This past weekend, the sports world offered up more than the yearly tradition of the second leg of the Triple Crown being bagged by the Derby champ. Here’s hoping American Pharaoh can finally break the drought and seal the deal in a few weeks time up at the Belmont!
But back to the point. It wasn’t merely horse racing (and I must add, a wildly entertaining Brad Paisley concert at Walnut Creek) that piqued my interest. Three leading icons from the ‘country club sports’ stuck out most. And two of them, in true Paisley style, were ‘crushin’ it!’
-Rory McIlroy ruthlessly undressed Quail Hollow Country Club Saturday. He carded a cool 61 in breathtaking fashion. Rory had everybody else in the distinguished field playing for second before the final round ever began. He has a way of doing that. Remember the PGA at Kiawah or the US Open at Congressional? The 26-year-old Scot has no weaknesses. He smacks the ball a mile and has deft touch around the greens. And when he gets his putter going like he did in Charlotte, it’s over. Case closed. It’s beautiful to watch. I know our culture has an unhealthy addiction to crowning the next ‘best ever.’ But man, I tell you, when Rory is at his best, he’s one of, if not the best, to have ever played the game. And yes, I’ve seen Jack and Tiger play.
BOTTOM LINE: If Rory stays healthy and motivated, the sky’s the limit. I’m not betting against him snagging 10-13 major championships before all is said and done.
-Novak Djokovic is a human ball machine. But better. He’d break down the ball machine if push came to shove. The thing would short-circuit with the relentless depth and power of Novak’s groundstrokes. No Djoke! My favorite player of all time is Andre Agassi, and I thought he had the most punishing and consistent forehand and backhand we’d ever see. I’m afraid I stand corrected. Truth don’t lie! Novak confirmed that belief with his fourth title in Rome over the weekend. His comfortable run to the trophy was capped off with a 6-4, 6-3 throttling of the great Roger Federer. You’ve heard of that guy, right? The 33-year-old Federer, who many have crowned as the GOAT, was no match for the athleticism and clean hitting of the Djoker. But Fed need not hang his head. Most tour pros have little chance to hang in there these days with the gluten-free ‘ball machine’ that is Novak Djokovic.
BOTTOM LINE: If Novak continues this kind of form, and I see no reason it won’t, he’ll win the French Open and the US Open this year and push his grand slam title count up to 10.
-Phil Mickelson has been at at the forefront of the golfing universe for well over two decades now. And he has always seemed to conjure up a bigger, more enthusiastic following than any of his peers. Why is this? I don’t now Phil personally, but he seems like a nice guy and an honest one at that. He recognizes when he chokes, when he makes a bone-head decision, but at the same time, past shortcomings don’t deter him from moving forward, visualizing that next shot at glory. That’s why we call him ‘The Thrill.’ But above all, he seems like one of us. Phil invites us in to share in the highs of his successes and the lows of his struggles. We feel like we made that miraculous up and down with trademark ‘Mickelson magic’ and we also feel our stomachs turn when he pushes a four-foot putt by the hole. He makes us want to pull for him. And maybe it’s this single trait that has me, along with so many fans around the globe, hooked. This past weekend at the Wells Fargo Championship was no different for Mickelson. He teased us. Friday, he surged, turning that 71 into the 66 he’s long talked about. The driver was connecting and the putts were rolling in with accompanying thunderous roars from the throngs of adoring supporters. The thought began percolating around the grounds…Phil could win. But it was all for naught. Saturday came…and so did the double bogeys. And so, the beat rolls on for Phil. His quest for the final missing piece in the career Grand Slam will continue this June at the US Open at Chambers Bay.
BOTTOM LINE: Many analysts say the US Open course fits his eye perfectly. But I’ve heard this story before and am in no place to make a pick here. Really, though, you just never know with Phil. He’s maddeningly heroic and frustrating at the same time. But that’s why we love him.
For more of my sports take, follow me on Twitter @mattdoakes