What we learned Thursday is there is no perfect way to manufacture excitement in a sporting event. What we learned the night before is that no one should try.
The best stories in sports are the ones that just happen on their own, without prodding and shaping. Just let the players play and something cool is bound to happen, even if it takes 130 years -- like Matt Cain pitching the first perfect game in Giants history Wednesday night, a few miles north and nine hours before the start of the U.S. Open.
Open participant Dustin Johnson was at the ballgame Wednesday, hitting golf balls out of AT&T Park with Giants people (including Cain) and throwing the ceremonial first pitch (he bounced it). Truth be told, this observer was there, too, in the upper deck. I can attest to an amazing scene: Noise and anticipation crested in the seventh, when rightfielder Gregor Blanco made a stunning catch (maybe even better than Mike Baxter's in support of Johan Santana); tense silence when the Giants were batting in the bottom of the eighth; strangers high-fiving each other at the end; ushers high-fiving every customer at the exits.
These same eyes saw the attempt at forced electricity yesterday, with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson having been placed together in the same 7:33 tee time by the U.S. Golf Association. It was totally buzzless. Maybe it was a nice thing to try, maybe not. Either way, it didn't work. Woods was very solid, the other two flopped.
Perhaps karma was at work: Just desserts for Mickelson, who pulled out of the Memorial, and for Watson, who has taken a very casual approach to golf since the Masters. In any case, as theater, it was way below summer stock.
Good sports drama is spontaneous. You are not often going to get a perfect game, but you're bound to get something good. The beauty of the early rounds of an Open isn't the big guys going head-to-head-to-head, but in the likes of Michael Thompson springing up.
Thompson admitted, after having taken the lead with a 4-under par 66 at the Olympic Club, "A lot of people don't know who I am. And I'm totally OK with that because I've always been a player who just kind of hangs around. I don't give up very easily and I'm very proud of that."
The first day of the Open is always a chance to get to know someone as refreshing as Thompson. When he was asked about himself, he mentioned that he is an Eagle Scout, he helps out with the college team at Alabama (his alma mater), he loves going to a church near his home in Birmingham and he was looking forward Thursday night to a date with his wife to Kokkari, a downtown bistro.
He played so well Thursday, he said, because he had reached the U.S. Amateur final on the same hard course five years ago. Also, as an unsung PGA Tour player, "I've got nothing to lose. This is just a bonus in my career."
His group teed off on the front side at 7:37 a.m., just after the marquee threesome began on the back. "It looked like they probably had 20,000 people watching their group, and I think we might have had a couple hundred," Thompson said. "The Tiger-Bubba-Phil thing, that's exciting. That's typical USGA, putting the big three together. I think it's great for golf."
That's open to debate. Thursday, it was far from perfect.