by Jeff Skinner
It looks like it will be an interesting weekend across the three major tours. In New Orleans, long hitter and crowd favorite Bubba Watson leads the Zurich Classic on a course he says doesn’t fit his eye. “There were a lot of tough tee shots for me,” Watson said. “A lot of times the water’s on the left for me being left‑handed. So when I look up at the target, there is always water glaring at my face. For me, it’s daunting. It’s tough. It’s hard to overcome, but somehow I’m overcoming it right now.” He looks to be handling the TPC Louisiana course just fine.
In Mobile, Alabama at The Avnet LPGA Classic, Sandra Gal had the low round of the day with a 67 to lead Amy Yang by a stroke. Stacy Lewis is tied for third, two strokes back and doing her best to keep the American flag near the top of the leaderboard. Lewis didn’t have it going like she did during the first round but fought through a tough round to stay in the hunt. “It was just kind of up and down all day,” Lewis said. “I just had to fight. Made a couple bad bogeys on the par 3s, but played well coming in. Just missed a birdie on 17; thought I made the putt. Birdied 16 and made a great two putt there, so good momentum going into the weekend.” She is looking to match her mentor, Karrie Webb as the second back to back winner on the LPGA this year.
At The Ballantine’s Championship in Seoul, South Korea Brett Rumford shot a sizzling 63 to take a three stroke lead over Soren Kjeldsen and The Coolest Guy in Golf, Miguel Angel Jimenez. Miguel just keeps getting better with age. He’ll turn 47 on Sunday and wouldn’t a victory be a lovely birthday present.
by Jeff Skinner
As Lee Westwood tees it up this week at the Ballantine’s Championship is South Korea the debate on the validity of his number one world ranking continues. John Feinstein is one of the most vociferous critics of the Official World Golf Rankings and how they allocate points to the players.
Feinstein lists his issues with the system and offers his plan for a new way to decide the top players in the world on Golf Channel.com. While some may not think the rankings mean much, they do. The players certainly can trade their rankings for increased endorsements and most tournaments use the rankings as a means of determining their fields. The more highly ranked players in the field the more points a player earns for a win. And that is one of Feinstein’s complaints. “Problem 1: Tournaments receiving extra rankings points by paying players up front. Solution: Take away rankings points for each player paid an appearance fee. Deduct 10 percent for each player paid up front.
Problem 2: The rankings are calculated on a rolling two-year basis. On January 1 everyone goes to zero in the rankings. The only exception to this would be in determining a player’s rank for the match play event in late February. For the purposes of the match play only, the clock on rankings begins the week after it is played each year. That way, if a player is hot in January and February, he can still play his way into the top 64 for the match play. For all other purposes the rankings begin anew each January.
Feinstein is right: a two year period of results is much too long to be relevant and a player shouldn’t be given extra points to play in a tournament where there is no real competition.
He suggests his system of informed people in the game, ex-players, writers, broadcasters and officials that would vote each week, much like the AP College football and basketball rankings. I am not sure what should be done to overhaul the rankings but I am sure the game has outgrown this system that was devised 24 years ago.
More players travelling the world playing in tournaments for their appearance fees have made this system obsolete. If all the best players played on a single tour it would be easy but that’s far from the case any longer.
Feinstein is the leading advocate for a revolution in the rankings and he even proposed that the number one player in the world has to be a major winner. I can understand that logic, after all, winning majors is how history remembers players, not world ranking.
Here are my top five in the world right now, Old School Criteria: Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer, Phil Mickelson, and Lee Westwood. If you throw out the old school thinking and use a one year timeframe and a “what have you done lately” formula, here are my “newest” top five: Charl Schwartzel (he did win the biggest tournament of the year), Graeme McDowell (a US Open and Ryder Cup count for plenty) Luke Donald (simply playing better than anyone now) Mark Wilson (two wins on the biggest tour in the world count for something) and Martin Kaymer (major wins carry a lot of weight).
Any way you slice it the world rankings do more than just rank players, it gives us all something to argue about.
by Jeff Skinner
These are the days that we really appreciate The Golf Channel. The three major golf tours all are in action and we will get to see a bit of each of them thanks to The Golf Channel’s “All Golf, All Day” programming. For a golf junkie there isn’t much better.
The day starts with a little morning golf as The European Tour plays The Ballantine’s Championship in Seoul, South Korea. Dustin Johnson is the biggest American name in the field but he’ll be joined by some of the world’s best including World Number One, Lee Westwood. Ian Poulter, Ernie Els, Y.E. Yang and The Coolest Guy in Golf, on any continent, Miguel Angel Jimenez are all reason enough to watch. All right, it is on a tape delay but delayed golf is better than no golf. The Golf Channel carries it from 9:00am to 12:30pm.
Right after that from 12:30pm to 2:30pm The LPGA gets back in action at The Avnet LPGA Classic in Mobile, Alabama. After a three week break the ladies are itching to get back on the course. Eight of the top ten players in the world are playing The Robert Trent Jones Magnolia Grove Crossings Course and Si Ri Pak is back to defend her 2010 championship. She must love this layout as she has won here three times. Trying to spoil her party will be Rolex Number One, Yani Tseng and the newest freshly minted major champion, Stacy Lewis. Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressell and Brittany Lincicome will be trying to keep the streak of American winners going. Finally the women get some live coverage and with a good field it should be an interesting tournament.
The big boys of The PGA Tour will hit the small screen at 3:00pm from New Orleans at the Zurich Classic. There are plenty of big names in the field including last week’s overtime duo from The Heritage, Brandt Snedeker (winner) and Luke Donald (2nd place). Steve Stricker, Graeme McDowell, Bubba Watson, Nick Watney, Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler are among the players in the field. There couldn’t be two more different competitors in the field as Arnie’s grandson, Sam Saunders will be playing as will perennial reclamation project, John Daly. Defending his 2010 title is Jason Bohn who will be looking for some good mojo from the scene of his last triumph. Bohn hasn’t had a great 2011 but he is the kind of player that makes up the bulk of the PGA Tour. He’s not flashy and doesn’t get a lot of headlines but he plays week in and week out and is a great ambassador of the game. He’s one of the more likable players on tour and does all he can to promote the game. Check out Stan Awtrey’s profile of Bohn on PGA Tour.com.
So make your plans to play early and get in front of a TV to catch some of the great action on The Golf Channel today. That’s just what I plan to do.
by Jeff Skinner
Tiger Woods and his team have announced that he will not be playing in The Wells Fargo Championship next week due to “minor injuries” he sustained at The Masters. On his website Woods said he “suffered a Grade 1 mild medial collateral ligament sprain to his left knee and a mild strain to his left Achilles tendon while hitting a difficult and awkward second shot from the pine straw under the Eisenhower tree left of the fairway at No. 17 during the third round of the Masters.”
This is another setback to Woods as he tries to regain his form and chase down Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. Prior to his personal sex scandal Woods was collecting majors like no one had in the history of the game. It was not a question of if he would pass Nicklaus it was a question of when. This injury is the latest of obstacles to prevent Woods from his career goal of 19 plus majors. (Take a look at J.D. Cuban’s shots of Tiger’s hurtful swing.)
Certainly Woods has a reputation for playing with and through injury. He did win the U.S. Open on a broken leg after all but Tiger has done nothing major since then. His last win was at The Australian Masters in November of 2009 and his last PGA Tour win was at The BMW Championship in September of 2009. Next month at the U.S. Open, it will be three years since Woods won a major. That statement would have seemed laughable prior to his downfall.
Is Tiger’s body showing the strain of year upon year of the intense workout regimen that Woods is famous for? Combine the physical factors with his seemingly never ending search for his new swing and Woods’ game is nothing more than pedestrian. Oh, and what about that mental game of his? No golfer in spikes in the last decade intimidated the field like Woods had. That is now just a memory. His competitors no longer fear Woods like they had before. His mental strength used to be a great advantage for Woods but now he seems as confused and frustrated on the course as any weekend hacker.
This injury, however minor or serious, continues the downfall of one of the greatest golfers of all time. With all his maladies, both physical and mental, you have to wonder how much can a 35 year old golfer take. At the end of the day he is still Tiger Woods and he may be capable of coming back from all of this and collect more majors. He needs five more to pass Jack and that’s a better career than any other golfer playing right now.
With each missed tournament, each injury and his never ending swing change, this is certain: time is running out for Tiger Woods.
by Jeff Skinner
We all have our favorite courses, you know the ones we love to play and even when we are having a bad round the fact that we are on that particular course makes it worthwhile. Well the pros are no different. They all have their favorites too. Golf Digest got some of the biggest names to tell them what their favorites are. Palmer, Player, Miller, Els, Faldo, Floyd, Annika and more list their most cherished tracks. I liked Dave Marr’s list, over half of them are in the Northeast. Marr worked at Winged Foot for some time and developed a love for many courses in the area. It’s a good read, take a look.
by Jeff Skinner
So Lee Westwood secures a win over the weekend and climbs back atop the Official World Golf Rankings. Westwood had a chance at not recapturing his top spot if Luke Donald had closed the deal at The PGA Tour’s Heritage. But Donald’s loss to Brandt Snedeker meant Westwood once again is World Number One and once again I have to question the validity of the World Ranking criteria.
If Westwood’s victory came on the European Tour, against top notch, world class competition I’d have nothing to say and would acknowledge his status as well earned. But that’s not the case. His win came at the Asian Tour’s Indonesian Masters. Now, I’m not one to bash any golf tour, I’m a fan of golf at every level be it PGA Tour, European Tour, LPGA Tour, Nationwide Tour, Hooters, Sunshine, Moonshine or Shoeshine Tour. But come on. Westwood’s decision to play in Indonesia surprised many seeing that his own tour, The European Tour had an event this week but Westwood is free to play anywhere. Certainly a trip to Indonesia and a large appearance fee check are fine reasons to make the trip but the competition at The Indonesian Masters is anything but Masters like. (Check out the Indonesian Masters Leaderboard.)
Thongchai Jaidee, a fine international golfer with 13 Asian Tour wins placed second to Westwood. Jaidee was ranked 75th in the World Golf Rankings going into the tournament. The PGA Tour’s Heritage, while not a major type field still had three of the top ten in the world and at least a dozen of the top fifty in the world. Westwood’s tournament had, well, Westwood.
I would put Luke Donald’s second place at The Heritage up against Westwood’s win in Indonesia. Westwood hasn’t had a top ten finish this season and his ranking is based on his performance in 2010 and portions of 2009. Donald is by far the superior golfer in 2011 with a win and five top tens on The PGA Tour against world class competition. Prior to this win the best finish for Westwood was his eleventh place finish at The Masters.
The Official World Golf Rankings are a complicated bunch of formulas that include results for the last two years. The best player in the world according to their numbers is Lee Westwood. But he certainly isn’t the best golfer in 2011.
Of the top five players in the World Rankings only three have won this year. Luke Donald won at The Match Play Championship. Phil Mickelson won at The Shell Houston Open and Westwood won in Indonesia. I’ll take Donald right now as the best player in the world and wait for Westwood to win one against real competition.
by Jeff Skinner
This was supposed to be Luke Donald’s show today. The Heritage was to be his crowning moment. He was going to birdie his way to a win and claim the top spot in the World Golf Rankings. For awhile it looked like it might just happen but Luke’s party was crashed by an uninvited Brandt Snedeker who started the day six strokes behind Donald. Snedeker opened the front nine with a sizzling six birdie barrage and soon found himself in the middle of the festivities.
Snedeker managed to birdie the eighteenth hole to get to -12 and then had to wait nearly two hours to see if Donald or anyone else could better that. Tommy Gainey had a chance to tie him but his birdie putt on eighteen slid by. Donald came down the stretch at -12 and needed a birdie to win the tournament. He chunked his approach into eighteen but was able to get it up and down from the bunker to salvage par and meet Snedeker in a sudden death playoff.
The first playoff hole on eighteen was a classic match. Both players hit good tee balls and then excellent approaches leaving birdie putts for both. Donald was first up and gave an exuberant fist pump when his putt fell. Snedeker, showing a tenacity that belies his boyish looks, did the same as he poured his birdie putt in on top of Donald’s and the two were off to seventeen to continue the playoff.
Donald’s tee shot on seventeen found the front bunker and it was only due to his excellent short game that he was able to par the hole, tie Snedeker and force the playoff back to eighteen. Again they both hit excellent tee shots but once again Donald’s iron play failed him. He slightly mishit his approach and found a buried lie in the front bunker. Snedeker hit safely to the green and had a 15 foot putt to win. Donald’s explosion shot rolled past the pin and settled in the rough. Snedeker snuggled his first putt to tap in range, took his par and Donald was left with a must make chip from just off the green. With his renowned short game, the shot looked makeable and he almost pulled it off. His chip was dead on but a hair too strong, hit the back of the cup and rolled away. Donald had squandered his chance at the win and Snedeker had a career resurrecting second PGA Tour win.
Donald is in the middle of an outstanding season. There are legitimate reasons he would have earned the number one spot in the world rankings. In his last five PGA outings he has failed to finish out of the top ten and claimed a win at The Match Play Championship. Snedeker is in the midst of his own career rebirth. After three seasons of average play and only being able to manage a pair of T2’s as his best finishes, this season he has played inspired golf. He has five top tens already this year and this win puts him over the two million dollar mark. He has already earned more in this abbreviated season than he had earned in any of his entire previous three seasons.
Snedeker said afterward that he went into the final round with no expectations and only wanted to shoot a good round. Well, mission accomplished, a 64 on the final day on a tough course certainly qualifies as a good round. At the same time he got his career back on track and made himself relevant on tour once again.
by Jeff Skinner
It could be a momentous day at The Heritage in Hilton Head South Carolina today. Luke Donald leads defending champion Jim Furyk by a stroke and a host of others are within striking distance. Donald can attain the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings with a win and he would be a well deserved number one. But he isn’t the only story at The Heritage.
South Carolina native and cult hero, Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey is three strokes back and is hoping to become the first South Carolina native to win The Heritage. Two Gloves has earned a large following since his days as a mini-tour stalwart and his two appearances on The Golf Channel’s Big Break series.
Gainey is living the dream that many blue collar golfers can only imagine. He attended Central Carolina Technical College and then worked as an assembly line worker before trying to make it in professional golf. He turned pro in 1998 and spent years playing the mini tours trying to scratch out a living. This is his second full season on the PGA Tour and he is making the most of it.
After a rough start, missing three cuts, he has managed to make the cut in seven of his last nine tournaments including a season best fifth place finish at The Honda Classic. He also led the waste Management Open going into the final round until a triple bogey on the 16th hole dropped him to a tie for eighth. He sits at 65th on the PGA Tour Money List and has earned over $530,000 on tour this season.
Gainey’s passion for golf is only exceeded by his love for all things South Carolina, including his beloved University of South Carolina Gamecocks. He will be wearing their colors as he tries to win one for the home team today. “This is the one I want to win,” Gainey said. “Home state, and that’s what I want to do – win this one.”
He’ll have a bit of a home field advantage today and the southern gentleman will be giving it his all in the hope that his first win on the PGA Tour will take place in his dearly loved South Carolina.