124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

The Loop

Humana not up to the challenge vs. the NFL

January 20, 2013

The golf on Sunday, in the event you missed it, and we're reasonably certain you did, was at least entertaining, notwithstanding its B-list cast.

The A-listers on which golf was depending to avoid indifference were Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, Nos. 1 and 2 in the World Ranking. They were around on the weekend, but only via an amusing Nike commercial. Each missed the cut in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, exposing the downside to a sponsor committing seven-figure appearance fees.

Meanwhile, back in the USA, the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, or the Hope, as it was known in simpler days, had the misfortune of opposing a thrilling end to the 49ers-Falcons game and the start of the Ravens-Patriots game.

Colin Kaepernick and Tom Brady or Brian Gay and Charles Howell III (or Scott Stallings and David Lingmerth)? Football was a prohibitive favorite and you won your bet if you gave the points.

The Humana Challenge winner was Gay, who contributed to the entertainment factor with one of 10 rounds of 64 or better Sunday on the Palmer Private Course at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. The kind of warm, sunny January day that explains the winter popularity of the Palm Springs area was the impetus for the kind of low scoring that typically amps up the drama.

Gay won on the second playoff hole, prevailing over Howell and Lingmerth, but it was less the story of the day than the collapse of Scott Stallings.

The Humana Challenge, admirably, is dedicated to the promotion of healthy living and was an advocate of taking 10,000 steps a day, or the equivalent of what a tour pro takes in the course of a day's work. Of course, doing so is no guarantee of good health. Stallings exceeded 12,000 steps, according to a Golf Channel graphic, yet he presumably felt sick afterward.

Stallings, twice a winner on the PGA Tour, began play on Sunday with a four-stroke lead, and increased it to five for a time, before his own indifferent performance opened the competition to all comers. Of the top nine finishers, Stallings was the only player to shoot higher than 65, a number he exceeded by five strokes. More to the point, he bogeyed two of his final three holes, including the last, when he yanked a 6-iron second shot to the par-5 18th, the ball bounding into the pond left of the green.

Dare we say that this native of Oak Ridge, Tenn., also known as Atomic City for its role in the development of the nuclear weapon that ended World War II, bombed on the back nine?

Stallings, 29, played the first 60 holes without a bogey and was bidding to become the first winner to play a tournament without a bogey since Lee Trevino in 1974. That ended when he carelessly missed a two-foot par putt on the seventh hole, the beginning of his demise.

Gay won for the fourth time with birdies on the two playoff holes, defeating Lingmerth, a Swede playing only his second PGA Tour event, and Howell, who finished second for the 14th time to remain stuck on two victories for nearly six years and counting.

Played opposite NFL football with Super Bowl berths at stake gives us a clearer understanding of the Challenge in the Humana.