Trying to focus on the Texas Open … and not that other tournament in Georgia

April 2, 2013

What we have here is a case of premature expectation.
Tour players, media and fans have gotten used to the Shell Houston Open concluding the Masters pre-season (that’s everything that comes before the Masters). But this year, somebody inserted another week into the PGA Tour calendar. It’s like one of those subscription cards that falls out of the magazine you just bought at the airport newsstand — a nuisance.
So instead of talking magnolia blooms and northeastern Georgia weather radar outlooks, Champions Dinner menus (raccoon burritos and what??) and Phil’s secret plan to win, we’ve got to bottle up all thoughts Masters and hold them in for another week while the Texas Valero Open plays out. And since it’s in San Antonio, you can’t forget The Alamo, either.
Easter has already come and gone so come on, where’s our Masters office pool?
Hang on, guys. Pretend it’s a family photo and you’ve got to suck in your gut so you don’t look like a ball of middle-aged fat man. Good. You can exhale Sunday night after Valero hands a bronzed gas pump or some such thing to its champion.
There is some good news. Rory McIlroy barely made the cut last weekend at the Shell Houston Open, which gave its bronzed gas pump to D.A. Points, whose previous claim to fame was laughing his rear end off while dragging Bill Murray around and winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am two years ago.
Anyway, McIlroy (who now has a full-time wrangler helping him wade through a global stampede of media) still hasn’t quite found his game this year since he switched gear for $250 million. He smartly decided he needs, in the words of another widely known golfer, “more reps,” so Rors is teeing it up this week in San Antonio. He’ll be the event’s focal point. Good luck, Mr. Wrangler. Yee-haw.
Meanwhile, the Masters folks enjoyed an Easter resurrection by disclosing that the fried chicken sandwich, a tournament staple and one of the four basic Southern food groups, will return after a one-year failed coup by The Chicken Wrap. A Masters with no fried chicken sandwich? You may as well send astronauts to the moon without Tang. (Yeah, they’d never make it.)
Oh. Sorry, it’s not Masters week yet. I wasn’t going to talk about that. My bad. Dang.
The PGA Tour and its television partners are usually cautious to a fault when it comes to weather. You’ll notice no tournaments are contested within the confines of a hurricane. You can look it up. So it was odd that nobody pulled the trigger to send the Shell Houston Open field out in threesomes off two tees Sunday when storms were forecast late in the day.
Black sky, thunder and lightning and a batch of rain, some of it near frog-strangling proportions, halted the event about an hour from the finish. Luckily, the front blew through rapidly, the sun actually reappeared and the aforementioned Mr. Points made a clutch par putt at 18 to win. Otherwise, there would’ve been a three-man playoff with Henrik Stenson and Billy Horschel and not much remaining daylight. Ben (Ca-Caw!) Crane was almost in it, too, but his lengthy birdie putt on the final green stopped just short, dead in the jaws. That happened before the rain started dripping like Stewie–Stewie Cink.
In short, it was that close to a Monday finish. You’ll note that there has never been a movie titled, If It’s Monday, It Must Be Houston. That’s a good thing. Try to do better next time, Mr. PGA Tour Man. Because it appeared that some beleaguered media types on deadline might have violated a cardinal rule about cheering in the press box when Darren Andrew’s (D.A.’s) putt fell. Or was that about when the pizzas were delivered to the pressroom?
The win got Points a spot in the Masters. The runner-up finish moved Stenson into the top 50 in the world rankings, which also got him into the Masters just under the deadline. Oops, sorry. More Masters talk. Strike that from the record.
Meanwhile, it seemed as if Phil Mickelson moved closer to being ready for, uh, an upcoming big event. It was hard to tell, though. It seemed as if Phil had a different putting utensil or style each time he appeared. He displayed the claw grip he’s been using with success. Then he tried out an oversized fat-grip putter. Then he went conventional. Then back to fat grip. And so it goes.
Sunday, he charged with four straight birdies on his first four holes, followed it with string of pars and watched the contenders stampede past him. He threw in a late double to officially kill any hopes whatsoever. Still, he made some birdies and should be heading into some practice rounds later this week at, uh, a non-tournament site in Georgia, with some positive vibes. My only concern: Is Phil trying all these different putting styles because he’s just constantly trying to improve and find a better way? Or is there a fundamental unspeakable glitch (not uncommon to the over-40 crowd) in his putting stroke that nothing is fixing so far? He shot 10 under. I’ll go with the former and cross some fingers.

Meanwhile, the facial growth of Dustin Johnson was sighted once again. He made enough birdies to win on a big-hitter’s course in Houston that is right up his bowling alley but he fumbled just enough on the home stretch to not win. Perhaps he’s already a winner. He is dating Paulina Gretzky, daughter of The Great One, and in fact on at least one tee box during the tourney, he unloaded a massive drive and a savvy fan shouted “Paw-LEEE-na!” instead of “You da man!” or some other drollness. Before the tourney, Ms. Gretzky tweeted, “I’m off to Houston to see my love. Laters LA.”
Two other golfers deserve a mention. I saw Jason Kokrak play college golf for Xavier in an NCAA tournament regional a few years back and thought, wow, the next Dustin Johnson. Except instead of that strong-side safety body of Dustin, he’s got the imposing frame of a middle linebacker. Kokrak crushes the ball off the tee and has an impressive short game. It’s taken him a couple of seasons to claw his way onto the Tour, but in Houston he had a chance to win and did reasonably well. He cost himself mucho dinero when he sniped his drive into the lake on 18 and fell back to a ninth-place finish. Anyway, make a note. Guy can play.
Also now appearing on a leaderboard near you is Angel Cabrera. You may remember him winning the U.S. Open at Oakmont in ’07 or the Masters a few years later. Then he kind of disappeared. Some say his fade was related to an attempt to give up smoking and his return is related to giving up the attempt to give up. All I know is, he’s always been a power player well-suited to Augusta, something you may wish to note but not share with your fellow Masters-pool competitors.
My bad again on the Augusta thingie. Check back next week. Until then? Laters San Antonio.
The Van Cynical Mailbag
(Van Cynical will answer your questions on one condition—you’ve gotta remember to send them in. Find him on Twitter @GaryVanSickle.)
Gary, Is Dufnering a fad or here to stay?—Derek Lewis via Twitter

Let’s see, Luke Donald tweeted a picture of two guys Dufnering on the Swilcan Bridge, Tim Herron tweeted a photo of a gnome doll Dufnering and tour photogs had Shell Houston Open winner D.A. Points pose with the trophy while Dufnering. It was a fad, key word being “was.” No one can follow Dufnering with a second act, not even The Magnificent Duffinator.
Guan Tianlang, is he the start of the Chinese revolution that dominates golf in 2030?—Walter Hall via Twitter
The kid is going to have a tough time breaking 80 in his first Masters next week, but, yes, he is the start of an Asian revolution in men’s golf. Of course, there’s still a lot of water to go under the bridge before 2030. There’s the Second Korean War, the Attack of the Killer Robots, the European Flood of 2025 and the Invasion of the Alien Crab-People, to name just a few. By 2030, golf may not be as big as it is today. My last prediction, FYI: Florida Gators to win the NCAA tourney. Before that: Enron!
Can the PGA Tour stand alone on allowing anchored putting if it is against the rules in the majors?—Golfnut Kuma via Twitter
It can, but does the PGA Tour have those kind of golf balls? No doubt the U.S. and British Opens will follow their own ruling bodies’ ban and the Masters poobahs will surely follow. The PGA of America, a vocal critic of the ban, might go its own way but hey, the PGA is in August. That’s NFL exhibition season so no one may notice. It doesn’t seem likely the Tour will not be in accord with at least three majors. On the other hand, the Open Championship used the smaller Ball into the mid-'70s. So there is a precedent for being different. I don’t see it happening but I’d like to be wrong.
Vijay’s suspension: Fair or ridiculous? Will Geoff Ogilvy contend again? What’s with Phil?—Gary Griffin via Twitter
Vijay hasn’t been suspended. He’s still free to roam about the country. Ogilvy will contend again but not this week. He pulled out of the Texas Open when he didn’t play his way into the top 50 world rankings to get into the Masters. What’s with Phil? Hey, he’s Phil. That should be self-explanatory.