PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Northern Trust Open co-leader Sang-Moon Bae birdied half the golf course Friday, shot 6-under 65 and came into the press tent and said, “I can’t speak English very well. Please understand.”
I understand, his having been born and raised in South Korea and all. What I don’t understand is how someone No. 103 on the PGA Tour money list – or anybody, for that matter – can go out and birdie nine holes on a vaunted Riviera track that doesn’t have the smoothest of greens.
As co-third John Merrick said, echoing so many others from past years, “This is a course you can’t fake it around. You need to think around here and can’t just pull out driver on every hole or shoot at every flag, so you really have to know where to miss and position yourself.”
For Bae, though, it was more like Hogan’s Pitch and Putt than Hogan’s Alley.
You play like that and you don’t need to speak English. Your clubs not only talk, they scream.
And, remarkably, he made all those birdie putts despite the usual bumpy poa annua greens so common for years on the West Coast Swing. Let him explain, in English that is just fine.
“These greens are a little tricky and soft, and a little bumpy,” said Bae, tied up top at 9-under-par 133 with Swede Fredrik “Junk Man” Jacobson. “So playing is not easy.”
Jacobson said as much after shooting 65 himself thanks to seven birdies. “Poa annua is always going to be tricky, morning or afternoon,” he said.
Bae, though, made it look simple in the morning wave. But then he’s loaded with talent at age 26, as his rookie year in 2012 showed. He won $1.165 million. He got into a playoff at the Transitions Championship. He won three matches in the WGC-Accenture Match Play before losing to rock star Rory McIlroy in the quarterfinals.
So he’s on the radar of people who know too much about golf. Though you’d never know it by the transcript of his interview on Friday. In bold, capital letters on the top of the page he was identified as “SANG MOON-BAE” instead of “SANG-MOON BAE.”
I don’t know about you, but if I by some miracle made nine birdies at The Riv and then got my name butchered, I might have a kind word with the stenographer.
Or at least sign a legible autograph for her.
While we’re at it, someone named Fredrik Ulf Yngve Jacobson also is a candidate to have two or three names misspelled and a couple mispronounced. Stuff like that, though, isn’t likely to bother him at the moment because he’s just glad to be playing golf again.
Bulging disks sidelined the Junk Man for the better part of the past five months. He figures he played about six rounds during that stretch, instead practicing his putting in his house.
“It’s better now than I ever expected,” the winner of the 2011 Travelers Championship said of the back.
Rest, rehabilitation and ice got him up and running again at age 38 and, after a missed cut, he went to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am with low expectations and tied for seventh. The high finish moved him to No. 66 in the world, got him into next week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play and ramped up his confidence.
“Putting yourself in contention like that, in a pressure situation, that’s the best practice you can get,” Jacobson said.
You might say he and Bae are in a pressure situation entering Saturday, for numerous heavyweights lurk.
Among those within five shots of the lead are men named Luke Donald, Charl Schwartzel, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, defending champion Bill Haas, Matt Kuchar, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson.
Figures to be a wild weekend. In any language.