Dear Captain Pavin,
The shortwave radio you gave me ran out of juice so I’m filing my secret Ryder Cup scouting report to you by more conventional means — the pages of SI Golf Plus and Golf.com. I’ll get back to the obvious in a minute, and by that I mean Dustin Johnson, the half man-half monster who won the BMW Championship with a birdie-par finish to edge Paul Casey, the missing brick in the foundation that’s going to make Monty’s European squad collapse like a teetering Jenga tower. All DJ did on the 420-yard 71st hole, when he was tied for the lead, was cut a ridiculously long tee shot over the trees and the dogleg, leave himself a 94-yard wedge shot and stuff it close for what turned out to be the winning birdie.
How many of his teammates have asked to partner with him in Wales? All 11?
But something bigger — and better for you — went on last week at Cog Hill, and I don’t mean the unsolvable Rubik’s Cube that is the FedEx Cup playoff points system.
Tiger Woods is alive and well. I thought that might get your attention. You might’ve missed it unless you were watching NBC’s final-round coverage, during which Tiger and Phil Mickelson got more air time than the leaders despite starting the day eight shots back. No, Tiger never threatened to finish among the top five and advance to next week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta. He double-bogeyed the opening hole last Thursday and failed to break par in the first two rounds at a place where he has won five times. But after that he didn’t look bad. Woods was under par both days on the weekend and played the last 10 holes in four under to tie for 15th.
Tiger was paired with Phil, who shot a smooth four-under 67. Better still, Phil is high on Tiger’s road to recovery — unless he’s trying to jag Tiger, which is always a possibility. I infiltrated Phil’s postround interview behind the 18th green and heard him say, “I think Tiger’s game is, like, inches from being there. He’s solid, very close. He’s hitting shots. You can tell his game is inches from turning because his speed is back and his putter looks great. His game is not far off at all.”
Got goose bumps yet, Corey? Even better, Tiger came in at 43rd on that crazy FedEx points list, which means he’ll miss the Tour Championship. That’s a break for you and Team U.S.A., because now he has two weeks to work on his new Sean Foley swing thoughts.
Positive stuff. Go ahead and smile, Cap.
Mickelson finished strong, but I’m not sure about his attitude. He begged his way out of the Wednesday pro-am, and the Western Golf Association relented, but then he went and practiced at another Chicagoland course, Butler National. Plus, after his opening 72 Phil said his big challenge was “getting mentally up” to play on a course that he doesn’t care for. And he made a statement about the Rees Jones-redesigned greens by playing a flop shot from the middle of the sloping 15th green — yes, he took a divot — when he was only 37 feet from the cup. (Mickelson blew it right off the green.) If he pulls a stunt like that in Wales, you guys will never hear the end of it.
I have more good news. Matt Kuchar just about won this thing despite playing with flulike symptoms the first two rounds. He was so weak he had to sit and rest a few times during the second round. The kid — O.K., he’s 32 and not a kid anymore — is tougher than you think. He made a couple of birdies coming in on Sunday and tied for third. He’ll be one of your stalwarts at Celtic Manor, trust me. And Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, two veterans I know you’re counting on, finally got their putting strokes sorted out on the weekend.
Captain, your team looks better than anyone could’ve hoped for two months ago. DJ and Kuchar, Tiger and Phil, Stricker and Furyk — excellent. Nine of your 12 players advanced to the Tour Championship — how good is that? Good luck and Godspeed.
— The Maltese Falcon