Week in Review
Pebble Beach played tough, but still delivered a worthy champion in Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell
If it had been a horse race rather than a dog fight (emphasis on dog, incidentally), it would have made history, the first time ever that no exacta ticket would have been cashed.
Who other than the daft would have bet Graeme McDowell and Gregory Havret to finish one-two in the U.S. Open, at Pebble Beach, no less, with its history of gilded winners -- Nicklaus in '72, Watson in '82, Kite in '92 and Woods in '00?
Northern Ireland and France don't produce Open contenders, much less winners. But, as Kipling wrote in either a famous poem or his game story from a previous Open, "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs&"
McDowell and Havret played well enough on the front nine to afford them the occasional lapse on the back (McDowell even, Havret one under). They were the last men standing.
Meanwhile, consider this: The five players with a reasonable chance at winning (McDowell, Havret, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els) only produced two birdies on the back nine and were a collective 13 over par.
It was a recipe for losing an Open, not winning one, and seemed contrary to the unofficial Open mantra set down by the architect of the Massacre at Winged Foot, former USGA executive director Sandy Tatum, in 1972: "We're not trying to embarrass the best players in the world. We're trying to identify them."
The fact is that the best players required no assistance from the golf course on Sunday. They embarrassed themselves (i.e. Ernie Els' fanned 3-iron at 18, with a perfect lie).
It was their loss, not ours. The Open still delivered a worthy champion -- an affable, talented Northern Irishman for whom, in the end, it was impossible not to root.
"You're some kid," his jubilant father said on the 18th green on Sunday. Indeed.
"The biggest thing that stood out with him was that he always honestly believed in himself and it wasn't a facade," Jimmy Koosa said from the Weed Hill Driving Range that he owns in Columbia, S.C. Koosa was Dustin Johnson's first instructor. Taught his father, too. "I know that Dustin believes that his next shot is going to be perfect," Koosa was saying Sunday morning. "He honestly believes he's going to produce the shot he has in mind, whatever it is. If he fails, he knows he'll hit the next one perfect."
Johnson was thought to have been unflappable. His caddie Bobby Brown sold the notion last week, calling him a flatliner, his demeanor unaffected by his surroundings.
The truth is that a U.S. Open does not accommodate unflappability. Even Tiger Woods, in possession of the strongest mind in golf, copped to three mental errors on Sunday.
Johnson took a three-stroke lead into the final round, shot an 82 and tied for eighth. For one regrettable day, at least, his unshakeable faith in himself was indeed a facade.
A GREAT 17-HOLE COURSE?
It seems inevitable that a makeover will be in order for the green at the 14th hole at Pebble Beach, a diabolical patch of misery that wreaked havoc in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February and again last week at the Open.
Par 5s in professional golf tend to be the most benevolent of holes, but the 14th ranked the third most difficult hole last week, behind only the par-3 17th and the par-4 second, its scoring average 5.44. For the week, 14 scores of triple bogey or higher were recorded on the entire front nine, a number matched by No. 14 alone.
It has only a small swath on which to stop the ball, and missing it will result in the ball rolling either off the front, back or side of the green. Derision was its unifying quality with one notable exception.
"I think there's plenty of room there if you hit a good shot," NBC's Johnny Miller said. "You just gotta hit a good shot. It's actually a great hole. The kind of hole you want. One of them. You don't want two of them. But one is enough."
A few moments later, he added, "Almost all the leaders are making six here. If everybody makes a six, it's a non-event, right?"
RETURNING THE GREAT TO BRITAIN
England's rise in international golf -- four players in the top 10 in the World Ranking -- suggested that Great Britain's Open futility might end at Pebble Beach. It did, though England was not responsible.
McDowell became the first from the U.K. to win the Open since Tony Jacklin won at Hazeltine in 1970.
As for the English, Lee Westwood tied for 16th, Paul Casey tied for 41st and Luke Donald and Ian Poulter tied for 47th. Another talented Brit, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, missed the cut.
IF YOU'D KNOWN...
If you'd known in advance that Tiger Woods would hit nearly 70 percent of the fairways in a U.S. Open, wouldn't you have predicted a landslide victory?
Woods hit 39 of 56 fairways (69.64 percent), the same number produced by Fred Funk, one of the straightest hitters in golf.
Woods, incidentally, has tied for fourth in each of the first two major championships -- a T4 slam in progress?
TELEVISION: THE HUMAN VUVUZELA
Last week, I suggested that ESPN's Chris Berman on golf telecasts was not as bothersome as the vuvuzelas that plague the World Cup experience for so many.
Upon further review...
Berman is a human vuvuzela, an incessant noisemaker and irritant that eventually has you reaching for the mute button.
After Thursday's telecast, I noted it was a good one if only because we didn't hear "ground control to David Toms."
Then, as if on cue on Friday, "We go to the 17th hole," Berman said, "where on the tee is ground control to David Toms."
Question: Is there anyone who finds Berman on golf (or anything else, for that matter) tolerable?
At least, we had Miller. Though not universally popular, the NBC analyst remains the best at what he does, providing opinion and analysis that doesn't aim to please, but to inform. An Open sampling:
-- On eventual winner McDowell: "His swing is awful quick. It's got a lot going on at the top of the back swing. Combine that with Great Britain not winning the U.S. Open since 1970, there's a lot of pressure on him...I'm not saying he can't do it, but I don't like his odds."