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On Blue Monsters…and Big Balls

As I was watching the thrilling conclusion of the Honda Classic on Sunday afternoon, I was struck by a sudden thought; there are probably only two golfers on the entire planet that I would enthusiastically cheer on to supplant Luke Donald as World #1.

And one of those two guys did just that at the Honda Classic last weekend!  (The other one, to my great misery, failed to make the cut, yet again).

For me, Luke Donald is one of the ultimate all-around sportsmen.  He’s incredibly talented.  He’s a hard worker. He’s resolved to achieve perfection in a sport that laughs at the very concept.  He prioritizes family over career.  He shows grace under pressure.  He’s respectful of his fellow competitors.  He’s courteous.  He’s friendly.  He’s warm and inviting.  He’s well-spoken.  He’s humble.  He conducts himself in a way that puts his profession in the best possible light at all times. 

(Attention adults and children who insist on idolizing sports stars or on making them role models; THESE are the characteristics we should all admire…not winning at any cost and being a miserable, dishonest sod)

Luke Donald is the full package folks.

And, in my books, the only kind of person that I would aggressively root for, to overtake him, would be someone who is cut from exactly the same cloth.  All of those wonderful attributes in a different looking package.  And anyone who didn’t measure up in each of the categories I mentioned above simply falls short of the mark.  Good, but simply not as great as Luke.

Enter Rory McIlroy….the new #1 golfer on Planet Earth.  Rory is all of the above…and, if my suspicions are correct, maybe even a little bit more.

Much has been written, and even more has been spouted (endlessly) about what Rory is going to do over the years to come.  The rabid conjecture started way back last spring, after his first two or three rounds at Augusta.  Golf wags spouted, ad nauseum, how many Majors he would win, how many Tour victories he would record, whether he would really be the next Woods, or even the next Jack!

They had already slipped the green jacket over his shoulders, popped the champagne, held the parade,…and were moving at WORP speed into the future, married him off to a super-model or a princess, etched his face on money, bought him his own country and were re-capping the career they believed he was supposed to have over the next 20 or 25 years.

And even though he soiled his Snuggies and suffered an epic meltdown that Sunday in Georgia, it wasn’t long before he got his retribution and dominated the US Open field at Congressional in record-breaking style.

Game on, again.  Cue the pundits.  Break out the thesaurus.  Scramble to fill those columns and dead air with a non-stop string of gushing, embarrassing prognostications, worthy of a 13 year-old girl meeting Justin Timberlake in 2000…or Davy Jones back in 1969. 

(Gone way too soon.   You were a hell of a lot of fun and a talented entertainer Davy!)

Is it just me, or are far too many people in way too much of a hurry to see the last page?  So much of a hurry that they’ve forgotten the true joy of seeing the story unfold, relishing the wonderful journey of getting there…by reading the whole book?  It seems like we live in an age where everyone is so geared toward instant gratification that we simply can’t wait for things (any things apparently) to unfold at their natural pace.  We need it to happen yesterday…or at least before the top of the hour!

Calm down guys…have some decaf.

And the fine line between being #1 and #3 in the World golf rankings is so thin right now that you can see through it…although how it’s calculated will always be one of life’s great mysteries ( Jason day didn’t even play last week and pole-vaulted from 10th to 7th place in the world!)  Would anyone be surprised if we saw this title change hands at least a few more times this year, until someone really separated themselves from the pack and became THE dominant player? 

I know that you folks who make a living covering golf are desperate for the next “big thing” to come along…to build more interest, beef up those ratings and drive bigger advertising revenues.  I get it…it’s part of what I do for a living.  But please, don’t get so far ahead of yourselves in the quest to create that next “big thing,” that you start to sound like some pimply-faced 15 year-old boy meeting Seven of Nine or T’Pol at a Star Trek convention (call me Jeri! call me Jolene!)

And all of this isn’t to say that I’m not madly cheering Rory on to achieve true greatness…because I definitely am (see my first few paragraphs). 

But rather than devoting a lot of time and energy to saying what I think should be, I prefer to simply sit back and enjoy the whole ride; every peak and valley and bump and bruise and trophy and Major…one step at a time (just like Rory will have to do).

Hopefully, when they write the final chapter on his career, he (and Luke) will have become one of golf’s true immortals.  But until then, let’s just enjoy watching it…without heaping so many outrageous expectations on a 22 year-old, shall we?

Results – The Honda Classic

What a great tournament…and what an exciting finish! 

With everything that was on the line, plus the dramatic change in weather, PLUS the “Bear Trap” waiting on the back 9 to ruin career rounds and dash high hopes, this tournament had all the feel of Sunday afternoon at a Major, didn’t it?  And congratulations to young Rory, for not only keeping his head, but dominating on a course that was chewing guys up and spitting them out.  That was one ballsy performance!

As you might expect, I certainly enjoyed watching Rory do his thing on the weekend at the PGA National.  I was rooting him on for all the reasons I mentioned above…AND because he was one of my picks to win.

Derek’s Picks D&D (Daughter & Dartboard)
Rory McIlroy

1

 $            1,026,000 Bobby Gates

Cut

Sang-Moon Bae

T47

 $                 14,313 Bo Hoag

Cut

Y.E. Yang

T30

 $                 34,628 Chris Kirk

T56

 $                     12,711
Camilo Villegas

Cut

Jimmy Walker

T67

 $                     11,571
This Week’s Total  $            1,074,941 This Week’s Total  $                     24,282
Season Total  $            6,854,134 Season Total  $                1,550,054

NostraDerek strikes again.  Four winners in ten starts…Ladbrokes account, here I come!

The WGC Cadillac Championship

This week the world’s top golfers stay in Florida, to compete in the next “Semi-Major” of the season; The WGC Cadillac Championship.  Meanwhile, the mere mortals hop a plane, or a ship or a paddleboat and head off to Puerto Rico.

The WGC Cadillac is one of the most anticipated non-Majors of the year.  And, other than the enormous strength of the field, one of the big draws that has everyone licking their chops in anticipation of this tournament is the venue; The Blue Monster at Doral.

You’ve got to love the audacity of that name, don’t you?

So many golf dreams made…so many golf dreams crushed.  The back 9 on The Blue Monster is the stuff of legend…and it seems like each year creates yet another epic showdown to have us hanging on to the edges of our seats. 

It takes big balls to win at the Blue Monster.  And with all the great finishes we’ve had so far this season, you wouldn’t expect anything less than another classic nail-biter at Doral would you?

Derek’s Picks For The Blue Monster

Rory McIlroy – After this week’s tourney, Rory is going to go on vacation and take three weeks off to re-charge his batteries before Augusta.  What better way to justify your newly-earned position as King of the Mountain, than to crack off another win before you put your feet up?

Taking Rory this week is a bit of a double-edged sword.  Since starting his 2012 North American campaign two weeks ago, he’s finished second and first. ..in that order.   Slugging it out to the finals at the WGC Match Play, and then winning The Honda the very next week, has to do amazing things to this guy’s already brimming level of confidence.

He’s thirty feet tall and bullet-proof right now…Optimus Prime with an unruly mop of hair and an Irish lilt.

Then again, flip the past two weeks on their head…and consider how much Rory might have left in his tank going into this week’s event.  After everything he’s accomplished…and the incredible amount of physical and mental effort it takes to achieve what he has these past two weeks, can he possibly maintain that level of intense competitive edge for another four gruelling days? 

Throw in the added demands on his time as the new World #1, from the media and sponsors (and piles of wannabe sponsors) and anyone else who wants to get even a tiny piece of him, and he has to be feeling emotionally drained and physically exhausted.

In other words, the same things that make him a great pick this week also make him a bad pick this week.

But the biggest thing Rory has going for him in the “great pick” side of that ledger is his age.  He’s 22 years-old and has an almost infinite reservoir of energy, to compliment his determination and raw talent. 

Remember when you were 22?  Did you ever run out of gas when you were doing something you truly loved?  If only we’d channelled all those consecutive days spent perfecting hard partying into playing better golf, how great could we all be?

Lee Westwood – In the last year and a half, we’ve had 4 golfers wear the crown of World #1.  Harken back, if you will, to Hallowe’en 2010 folks…on the day when Lee Westwood supplanted Tiger Woods as the top-ranked golfer on the planet. 

Granted, Westwood’s reign ended up being a pretty short one, but since he lost the crown to Martin Kaymer, who then lost it to Luke Donald (the past year has been like “A Game of Thrones” played with drivers and wedges instead of dragons and broadswords), Westwood has become a changed man…and one who is truly focused on getting the absolute most out of his game and regaining his crown.

I even heard this morning that he’s forgone the drink since the start of the year!  And you know a guy from the UK is truly serious about being a better golfer, pretty much to the point of turning it into an obsession, when he decides to foreswear the 19th hole!

No longer the pudgy, plodding guy with his tongue sticking out over shots (okay, the tongue part still counts), Westwood has transformed himself into a lean, mean golfing machine in the past year and a bit.  He’s dropped weight, gained muscle, fine-tuning his long, medium and short games and turned himself into a legitimate threat every time he tees it up.

And threaten he has!  In his first 5 starts of the year in Europe and North America, his worst finish is 17th place!  He began the year a little on the “slow side,” placing 17th in Abu Dhabi and then 12th at Qatar (most guys would kill to have a slow start like that!).  What’s even more impressive is what he’s done since Qatar; 2nd at Dubai, 4th at the WGC Match Play and 4th at The Honda! 

He’s #2 right now in the Race to Dubai…and #14, with a bullet, in America.

The fact that his remarkable round of 63 on Sunday at The Honda was overshadowed by Woods’ 62 is nothing short of a damned shame.  Even more of a shame is that he’s almost flying under the radar for the WGC Cadillac Championship…despite racking up the stats he has so far this year.

We’re 10 weeks deep into the 2012 season now…and so far it’s been a fantastic year of epic clashes, nail-biting finishes, surprise endings and guys winning from well below the radar.  I don’t think it’s fair to say that Westwood is below the radar heading into this event…and I really like his chances to do this week on the Blue Monster.

Phil Mickelson – Phil is coming into this event, straight from a couple of weeks of holidays with his family.  After playing 5 events on the West Coast Swing to start his year, he put his clubs aside and disappeared to have some fun and re-charge his batteries…even forgoing his spot in the WGC Match Play!

So, he should be walking onto Doral fully refreshed and ready to rock…ready to pick up where he left off.  And where he left off was a very good place!

In his last two starts on the PGA Tour, Mickelson scored a resounding victory at Pebble Beach and then lost in a gut-wrenching playoff to Bill Haas the very next week at Riviera.

And of course, the really big headlines from his huge win at Pebble were directly related to his playing partner on Sunday; Tiger Woods.  Golf’s “dream pairing” was going to fight head-to-head for the title…something that, despite all of their collective wins over the past 2 decades, had happened fairly rarely.

Woods versus Mickelson in the same group on Sunday afternoon!  The Media couldn’t have been more excited, or given the showdown more column space or airtime on Saturday night or Sunday morning. This was going to be epic!

And when the dust cleared and the final putt was drained, it turned out to be a great non-showdown.  Mickelson put on an absolute clinic with his 8-under par round of 64, while Woods was transformed into little more than a hapless spectator, trudging through a painful 5-hour walk that took 75 strokes to complete. 

An eleven stroke swing over 18 holes of golf…to beat the World’s former #1!  If you looked very closely at Phil walking down the final holes of Pebble that afternoon, you could literally see the Tiger monkey jumping off his back.

Throw in his almost-win the next week at Riviera and it’s fair to say that Mickelson is in the best form we’ve seen from him in a veeeery long time.  Maybe even the best form he’s ever been in. 

Now that he’s fought his way out of Woods’ shadow, who knows what he might accomplish with this new-found spring in his step…and I think he has a very good chance of showing us this week at Doral.

Matt Kuchar – For Matt Kuchar, the 2012 season has gotten off to a start that very closely mimics the way he walks around a course…a slow mosey.

T22 at the Hope, T33 in Phoenix, T24 at Riviera.  Yawn.

A lot of guys on Tour would give their left arms to have those results (and the $408k in earnings) so early in the season, but for a guy with Kuchar’s talent and credentials, they have to see disappointing to him.

And then came the WGC Match Play; 64 of the 66 best golfers on the planet, going head-to-head until only one man was left standing. 

Kuchar, who was beaten by winner Luke Donald in the 2011 semi-finals, waxed Jonathan Byrd, Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer in his opening three rounds at Dove Mountain this year.  Only when he met eventual winner Hunter Mahan, in the round of 8, did Kuchar taste defeat. And it was a bitter taste too…getting smoked 6 and 5.

Still though, Kuchar’s solid performance at the WGC Match Play was the first real glimmer of the Matt of old that we’ve seen so far this season…and it was refreshing to watch him back on form.  And, if not for having had a showdown with the two eventual champions of the Match Play, before the final match of the tourney, he could have possibly hefted that trophy twice in the past two years.

This week Kuchar returns to familiar, comfortable ground…and has a chance to re-live and improve upon some more past glories also.  In his last two outings at the Blue Monster he has finished 5th (2011) and T3 (2010).  He has the calm, cool temperament to navigate his way around this very demanding golf course…and now that his game is showing some signs of really coming alive once again, I like his chances this week at the WGC Cadillac Championship

And now that I’ve had my say, let’s go down to the basement once again and see where my daughter’s darts landed this week:

D&D’s Picks (Daughter & Dartboard):

  •        Keegan Bradley
  •        Branden Grace
  •        Garth Mulroy
  •        Chez Reavie

And that’s all for now folks.  As always, thanks VERY much for reading and playing along with my assorted brain dribblings…and enjoy the tournament!

Cheers,

Derek

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