The King is Dead. Long Live the King.

 

Protection From Who?

 

Lee Westwood is the man who replaced Tiger Woods atop the World Golf Rankings.  The fickle ranking system had always been able to point to Tiger comfortably on top as proof of its efficiency, but when Tiger slid from the top rung and there wasn’t a dominant player to replace him, many golf people wondered just how accurate the rankings really were.  Westwood, though unquestionably one of the least dominant #1s ever, probably took a little more heat than he deserved.  He didn’t crown himself, but people looked at his general failure in closing out majors and poor PGA Tour record as signs that he was merely a place holder.  On Monday, Martin Kaymer will replace Westwood atop the rankings, and for the first time since Tiger left the top spot, there will be a number one with the look of a player who might stick around for a while.

Kaymer lost Sunday’s match play final to Luke Donald, who played out of his mind all week, but he was the only one of the number one seeds that looked anything like the part.  Phil Mickelson was torched by Rickie Fowler in the 2nd round, and he’ll be out of the top-5 on Monday.  Lee Westwood couldn’t make the 3rd round either, but they both did better than Tiger who lost on the opening day to Thomas Bjorn.  Kaymer, who plays the majority of his golf on the European Tour where he’s been winning with regularity for the last 12 months,  has now won the PGA Championship and finished 2nd in the WGC match play in his last two American starts.  If it wasn’t for Phil Mickelson’s recent dominance over Augusta National, Kaymer would be a cut and dried, runaway favorite to win the Masters.

The odd thing about Kaymer is that, at 26, isn’t much older than all the young phenoms that the golf world has tried to force down our throats in recent years.  Kim, McIlory, Fowler, Ishikawa, Day, the list goes on and on, but the sum total of those careers barely equal what Kaymer has done in relative anonymity.  Since Kaymer is German, he’s been blanketed with the standard adjectives: precise, calculating, stoic.  This is Bernhard Langer 2.0.  And, there is some truth in that.  Kaymer doesn’t seem much interested in celebrity status or amassing Twitter followers.  The question is, is having Kaymer on top good for golf?

The default opinion is that Tiger needs to get back to number one, but right now Tiger is so far from being in the discussion, that you have to start contemplating a golf world where Tiger does not reascend to the throne.  The reason that McIlroy, Kim, Fowler and company get all the attention is because they are the players that look capable of carrying the torch.  Right now, Kaymer looks capable of winning a lot of golf tournaments, but past that, who knows?  I think Kaymer, because of his approach, is going to have to win a tremendous amount to capture the American golf audience.  And, even then he might only earn begrudging respect.

Since the Europeans have taken over golf (currently 4 of the top 5 players for the first time since ’92), it has been interesting for me to gauge reaction to this on various golf blogs and the like.  I think Americans have always liked to look down at the European Tour to a certain extent, and because of that attitude, European golf fans have developed an incredible chip on their shoulders.  They remind me a bit of Jets fans.  At their first chance they began hooting and hollering, but unlike Jets fans they actually have some real things to celebrate these days.  Your standard American golf fan, though, still seems unimpressed and disinterested in the Euros (I know they can play, just constantly root against them).  While I think a rivalry could be good, if it goes back and forth, I wonder what will happen if the Americans continue to lose their grip in the rankings.  Could golf be headed for a swoon like tennis faces in this country without a lineup of American stars?  I think in Europe they are accustomed to watching golf with just a sprinkling of players from their own country, but if that were to happen here, I wonder if we’d just as soon tune out for good.

 

With Expectation Comes Worry.

 

Has a Tendon.

The whole soreness story never made a lot of sense.  Chase Utley came into camp in great shape, and the 2nd week of workouts didn’t seem like a time when you’d suddenly get sore, but I’m sure the Phillies knew the words MRI and tendinitis would set off a wave of panic.  So, I guess they waited a couple days and hoped for the best, but eventually stonewalling the media becomes a secondary concern to the starting 2nd baseman’s health.  Utley had an MRI which revealed patellar tendinitis, and he’s labeled himself day-to-day.  I don’t think anyone knows for sure when he’ll make his debut, though, and I think that has probably planted a seed of doubt in the minds of many fans.  Utley is the tough, but recently fragile superstar, and there are better ways to start spring training than battling tendinitis.

It’s going to be a long year for this type of story, though.  People are holding their breath with this team.  It almost feels like the only way to go is down.  There isn’t a lot that can go unexpectedly right for this team.  Every time one of the aces pitches well, it comes with a nod of expectation.  Most of the offensive starters have huge seasons in their past to live up to.  So, considering all that, about the only thing to do is wait for things to go unexpectedly wrong or panic at everything that doesn’t go right.  Injuries like the one Utley has now will be a concern, there are probably people lamenting Dom Brown’s 3 strikeouts on Sunday.  It’s going to be that type of year, especially until the games start for real and people can start keeping score.

It was a pretty uneventful opening weekend against the Yankees.  All the pitchers you need to worry about looked pretty sharp.  I’ll admit that with all the hype surrounding Cole Hamels’ early form, I was expecting him to charge out of the dugout and start hitting Aroldis Chapman numbers on the gun.  As it turned out, Cole threw pretty well and hit the low-90s.  It’s more encouraging when you remember Cole has spent past springs trying to rally past 80 on his opening outing.  Joe “The Thumb” Blanton threw well on Sunday making it business as usual so far for the starting staff.  The mantra to repeat for the next week or so will always be, pitching is ahead of hitting.  That’s one of those old baseball adages that you hear so often that there is no choice but to consider it gospel.

I guess Ben Francisco’s big weekend will get him a little respect in the race for right field.  Francisco had a few extra base hits, has the Phillies’ only homer and if the season started tomorrow….maybe he’d be out there in right field.  The thing with this battle for right field is, the fans would probably prefer Brown out there, because he’s the hot commodity, but if Francisco takes charge they will latch onto him immediately.  If Francisco hits, there will be plenty of Phillies fans willing to pack Dom up for Lehigh Valley.

Nothing really else of note.  Halladay gets the Jays for a couple of innings on Monday, and I guess we should touch on Jayson Werth ruining his initial Pat Burrell reception with his “I hate the Phillies,” quote.  Sounds like the culprits are backpedaling off it, but I’d imagine they said it, and that’s all it will take for Phillies fans.  They might bury Werth when he comes back now, especially since it looks like Jayson is going to be talking all spring.  Expect a rash of Philly fans are a-holes stories come out during Washington’s first visit.  The city that booed Santa Claus boos its former All-Star right-fielder.  The horror.