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On Semi-Majors and Circular Impressions

Note to self; if the tournament doesn’t really mean anything, don’t take Phil Mickelson…because he’ll probably play like it doesn’t mean anything!

For those of you who read my last column, you’ll recall that that’s exactly what I was worried about when I picked Phil to win at the Greenbrier Classic last week.  Could he muster up the mental discipline and killer instinct to still play his best, when facing a field he should dominate so easily?  Based on his performance in West Virginia, the answer is clearly “No!”

Not only did Mickelson fail to play to his potential, he failed to even make the cut…stringing together largely forgettable rounds of 70-73 to earn an early flight to his next Tour stop in Akron. 

Of course, the tournament did mean something to a large group of guys in the field…and they actually played like it.  It was especially meaningful to Scott Stallings, who gutted out some back-nine calamities and won the three-man playoff to claim his first PGA trophy…and finish off the job he almost accomplished earlier in the season at the Transitions Championship. 

It was also pretty meaningful to Bob Estes; a guy with 4 PGA victories on his resume…but none more recent than 2002.  Bob’s fortunes have changed so much in the past 5 or 6 years that he can now only get into a handful of tournaments in the season…mostly through sponsor exemptions or as an alternate.  His T2 finish this week should get him into an abundance of tournaments for the rest of the year and for the 2012 season.

And it had a great deal of meaning to Webb Simpson too, who was one of my picks to win last week at White Sulphur Springs.  (Is it just me, or does that name conjure up a mental image of playing 18 holes in a light fog, combined with a pervasive, heavy aroma of beer farts?)

Right up until making the turn on Sunday, Simpson was showing real champion’s form…and was a legitimate threat to finally win his first PGA Tour title.  Three bogies and a birdie later and he was T9, two shots out of the playoff. 

That stat all by itself should give you an indication of how many guys were serious about this tourney and how tight the leader board was coming down the stretch…a mere two strokes separated first place from ninth!

And so, with that quick re-cap out of the way, this seems like the perfect time to see how we did with all of our picks last week in the column:

The Greenbrier Classic – Results

Derek’s Picks D&D (Daughter & Dartboard)
Phil Mickelson

Cut!

Kevin Chappell

Cut

Jeff Overton

T49

 $          14,430 Chris Couch

T11

 $            138,000
Webb Simpson

T9

 $         168,000 Ben Martin

Cut

Sergio Garcia

T39

 $          25,200 Aron Price

T32

 $              32,486
This Week’s Total  $         207,630 This Week’s Total  $            170,486
Season Total  $    14,609,854 Season Total  $         5,072,335

THE WGC BRIDGESTONE INVITATIONAL

I’ve already mentioned this a few weeks ago; in the golf pool I administer we have five Majors; the Masters, the US Open, the Open Championship, the PGA Championship and the Canadian Open.  We count the Canadian Open because we’re Canadians and it’s our National Championship.  If you don’t like it, don’t join. 

Each Major is worth double the value of a regular week on Tour, to recognize the importance of each event and reward players properly for doing well in the big ones.

We also have a number of “Semi-Majors” in the pool; events that are absolutely more important than a “regular” week on Tour…but not so much that they are the same calibre as the Majors.  The Semi-Majors are The Player’s Championship, the third and fourth rounds of the FedEx Cup Playoffs (you know, the ones where everyone has to show up?) and all of the WGC events.  To reward good play in these events, players earn 1.5 times the value of a “regular” week on Tour.

If you work through the schedule in your head, you’ll quickly recognize that we are on the “bell lap” of an extremely intense section of the PGA Tour calendar…featuring three Majors and one Semi-Major jammed into in a 5 week period.  It starts with the US Open and wraps up with the PGA Championship (next week). 

The huge points earned (or not) in this segment of the playing schedule can cause some dramatic swings of fortune for the folks who are in contention…and it definitely keeps everyone’s attention riveted to the leader boards each week.  For most of us, it’s the make-or-break point in the season…the one that ultimately decides whether we finish the season as one of the winners or shrink back into the beefy pack of also-rans and might-have-beens.

Thrills, spills, chills…and all the other clichés are packed into this intense period.  Personally, I have my fingernails chewed right up to the shoulders right now.  It’s definitely not for the fainthearted. 

Let the Gratuitous Fawning Begin…

A good chunk of the golf world is buzzing this week in anticipation of the return of Tiger Woods to “competitive” golf. 

How competitive he’ll be this week remains to be seen…and if his 2011 record AND his play in this event last year are any indication, the answer is “not very.”  Remember, he finished 78th in a field of 80 in last season’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational. If you’re one of those people who has already handed him the trophy…and another 5 or 6 majors to boot, before he even tees it up this week…you might want to keep that in mind.

Personally, I find myself wondering exactly how many bogies and/or double bogies it’s going to take before he suddenly develops a mysterious limp and decides to pull out of the tournament because he “rushed his recovery.”

Meanwhile, you can be assured that the announcers at The Golf Channel and CBS are absolutely salivating over this development.  As soon as he announced his entry into the event, they immediately rushed to their lockers to dig out their thesauruses (or is that thesauri?) and started to compile mind-bogglingly long lists of synonyms for every outrageously fawning description they could come up with.  They also ordered six extra cameramen onto the course so we could get multiple angles of every gouge, lunge and spray as he hacks his way around Firestone this week.

Hang in there.  We’ll show the leaders…eventually.

And if you think I’m getting carried away here, the Golf Channel’s “big’ announcement earlier this week was their introduction of their “Tiger Tracker.” 

Never mind the other 70-odd guys in the field, who have actually earned their way into the WGC events this year, golf’s leading medium is devoting all this hullabaloo to the 135th ranked player on the PGA Tour money list.  Every inane comment, every burp, hiccup and fart, ponderously analysed and reported by a plethora of golf writers, stretching the word “newsworthy” to the breaking point…and beyond.

Curiously, the brain trust at the Golf Channel didn’t see fit to also announce some other similar innovations to their coverage.  I’m just thinking off the top of my Marketing head here, but with their propensity to pound a good thing into the ground, combined with a love of alliteration, surely they’d have room for stuff like a “Phil Finder.” How about a “Luke Locator” or a “Matt Minder?”   And try to imagine the staggeringly entertaining possibilities of the “Stricker Ticker.” 

The possibilities are endless folks. 

Anyone for a “Sergio Seeker?”  Perhaps a “Bubba Browser,” a “Dustin Discoverer,” a “Rory Recoverer” or even a “Padraig Portkey” (which would have the additional benefit of bringing more Harry Potter fans to golf broadcasts).  That’s gold!

Silly?  You bet your ass it is.  Just as silly as the real idea The Golf Channel has actually started promoting on their website!  (And by the way, if ANY of these ideas miraculously start appearing on that site, I’ll be expecting some big, fat royalty cheques for the use of my bizarro intellectual property)

Message boards and golf sites have also been jammed with a non-stop litany of mostly nonsensical comments from the Tiger faithful…people who type very loudly and can’t seem to see past their own puddle of drool to look reality in the eye. 

I guess I probably shouldn’t be so harsh…after all, they are very large puddles to look beyond! 

So why now…and why Firestone? 

Many realists will point out that it’s probably the start of a somewhat desperate 11th hour charge to try and claw his way into the top 125 and avoid the ignominy of having to use one of his PGA exemptions to earn full playing privileges next year.  Others will claim he’s heroically charging to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, which are just weeks away…and are out of his reach right now.  Still others will point out that this course might offer his best chance of the year of returning to form, since he’s won here 7 times in the past.

All of those are valid opinions and certainly ones worth considering.  Being the complete knob that I am though, I’ll offer up one more radically different (and hopefully more entertaining) reason that Woods is making his latest “comeback” this week.

This week’s venue is Firestone Country club, located in Akron, Ohio.  Akron, as most of us are aware is touted as the Rubber Capital of the World.  In fact, the city’s nickname is “The Rubber City.”  (You can see this one coming can’t you?)

Given that fact that all but one of his sponsors dumped him like a bad prom date after Elin allegedly wrapped a 9-iron around his teeth, I think there’s a very good possibility that Tiger is in Akron for no reason other than to announce a brand-new sponsorship deal.  A sponsorship deal with Trojan or Durex. 

Expect to see a battery of TV commercials this weekend promoting the new line of tiny little Tiger “head covers.” 

And, borrowing heavily from the marketing savants who decided back in the 70’s to sell  ”L’Eggs” pantyhose in the dairy section of supermarkets, instead of in ladies clothing stores, don’t expect to see these gems on sale in your local drug store.  No siree Bub…they’ll have their own special shelf at Dick’s Sporting Goods instead! 

Pure genius!!!

I can’t what to hear what “Frank” the head cover has to say in those commercials when he finds out he’ll be adorning the wobbly warheads of a legion of loyal Nascar fans…out chasing myriad waffle waitress and rippers. 

His immortal line in the Charles Barkley ad springs immediately to mind, though…”clean up on aisle five!”

Derek’s Picks – THE WGC Bridgestone invitational

Lee Westwood – Up until this year’s Open Championship, Westwood was a lock to do well in virtually any tournament in which he teed his ball.  After a shaky start to the European Tour season in the Middle East, his worst finish this season was 14th at the Scottish Open.

He ran head-first into some surprising personal dragons at Royal St. George’s however, going four-over par the first two days and failing to make the cut.  By the way, did you know that players who don’t make the cut at the Open still earn a cheque?  Westwood earned almost £3,900 for his 2-day effort and weekend off!

Despite his lacklustre performance at Sandwich last month, I’m going to give Westwood another shot this week at the WGC at Firestone.   In two of his last three outings here he finished 3rd and 9th.   The only blemish on his recent record in Akron was at last year’s event, when he had to withdraw after 36 holes and hobble off the course, suffering from a badly swollen ankle and calf muscle. 

This was in stark contrast to Woods at the Player’s Championship earlier this year, who flubbed several pitch shots, started limping and pulled out after the front nine…then miraculously stormed up the stairs at the TPC, two at a time, to avoid the gauntlet of reporters eager to ask about his front-side 42.

Given his recent successes here, plus his new surge of deserved self-confidence as one of the World’s best, I have great hopes that Westwood will perform well this week in Ohio.

Steve Stricker – It was almost a month ago, to the day, that I last picked Stricker to win…and he did!  That was at the John Deere Classic, where he thumped a fairly anaemic field, since the majority of superstars were over in Scotland tuning up for the Open Championship.  In other words, he accomplished what Phil Mickelson should have, last week at The Greenbrier.

Stricker’s next tournament was the following week in England…and I failed to choose him there because I was sure that the American contingent vying for the Open Championship would perform poorly at Royal St. George’s.  A very bad prediction, as it turned out…as Dustin Johnson (2nd), Mickelson (2nd), Chad Campbell (5th), Rickie Fowler (5th), Davis Love (9th), Lucas Glover (12th) and Stricker (12th) all clearly showed up to the tournament ready for some old-school, links golf.

Stricker has been on holidays since the Open…disappointingly skipping the Canadian Open in the interim.  (I have fond memories of following him and his caddy/wife around Glen Abbey years ago and appreciating how talented he was back then).  Now that he’s rested up, I’m going to put him back on my squad for this week’s WGC event.

Not only does his 2011 form justify that selection, but Stricker has some pretty good history at Firestone to back that up too.  He’s finished T9 and T6 in his last two outings at the Rubber Capital.

Dustin Johnson – If it weren’t for a split-second, brain-dead lay-up shot…and the ensuing hosel-rocket out of bounds that followed, Johnson might very well have been the Champion Golfer of the Year.  He was this [ ] close to capturing the Claret Jug last month, when he shanked an easy lay-up into the weeds on the wrong side of the fence, to effectively end his dramatic back-nine comeback charge.

Almost as much has been written about Johnson being snake-bitten in big tournaments as has been about his prodigious talent and length.  He’s come tantalizingly close to closing out some huge wins the past few seasons…only to have the golf gods violently yank on his collar, in a variety of heart-breaking ways, down the home stretch.

Bad luck and a few errant shots notwithstanding, Johnson has also overcome these adversities and racked up some wins in those years too…when lesser golfers would have curled up in the fetal position and been content with just playing for top 20’s each week and earning a decent cheque as a journeyman golfer. 

It’s only a matter of time until Johnson gets this monkey off his back and wins his first big, really big, tournament.  He has the length needed to really dominate a course like Firestone.  He has a fantastic short game too.  It’s just a matter of tricking the golf gods into looking the other way for a few hours on Sunday afternoon…or convincing them that he has finally paid enough ‘dues’ to win one of the big ones.

Matt Kuchar – Boy, it took a loooong time for me to conjure up this last pick.  There were so many guys I thought I was going to like…but then, looking at their most recent performances, I quickly talked myself out of them.

Defending champ Hunter Mahan was one of them…10th, 4th and 1st in the past 3 years here, but his outings have been anything but inspiring.  Same thing with Luke Donald…everything he touched was gold until he walked onto the first tee at Royal St. George’s.  He went on to miss the cut at Sandwich and them again in Vancouver in his past 2 starts.

To be honest, I’m not even head-over-heels in love with Kuchar’s chances this week either…but he’s the best my logic can come up with right now.  Like Donald, he failed to make the cut in England and Canada as well…but I think his failures in those events are more closely related to how well he travels outside the US and his undeveloped skills at acclimating, than anything else (at least I’m hoping so).

Now that he’s on familiar soil, with a golden arches in site every 7 blocks, instead of a Wimpy’s or a Tim Horton’s, I’m hoping Kuchar will be in his comfy place this week and came come up with another big win.

And now that I’ve finally finished spewing this one out, let’s see what my daughter did on the dartboard this week to try to humiliate her old man.

D&D’s Picks (Daughter & Dartboard):

  • ·         Stewart Cink
  • ·         Harrison Frazar
  • ·         Ryan Moore
  • ·         Louis Oosthuizen

And that’s all for now folks.  Thanks for reading and have a great week.

Cheers,

Derek

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  • Column this week may have been the best so far. But, don’t you think it’s just possible that Tiger really does believe that he can take a shot at the PGA by warming up this week and moving next week? And aren’t you going to be there like the rest of us wondering hole by hole whether this is the real comeback or the tourney where he decides he hates the game so much that he packs it on? (Looking at his face when he’s played in the last two years really makes me believe that he just doesn’t like it anymore. When my buddies get that look I tell them it’s time to pack it in.)

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