Nothing quite beats August Optimism.  The college football teams that emerge from Labor Day weekend unscathed feel good about the possibilities ahead… while those schools on the other side of the equation wonder how long the fall (the season and the action) will be.  Wisconsin was well on its way to beating the Big Ten Drum…until the fourth quarter happened against LSU.  Penn State may have jet lag for another few weeks after escaping upset in Ireland against Central Florida–I’m sorry, “UCF”.  I think that AAC school is trying to get accidental hits from people searching for UFC sites.  Oklahoma State–despite defeat– has a lot to look forward to after coming up short against #1 Florida State.  The area schools?  Stock is high in College Park… holding in Blacksburg and Annapolis…and volatile in Charlottesville.

 

Alma Mater Update–a double overtime one point win over Villanova makes one wonder if Derek Coleman had a double-double…not Friday night’s near-disaster.  When you need a fake field goal in OT and a missed 2-point conversion to beat a CAA team…it’s a less than stellar season opener.  When your starting quarterback gets tossed for throwing a punch…it’s even less awesome.  When does Wagner come to the Dome?

 

Maryland kicked off the season with a 52-7 smackdown of James Madison.  Two CJ Brown touchdowns stand out– one where he pump-faked to his right before taking off to his left for the endzone…and then a 4th and goal from the 2 where he ran over one of his offensive linemen en route to paydirt.  Let the record show that James Madison remains the smallest of our Presidents, standing only 5 feet 4 and weighing barely 100 pounds.  Terrapin Triumphs– the offensive line allowed no sacks and helped the ground game rumble for 285 yards…the defense held JMU to 4-19 on third down and picked off Vad Lee twice…special teams generated a 35 yard punt return and a 59 yard kickoff return.  Terrapin Troubles– CJ Brown had a less than stellar passing day (11-24=111 yards and a TD)…earlier this month he said he was working on his deep ball.  Saturday he was having issues with intermediate throws as well.  Next– Saturday at South Florida.

 

Virginia missed a chance at what would have been the biggest upset of the weeekend…falling 28-20 to #7 UCLA thanks to three defensive touchdowns by the Bruins.  The sky may not be falling… but I’d get indoors.  Cavalier Congrats– the defense held the Bruins to 3.0 yards a carry and made Heisman hopeful Brett Hundley look ordinary… Matt Johns looked decent in his relief appearance… true freshman WR Doni Dowling caught 5 passes.  Cavalier Concerns– Greyson Lambert threw a pair of pick sixes in the first half and was benched…looking more like a Vineyard Vines shirt than an ACC quarterback.  Kevin Parks was limited to 55 yards on 17 carries.  The whole thing with UCLA scoring on 3 turnovers?  You’ve got to play to the whistle– even when it’s a turnover.  Next– Saturday against Richmond.

 

Virginia Tech kept things interesting in the first half against William & Mary…before blowing out the Tribe 34-9.  The post-Logan Thomas era kicks off with a victory…and plenty of optimism.  Hokie Highlights– Michael Brewer threw for 251 yards in his first start… the defense held W&M to 1-12 on third down… freshman Shai McKenzie follows the footsteps of Trey Edmunds (who gained over 100 yards against Alabama in his debut) by rushing for 106 yards on only 9 carries.  Hokie Humblings– 10 penalties for 75 yards is not going to help you against the Dukes and Miamis… I’m still not sold on the revamped running game (Marshawn Williams and J.C. Coleman combining for 61 yards on 22 carries)…and Brewer didn’t look that great (10.9 yards per completion plus an interception).  Next–Saturday at #5 Ohio State.

 

Navy had #5 Ohio State on the ropes…before losing 34-17 to the Buckeyes as OSU scores touchdowns on its final three possessions.  Midshipmen Markups– 370 yards rushing against anybody’s pretty good (let alone a top 5 team)… Ryan Williams-Jenkins rushed for 118 yards… the defense held OSU to 2 for 8 on third down.  Midshipmen Miscues– Keenan Reynolds was obviously the Buckeyes defensive focal point, and he was held to under 2 yards per carry and completed just 2 passes.  A missed field goal at the end of the first half and a fumble at the beginning of the second half closed an already small window of  opportunity.  The defense after coughing up an 80-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter allowed scoring drives of 80 and 70 yards in the fourth.  Next– Saturday at Temple.

College football doesn’t technically have a preseason…although one might beg to differ after looking at a few of the games on the Labor Day weekend schedule.   Oregon-South Dakota?  North Carolina-Liberty?  Glorified scrimmages that pale in comparison to real games like Auburn-Arkansas and Georgia-Clemson.  For schools that don’t wade into the shallow end there’s always the danger of losing 52-28 like South Carolina (as you can see, there’s no D in South Carolina, Gamecocks or Spurrier).

 

Alma Mater Update– Syracuse-Villanova is a great Carrier Dome matchup…in February.  With first place in the Big East on the line and Jim Boeheim picking his nose on camera.  The Orange begin year two in the ACC with a Friday night showdown against the Wildcats (6-5 last season).  Terrell Hunt after winning the starting quarterback job last year has to show he’s more than just better than Drew Allen… can he average more than 10 yards per completion?  Will the runningback rotation of thrice named Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore get their pass protection and hyphen placement right?  Break out the wings…with two containers of bleu cheese.  Like teams that alternate tailbacks, I set the “wing that’s on deck” in the sauce while I eat the other that’s already been dipped.

 

Maryland entertains James Madison– the Terps barely beat JMU five years ago, 38-35 in overtime.  CJ Brown was redshirting that year– and now the sixth year senior kicks off his final (we believe) season in school by facing his brother Jordan (a free safety for the Dukes).  JMU is coming off a 6-6 season where they didn’t win away from Harrisonburg.  Coach Randy Edsall is 3-0 in season openers in College Park–and although they’ve won both games against the Dukes by single digits (23-15 in 1998 the other game), the Terrapins are just too talented to slip up here.  Terps triumph, 41-16.

 

Virginia Tech hosts William & Mary– beware the ampersand.  The Tribe’s made life miserable for I-A/FBS opponents recently…losing by one to Maryland in 2012 and falling by seven to West Virginia last year.  Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer takes over for the departing Logan Thomas– will he have an effective running game to ease his transition?  Last year’s ground attack ranked 106th in the nation–and sophomore Trey Edmunds is banged up heading into Saturday’s opener.  Will a special teams unit that suffered more than a few breakdowns last year live up to its “Beamer Ball” name?  Hokies handle the Tribe, 36-17.

 

Virginia faces #7 UCLA– did Mike London not get the “Cupcakes will be served Labor Day weekend” memo?  Many are picking the Bruins to not only win the Pac-12 but be in the upcoming College Football Playoff.  After winning 2 games last year– this is how you get off the mat?  Much will be expected of runningback Kevin Parks as Greyson Lambert still sounds more like a shirt brand at Vineyard Vines than a quarterback in the ACC.  But Bruins beware— UVa is 4-0 in season openers under London.  Sadly this means that the team is 14-31 the rest of the way under their current coach.  Cavaliers come up short, 34-13.

 

Navy entertains #5 Ohio State–  Braxton Miller’s absence no doubt will give the Midshipmen reason for optimism…but the Buckeyes boast 11 other returning starters.  Keenan Robinson pilots the Mids option attack…fresh off a 2013 season where he ran and passed for over 1000 yards, but against major conference competition last year (Duke, Pitt, Notre Dame) the senior completed 50% of his passes and gained less than 3 yards a carry.  The game while not being played in Annapolis will be held nearby at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium.  Under Urban Meyer Ohio State is 10-1 away from Columbus (not as good as the 14-0 record at the Horseshoe, but still…).  Midshipmen fall 32-14.

 

Howard falls to Akron, Georgetown over Wagner, Richmond beats Morehead State, Towson torches Central Connecticut State, Morgan State slips to Eastern Michigan, Old Dominion hammers Hampton.

 

Last Year: 68-29.

 

Welcome back for another exciting season…as area teams prepare for their respective 12 game assaults on greatness.  Greatness is a term that changes based on location…a great season for a Maryland entering the Big Ten isn’t the same as Virginia trying to wash away the stain from a 2013 nightmare.  While Virginia Tech expects a shot at a major bowl…Navy’s expectations are justifiably different.  Taking a closer look at the four major area schools:

 

Maryland (7-6 last season with a 3-5 ACC record,  lost to Marshall in the Military Bowl)

Causes for Confidence—6th year senior quarterback CJ Brown keeps defenses honest with his feet (over 500 yards rushing last year) while possessing downfield weapons in wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long.  The defense returns nine starters.  A semi-soft non-league schedule (James Madison, South Florida, Syracuse and West Virginia) leads into a Big Ten slate that begins with Indiana and ends with Rutgers.

Causes for Concern—the gauntlet from October 4th through November 22nd involves six opponents all receiving votes in the AP Preseason Poll.  A defense that has yet to prove it can turn opponents over.  Can CJ Brown stay healthy?  Injuries cost him two games and parts of two others last season…the Terps going 1-3 over those four outings.  Maryland’s also faded under coach Randy Edsall:  going 4-9 in October and 2-10 in November since he arrived in 2011.

Preston’s Prognosis:  7-5 (4-4 in the Big Ten) with a trip to the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit December 26th against an ACC team.

 

 

Virginia Tech (8-5 last season with a 5-3 ACC record, lost to UCLA in the Sun Bowl)

Causes for Confidence—Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer completed over 70 percent of his passes while with the Red Raiders.  A revamped running game should be much better than the ground attack that ranked 106th in Division I last year.  The Hokies also haven’t gone more than three years without playing for an ACC Championship and the Coastal Division is soft—Duke (?!) was last years representative.

Causes for Concern—recently the Hokies have had more than their share of hiccups in September…almost losing to East Carolina and Marshall last year while falling to Cincinnati and James Madison in recent seasons.  Last year’s leading rusher Trey Edmunds begins the year banged up.  Special Teams was a disaster last year…can they bring Beamer Ball back?

Preston’s Prognosis: 10-2 (7-1 in the ACC) with a trip to the ACC Title game (losing to Florida State) before heading to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

 

 

Virginia (2-10 last season with an 0-8 ACC record)

Causes for Confidence—things can’t be simply as bad as last year’s hot mess.  Greyson Lambert despite sounding like a designer shirt is the answer at quarterback.  Kevin Parks (1000+ yards rushing in 2013) continues to be the security blanket for the Cavaliers offense.  Coach Mike London’s brought in several highly touted recruiting classes…and it’s only a matter of time before that begins to pay off.

Causes for Concern—an unforgiving September schedule that includes #7 UCLA and a Louisville team that went 12-1 last year…plus a trip to BYU still smarting from last year’s thunderstorm-aided upset at Scott Stadium. Can Greyson Lambert remain upright behind a rebuilding offensive line?  Despite the ballyhooed recruiting classes UVa’s posted just two winning seasons since 2005… can the culture in Charlottesville change in time to save Mike London’s job?

Preston’s Prognosis: 5-7 (3-5 in the ACC) capped with another loss to Virginia Tech in the final game of the season.

 

 

Navy (9-4 last season with a win over Middle Tennessee in the Armed Forces Bowl)

Causes for Confidence—Keenan Reynolds is the ultimate dual threat at quarterback (1038 yards passing, 1260 yards rushing in 2013).  The Midshipmen option is tough for teams to prepare against.  The schedule offers more than a few winnable games (Temple, Texas State) while the two name opponents have issues:  #5 Ohio State losing quarterback Braxton Miller to injury, #17 Notre Dame suspending four players for academics.

Causes for Concern—did anybody see the Mids losing to Toledo last year?  Needing triple overtime to squeak by San Jose State?  Georgia Southern beat Florida in Gainesville last season…and they come to Annapolis November 15th.  Which is more than Ohio State or Notre Dame do—the Buckeyes game will be at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and the Fighting Irish come to Fed Ex Field in Landover.  So much for “home field advantage”.

Preston’s Prognosis:  9-3 highlighted by a season-making victory over Army.  The bowl trip is merely gravy.

 

Welcome to the sliding scale of the NFL– August Adjusted Expectations mean an offense that struggles is merely hitting its stride.  A player underperforming is simply finding himself.  A unit with issues is just a work in progress…and a series of rough outings are a limited sample size.  The first two (and fourth) preseason games are discounted because the bulk of the snaps in those games are played by people not on the active gameday roster once the regular season arrives…meaning the third preseason game is the only one that matters.  Except when it doesn’t.  The Redskins 23-17 loss in Baltimore means hopes for a second straight unbeaten preseason fall by the wayside…as subjectivity is the MVP this month. 

 

RG3ver– the face of the franchise completed 5 of 8 passes with a third-quarter interception…and it’s been a less than awesome August.  Griffin’s numbers through three games of limited work: 13-20 for 141 yards and 2 interceptions…resulting in a passer rating of 46.  Perhaps he needs work Thursday in Tampa bay?

 

The Backup Steps Up– Kirk Cousins continues to have that Babe Laufenberg shine…completing 14 of 20 passes for 122 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Cousins’ passer rating this preseason?  A Laufenbergesqe 101.6!!!  Even though the vast majority of his reps this month have come against backups…no less than Redskins TV analyst Joe Theismann said that if there was a QB competition, there’d be no competition between the two.  Does this August provide a launching pad for Cousins career somewhere else?  In an unrelated item, St Louis quarterback Sam Bradford is done for the year with a torn ACL– meaning the Rams’ hopes in 2014 rest on the shoulders of  34 year old Shaun Hill (yes, that Shaun Hill). 

 

Runningback Roulette– Alfred Morris (6 carries for 29 yards) looks ready for the regular season while Roy Helu Jr (7-30 plus a 3-yard catch) and Evan Royster (1-3, 2 receptions for 26 yards) appear to have backup positions in hand.  Does Chris Thompson’s injury issues end his stay?  Will Silas Redd and Lache Seastrunk make one final push for a roster spot Thursday?

 

Third and Whatever– the Skins moved the chains on 7 of 14 attempts… Robert Griffin III converting on 1 of 6 attempts– getting sacked twice and fumbling once.  RG3’s big play (a 29-yard completion to Jordan Reed) was wiped out by a holding penalty.   Kirk Cousins gets the job done on 6 of 8 chances…including an 11-yard TD pass to Santana Moss.  Yardage breakdown:  2 for 3 on 3rd and short (1-3 yards needed)… 2 for 3 on 3rd and medium (4-6 yards necessary)…3-8 on 3rd and long (7+).  What’s discouraging is the majority of third down plays were long-yardage.

 

Hatching a Pass Rush-- Jason Hatcher after being on the sidelines for the bulk of hte summer made his debut– notching a sack.  THAT IS WHY YOU SIGN HIM!  Trent Murphy and Ryan Kerrigan also tallied sacks in the losing effort.  For a unit that ranked 21st in the league in sacks last fall– anything is encouraging.

 

Flying Flags– after tallying 21 penalties the first two weeks…the Redskins were penalized 7 times for 61 yards against the Ravens.  Breakdown by unit:  two offensive (one hold, one false start), four defensive (neutral zone infraction,  pass interference, personal foul and illegal use of the hands), and one special teams (low block).   The hold against Trent Williams robbed Griffin and the first team of a 29 yard gain.  Two defensive flags proved costly:  Brandon Merriweather’s personal foul turned a 4th and 4 from the Ravens 49 into a 1st and 10 on the Skins 36–(resulting in a field goal)–and David Amerson’s illegal use of the hands created a 1st down at the Skins 40 (Ravens would get a touchdown two plays later).

 

Cobra Kai-Zach Attack III…this time it’s personal— minimal chances in the kicking competition as Kai Forbath converted on his 32 yard field goal and extra point attempt– while Zach Hocker made his lone point-after attempt.  The kickoffs saw Forbath sending one into the endzone and another to the goal line…while Hocker’s kickoffs reached the Ravens 1 & 6 yard-lines.  While early stalemates favor the challenger…later deadlocks often favor the defending champ.  Will Thursday’s game provide a moment of separation?

So the Skins won in preseason.  Again.  Yes, that’s eight straight August triumphs for the Burgundy and Gold…as they force an incomplete pass on Cleveland’s potential game-winning two point conversion attempt to hold off the Browns 24-23.  Kudos to Cleveland for not kicking the extra point and potentially sending a Monday night preseason game into overtime.  The big question is in mid-August, what can you really put your finger on in the second of four dress rehearsals?  Outside of Johnny Manziel’s digital extension, that is. 

 

Johnny might not be able read…but he can certainly SIGN– and we’re not talking about autographs for cash.  Cleveland’s latest first round draft pick quarterback completed less than half of his passes–but did connect in his only attempt to hurl an obscene gesture at the Redskins bench.  Naturally just about every camera was on Mr. Manziel, so now in addition to bad decisions in the pocket the face of their franchise (who can’t start at his position) has that to answer for.  Which may be easier than answering why he’s not going to win the starting job from a journeyman.

 

RG3VER– the face of the franchise completes 6 of 8 passes for 112 yards…but his first drive ended with a fumble, the second ended with an interception in the red zone, and the third possession ended with an unsuccessful attempt at 4th and goal from the one.  Zero points over three chances against a Browns defense not scheming for you is less than ideal.

 

C & C Factory– after shining against New England in week one, the Cousins and Colt Combination looked a little shakier against the Browns– each tossing an interception.  Cousins’ INT could have easily been run back for a score as well… but he looked much better than Colt who needed a 30-yard touchdown strike to stay in the conversation.  The biggest backup disappointment?  No Rex Grossman on the field in Turnoverasaurus Rex’s return to Fed Ex.

 

For Alfred, it’s only August;  for Lache it’s August Only– Mr. Morris ran the ball 11 times for 29 yards… and got stuffed on 3rd and 4th down on the goal line in the 2nd quarter.  But it’s only August…and the man who’s gained over 2,800 yards over his first two seasons should be ready to go September 7th.  Lache Seastrunk once again led the team in rushing and is making a case for a spot on a roster here or elsewhere (if he doesn’t wind up on the Skins practice squad).

 

The Rare Rookie Receiver– while everybody was looking forward to and pleased with Desean Jackson’s play (2 receptions for 34 yards) but Ryan Grant was the wideout who stood out– tallying 4 catches for 44 yards and a touchdown.  Two other receivers made in-game cases for sticking– Rashad Ross made a 43-yard catch while Nick Williams caught a 30-yard touchdown pass.

 

Third and a Work in Progress– the team went 5-11 in moving the chains:  Robert Griffin III went 0-3, Kirk Cousins 3-5, Colt McCoy 2-3.  Play selection: 9 runs and 3 passes.  Distance breakdown:  3-4 on third and short (1-3 yards needed), 1-2 on third and 4-6, 1-5 on third and long (7+ yards).  Let’s see how they fare after a short work-week preparing for the Ravens.

 

Defensive Differences–  Ryan Kerrigan shined with 2 sacks…while Will Compton made his case with 6 stops (1 for loss) and Bashaud Breeland added something to his file over and above his marijuana bust by notching 5 tackles and 2 passes defensed.  Yes, the D gave up 23 points–but had held the Browns to 3 and out on five of their first six possessions.

 

Flying Flags– another night with a heavy laundry load…11 penalties for 100 yards is not ideal…even though the last four infractions were made by players on the roster bubble.  Five penalties were against the offense–including two false starts against Robert Griffin III.  Two holds came against lineman likely squeezed out (Maurice Hurt and Josh LeRibeus) of the regular rotation…and Andre Roberts’ pass interference was negated by a Browns defensive hold on the next play.  Defensive flags came against Perry Riley (facemask after 4 yard Browns gain), EJ Biggers (holding), Trent Murphy (roughing the passer after a 3-yard run), Chase Minnifield (defensive holding after 2 flags the previous week) and Rob Jackson (illegal use of the hands–led to a late Browns TD).  The costliest penalty?  While Jackson’s illegal use of the hands contributed to a Browns touchdown drive (turning a Cleveland 3rd & 12 at the Washington 43 into a 1st &  10 on the 38), Hurt’s hold pushed the team back from 1st and 10 at the 22 to 1st and 20 at the 12– and on the next play Colt McCoy threw a pick six.

 

Cobra Kai-Zach Attack Round II– minimal opportunities for separation this week:  Kai Forbath nailing the lone field goal attempt (from 26 yards out) and both kickers converting all of their extra point attempts.  On the kickoff front:  Zach Hocker was 3 for 3 in reaching the endzone while Forbath was 1/2 in getting the ball past the goal line.  A far cry from getting the bodybag…

College football is often about perspective:  Virginia Tech’s trying to recover from an 8-5 season while Virginia dreams of 5 loss campaigns.  The dominion duo have mostly traveled on separate tracks since the Hokies entered the ACC…and 2014 appears to be more of the same.  A regime salvaging season for Mike London is far below the standards of Frank Beamer…as the least suspenseful subplot of the Coastal Division (who wins the Commonwealth Cup Thanksgiving weekend?) plays out (Virginia Tech’s won every matchup since they joined the league in 2003).

Virginia Tech prepares for life after Logan Thomas– although fans in Blacksburg won’t be overly wistful of the three year starter’s era.  After leading the Hokies to an 11-3 mark as a sophomore, the team went 7-6 and 8-5 his final two falls on campus.  This coming after the program posted eight straight double-digit victory seasons.  Expectations aren’t merely to contend for a Coastal Division crown–they’re to win the league.  Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer completed over 70 percent of his passes during his two seasons in Lubbock–albeit in a limited sample (58 career attempts).  Regardless who plays QB, the running game needs to rank higher than 106th in Division I for the Hokies to avoid losing games against Boston College and Duke.

Virginia looks to pick up the pieces of a 2-10 season that began with an upset of BYU that was memorable just as much for the nasty weather that almost derailed the game in Charlottesville.  Sadly, the back-end of the season saw a bad situation get worse as the Cavaliers lost their last six games by an average of 22 points.  Fifteen starters return with a lot of optimism surrounding the Kevin Parks-led running game (the senior gained over 1000 yards last season)…as well as the hope that Greyson Lambert or David Watkins will lead the passing offense out of the stone age (UVa averaged under 10 yards per completion while tossing almost twice as many interceptions as touchdowns).  True freshman wide receiver Doni Dowling’s garnered quite a bit of attention.  Defensively?  Talk to me after the UCLA game August 30th.

Looking at the league– three ACC schools find themselves in the preseason top 25:  defending champ Florida State ranks 1st, Clemson’s 16th and North Carolina rates 23rd in both polls.  In fact, it almost appears as though the Associated Press studied the ESPN preseason rankings.  Sixteen schools are ranked exactly the same and only two schools are more than one spot away from where the other poll has them (#24 Texas in the AP and #24 Missouri in the ESPN are also receiving votes from the other poll).

Disputing the Divisions– if we’re stuck with the Atlantic and Coastal names (much better than Leaders and Legends)…can’t we at least group schools in the same region?  The idea to separate Miami from Florida State because one would block the other from the ACC title game has meant nothing (as Miami has yet to win a division) while making the Hurricanes-Seminoles matchup an odd footnote to the season because it’s not a divisional game.  If Maryland had stayed in the ACC, they’d continue to play Virginia Tech and Pitt (the schools closest to College Park after Virginia) only sporadically over the years.  Why would they want to do that?  Place former Big East schools Boston College, Pitt, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and Louisville with Virginia and Wake Forest in one division while keeping the Research Triangle schools (North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest) in the same league with Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami and Florida State.  Be smart, ACC.

Let’s be honest– the PGA Championship is the Ringo of Golf Majors.  Much like the Australian Open in tennis– the PGA is a Grand Slam event because you NEED four to have a grand slam (unlike the Champions/Senior Tour that has 5 grand slam events).  But even though Richard Starkey was not as talented as John, Paul or George he remains a Beatle for life.  Likewise–the winner of the PGA Championship gets to count that towards his major title total.  The Players Championship claims “fifth major” status–but really they’re just the Pete Best/Stu Sutcliffe/George Martin.  Close to greatness but not in the Fab Four.  Speaking of Fab Four–Rory McIlroy wins his fourth career major by one shot at 16 under par.  Other thoughts relating to Rory and Ringo…:

 

Boys— Rory’s win comes on a weekend dominated by youth:  he’s 25 as is Ricky Fowler who tied for third (after consecutive runner-up finishes at the US and British Opens).  Victor Dubuisson (24 years old) tied for seventh while Brooks Koepka (24) and Jason Day (26) tied for 15th.  Was this weekend the first page of a new chapter?

 

I Wanna Be Your Man— McIlroy’s victory was his second PGA Championship.  He joins notables like Lee Trevino and Gary Player in the group ahead of one-time winners but behind Jack Nicklaus (5) and Tiger Woods (4) in the stroke-play era (the PGA Championship used to be decided in match-play until the late 1950’s).  Rory also wins two majors in the same calendar year– a feat last accomplished by Padraig Harrington in 2008.  He also moves up the ladder with four majors–only 27 men have accomplished that feat (including both Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris from the 19th century).  The top ranked player in the world has every reason to believe there will be more majors.

 

Honey Don’t— despite not being as desirable a tournament as the Masters (tradition!), US Open (it’s our national championship!) or British Open (the birthplace of golf!)– the PGA is one tough tournament to win.  Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer never won the PGA.  Likewise for multiple-major winners Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Ernie Els.  While many think Rickie Fowler will eventually break through at the major championship level–many were saying the same thing when a 19-year old Sergio Garcia finished second to Tiger Woods in the 1999 PGA Championship.  And we’re still waiting…

 

Act Naturally— McIlroy shot 66, 67, 67 and 68 en route to victory.  His back nine dominance helped him regain the lead Sunday after Mickelson and Fowler surged ahead…starting with an eagle on 10 (the same hole he double-bogeyed in the first round).  McIlroy finished 12 under par on the back nine (-4 on the front nine) for the tournament– taking a two shot lead with a birdie putt on 17.  It still wasn’t over though…

 

What Goes On— Phil Mickelson was THIS CLOSE to stealing the spotlight on what was the Rory Coronation Party (after two days of the Will Tiger Make the Cut Mystery)…barely missing a pair of shots on the 16th and 18th holes.  His chip on 16 holed out-robbing him of a birdie before Mickelson missed the par putt.  Phil’s chip on 18 almost went in–if it had he’d have carded an eagle and there would have been a playoff.  Which probably would have meant we would have finished the tournament Monday– just like in 2005 when lefty triumphed.

 

Yellow Submarine—  skies of blue they weren’t Sunday afternoon…as rain interrupted the final day of play and forced a semi-furious finish where McIlroy was battling darkness as well as Mickelson and Fowler.  (Beatle aside– Ringo always said the best drumming he ever did was on “Rain”–the B-side to “Paperback Writer”).  On the 18th Rory hit his approach shot while the duo had yet to putt.  Thank goodness nobody was hurt.  It did feel uncomfortable watching Rory watch Phil and Rickie before he could proceed with his round.  Made for solid TV…except for those complaining about the pre-emption of 60 Minutes.

 

With a Little Help from My Friends— Chris Wood had one memorable Thursday…and it wasn’t his first round 66.  The Englishman split the seat of his pants early in his round…and had to wear a pair of his playing partner’s rain pants.  But the pants didn’t fit well… so Wood got his own rain pants from his locker.  The water-repellent pants didn’t exactly breathe well in the Louisville heat…but before Wood melted in the August sun his manager showed up with a fresh pair.  Wood finished his first round with 5 birdies while wearing 4 different pairs of trousers.  After carding the 66, Wood shot 73, 70 and 74 in rounds he didn’t have to change his pants.  I’m not suggesting he should have torn his pants on purpose, but when it’s working…

 

Don’t Pass Me By— it appears as though Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Major Championships appears safe.  Tiger Woods misses the cut by five shots after shooting consecutive 74’s.  It’s now been six years since his US Open title–and while he’s at the same age as Nicklaus was when he won his 15th major (1978 British Open) the odds of Woods enjoying the same sort of sunset Jack did (4 majors after turning 38) aren’t encouraging.  Whether it’s injuries, bad luck, off the course distractions or just getting old– some guys just simply stop winning majors after reaching their mid-30’s (Arnold Palmer was 34 when he won his last Masters and Tom Watson was 33 when he won his last British Open).  If Tiger shuts it down for the rest of the year– perhaps he comes back stronger in 2015.  Will his back issues ever go away?

 

Good Night— 2014 began with a Bubba bang– as Watson won his second green jacket in three years (and enjoyed another trip to a Waffle House).  Martin Kaymer conquered the US Open before the tournament really began…and then Rory McIlroy after ending an engagement over the phone dialed in one incredible summer.  Now every April the “can he win the Masters to complete the career grand slam” question will be asked.  After spending much of the last few years focusing on Tiger’s travails, it’s nice to think about what might be as opposed to what won’t be.

 

Octopus’ Garden— other storylines going to seed after Labor Day include the manufactured excitement surrounding the Fed Ex Cup Challenge Playoff… Tom Watson’s tough decisions regarding his Ryder Cup roster…the Rickie Fowler breakthrough question…will Phil Mickelson finally win a US Open?…Tom Watson’s last time playing the British Open (at St. Andrews–where none of his 5 wins came at)…who’s affected the most in the belly-putter’s final year?…and how many times will the Players Championship refer to itself as “golf’s fifth major”?  Sorry, Pete Best–your drums are taken.

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