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Observations from Sunday at the PGA Championship

8/21/2006

I was there for #12. I scored two tickets for the final round of the PGA Championship at Medinah, aka Tiger Country Club. Although it was pretty much over before it started, it was still awesome being there. Getting to witness history being made.

Mu buddy Jefe and I entered the gates around 11:00 and after watching Phil miss about 25 40-footers in a row and seeing Ernie Els tee-off on #1, we worked our way backwards from #18 to check out the course and see some action along the way. Here are some observations from a long day at Medinah.

- These guys are good. People have been ripping Medinah because it played too easy, but it looks pretty darn tough to me. Tight corridors to tight fairways, surprising elevation changes, sharp doglegs and smallish greens. The only thing is the greens were too soft and the pros were treating Medinah like a giant dartboard. If it were a little more fast and firm, you would've seen more of the gnarly rough and collection areas around the green come into play. But it never happened. Combine the soft conditions and perfect weather conditions (Sunday was probably the nicest day of the summer in Chicago...high 70's, zero wind), and you've got yourself a birdiefest. The pros really distance themselves from you or I with their precision iron play and amazing short games to be able to attack a course like Medinah when it's defenseless like that.

- We made it back to the 13th hole, which is a brutally tough 244-yard par 3 over water. It was actually playing a little bit into the wind. Most pros handled it pretty well, with the exception of David Howell who hit a wounded duck 5-wood that never had a chance of clearing Lake Kadijah. It literally landed at least 50-yards short and right of where he was trying to hit it. We purposely waited (and waited...man some of these guys are slow) for Corey Pavin's group because we thought that Pavin might have to hit driver off the tee. He was playing with Stewart Cink (who has to be the biggest dude on tour...most of them look much smaller in person). Cink hit 3-iron left and long, but Pavin disappointed us by hitting 3-wood (the wind had died down). He smoked that 3-wood, starting it right up the chute of the green and drawing it towards the hole. Amazing how a short hitter like Pavin can make the cut on a 7,500 yard course. Tells you how good his shotmaking skills are.

- We got up close and personal with Nathan Green, Tim 'Lumpy' Herron and JB Holmes who all happened to hit in the rough right around us. JB Holmes is an amazing creature who only takes about a 3/4 swing but somehow still manages to generate about 130 mph swing speed. Seriously, his ball speed off the driver must be around 200 mph. Unfortunately, he must not have been hitting it very straight because when we saw him later, he was +7 for the day. Ouch!

- Speaking of Lumpy (has there ever been a more appropriate nickname?), if Kramer and Frank Costanza had ever settled on 'Bro' or 'Manziere', Lumpy (d-cup) would've been their first PGA sponsor. Quickly followed by Joey Sindelar (d-cup) and Phil Mickelson (solid b-cup moving to c).

- We made it back to #2 to grab some overpriced food and take a break, just as Phil was teeing off on the par 3. The crowds were really starting to build as you could sense that the tournament was finally unofficially underway. People were standing around the 2nd green to the point that you couldn't see anything. I tried to get as close as possible to see what was going on and the closest I got was to able to see the top of the flagstick. Why people still stood around this hole without a view is beyond me...maybe just to be a part of the cheers and the groans. #2 is a sweet hole but we'd have to move on.

- As we were enjoying our $6 hamburgers, Jefe shrewdly identified Phil's wife Amy walking right past us, alongside Phil's short-game guru Dave Pelz. Until Tiger married Elin, Amy had a ten-year run as the ultimate tour wife. Even now, the best part of Phil winning is getting to see Amy run out onto that 18th green (bonus points if you know Amy's maiden name). You wouldn't believe how short Amy is, especially compared to Pelz, who is a giant bear of a man. We actually ended up walking behind Amy, Pelz and Rick Smith (Phil's long game guru who's is amazingly only a couple inches taller than Amy) on multiple occassions (half by accident, half on purpose). And the whole time, Amy didn't stop talking Pelz's ear off. You could tell he was just nodding in agreement, clearly having tuned her out hours before, wondering if this was included in the job description and whether it was worth all of the money that Phil was paying him. I was tempted to butt in and ask Pelz a question about bunker play just to save him from slitting his wrists.

- Unfortunately, we didn't get to see Elin. I'm not sure she was walking along or not, although she was there on #18. It's pretty funny that not only has Tiger completely dominated Phil in every golf-related category, he completed trumped him in the hotter wife category as well. Jefe and I observed that Tiger landed the 'Grand Slam' of tour wives: Elin is A) Swedish, B) a former nanny, C) a former bikini model, and D) has a twin sister. How do you top that? An average guy would be thrilled to get one out of four (Amy Mick gets one point for being a former Phoenix Suns dancer). But four for four? Way to go, Tiger! And given the fact that he's the most recognizable athlete in the world and rakes in $80 mill a year, you would expect nothing less from him. I wonder what Joanna Jagoda is up to these days.

- I really don't blame Elin for not walking the course with Tiger, because it's just a madhouse when he's playing. And it's like this every round of every week that he tees it up. The place is zoo when he is around. Just throngs of fans and media. In order to get a good glimpse of him, you need to have a well-devised plan of attack. Jefe and I were up to the task, and came up with a good plan to stay a few holes ahead and watch the groups leading up to Tiger. Since #2 was already a warzone, we headed up to #5, which is the shortest par 5 on the course. Looked like a promising place to see some birdies and potential eagles. We found a great spot off the sixth tee where we could see the action on the 5th green and watch the guys tee off on #6. Up close and personal with Phil & Ian Poulter (and his pink-striped pants and matching shades), Lumpy & Holmes, Sergio (he'll never win a major as long as he's wearing yellow pants on Sunday) and Shaun Micheel, Wier and Oglivy (sweet swing), and finally Elvis and 'Luuuuuke' Donald (even sweeter swing). And the crowd slowly builds and builds until Tiger arrives.

- Tiger hit 3-wood on the 6th hole, which is a 478-yard par four. There's one thing I can guarantee...I would never hit a 3-wood on a 478-yard par four. Maybe that's one reason that Tiger has 12 majors and I'm just a dude with a blog. Tiger has figured it out. Just get the ball in play and let you superior shotmaking and short game take over. Pick your spots to be aggressive.

- It's chaos after Tiger tees off, with people scurrying for position and off to find their next strategic locale. And this is probably one of the reasons that nobody can beat the guy head on. He's used to this level of chaos. He's probably got 2+ strokes on the guy from the start just from this factor. Poor Luke Donald never had a chance (not that anyone honestly thought that Luke could take Tiger down to begin with...probably not even Luke himself).

- We scurried over to #7 with a plan to make it to #10/#11 as our next vantage point. Didn't see Tiger finish #6 but didn't have to...the roar of the crowd told us everything we needed to know. Birdie...-17. It is wasn't over already, it is now.

- We purposely lollygagged our way down #7 because I knew in the back in my head that if Tiger were to miss, it would be right. No sooner do I complete those thoughts do I hear a golf ball rustling through the trees. Tiger's ball ends up about 10 yards from where we're standing. We're right next to Tiger as he chips back out in the fairway. I was disappointed that Stevie didn't yell at anybody or beat anyone over the head with their camera phone or noisy water bottle. Jefe and I joked that the 'Tiger lovefest otherwise known as the CBS Golf team' were probably going on and on about how amazing Tiger's chip out is.

- We made it over to #10/#11 but it's not a great place to watch the action. #10 green is real tight against Lake Street and there's not much room for spectators. We waited for Tiger, anyways and saw him narrowly miss birdie there and hit another tee ball right on #11. We quickly headed for #14 and along the way heard the roar on Tiger's next shot. His approach shot from the rough ends up less than 15 feet from the cup. We were close to the 11th green so decided to wait to see Tiger putt out. Jefe was dying to see a Tiger fist pump. Smart move as Tiger jars the birdie putt and the place goes nuts. Nineteen freakin' under and a five stroke lead! Unbelievable. A little more than 24 hours before, ten guys were tied at 8-under par and a day later Tiger has already lapped the field.

- We had to wait to cross the fifteenth fairway to get to #14 but it turned out to be a good thing. The #15 and #12 share a tee box, and Phil/Poulter teed off on #15 just as Tiger and Luke tee on #12. They were literally right there at the exact same time. Jefe and I hoped that Tiger took the opportunity to do a little trash talking to Phil, like using hand gestures to signal, "You: 3. Me: 12." We were far away from the tee box but had a great angle on Tiger's tee shot for one of the few times he hit driver. He absolutely bombed his drive, launching it into the stratosphere. Man, did he launch that thing. The highlight of the day for me was seeing him toe tag that sucker. 'That's long...and strong!'

- The 14th green turned out to be too crowded to be of any use so we headed down to #17, the last of the three heroic par 3's over water. We found a nice little spot on the slope below the tee box to watch the action on #17 and see the guys tee off on #18. The pin on #17 was dangerously close to the water, but most of the guys handled it pretty well. Weir completed his fold down the stretch by adding a bogey here, but basically everybody was on the green with 2-putt pars. Tiger strolled through and played it extremely safe, airmailing the green and making bogey from the bunker (only his third bogey of the entire tournament). By that point, it was just a nice walk in the park with 15,000 of his closest friends. I screamed 'We're not worthy!' as he walked down the slope to cross Lake Kadijah for the last time.

- #18 was crazy so we took the long way heading back to the clubhouse but still ended up getting caught in the swarm near the 18th green. We couldn't really see anything but I did see Tiger's approach putt on the final green by hopping up and down repeatedly. I offered to hoist Jefe on my shoulders so he could get a better view, but he declined. There's probably a 'Man Law' against giving another man a piggyback anyways. Tiger tapped in for the title and it's bedlam again. This time it's pure joy from Tiger instead of the heavy heart, emotion and awkward hugging w/ Stevie that we saw at the British Open.

- Jefe and I speculated as to what cheesy/hokey/sappy saying the ever cheesy/hokey/sappy Jim Nantz would so eloquently come up with as Tiger sank the final putt. My guess was 'It's a Tiger's dozen!' and Jefe's was 'He's going to party like it's 1999!' I like Jefe's better but thought it was much too clever and hip for Nantz. It's quite possible that he's never even heard of Prince. It turned out that I was a little closer, Nantz said: 'Another win by Tiger...and he's getting better by the dozen.' Nantz tries to pretend that he doesn't come up with these the night before.

- The question about Tiger passing Jack for 18 majors (although it was always 20 -- counting the Amateurs -- when I was growing up) has officially changed from an 'if'? to a 'when?' There's no doubt that Tiger's going to pass Jack, and it looks like it's going to happen sooner rather than later. If I had to speculate, I'd guess that it happens sometime in 2010, when the US Open is at Pebble Beach and the British is at St Andrews. 19 majors before the age of 35. 26+ total majors for his career looks like a doable number: 10 Green Jackets, 7 Claret Jugs, 6 Wannamakers and 5 US Opens. That's 28. Gaudy numbers. Almost incomprehensible. But at this point, would you bet against it?

- Really the only thing left for Tiger to do is to win the real Grand Slam, all four in one year. It's quite possible that he could do it next year (although 2008 and 2010 look like stonger possibilities based on the courses played). But right now, he's just a whole lot better than everybody else. Remember the Big Five? Singh, Els, Goosen all look like they're on the slow decline. Phil is his main competitor now but he's at least a half-notch behind and has the baggage. There doesn't seem to be any young guys on the cusp that can dethrone him. Sergio, Adam Scott, Luke Donald. All very good players that may someday win one or two majors. But do they have what it takes to stare Tiger in the face and take him down? I don't see it happening. Tiger's best competition is probably from some kids who we haven't heard of yet. Somebody who's been influenced by the man himself. Even then, Tiger's got the next 5+ years to himself. Prepare for domination. Heck, he could win them all in '07 and you'd have to consider him the all-out favorite for Augusta (just like every other year) and the US Open at Torrey Pines in 2008. That would be eight majors in a row. That fact that I can even write that with a straight face says a lot.

- Yesterday I saw the greatest golfer of all time. I was there for #12.

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