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‘Unraked Bunker’: Tiger Woods’ Greatest Feat, Viktor Hovland’s Weakness and Good TV

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John Hawkins checks in to discuss the finish at the Players, Rickie Fowler’s disappearance, Phil Mickelson’s least favorite state and a worthy watch down the dial.

The “Unraked Bunker” is back, due not to popular demand, but the author’s respect for his fellow colleagues, many of whom ran out of clean underwear last week while covering the action in northern Florida. Not that golf writers need fresh skivvies to come up with a few sentences about something everyone already saw, but it was a challenging tournament for all involved.

Five inches of rain means no free golf, although fellow Morning Read scribe Alex Miceli probably ran out and bought a pair of flippers during one of the early weather delays. It also means an extra day of work, which really couldn’t happen at a better place. TPC Sawgrass isn’t just the House That Beman Built. It’s a terrific place to sit around and cuss out yet another downpour while acknowledging three of the property’s more distinguishable characteristics:

The most overrated par-3 hole in the history of golf.
The greatest clubhouse buffet ever assembled.
A media center far more spacious and accommodating than the 17th green.
Before we grab a plate, it’s worth noting that Cameron Smith’s closing 66 at the Players Championship, 10 birdies and all, still fell three strokes short of the day’s lowest score (Dustin Johnson). It was more of a clutch performance than a spectacular one — not a realistic candidate for the finest final round in Players history. That still belongs to Davis Love III, whose 64 in chilly, windy conditions in 2003 remains one of the five best big-game Sundays I’ve ever seen.

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Love overpowered a course that was in absolutely no mood for shenanigans. A lot like Phil Mickelson’s 18-hole sprint to the finish at the 2013 British Open and, of course, Jack Nicklaus’ little earth-shaker at the 1986 Masters. The Olden Bear pocketed $144,000 for his most memorable contribution to golf history, a mere thousand bucks more than the seven-man pileup at T26 on Monday. Smith earned $3.6 million, which will buy you all the boxers and briefs you’ll ever need.

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There was no charge for the water ball on 18.

> Speaking of players, Viktor Hovland is a good one. Very, very good. Until he learns how to hit a bunker shot, however, his vast potential will remain somewhat contained, which is a strange thing to say about a guy currently third in the Official World Golf Ranking. Hovland’s 31.2% efficiency rate from the sand is 210th on the PGA Tour. He’s 211th in strokes-gained around the green, which is no gain whatsoever, this despite his ranking eighth in scrambling from the rough. Augusta National? No chance. Sloppy short games just don’t cut it at the little ballyard in Georgia.

> Tiger Woods should get an IRS-sized portion of Smith’s $3.6 million paycheck — he’s the sole reason every Tour winner has no trouble with the mortgage — but given how money and happiness are two different commodities, Woods has rarely seemed more jovial than during his post-World Golf Hall of Fame interview with Mike Tirico, which aired last Saturday afternoon. For Woods to single out his all-time record of 142 consecutive cuts made was both notable and quotable, as Woods rarely sizes up his achievements, but 16 years after the streak ended, it makes Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game stretch with a hit look like a couple of hot weeks at the plate.

Almost seven years without missing a weekend? It’s one of the most staggering accomplishments in the history of sports.

> The absence of Rickie Fowler at the Players felt strange, but his inability to qualify for a tournament he won in 2015 is aptly reflective of the depth of his ongoing struggles. Fowler’s best finish in six 2022 starts is a T42. Just one of the 19 rounds he’s played has produced a score one would consider above average: a 66 in the opening round at Torrey Pines, which he followed up with a 76. He’s 136th in driving accuracy, 150th in greens in regulation and 165th in sand saves, which makes him a bit like Hovland without a clue.

Tiger woods

At 127th in the OWGR, Li’l Rickie’s problems are far too severe for his once-reliable putter to solve. Besides, he’s 185th in strokes-gained on the greens. Fowler’s status as a darling of corporate America might leave us to wonder if all those television commercials (and accompanying revenue) have turned him into an uninspired tour pro.

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> Speaking of vanishing acts, it’s not like Mickelson is conspicuous in his absence as the Florida swing reaches its final leg. A mere two of his 45 Tour victories have occurred in the Sunshine State — at Bay Hill in 1999 and the Players 15 years ago. Philly Mick was never all that productive on Bermuda greens, which made former caddie Jim Mackay, who grew up in Florida, so valuable.

That said, Mickelson’s exile, be it self-imposed or due to a suspension from commissioner Jay Monahan, won’t come at nearly the cost his anti-Tour comments might have on his chances of becoming a Ryder Cup captain. His big mouth and 18-22-7 career record in the matches will do him no favors. If Fred Couples can get snubbed over and over, anybody can.

> As most hardcore fans surely know, digital coverage of Tour events has increased significantly this year. ESPN’s acquisition of Camp Ponte Vedra’s streaming rights has made the game easier to access and provided more non-prime action, an improvement never more obvious than during last week’s weather-addled Players. It was the first time I watched the majority of a tournament on something other than a major network, and it takes a lot to keep me from griping but the ESPN product far exceeded my expectations. The trio of John Maginnes, Mark Immelman and Ned Michaels was superb — CBS would do well to hire all three of them now.

Immelman has been a part-time analyst for the Eye; his ability to diagnose and articulate the golf swing is superior to anyone out there, which makes him an ideal successor to Peter Kostis. Former tour pro Maginnes says a lot in fewer words than any on-course reporter and brings a soft-spoken intensity to the presentation, and he’s armed with an appealing brand of humor that resonates with any viewer. Michaels is rock-solid as the pilot, a marked contrast to the goofy and somewhat uninformed Jonathan Coachman, who anchored the other threesome in a pair of teams that split the ESPN’s airtime.

Steve Scott, the hard-luck loser to Woods at the 1996 U.S. Amateur, is another excellent talent. Television is easy to do and extremely difficult to do well, but there are people out there who do it better than the bigshots. The network honchos should do themselves a favor and recognize that the grass is quite green on the other side.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. ثبت شرکت سهامی عام

    March 17, 2022 at 4:31 am

    I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the layout of your blog?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or
    2 pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?

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