The Hero World Challenge, the Nedbank World Challenge and the Australian PGA: the golf year is ending not with a bang but a whimper. ‘Tis the season for half-assing it, says Greg Bruce.
Not that I’m trying to say golf is like high school, because the prize money is totally different, but December was always a funny time at high school. We were still there, but we also sort of weren’t. It was the holidays really, and everything went a bit weird. So it was with last weekend’s three most significant golf tournaments.
The Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas is an invitation-only tournament started and run by Tiger Woods. This may once have been a selling point, but does anybody still care about a tournament run by the world number 411?
As it turns out, yes. The media reaction to Tiger, even past-it Tiger, is almost Pavlovian. Just writing his name seems to suggest the promise of private bottle service, and possibly illicit sex, on a hot night at an inaccessible Vegas club.
The players care too, some of them. The world numbers one, four, seven, eight and ten were all in this year’s field of 18. The Hero – for that is surely what Tiger would want it called – was eventually won by Bubba Watson, who shot 25 under par, which is too far under par for a serious golf tournament.
The Nedbank World Challenge is the jaunty European tour equivalent of the Hero. Less Tiger-based, more Europey, it’s a meritocracy with a hint of socialism. It’s played in South Africa and the field of 30 is chosen using an almost impenetrable mix of criteria, which I will now attempt to break down: The top 10 available players on the FedEx Cup standings, the top 10 available players from the Race to Dubai, a few mandatory South Africans, four invites, anybody with an account at Nedbank, the golfer who looks most like Ned Flanders, four well-dressed middle aged white men chosen at random from the public gallery, and Miguel Angel Jimenez.
The Nedbank, for that is surely what Nedbank would want it called, was this year won by Marc Leishman, an incredible achievement given that he was having to fit the tournament around pre-production for the Christmas special of Tux Wonder Dogs.
The Nedbank was Leishman’s first win on the European Tour, if you count the Nedbank as a tournament, which he unquestionably does. He shot 19 under par, which is just barely acceptable for a serious golf tournament, but he won by six shots, which makes it a bit better.
The third, by far the most prosaic, but arguably the strangest, tournament of the past weekend was the Australian PGA. Shouldn’t more Australians care about the Australian PGA? Adam Scott was playing in the Hero, Jason Day was supposed to be playing in the Hero but withdrew to have a baby, and Marc Leishman was both playing in the Nedbank and acting as a stand-in host on Sunday Grandstand in 1991, when Peter Williams was sick.
It’s not like Leishman, Scott and Day were forsaking the noble duty of playing in one of their nation’s most important tournaments for the glory of the US Masters or British Open, or even some semi-relevant PGA event in Minnesota. What they were doing was basically the equivalent of wagging the last week of school to go sniff glue in the Bahamas. That’s a bad analogy in many, many ways, but the point is that they were going to do sordid things in beautiful places, rather than dull things at home in front of their friends and family. Should we judge them for that? Of course not. We would all do the same.
It’s been a mad December, but it’s about to get even madder. Next week is the final event of the year in the US – the outrageous Franklin Templeton Shootout in Florida, a teams event in which the first round is a scramble, the second round is alternate ball and the third round is better ball. On the final day, in lieu of golf, all the players will drop acid and hallucinate that they’re in the Bahamas, in a tournament with only 17 other players, run by the world number 411, and they’re all shooting 25 under par.
The European Tour is on holiday until January. Its players are thankful.