June 25, 2007

Major Toms plays his ace

Strategy pays off against Mickelson in PGA

The last corporate hospitality-tent major of the year, in this case the PGA, was played outside Atlanta in humidity so thick you could talk to it, hang a shirt on it, or scoop up a bag of it to take home for a souvenir. In fact, you could almost peek through it and see David Toms coming out the winner.

I, for one, didn't much care. Not after I'd melted down to the size of Shingo Katayama's cowboy hat. And not after having been imprisoned for six memorable days in the press hotel, one that was going to be closed and demolished—yeah, torn down—immediately after the championship.

Ordinarily I wouldn't expect you to give a hoot about the problems of the press, and rightly so, but I do think you'll find this amusing: Because we were at the mercy of what became known as the Pig Pen Plaza, there were those of us who will long be telling tales of faulty TV sets, nonexistent phone messages, shut-down ice machines, no room service, and FedEx packages and faxes that arrived and were promptly lost forever.

Let David Toms try to play that course, is what I say.

All of which is why I'm turning this chore over to Bobby Bank Note, one of the corporate hospitality-tent gentlemen these championships are obviously played for nowadays—all of them except, thank God, the Masters.

Hello, there. Bobby Bank Note here. And hey, what a privilege it is for me to be asked to tell you about what all went on at the PGA. But first let me say that the cost of our tent was certainly worth having to lay off 1,600 employees.

What a big thrill it was for my wife, Armani, and me to see Tiger Woods up close. We stood right there at a crosswalk when he came by. I mean, we were this close to him. We'll be dining out on that for a while, even though he didn't come close to winning.

Most of us in the corporate tents don't know much about golf, I confess, which is why I brought in an officer of the PGA to offer his expertise. Joe Bob Jim is the pro at Dusty Corners Country Club in Kansas, and I understand he's in line to become a president of the PGA of America someday. He was very helpful, and even waited tables for us in his spare time.

Joe Bob Jim pointed out to me that Tiger has now finished tied for 12th, 25th and 29th in his last three majors, so he guessed Tiger was, indeed, in a certified slump, and he'd dropped back into a tie with Jack Nicklaus with six pro majors in his first five years. Personally, I don't think America likes for Tiger to be in a slump, and I suggest that he get right out of it.

When Armani and I left early Thursday and went to dinner at the Balsamic Cilantro, there were nine players tied for the lead. We'd heard of Mickelson and Duval, but we drew an el blanko on the others. It was later during dessert that we heard about that New Zealand chap, Grant Waite, and his 64. Sorry we missed it, but a fellow at the next table assured us that Waite would soon be history. And he was.

Joe Bob Jim explained why there were so many low scores on what was supposed to be a real long course with a lot of water. He said, "Them greens out there is flatter than my hometown. Everything goes in. Putts, chips, pitches, long shots. No undulations to make the ball curl off."

Undulations. I would ask Armani to look that up for me.

Joe Bob Jim also explained how there was another competition going on--the battle for spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Only four spots—Tiger, Mickelson, Duval and Love—had been locked up on points.

Friday was the day Katayama tied for the lead with Tums. I mean Toms. (Sorry. Been battling a little stomach virus.) Everybody shot 64s and 65s again, and I heard quite a number of cheers on the course while I was going for some more of the smoked salmon. The loudest cheers, I discovered, were for Tiger sinking two 35-foot putts over the last three holes to barely make the cut. I meant to ask Joe Bob Jim if they would have canceled the tournament if Tiger hadn't been around on Saturday and Sunday. I hope not, because we would have had a great many disappointed clients.

Saturday was certainly a bizarre day. Mickelson, my wife's favorite, made eight birdies and looked very much like the leader until Toms scored a miraculous hole-in-one at the 15th by using his 5-wood from 243 yards. The ball bounced twice and scooted right into the cup. No undulations, you see.

Joe Bob Jim asked Armani why Mickelson was her favorite. "He's the cutest," she said. Joe Bob then got a little gossipy and related that Phil didn't have many good pals on tour, and as a matter of fact, his nickname among the caddies was Tig Jam.

"Tig Jam?" my wife said. "Meaning what?"

Joe Bob said, "It stands for 'Think I'm great? Just ask me.' "

The shot of the day was hit by Shingo, who carries five woods in his bag, two less than me. His second to the 18th from way back there dived into the water but skipped out in one hop and wound up on the bank, from where he saved par. I didn't get to see any of this on our TV set in the tent, sorry to say, having been involved in a long business discussion with Belinda, who's known around our office as the "Queen of Lien."

Joe Bob Jim on Sunday seemed mostly concerned with the lads who were going to be on our Ryder Cup team. Toms left nothing to chance by winning, which means he'll be playing at The Belfry instead of watching his LSU football team go to war at Tennessee. Some folks might say he's got his priorities all messed up. As for the PGA, Joe Bob predicted that if Mickelson didn't do it this time, it was going to put a mighty big bruise on old Phil's psyche.

After chipping in at 15, Mickelson three-jacked the 16th to fall a stroke behind. Says he heard five guys around the green saying that his 45-footer for birdie was a slow putt, so he charged it past and then missed the comebacker. Imagine that: advice from the Five Best Gallery Members Never to Have Won a Major. Maybe they even helped him leave that final birdie putt inches short on 18.

But Joe Bob informed me that Toms hit the best and most crucial shots when they were most needed. And he rather sensibly played safe on the 18th by laying up short of the water and salvaging his winning par with an 88-yard wedge shot and a 12-foot putt. More or less like the Payne Stewart deal that beat Phil at Pinehurst a couple of years ago.

Everybody moaned when Toms put the 5-wood back in the bag and took out the wedge, but Joe Bob said it was smart. With 209 yards to clear the water from a sidehill, downhill lie in the rough, he could have "blowed the whole deal" if he'd put it in the drink. "I went through so many mood changes out there today that I need to be put in a ward," Toms said. "It can't be healthy."

Naturally I wasn't aware of it, but just about every PGA scoring record was broken at the Atlanta Athletic Club, but the most important one, I suppose, was Toms' winning total of 265. "Made this course look pretty much like a sissy," Joe Bob said.

Thank you, Bank Note—and you too, Joe Bob. Thanks for filling in. About the only things I would add are, one, Phil Mickelson is still the best player in the world who's never won a major, and, two, Tiger Woods is still the best player in the world who hasn't won a major in his last three tries.