Archive for the ‘golf’ Category
Well, I could hardly let a near milestone on the PGA Tour go unnoticed from yesterday’s opening round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, now could I?
Golf fans everywhere, Phil Mickelson is back…well, at least he was yesterday, and it was both sporting triumph and heartbreak rolled all into one.
If you remember Phil’s play from last week out in Torrey Pines, which could be hard to do considering how low down on the leaderboard he was…well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.
Phil’s driver seemed at times like it was poised to try and stretch his drives across the Pacific ocean, and playing from the wilds of the South Course is no fun, as those holes are long and difficult to reach when you’re playing from the middle of the fairways, never mind in from near the condos and office buildings sidling up along the course.
But all that changed when Phil A) put a new driver in the bag and B) flew coach Butch Harmon in for a swing tune up.
So yesterday, in Phoenix, where the crowds love to drink beer and act like they’re at a NASCAR race on the par-3 16th (It’s the only PGA stop I know of where fans actually boo the players if they miss the green on their drive!), Phil brought his new driver and swing and attitude to town!
It went a little something like this: Birdie, Par, Birdie, Birdie, Par Par, Birdie, Par Par.
Then, the back nine went like this: Birdie, Birdie, Birdie, Birdie, Par, Par, Birdie, Birdie, Birdie.
Only, it actually went that way in reverse, because Phil shotgunned his start on the 10th tee.
So here’s where the drama comes in: On hole 8, he needed one more birdie and then par to shoot a 59, something only five other golfers have ever done in PGA Tour history in a professional round.
And, if he birdied 9, he would have shot 58, to my knowledge, a first in Tour history.
He gets to 8 in 2 shots, and has, I’m guessing, about a 20 foot downhiller with a slight left to it. He lines up the putt, strikes it, and the thing runs out of gas centimeters from the hole.
So it won’t be his day for a 58, not unless he eagles 9.
On 9, he once again gets it to the green in 2, and voila, now he has about a 25 footer that takes a little bit more left.
He lines up, thousands surrounding the green, most probably clued into the history that might be made here…the putt’s off and on a gorgeous trajectory to the hole…it comes along the right side of the hole and decides to make a U-turn at the very last second, gravity pulling it against the back of the cup and back around the other side and…up and out of the hole, again centimeters away from the hole.
The golfing gods can be so, so incredibly cruel. It was as if you could hear Zeus roaring down with laughter from up the road in La Jolla.
Phil’s longtime caddie, “Bones,” fell to the green on his knees, ready to sacrifice himself to the great “Caddyshack” gods in the sky to make that putt please, please, please roll back into the hole.
After the round, the Golf Channel correspondent interviewed Phil, and you could see the pain in his eyes.
Yes, of course, he shot a 60, something golfers also don’t get to do very often (and which, I can assure you, I’ll never do, unless it’s on the front nine)…but, that special personal victory was oh so close, and yes, Phil answered, he knew within the first few holes on the front nine there was something special in the air, and that he could well be on his way to a record round.
Phil continues his lead today at 14 under as of this writing, and if it keeps this up, nobody can touch him.
But boy, what he wouldn’t do to have one more shot at that putt, and the PGA Tour history books.
I’m guilty. I just have NOT talked enough about sports in this blog yet this year, most particularly, golf.
But golf season’s just really getting underway, and with the PGA set to visit Torrey Pines in San Diego starting tomorrow at The Farmers Insurance Open, I can assure you that will start to change.
Over the Christmas holidays, I mentioned, in fact, that Santa brought me a self-imposed present: Some Ben Hogan “Red Line” irons, circa 1988. I found them from a nice gentleman in Illinois via eBay, and the day they arrived via UPS at my folks’ place, where I was visiting, there was a few inches of snow on the ground.
Finally, later that week, back in Austin, I got to give them a go. I’ll remind you these are the same clubs that Tiger Woods won a U.S. Amateur with back in the day, and a range of pros (including Austin inhabitant Tom Kite) played with these clubs at one point or another.
I’ll also remind you that I’m no Tiger Woods or Tom Kite…I’m a mid-level handicapper working his tail off to drive that handicap down into the single digits.
Since that first round, I’ve played a few more, and I LOVE the clubs. But last weekend, just for grins, I went out and swung my Mizuno MP-25s, my original Mizuno set which are cavity-backed (what Mizuno calls their “Hemi Cog”).
So how did I hit those clubs now that I’d been out flirting with some blades for a few weeks?
Well, suffice it to say, my first five-iron probably sailed close to 180 yards and had this amazing trajectory and ball flight that made my want to cry.
And that happened again. And again. And again.
Ever since golf school last summer, there’s been no doubt my game improved. But, I don’t play enough as an amateur to consistently hit a thin blade in that oh-so-small sweet spot.
So, this weekend, I’m going to take the forged clubs and see what happens at a challenging course out in Blanco (the Texas Hill Country). Assuming my short game doesn’t completely fall apart, I expect to see my score drop back down into the lowish 80s, but we’ll see.
Do I regret the trial experience with those blades? And will I ever play with them again?
No, and abso-frickin’-lutely.
Playing with those blades drives focus on the swing like you’ll never have with a forged club, because they’re not nearly forgiving. For that reason alone, I’ll continue to bring them out, because they force you to find the center of the club.
But when it comes to playing to score, and to have the most fun I can have on the golf course, I realize now more than ever why they make those forged clubs — so we “hacks” can fairly consistently hit those beautiful iron shots that we so admire when Tiger or Ricky or any other pro step up to the ball and make it look so easy.
I can’t wait for my tee time on Saturday.
For true golf fans, this past weekend’s Ryder Cup delivered on its promise as the most exciting event in golf, and maybe in all sports.
I wrote in this blog on Thursday that the Europeans had the advantage going into this year’s tournament, and boy did they prove it.
After a weak start by the Americans on Friday morning, the U.S. team turned the tide on Friday afternoon in the fourballs, with Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson coming to life.
After Saturday’s rounds, both foursomes and fourballs, the U.S. went into Sunday’s singles matches leading 10-6 — that meant they only needed to garner 4 1/2 points on Sunday to take the Cup back from the Euros.
It wasn’t meant to be.
Euro captain Jose Marie Olafabal had other things in mind, including a similar 1999 comeback by the U.S. in Brookline when he was a player on that year’s Ryder Cup team.
Hovering over the entire event was the spirit and memory of great Spanish golfer Seve Ballasteros, who tragically succumbed to brain cancer last year.
Ballastero’s image was imprinted on each Euro player’s golf bag, and the spirit of Seve’s commitment and championing of the Ryder Cup as a great golf event was pervasive on all sides.
Ultimate, I believe it was that spirit that was channeled through and displayed by Olafabal’s European players.
Ian Poulter on Saturday afternoon eked out a single point in a close match played with Rory McIlroy against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson, demonstrating nerves of steel in his play and especially his putting.
Yesterday, Poulter was at it again, beating U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson 2 Up in a heated singles match.
Justin Rose demonstrated sheer brilliance on the last three holes yesterday, sinking one unbelievable putt after another, matching Phil Mickelson’s also exemplary play stroke for stroke.
Rose had mentioned in interviews this week that Seve Ballasteros had been a calming influence on him earlier in his career, assuaging him after he’d missed the cuts in a long run of tournaments several years back.
And Martin Kaymer’s six-footer to seal the entire deal was made with a calm and cool demeanor that was German to its core, and perhaps finally reversed the pain of a missed similar putt by Bernhard Langer in 1991’s Ryder Cup, one that would have retained the cup for Europe that year, the so-called “War By The Shore.”
No matter which side you were rooting for, this was definitely one for the ages, and my congratulations to the Euros on their holding on to the Cup — they earned it, and then some.
I watched every moment of the tournament that was aired on TV — some 26 hours worth — and it was nerve rattling sport from the first tee shot to the last putt.
You can refer to it as “Poulter-Geist” or “The Miracle at Medinah” or some other clever moniker.
I’m just going to remember it as another great and dramatic Ryder Cup, and bite my lip while I wait a long two years for the next one.
Well, the 2012 Ryder Cup is only 1 day and 11 hours away, as of this writing, and the first tee-time couldn’t come quickly enough.
After such a stellar 2012 golf season for the PGA Tour, and golf more broadly around the world, the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah in Chicago will be a fitting climax to the golf year, especially considering the caliber of players lined up on both the American and European sides.
I, like all golf fans, would love to see Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy paired against one another in the Sunday’s singles matches, but I, like everyone, including the captains, will have to just wait and see how the tournament plays out Friday and Saturday in the fourballs and foursomes.
As mentioned in a prior post, the Americans will be led by veteran Ryder Cuppers Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Tiger Woods, and Jim Furyk.
Newcomers to watch will include 2012 FedExCup winner Brandt Snedeker, as well as Webb Simpson and Jason Dufner.
On the European side, Rory McIlroy will be the defacto team leader because of his world number one ranking, but experience on the European side will fall to stalwarts like Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, and of course, Sergio Garcia.
As for pairings, we’re still eagerly awaiting those, but based on early readings, we can expect to see Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker playing together through the weekend, along with Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.
Phil Mickelson is expected to take newcomer Keegan Bradley under his wings, and Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia are also likely pairings at some point.
In terms of projections, the Europeans certainly seem to have an advantage, having garnered more points than the Americans the last few Cups, and certainly coming into Medinah holding the Cup they won at Celtic Manor in 2010.
Then again, these are teams with players very fairly matched, and the top players in the world at that. I think it will come down to that side whose players can keep their nerves at bay, and still have nerve enough to go at the long par 3s at Medinah when circumstances warrant.
That, and the putting. Always the putting.
As for the renowned 15th hole at Medinah #3, which has been shortened to a 391-yard par four, we’ll see whether or not Bubba Watson can contain himself and not attempt to drive the green in his matches.
Phil Mickelson commented to Golf Week he thought it was an easy birdie lay-up hole, and one can see in a close match with one team behind why it would be awfully enticing to just go for it!
Well, it was a wild and wooly weekend at the PGA TOUR Championship at East Lake in Atlanta, Georgia, and also the culmination of the 2012 U.S. PGA golf season with the awarding of the FedExCup.
In the end, it was Brandt Snedeker’s opportunity to seize the moment, and seize it he did.
Starting with Jim Furyk’s 17th hole meltdown on Saturday with a drive into the water left, the field slowly but surely began to peel away like an onion, leaving Snedeker on the victor’s podium with his amazingly consistent putting stroke and nearly as consistent driving accuracy. (By way of proof, Snedeker made 61 out of 62 putts from inside ten feet!)
The long hitters ended up being eaten away by East Lake, with players like Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, and even to some degree Tiger Woods, unable to match the needed pinpoint accuracy to stay on East Lake’s tight fairways and greens.
Snedeker also demonstrated an emotional maturity beyond his years, playing the last round like it was just another day on the links, and his double-bogey at six that included a watery tee shot?…well, that was just a minor setback (As he would later learn, both Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy also found their way to agua on number six in the final round).
By the time he reached 17, Snedeker’s confidence seemed quite assured, and the chip-in from the off the green just solidified that confidence.
Even a missed tee shot into the back left grandstand on the final hole didn’t shake him up — he just laughed it off, chipped on to the green, and two putted for bogey to walk away with both the TOUR Championship and the FedExCup, and a payout of over $11 million.
Is Snedeker’s victory a prelude to the U.S.’ likely opportunity to reclaim the Ryder Cup from the Europeans next week in Medinah?
Not so fast. Rory McIlroy still continues to pace the golf world, and is backed by some other exemplary European players, including Justin Rose, who stayed close on Snedeker’s heels yesterday, and Sergio Garcia, a Ryder Cup veteran. Europe also has Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell, both of whom seem to wallow in Ryder Cup pressure, while the American side has a number of Ryder Cup newbies (including Snedeker).
I’m not about to try and call this one in advance. I’ll just say it’s generally expected to be very close, and I’ll be watching every minute before my pro golf withdrawal and depression sets in.
As for the entirety of the 2012 PGA season, it’s likely to prove to be one that golf fans won’t soon forget.
I haven’t written about golf in upwards of a week, so as we approach the start of the TOUR Championship (sponsored by my favorite soft drink of all time, Coca-Cola) at Atlanta East Lake, I thought I’d share my thoughts in advance of the first tee time.
The first thing I’ll say is Rory McIlroy. The guy’s just been a golf phenom this year, and yes, he’s had his ups and downs. But he’s had more ups than downs of late, taking the last two tournaments and breaking from the field for the PGA Championship at Kiawah.
Can he win three PGA Tour victories in a row? If all facets of his game are on when he tees it up tomorrow, absolutely. But if Uninvincible Rory doesn’t show up, it breaks the field wide open.
To wit, enter Tiger Woods. He comes into Eastlake ranked # 2 behind Rory, but if Tiger can turn his putter back on, and stay consistent with the rest of his game, there’s no reason he couldn’t walk away from this golf feast with another FedExCup.
Tiger and Rory play together in tomorrow’s round.
Beyond that, we can’t forget Phil Mickelson.
He, too, was struggling with his putting this year, but the claw grip seems to be mostly working for him on the comeback. If anything, Phil will have to have some discipline off the tees and not always be consumed with distance. East Lake is lined with tall pretty trees that you never want to see your golf ball get behind, so accuracy counts. That includes for you, too, Phil.
But I’m also keeping my eye on Brent Snedeker. Never mind, the guy hits the ball faster than any golfer on tour. “No Yips Snedeker,” he should be called.
I want to take his putting and bottle it up and sell it at public courses everywhere, and with East Lake’s smooth Bermuda greens, and his cavalier hybrid play, Snedeker can not only attack the pins — he can sink the putts where he gets close.
If Snedeker gets an early lead, he’s going to have to buckle down and not allow bad course management (or fear) get in his way.
And then there’s also the looming South African, Louis Oosthuizen. Louis still has one of the most beautiful swings in golf, and his calm demeanor will be an advantage with the stakes being so high.
He’s had three top fives in his last five starts, so it’s not unimaginable for his consistent play to sneak up the leaderboard to win the TOUR Championship.
Of course, that’s just five of an excellent field of 30 pro golfers from around the world who will be playing in the TOUR Championship at East Lake — playing to win, and rehearsing for what I consider to be the real main event, next week’s Ryder Cup!
Okay, golf fans, how about that BMW Championship and the continuing race to the PGA Tour’s new great prize, the FedEx Cup??
When the Tour first introduced the points-based playoffs in 2007, there was a lot of hemming and hawing. Who needs it, what about the majors, etc.
Well, here were are five short years later, and PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem and his team are laughing all the way to the 19th hole.
Just look at the top of the leaderboard over this past weekend’s BMW Championship, the final stop before the denouement that will occur next week at the Tour Championship: Rory McIlroy (the winner of the last two playoff events), Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Lee Westwood, Adam Scott…I could go on.
But the point is this: The best golfers in the world were playing Pete Dye’s Crooked Stick and chasing that Cup!
As for the play itself, it was of the highest caliber. Lee Westwood’s irons were magnificent, Rory McIlroy’s drives were massive, and yes, had Tiger been putting like the Tiger of old, he likely would have surpassed McIlroy and taken the BMW.
But the drama was real and the stakes were high, and if the performances were any indication of the coming Ryder Cup competition in Medinah, well, hold on to your driver, boys and girls, this is going to be one nerve-wracking Ryder Cup.
Going into Eastlake in Atlanta for the Tour Championship, the top 5 are as follows: Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson, and Brandt Snedeker.
If any one of those top five win in Atlanta, they win the FedExCup AND a $10 million bonus.
My money’s on Rory, but this is the FedExCup, and I wouldn’t rule out any of those top 5 walking away with the big check.
As for my own game, I’m about three weeks post-golf school, my newly-discovered under-rib muscle has mostly heeled, and I’m hitting the ball straighter and more accurately than ever.
Yesterday, I scored 82 on a local course here in Austin, and that was with a couple of nasty double bogeys I incurred with some sloppy sand and short chip shots. Last weekend, I shot a career-low round of 79 on a links course in some heavy wind, so my shot-making and course management skills are improving, as is my consistency.
I think the real test will come after another couple of months, and though I won’t be playing with the likes of Rory and Tiger anytime soon, I’m enjoying the game more than ever!