Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This Week in Golf

PGA Tour – The Accenture Match Play Championship is an exciting break from the standard medal play tournaments seen most weeks on the PGA Tour. This event played in the desert mountains near Tucson, Arizona is styled after the NCCA basketball tournament, 64 of the world’s top golfers are seeded and pitted against one another in a match play bracket system. Every sports fan should fill out his own bracket even if it’s just to catch the fever for mid-March basketball. If you do follow along, though, beware that the depth of the field and true unpredictability of the game do not typically yield a star-studded championship match on Sunday. Of the past five runnings of the event, only two number one seeds have advanced to a final four. In 2005, Retief Goosen was one of the four one seeds that made it to the final four, and in 2008, Tiger Woods was a rare one seed champion. The 2006 edition of the Match Play featured a six seed and three other double-digit seeds (11, 13, and 15) advancing to the final four. That may be equivalent to seeing #6 West Virginia, #11 Temple, #13 Mississippi State, and #15 Binghampton in last year’s Final Four of the NCAA. Well, not really. But my point is match play in an individual sport is much more unpredictable than even college basketball. Therefore, my picks are a long shot, but for fun, I’ll lay them on the table. Out of the Bobby Jones division, I like #3 Ian Poulter to face #2 Rory McIlrory of the Ben Hogan division. The other side of the bracket is much more challenging. I’ll take an Italian former US Amateur champion, Edoardo Molinari (#12), from the Sam Snead division against American Ryan Moore (#13) from the Gary Player division. The European championship match will pit potential Ryder Cup teammates McIlrory and Molinari. The young Irishman will overcome his back pain during the 36-hole championship match to defeat his fellow rising star 4&3. McIrory is the most well-rounded and talented professional under 30 in the world despite Dustin Johnson fans clamoring this past week. He already has solid victories and major championship experience under his belt at the age of 20, and I don’t see his stock going anywhere but up. A win in Tucson even without Woods or a vacationing Mickelson would be a gem on his already impressive resume. Admittedly, I do not like where young Rory would take golf fashion. I much prefer the Tiger look, but nobody’s perfect. CBS will be in the desert for these matches played at Jack Nicklaus's stunning Dove Mountain Golf Club.

This is the first of a few weeks during the PGA Tour schedule when two Tour events will be played simultaneously at different locations. While the best golfers are battling each other at the Match Play Championship, the pros who could not get into the field of 64, will be competing in Mexico for the Mayakoba Golf Classic. The El Camaleon Golf Club near Cancun will host a pretty decent field in the Tour’s edition of the NIT. They will be playing stroke play in Mexico, though. Last week’s runner-up, David Duval, will be joined by Stuart Appleby, Mark Calcavecchia, John Daly, Boo Weekley, and Illini head coach Mike Small. Mike always represents his alma matters, the University of Illinois and 2009 Big 12 football champion Danville High School, very well. We will be watching the ever-competitive Small. Even though his coaching position at Illinois is his top priority, his golf game never looks rusty. Mike may be a darkhorse to win, but I bet he finishes strong. Another Big Ten product, Wisconsin’s Jerry Kelly, is my pick to win this week, though. The Golf Channel will bring you all Mike’s shots this week from Mexico.

LPGA Tour – The ladies start their 2010 season this week in Thailand. The Honda PTT LPGA Thailand will be played at Siam Country Club. The defending champion is Lorena Ochoa. Lorena will be competing against a star-studded field that includes Natalie Gulbis, Ai Miyazato, Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie, Karrie Webb, Morgan Pressel, and Jiyai Shin. Most golf fans will not pay any attention to a women’s tournament taking place on the other side of the world, but kudos to the LPGA for taking their stars overseas to grow the game in the most fertile market right now of East Asia. With a dwindling number of events for women professionals, the game’s top players are entering everything available to them. Their shrinking schedule is spread out from February through November, and some columnists are suggesting the ladies are setting a model for other tours. Hosting fewer events allows for every one to be special with strong fields on only the best courses. And that way, they are forced to court a much smaller number of corporate title sponsors. For those interested, the Golf Channel will also be airing the LPGA action this week.

Champions Tour – The old guys are heading across Florida to the Atlantic coast in Boca Raton for the Allianz Championship. The star rookie, Fred Couples, will be taking the week off, but many other elite seniors are making the trip to the Old Course at Broken Sound. Michael Allen, Paul Azinger, Fred Funk, Jay Haas, Bernhard Langer, Loren Roberts, Nick Price, and Peter Jacobsen will all be playing. For the winner, I have to go with my all-time favorite player, Tom Lehman. Tommy played well in Hawaii early on in the season, and he has not made an appearance on the Champions Tour since. My sleeper will be last week’s come-from-behind-runner-up Tommy Armour III. This man shot a 61 on Sunday to finish only a stroke behind Couples. To see if these Tom’s live up to my expectations, tune into (you guessed it) the Golf Channel.

Last Week’s Recap – The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am witnessed a rough final round of higher than usual scores, but it served up some great, competitive golf with three pros in the running for winner just before the last putt was stroked. Defending champion, Dustin Johnson, birdied the 72nd hole to take a one shot victory over J.B. Holmes (my sleeper pick for the week) and former world number one David Duval. Down the stretch, four-time All-American Georgia Tech alum Bryce Molder and Tour journeyman Paul Goydos both were in contention before playing the long par-5 14th hole. Both of them made quadruple bogey 9 on the daunting uphill dogleg right challenge featuring what Duval described as the “smallest target on the course” in the well-guarded green with a front pin placement. Johnson, Holmes, and Duval were all tied for the lead at fifteen under par as Johnson’s final group played the 18th. The young bomber went for the par-5 green in two shots and ended up in the large front right bunker. That left him with an uphill sand shot with little green to work with. Johnson’s pitch landed softly, and he had about three and a half feet left for the outright victory. Both Holmes and Duval before him made 5 on the final hole. The final round’s broadcast was too lengthy as usual at the AT&T. In my opinion, the amateurs do not offer anything on Sunday. I propose the pro-am be shortened to a 54-hole event similar to other tournaments featuring an amateur aspect. Johnson’s and Goydos’s final pairing took 5 hours and 45 minutes to complete their round. That is way too long! Anyone who watched the event on CBS knows how many shots of the ocean and lengthy commercial breaks there were. Being at the gem of US golf, the game and Tour would be served better by a much brisker final round at Pebble, especially when the weather was so perfect.

Fred Couples captured his first Champions Tour victory Sunday in only the second event of his rookie season. Scoring was higher than expected the first two days because of extremely high winds that even suspended play on Friday. Sunday, however, was a shootout. Couples came into the day looking as if he would lap the field, but Tommy Armour III had something to say about that. Armour had nine birdies and an eagle in his final round of 61! Couples was forced to play the final three holes (all par-4’s) in one under if he was to win outright. He did it, too. Making a birdie on the 17th and tapping in for par on the final hole allowed Freddy his first senior win with a 64.

1 comment:

  1. Well, my predictions for the Match Play were as inaccruate as my tee shots. So now that we are down to the elite eight, I will try again.

    (3)Poulter vs. (12)Jaidee
    Poulter is the stronger player in this match, but Jaidee has a pretty good hit list so far this week, and Jaidee has nothing to lose. Poulter is one of the top seeds and biggest names remaining for the weekend's play. Most of the tournament's live and television audience have never heard of Thongchai, and he is no Japanese Cowboy or Smilin' Assassin. His personality is more in line with Retief Goosen. Therefore, I do not believe the galleries will fall in love with this cinderella story. Pouler will advance.

    (4)Garcia vs. (10)Wilson
    Oliver Wilson will pull the upset again today. Yesterday's match versus Luke Donald was impressive, and today will match it. Wilson has great length and mechanics. Garcia is making a comeback with his game, but he still has not proven that he can string together four consecutive rounds of high-quality golf. I will pick Wilson.

    (5)Goosen vs. (6)Villegas
    The last two matches for the Goose have been typical Retief. He has plodded along with pars and predictable birdies. He is relaxed, but focused, and he can pull himself out of trouble even when behind. However, Villegas is wired for match play. He can be agressive on every shot. He can get into big trouble and only lose one hole instead of three or four strokes. He handled the pressure of a close match yesterday, and he even rolled in at least one lengthy putt. I think Villegas will take this one.

    (2)Casey vs. (5)Cink
    This match will be another great one to watch. Cink has been pulling off some amazing shots to advance. On Wednesday he holed a bunker shot to help him beat E. Molinari. Yesterday, he flubbed his approach and bunker shot on 18 with the match AS, but he holed a great putt from the fringe to force extra holes. Casey on the other hand is more consistent and confident. He has solid history at match play events, including this one, and I think he will win this sprint to the final four.

    If my predictions come true, here is what the final four will look like:

    (3)Poulter vs. (10)Wilson
    Poulter will outlast his countryman with solid putting to advance to the championship.

    (6)Villegas vs. (2)Casey
    Paul Casey will win trying to vindicate his last defeat in the championshp match.

    Championship Match
    (3)Poulter vs. (2)Casey
    Casey's stark white teeth will blind Poulter in the desert sun when Paul flashes his brilliant smile during Ian's drive on the first tee. From there on out, Casey will have the advantage and victory.


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