McCabe: Mulligans for those in need in 2011

From left, Dustin Johnson, Jason Dufner and Rory McIlroy

From left, Dustin Johnson, Jason Dufner and Rory McIlroy

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With holiday cheer, I come bearing gifts. Mulligans, to be exact, and while many would like them, there are but five to be delivered. (Hey, times are tough. Gift bags aren’t what they used to be.)

They will go to those for whom the 2011 season might have been far different if not for one errant swing of the club.

• • •

Rory McIlroy at the Masters

He began the final round with a four-stroke lead and labored through a difficult front nine. Everyone was charging at him – Tiger Woods, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Luke Donald, Geoff Ogilvy, Bo Van Pelt, even Jimmy Demaret and Billy Joe Patton, if I remember correctly.

But the young man from Holywood hung tough and took a one-stroke lead to the 10th tee and . . . well, this is where he gets a do-over, a late-afternoon “breakfast ball,” so to speak.

Forget the wild hook that went where no drive had ever gone in the history of the Masters. Forget the ensuing triple bogey, followed by the bogey, followed by the four-putt double bogey. Forget the final-round 80 and crash into a share of 15th.

With another chance to pump one into the 10th fairway, one of the game’s most engaging personalities very well could have scripted a different end to the season’s first major.

(What’s that, you say? What about the school of thought that says McIlroy’s travails at Augusta made him stronger and poured the foundation for his eight-stroke win two months later at the U.S. Open? Hey, my gift bag, my choice. And maybe with a do-over at Augusta, McIlroy wins the first two majors and throws even more electricity onto the golf stage.)

• • •

David Toms at The Players

A do-over for the 3 1/2-footer he missed on the first playoff hole, the island-green 17th?

Nah. It was a bad putt by a terrific putter, and those things happen.

But taking a full swing from 233 yards to a green guarded by water right, all the while wondering if you’re making the right play? Now that’s the sort of stuff covered in Competitive Golf 101, and the 44-year-old Toms knew he made a rookie mistake.

“Should have laid up,” he said.

What’s more, his caddie, Scott Gneiser, knew it, too.

“I should have talked him out of it,” Gneiser said.

A mulligan would spare both quality men such guilt.

As he stood in the fairway at the par-5 16th in Sunday’s final round of The Players Championship, Toms led by one over K.J. Choi. He had 233 to the hole and asked Gneiser, “you like-2 iron?”

Gneiser wasn’t sure, and it turns out that Toms wasn’t either. When the veteran came up and out of the swing, the ball headed right to sleep with the fish, and both player and caddie knew they had made the wrong play. Now down by one to Choi, Toms momentarily dashed the nightmare aside by draining an 18-foot birdie at the 72nd hole to force a playoff, but he three-putted for bogey at the 17th to lose.

Though truly, it’s the swing from the 16th fairway that cost him the tournament, which is why it’s in the gift bag.

• • • 

Dustin Johnson at the Open Championship

Yes, we’ve been here before with the talented American. At the U.S. Open in 2010 (poor second shot into the second hole) and the PGA Championship a few months later (oh, that bunker), in fact. Two majors that might be in his trophy case if do-overs were available.

This year, one will be offered to Johnson for his ill-advised play from the fairway at the par-5 14th at Royal St. George’s with a Claret Jug within his grasp.

“Probably should have hit 3-wood,” Johnson later conceded.

Instead, he thought 2-iron from 250 yards was enough, only it wasn’t and Johnson saw his ball flare wide right and beyond the white out-of-bounds stakes.

Having cut his deficit from four to two with birdies at the 10th and 12th, Johnson seemingly was in position to get within one of Darren Clarke, given Johnson's massive length advantage at the 14th. But he made double, Clarke made par, and Johnson was four back with four to play.

Game, set, major.

But if we reach into this magic bag of mulligans, maybe, just maybe, things would have been different.

• • • 

Jason Dufner at the PGA Championship

With four holes to play, his thought at the 15th tee in Sunday’s final round of – roll the drum, please – “Glory’s Last Shot” was whether to employ a 3-iron or 5-wood. Dufner swears he didn’t even know he was leading by five.

Thus the offer for a do-over. Full knowledge of the situation is not only important, it’s imperative. And while there’s no denying that a 259-yard tee shot, even if it is downhill, to a green protected on the right by water is a shot fraught with peril, knowing your lead is five makes it a bit more comfortable, no?

The sticky part in Dufner’s situation is this – which shot to let him have over? The 3-iron off the 15th tee that floated right and into the water? Or the 4-iron into the 16th green that was mis-hit and led to another bogey?

Consider it a gift certificate, to be used where he sees fit.

It still might not be enough to derail that rookie sensation, Keegan Bradley, but Dufner is on the threshold of great things, and he’s deserving of this re-do.

• • • 

Chez Reavie at the Deutsche Bank Championship

One of the season’s feel-good stories, Reavie had started with full medical status, didn’t play well enough to take advantage of that, then shockingly caught fire, enough to get into the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Amid a backdrop of top-ranked players in contention during Labor Day Monday outside of Boston – Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Brandt Snedeker, Webb Simpson, Luke Donald – it was No. 169 in your world order, Reavie, who stepped forward. He had one hand on the trophy and just 117 yards to the par-5 18th, the easiest hole at TPC Boston.

A birdie seemed likely. A par seemed logical. Victory was his . . . then came a “one in a hundred,” Simpson said. Reavie was long and left on his wedge shot, made bogey and lost in a playoff to Simpson.

“I think we got given one today. I still feel bad for (Reavie),” Simpson said.

So do I, which is why the gift is headed his way.

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