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 21, 2011

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The Reinvention of Tiger Woods

By: Anson Whaley

The record book will officially show that Tiger Woods’ road to redemption started in 2010, but 2011 could be considered the year his comeback actually began.

We are all aware of how Woods failed miserably in 2010. But in hindsight, it’s hard to see how it could have turned out any other way. Yes, Woods is widely considered the world’s best golfer. Yes, he’s perhaps the sport’s toughest player mentally. Yes, Woods has laughed in the face of adversity before. But those were particularly difficult odds.

Woods’ personal life wasn’t merely interrupted, but shattered. Divorces for public figures can be a huge distraction, but Woods’ was especially painful because of the events that led up to it. Those types of things have to be incredibly difficult to overcome on a golf course in a sport when spectators are right on top of the action, and it’s hard to imagine that Woods was comfortable in front of them, even if the golf course is considered his own personal sanctuary.

But back to 2010 – Woods may have figured that he would struggle a little and be a bit rusty, but I’m sure the thought of going winless through the entire season wasn’t in his plans. Woods had never gone an entire year without winning a tournament as a pro, and questions still abound about his ability to resurrect his career. So is that career now over? Are the hopes of running down Jack Nicklaus for the most career major wins dashed?

Not a chance.

While it’s no guarantee that Woods will again become the dominant player he once was, he’s young enough that he has plenty of good golf left. For starters, he was the PGA’s Player of the Year and leading money winner in 2009. While he didn’t win a major that year, he still had enough success to make him the world’s number one golfer. It’s hard for me to believe that his skills have deteriorated all that much in just a span of two years.

Tiger also has experience dealing with dry spells in terms of majors. After winning the Masters and the U.S. Open in 2002, he didn’t recapture another major title until 2005. In 2003 and 2004, fans were wondering if his well had run dry. But he’s proven such questions were foolish as he’s won six more majors since 2005.  You wouldn’t think that this recent dry spell would be too much to overcome.

Woods is also the dreaded age of 35 – the beginning of the end for many golfers. Plenty, however, have found success after that age. Phil Mickelson won three of his four majors after 35 and, at 39, won the Masters last year. And when you add in Angel Cabrera’s 2009 win, the last two Masters winners have both been on the cusp of 40. If players without the talent of Woods can have that kind of success, why can’t Tiger? Further, it’s not just the Masters where older golfers can have success. Eight of the past sixteen major winners have been over the age of 35. So age clearly isn’t Woods’ biggest hurdle.

Lastly, there’s the mental aspect. Can Tiger put aside all of the issues that have dogged him since that fateful Thanksgiving in 2009? Well, he’s stared down important putts in the past, and if anyone can do it, he can. Plus, while Woods has been through a lot in his personal life, the questions will eventually end, and he should be able to focus on golf 100% at some point in the future.

Simply put, Tiger has run into a bit of a rough patch, but all signs point to him being able to rebound and return to being one of golf’s most dominant figures.  And I think that 2011 is the year that the rebound officially begins.

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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.

April 12, 2010

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A Bigger Story

By: Michael

Let’s take a look at the bigger story behind Phil Mickelson’s third Masters win.

See the ribbon on Phil’s hat?

See Phil and Amy together?

That’s what we mean by a role model. It’s when you leave the game to support your wife and mother. It’s when you come back to the game and continue to support your wife and mother.  It’s when they support you too, even when just getting out of bed is hard to do. That’s the part of the bigger picture that makes us all feel good.

Here’s the other part of the bigger picture. Breast cancer kills. We need to find a cure. So make a donation, go on a walk, do something. Because it’s not a game, and we need to win.