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Shanks For The Memories!

And we’re REALLY off…

The conclusion of the Soggy Open in Hawaii marks the full-tilt, full-field premiere of the 2011 PGA Tour season and the eventual winner certainly caught all the prediction pundits with their pants around their ankles…present company included. (You’re welcome for that visual!)

Plagued by days of heavy rains that left the track at Waialea more closely resembling a tropical swim-up bar than a golf course, tournament and Tour organizers alike began their season by tackling a plethora of logistical nightmares.  How to squeeze 4 days of play into less than three?

It’s a lot like trying to cram 5 pounds of sausage into a 3-pound casing.  You keep pushing and pushing and hope the whole thing doesn’t blow up.  There’s a little red guy with a pitchfork sitting on my left shoulder right now, urging me to slip in a simile about Oprah and a size-2 bikini, but I’m not falling for it.  Huh…I guess I am maturing after all.

The final solution of course, was to re-cut the playing field down to a more manageable size (56 players instead of 70 and ties) and then play a full 36 holes, in groups of three, rather than two, on Sunday.

Thirty six holes in one day!  That’s old school baby!  I can almost hear Vardon, Hagen, Jones and the Morrises, old and young, cheering in approval that these pampered modern players had to walk a mile or ten in their shoes for a change.  And I’m positive I heard Hagen pop a champagne cork and proclaim to all what a snappy dresser that Ian Poulter chappie is.

Speaking of pampered, it might be interesting to note that there was a grand total of 27 players marked up on the leaderboard with an MDF beside their names…”made the cut, did not finish.”  While the reduced field was gutting out the double-long final day, these guys got to hop an early plane back to the mainland, or lounge around the pool with their family, sipping fruity drinks with umbrellas out of faux cocoanuts…and earning a paycheque in the process.  My kind of work day!

Meanwhile, Morris the elder just tossed his Cleek into a creek and then wrapped his Niblick around the neck of the nearest nizzart.

And across the bar, Harry Vardon was ordering up another wee dram, whilst complaining bitterly about the womanly yellow featherie being played by that Japanese fella!  Personally, I thought it was a real treat to see Shigeki back in form and flashing that infectious smile on the TV this week…but the yellow ball has to go man!  Honto!

And so, with the last green squeegied, the final chip chipped and the ultimate putt sunk, it was none other than Mark Wilson who hoisted the cup of victory at Waialea Country Club!

Hello Playoffs!  Hello 2012!  Hello Masters!!!

Good for you Mark!

And with that heavy-handed and abrupt segue, here’s how my daughter and I fared in our forecasts for the week that was plagued by the other kind of forecasts:

Derek’s Picks D&D (Daughter & Dartboard)
Steve Stricker T9 $     143,000 Pat Perez T68 $           10,395
Carl Pettersson Cut $              – Brian Gay T13 $           94,286
Charles Howell III T68 $       10,395 DJ Trahan Cut
Matt Kuchar T5 $     209,000 Nate Smith T42 $           19,800
This Week’s Total $     362,395 This Week’s Total $         124,481
Season Total $     887,895 Season Total $         646,481

The Bob Hope Classic

Of course, the biggest reason why the folks in Hawaii had to go through so many mental gymnastics and use the 36-hole Sunday strategy

was so that all the players confirmed to compete in the Hope could get back to the mainland in time to tee it up there.

The Hope is one of those oddities on tour…and not just because of the odd assortment of celebrities who come out to play and be seen playing.  The Hope stands apart because it is a 90-hole tourney, strung out over 5 days of play on four different courses.  And it all starts Wednesday…making the extremely slim prospects of a Monday finish in Hawaii even more slim.

Derek’s Picks

Matt Kuchar – Yes, I know I’m running the risk of starting to seem lazy, or uncreative, or uninspired by going to this well one more time…but really, can you think of any good reasons to hop off the Kuchar bandwagon yet?

Two tourneys under his belt, two straight weeks in the top 6.  What’s not to like about the guy right now?  When the last putt of the season is sunk in November, he might not end up successfully defending his place atop the money list, but you have to concede that he’s off to a hell of a nice start so far.  And I have to admit, I’m really rooting for him to do it too.  I just like the guy.

Oh yes, it’s also worth noting that young Matt is riding some pretty good Hope mojo into this week’s return to La Quinta.  Last year he finished the tournament at -29, in a two-way tie for second with Tim Clark…and just one stroke back of winner Bill Haas.

Lazy?  Uncreative?  Uninspired choice?  I don’t think so.  It’s just a matter of time before Matt picks up another winner’s cheque.  And my bet is on sooner, rather than later.

Tim Clark – Hmmm…I haven’t typed that name in a while.  It was at least 50 characters ago.  And if you use Twitter, that’s more than a third of an eternity.

Last week in Hawaii Clark was a lean, mean, fairway and green hitting machine.  Golf god Nick Faldo and the rest of his TV cohorts couldn’t help but be impressed by wee Tim’s laser-like accuracy off the tees and fairways at Waialea.

He led the field in greens hit (78%) and was T12 in Fairways (64%).  And on those very rare occasions when he his shots did go askew, he was #1 for the week in Sandies (100%) and Scrambling (88%).

A slow-ish start to the season at Kapalua (17th) was more than corrected last weekend.  Man, I wish I could have slow starts like that!

As far as Clark’s recent successes at La Quinta go, they really speak for themselves; T2 in 2010 and T5 in 2009.  All he has to do now is seal the deal…and I think he’s got a pretty decent shot of doing that this weekend.

I just hope, for Tim’s sake, that he doesn’t get paired up with some glandular misfit celebrity from the NBA.  At 5’7″ he runs a very serious risk of being stepped on by one of those characters.

D.J. Trahan – This pick is all about history… as far away from present day as possible.

Maybe that’s not really fair to say, but DJ didn’t exactly come out of the gates smoking to kick off the 2011 season last week.  He missed the cut at the Sony by 5 strokes.

He definitely wasn’t the only very good player to have some struggles last week though, and the only reason I mention this is to illustrate that I’m not just making my picks by riding hot players on a current streak, like Kuchar and Clark.

The Trahan selection is rear-view mirror stuff entirely.  And La Quinta provides the vista in the looking glass.  In the past three years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player, other than Tim Clark and Mike Weir, who has played the four courses of the Hope better or more consistently than DJ.  He was 7th last year, 13th in 2009 and won it all in 2008.

True, the numbers 7 and 13 might not inspire over-the-top optimism, but those finishes, twinned up with his win in ’08 do speak to a venue that suits his game and treats him very well.  And remember, the fields get tougher when the Tour leaves Hawaii and swings back to the left coast.

All in all, I think he’s worth a flutter this week.

Alex Prugh – During the first three weeks of the 2010 golf season a LOT of golf fans around the planet were asking one thing “WHO is this Alex Prugh guy?”

When the Tour returned from Hawaii and hit Southern California, Prugh literally played like a man possessed…and temporarily took the golf world by storm.

5th at the Hope.  5th a week later at the Farmer’s.  10th the following week at the Northern Trust.  Oh yeah…I forgot to mention that 2010 was his rookie year on Tour!  Golf people were primed to slap the “next (insert golf legend’s name here)” on the kid.

And then, just as quickly, he faded into relative obscurity…often missing the cut and, when he did play on the weekend, rarely cracking the top 30 or 40 or 50.  Not until October’s excellent T2 finish at the Frys.com Open did he really appear on our radar screens again.

Now, it’s a whole new year and with a full season of huge ups and deep downs and a ton of invaluable seasoning under his belt, I think Prugh might be poised to really start living up to the potential he displayed at the start of last season.

And, he’s off to a pretty decent start already.  He finished T20 last week in Hawaii, which was a 52-position improvement over his 2010 Tour debut at the same event.  I can’t help but think that his return to La Quinta this week will spark a motherload of positive thoughts that might help him carry the day.

Mike Weir – No, I’m not trying to sneak in an extra pick.  I just couldn’t bring myself to write an article about the Bob Hope Classic without mentioning how well Mike has done here in the past…and how much I’m looking forward to his return to form AND the winner’s circle.

2009 was a brutal year for Mike that is best buried in the “forget about it and move on” archives.  Even more heart-wrenching to me than his struggle with injuries and disappointments on the course, was that his woes seemed to turn into a pathetic and mean-spirited game of personal attacks from a small but very vocal group of so-called “Canadian golf fans.”

For reasons that are beyond my understanding, these miserable little cannibals seemed to take great pride in seeing who could go the lowest, who could get more personal and who could cut the deepest each week, as they bombarded discussion boards and blogs with a non-stop, venomous attack on one of our country’s truly great sportsmen and ambassadors.

Hiding behind the security of their anonymous Internet nicknames, this handful of  cowardly bastards went after Weir like a school of piranhas, week in and week out…doing their worst to tear, gouge and maim someone who was down.

And it made me sick.

The only other golfer who received more harsh criticism last year was Tiger…and in my books, his off-course actions earned him every scathing comment.  Meanwhile, what was Weir’s great sin?  Why was he under attack?  Yes…he failed to play good golf.

Mike, I would absolutely LOVE to see you put it all together this week.  Good luck getting healthier (and staying that way) and good luck with the new caddy and the fresh new season.

But most of all, please know that there are hundreds of thousands, probably millions of fans here and all over the world who are enthusiastically pulling for you and can’t wait to see you return to form!

D & D’s Picks (Daughter and Dartboard)

  • Cameron Tringale
  • Scott Verplank
  • Troy Matteson
  • Michael Putnam

And that’s all for this week folks.  Enjoy the tournament!

Cheers,

Derek

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