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I Do So Like Greens Jackets and Hams

Maybe I’ve just become spoiled.  God knows I’m already jaded enough….and jaundiced and cynical and (add your choice of disgruntled, curmudgeonly epithets here).  But did the “big finish” at Sunday’s Houston Open strike you as a bit ordinary…maybe even a little boring?

It wasn’t really…but after the past 12 amazing Sunday finishes weeks we’ve seen on Tour, it really felt just kind of ordinary didn’t it?  A little hum-drum.

BIG props to Hunter Mahan for becoming the season’s first repeat winner on the PGA Tour.  He put together a fantastic performance and deserved every cent of his winner’s cheque and the right to take home that big honkin’ trophy to boot.

And my own personal thanks to Hunter for making me look like an evil genius, one more time! 

12 tournaments – 6 winners!  It’s been a pretty special season here at the new Aubrey World Headquarters in Ottawa.  So much so, in fact, that in the past 2 days, I’ve actually been asked in private e-mails to provide a list of “sure-fire, must-have” picks for the Masters, by not one, but two different people…people willing to plunk down their own hard-earned cash on my say!!!  I don’t have a great deal else to celebrate at the moment, so you’ll please forgive me if I’m feeling a little superhero-esque right now.

I’m actually thinking of installing a bat pole…or maybe even going the “full Tiger” and putting in a dance pole.

And then I take a gander at the leaderboard on the golf pool that I run…and keep looking…lower…and lower…and lower…until I finally find my teams buried in the basement regions among the other road kill.  And I shake my head and ask, “How the hell does that happen?”

Welcome to Realityville…population me!

The Houston Open – Results

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

T4

 $            236,250 Sunghoon Kang

CUT

 
Steve Stricker

T36

 $              27,650 J.J. Killeen

CUT

 
Keegan Bradley

T4

 $            236,250 Jamie Lovemark

T51

 $                 14,208
Hunter Mahan

1

 $         1,080,000 Andres Romero

CUT

 
This Week’s Total    $         1,580,150 This Week’s Total    $                 14,208
Season Total    $       10,570,852 Season Total    $            2,256,828

It’s Like Christmas Eve!

That’s exactly the way I’ve been feeling, for weeks now, about this year’s Masters…I’m like a kid who can’t get to sleep, vibrating with excitement on Xmas Eve.

Absolutely everything we’ve seen so far this season has set the table for what could possibly be the single-most exciting Masters we’re ever likely to see. 

All the stars will be here…as they always are.  But when was the last time you could remember virtually all of the stars coming into Augusta with a current-season win already on their resumes?  And not just wins…but decisive victories.

Donald? Check.  McIlroy?  Check.  Haas?  Check.  Mickelson?  Check.  Stricker?  Check.  Rose?  Check.  Snedeker?  Check.    Woods?  Check.  Mahan?  Check-check.

Waiter?  Cheque please.

Seriously, if this one isn’t shaping up to be the biggest and best Masters we’ve ever seen, then I don’t know what else we need to set the table.

And the feeling is contagious folks. Ask anyone who follows golf about this year’s Masters and they immediately get this enormous grin on their faces and start shaking a little bit with pent-up excitement…rattling off their 8 favourites, with rapid-fire abandon…then tossing in three or four more…and then another two.  The guys on the Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” are changing their pants during every commercial break.

It’s spreading like the black plague…with Surlyn instead of rats. 

The only problem is the wait.  I’m not sure I can handle a few more hours, let alone a few more days!  Bring it on dammit…and NOW!

And fer Gawd’s sakes, all you old decision-making CEO tombers at Augusta National Country Club, let the TV networks SHOW US EVERY HOLE…EVERY DAY!!!  Why the hell not???

Derek’s Picks

Okay, there are actually two problems; the wait…and trying to pick a favourite or 4 this week. 

Picking a winner is easy enough when you do it in front of one person at a time…can change your mind every five minutes…and no one is going to remember what you said an hour later anyway.  BUT, picking a winner when it goes out for all to see is an entirely different kettle of kippers.

And apparently people actually read the crap I write…so there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on me not to let them both down!

Making selections for this year’s Masters is a good-news / bad-news kind of proposition.  The good news is that there are almost no potential bad picks this week.  Like always, the Masters field is crammed with the World’s best.

The bad news is that there are about a dozen or 15 fellows with a legitimate shot at running the table this week.  And there simply isn’t room in the lifeboat for everyone. 

I could easily leave Leonardo diCaprio, or a Kardassian or a Hilton floating on a piece of jetsam in the frosty Atlantic…but it just isn’t fair to have to jettison a Mahan into tepid Rae’s Creek, or a McIlroy, or Donald, or Mickelson, or Rose, or Watney, or Bubba…or you name ‘em!  Too many great picks, not enough seats.

Cue the sappy Celine Dion music.

Rory McIlroy – The 2012 PGA Tour season has been a Cinderella year so far, so why not start off with the biggest potential Cinderella story scenario for this year’s Masters?

Press the rewind button as scoot back about 12 months and Rory was the man.  McIlroy opened his Augusta campaign with a fantastic round of 65.  He then followed up with a smooth 69 and capped that off with a rock steady 70, on a day when most of the field struggled to shoot par…and some struggled to break 80.

Heading into the final round at Augusta, he was poised to be that rarest of animals…the wire-to-wire Masters champion.  Granted, there were some talented guys still lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce at the slightest miscue.  Guys like former champ Angel Cabrera, Aussies Jason Day and Adam Scott, Luke Donald and multi jacket-donner, Tiger Woods.

But by Saturday night, the guys at CBS and the Golf Channel were stumbling all over themselves, trying to outdo each other with the floweriest accolades and the most outrageous praise they could conjure for young Rory.  He was sleeping on a 4-stroke lead at 12 under par and showed no indication of letting up on the field.  They’d already given McIlroy this green jacket, plus three or four more…and were now talking about shattering the Nicklaus record. 

To listen to the wags drooling all over themselves, Sunday was a mere formality…essentially a comfortable victory lap through the azaleas.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation…

McIlroy was magically transformed from calm, cool, collected, calculating golf machine to Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy.  A mere 18 hours earlier, he was the invincible T-1 Terminator…and suddenly he was you and me! 

Hack, gouge, snap, lunge, spray, smother, yank. 

Maybe he couldn’t sleep on Saturday night.  Perhaps he had some bad kippers on Sunday morning.  Whatever the reason, the Rory that showed up on Sunday afternoon bore very little resemblance to the Rory that played on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  He was falling apart before our eyes and hitting his ball in places we’d never seen before.

Be honest…you had no idea there was a building up in the woods to the left of the 10th fairway did you?  I’ve been watching the Masters for as long as I can remember and I certainly had no clue there was anything up there but more trees, more azaleas and magnolias, and probably some well-manicured, perfectly placed deer crap (those Augusta guys think of everything!)

It was Greg Norman, writ large…with a mop of unruly hair and an Irish lilt.  And when it was all said and done, Rory limped into the clubhouse with a final-round 80…and a share of 15th place.

A lesser man would have been professionally and mentally crippled by that round.  Forever haunted by what might have been.

But not Rory.  No sir. 

The next time he teed it up, he tore Congressional Country Club apart.  Not only did he win the US Open wire-to-wire, he obliterated the course and the field…setting 11 new US Open records and literally lapping the field, with his -16 finish (Jason Day finished 2nd at -8).

If ever there were a Cinderella story in golf, that was it.

And perhaps the only thing that can top that story is for Rory to get his retribution this week at Augusta…to figuratively roll the clock back, do it all over again…and then shoot the Sunday round he really should have had last year.

Considering the kind of remarkable season we’ve seen so far, and with all of the things that McIlory has accomplished in the 12 months since he coughed up his legendary furball at the Masters, would you bet against him?

And, after all, every stylish Irishman needs a green jacket, doesn’t he?

Phil Mickelson – As hard as it is to believe, with our 2012 perspective on the world, there was a time, not that long ago, when Phil wore the mantle of “best golfer never to have won a Major.” 

And he wore it like a hundred-pound ball and chain, schlepping around Major venues on Sunday afternoons with that deer-in-the-headlights, bemused ,“oh well” look on his face, time and time again.

Phil was the guy who could dismantle almost any golf course on the planet…and rip apart pretty much any field.  But, when it came to hefting one of golf’s four most important trophies, he was hopelessly bamboozled.  By my reckoning, he was zero for 41 from 1992 to 2004.  So many second-place finishes, so many top 5’s, but he just couldn’t get it done.

He was a slightly slimmer, slightly less pasty version of Colin Montgomerie…with slightly smaller man jubblies.

All of that changed in 2004 of course, when Phil finally got the Major Monkey off his back, right here on the hallowed fairways at Augusta…his 4 inch victory “leap” forever immortalized as one of golf’s iconic moments.

And since that time, it’s pretty much impossible not to take Phil in any Major in which he tees it up.  (Actually, it was impossible not to take him in any Major before he finally won too…he’s always been “there.”)

And that is just as true this year as it always has been.  Maybe even a little more so, given his win at Pebble, his playoff loss to Bill Haas the very next week at the Northern Trust and his T4 finish last week in Houston.  Lob in four top 5 finishes in his last 6 starts at The Masters, including two wins, and he’s almost a lock to finish at, or near the top.

He’s pumped, he’s primed, he’s ready to rock.  And as long as “Smart Phil” leaves “Reckless Phil” at home, he’s a great pick this week.

Luke Donald – He took on the golfing world, on both sides of the Atlantic, in 2011…and dominated each.  The first man in history to win both the PGA Tour Money title and the European Order of Merit.  Along the way, he grabbed the World #1 crown and hung onto it for the rest of the year.

And yet, with all of these credentials, Donald is a man who is consistently and mind-bogglingly overshadowed in the media by other golfers of less stature and fewer credentials.  WHY???

Seriously…think about it.  The World’s #1 ranked golfer, resigned to the pile of “maybes” by most, if not all, of the pundits out there picking golf winners every week…an afterthought…a footnote.  I guess he’s just not flashy enough.

Even Luke, the perpetually self-effacing, polite, respectful player, admitted that he was irked by the casual way in which the media forgot about him so quickly, both shortly before and after he’d lost the World #1 title.  But instead of being bitter and resentful, he focused the energy from that discontent into his game and dug deep to come from behind and win a 4-man playoff at The Transitions, recapturing the World #1 crown. 

And still he’s not considered a favourite this week?!?!?!

To put it plainly, Donald is a man who gets the job done…and he’s done it better than just anyone else for the past year and change.  He deserves our respect and attention for that…and he deserves to be a pick this week at Augusta.  Don’t be a bit surprised to see him surpass his T4 finish from last year.

Tiger Woods  – Only once before in this column have I selected a player to win, that I didn’t want to actively root for in a tournament.  This marks the second occasion.

I have had a love-hate relationship with Woods for a very long time.  I’ve always admired his talents and accomplishments (how couldn’t you?), but I’ve never liked the guy.  And it has nothing to do with his recent scandals…that comedy of errors and bad judgement just added fuel to the fire.

No, my disdain for this character goes all the way back to his first years on Tour.  Encouraging a group of half-drunken mouth-breathers to move an enormous boulder out of his way in the desert, proclaiming it a “moveable obstruction.”  Then, his boorish behaviour after missing his first professional cut at The Canadian Open at Royal Montreal. 

Heap on a generous dollop of swearing, spitting, childishness, rude behaviour, standoffishness, hubris, outrageous spin-doctoring and the development of all-too-convenient limping when his game goes in the tank, and it makes the perfect recipe for dislike…at least for me.

And yet, here I am, writing down his name among my picks this week…and trying mightily not to throw up in my mouth while doing so.

With his recent return to form, plus his remarkable record (and records) at Augusta, it would be akin to malpractice not to choose him this week.  I’ve already made that mistake once this season, when I chose not to take him, despite what my gut was telling me, for the Arnie Invitational. Not again.  I’m going to swallow my pride and put him on the roster this week at The Masters.

But I’ll still be madly cheering for the rest of the field to thump him, while he hacks and gouges and mysteriously limps his way toward a missed cut.

And now that I’ve had my rant, let’s see what kind of strategy my daughter has conjured up on the dartboard this week.

D&D’s Picks (Daughter & Dartboard):

  • Sang-Moon Bae
  • Miguel Angel Jimenez
  • Justin Rose
  • Nick Watney

By the way, Watney and Rose were both on my short list, before daughter stepped up to the board (as were Mahan, Stricker, Day, Bradley, Westwood, Cabrera and Sergio).  Given the guys I ended up going with, neither Nick nor Justin was likely to make the final cut…but I really do like her picks this week!

And that’s all for now folks.  As always, thanks very much for reading and playing along with my silliness…and enjoy the Masters.  To quote the far-too-serious, far-too-melodramatic, far-too-sycophantic Jim Nance, “it should be one for the ages!”

Cheers,

Derek

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