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And the No. 1 Player in Golf Is -- Uhh, Wait, Wait a Second, It's -- Umm?
June 15, 2011  | By Gerald Jordan
 
Luke-Donald-golfer.jpg

Who is this guy?

This isn't a feeble attempt to test your golf I.Q. It's more like a feeble attempt to slide NBC viewers a crib sheet before players tee off Thursday for this year's U.S. Open. Luke Donald is the No. 1 ranked professional golfer in the world. Lee Westwood is second. Martin Kaymer is third.

Mind you, the broadcasters' descriptive "World's No. 1" and Tiger Woods were coupled for so long that it seemed the gifted one would take that title to his grave. Not so, though, in golf world. Ask any weekend hacker; the golf gods can be fickle -- even when it comes to the fate of one of their own: Tiger Woods.

So when the top three players in the world tee off in the Open, drivers will land crushing blows to perfectly dimpled golf balls, but most of the world will not hear a sound. Worse, the Sunday finale might prove similarly quiet. In both cases, this existential moment is brought to you by the now sad collapse of Tiger Woods.

tiger-woods-2008-us-open-victory.jpg

This week was supposed to bring redemption, at least on the links, for the man whose own bad behavior destroyed his marriage and turned big-bucks sponsors, along with a good chunk of an adoring public, against him. His near-miss in the Masters this year was a cruel tease. Tiger was on course, literally, to return to greatness. The wicked irony, though, is that instead of a legendary, courageous playoff victory while limping on a broken bone and a wounded knee (see 2008 U.S. Open), Tiger Woods will watch this U.S. Open from behind the ropes and on the disabled list.

Alas, poor NBC will be granny-free this weekend. Many have said that their grandmothers, who know nothing about golf, watch Sunday finishes when Tiger Woods is in contention. Those who think that an albatross is a bad thing won't watch this Tigerless U.S. Open. Tiger lures the casual audience to golf broadcasts.

Nearly as bad, though, for NBC, is the fact that the highest ranked American player is Steve Stricker, wholly a fine gent, but not exactly a household name outside golf homes. Striker is No. 4 in the world and also two-time Comeback Player of the Year.

Here's what NBC needs: the 2011 version of Francis Ouimet.

Quick golf /movie history lesson.

Francis-Ouimet-1913-US-Open.jpg

At age 20, the former caddie, who was the son of a poor immigrant family, won the 1913 U.S. Open. And the youngster didn't just catch lightning in a bottle during a down year for golf. Francis Ouimet defeated British legends Harry Vardon (yes, he of the Vardon grip!) and Ted Ray.

Nearly a century later, NBC would dearly love to have such a captivating character seize the national stage. For the fashion conscious, Ricky Fowler comes to mind. This young man with no reservations about wearing flamboyant colors has a colorful game to match, but his sticks have cooled off lately. Phil Mickelson (No. 5 in the world) is popular, but not fresh on the scene. Dustin Johnson launches a golf ball in the way that awakens most men from sweat-soaked dreams. If only. Fred Couples is perpetually popular, but at that age when the nearly 4.5-mile walk in Washington, D.C., heat takes a toll by Day 3 of the four-day tournament.

The breathtaking course alone -- beautiful Congressional -- is enough to entice hard-core golf audiences, even with a field of players whose last names are followed by the question "Who?"

For casual viewers, though, your best bet is to rent The Greatest Game Ever Played, and enjoy the saga of the 1913 U.S. Open.

(BTW, that guy at the top is world No. 1 golfer Luke Donald.)

[TV schedule for the 2011 U.S. Open, all times ET -- Thursday 10 a.m. on ESPN, 3 p.m. on NBC; Friday 10 a.m. on ESPN, 3 p.m. on NBC; Saturday at 2 p.m. on NBC; Sunday at 1:30 p.m. on NBC.]

 
 
 
 
 
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