Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super Phil

The Super Bowl will most assuredly overshadow the Waste Management Phoenix Open this weekend. However, Phil Mickelson is putting on as good of a show as Ray Lewis, who will win because my grandpa always said defense wins football games. What a remarkable week it has been for Phil at Scottsdale! On Thursday, he had a putt lip out on his final hole for a 59, golf's magic number. He followed it up with a 65 that included a double bogey on eighteen during the second round to establish the new 36 hole scoring record. And yesterday's finish was as pure as any I have ever witnessed. I tuned in while Mickelson's group, which included two of today's top young stars in Bill Haas and Keegan Bradley, was finishing up the thirteenth. The former Arizona State Sun Devil and two-time Phoenix Open champion birdied the benign par five rather easily. He just missed a mid-range putt for birdie on fourteen. Then he turned it up for the loudest closing stretch in golf.

Following his other hometown event last week in San Diego, he met with his coach, Butch Harmon, to work on his driver. He only hit about one third of the fairways at Torrey Pines. He put a more lofted driver in the bag, improved his posture, and started hitting drives that even Louis Oostheisen would be jealous of. So to kick off the par five fifteenth hole Saturday, he bombed his drive past his playing partners into the middle of the fairway. From there, he went for the island green in two and ended up in the difficult left bunker. Ryan Moore in the group ahead, could not get up and down from the same spot just minutes prior. Phil addressed the ball, took a big swing, and stopped it seven feet from the cup. It was a masterful shot. In the previous 50 holes this week, Mickelson had made 38 of 38 putts from seven feet and in, an amazing statistic given Phil's history with short putts. On fifteen, he kept his perfect streak alive and made another birdie.

The sixteenth at Scottsdale is golf's version of chaos. The hole is completely enclosed by jam packed grandstands holding thousands of rowdy and very inebriated fans, not necessarily of golf, but more fans of fun at whatever cost. There is a constant murmur inside this coliseum of sorts. The noise, according to New Englander Keegan Bradley, is akin to Fenway Park in October, perhaps. Upon arrival to the tee box, the crowds demand the players attention. Any other hole on Tour sees the players in full control. At 16, the fans write the show. Players are obligated to pass out free hats, balls, tees, gloves, even footballs in Padraig Harrington's case to the demanding audience. Caddies are encouraged to race from tee to green with luggage in tow. Any golfer who does not hit this par three green in regulation is regularly booed for his efforts. Good shots are rewarded with college football caliber cheers, and a bogey is treated with more disdain than Colin Montgomerie trying to play in America. So Phil, already a unanimous fan favorite in Phoenix, steps into this arena with a huge lead knowing that he is the only one in the field who can probably do no wrong in this situation. With all the ASU chants and crowd noise rumbling in his ears throughout his swing, Mickelson decides to be the man we all love. He doesn't just go for the middle of the green to escape with a simple par. He takes this bull by the horns and goes right for the pin, tucked back left. The ball takes two hops and settles inside of two feet from the hole. The stadium and I, at home, go nuts. Folks in Mesa must have thought all three players in his group holed it the reaction was so tremendous. After watching both Haas and Bradley bogey to much chagrin of them and the spectators, Phil tapped in for yet another birdie to extend his monstrous lead over a charging Brandt Snedeker.

At 337 yards, the next hole is a driveable par four. The star of the week, drove his ball to pin high following two consecutive birdies. He continued to show off his all-around skills by chipping the ball within inches and tapping it in for yet another bird.

His performance on 18 did not disappoint either. His tee shot was hit in the water the previous day with a three wood. Therefore, the driver reappeared, and he did not hold back while driving it past the water way left. From the gallery he hit a beautiful approach leaving a mid-range putt, which he graciously holed for the fans surrounding the 18th green. So far this week, Phil is hitting most fairways, hitting over 88% of his greens in regulation, and making every putt inside of seven feet plus some from farther away. Those numbers are as super as any Colin Kaepernick has ever put up. I predict Sunday will be another spectacular round for this fan favorite and certainly worth a peek before the football begins.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bloomington over Danville

I must admit that I did not see or hear any of this game to kick off the Big 12 football season. However, from the Pantagraph's recap, I conclude that no one in attendance at Ned Whitesell Field asked for his money back. The Raiders of BHS won in thrilling fashion with a two point conversion in the final minutes to take a one point lead that they narrowly held with time expiring. My question to coworkers this morning was, would you go for two in that situation. Head coach Rigo Schmelzer boldly and, I am sure, confidently went for the win instead of risking overtime on the road against a good team. I probably would have gone for the tie and lost in overtime. Hence my position as a writer on a blog with no readers and his position as long-time head football coach. So what would you do on the road against the Vikings when you are down by one point?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

PGA Championship at Kiawah Island

I have never been so captivated by such a boring golf tournament. The anticipation of seeing the links of War on the Shore fame was what peaked my interest in this year's edition of the PGA Championship prior to the start of play. The presence of Woods, McDowell, Singh, Scott, and McIlroy on the leaderboard during the first three days guaranteed I would be glued to the television all Sunday afternoon. I watched Woods and Singh play a couple of holes early Sunday morning on the PGA of America website, and I made it my top priority to check our where the leaders stood after attending church and teaching kids' Sunday school. At that point, Rory had topped the leaderboard. However, we all know the final round of a major can bring even the best golfers to their knees at any point. Adam Scott's painful collapse at Lytham is all too fresh to think otherwise, not to mention McIlroy's 10th hole blow up at Augusta last year. So as CBS's final round coverage commenced, I was amped up to see another showdown for glory's last shot.

I got served a dish I did not order. The last thing any golf fan wants to watch is a blow out. Some hot shot shooting lights out during the final nine of the third round and front nine of the final round then stumbling home with a bogey or two thrown in during the last hours of the stretch is not good for the game. Therefore, I tuned in for twenty minutes here and there throughout the middle of Rory's round thinking Poulter's string of birdies would scare him or memories of the Masters would be called up. However, what we witnessed was a young major champion in the zone smashing big drives and making, seemingly, every putt with zero bogies. Despite his enormous lead and Poulter's fade, I could not help but watch Rory come home playing spectacular golf and capping his victory with an exclamation at 18. Adam Scott and Jim Furyk both proved how extremely difficult holding on to a lead in a big tournament is in the last couple months. As young as he is, McIlroy has multiple major experiences with large leads, and he has gone both ways during those championships. He won the US Open at Congressional by eights shots, and now he has won the PGA Championship by eight shots. 

CBS commentator Jim Natnz said he does not use the word "awesome" very often, but he had no choice but to describe McIlroy's performance today as such. The graphic CBS flashed following the conclusion of Jack Nicklaus', Tiger's, and Rory's ages at the point of winning their second major is quite impressive. The Golden Bear was only one month younger than McIlroy when capturing his second, and Tiger was actually a few months older when taking the US Open at Pebble Beach by a record fifteen strokes. I do not believe the newly minted PGA champ will win nearly as many majors or tournaments as the game's greatest, but the future is sure bright for this talented young man from Hollywood, Northern Ireland.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

New SI Golf Rankings

Sports Illustrated has released a new rankings system for the top ten professional golfers in the world. The new ratings are determined by votes from golf writers similar to the AP college football poll. SI's poll will be more contemporary than the current Official World Golf Rankings that Lee Westwood is sitting atop of. However, Westwood has failed to convert a victory worldwide since winning in Memphis last June. He has performed very well in nearly every event he has entered for the past two years, but he has only one win to show for it. Martin Kaymer, on the other hand, is ranked first in SI's poll, and I could not agree more with their opinion. He holds four victories in his last eight appearances, including the PGA Championship. Those numbers do not even include a Kaymer win last January and top ten finishes at the U.S. and British Opens. Westwood is a very strong player currently, but he has as many wins since 2003 as Kaymer has in the past year. Like the BCS computer rankings, few people understand the OWGR formula. Hence SI's new poll gives a more accurate up-to-date and accurate feel of who the hottest golfer is today. Check out the top ten at .

Kaymer could overtake Westwood in the OWGR during this week's Qatar Masters. The impressive field includes both Kaymer and Westwood along with Steve Stricker, John Daly, Retief Goosen, Darren Clarke, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Miguel Angel Jimenez, and Alvaro Quiros. Tune into the Golf Channel to follow the drama.

State-side, the Waste Management Phoenix Open will be staged starring Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Jhonny Vegas, Nick Watney, Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan, Fred Couples, and Tom Lehman. Last year's finish thrilled the Bird's Nest at 16, and this year's competition looks to be just as exciting. Catch all the weekend action on CBS.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Deron Please Teach Us

Is Illinois the same school that produced the Utah Jazz's Deron Williams. Especially early on in the season, the Jazz were becoming known for their astonishing second half double-digit comebacks to win games against quality teams like the Magic and Heat, even on the road. D-Will leads that kind of winning team. The curious part about this situation is, though, that Deron's alma mater, the University of Illinois, is becoming known for not being able to finish ball games. This year's Illini have quite a bit of talent and a healthy mix of young and experienced players. However, the immaturity is all that is shining through, and brightly. Of their seven losses, six could have been W's had the game ended about midway through the second half. In other words, Illinois held the lead during the 2nd half in every game except at Wisconsin. These guys fold when ahead more often than most teams. They are about as reliable as Demetri McCamey. Take a look at each loss.

Texas - Illinois held a two point lead with 2:27 left on the clock. The Illini scored two points for the rest of the game, and it went to overtime. In OT, we surrendered 15 while scoring 9. Granted, Texas is a talented team, but our guys had their opportunities late in the game.

UIC - The Illini were up by six with five minutes to go and looked as if they would blow open a big lead like they should against the Flames. Instead, they were outscored 13-3 for the rest of the way. Included in that stretch were a couple blown chances within the final minute to at least send the game to overtime.

Mizzou - Against another high-quality opponent, Illinois led by three points with 4:05 to play. The Tigers scored 20 in those last four minutes while we garnered seven.

Penn St - Illinois scored two points in the final four minutes of regulation.

Wisconsin - The Badgers hit us up for 49 points in the second half!

Ohio State - Myers Leonard and the gang were looking confident starting off the final twenty minutes. They even held an eight point lead with less than thirteen minutes to play. However, they could not make any type of basket again for five more minutes as they watched the number one team in the land take over the game in Champaign.

Indiana - Bruce Weber's team was up by three with 2:46 remaining, but they did not score the rest of the game.

So taking out the Missouri, Wisconsin, and Buckeyes losses, Illinois scored a combined total of 7 points in 14 minutes of play to close out four different games. Wow! Deron please get to Champaign ASAP and teach your boys how to finish like you did in the Elite Eight.
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