No offense to Brad--make that Bart--Bryant, but the Memorial was not the sexiest of U.S. Open run-ups. True, Fred Couples was a dashing foil, and the 42-year-old, late-blooming little brother of Brad (Dr. Dirt) Bryant provided a thrills-and-chills finish, getting up-and-down from 177 yards on the final hole for a one-stroke victory, the second of his 12-year Tour career, but it was the star power that was missing.
Bart Bryant first earned a Tour card in 1991, but between then and last August, he had almost as many surgeries (three, on both elbows and his left rotator cuff) as top 10 finishes (four). Today he sports the bushy mustache and seen-it-all look of a veteran cop, and on Sunday he was just as hard to faze. His up-and-down for par from the 18th fairway--he pulled his three-wood tee shot into a water hazard and had to take a drop--preserved an otherwise impeccable back-nine 32. His first win, at last year's Texas Open, was a B-list event played opposite the Ryder Cup. Nevertheless, Bryant acted on Sunday evening as if he belonged while sitting with tournament host Jack Nicklaus and soaking in accolades.
The win, Bryant learned, moved him to 15th in the 2005 Presidents Cup standings, and he jokingly tried to persuade Nicklaus, the team captain, to make him a wild-card pick. "Do you want to go out for a steak tonight?" Bryant asked. "Are you buying?" Nicklaus replied. "You better believe it," said Bryant.
By that time everyone had gotten over the fact that three of the game's four biggest names were absent from the Sunday mix. Ernie Els finished back in the pack (45th), Vijay Singh missed the cut (something that has occurred only three times in the last two years) and Phil Mickelson, by preference, spent the weekend hitting uphill chips at Pinehurst No. 2.
Then there was Tiger Woods. Grand Slam eligible and riding a consecutive cut streak of one, he began Sunday's round four strokes back of the coleading quartet of Jeff Sluman, David Toms, Bryant and Couples, but had drawn to within two by the 8th hole ... which he promptly double-bogeyed to effectively drop out of contention. (A couple of late-inning birdies were meaningless, apart from pushing him into a tie for third. If he had finished alone in third, he would have leapfrogged Singh to No. 1 in the World Ranking.)
Woods is on everyone's short list of players who have a serious shot at the Open, yet his erratic play at the Memorial raised more questions than it answered. Of the 79 players who made the cut, only five made more birdies (20) than Tiger, but he also had six bogeys and a double.
Going into the Open, nothing has dimmed Woods's aura more than his missed cut three weeks ago at the Byron Nelson Championship. As much as his record in the majors--Woods has won nine in 39 tries--his streak of 142 starts without missing a cut was the signature of his excellence, a perpetual promise that whenever he teed it up, he was a threat to win. The end of the cut streak did more to highlight Woods's fallibility than all of his foul balls off the tee put together.
Then again, no one should doubt Woods's ability to turn things around in a hurry. Three months ago, in his last start before the Masters, he barely made it to the weekend at the Players Championship, gutting out a second-round 73 to make the cut on the number. We all know what happened next at Augusta.
Another factor in Woods's favor is the health of his 73-year-old father, Earl. The day before the start of the Memorial, Woods broached that topic for the first time since Augusta, delivering a progress report on his father. "It's prostate cancer," Woods said, "the same one he was dealing with [in 2004]." On Saturday, Woods said that Earl was "done with the radiation treatments, so everything is good there. He has no more cancer, so he's in the clear for that."
An undistracted Tiger could have one other advantage as he goes for the second leg of the Grand Slam: This week's long-overdue arrival of warm weather in the Sandhills of North Carolina should give Pinehurst the three inches of rough the USGA desires, but the rough will be patchy, which will be a plus for the power players.
And if Woods should win next week, Hello, PGA Championship! Many players are already privately conceding Tiger the claret jug in July at St. Andrews, where, like at Augusta, rough is a dirty word.
PGA TOUR MIDSEASON REPORT
Duh! The sensational bank-shot chip-in by Tiger Woods at Augusta National's 16th hole was the most dramatic stroke in the Masters since Gene Sarazen's double eagle. Second place? Woods's 300-yard three-wood to reach Doral's par-5 12th in two.
Chris DiMarco got more respect for his hang-tough Masters loss to Tiger than for his last victory, three years ago. He followed it up with a tie for third in New Orleans and a fourth at Wachovia.
Former Clemson standout Lucas Glover is the stealth new guy on Tour. Only 25, the second-year player has racked up six top 10s so far, good for $970,934 and 40th on the money list.
POTHY (player of the half year)
Sorry, Tiger, but relentless Vijay Singh is No. 1 in money and in the World Ranking. He has three victories and two near misses--in a playoff at the Honda and on the final hole at Bay Hill.
Attention all you Mike Weir fans up there: The 2007 Presidents Cup is a lock for Royal Montreal
The Tour is on the verge of closing a deal with Canada's Royal Montreal Golf Club to host the 2007 Presidents Cup, according to sources. Both the country and the venue have been at the center of Presidents Cup speculation since 2003, when Royal Montreal emerged as the Tour's primary choice. Michael Richards, a past president of Royal Montreal who is representing the club in its discussions with the Tour, cautions that "it's not a done deal," but says, "I'm very optimistic." The Tour had no comment. At the Memorial, Canadian Mike Weir glowed at the thought. "For me, that would be fantastic," he said. "The crowds will be really big. The whole country will be excited." He added, with a smile, "Hopefully I'll make the team."
"I've been retiring for years. I'm going to reserve the right to [the Memorial]. I have no intention of playing anywhere else."
¬†Every season starts with a range of expectations. Here's how some of golf's biggest names have measured up
Vijay Singh - Exceeds
•Regains No. 1
•W @ Sony
•W @ Houston
•W @ Wachovia
Vijay Singh - Fell Short
•Blown Putt @ Honda
•Splash down @ Bay Hill
Tiger Woods - Exceeds
•W @ Augusta
•W @ Buick
•W @ Doral
Tiger Woods - Fell Short
•L to Nick O'Hern in March Play
•MC @ Nelson
Ernie Els - Exceeds
•W @ Dubai
•W @ Qatar
•W @ Asian Open
Ernie Els - Fell Short
•2nd @ Sony
•47th @ Masters
Phil Mickelson - Exceeds
•62 @ Spyglass
•W @ BellSouth
•W @ FBR
•W @ Peddle
Phil Mickelson - Fell Short
•L @ Doral
Photograph by SCOTT HALLERAN/GETTY IMAGES
Bryant (above) hung on for the second win of his injury-plagued career, outlasting a clearly frustrated Woods (inset).
[See Caption Above]
FRED VUICH (BRYANT)
Bryant made a miraculous par save on the 72nd hole to win by a shot.
AL TIELEMANS (WOODS)
JOHN BIEVER (DIMARCO)
RICH GLICKSTEIN/KRT/ABACA (GLOVER)
ROBERT BECK (SINGH)
TONY ROBERTS/CORBIS (ROYAL MONTREAL)
FRED VUICH (COUPLES, NICKLAUS)
FRED VUICH (COUPLES, NICKLAUS)
FREDDY OR NOT
The fans favored Couples, who has one win in the last seven years.