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The Island of Doctor Dye Sade

Apparently the one thing that Rickie Fowler needed to finally step into the winner’s circle was actually three things.  And, it looks like last week, when I picked Fowler to win at Quail Hollow, I stumbled across the trifecta of ingredients to pour into the witches’ brew he needed to get the job done; a little bit of common-sense advice, heavily seasoned with some disrespect and a touch of a threat.

For those of you with the poor judgement not to immediately commit everything I type to memory, I’ll crack open the recipe and review for you now…

The common-sense advice; “Spend more time on the practise range and less time working on your fashion statements and dance moves for Golf Boys videos Rickie!”

The disrespect; “He strikes me as being a bit of a flake.” 

The threat; “If Rickie doesn’t pull off something good this week (like a top 5), then I’m shelving him for the rest of the season.”             

And damned if it didn’t work!

Typical of the great storylines we’ve seen for most of the 2012 season, Fowler clawed his way to the top of the leaderboard, and then overcame two opponents in sudden death to take down his first professional victory.  And one of those playoff opponents was none other than the guy who has been ping-ponging on and off the World #1 ranking for a good chunk of the year; defending Quail Hollow champ Rory McIlroy (who ping-ponged back to #1 with his T2 finish last week).

I really hate the tired, overused saying “it doesn’t get any better than this,” but…well…as a storyline goes, this one is right up there, don’t you think?

Results – The Wells Fargo Championship

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

T26

 $              47,125 Mark Anderson

Cut

 $                        –  
Jim Furyk

T26

 $              47,125 Robert Karlsson

T48

 $                 16,536
Rickie Fowler

1

 $         1,170,000 Rory McIlroy

T2

 $               572,000
Hunter Mahan

T53

 $              15,048 Carl Pettersson

T46

 $                 19,500
This Week’s Total  $         1,279,298 This Week’s Total  $               608,036
Season Total  $       14,776,193 Season Total  $            3,620,703

Do I really take credit for Fowler’s win last week?  Of course not.  But just in case it did have some effect on his result, here’s a little more of the same to help him thrive through the rest of his career:

The threat; “From this day forward if you go through an entire season without a PGA win, you’ll lose all your hair.” (There’s a voodoo priestess in Merrickville who’s going to take care of this one).

The common-sense advice; It’s still pretty much the same…“Spend more time on the practise range and less time on the stupid clothes and dance moves.  You’re a golfer, not some questionable quasi celebrity on Dancing with the Has-beens.”

The disrespect; “Go out and get some hats that fit that bulbous melon of yours, damn it!”

Okay, I blended in a second dose of common-sense advice with that last one.  Could it hurt?

The Player’s Championship

This week the PGA Tour heads to its own headquarters; Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, for one of its premium, non-Major events; The Player’s Championship.  The event, long touted by players and pundits as “golf’s fifth Major,” is contested annually on Pete Dye’s infamous Stadium Course at the TPC Sawgrass.

And carnage will ensue.

Despite everything you think you know, however, the TPC Sawgrass isn’t one of the top 5 most difficult courses on Tour.  It’s not in the top 10 either…or top 15 or top 20!

In fact, of the 51 courses that were graced by the spikes of Tour players last year, the TPC Sawgrass only ranks at #23! 

Does it seem right to you that this course is just middle-of-the-pack in terms of the difficulty it presents to the world’s best?  Does that fit your mental picture of this track and this tournament?

For whatever reason, this course has undergone a tremendous transformation over the years.  Not a physical transformation…but in the way the players view it and in how they speak of the track in the media.  When the Stadium Course was first unleashed on the game’s best, it became an immediate lightning rod for every nasty comment you could imagine.

And some of them were even printable…

Fuzzy Zoeller – “where are the windmills and animals?”

John Mahaffey – “do you win a free game if you sink a putt on the last hole?’

Jack Nicklaus – “I’ve never been very good at stopping a 5-iron on the hood of a car”

Today those criticisms are much rarer…at least ones offered in the public spotlight.  But, I suspect that the players still manage to share a few colourful, disparaging lines with each other in private…especially after walking off the course with a pant load of failure.

And, of course, the source of most of that odiferous plaid polyester filler is the legendary 17th hole.

The TPC Sawgrass is a 4-coupon ride from the opening hole, but it’s when the players make the turn that the tension really starts to mount.  Everyone has the same thing on their minds as the wind their way through the back nine…the dreaded island green.

Much has been said about this “appointment with doom,” but it was probably Mark Calcavecchia who summed it up best – “It is like having a 3 o’clock appointment for a root canal. You’re thinking about it all morning and you feel bad all day. You kind of know sooner or later you’ve got to get to it.”

No matter how well, or poorly their game is going, every pro golfer knows that the whole thing can come crashing around their ears within sight of the clubhouse.  A brilliant round can suddenly turn to dog crap…and a dismal round can transform into a career-low.

Watching them make the slow stroll from the 16th green to the 17th tee, one immediately conjures up images of how a death-row inmate must look on his way to the chair.

Is there any other hole in professional golf that has more “pucker power” than the 17th?  It’s 132 yards of sheer terror.

And that’s the funny part, really…it’s only 132 yards long!  A simple 9-iron or wedge for the gorillas.  You could probably take the entire field out to any other 132 yard par three on the planet and they’d hit it 90 times out of 100…or better.  But here?  Strap yourselves in folks, it’s 50-50 and pick ‘em.

As I was prepping for this column, I took a look back at what I wrote in last year’s Player’s forecast…and I thought to myself, “hey that’s not half bad.”  So, at the risk of plagiarizing myself (is that even possible?) or just being accused of being a lazy sod (more than a little possible), I thought I’d re-hash what I wrote about the ambience around the hole for you here:

Meanwhile the crowds of spectators jamming the surrounding area are a throwback to the bread-and-circuses savages who filled the Coliseum in ancient Rome.  Many are here for the drama and heroics.  Most are here for the blood.  And there’s plenty of figurative blood spilled on the 17th every year.

Jim Furyk – “I’m looking at the crowd, at all the people that came to watch the car wreck. I’m focused on the pin, where I want to land the ball, what number am I going to hit, and trying to take the periphery out of play and just hit a good, solid shot. But you can hear the buzz, and you know what they’re looking for.”

And if you look very carefully at the crowds lining the tee box and the area behind the green, every once in a while you’ll actually see money changing hands between spectators. Yes, every shot hit at 17 is the start of a new round of betting…and the money that gets passed around that hole during the Player’s Championship is probably greater than the GDP of Greece.

Then again, what isn’t right now?

Derek’s Picks

The one thing you’ll notice if you go back and review the results of the past 6 or 7 years  at this tournament is that few, if any of the players in the field are truly comfortable here…let alone dominant.

Virtually every past champion of this event comes with a bag full of missed cuts or finishes outside the top 30 or 40…and many of those results are after they’ve won a title here!  Perpetual front-runners, or top-10 finishers are pretty scant too. 

It seems like this is just a course where the magic happens only once…and is rarely repeated.  And all of that, of course, makes picking a winner here doubly difficult.  But pick I must, dagnabbit.

Bud Cauley – Now there’s a pick I bet you didn’t see coming…especially in my premium lead-off position!

What the hell though…why not? 

For all intents and purposes, this is Cauley’s home course…and according to his own reckoning, he’s played it over 100 times in his life (all 14 or 15 years of it by the looks of him).  And that, friends, represents the equivalent of 25 tournaments in which he’s made the cut every time. 

Looking at the stats for this tourney, there’s probably not a player in the field that can say he’s never missed the cut here…and very few, except for the grizzled veterans, who have more rounds under their belts at the TPC Sawgrass.

Given the Cinderella Boy nature of the 2012 season we’ve seen so far, a Cauley debut victory here wouldn’t surprise me a bit.  The only question in my mind is if he has the noodle to withstand the pressure on the back 9 Sunday.

Sergio Garcia – Another pick you probably didn’t see coming!  Get used to it…it’s shaping up to be Wonky Week at Aubrey world headquarters.

I mentioned a few tedious paragraphs ago that very few players have consistently been front-runners or top-10 finishers over the years here.  Well, El Niňo is one of the rare exceptions.

In the past 6 years he has gutted out finishes of T12 (2011), T22 (2009), 1st (2008), 2nd (2007) and t14 (2007).  Try and find a player who has finished higher and more often than Sergio and you’ll be searching for a very long time.

And, if I’m being completely honest, there’s a silly kind of romanticism angle to my pick here as well.  No…not that kind of romanticism!  But when I look at all the amazing finishes we’ve had so far this year, the one thing I think I’d like to see more than anything else right now is a Garcia win on American soil…preferably at a Major.

His two back-to-back victories at the end of the Euro Tour last year were a great start on his road to recovering full Sergio form…but, short of winning the Open Championship, US Open or PGA, a win here this week would be very poetic. 

And I know I’ll be rooting for him!

Lee Westwood – Scrolling back through the years, finding Westwood’s name on the leaderboard is almost as rare as hen’s teeth. 

It’s not that he hasn’t done well here…he just rarely plays in this event.

But, the last time he did (2010), he finished in a tie for 4th place.  Pretty good for a guy whose appearances on a course this tough are about as frequent as a Kardassian’s attendance in math class…or history…science…English…

Much to my delight, Westwood has been pure gold this season.  In 6 tournaments on this side of the Atlantic, he has FOUR top-5 finishes!  4th at the WGC Match Play and Honda, T3rd at Augusta and T5th at the Wells Fargo.  The only two “blemishes” on his 2012 North American campaign are top-30 finishes at the WGC Cadillac (T29th) and in Houston T21st).

And in his three forays on the Euro Tour, he finished in the top 20 every time…17th at Abu Dhabi, 12th at the Qatar Masters and 2nd in Dubai.

That’s a hell of a season folks!  In fact, for a lot of journeyman golfers on the Tour, that’s a hell of a career!

Given all the mojo Westwood has going for him right now, plus his cool ability to rise to the top when the stakes are highest, I really like his chances this week in Ponte Vedra.

Adam Scott – You’ll be pretty hard-pressed to find a player in this field this week coming in more refreshed than Adam Scott.  He’s so refreshed in fact, that I was starting to wonder if he’d given up golf to start a career in modelling or something.

Where has he been all year?

Scott has only played in four events this season.  Five if you count the completely fabricated, who cares, Tavistock Cup…but why the hell would you?

But in those four appearances, he’s managed to put together some pretty good results at some pretty tough courses; T17 at Riviera, T13 at the WGC Cadillac and T8 at the Masters.  His worst finish was getting nuked in the first round at the WGC Match Play, where he was ignominiously shelved by Robert Rock 1-up.

Scott finished T6 here last year.  He’s also a past champion at this event, hoisting the trophy back in ‘04.  With plenty of R&R time under his belt since Augusta, plus one or two happy thoughts on this track, I kinda, sorta get a good buzz for his chances this week at the Player’s.

Huh?

No Donald?  No McIlroy?  No brains Derek?

Yes, as bizarre as it might sound, I gave both Luke and Rory a skip this week.  It felt wrong in more ways than you can imagine…but there was something flashing the back of my head saying that this was a tourney where I should give them both a pass.

For me, it was tougher to not take Donald than it was to not take McIlroy this week (god that’s a tortured sentence!)  Rory leap-frogged Luke to re-re-take the World #1 title, based on his T2 finish at the Wells Fargo…so Donald is coming into this week’s tournament with that extra incentive to re-re-re-take his spot at the top of the mountain and grab his crown back. 

But, in the end, I stayed away from both of them for this one.  My gut just tells me neither one is going to do particularly well here.  In a twisted way, I hope I’m wrong though…’cause I love cheering for both of them.

And now that I’ve finished my wonky stay at the end of the limb, let’s see how daughter conspired to embarrass me this week downstairs on the dartboard.

D&D’s Picks (Daughter & Dartboard):

  •        Arjun Atwal
  •        David Hearn
  •        J.J. Killeen
  •        Marc Leishman

And that’s all for this week folks.  As usual, thanks VERY much for reading and playing along with this goofiness…and enjoy the tournament.  It should be a great one!

Cheers,

Derek

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