First of all, if you missed my post last night on the third-round highlights, check it out.
If you’re a regular reader, then you’ve heard me say this many times: Don’t underestimate the underdog. Of course I’m referring to Tiger Woods. Well, kind of. He’s obviously won four times at the Memorial Tournament, but that was before The Scandal. Woods is paired with Rickie Fowler, who snagged his first win at Quail Hollow last month, and ever since, he’s been on cruise control. Heading into the final round, of the two, Fowler was the favorite (this was before he started birdie-bogey-double-bogey-bogey. Weird, huh?
In the previous world order, this Memorial Tournament would’ve been over as soon as Tiger Woods tied for the lead after draining a long birdie putt on the opening hole Saturday afternoon at Muirfield Village. He then took the solo lead minutes later when second-round leader Rory Sabbatini made bogey.
In that world, you knew it and Tiger knew it, the Memorial Tournament would’ve been gift-wrapped and neatly tied with a bow for Tiger’s trophy room. He would’ve piled on a few birdies and eagles and pulled away, while the other players on the board, intimidated by his presence, would have melted like April snow.
It would’ve been win No. 73, moving him into a tie with tournament host Jack Nicklaus on the all-time victory list. It would’ve been a given because, we all knew, Tiger never missed a chance for another milestone.
In the new post-Tiger world, featuring the fourth iteration of Tiger, the Memorial was not over. It isn’t still with 18 holes to play.
Nobody in golf is playing more consistently right now, week in and week out, than cover boy Fowler. He’s not in the lead, but he’s the hottest player on the board. Maybe that makes him the man to beat. Also, he’s a very good player in the wind who’s capable of a low ball flight, which he proved during his abbreviated career at windswept Oklahoma State University.
Well, okay, it’s kind of a moot point today given that Tiger is three-under through six holes and Rickie is three-over.
Woods, who is tied with Rory Sabbatini at the moment, still trails 54-hole leader Spencer Levin, who is gunning for his first win and the actual underdog in the traditional sense. Spence is fiery — just look at the intensity in his eyes (a photographer pointed out to me yesterday that it’s the same look as Keegan Bradley) — with nothing to lose but everything, too.
Levin has been close a few times. He’s had some growing pains and bad breaks. For example, he was playing with Ryan Moore at Quail Hollow when Moore’s ball moved as he was stepping in to tap-in a one-footer. Moore was penalized a shot, but he, along with most players and caddies, thought the “Webb Simpson” rule had changed the outcome this year. Spence fought passionately on behalf of Moore. He was fired up and argued fervently, but to no avail. It’s not often to see a fellow competitor stand up like that for another player.
That’s because Spencer was penalized a stroke during last year’s McGladrey Classic when the wind caused his ball to move. If you look at last year’s money list, Spencer finished 31st on the money list, $16,927 behind Kevin Na. So what? Well, finishing in the top thirty makes a HUGE difference — it comes along with rewarding perks the following season, like an invitation to the Masters and the Open Championship. Now I am too lazy to calculate exactly how much that stroke cost Spence, but I think it was $14,000-ish, so it’s a moot point, but that’s not my point — he’s the “almost” guy, who came up just short.
Spencer is playing with something to prove today. Sometimes that’s a bad thing, but for him, I think it may work in his favor. We’ll find out in about two hours. Hope I didn’t just him him with the Wei jinx!
Alright, I’m heading out to watch Tiger and Rickie.
Who do you think will come out on top at the end of play? Any other thoughts? Musings? Please share.
(Photo by Getty Images/Scott Halleran)