1. Tiger Woods. After his latest dominating performance, Woods said he still had “a plateful” of things to work on in his game. Folks, this is getting frightening.
2. Paula Creamer. The return of the Pink Panther is a welcome development on a tour already flush with starpower and juicy subplots. Me, I’m looking forward to the Dinah Shore nearly as much as the Masters. Seriously.
3. Stewart Cink. He was predictably out of his depth on Sunday, but in five previous matches this gentle giant was a birdie-making dynamo. A self-described “underachiever,” Cink may finally realize his tremendous potential with the confidence from this Match Play run.
4. Brian Gay. After 292 starts, this quintessential journeyman finally got his first PGA Tour win with a brave performance at the Mayakoba Classic. That’s good news for the little guy: in an era of bomb and gouge, Gay is the wimpiest driver in golf, but he still makes a nice living with his putter.
5. USA! USA! Three of the final four at the Match Play were Yanks (with neither Mickelson nor Furyk among them), a needed shot of confidence in a Ryder Cup year. Of course, for a country of rugged individualists, singles play has never been the problem.
1. Byron Nelson. The way it’s going, Lord Byron’s hallowed, DiMaggioesque record of 11 straight victories may be toast by summer.
2. Sergio Garcia. Phil Mickelson carrying two drivers at Augusta was clever. Sergio carrying two putters at the Match Play was pathetic. Until Garcia can exorcise his demons on the greens, he is doomed to remain an extravagantly talented underachiever.
3. The Gallery at Dove Mountain. It’s a nice enough course except for the location (20 miles from nowhere) and the rugged terrain that discourages walking and therefore fans. All of which explains the strangely buzzless atmosphere last week.
4. Nick Faldo/Kelly Tilghman. They spent the Match Play broadcast alternately shilling for or bashing Nike products, depending on their current corporate allegiances. Bush league in the extreme.
5. Rick Reilly. My esteemed former colleague and soon-to-be ESPN star was visiting NorCal and asked me to arrange a round for us at Pebble Beach, which I happily did. (And it was comped, too.) On the appointed day, a refreshing light mist was falling, so Reilly begged off, saying he doesn’t like to play in bad weather. Does the TV lifestyle make you soft? Apparently!