 majors had Stevie not been by his side the past dozen years? Nope, I can’t.

@Philly_Sak Will Tiger make the cut at Firestone?

Yes! Absolutely! No doubt about it! You know why? This is a no-cut event. That’s why.

 13. Tweet of the Week

@stallingsgolf: You are amazing! Congrats!

That tweet was posted from Scott Stallings’ personal Twitter account just minutes after he clinched his first career victory.

Color me thoroughly confused.

Was Stallings congratulating himself? Did someone else post from his account and congratulate him? Was he congratulating the fans for, um, watching him win?

I don’t have the answer. But someone was clearly amazing, so congrats!

 14. Fact or Fiction

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods is making the wrong move by employing Bryon Bell as his caddie.

There are two different ways to read into Woods’ decision to have longtime buddy Bell on the bag for him in his comeback at this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

One is that Tiger feels like he needs a friend in his corner right now and, well, he may not have that many people whom he can trust. The other is that Bell is simply a temporary solution to a longterm problem, just filling in until the man he really wants for the job is available.

Who is that caddie? It could be someone already on a PGA Tour bag who doesn’t want to leave his player high-and-dry midseason. Or it could be Brett Waldman, former caddie for Camilo Villegas who is currently playing the Nationwide Tour.

Actually, it’s probably a little of both, as Bell – who has caddied for Woods in five previous professional events – provides a comfort level for the player and can help bridge the gap until the next full-time guy comes along.

If he’s the longterm solution, I’ll change my mind. But for the time being, if Bell serves in the role to help out a friend, I don’t see it affecting Woods’ game very much at all. Consider the above statement to be FICTION.

 15. Photo of the Week I

An LPGA media official took this photo during the opening round, as one unlucky cart driver somehow found the burn on Carnoustie’s 17th hole. Click here.

 16. Photo of the Week II

One day later, the same media official returned to the scene of the crime and found a warning for anyone who was so bold as to attempt to drive through the burn once again. Click here.

 17. Quote of the Week

“I was thinking about Jean Van de Velde,” – Yani Tseng, after going to the final hole at Carnoustie with a three-stroke lead.

 18. And the winner is ...

Adam Scott

In last week’s W18, I tipped off Brendon de Jonge as my winner at Greenbrier; he “only” came in a share of fourth place, one shot out of the playoff.

This week is a little tougher, with the game’s best players descending upon Firestone. One thing I always look for at this event is a guy who is a strong driver of the golf ball. The top three in the PGA Tour’s total driving statistic in the field are Bo Van Pelt, Bill Haas and Keegan Bradley, so don’t be surprised by good weeks from them.

But look just slightly further down the list and you’ll find Adam Scott, who ranks 64th in driving distance and 61st in accuracy – a pretty nice combination.

With caddie Steve Williams on the bag full-time, it would be major news if Scott could steal the spotlight in Tiger Woods’ return. You know the man on his bag would love for it to happen. And the way Scott’s been playing, he’s overdue for another victory.

Expect that major news to take place this week.