Tuesday, February 2, 2010

This Week in Golf

PGA Tour – The West Coast Swing of the American tour stays in southern California this week. LA’s Northern Trust Open is played at the renowned Riviera Country Club. Some of the top players in the game will be making their season debuts here. World top ten players, Jim Furyk and Padraig Harrington, will join Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson (defending champion), Fred Couples, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Robert Allenby, Hunter Mahan, and Ryo Ishikawa. My pick to win this week is old reliable, Jim Furyk. He is consistent and straight. Riviera does not demand great length despite its 7,300 yards, but it does require good putting. Therefore, it was a toss up between Furyk and Stricker. As for my sleeper, Matt Kuchar has been a feel-good comeback story since last fall. I would like to see Matt succeed more. He has been striking the ball solidly this year, and his last round was a 63 on Monday at the Hope. CBS will air the play from Los Angeles over the weekend.

European Tour – The European Tour has another strong event this week in the Middle East. Their contingent travel back to the United Arab Emirates for the Dubai Desert Classic. The Desert Classic has been exciting to watch since its inception about twenty years ago. The last few have featured Rory McIlroy’s introduction to the world with his first victory last year, Tiger out dueling Martin Kaymer and Ernie in ‘08, and Henrik Stenson beating out Woods and Els the year before that. Other past champions include Mark O’Meara, Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie, and Seve Ballesteros. So despite the tournament’s youth, it has a boastful tradition. The finishing par-5 over water also adds to the excitement. My pick to win this year is the Englishman Paul Casey. He has played steady, consistent golf since returning from his injury, and after last week’s T5, I think he is ready to bite. The field features some intriguing darkhorses, but I will be watching to see how 60-year-old American Tom Watson fares against the young guns. Watson will serve as my sleeper pick in Dubai. The Golf Channel will bring the action from the European Tour all week long.

Last Week’s Recap – Congratulations to a good man in Ben Crane! Crane won the 2010 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines last week. The ending was kind of shaky by most of the players in contention, but Crane pulled it off. The Tour was blessed with beautiful weather last week, and hopefully that luck will continue. Incredible putting on Sunday was the key to Crane’s victory. He made quite a few good ones towards the middle of his round, including a 45 footer for birdie! Michael Sim, who graduated from the Nationwide Tour last season, had a chance to catch Crane while playing the reachable par-5 18th hole. Sim was one stroke back, but chose to lay up to a more comfortable distance on his second shot instead of the more daring approach of going for the water-guarded green in two. Sim and others in contention down the stretch had a 5 on the final hole to finish one behind the eventual champion. Sim’s decision to play the 18th in three coupled with Bubba Watson’s choice to play the 18th at the Palmer Course last week in three shots has sparked debate in the golf world. Are less-decorated, middle-of-the-Tour-road players going for the gold (as in victory) or the gold (as in cash)? Both Sim and Watson would have yielded 100,000 fewer dollars for their week’s work had they made bogey on their respective culminating par-5’s. However, birdie on either of those holes would have tied them for the lead in their events and probably resulted in a playoff. Not to mention what an eagle could have done for their careers and pocketbooks. In these circumstances, I want to see every player giving it their all. I hear the argument that these guys are playing for a living and they just felt more comfortable laying up, but they do not need the money. Michael Sim is my age, and he has brought in between $220,000 and $750,000 each year since 2006, not including endorsements. Bubba Watson may be a few years older and have children, but I think his family could make it had he made one hundred grand less, considering he has made over $1 million each of the past four seasons. Victories are supposed to be priceless, especially with today’s purses. Leave it all out on the course! Don’t sell me any more pusillanimity!

Before concluding, I wanted to give a shout out to a fellow Illini who was leading at the halfway mark in San Diego. Pekin, Illinois native D.A. Points was tied for the lead at eleven under par going into Saturday. Points is a friendly pro, and I am happy to see all his practice at Lick Creek and the Orange & Blue have paid off with another year of PGA Tour membership.

Robert Karlsson won the mother of pearl in Qatar. The clam looks like it is about to bite his head off in this picture.

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