Tuesday, March 30, 2010

This Week in Golf

PGA Tour – The best golfers in the world visit Texas for the Shell Houston Open this week at Rees Jones’s Redstone Golf Club. Many top international players are in the field as a final tune up for the following week’s Masters Tournament.

Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, and Geoff Ogilvy headline the field in Houston, but I think the best horse for the course is defending champion Paul Casey. I predict the Englishman, who has rarely played the PGA Tour outside of majors, will repeat at Redstone. Last year was his first trip to Houston, and it obviously proved successful. This season, Casey has six top 11 finishes in seven starts. He had a strong outing at the Honda a few weeks ago, and I feel he has a good chance to win again. Another player to watch out for this week is J.B. Holmes. This good ole boy from Kentucky played great at Riviera earlier in the year, and he led at Bay Hill after 18. He is fighting for a spot at Augusta next week. So you can bet he’ll be bombing it off the tee, scratching out any advantage he can to score well and play his way into the Masters. NBC continues its coverage of the PGA Tour this weekend.

LPGA Tour – The women are playing the season’s first major championship this week at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California. The Kraft Nabisco Championship is hosted every year at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course with a fun tradition of the champion leaping into the water surrounding the 18th green at the conclusion of play. This major delivers excitement every year. Last season’s edition featured three Americans battling it out to the very end with Brittany Lincicome edging out Kristy McPherson and Cristie Kerr by a stroke. The Kraft Nabisco is analogous to the Masters for the ladies. They seem to want this one more than any other, and they seem to have more fun here than any other individual event outside of the Solhiem Cup team competition. Paula Creamer is the only top player not in the field this week as she nurses an injury, and of those fierce competitors, I will be rooting for Morgan Pressel once again. She played ok last week at La Costa, but she will put everything together and score her major this week. Any player from Asia is automatically in the hunt, but I look for a young, American amateur named Alexis Thompson to also make some waves. She is the youngest player to ever qualify for a U.S. Open, and she has had mild success in her few LPGA Tour appearances thus far. I would not be surprised if this sleeper turned some heads before the week is through. The Golf Channel televises the first three rounds from Mission Hills, and CBS takes over coverage for Sunday.

Last Week’s Recap – It was a wet weekend at Bay Hill, but that did not stop Ernie Els from cruising to his second straight victory. I gushed enough about the Big Easy two weeks ago following his win at Doral. So I will keep this recap to a minimum. Some surprises popped up at Arnie’s place last week. Davis Love III was in the hunt heading into Sunday. Ben Curtis played very well, and Chris Couch was also high on the leaderboard. Aside from Els, no one predicted any of those guys to be near the top. Palmer’s renovations to Bay Hill were well-received by the players. However, he certainly capped the scoring with the new changes even with the 16th being converted back to a par-5. Ernie was the only player to finish in double-digits under par at eleven under. With Els continuing solid play and relaxed, confident attitude, he is the favorite heading into Augusta.

Fred Couples once again tore up the Champions Tour. The Cap Cana Championship was played on the beautiful shores of the Dominican Republic, where birdies were as abundant as the sunshine. Freddy finished the 54-hole event at twenty-one under par for a two stroke advantage over Corey Pavin, the 36-hole leader. Couples, Pavin, and Nick Price rounded out the final group on Sunday. Couples, wearing his strange, new Ecco golf sneakers, shot a final round 62 to overcome Pavin’s two shot lead and final round 66. Rumblings of a Couples run at Augusta abound now that he has won three Champions Tour events and finished runner-up in his only other appearance. He is not missing any shots, and his putting, even from short range, is spot on. Freddy is playing in Houston on the big boys’ tour this week, and many people are questioning if the decision to play three weeks in a row will flare up his back problems. Time will tell, but for now, I am thoroughly enjoying seeing Boom Boom be successful again.

The ladies’ event at La Costa was a disappointment to many American fans wanting to see an American victor as the LPGA Tour kicked off its U.S. swing for 2010. We didn’t get our wish. Another strong, young Asian player had control of the tournament all week. Hee Kyung Seo from South Korea won by six shots over Inbee Park. At 23 years of age, Seo is the Korean ladies tour’s version of Natalie Gulbis. Seo got into the Kia Classic on a sponsor’s exemption because she has no status on the LPGA Tour and rarely plays in America. She now has membership, but she has yet to decide whether she will take advantage of it or not. Michelle Wie was in the top ten most of the week, but she was never really in contention. No other big name Americans played extraordinarily well this week. They will need to step it up for next week's major championship.

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