Before he won the Mercedes-Benz Championship last weekend, Daniel Chopra's claim to fame was a trick shot that, if executed poorly, could be a gruesome career-ender.
At the end of a driving range in New Orleans about three years ago, watched by almost no one, he placed a ball so that it hung over the top edge of the practice bunker. Then, with his feet in the sand and his hands around the grip of a fairway wood, Chopra swung hard and smashed the ball about 200 yards straight up, like a rocket. Then he did it again, and again.
He had it grooved, despite the fact that one false move would bury the club in the lip of the trap and break the shaft or Chopra's wrists, or both. It was a neat trick, but useless insofar as it didn't pay the bills. Now, after winning on the PGA Tour for the second time (Chopra also won the Ginn sur Mer Classic last fall), he is more than just a novelty. At 34, the part-Swedish, part-Indian, globetrotting trick-shot artist is an emerging star. Not that he's come from nowhere.
"I started playing golf when I was 14," Arjun Atwal, one of the only other Tour pros to get his start in India, told me a few years ago. "And Daniel was already like a superstar as a junior." (Chopra was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and an Indian father, and he was raised by his grandparents in India.)
It's hard not to give at least some of the credit for Chopra's emergence to Mitch Knox, his caddie. Knox used to work for David Duval, for whom self-belief was hard-won but proved deadly for the rest of the Tour when it finally took hold. Sound familiar? You could say the same thing for Chopra. He hit a few nervous-looking shots on the back nine Sunday, but all in all lived by the Japanese saying on his ball marker, which translates to, "Fortune favors the brave."
Other observations going into week 2:
• Jason Day will get plenty of TV time at the Sony this week. It will be the first start of 2008 for Day, a 20-year-old graduate of the Nationwide Tour who has the tools to potentially challenge Tiger Woods. Golf is starved for such a player and has been for a while.
• Steve Stricker, who lost the four-hole playoff to Chopra in Maui on Sunday, opened with three 67s at the 2007 Sony Open. A 70 dropped him into a tie for fourth place with Jim Furyk, who goes into this week having finished tied for fifth in Maui. Stephen Ames, solo third at the Mercedes, has two top-10s and three top-15s at Waialae, site of the Sony.
• Despite all that, Charles Howell III is the most sensible pick to win this week. He shot a six-under 67 on Sunday to tie for eighth at the Mercedes and is very due to win the Sony after a tie for second in 2007, a tie for third in 2005 and a tie for fourth in 2002. Yeah, he should have won it by now, but piling up top-10s on a favorite course will often lead to a W, as was the case for Howell at Riviera, where he won the Nissan Open last February.
• Mike Weir's resurgence is for real. He's swinging better, he's healthier than he's been in years and he's putting like he did in 2003. Forget about his final-round 70 and fourth place finish at the Mercedes. He just needs to get reacquainted with the feeling of being in contention every week. (He's not playing the Sony.)
• Boo Weekley is the gift that keeps on giving to sportswriters. Who else would leave two bullets from his hunting rifle in his carry-on bag? Boo's brain cramp crossed the fine line between country charm and bumpkin stupidity, but after pleading his case to TSA agents, enduring a long travel delay and firing an opening-round 80 at the Mercedes, he shot 68-66 on the weekend to gain confidence for the Sony. Even better, he's not in jail.