Tuesday, March 23, 2010

This Week in Golf

PGA Tour – One of my favorite events of each Tour season is the Bay Hill Invitational. The King, Arnold Palmer, annually hosts a strong field playing a fabulous course with an exciting finish. The new slot on the schedule also makes Bay Hill a popular preparation week for the Masters, being held in only two weeks. Tiger has added to Bay Hill’s allure by holing spectacular tournament-cinching putts each of the last two years to accumulate his record six Invitational crowns. Surprisingly, Woods will not be playing The King’s event in 2010. Despite his absence, though, the field is highly competitive. Robert Allenby, Ernie Els, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen, Hunter Mahan, Phil Mickelson, Kenny Perry, Steve Stricker, Camilo Villegas, Zach Johnson, and Colin Montgomerie are just a few fan favorites looping the links in Orlando this week. My pick to win is South Korea’s K.J. Choi. The owner of seven PGA Tour titles plays well in the South, and his golf has been consistent, but under the radar so far this season. His strength lies in his ball-striking, but his top ten finish in Tampa last week rested on his improved putting. He nearly led the field in putts per round and putts per GIR at the Transitions. If Choi can continue to roll the ball well at Bay Hill, I believe he will contend. My sleeper pick will be another player who tends to yield his most impressive results in the South. Brandt Snedeker, along with K.J. Choi, has not missed a cut all year. However, he has only one standout top five finish in San Diego. Sneds had a mediocre week in Tampa, but I sense this one could be his breakout for 2010. NBC will carry coverage from Bay Hill during the weekend.

Champions Tour – The old farts are crossing the county again. They went from Florida to California, and next up, they play in the Dominican Republic. The Cap Cana Championship debuted last year with Keith Fergus capturing the title. This week a talented group of seniors has decided to make the trip. Michael Allen, Tommy Armour III, John Cook, Fred Couples, Hale Irwin, Bernhard Langer, Nick Price, and Loren Roberts headline the field. As for the champ, how could I go against Freddy? He has been on fire all year. Couples is easily the favorite. Every aspect of his game is on, and he is bursting with confidence. The senior Tour has been everything he expected it to be for himself six years ago when he proposed a mid-age tour of 45-50 year olds. Joey Sindelar is another player to watch out for, though. He shot sixteen under at the Allianz. The Golf Channel will broadcast the Cap Cana Championship.

LPGA Tour – The Kia Classic restarts the lady professionals as they make their first appearance in the U.S. this year. La Costa in Carlsbad, California is a venue that hosted many PGA Tour events, but will be played by the ladies this time around. As the first LPGA tournament in a month and with the first women’s major the following week, the field includes nearly every player that could get in besides Paula Creamer. My pick to win this week is Morgan Pressel. I must go with an America now that they are playing in the U.S.. It is hard to believe it has been nearly five years since the young amateur Pressel had her hopes deflated at the US Women’s Open at Cherry Hills as Birdie Kim holed her bunker shot on 18 to take the lead for good. Pressel is entering her fifth season as a professional at the age of 21. She has two LPGA titles to her name. However, last season seemed to be a bit of a late sophomore slump. Morgan had two runner-up’s in 2009, but she did not pull off a win. Pressel is not one to give up. She has a strong competitive fire as do many of the American women, but I predict this week will be Pressel’s. For my sleeper, I will stick with my last LPGA darkhorse, Momoko Ueda. This young Japanese star will capture a victory on U.S. soil sooner or later. The Golf Channel will air the event.

Last Week’s Recap – Jim Furyk broke through with a victory for the first time since summer of 2007 last weekend at Tampa’s Transitions Championship. I was a bit surprised to hear of that drought during Saturday’s broadcast since Furyk rarely misses a cut and is consistently near the top of the leaderboard every time he enters an event. I just had not paid close enough attention to realize that he had not won in so long. He typically wins one or two tournaments a year. However, he nearly threw this one away. Furyk held a two stroke lead over playing partner K.J. Choi as they stepped onto the 18th tee. Furyk had made a testy putt for par on the previous green. Choi’s drive was not good, but not in jail either. Furyk, on the other hand, sliced his tee ball right into the forest. He had an ok look to lay-up on the longish uphill par 4 18th, but he shanked the ball with a severe slice that nearly took off NBC’s Roger Maltbie’s head. The ball did not advance but maybe 100 yards into thick rough but out of the trees. His next shot onto the putting surface was fine, and he two putted for bogie and a one shot victory. He was clearly anxious after his second on 18, but he managed to get his 5. Choi and Bubba Watson were in striking distance most of the day, but neither of them put together much of a charge on the back nine. They both showed some teeth on the front side, but not much fell after the turn. Furyk is the deserving champ, though. He putted extraordinarily, and he managed his game around a very tight, hilly golf course.

Golf Bucket List – Slammin’ Sammy’s latest post inspired me to make a golf bucket list. Personally, here is how my list would look in no particular order.

1. Play a course the PGA Tour stops at in addition to Deere Run
2. Break 80
3. Make a hole-in-one
4. Go to the Masters
5. Win a Bloomington-Normal Golf Association two-man scramble flight
6. Play in a four-man scramble event
7. Attend a Ryder Cup

Some of my favorite memories are things that would be on my golf bucket list had I not been fortunate enough to already experience them. Every other golf fan should take the opportunity to go watch Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus in person. One or the other will go down in history as the greatest golfer ever. Jack severely limits his rounds these days. You may have to go to Florida to see him play, but it would be worth the trip. As he has aged, he has become much more cognizant of the fans's desire to not only watch him but interact with him as well. Tiger usually plays the Chicago event in August, and major championships come around the Midwest every few years. It is definitely worth the money and hassle of fighting the Tiger crowds in order to tell your grandkids you saw him play. Pebble Beach is one of the most spectacular places in the world. Golfers need to experience it. Luckily, I won a trip to see the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and it is incredible. That memory brings me to another must. Golf followers should witness the final round of the U.S. Open. It does not matter which course. The U.S. Open is the most difficult golf course setup anyone ever experiences. Even one of the easiest Open’s in recent history was a blast to watch on Sunday at Olympia Fields near Chicago in 2003. Lastly, I want to plug the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida. It is an amazing shrine to golf. It is a very pretty place, and the history that is there is unbelievable. Big golf fans should go.

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