On Monday, Tiger Woods was the only comeback story in the news, the only guy trying to prove his worth and show that he was the man that everybody thought he was. But by Sunday night, we learned Bryce Molder, Brad Faxon, Rickie Fowler and Bud Cauley had all put down new footprints on their golf careers.
1. Molder finds comfort in a marathon playoff
Bryce Molder has had to overcome a lot in his 32 years on Earth. The Conway, Ark., native and former Georgia Tech star was born without a left pectoral muscle and his right hand was significantly larger than his left hand. These are symptoms of Poland's syndrome, a rare disease that strikes 1 in between 20,000 to 30,000 children.
Still, he made it to Georgia Tech, where he was all everything. He was destined for a solid career on the PGA Tour. But he struggled, mostly on the Nationwide Tour. He won out there in 2006 at the Miccosukee Championship, but when he got on the PGA Tour the next year he floundered, missing 13 cuts in 20 events. Since '09, Molder held on to his PGA Tour card, but he was on no one's list of player's to watch.
To get better, he did what most sensible tour players do when in doubt: he worked hard with his swing teacher, Michael Beau, and his mental coach, Gio Valiante.
On Sunday, all the hard work paid off as he beat Briny Baird on the sixth playoff hole to win the Frys.Com Open at the CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, Calif. It was Molder's 132nd PGA Tour start.
"I really struggled a lot from about 2003 to about 2006 or '7, and just to get comfortable back playing on the PGA Tour and getting comfortable to where I could actually get in contention took a lot," Molder said after the playoff.
"I've had some chances going into the last day, and I felt like I was really upset because I felt like I didn't give myself a chance to win at all, not because I wasn't hitting the shots, but because I showed up and I played scared. I played to not mess up. And it took a lot of work to fight through that, and it's -- there's some guys that have the hammer down 100 miles per hour and that's all they know, and I'm not that guy. So it took a lot."
Molder probably won't live up to the great expectations that many had for him coming out of college. But how many in the game truly live up to their billing? It's just one win, but it's a start. Perhaps this could be the beginning of a run like the one that his Georgia Tech teammate, Matt Kuchar, has been on since he won his second PGA Tour event at the Turning Stone Resort Championship in October 2009.
But probably with everything Molder has been through, he's just thankful to finally be comfortable on the PGA Tour.
2. A win is a win
A fall trip to Asia can be an opportunity for established PGA Tour players to collect an appearance fee and get an all-expense paid trip to play on one of Asia's professional tours. It's not uncommon to see Asian tournament organizers recruiting players at PGA Tour events. Having a top player or two from the states can instantly raise the profile of a tournament that is full of good but little-known players outside of Asia.
Imagine if Derek Jeter or A-Rod could drop in on the Chunichi Dragons or the Yomiuri Giants in Japanese major league baseball?
At the Kolon Korea Open on the OneAsia Tour, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and local favorite Y.E. Yang headlined the field at the Woo Jeong Hills Country Club in Cheonan, South Korea. The 22-year-old Fowler, who had done just about everything in the game except win, earned his first professional victory with an impressive 6-shot win over McIlroy. He shot a final-round 3-under-68 to finish 16 under for the tournament. With a third-round 63, he established a 4-shot lead over Yang, who faltered on Sunday with a 75 to finish fourth.
"It feels great to have the first win," Fowler said after the round. "I had good control of my ball, I drove well and I made some putts."
The good news is that he finally put it all together for four rounds. Any win is nice and he must feel good about withstanding the pressures of taking a 4-stroke lead into the final day, but it's not a victory on the PGA Tour, where he's had his chances to win since turning pro in 2009 after a stellar college career at Oklahoma State.
So what does it really do for his confidence?
In his rookie year on the PGA Tour in 2010, he had two second-place finishes and was a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup. This year, he's had four top-10s, including a tie for second at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but his best finish in the States in his last four events was a 48th at the BMW Championship, the last FedEx Cup playoff event he qualified for.
You could easily dismiss the Korea Open for its lack of brand name talent, but it's still a win. Fowler, Yang, McIlroy and Kim Kyung-Tae were the only four players in the field ranked inside the top 50 in the world.
Also, it might be an indication that Fowler took an event that he was ready to win. Maybe it's not his time yet to finish off 144 players on the PGA Tour? That's debatable. But he's got all the skills to match the flamboyant clothes and cool haircut.
Moreover, we won't really know the meaning of the win in Korea until he plays again on the PGA Tour, where we can see if the new confidence carries over into triumph on the best tour in the world. We'll know very soon. He's in the field this week at the McGladrey Classic in Sea Island, Ga., where Heath Slocum is the defending champion.
3. Brad Faxon's blessing in disguise
After struggling on the PGA Tour for the past several years, it appeared as though the eight-time winner who turned 50 on Aug. 1 might opt for a television career. He did some work last year with NBC, but the network chose Peter Jacobsen at the beginning of 2011 instead of Faxon to join their golf broadcast team.
Faxon couldn't really compete on the regular tour, but he had to try to find his game until he could join his buddies on the Champions Tour. He missed all 12 of his PGA Tour cuts and couldn't get to the senior circuit fast enough.
In his sixth start on the Champions Tour, Faxon got his first win at the Insperity Championship with a 10-under-par total after the final round at The Woodlands C.C., near Houston, Texas, was rained out. He won the tournament with Saturday's 7-under 65 to hold off Tommy Armour by a shot.
Faxon, who last won at the 2005 Buick Championship, learned that he won via a text message from the tour while he was standing in the Woodlands clubhouse.
"I had passed all my goals this week, was hitting my irons a lot better and made a 4-footer on 18 on Saturday, which turned out to be the winning stroke," Faxon said.
In the end, not getting the NBC gig was a blessing in disguise. Instead of being one of the guys giving all the swing analysis and opinions, he can be the one they all talk about.
4. This Bud's for you
Patrick Cantlay was the most talked about youngster in the field this week at Frys.com Open in San Martin, Calif. The 19-year-old UCLA sophomore got to play two rounds with Tiger Woods and his big crowds. But he was outplayed by Bud Cauley, who finished third at 15 under par and two shots out of the playoff between Briny Baird and Bryce Molder.
Since turning pro in March, the 21-year-old Jacksonville, Fla., native has had two top-10s in seven starts, including a fourth at the Viking Classic. On Sunday at the Frys, he had six birdies and a bogey in his 5-under 66. With the $340,000 check for his finish this week, he has earned $671,150 and now is in the field at McGladrey because of his top-10 finish.
At the McGladrey, Cauley needs to get another top 10 to make it into the final tournament of the year at the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic in Orlando, Fla. Right now, he's 114th on the PGA Tour money list.
"You know, I really had never given it much thought," Cauley said. "I was just going to try and give myself as many opportunities as I could to play. I knew I could compete. Obviously, getting starts out here and playing is really the most difficult thing. So I really didn't think about that, just trying to give myself as many opportunities as I could."
In 2005, Ryan Moore was the last player straight out of college to earn his tour card without going to Q-school. If Cauley does it, he would just be the seventh player to do so since 1980.
Cauley was planning to take a red-eye out of San Jose on Sunday night to Georgia to make it in time for a Monday qualifier for the McGladrey. Now that he's in the field, he can just focus on the tournament.
"I'm obviously going to look back on the four days," Cauley said. "I'm sure there are a lot of -- I can think of a couple off the top of my head -- mistakes I made, and I'm going to work on fixing those and keep on doing the good stuff right."
At the 2009 U.S. Amateur, Cauley beat Rickie Fowler in the first round of match play. Fowler got the first of what might be many wins in his career this week. Cantlay, who finished in a tie for 67th at the Frys, will also fair well. But by the looks of things, Cauley could be the best of them all.
5. Flying dog misses Tiger
Not even a flying hotdog thrown at him on the seventh hole on Sunday at the CordeValle Golf Club could stop Tiger Woods from battling his way back to form after slumping for most of the past two years. Woods was on his 16th hole of the day when a male spectator ran on the green shouting the golfer's name and then threw a hotdog at him. A similar thing happened to South Africa's Gary Player in the early 1970s when anti-apartheid protester doused him with Coca-Cola and ketchup at an event in Chicago.
I was at the 2003 U.S. Open in Olympia Fields in Chicago when Brittney Skye, a porn star, stormed on a green to show her breasts to Jim Furyk. So this kind of odd behavior isn't new to the game.
I was impressed by Tiger's performance this week. He didn't come close to winning. He was never in contention on his way to a tie for 30th, but it was just good to see him in a tournament. The playful antics of a kid, who probably took the bait of a friend on a dare, illustrates in a certain way the anxiety that Tiger causes the golf world. The game needs him. It needs him when he finishes first or 30th.
The crowds this week at the Frys.Com were bigger than all those of the FedEx Cup playoffs. My evidence is anecdotal, but I was at three of the four playoff events and the crowds were sparse at best. A Frys.com tournament official said that the crowds at Thursday's first round, where Tiger shot a 2-over 73, were five times what they were last year.
Tiger looked happy and relaxed all week. He didn't have that resigned look of mediocrity that we saw at the PGA Championship. He made fewer excuses. His new caddie, Joe LaCava, didn't appear to be caught up in the hoopla. Tiger was just plain refreshing.
Still it's tiring to hear him say that he needs more reps.
"I got better every day, and unfortunately, a couple times where I kind of didn't get the momentum going when I had a couple of chances to make putts or I hit a bad shot," Tiger said after his final round 68. "I haven't played much. That comes with competitive flow, understanding the situations and feels, and game time's a little bit different. I really haven't played a whole lot since the Masters."
Tiger, the only way you're going to get better in understanding the situations and feels is by playing more golf. You say that you're healthy and adjusted to the new golf swing. Why aren't you in the field this week at the McGladrey Classic?
Bubba Watson is no philosopher, but his message to you earlier this year was right on -- just play golf. Don't make it harder than it should be.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.