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PGA Tour's Winter Report Card
Both rumors are true. Yes, some places in the Northeast can finally see the ground now. It's probably just the snowstorms, catching their breath. And yes, the Winter Olympics are over. They can put the double-axels away for a few years.
Another rumor is not true. "Dubuisson" is not the way the French spell Ballesteros. It's his own real name, Victor Dubuisson. He's 23 and, until last weekend, as unknown as they get. Unless you were in Antalya last November, you probably don't know he was the guy who won the Turkish Airlines Open, which helped get him into the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, where he had no chance in the final Sunday in the Arizona desert.
Except that he kept getting up and down from rocks, dead limbs, cactus, sand, TV cables - everything but rusted-out cars, and you wouldn't want to bet against him then, either. He forced Australia's Jason Day deep into overtime before losing on the 23rd hole. Maybe a new chapter in golf has opened.
And, with that said, we have come - in a manner of speaking - to golf's Spring Break, with eight tournaments having been played and the PGA Tour leaving the West and heading for the Florida Swing. It's time for the report card.
We should start with the head of the class, Tiger Woods, but he has been absent and silent. There has not been so much as a "State of the Tiger Address," not even an announcement of a multimillion-dollar endorsement. A year ago at this time he had already won, kicking off a resurrecting, five-win year. That was the Farmers Insurance Open in January, in fact. As defending champion this year he bombed like a weekender. And this was at Torrey Pines, his personal playground, where he'd won eight times. In the third round, he made back-to-back double-bogeys around the turn and then ran off five straight bogeys. He shot 79 and missed the 54-hole cut. On his way out, on being asked for an interview, he replied, "No, I'm through." He meant for the week, of course. He went to the Dubai Desert Classic, where he tied for 41st.
For a grade, Woods gets a ho-hum.
Woods will resurface this week at the Honda Classic and join Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, much to the joy of the officials at PGA National in Palm Beach. They'd been feeling like poor cousins the way the big names were ignoring them.
McIlroy said it himself: his first win of 2014 was getting engaged to tennis star Carol Wozniacki, on New Year's Day. He shouted it in a tweet. A month later, it was back to the blahs. He was on track for a shot at the Dubai Desert Classic, tied for the lead heading into the final nine. Then he broke down. Next, he lost in the second round of the Accenture. Maybe the Honda will have some magic. He won it in 2012. He gets a "C." Maybe a "C-Plus" for a good attitude.
P.S. Whether McIlroy's drought is still going strong depends on how you grade victories. He did win the Australian Open in December, his only title of 2013, and he beat Masters champ Adam Scott in the process.
It's a "C" for Mickelson. You can give him a pass for withdrawing from the Farmers in January. A sore back to a golfer is like a sore ankle to a figure skater. But he was less than noteworthy in his next two outings - a tie for 42nd in the Waste Management Open and a T-19 at the AT&T Pebble Beach.
By the way, they're nothing if not prudent at the Honda Classic. Woods and Mickelson are both teeing off at 6:45 a.m. in the first round - with Woods at No. 1, Mickelson at No. 10. No point in tempting fate. Give the Honda folks an "A-Plus."
There are some "A's" to hand out.
• Bubba Watson was beginning to look a bit like a one-trick pony after taking the 2012 Masters with such a dazzling finish. Much was expected of him after that display, but he went dark. It was a year and 10 months before he put it together again, this in the Northern Trust at Riviera about two weeks ago. "My last win could have been the Masters, which would have been a great way to go out," Watson said afterward. "I never felt down that I haven't won yet, but just kept plugging along. And somehow, it fell in my lap today."
• Not sure how to grade this one: "Logo" Lee Westwood, alarmed at the state of his game, unloaded guru du jour Sean Foley and turned to, well, his old caddie, Billy Foster. "I reached world No. 1 with him a couple of years ago," Westwood explained, "so hopefully, he will be the catalyst to getting my game back into shape, where it should be, really."
• It's not often that a guy's haircut gets headlines. But it's Rickie Fowler's haircut, and now his headlines. He used to look like he was wearing a hat full of hair. Now he looks a lot less Johnny Depp-ish and a lot more like the sophomore next door. He still likes the prison orange for Sundays.
• Question you'd like to ask Dubuisson: Ever meet Jean van de Velde?
Marino Parascenzo can assure you that hanging around with great and famous pro golfers does nothing to help your game. They just won't give you the secret. But it makes for a dandy career. As a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (now retired), Parascenzo covered the whole gamut of sports - Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Pitt, Penn State and others - but golf was his favorite. As the beat writer for the paper, he covered all the stateside majors and numerous other pro events, and as a freelancer handled reporting duties for the British Open and other tournaments overseas - in Britain, Spain, Italy, the Caribbean, South Africa, China and Malayasia. Marino has won more than 20 national golf-writing awards, along with state and regional honors. He has received the Memorial Tournament's Golf Journalism Award and the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. His writing has appeared in numerous magazines, among them Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and in anthologies and foreign publications. He also wrote the history of Oakmont Country Club. Parascenzo is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is on its board of directors. He is the founder and chairman of the GWAA's Journalism Scholarship Program. He is a graduate of Penn State and was an adjunct instructor in journalism at Pitt.