August 13, 2013

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Tiger Woods: The Last Time?

By: Tyler Vespa

With his T-40 finish this week at the PGA, Tiger Woods has now gone 5 full seasons without a major. This particular drought is the longest of his nearly unmatched career.

However, not much has changed other than that. He is still number 1 in the world by a wide margin. He has won 5 times this year, and leads the FedEx Cup standings, which would normally guarantee him another player of the year crown, save for the man in 2nd in those standings, Phil Mickelson. Phil’s year would better Tiger’s simply based upon his win at Muirfield.

And for all those convinced he will never surpass Jack’s record of 18 professional major titles, you need only look ahead to 2014. The major venues for next year have been set in stone for a while now. We’ll begin in April as we always do with the Masters at Augusta National where Tiger’s collected 4 of his 14 major titles.

A few months later Pinehurst No. 2 will host the U.S. Open. The last time the U.S. Open was played there in 2005, Tiger finished runner-up to New Zealander Michael Campbell, who has slipped all the way down to 306th in the world. Need I say more.

A month later, the British Open will be held at Royal Liverpool, Hoylake. The last time it was hosted there in 2006, Tiger shot 18-under par, 270 to beat fellow American Chris DiMarco by two shots. In case you forgot, Tiger used one driver off the tee all week.

One year from now, the PGA Championship will be staged at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville. The last time the PGA was held there was in 2000. Yeah, 2000. Wasn’t that? Yeah. “The Tiger Slam”. Tiger beat Bob May in a playoff to win his third major of the season.

That’s ironic. Tiger may not win the “Grand Slam” in 2014, but if he doesn’t, I “fully” expect him to be within a few strokes of doing so. No pun intended.

April 11, 2013

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Contenders To Win at Augusta

By: Joe Williams

This is what we’ve been waiting eight months for. Golf’s first major championship of the season has begun and there are plenty of storylines happening in Augusta. Of course, the most important one is winning the green jacket come Sunday afternoon. Here are a few guys I’ll be paying attention to this week.

Could Steve Stricker's putting tips help Tiger Woods win the 2013 Masters?

Bubba Watson

One year ago, Bubba hit one of the greatest shots in Masters history on his way to claiming the green jacket. He’s become one of the biggest stars in golf. Don’t let the hot pink driver fool you…he hits it a ton and he loves to shape his shots. With that combination, he should have as good a shot as anyone this week. Can he defend his championship?

Tiger Woods

Really this should be a list of players to watch other than Tiger. If Woods is in the field, he’ll be the most watched player by far. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s won three times this year while nobody else has more than one. He back at the top of his game and back at the top of the world rankings. Will his major drought come to an end this week?

Dustin Johnson

Johnson has already won this year and finished T12 and T4 in his last two tournaments. His length will give him an advantage over just about everyone in the field. He will have to get on a hot streak with the putter and if he is in contention on Sunday, we’ll see if he can avoid the major mistake that has already cost him a couple majors in his short career.

Rory McIlroy

He nearly had the tournament won two years ago at the beginning of his rise to No. 1 in the world. He struggled and had confidence issues after making an equipment change but finished second last week, giving him some momentum heading into the season’s first major. Is it enough to handle the course that will penalize you for the slightest mistake?

Lee Westwood

He could be the best player that hasn’t won a major but he is running out of chances. He’s got three straight high finishes at Augusta and finished in the top 10 in Houston. He’s confident heading into the tournament but will he be able to sink the crucial putt down the stretch that he hasn’t made in all of his close calls?

Phil Mickelson

He says this is his favorite week of the year. He always seems to be in contention at Augusta. He has won three of the last seven Masters tournaments and could have made it four last year if it wasn’t for a couple “Phil the Thrill” moments that turned into two triple-bogeys.

A few others

Tianlang Guan: He’s 14. And he’s playing in the Masters.

Martin Laird: He won last week

Brandt Snedeker: 2nd on the money list and FedEx Cup Points list

T.J. Vogel: An amateur usually shows up on the leaderboard. Why not him?

July 17, 2012

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Players To Watch At The British Open

By: Joe Williams

Once again, it’s PGA major championship time. This week is the British Open which means die-hard golf fans will have to get up in the middle of the night if they want to watch the action live. I’m already tired just thinking about it. In case I forget to set my alarm or just keep hitting the snooze button, here are the guys I am interested in this week. Somebody keep me posted.

Could Ian Poulter win his first Major at the British Open?

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Ernie Els

Getting back to the winners circle has been a struggle for “The Big Easy.” Els hasn’t won since the 2010 South African Open. But he has been putting himself in contention lately and he finished in a tie for third the last time the Open Championship was held at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. The conditions are expected to be similar to 2002 when Els won at Muirfield and this is a course that bodes well for the biggest stars with seven of the nine winners being, like Els, a member of the hall of fame.

Tiger Woods

Tiger is always the guy to watch. He’s the betting favorite, but we don’t know which Tiger will show up. He leads the tour in wins this year with three and is at the top of the money list and FedEx Cup points list, but he hasn’t been “Tiger” in the majors and he missed the cut in his last start at the Greenbriar Classic.

Phil Mickelson

Speaking of guys who missed the cut at the Greenbriar…Lefty hasn’t played well since the beginning of the year. But he did throw down a 64 and 65 last week at the Scottish Open so maybe he’s rounding back into form. Phil doesn’t have many good finishes at the British Open, but he did tie for second last year at Royal St. George’s.  Maybe he has this style of play figured out.

Darren Clarke

He’s the defending champion. He tied for third here in 2001. But he hasn’t played well this year in just five starts. His best finish is a tie for 33rd.

Rory McIlroy

He was the No. 1 ranked player in the world earlier this year but has struggled since; missing the cut four times in his last six starts. But he’s still the new star in golf and has the game to win anytime he tees it up. He does have a major championship on his resume which isn’t a good sign if you go by the results of recent majors with the last 15 all being won by different players.

Zach Johnson

He won the John Deere Classic last week so he will have momentum on his side. But it will be an awfully quick turnaround to go across the Atlantic and adjust to the time change, weather and style of play on the other side of the pond. A win would put him at the top of the money list, FedEx Cup points list and give him a shot at player of the year.

June 12, 2012

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Players to watch at the U.S. Open

By: Joe Williams

The field for the national championship has been narrowed down from hundreds in qualifying to some 150 players. If you are like me you don’t have time to follow them all, so here are the players I’m going to be following when the U.S. Open begins on Thursday:

Steve Stricker
Stricker is one of the best putters in the world still looking for his first major championship. His game seems like a good fit for a U.S. Open but the results haven’t been there with only one top 10 in his past six starts.

Could Steve Stricker win his first major championship this weekend?

Phil Mickelson
He’s done everything but win the U.S. Open, including finishing second five times. After pulling out of Jack’s tournament after one round, has he had enough time to recover from his mental fatigue.

Louis Oosthuizen
Louis seems to play his best in the biggest events. He lost a playoff at the Masters in April. Can he finish the job this week?

Dustin Johnson
With his win on Sunday, Johnson became the first player since Tiger Woods to win in each of his first five years on the PGA Tour after college. Now he will try to do something even Woods has never done and that’s win the U.S. Open after winning the previous week.

Sergio Garcia
After the Masters, Garcia said he isn’t good enough to win a major. He’s talked the talk. Now we’ll see if he can walk the walk.

Rory McIlroy
Rory was in prime position to win Sunday at St. Jude and put his tee shot into the water on 18, sinking his chances. It reminded me of the shot he hit at Augusta that led to his demise in the final round of the 2011 Masters. He bounced back from that to lap the field at the U.S. Open. Can he do that again and successfully defend his title?

Lee Westwood
Here’s another guy coming off of a win. He won the Nordea Masters in Sweden by five shots on Saturday. Off all the guys in the “best player to never win a major” discussion he’s come the closest the most often with seven top 10’s in his last 10 majors. Is it his time?

Jason Dufner
He’s the current leader on the PGA Tour money list and at the top of the FEDEX Cup points list. It’s already been a fantastic year but he would love to redeem himself after failing to close the deal at last year’s PGA Championship.

Hunter Mahan
He’s as good a driver as there is. That’s a big advantage in a major and especially the U.S. Open.

Casey Martin
You don’t remember him? He’s the guy who successfully sued for the right to ride in a cart because of his health disorder in his leg in 1998. Now the golf coach at the University of Oregon, he’s back in the U.S. Open at Olympic Club. Will he contend? Unlikely. Will he be one of the top stories? Undoubtedly.

Tiger Woods
Can’t leave him off the list. He comes in as the favorite after a dramatic win at the Memorial. He will be the first name everyone looks for on the leaderboard. Maybe now we will find out if he really is back.

Bubba Watson
Bubba is the only man in the field with a shot at the Grand Slam. It’s never too early to get the hype started. He’s already got a big following and if he wins this week after playing the first two rounds with Tiger and Phil, watch out.

April 10, 2012

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Surviving The Masters

By: Joe Williams

A lot of things need to go right for you to win a major championship. And, of course, it helps when things go wrong for the other players in the field. Sometimes you just have to survive the pitfalls of a pressure-packed week to give yourself a chance at the end. That is just what Bubba Watson did. In case you missed it, here’s how the field narrowed down to one Masters Champion:

Ian Poulter was one of the final casualties before Bubba Watson claimed the green jacket.

Tuesday: No. 12 in the world rankings, Dustin Johnson withdraws with a back injury. 96 players remain in the field.

Wednesday: Padraig Harrington and Jonathan Byrd tied for first in the rain-shortened Par 3 Contest. No winner of the Par 3 Contest has won the Masters in the same year. 94 players still alive for the green jacket.

Thursday, 10 a.m.: The first group of the day has finished the front nine. Craig Stadler is already +6. Count him out. 93 players still alive.

Thursday, 11 a.m.: Mark O’Meara withdraws with a rib injury. 92 players left.

Thursday, 3:30 p.m.: You can’t win the tournament on Thursday, but you can sure play yourself out of it. Just ask Henrik Stenson. He led the tournament at -5 as he stood on the 18th tee. He walked off the 18th green at -1 after making the highest score ever at the finishing hole. Talk about ruining your week. Other players who shot themselves out of the tournament with a 79 or higher are Sandy Lyle, Randal Lewis, Chez Reavie and Johnson Wagner. 87 players left.

Friday, 3 p.m.: Jason Day withdraws with a foot injury. 86 players left.

Friday, 6 p.m.: Lee Westwood makes a double-bogey at 18 and falls out of the lead. The lead is now -5, leaving the cut line at +5. A few players at +5 get lucky and will be around for the weekend. John Senden, Kyung-Tae Kim, Paul Casey, Mike Weir, Jose Maria Olazabal, Larry Mize, Harrison Frazar, Kyle Stanley, Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer, Rory Sabbatini, Robert Garrigus, Ryan Palmer, Ryo Ishikawa, K.J. Choi, Bryden MacPherson, Ian Woosnam, Mark Wilson, Darren Clarke, Tim Clark, Lucas Glover, Simon Dyson, Corbin Mills, Alvaro Quiros, Brendan Steele and Ben Crenshaw aren’t so lucky. They’ll be watching for the weekend. 59 players remain.

Saturday: It’s moving day and if you just barely made the cut you need to go low. Tiger Woods makes his second bogey of the day at No. 9 and drops back to +3. He is done. It also doesn’t happen for Thomas Bjorn, Keegan Bradley, Angel Cabrera, Patrick Cantlay, Luke Donald, Rickie Fowler, Steve Stricker, Robert Karlsson, Ross Fisher, Scott Verplank, Eduardo Molinari, Anders Hansen, Martin Laird, Kelly Kraft, Bo Van Pelt, Gonzalo Fernando Castano or Trevor Immelman. 41 players left.

Saturday, front nine: In one of the final parings of the day, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia combine to shoot 82 on the front nine. Who knows where that came from, but it takes both stars out of contention. 39 players left.

Saturday, 4 p.m.: Gary Woodland withdraws with a wrist injury. 38 players left.

Saturday, 6 p.m.: Fan-favorite Freddie Couples’ bid to climb back up the leaderboard comes to an end with bogeys on 15 and 16. He’s got plenty of company as Stewart Cink, Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer, Bill Haas, David Toms, Zach Johnson, Aaron Baddeley, Graeme McDowell, Kevin Na, Kevin Chappell, Y.E. Yang, Adam Scott, Vijay Singh, Scott Stallings, Geoff Ogilvy, Hideki Matsuyama, Webb Simpson, Justin Rose, Charles Howell III, Brandt Snedeker, Sang-Moon Bae, and Jim Furyk are all too far back to make a Sunday run at the Masters. 15 players left.

Sunday, 2nd hole: Louis Oosthuizen makes the fourth double-eagle in Masters history to take the lead at -10. Francesco Molinari, Nick Watney, Jason Duffner, Fredrik Jacobson, Ben Crane, Sean O’Hair and Paul Lawrie are too far off the lead. 8 players left.

Sunday, 4th hole: Phil Mickelson makes triple-bogey. No Masters champion has ever had a triple-bogey. Phil has two this week. 7 players left.

Sunday, 12th hole: Peter Hanson shanks his tee shot on the par 3. It stays short of the water but a shank doesn’t leave your mind for a while. 6 players left.

Sunday, 13th hole: Hunter Mahan fails to make a birdie and falls fives shots behind leader Louis Oosthuizen. 5 players left.

Sunday, 17th hole: Ian Poulter needs a birdie-birdie finish to post a number for the leaders to think about. His birdie putt just misses and he is four shots behind with just one hole left. 4 players left.

Sunday, 16th hole: Bubba Watson makes a birdie to tie for the lead at -10. Lee Westwood is in the clubhouse at -8 and cannot expect two players to falter on the last two holes. Westwood is out. 3 players remain.

Sunday, 18th hole: Matt Kuchar misses a birdie putt that would have pulled him to within a shot of the lead. He needs both leaders to make a double-bogey on 18. Not going to happen. Kuchar is eliminated. 2 players left.

Sunday, 20th hole: Louis Oosthuizen is unable to get up-and-down from in front of the 10th green for a par on the second playoff hole. Bubba Watson hits a miracle recovery shot out of the woods and two-putts for a par and the win.

Masters Champion: Bubba Watson