Wednesday, April 7, 2010

This Week in Golf


PGA Tour – The azaleas will be in full bloom as always on Amen Corner as Masters Tournament is beheld at Augusta National Golf Club this week. Dozens of headlines are coming out of Augusta early on this week. Not the least of which is the long-awaited return of the world’s number one golfer, Tiger Woods.

Woods arrived at the course on Sunday, when he played nine holes. Tiger went on to play practices rounds with Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara the following days. For the opening rounds, he will be paired with K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar. These are two relatively surprising picks for Woods playing partners. Other, more seasoned veterans with experience playing in front of large, possibly hostile galleries had volunteered for the sentence, but the pairings committee at the Club has now spoken. Woods held an anticipated press conference Monday afternoon with select media members, and he opened up a little bit more than he had in his previous television appearances since the Thanksgiving debacle. He directly refuted allegations that he received and/or used human growth hormones or any illegal drugs. Dr. Anthony Galea from Canada treated Woods in Orlando with a platelet-rich plasma for his knee and Achilles tendon. Galea is under federal investigations for possibly treating other athlete patients of his with illegal drugs. Tiger also addressed Tom Watson’s issue with Tiger that he calm his often profanity laced, negative outbursts on the course in order to show more respect for the game and the galleries. Woods appears to have grown in appreciation for his fans through this incident. We will see how long that love affair lasts. The galleries have been very receptive and welcoming to Woods so far this week. However, the patrons of Augusta are required to behave in a gentlemanly manner. Fans at other events are not quite so polite. The players have accepted him back with open arms early this week, and I predict the patrons at Augusta will continue to show forgiveness and appreciation for Woods throughout the rest of the week. But come Quaill Hollow or whatever other events he chooses to play in after the Masters will be a different story, and I think he believes the same thing. As far as his chances, ESPN had a very good roundtable discussion about Tiger’s chances this week with Paul Azinger, Curtis Strange, and Andy North. Surprisingly, not all were in agreement there, and I definitely recommend checking it out. I tend to side with Azinger’s school of thought in this case. He claims that golf will be a much-needed release valve for Woods. He referred to that being the case for him after coming back from cancer in the early ‘90’s. As Strange continually asserts, a player needs to be in top competitive form in order to win the Masters, and I agree for 99% of the PGA Tour. Woods is the exception. Tiger plays his best golf when the spotlight is brightest. He knows that more people will be watching him this week than every before, and he actually has something to prove now. Just like when he returned from his knee injury in 2009, he plays very well with a chip on his shoulder. The tiger does not like monkeys on his back, and he has one now. Most people in the golf world agree with Strange, if they are honest. How can you win at the ultimate thinking man’s course with the most undulated and slippery greens in Georgia when you have not played competitively in six months? This would be Earl’s queue to step in and say something outrageous that Tiger validates on the golf course. He has amazed time and again. John Cook and O’Meara both say he is striking the ball right now with incredible accuracy and precision. He practiced at Augusta a couple weeks ago, and he has been there since Sunday. I think he wins it. I don’t know if it will be in dramatic 16th hole chip-in fashion or 1997 lap the field fashion. But I have an Earl Woods feeling that “this kid is something special.”

As for the rest of the field, Fred Couples has been hotter than practically anyone has ever been after turning 50. If Freddy is in contention down the stretch, look for Jim Nantz (Couples’s college roommate at U of H) to shed more tears than Ken Venturi did in his final tour of events the year he retired. I would love for the 1992 Masters champion to be right there on Sunday, but I doubt it happens. He can win 54-hole events on cakewalk courses against 50-plus pros, but he will struggle to gather the perseverance to play one of the toughest golf courses during his third consecutive week of competition with a back as volatile as his. I look for a nostalgic top 25 finish for Freddy while hoping for more.

I stated last week that Ernie Els was the favorite heading into the Masters, and despite a mediocre tournament in Houston, I still see the South African as a legitimate threat for a green jacket. He is striking the ball wonderfully, and his putting has come around to be much more consistent. The Big Easy desperately wants a win at Augusta. He has come close a couple times, and after winning two of his last three Tour starts, and I believe he has the confidence and drive to pull out a victory here.

Phil Mickelson is another story this week (as if he is ever not a story). The last two weeks, we have seen classic Phil. The up-and-down rollercoaster of good round, bad round. His wife and mom are still battling breast cancer, and it has to be tough for him to be playing golf with all that is going on in his life. However, he seemed in good spirits last Sunday after making six straight birdies on the back nine in Houston while his wife’s caner specialist was on the bag. Many fans and analysts have written Mickelson off for the Masters. I have not, though. Remember 2009 when he played for the first time since announcing Amy’s condition. He played terribly in Memphis. Then he nearly won the U.S. Open at Bethpage the following week. I am expecting Phil to come out firing. He played driver on almost every hole at Redstone last week when he knew it was not the best play. He did it to prepare for Augusta. He fired a 58 during a practice round two weeks ago, and he loves Augusta. As the owner of two green jackets, I think Phil will be in the hunt come Sunday for a third.

One beautiful tradition of the Masters Tournament is the honorary starter. Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, and Sam Snead took up the role while I was first falling in love with this event. And for the first time, the Golden Bear Jack Nicklaus (a record six-time Masters champion) will be teeing off in the opening pairing with The King, Arnold Palmer. Palmer has been the honorary starter in Masters past by himself. He plans on playing the first hole then quitting as precedent holds. Jack, though, has been rumored to be contemplating going on after the opener. It would be quite the thrill for the patrons there if he did.

For those interested in watching this weekend, here are some basics to know after the event. Bobby Jones, easily the greatest amateur golfer of all time, started the tournament in 1934 as a gathering of friends at his newly designed golf club in Augusta, Georgia. The following year, Gene Sarazen, a remarkable golfer in his own right, cemented the legend of Jones’ gathering by hitting the “shot heard ‘round the world.” He made double eagle on the par-5 15th hole with a 4-wood during the final round to win in a playoff over Craig Wood. Rae’s Creek flows through Amen Corner, which is the series of holes from 11-13. Amen Corner is also known for the stunning pink azalea flowers that are always in full bloom during the tournament surrounding the par-5 13th green. The course was built on an old nursery (The Fruitlands) with many rare and foreign plant species that delight patrons and television viewers alike as they have been utilized as highlights to the course for decades now. The winner receives the coveted green jacket for his accomplishment. Only members of Augusta National and winner of the Masters Tournament have official green jackets. The green jackets is traditionally first donned in Butler Cabin on the club’s grounds following conclusion of play. And CBS is there to show it.

Last Week’s Recap – The Shell Houston Open was won by Anthony Kim last week after paring the first hole of a sudden death playoff over Vaughn Taylor. Neither golfer played the 18th very well in regulation nor in the playoff. Kim pulled off some impressive greenside bunker and chip shot down the stretch to keep at least a share of the lead. Taylor holed a long, winding par putt on his 72nd hole to get within a stroke of Kim, playing in the final group behind him. Kim’s drive on 18 sailed into the bunker on the opposite side of the fairway from the lake. His approach from the sand rolled into yet another bunker near the green. The young American was forced to play a gutsy, high-flying bunker shot to a cup cut with water in the near background. Kim got it to five feet for a putt to win outright. However, he missed his par attempt, and the playoff ensued. It was an exciting finish, and it was great to see two young American players dueling it out for the victory. Even still, I did not get much of a thrill from this event because Kim and Taylor, playing for a spot at his hometown’s event next week, did not impressively master the final holes like we see the top players of the week doing so often. Instead, the wind and 18th hole pushed around the golfers almost as if they were amateurs. In the end, though, Anthony Kim notched his third PGA Tour victory and a needed shot of confidence.

The LPGA Tour’s first major championship of the 2010 season did not provide the drama it usually enjoys. Yani Tseng only won by one stroke, but the tournament was hers from the time she eagled the second hole. The 21-year-old from Taiwan now has an LPGA Tour victory in each of her three seasons. Suzann Petersen finished runner-up.

5 comments:

  1. Looking back on last week, some good rules examples. A player hit a ball into a trash receptacle. The receptacle was a movable obstruction, so the ball was recovered, the receptacle moved, then the ball was dropped at a point on the ground below where the ball originally lay. Free relief, no penalty.

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  2. Thanks, resident rules official. We appreciate your input. What was your take on Wie's debacle two weeks ago?

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  3. Did not hear about Wie? What happened? There was another situation last week with Phil Mickleson. He tried to hit a ball out of the bad lie (right handed). The ball struck him and another ball also came out. He was penalized 1 stroke for the ball hitting him (not 2 as the commentators thought since the rule was changed 2 years ago), and no penalty for hitting a wrong ball since he did not make a stroke at it since the definition of stroke says it's an attempt to hit a ball.

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  4. Josh's Dad's SonApril 9, 2010 at 8:57 AM

    So let me get this straight... If I just continually try to not make an "attempt to hit a ball" and just accidentally hit the ball towards the hole multiple times, then I could theoretically never make a stroke? Sign me up! Oh, and don't tell me that's not allowed because it's a “gentlemen's game”; any game that allows John Daly, Michelle Wie, and Vijay Singh to play is not, by definition, a gentleman's game!

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  5. That "not intending to hit a ball" only applies to an unseen (normally) ball that is not yours. If you accidentally move your own ball it is a 1 stroke penalty and the ball must be replaced. If it's not replaced, it's 2 strokes. Don't try to fool the rules!

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