Tuesday Tee-Off – July 10

After a great vacation week – including four rounds of golf in a row and visiting my wonderful girlfriend in Ottawa– I’m getting back into a blogging rhythm with my weekly Tuesday column about the goings-on in the golf world.

Potter conjures up some winning magic

After missing 24 straight cuts on the former Nationwide Tour – now Web.com Tour – in 2004, Ted Potter Jr.’s game came full circle on Sunday with a dramatic playoff victory over Troy Kelly, his first on the PGA Tour. Potter found some success in golf’s minor leagues before, and was second on the Web.com Tour’s money list for 2011. However, it was his breakthrough victory on Sunday at The Greenbrier Classic that allowed him to punch his ticket to the British Open in two weeks, next year’s Masters, and a two-year exemption on the big Tour. When Greenbrier owner Jim Justice shelled out nearly $2.5 million to get Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to come to his tournament, I’m sure the last thing he expected was to have two no-names – Potter and Kelly – battling it out down the stretch on Sunday. The two big draws – Woods and Mickelson – both missed the cut and the virtual unknowns were left standing. Casual golf fans certainly were disinterested, and I’m sure the TV ratings will reflect this, but most true golf fans root for good golf, not necessarily good players. Such is golf. I’ve spoken about how much parity there is in the game these days in this column before and because of this new playing field, sometimes these are the kinds of finishes that we’re going to get on the PGA Tour.

Will the real Tiger Woods please stand up?

Two weeks ago, Tiger Woods trumped the field by two strokes at his own event, the AT&T National, held this year at Congressional Golf Club after a two year hiatus. Tiger looked masterful on the course: twirling his club, dropping putts, and even emphatically fist-pumping where necessary. The debate again raged on as to whether he was ‘back’ or what a tour-leading third victory of 2012 would mean to him. At this point, the case for whether Tiger is ‘back’ should be closed. Back from injury, back from scandal, back in the winner’s circle – he is all of those things and more. Back to the player he was in the early 2000s? Probably never, but only two other people in golf in the past three years (Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker) have won as many tournaments as Tiger has in one season (three) and this season is just over half done. But this past week, Tiger missed the cut badly at the Greenbrier – despite having allegedly taken upwards of $1.5 million for an appearance fee – and the questions have come back again. He went into The Masters after a victory at Bay Hill, he went into the U.S. Open after a victory at The Memorial, and he would have gone into the British Open after a victory too, had he not played at The Greenbrier. Who knows which Tiger will show up across the pond, but, per this piece from CBS Sports’ Shane Bacon, with three victories already on the year, the golf world should return to measuring Woods’ success based on major triumphs. It’s clear that winning a Major is the only thing that will make Tiger feel as though the season was a success, and he has two more chances to go.

A final round for Lorne Rubenstein

After 32 years, the Canadian golf journalism legend Lorne Rubenstein has decided to retire after the RBC Canadian Open in three weeks. Rubenstein, an award-winning columnist, ScoreGolf Magazine contributor, and author of multiple books including his latest, Moe and Me, has left a legacy on the Canadian journalism landscape – not just in golf – that few are able to hold a candle to. His writing has filled the pages of The Globe and Mail since 1980, covering the end of the Jack Nicklaus era, the rise of the Tiger Woods era, and everything in between. A true inspiration for many – me included – Rube’s writing will be missed.

She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy

It’s hard to believe that in just two weeks the third major championship of 2012 will be played. The year, and summer, is certainly flying by! This week though is the final tune-up for the British Open on both sides of the pond. In the U.S., Steve Stricker looks to win the John Deere Classic for the fourth straight year, becoming only the fifth man to accomplish such a feat. He’ll have some good competition this week, but with one victory already this season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him complete the ‘Stricker Slam,’ as some are calling it, and come away the winner.

Across the Atlantic, the European Tour is drawing a slightly stronger field competing at the Scottish Open where Luke Donald is the defending champion. I’m hoping Branden Grace has a good showing, as he’s my dark horse pick for the British next week – but look for Padraig Harrington to build on some recent success in the U.S. and emerge victorious this week.

First-Half Awards

With the golf season now more than halfway done for the year it’s time to reflect back on the first six months of the year and give out some awards.

Player of the year – Tiger Woods. Three victories (no majors) but if history has taught us anything, it’s that three victories on a season would pretty much automatically guarantee POY honours. And, we’re only halfway done the season. Honourable mentions to Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson, and Hunter Mahan.

Comeback player of the year– Jason Dufner. No contest. After two near-misses last year, Dufner finally broke through with a victory earlier this year after over 350 tries on Tour. He then followed it up two weeks later with another victory. His southern charm and wonderful swing has won over a legion of new fans.

Rookie of the year– Johnathan Huh. Another nocontest. Huh already has four top-10 finishes on the year, including a victory at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in February. Huh, a product of the ‘old’ Q-School, is as good a reason as any to keep things the way they are with respect to qualifiers. This season has been a wonderful start to his career.

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