By Don Wanlass
There was plenty of National Football League action, a few college bowl games and basketball — pro and college — to watch last weekend.
But the most compelling sports I saw on television was the PNC Championship Golf Tournament, a unique tournament that features 20 noted golfers and a close relative.
Tiger Woods calls it “giggle and grins” golf, because it is more about having a good time than winning. But this tournament was different because it marked Woods’ first tournament appearance since his February car accident that almost cost him his right leg.
Oh, and then there was Charlie.
Charlie is Woods’ 12-year-old son. He impressed everyone last year with his performance in this tournament, his first time in the spotlight that always follows his father.
This year he was even better. He and his father finished second in the tournament, two shots behind John Daly and John Daly II, who is eight year older than Charlie and on the golf team at the University of Arkansas.
The Woods ran off a streak of 11 straight birdies in the final round Dec. 19, and Charlie more than carried his share of the load.
The best example of that was at the par-3 17th hole. For most of the tournament, Charlie was playing from the junior tees, a 40-to-80-yard advantage over the other, older players.
But on the 17th hole, everybody hit from 169 yards from the pin. No one put the ball closer to the hole that day. The younger Woods placed the shot between the pin and the left (short) side of the green — with water on that side — within five feet of the cup.
He then told dad “I got this” and rammed home the birdie putt.
Not many people got a chance to see Tiger at 12, but I have to imagine this is what he looked like.
Charlie has most of his mannerisms down, too, from the way he leans on his club waiting to shoot to the way he twirls the club after he hits a good shot.
He will make the PNC Tournament must-watch television as long as his father is capable of getting around a golf course with him.
At his age, there is no telling how good Charlie Woods will become. His father used his God-given ability and an extraordinary work ethic to become the greatest golfer of his era and one of the top five golfers ever.
Whether Charlie will have that same drive and desire his father had remains to be seen, but those watching that tournament last weekend saw a young star in the making.
Tiger didn’t look too bad, either. For someone 10 months from a life-altering car accident, Woods didn’t look bad.
He can still swing a golf club, his mid-range and short games looked solid and he cleaned up several birdie putts after Charlie’s lipped out.
But Tiger was using a golf cart to get around the course, something that isn’t allowed at a regular tournament.
Less than four months away from the Masters, it is uncertain whether Woods can build up the leg strength and the stamina it will require to walk a course like Augusta for four days while playing championship golf.
I doubt we will see Tiger before the Masters. But you can be sure that tournament is on his calendar for a possible return to the tour.
He probably won’t be a regular player on the tour again, picking and choosing the majors and one or two other favorite tournaments a year.
But those few and far between appearances will allow us to see glimpses of what Woods was in his prime.
And it will help pass the time until Charlie turns pro.
MVP CANDIDATE: In the NFL, quarterbacks reign supreme, especially when it comes to voting for most valuable players. Quarterbacks have won the award every year since 2012, when running back Adrian Peterson won the award after gaining 2,097 yards on the ground with 12 touchdowns.
Since 2000, when Marshall Faulk won the award for the St. Louis Rams, only three running backs have broken the hold on the award held by quarterbacks.
Dating back to 1957, no wide receiver has ever won the award.
That said, I want to nominate Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp for this year’s most valuable player.
With three weeks remaining in the season, Kupp leads the NFL in passes caught, receiving yardage and receiving touchdowns.
The receiving triple crown has only been achieved three times in the Super Bowl era, post 1966.
Jerry Rice did it with the San Francisco 49ers in 1990. Sterling Sharpe did it two years later with the Green Bay Packers. Since then, only Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers in 2005 has accomplished the feat.
In an era where good wide receivers are a dime a dozen, Kupp stands out for his ability to run routes, get open, catch the ball and then gain more yards running with the ball.
He has become Matthew Stafford’s favorite target and the Rams wouldn’t be where they are — tied for first in the NFC West — if they didn’t have him. If that isn’t most valuable, what is?
His talents were there for all to see Dec. 21, when the Rams faced the Seattle Seahawks in a game delayed two days because of a coronavirus outbreak on the Rams that had as many as 25 players placed in the league’s coronavirus protocols.
He added to his league-leading totals by catching nine passes for 136 yards and both Rams’ touchdowns.
The first touchdown came in the third quarter on a six-yard pass from Stafford that tied the score 10-10. His second score came on a 29-yard toss from Stafford that put the Rams in the lead at 17-10 in the fourth quarter and the Rams went on to win 20-10.
For the season, Kupp has 122 receptions for 1,625 yards and 14 touchdowns.
His 122 catches broke the team record set by Isaac Bruce in 1995. He is on pace to break Calvin Johnson’s league record for most receiving yards in a season.
Kupp was largely unheralded when the Rams drafted him in the third round out of Eastern Washington in 2017, but in the last five years he has established himself as a fine slot receiver who is dangerous after he catches the ball.
In a year when no quarterback is having an out-of-this-world season, it may be time for the people who vote for most valuable player to consider a wide receiver for a change.
And Kupp should be at the top of that list.
PLAYOFF CHASE: With their win, the Rams moved into a tie for the NFC West lead with the Arizona Cardinals at 10-4, but the Rams have a tougher schedule than the Cardinals down the stretch.
On Dec. 26, the Rams travel to Minnesota to play the Vikings, a place they never seem to play well. A week later they are on the road against the Baltimore Ravens, who are tied for the lead in the AFC North.
They end the season at home against the San Francisco 49ers. All three opponents are potential playoff teams.
The Cardinals finish with the a Christmas Day game at home against the Indianapolis Colts, a division leader, a road game against another division leader, the Dallas Cowboys and a home game against the fading Seahawks.
The Rams need to close with at least two wins and hope the Cardinals, who have lost two in a row, continue their slide.
After losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime Dec. 16, the Chargers look like they will be stuck as a wild card in this year’s playoff.
They end the season with road games against the Houston Texans and Las Vegas Raiders sandwiched around a home game against the Denver Broncos Jan. 2. None of those teams figure to make the playoffs, although the Raiders have an outside chance.
There is a logjam in the AFC with five teams having an 8-6 record with three weeks remaining.
The Chargers would be in the playoffs if they started tomorrow, but with three weeks to play, it’s still a mad scramble in the AFC for the seven playoff spots.
The Chargers should be able to win all of their last three games, but in the NFL, that could change at any time.