by Jeff Skinner
This is the time of year when professional golfers start to put the hammer down. This week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational kicks off a stretch of golf that will not only test the best golfers in the world but wear them out at the same time.
The next eight weeks of the PGA Tour schedule consists of seven tournaments including a WGC, a major and the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Here is what the next two months have in store: WGC Bridgestone, PGA Championship, Wyndham Championship, The Barclays, The Deutsche Bank, The BMW and then the Tour Championship. There is only one off week between BMW and the Tour Championship. And the following week after the Tour Championship a lucky dozen golfers get to tee it up at the pressure filled Ryder Cup. If this stretch of golf doesn’t get you excited than something’s wrong.
This week at The WGC Adam Scott returns to Firestone Country Club as the defending champion and the world wants to see if he will bounce back from the Open Championship freefall. It won’t be easy for Scott here as 78 of the world’s best will be vying for the final WGC title of the season. The only top player to pass on the Bridgestone is Webb Simpson who is home with his wife and newborn daughter.
We’ll get to see plenty of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods this week and over the next two months as they will tee it up at The PGA Championship and at least three of the playoff events. Firestone is Tiger’s personal playground as he has seven victories there.
The FedEx Cup Playoffs have finally been around long enough for the players to get acclimated to the format and they have come to acknowledge the playoffs as a viable entity. Mickelson says they have achieved their goal, “There was a lot of skepticism at first when it first came out. We knew that it was a good thing in that it got the best players in the world to compete against each other four additional weeks. We were not sure how it was going to evolve but now it’s really become a staple of the PGA TOUR and something that the players really look forward to and strive for. They add move tournaments throughout the summer in an effort to increase their points standing heading into the FedExCup, and it’s become really a solid staple on the PGA TOUR.”
It will be a tough stretch for many players but this is the time of year that the rubber meets the road, to use an old Firestone tag line. We’ll crown another major champion, a Tour Championship winner, a FedEx Cup winner and determine the PGA Tour Player of the Year over the next eight weeks. And then we get the Ryder Cup… It doesn’t get much better than this.
by Jeff Skinner
Four years after winning the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open Inbee Park finally returned to the winner’s circle at The Evian Masters. Park withstood a charge from Hall of Famer Karrie Webb who tied for second with Stacy Lewis.
Park played outstanding golf as her final round 66 included three closing birdies and gave her a two stroke win over Webb and Lewis. Lewis had started the day tied with Park but couldn’t mount any charge through her first fourteen holes. On the back nine she realized her driver had cracked but she continued to use it despite the fact she was 20-30 yards shorter than normal. She did finish birdie-birdie-par-eagle but Park had pulled away by then and Lewis settled for her second consecutive runner up finish at Evian.
Park said it’s been a long time between victories, “How would I describe in words? It feels great. It’s been four years. It felt like more than four years. Just really happy.”
by Jeff Skinner
Fred Couples had never won an Open Championship but he did have nine top ten finishes before he moved on to The Senior Open Championship. In his first appearance at The Senior Open Couples came home with the hardware with a two stroke win over Gary Hallberg.
Bernard Langer started the final round with a one stroke lead over Couples but uncharacteristically failed to close the deal. Langer ballooned to a 75 and finished in sixth place, seven strokes back.
Couples finished with a flourish with two birdies to dash the hopes of Hallberg. Couples was thrilled to have won at Turnberry. “It was a very fun day. Being paired with Bernhard, you’ve got to play great and for a long time there, we were neck and neck.”
“That was a big birdie on 17 to make 18 play easier and then when I hit the last putt, the hole got in the way and I won by two. I’m very happy and excited to have won this.”
“It’s the next best thing for all of us,” he said. “Obviously I never won The Open. I came close. Last night I really thought about the golf course. I knew I needed to play it well, and this is my biggest Senior Tour win, by far, winning on a truly great, great golf course.”
“I can say I won a Senior Open at Turnberry. I think the best thing about the whole week was playing this course. It’s a challenging, very tough course, under extreme weather. It’s nice to win any event, but there’ve been a lot of great champions on this thing, that’s for sure.”
Take a look at this time lapse video as the eighteenth hole at The Evian Golf Club transforms into a stadium. It takes weeks but you’ll see it in a few seconds.
by Jeff Skinner
Tom Watson and the rest of the seniors are back on the hallowed links of Turnberry this week for the Senior British Open. This is the scene of one of Watson’s greatest victories and at the same time the place with the most bittersweet memory of all.
It was here that Watson battled with Jack Nicklaus in the ‘Duel in the Sun’ and it was here in 2009 that he was two shots from winning his sixth Open Championship at the astonishing age of 59.
Watson cherishes all his memories at Turnberry, bitter and sweet. “This is a very special place for me,” Watson said. “Obviously, the premier of many of my memories is the Duel in the Sun, when I just edged out the greatest player who ever played the game. I believed in myself after that.”
Watson has been honored by a plaque on the eighteenth hole to commemorate the seven iron shot that he hit to two feet to beat Nicklaus in 1977. “Unveiling the plaque is very special. I remember hitting the shot, which meant so much to me and so many other people.”
Watson is an adopted son of Scotland as they welcome him as one of their own. Few golfers can play a links game like Watson and he’ll have a good chance at winning his fourth Senior British Open Championship.
Watson has to have some mixed feelings about that eighteenth hole. It gave him one of his greatest wins and with one hard bounce it took from him the greatest win in golf history.
Watson’s a better man than I am because I can’t think of Turnberry without the pain we all felt when his quest for his sixth Open Championship fell short.
by Jeff Skinner
The LPGA gets back on the course this week at the soon to be major, Evian Masters. The Evian will officially become the LPGA Tour’s fifth major in 2013 but it pays like a major this year. The Evian and the U.S. Open are tied for the largest purse on tour at $3.25 million with first place taking home $487,500. That will get your attention.
One of the most perplexing questions at The Evian is what kind of game will Yani Tseng bring to the beautiful Evian Golf Club. After dominating women’s golf last year and a good start this year with three wins she hasn’t won in her last seven LPGA starts.
Tseng dominated so much that any blip has large repercussions. And her last three tournaments are a series of big blips: T50 at the U.S. Open, missed cut in Arkansas and T59 at Wegman’s. Compare that to her first eight starts this year: Three wins and when she didn’t win she was in the top ten all five times.
Looking to mix things up Tseng has changed caddies this week and long time, major winning caddie Jason Hamilton has been sent packing and she has hired veteran Basin van Rooyen. Tseng says it’s just an attempt to shake things up. But she won plenty of tournaments with Hamilton. It will be interesting to see if she finds her game.
Trying to keep Tseng from breaking her winless slump will be a very strong field. Ai Miyazato is the defending champion and has two wins this season already. All the top golfers are in France this week and Stacy Lewis, Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, Lexi Thompson and Na Yeon Choi along with plenty of others will be looking to take home that big check.
Tseng has said that there is plenty of pressure that goes along with being number. In the understatement of the year she said, “It’s pretty hard to be world No. 1.” It won’t get any easier this week.