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Archive for February, 2012

“Bracketology” at The Accenture Match Play Championship

February 21st, 2012 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

It is golf’s answer to March Madness.  It is the Accenture Match Play Championship and it gives all of us golf fans a chance to work our own kind of madness and “Bracketology.”   Try your luck here at Golfweek and you may win some cool stuff.

The Match Play always gives us an interesting first day and watching this head to head, loser go home format is exciting as well as sadistic.  No matter how you slice it 32 golfers are heading home after round one and that’s pretty hard to take sometimes.  The good thing about match play is that one hole doesn’t mean that much.  You can blow up on a hole but it’s only one hole.  At the same time it’s all or nothing in one day.  In a medal play tournament you have a chance to recover from a bad round.  Here, one bad round and you’re hitting the highway.

Here’s a look at some of the interesting matches that we’ll see on Wednesday.

All the number one seeds look to have a distinct advantage over their 16th seeded opponents but you never know.

Luke Donald vs Ernie Els:  World number one versus a three time major winner.  Els isn’t playing well but he knows how to scrape his game together.  Donald is hoping to defend his 2011 title and has never lost a first round match here.

Martin Kaymer vs Greg Chalmers:  Kaymer has a 9th and a 13th finish on the Euro Tour while Chalmers best to date is a T19 in Phoenix.

Rory McIlroy vs George Coetzee:  With all of Rory’s talent it will be take a world class meltdown by Rory not to move on.

Lee Westwood vs Nicolas Colsaerts:  Westwood never makes it to the weekend here but he’s a good bet to top Colsaerts.

How about a few upsets?

K.J. Choi (4) vs Kyle Stanley (13):  Choi plays tough under every format but Stanley is playing excellent golf lately.

Adam Scott (2) vs Robert Rock (15):  Scott will have to contend with the best hair in the game.  And Rock is still flying high from his win over Tiger.

Dustin Johnson (3) vs Jim Furyk (14):  DJ has great game but it can go as quickly as it comes.  Don’t be surprised if Johnson gets stung by Furyk.

Bubba Watson (3) vs Ben Crane (12):  This pairing of ‘golf Boys” will leave one of them singing the blues.  Crane is as slow as it gets and Bubba like to let it rip.  That may be a formula for an upset.

Steve Stricker (2) vs Kevin Na (13):  Strick already has a win this year but Na is playing well with two top tens this season.

Besides the number one seeds these may be the closest thing to a lock.

Ian Poulter (6) vs Sang-moon Bae (11):  Poulter won this event in 2010 and just plain loves match play.

Tiger Woods (5) vs G. Fernandez-Castano (12):  Tiger’s game is coming around and in good enough shape to dispatch the Spaniard.

Bill Haas (3) vs Ryo Ishikawa (14):  Even if he has a  letdown after his win at Riviera Haas has enough to get past the struggling Ishikawa.

The match I most want to follow:

Sergio Garcia (4) vs Miguel Angel Jimenez (13):  It’s a shame that one of these two have to pack it in after day one.  Garcia is in the middle of a career resurgence and Jimenez is just the most interesting man to watch on a golf course.

 

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Ten Things I Think

February 20th, 2012 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

OK, Peter King, it’s not Monday Morning Quarterback, it’s 10 Things I Think.

1.  Keegan Bradley is a very good golfer, the PGA Champion proved that last year and he is easy to like but he is pushing it.  Somebody get him to a therapist to take care of that obsessive compulsive syndrome he has going on there.  How many times does he have to realign the ball, or step away from his setup or spit already.  It’s killing me and he just plays too slowly.

2.  In a world of over the top, self absorbed, me first athletes Bill Haas is a refreshing change.  He’s humble, polite and anything but in your face.  Surely, coming from an historic golfing family has plenty to do with it.   Masters winner Bob Goalby is his great uncle.  His coach at Wake Forest is also his uncle, Jerry Haas who played on tour.  And of course his dad is PGA veteran and Champions Tour great, Jay Haas.  Father and son appear in those “Mentoring” commercials and it looks like it has paid off for Bill.  He had a great line after his win at Riviera.  When asked about all the fans cheering “Phil, Phil” Haas took it in stride,” “Honestly ‘Phil’ sounds really similar to ‘Bill,’ so you just kind of pretend that maybe they’re for you.  If I’m at home, I’m cheering for Phil, too.”

3.  Phil Mickelson said the setup at Riviera Country Club had a U.S. Open feel and he was right.  Those pins were tucked and on a course with the bloodlines of Riviera all it needed was a little rough and Mike Davis testing the greens with the stimpmeter. Riviera is screaming for another major.

4.  The best golfer in the world won again on Sunday.  Yani Tseng defended her title at The Honda LPGA Thailand 2012 and is ready to repeat last season when she won seven LPGA events and has twelve worldwide victories.  Right now she’s the most accomplished golfer in the world on any tour, anywhere.

5.  Hindsight is 20-20 but do you think Mickelson and Bradley may be rethinking their choices off the tee on the 10th hole?  Both are long enough to hit the green with three woods on the short par four but both found themselves in impossible lies after their tee balls went right.  Phil even said the pin on ten was a “defensive position.”  So why not hit something less to the perfect layup yardage and let that magical wedge take you in close.  And Haas is lucky he finished like he did.  After his opponents were in such deep trouble a layup by him may have been a wiser choice.  But his putter eneded that debate.

6.  Cheers to Natalie Gulbis for saying yes to that Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue photo spread.  More fans saw her there than at any LPGA event in history.  Maybe the tour will get a little pop from the publicity.  There is no doubt that Natalie spends plenty of time in the gym.

7.  The air around the 72nd hole at Riviera with Phil and Keegan stalking their putts had to be electric.  When Phil sank his putt pandemonium erupted but both players acknowledged each other with a knuckle bump.  The same happened after Keegan dropped his.  That’s sportsmanship my friend.

8.  Ernie Els owes Phil a bit of thanks or something more tangible.  With Phil taking  this week off Els gets into the Accenture Match Play Championship. “I’ll buy Phil a steak dinner this week at some point, maybe send him a good bottle of Bordeaux or something.”  The bad news is he draws world number one Luke Donald.

9.  For years Sergio Garcia played the “poor me” card when his luck turned sour.  He even said he thought the golf gods had it out for him.  Well if you have seen Sergio lately he looks like a new man.  He‘s happy and smiling and playing much better.  He won twice last season in Europe and has a fifth and twelfth place finish on the Euro Tour this year.  His T4 finish at Riviera is another sign good things are happening to Sergio.  And he is putting like he did when he first turned pro.  This could be a special year for El Nino.

10.  Erik Compton may be the most inspirational story on the PGA Tour but the comeback of J.B. Holmes isn’t far behind.  With brain surgery in August there was doubt whether he could return to his form as one of the longest drivers on tour.  Well his T8 finish at Riviera has answered that.  He is getting longer off the tee each week and now his putting and short game have come into form.  He has to be feeling pretty good about how he is playing.

Bonus, 11.  One thing for sure is that Phil Mickelson will always be Phil Mickelson.  That is he will always “go for it” anytime he thinks he has the slightest chance of making the shot.  Early in the Northern Trust Open he looked to be in control with that driver and appeared to be swinging a little smoother off the tee.  Butch Harmon has been trying to get Phil to throttle back just a hair with the big dog.  And it has worked for the most part.  But it was his putter that hurt on Sunday, two three putts on the back nine, but Phil still knows how to thrill.  He’s counting the days and licking his chops when he thinks of The Masters.

 

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Phil Thrills, But Haas Wins

February 20th, 2012 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

This is why we watch professional golf.  The finish at The Northern Trust Open was just about as much fun that you can have watching golf.  The scene was set with great players trading punches over an historic venue and the players didn’t disappoint.

You take Phil Mickelson, one of the greats of the game, add young stud Keegan Bradley, mix in some Bill Haas, who stole the show at The Tour Championship, throw in iconic Riviera Country Club, a few clutch putts and a bunch of kikuyu grass and you get one fantastic finish.

It was a day when the leaders went back and forth, and forth and back down the stretch.  It all boiled down to the eighteenth hole for Mickelson and Bradley.  With Bill Haas in the clubhouse at seven under, they each needed a birdie to force a playoff.  Phil hit his approach to the back fringe, 27 feet past the hole.  Bradley bettered his mentor with a shot resting about 13 feet away from the hole.

As Haas kept warm on the practice range, Phil stalked his putt.  He may have had doubts with his short stick as he had back to back three putts coming in.  But as CBS showed a graphic that said he had a nine percent chance of holing it, Phil steeled his nerves.  With a perfect stroke and a better roll his ball curled into the hole and the faithful that circled the eighteenth went bananas.

Phil gave a few of his strong, left fist pumps as the crowd screamed and hollered and jumped for joy which surely had to register on any nearby Richter Scale.  Phil couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he watched his buddy Keegan Bradley line up his putt.

Bradley, not to be outdone, took his time to access his putt. But once he stood over the ball he let it go with a firm stroke.  Dead center it entered the hole and set off another celebration that rivaled Mickelson’s.  It was great theater at one of the most revered holes in golf and Bill Haas knew it was a three man playoff.

After all three parred the eighteenth they moved to the short, drivable par four tenth hole.  Only none of them could find the green.  Phil’s three wood landed in the rough short of the green.  Bradley’s three wood found the bunker and Haas’ driver was left, long and buried in the rough.

With the pin stuck in a narrow area at the back of the green , getting their balls close to the hole was impossible for all three.  Haas played first and knowing he had no chance at the pin opted to play back to the center of the green.  Phil, knows no other way then to attack and the master of the flop shot tried his best flop.  He landed it close to the hole but the ball had no spin and rolled into the greenside bunker.  Bradley was next with a difficult bunker shot and his ball finished passed the pin on the back fringe.

At this point a par looked like it may take the tournament and Haas sat 45 feet from the hole.  Showing the same nerve that won him the FedEx Cup with a shot from the water he calmly rolled his long putt right into the hole for an unlikely birdie.  The composed Haas only raised a fist in celebration as the air went out of Bradley and Mickelson.

When Phil’s sand shot fell short he was done.  Bradley needed to sink his putt to extend the playoff but it slid by the cup and Haas was standing alone as the Northern Trust Champion after an amazing finish.

We can take away a few things from this exhilarating finish.  First of all Bill Haas has quietly developed some big time golfing chops.  He has four tour wins in two years and having won the pressure filled Tour Championship and now showing his mettle at Riviera he has to be given his due as one tough, clutch player.

Tournament venues do make a difference.  Riviera Country Club has stood up to the test of time and that layout will certainly test players for decades to come.  The amphitheater at the eighteenth is one of the best in golf.  History does matter and the history at Riviera is filled with the games greats.

Having Phil and Keegan, good friends and professional rivals, playing together with the lead to start the last round was a perfect script.  They gave us an entertaining day of golf and that finish on the 72nd hole of the tournament will long be remembered.  This is why they play and this is why we watch.  We want our heroes to be there at the end.  We want our heroes to be historic and we want them to give it their all.  That’s just what happened yesterday.  Hass, Mickelson and Bradley  were great to watch and even though Haas was the only one walking home with a trophy, all three were winners on Sunday.

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Mickelson Ready to Give Bradley Another Lesson

February 19th, 2012 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

This has turned into a special weekend on the PGA Tour.  Fan favorite, Phil Mickelson has managed to keep his hot streak going at The Northern Trust Open and shares the lead with his young protégé, Keegan Bradley.  This has to be a special Sunday for both of them.

Phil Mickelson has a habit of taking young players under his wing to show them the ins and outs of the tour.  Dustin Johnson and Keegan Bradley are two of Phil’s recent projects and both have benefitted from Mickelson’s guidance.

Phil brought Bradley into his practice round “money games” early last season to get Bradley used to playing under a little pressure.  As Lee Trevino used to say pressure is playing for a hundred dollars when you only have five bucks in your pocket.  Phil’s mentoring has worked wonders for Bradley as we saw last season when he claimed the PGA Championship and the Byron Nelson.

The two have grown close as they share the same management company and Bradley even gave Phil some lessons when he tried to putt with a Bradley style belly putter.  Now the student will try and school his teacher as Phil tries to win back to back tournaments for the fourth time in his career.  Bradley will try to show Phil that he may have taught him too well.  Phil is pretty good when he has a share of the lead after 54 holes, having gone on to win 21 of 30 times.

With ten players within three shots of the lead it is bound to be an interesting Sunday.  This finish may well represent one of the themes that surrounds the tour lately: young studs taking on the old regime.  Bradley is one of the most gifted young players on tour with a very strong resume.  But Phil is a one of the greatest golfers in history and a Hall of Famer.  He’s looking for more wins and will not go softly into that good night.

Mickelson will have some fun today playing with Bradley and Bradley will enjoy his day. These are two guys that appreciate where they are in life.  But when it comes down to it they will go at each other with all they have.  That’s the way it should be in golf: two guys giving it their all, trying their hardest to win and respecting their opponent afterwards, win or lose.  If one of these two manages to pull it off and win the other will be right there to congratulate him.  And that’s just how these two  were taught.

 

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Saturday Swing Tip: Phil Mickelson, Hit the Lob Off a Tight Lie

February 18th, 2012 No comments

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Phil Mickelson Keeps It Up at Riviera

February 17th, 2012 1 comment

by Jeff Skinner

Still flying high from his win at Pebble Beach Phil Mickelson continued his hot play yesterday as he chipped in for birdie on eighteen for a five under 66 to lead the Northern Trust Open.  He leads Hunter Mahan and J.B. Holmes by one stroke as play had to be called due to darkness with 30 players left to finish their first round.  High winds played havoc with shots all day and caused afternoon tee times to be pushed back.

Mickelson felt like he stole one on eighteen because he missed some chances out there.  “It feels really good to get that one extra shot because I felt like I left one or two out on 16, 17, and you hate to have such a good round and let a few slide late,” said Mickelson.  “To make that shot unexpectedly on 18 felt like I got one of those back.”

Mahan who started on the back nine had a great finish with birdies on four of his last five holes.  He drained birdie putts of 34, 21, 4 and 12 feet.  Holmes who had brain surgery in August is definitely playing his way back in to tour form.  He is getting his driver back and averaged 312 yards off the tee and was T3 in Putts per GIR and T4 in GIR.

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Phil, Freddy & More

February 16th, 2012 2 comments

by Jeff Skinner

I need some help.  I am no genius, as anyone who reads this blog or knows me will tell you.  So for the life of me I can’t figure out what happened in the Official World Golf Rankings last week.  After Phil Mickelson’s dismantling of Pebble Beach with his Sunday 64 and two stroke win he was awarded 38 world ranking points.  The same week on the European Tour Rafael Cabrera-Bello earned 48 points.  To add insult to injury Phil’s 38 is six points less than Tiger Woods earned last season for his win at the 18 man field Chevron.  Can someone explain that to us?  Phil beats a full field on a classic course and gets less than Tiger does for a handpicked “silly season” event.  I am no genius but I know something is wrong there, very wrong.

Annika Sorenstam told Morning Drive viewers that she won’t be the 2013 Solheim Cup Captain.  Annika had been asked to fill the captain’s role but needed time to see if she could make the time commitment.  She cited the delay in naming the Olympic course design team as part of her reason to decline.  “I’m just not ready for this big commitment at this time.  I can’t commit to anything until I know what will happen in Rio. With the decision being (pushed back) I didn’t want them to wait on me,” she said.

Believe it or not we are seeing a new Tiger Woods this season.  No, he hasn’t turned into an autograph signing, media loving, happy go lucky golfer but he is playing more golf.  So far this season he has added two events so far.  He went back to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and has announced that he’ll play at the Honda Classic for the first time as a professional.  We can speculate on his reasons (cash and endorsements) but having Tiger in the fields is always a good thing.  Just ask Phil Mickelson.

The best golf tour that no one is watching is back in action this week as the LPGA Tour is playing in Thailand at The Honda LPGA Thailand 2012.  Ai Miyazato leads by one stroke after round one and the Golf Channel is showing it on a time delay. Paula Creamer had an ace at the twelfth hole and she joins a large American contingent that includes Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Natalie Gulbis, Cristie Kerr and Morgan Pressel among others.

It seems fitting that Phil Mickelson and Fred Couples are teeing it up at The Northern Trust Open this week.  Both have a great history there with two wins apiece at Riviera Country Club and they rave about the “old school” layout.  Phil is hot off his win last week and Fred is playing his first PGA Tournament of the year after having that blood spinning procedure to help his chronically ailing back.  Phil was asked about playing on such an historic track, “It is cool for us as players to play the same courses that many of the great players of the past have walked and played, Hogan, Snead, looking back on their playoff that they had after Hogan’s accident here at LA, at Riviera. It’s fun. It’s a cool thing. It’s a great compliment to the golf course to see it withstand the test of time the way it has, the way it’s still a challenge for the best players today, regardless of decades of technological advancements. It still tests the players of today.”

Couples called it his favorite tournament, “Well, it is my favorite tournament. Everyone talks about how great a course it is, and I just always liked it from the day I got here. 30 years later, I’m much older, but I still feel like I can play here. And last year I had a great shot at winning, actually, on Sunday. I birdied the first three holes and then played very poorly from then on in, but still managed to have a great week, and I look forward to the same thing this week.”

 

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Riviera Country Club: An Oldie but Goodie

February 16th, 2012 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

Each week we get to see the courses of the PGA Tour up close but even with shots from the blimp it is difficult sometimes to see the layout in the big picture, so to speak.  Take a look at this Google Earth flyover of Riviera Country Club from Golf Frontier.com.

Riviera Country Club was built in 1926 by George C Thomas Jr and has a cult following among tour players.  It ranked as the tenth most difficult course on the PGA Tour last season.

This flyover gives us a good picture of Riviera Country Club and all the trouble that waits the tour pros.  We always hear talk about the California Canyons and this flyover shows that Riviera actually sits down in a canyon and is surrounded by plenty of houses sitting on the edges of the canyon.

Check out Geoff Shackelford.com.  He has more insight to Riviera than anyone as he wrote its club history, The Riviera Country Club…A Definitive History.  He also penned The Captain which covers the life and work of Riviera’s original architect, George C. Thomas Jr.  He is posting daily tidbits on Riviera and its history.

 

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Historic Riviera Country Club, Always a Tough Test for PGA Tour

February 15th, 2012 No comments

By Jeff Skinner

Pebble Beach is a tough act to follow but the PGA Tour is up to this task this week when it visits another iconic gem of a course at Riviera Country Club.  It may not possess the breathtaking views of the Pacific but the course certainly rivals Pebble in history and design.  Players love playing here and architects love studying this 1926 George Thomas design.  Tom Fazio touched up Riviera in 2008 and Ben Crenshaw reworked the greens to their original contours.  “George Thomas was very talented.” said Crenshaw. “Riviera has so many fabulous things about it. The bunkering is wonderful, very bold. They have a grand scope about them, and there is also every conceivable type of hole. The course is so well balanced and requires you to work the ball so well.”

While many courses on tour today favor the long bombers Riviera will test their shot making skills rather than their length.  The strategically placed bunkers and numerous doglegs force players to think their way around this layout.

Generations of pros have tested their game at what originally started as the L.A. Open, changed to the Nissan Open and then morphed into the Northern Trust Open.  The list of winners reads like a Hall of Fame roll call.  Hogan, Demaret, Snead, Nelson, Mangrum, Palmer, Venturi, Irwin, Watson, Wadkins, Miller, Couples, Kite and Mickelson all have claimed victory here.  Two of the best names in golf, and I literally mean names, Macdonald Smith and Lloyd Mangrum have four wins each at the L.A. Open. Macdonald and Mangrum just sound like perfect golfing names, but that’s another story.

Proving that ball striking can trump length here are Corey Pavin and Mike Weir who both have back to back victories here.  But longballers have their share of wins here too: Mickelson and  Freddy “Boom Boom” Couples have two wins here.  And The King, Arnold Palmer won here in 1963, ’66 and ’67.

Looking for more history at this iconic event? No problem.  In 1962 Jack Nicklaus didn’t win but he did cash his first check as a pro, $33.33.  Babe Didrickson Zaharias was the first woman to ever play in a PGA men’s event in 1938.  In 1969, Charlie Sifford, the first African-American on the PGA Tour won.   Tiger Woods made his PGA Tour debut here in 1992 as a sixteen year old amateur.  Woods was a part of history again when he lost to Billy Mayfair in a head to head playoff battle in 1998.

But they don’t call Riviera Mayfair’s Alley, or Smith’s Street, or Mangrum Boulevard.  They call it Hogan’s Alley and for good reason.  Hogan claimed his first L.A. Open Title at Hillcrest Country Club in 1942 and then he claimed his second title in 1947 with a Riviera course record of 280.  He laid his claim to ownership of Riviera in 1948 when he set another course record with a total score of 275 for his third L.A. Open title and then returned that same season to win his first U.S. Open Championship.  It was then that Riviera was nicknamed “Hogan’s Alley.”  1948 was a great year for Hogan as he had ten professional wins including two majors, The U.S. Open and The PGA.

Hogan’s comeback from his horrific car accident to win the U.S. Open at Merion in 1950 is well documented but few realize that Hogan almost won before his historic and unlikely win at Merion.  In the 1950 L.A. Open Hogan battled Sam Snead in a rain delayed tournament that finished in a two man playoff on a Wednesday.  Hogan had only started hitting full golf shots a few months before the tournament and struggled to walk eighteen holes.  Few gave Hogan any chance at returning to championship golf after his accident.  But there he was with his legs wrapped in elastic from crotch to ankle, in pain the entire time, taking his rival Snead to a playoff.  It spoke volumes as to the determination and skill of one of the greatest golfers in history.  Hogan lost to Snead that day but he knew he would be able to play championship golf again.  And he found it out at Riviera Country Club, Hogan’s Alley.

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Tiger Gets More Reps at The Honda Classic

February 15th, 2012 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

Only Tiger Woods can shake up the golf world with a simple press release.  Woods has announced that he’ll be playing in the Honda classic for the first time since 1993 when he was an amateur.  “I heard great things about The Honda Classic,” Woods said in a release. “Now that I live here I want to play whenever possible. (Jack Nicklaus’) involvement in the tournament and the benefits to the local community are also important.”

He’s never played the Honda as a professional and in playing there he will be playing in three straight events and four out of five.  Woods never like to play three in a row and has always been very selective where he tees it up.

Give Woods some credit here, he is supporting his local community here and he has said he plans to add a new tournament to his schedule and this accomplishes both.  He also needs “more reps” and he’ll get them there on a difficult course against a very good field.

Tournament Director Ken Kennerly was thrilled by the addition of Tiger and acknowledges that his playing is a boon to both Tiger and the community, “This is Tiger doing something for the community as much as it is him doing something for Tiger.”

Whatever the reason behind Tiger’s decision it is great for the tour, the community and for golf.  The fact remains that Tiger is the most watched golfer in history and golf is always more interesting when he is in the field.

 

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