June 14, 2011

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Players to Watch at the U.S. Open

By: Joe Williams

Come Sunday afternoon, thousands of fathers will sit down with their sons and watch someone capture the US Open on Father’s Day. It could be almost anyone in the 156 man field. The 2011 edition looks to be wide open. Tiger Woods is out with an injury. It will be the first time he hasn’t played since 1994. Vijay Singh’s consecutive major streak will come to an end at 67. It’s nearly impossible to predict who will win, but here are a few guys that will be worth watching.

David Toms

The 44-year-old is having a great season. He won the Colonial Invitational and really should have won the Players Championship, but lost in a playoff to K.J. Choi. He is one of the most accurate players on tour, but the length of Congressional could give him some trouble.

Sergio Garcia

He may have gone from ‘best player to never win a major’ to ‘biggest name to never win a major’ over the last year or so. If not for a last-minute change of heart, he would not even be in the field. But he decided to go to sectional qualifying and played his way into the field. Some time away from the spotlight could be just what Garcia needed to claim his first major championship.

Ernie Els

He hasn’t had a lot of success so far in 2011, but the last time the US Open was at Congressional, Els was the last man standing. 1997 was a long time ago, but the Big Easy should get some positive vibes from returning to the site of a major championship victory.

Matt Kuchar

He’s the most consistent player out there. He always seems to be in the top 15, but hasn’t won a lot to this point. If an American is going to win our national championship, Kuchar is at the top of the list.

Dustin Johnson

His unbelievable length will be a big advantage if he keeps it in play. He could easily have two major victories on his resume and would be the defending champion this week if not for a final round implosion at Pebble Beach. He is ranked in the top 10 in the world.

Lee Westwood

Lee Westwood

Westwood has had a Phil Mickelson like series of close calls in recent majors. He has five top three finishes in the last four years. You’ve got to think his time is coming and it could be this week.

 Phil Mickelson

It would be tough to find someone who wants to win our national championship more than Mickelson. He has had close call after close call in this tournament. He hasn’t done much since his win at the 2010 Masters. A win would likely vault him to top spot in the world rankings.

Steve Stricker

Maybe the best putter on tour. He’s playing well (top 13 finishes in his last five events) and coming off of a win at the Memorial. He’s still looking for his first major. His game seems to suit the US Open.

Luke Donald

The new number one ranked player is playing as well as anyone right now. He’s got the accuracy to stay out of trouble and his confidence should be riding high. His pairing with Westwood and Martin Kaymer should be an interesting group.

Graeme McDowell

Curtis Strange is the only back-to-back winner at the US Open in the last 55 years. Can McDowell do it at Congressional? It’s going to be a tall order. He has just one finish in the top 30 in his last five starts.

April 12, 2011

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Surviving the Masters

By: Joe Williams

99 players teed it up at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday to compete for the green jacket. Charl Schwartzel was the last man standing on Sunday afternoon. He survived one of the most wide-open and unpredictable finishes in Masters history. If he is anything like me, he is still wearing that green jacket.

If you missed it, here’s how the field narrowed from 99 players to one Masters Champion:

November 25, 2010 – Tiger Woods will never forget this Thanksgiving Day. As we all know, his life changed in a major way and he hasn’t won since. (Just kidding about his elimination. Tiger could have won this tournament.)

Monday, April 4: No amateur has ever won the Masters. It is too tall an order for a group of guys who are probably just happy to be playing in the Masters. Players eliminated: David Chung, Jin Jeong, Lion Kim, Hideki Matsuyama, Nathan Smith, and Peter Uihlein. 93 players still alive.

Wednesday, April 6: Luke Donald wins the Par 3 Contest. No winner of the Par 3 Contest has won the Masters in the same year. Players eliminated: Luke Donald. 92 players still alive.

Thursday, April 7, 8:51 a.m.: Aaron Baddeley’s tee shot on the first hole ends up in a woman’s lap. When he arrived he marked the ball’s spot underneath her chair with a tee and took a drop. This is not the way you want to begin a major championship. Baddeley goes on to shoot 75. Players eliminated: Aaron Baddeley. 91 Players still alive.

Thursday, April 7, Round 1: You cannot win a tournament in the first round but you can play your way out of it. Just ask Martin Kaymer. He came into the week at the top of the world rankings but shot a 78 in the first round and went on to miss the cut. He was not the only big name to struggle in the first round. Players eliminated: Mark O’Meara 77, Padraig Harrington 77, Martin Kaymer 78, Ben Crenshaw 78, Ian Woosnam 79, Tom Watson, 79, Craig Stadler 80, Arjun Atwal 80, and Henrik Stenson 82. 83 players still alive.

Friday, April 8, 12th hole: Matt Kuchar stood on the 12th tee at 3-under par and within a few shots of the lead. His tee shot vanished as it landed. They finally found the ball but he had to take a drop on the other side of Rae’s Creek and walked away with a double-bogey. Graeme McDowell ran into trouble on 12 as well. He took a triple-bogey and missed the cut by two shots. Players eliminated: Matt Kuchar, Graeme McDowell. 80 players still alive.

Friday, April 8, Round 2: Only the top 44 and ties get to play the weekend at Augusta. Those who miss the cut can only think about what might have been. Players eliminated: Mike Weir, Vijay Singh, Sandy Lyle, Davis Love III, Jonathan Byrd, Larry Mize, Jose Maria Olazabal, Rory Sabatini, Hiroyuki Fujita, Kevin Streelman, Anders Hansen, Louis Oosthuizen, Gregory Havret, Jason Bohn, Yuta Ikeda, Carl Pettersson, D.A. Points, Retief Goosen, Peter Hanson, Jhonattan Vegas, Ben Crane, Heath Slocum, Jerry Kelly, Stuart Appleby, Mark Wilson, Kevin Na, Francesco Molinari, Hunter Mahan, Anthony Kim, Sean O’Hair, Robert Allenby, Zach Johnson, Lucas Glover, Tim Clark, Stewart Cink. 45 players still alive.

Saturday, April 9, Front Nine: It’s moving day. Those who just made the cut have no room for error. They need to go low. Players eliminated: Kyung-Tae Kim, Ernie Els, Nick Watney, Camilo Villegas, Steve Marino, Alex Cejka, and Paul Casey. 38 players still alive.

Saturday, April 9, Round 3: Anything can happen in the final round of a major championship. If you can stay within shouting distance of the lead, you’ve got a shot. Players eliminated: Jeff Overton, Trevor Immelman, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Justin Rose, Bill Haas, Robert Karlsson, Charley Hoffman, Gary Woodland, Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter, Ryan Moore, David Toms, Jim Furyk, Brandt Snedeker, Sergio Garcia, Ryo Ishikawa, Ricky Barnes, Ricky Fowler. 20 players still alive.

Sunday, April 10: Rory McIlroy holds a four shot lead at -12. Anybody within range of second at – 8 has a shot to make a run if McIlroy struggles and comes back to the field.
1st hole – Alvaro Quiros and Martin Laird make bogey. Ryan Palmer makes double bogey. 17 players still alive.
3rd hole – Y.E. Yang makes bogey. 16 players still alive.
4th hole – Steve Stricker, Edoardo Molinari and Bubba Watson make bogey. 13 players still alive.
5th hole – Phil Mickelson makes double bogey. 12 players still alive.
3rd hole – Charl Schwartzel holes out from the fairway for an eagle to go -11 and tie for the lead. Fred Couples and Geoff Ogilvy are seven shots behind two players. 10 players still alive.
8th hole – Tiger Woods makes an eagle to get to -10 and a tie for second. Bo Van Pelt and Ross Fisher are five shots behind two players and six shots off the lead. 8 players still alive.
11th hole – Lee Westwood makes bogey and drops to -5 with three players tied for the lead at -10. 7 players still alive.
10th hole – Rory McIlroy makes a disastrous triple-bogey to fall out of the lead. He is just two shots behind but it is too hard to recover from a mess like that. 6 players still alive.
16th hole – Adam Scott nearly makes an ace but settles for birdie to go -12. Angel Cabrera falls four shots off the pace. 5 players still alive.
17th hole – K.J. Choi makes a bogey and drops to -9. 4 players still alive.
17th hole – Charl Schwartzel makes birdie to take the lead at -13. Tiger Woods is in the clubhouse at -10. 3 players still alive.
18th hole – Charl Schwartzel makes birdie to win the Masters by two shots over Jason Day and Adam Scott.
Your winner: Charl Schwartzel

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April 4, 2011

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2011 Masters Preview

By: Anson Whaley

It’s the time of the sports calendar that signals Spring. The Final Four, the start of baseball season, and the ends of the NBA and NHL regular seasons all mean that the weather is getting warmer. But the Masters is, perhaps, the biggest sporting event of the season. The weather forecast for this week is favorable with temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s and plenty of sun, so we should be all set for four days of excellent golf.

Here are a few players that will be ready to claim the green jacket.

2011 may mark the first time that Tiger Woodsisn’t declared as a heavy favorite by fans. Not only is he winless so far this season, he failed to record a single victory in 2010. It used to feel like a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ Woods would regain his previous form, but the longer he goes without winning, the harder it might be for him. Still, with four Masters titles under his belt, Tiger can’t be counted out as he continues to pursue Jack Nicklaus‘ record of 18 major championships. Woods knows the course well having competed on it for nearly 15 years and is still one of the game’s biggest drivers. That plays perfectly into his hands, despite the club’s attempt to ‘Tiger-proof’ the course in recent years.

Then there’s Phil Mickelson– the defending champion. Lefty isn’t only a favorite because he won the green jacket last season, but because he’s been wildly successful at Augusta throughout his entire career. He also has two prior Masters victories and an astounding six additional top five finishes. Even more impressive than that, Mickelson is almost always in the thick of things as he’s finished in the top ten every year since 1999 with the exception of 2007 when he came in 24th place. Few, if any, golfers have had that kind of success at any tournament, let alone the Masters.

Martin Kaymer, the current No. 1 player in the World Golf Rankings, mightbe a contender. He won the PGA Championship last year for his first major and finished in second place in this season’s WGC Accenture Match Play Championship in February. But Kaymer has yet to even get past the cut at the Masters over the past three years and with a strong field, he will have his work cut out for him. He has the talent, but the lack of experience in playing past Friday may be a factor in his ability to close the deal on Sunday even if he does make the cut in 2011.

One player to watch in my opinion is Luke Donald. Donald, the third-ranked player in the world is off to a great start this season. He’s finished in the top ten in three of his four PGA Tour events and won the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. Donald had to defeat two top ten golfers in Kaymer and ninth-ranked Matt Kuchar on his way to the title and is playing some of the best golf of his career. He will be overlooked by many, despite his No. 3 World Golf Ranking, because he’s never won a major. But Donald has finished in the top ten in the Masters twice over the past five seasons, including a third place finish in 2005. He has all the tools to break through and potentially capture his first Masters victory.

Young guns like Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson will try to make their mark and other top-ranked players Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, and Paul Casey could also be right there in the end. But some older golfers will also be looking to make history, too.

25 years ago in 1986, a past-his-prime Jack Nicklaus laid claim to his 18thand final major. Not many gave him a chance as he hadn’t won a major since 1980, but Nicklaus found a way to win. In 2009 the age of 59, Tom Watsonbecame the oldest golfer to lead a major as he looked to win the British Open. Watson not only held a lead, but topped the leaderboard heading into Sunday. He eventually lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink, but proved that golfers into their 50’s can still be competitive in major championships. Experience counts for so much in golf and while players such as Fred Couples and Vijay Singhshouldn’t be expected to contend this weekend, well… you never know.

February 2, 2011

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The Fan Effect in Golf: How Spectators Are Influencing the Game

By: Joe Williams

Phil Mickelson had his caddy tend the pin on the 72nd hole at the Farmers Insurance Open and nearly holed out to force a playoff with Bubba Watson. It would have been the third playoff in the first month of the PGA Tour season. Add that to a 36-hole Sunday finish, a rookie winner and Martin Kaymer passing Tiger in the world rankings and it’s been a pretty exciting 2011 so far.

But the biggest story in golf is the disqualifications of Camilo Villegas and Padraig Harrington. Villegas was disqualified from the Hyundai Tournament of Champions for moving some loose grass as his ball rolled down the slope towards him. Harrington was disqualified from the Abu Dhabi Championship after it was determined that he moved his ball and failed to replace it.

Both infractions call for a two-shot penalty. That is, unless they are reported by fans watching at home and scorecards have been signed before the penalties are assessed. Then the players are DQ’d for signing an incorrect scorecard.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has asked golf’s governing bodies to review situations in which players could be disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. That’s a good start. But it’s not enough. Something needs to be done about fans reporting rules violations.

Golf is known as a gentleman’s game. It’s a game of honor. It’s a game where players call penalties on themselves. They consult rules officials if there is a question. They don’t try to fool the officials like Derek Jeter pretending to be hit by a pitch.

Fans watching on TV don’t get to call in balls and strikes and they don’t get to call in holding or pass interference penalties. And they shouldn’t be able to call the PGA Tour get players DQ’d either.

It’s not fair. A fan saw what Villegas did and called it in. Would that fan have called it in if he saw Tiger do it? Maybe. What if it was a guy like Gary Woodland? Or Bill Lunde? (Both are in the top 25 on the money list) They would probably not be shown on TV so they could do the same thing and nobody would call it in.

The same thing goes for Harrington’s case. It took a slow motion replay to see that he inadvertently moved his ball while marking it. Harrington never denied touching the ball, but said he didn’t think the ball had moved. If it takes slow motion replay to see the ball move, it didn’t move enough to necessitate a disqualification.

I’m not the only one that thinks this should not happen. Ian Poulter tweeted, “An armchair official tweeted in to get Camilo DQ’d, what is wrong with people have they got nothing better to do.”

The rules are what make golf what it is. They don’t change every year like the rules in the NFL. If the tours want to take advantage of technology like slow motion replays to uphold the rules, that’s great. Get more rules officials on the course or have somebody in a replay booth like the NFL does.

In one of the many great episodes of Seinfeld, Jerry turns the tables on a heckler by showing up at her office and heckling her while she works. She doesn’t like it very much. She is so upset that she runs into the street and ends up losing her pinky toe.

I don’t think these fans would be too thrilled to have Villegas and Harrington show up to their jobs, monitor their every move and report any mistakes they make. So as fans of the game, let’s just watch and enjoy the game and leave the officiating to the officials. We don’t need to be putting our pinky toes at risk.