Tuesday, March 2, 2010

This Week in Golf

PGA Tour – The Florida Swing kicks off with the Honda Classic this week at Jack Nicklaus’s PGA National Champion Course in Palm Beach. The field is packed with elite international players including defending champion Y.E. Yang. Among the players in the top ten in the world are Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Rory McIlrory, and Padraig Harrington. Yang was leading the Phoenix Open on Sunday until hooking his drive on 17 into the drink. The 2009 PGA champion is continuing to win over golf fans as he recently donated the shirt he wore during that famous Tiger-slaying Sunday and an autographed PGA Championship flag to his kids’s school fundraising auction in suburban Dallas. Other notable players in this week’s field include Ernie Els (2008 champ), Anthony Kim, Brandt Snedeker, Rickie Fowler, Vijay Singh (1999), Camilo Villegas, Sergio Garcia, Robert Allenby, Ryan Palmer, Mike Weir, Ben Crane, Justin Leonard (2003), and Matt Kuchar (2002). Since arriving at PGA National a few years ago, the Honda Classic has been drawing much stronger fields to play for their $1 million grand prize. To take the kitty this season, I will bet on Ryan Moore. I picked him to win earlier this season, and he let me down. But PGA National is a ball-strikers venue. It is not a putting contest here. The winner needs to be able to place the ball. Moore ranks 3rd in total driving (which takes into account both distance and accuracy off the tee) and 36th in greens in regulation (which calculates how often you are putting for birdie). He is coming off a strong T14 in Phoenix, where a third round 74, kept him from being right there on Sunday. For my sleeper pick, I have a good feeling about Tim Herron, aka “Lumpy.” He does not have status on Tour this year. I imagine he only got into this field by being a past champion in 1996. Lumpy tied for 21st at Mayakoba, and I believe the fond memories of his virgin win coupled with the desperation to regain his Tour card will catapult Herron to a solid showing. NBC will be carrying weekend coverage of PGA Tour events through the month of March.

Champions Tour – The senior men now take their turn out west in the Toshiba Classic at Newport Beach Country Club. As usual, the old guys will take on a lesser challenge in a course that can yield low scores. The Newport Beach 18-hole record of 60 was set by Tom Purtzer in 2004. The 54-hole total shouldn’t be as ridiculous as the twenty under pars accomplished by the first two winners this year, but depending on conditions, I wouldn’t put fifteen under over three rounds past the champion. Andres Romero is the defending champ, but all three winners of 2010 are also in the field. Watson, Couples, and Langer look to make it two this season, and they each have excellent chances. However, 2009 runner-up Mark O’Meara played Newport Beach in high school, and I think he will be itching to prove his worth in front of a hometown crowd. As always, watch for Tom Lehman. He played very well with the young boys in Phoenix finishing four strokes back, and he’ll bring his strong game into southern California hungry for his first solo senior victory. The Golf Channel will broadcast the Toshiba Classic.

Last Week’s Recap – The Phoenix Open did not disappoint. Many young guns and a few old vets were in contention to the end Sunday. Hunter Mahan ended up as king of the hill, but another OK State Cowboy, Rickie Fowler, had plenty of opportunities. All week we saw (in his choice of apparel) and heard (from the Brandel Chamblee) how bold and daring the 21-year-old Rickie Fowler is. Even in a recent Titleist commercial the one word he utters is “aggressive.” However when push came to shove, Rickie chose to lay up on the reachable par-5 15th hole at TPC Scottsdale. What!?!?!? Both his playing partners, Mark Calcavecchia and Camilo Villegas, reached the 15th’s green in two playing from farther back than Fowler’s 230 yards in the fairway. The pin was cut in front on the island green, but twenty yards of fairway stood between the cup and the water preceding it. Bunkers loomed on either side of the green, and there was lots of room beyond the hole before his ball could get wet. This is the same pusillanimity I was complaining about three weeks ago when young Michael Sim decided to lay up on the reachable par-5 18th at Torrey Pines while in the mix on Sunday. Maybe writers have defended Rickie’s choice to lay up to his ideal yardage and secure birdie. The problem is he flubbed the approach and made 5. Fowler went on to finish one stroke out of a playoff. On the week, Fowler went for the green a total of nine times, and he ended up seven under par for those nine holes. The champion, Mahan, went for 12 different greens, and he was eight under for those attempts. Why wouldn’t you take that opportunity? I want to see players go for it all the way. Play for the eagle on 15. Go pin hunting on 16. Drive the green on 17, and hit the approach on 18 over that front right bunker. I especially disapprove of Rickie’s lay up after he struck a beautiful shot next to the hole on the par-5 13th that yielded him a tap in birdie after nearly making an eagle 3. Fowler finished his final round with three more pars missing birdie putts of 14, 17, and 30 feet. I felt Mahan was overshadowed Sunday by the bright orange pants and stardom of his younger Cowboy. Mahan sank a clutch birdie putt on the rowdy par-3 16th to go along with great 3’s at both 13 and 14. Congratulations Hunter!

Ai Miyazato is a champion once again on the LPGA Tour. My pick, Cristie Kerr, finished runner-up two strokes back after making bogey on each of the final two holes. Miyazato also won the week before in Thailand. This victory was not as dramatic, though. She chipped in to win by a stroke at the Honda. However, the HSBC Champions win by two was consistent with a pair of 69’s on the weekend. All of the best women golfers in the world were present in Singapore, and the strength of the last two fields vaults the 24-year-old Miyazato into the ranks of the elite. The HSBC is her third LPGA Tour win. However, Miyazato also owns fifteen Japanese LPGA trophies. I do not suspect this name will fade any time soon. Expect to see Miyazato in the running for all the ladies majors. The Tour takes a few weeks off now before making their 2010 American debut the final weekend of March.

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