Tuesday, February 9, 2010

This Week in Golf

PGA Tour – The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is one of the fans’ favorite events, and this year’s field is stronger than usual since many of the players hope to return here for the U.S. Open in June. Known for poor weather and six hour rounds with amateurs, the AT&T oftentimes is not on most professionals’ annual schedules as you may have suspected. However, the U.S. Open returns to Pebble Beach this year, and that has caused some of the best to attend the February running on the same track. The event has a tournament within a tournament similar to the Bob Hope Classic played a few weeks ago. Each professional will be teamed with an amateur golfer that pays big bucks to be able to play. The amateur golfers playing this week include Tom Brady, Ray Romano, Bill Murray, Chris Berman, Tony Romo, and more. The two-man teams (consisting of one pro and one amateur) will play a best-ball format at one of three different courses each of the first three rounds. The three course rotation this season is Spyglass Hill, Monterrey Peninsula CC’s Shore Course, and Pebble Beach. For Sunday’s final round, the pro-am field is cut to the best 25 teams, and everyone competes at Pebble Beach. The actual professional tournament is a four round event with a 54-cut of the top 60 plus ties making it to Sunday. The defending champion, Dustin Johnson, will be joined by three-time champion Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Jim Furyk, Mike Weir, Sergio Garcia, Ryo Ishikawa, Ryan Palmer, and Luke Donald for the competition. As for the winner, I cannot go against Phil. He has had great success in this tournament for many years, and after two consecutive weeks on Tour, I believe he is ready to take another AT&T. J.B. Holmes is another fellow to watch this week. After his surprisingly impressive putting at Riviera last week, I could see him continuing his solid golf at Pebble Beach. CBS will telecast the weekend rounds from California.

Champions Tour – The old men will play in Naples, Florida this week for the ACE Group Classic. They took a few weeks off after Tom Watson’s duel with rookie Freddy Couples in Hawaii, but now that they are back on the mainland, they will be playing a few weeks in a row. The event is being hosted at a new venue this season. The Quarry Golf Club recently opened in 2007 with a unique wall-to-wall turf design using SeaDwarf paspalum grass. Personally, I do not know of other courses on any tour’s rotation that utilizes this type of turf. The paspalum variety was selected for its environmental benefits. It looks good from video and pictures of the course, but I am interested in hearing the players’ reactions on its playability. The Quarry stretches to over 7,300 yards, which is a long track for the seniors. Therefore, my pick to win at this par 72 with water in play on nearly every hole will be Nick Price, who has been among the top performers in both driving distance and accuracy the past two years. Price tied for thirteenth with a ten under par performance during the first tournament of the 2010. My sleeper pick stays with the gentle giant, Phil Blackmar. He tied for sixth place a few weeks ago, and his confidence remains high. The Golf Channel will be showing us The Quarry Friday through Sunday.

European Tour – The European Tour leaves the Middle East for India this week. The DLF Country Club in New Delhi will host a weaker field than we have seen on the European Tour the past few weeks. I predict India’s Jeev Milka Singh will be the champion, but I would also keep an eye on Andrew Coltart of Scotland. The Golf Channel will have coverage of this event.

Last Week’s Recap – The Northern Trust Open at Riviera yielded an Illini victory last weekend. U of I grad Steve Stricker won the tournament by two strokes over Luke Donald near Los Angeles. Stricker owned a six-stroke lead heading into the final round. He played Sunday conservatively, going for the middle of the greens and putting well yet again. Even when Donald and J.B. Holmes applied the pressure on 16 and 17, Stricker looked unflappable. He stuck to his game plan, and it paid off. With the victory, Stricker bumped Phil Mickelson out of the number two world rankings spot.

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