It's PGA Pucker Time!

If you like your PGA Tour action with a nail-biting-to-the-final-second flavour to it, then the past few weeks have been right up your alley, haven’t they?

Three weeks ago, we were glued to the sets wondering if Luke Donald could hang on and defeat Brandt Snedeker and capture the World #1 title in sudden death.  Two weeks ago we watched the dramatic sudden-death showdown between Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson…set up, in part, by a harsh penalty ruling against Simpson on the 15th green.  This past weekend it was Lucas Glover and Jonathan Byrd going mano a mano in extra holes (okay, “hole”) to determine a winner. 

Some of those names might not have the all-star drawing power of a Tiger or Phil or Ernie…but for die-hard golf fans, the added excitement of a 72-hole contest going into sudden death is edge-of-your-seat stuff.  And you can’t help but put yourself in that position and wonder how you’d fare with the pressure ratcheted up to 110 and the eyes of the world watching your every stroke. 

Garçon…a pair of fresh pants please!

Any bets that we get to see some extra holes this coming Sunday afternoon when the Player’s Championship has wrapped up regulation play?  It certainly feels like it’s going to happen, to me.  Then again, I’m wearing a foil hat right now.

Before I dive head-first into my new predictions for the upcoming week, there’s some old/recent business to take care of first.  And that, of course, is a quick re-cap of how my daughter and I did with our picks for last week’s tourney.

The Wells Fargo Championship

Derek’s Picks D&D (Daughter & Dartboard)
Phil Mickelson T9  $    150,429 Paul Goydos Cut  $                  –  
Bubba Watson T48  $      16,157 Anthony Kim T82  $          11,310
Tommy Gainey Cut  $             –   William McGirt Cut  $                  –  
Rickie Fowler T16  $      97,500 Sam Saunders Cut  $                  –  
This Week’s Total    $    264,086 This Week’s Total    $          11,310
Season Total    $ 8,804,752 Season Total    $     2,737,259


Not a great week, but not a total failure for yours truly…and I ’m still milking the props for my Bubba win from the week before.  As far as daughter and her dart tosses go, it might be time to give some serious consideration into changing how we introduce random luck into this equation.  She’s definitely having some major struggles with her dartboard picks so far this season.

The Player’s Championship

If you hate the course, what can you say about the TPC at Sawgrass that hasn’t already been screamed by half of the players on the PGA Tour?  When Pete Dye’s stadium course was unveiled, it immediately became a lightning rod for a lot (a ton!) of criticism.   Most of the criticism was harsh.  A lot was hilarious.  Some of it was even constructive.

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”

Many years (and only a few design changes) later, that criticism has lessened quite a bit…but it will never go away.  The pros either love the course or hate it.  There’s no middle ground here.  No Switzerland.

But unlike Switzerland, the TPC at Sawgrass is feared by all.

The course is a 4-coupon ride from the opening hole, but when they make the turn that’s when the tension really starts to mount.  And everyone has the same thing on their minds as the wind their way through the back nine…the dreaded 17th!

Dave Anderson (New York Times) – “the 17th is a hole that only the Marquis de Sade could love – or Pete Dye – if that’s not redundant.”

Mark Calcavecchia – “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.”

Adam Scott – “It’s fantastic because you know all day, you know 17 is coming. You put it out of your mind all day, and when you get to the middle of the 16th fairway, it’s sitting right there, you cannot look, but you’ve got to have a look. And it’s just it’s a fabulous hole, it’s just a wedge or a 9 iron but it creates havoc in everyone’s mind. I think that’s what makes the drama of this tournament and this course.”

The 12th at Augusta might be the most famous par 3 in professional golf.  The infamous Postage Stamp 8th at Royal Troon might be the most technically difficult to play.  But I can’t think of any other hole on the planet that makes the world’s best golfers pucker faster and harder than the 17th hole at the TPC.  It’s 132 yards of sheer terror.

Watching the pros make the walk off the 16th green to the 17th tee is like watching an inmate take his final stroll along the Green Mile.  False smiles and transparent expressions of bravado are pasted on their faces…but their eyes tell the story.  They are eyes filled with fear and dread.  Deer in the headlights stuff.

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.  Bad rounds become monumentally terrible.  Good rounds go bad.  Great rounds go south.  Winning rounds are quickly transformed into pure despair and a lifetime of “what if’s.”

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 for most of the countries in the Southern Hemisphere.

Now that’s entertainment folks!

Derek’s Picks

Phil Mickelson – Close but no cigar in New Orleans last week (T9).  I’m going to give him the nod again at the TPC this week. 

Mickelson is chugging along in very good form right now and is due to rack up another win on Tour.  Since he didn’t do it at Quail Hollow, it seems like this is his next best chance.  Mickelson won this event back in ’07, so he’s been there and done that.  Then again, after so many years on Tour and with so many wins under his belt, there’s almost nothing he hasn’t done in his brilliant career.

All that is to say that Mickelson should be one of the players who is most immune to the mental ravages the TPC can inflict on players in contention…and therefore has one of the best chances of winning.  It’s just a matter of which Phil shows up to play each day…methodical, crafty Phil, or evil, go-for-broke Phil.

Luke Donald – Donald has been on fire for virtually all of his 2011 campaign…and with him back in the field this week, I can’t think of any reason why he shouldn’t continue his excellent form.

Donald had a very difficult playoff loss to Brandt Snedeker three weeks ago at the Heritage.   Leading by six at the start of Sunday play, Donald’s one-under score of 70 wasn’t enough to overcome Snedeker’s outstanding final day round of 64.  Seven birdies in his final 12 holes!  Three holes of sudden death later and Snedeker got to put on the ugly tartan winner’s jacket.  (Hmmm…maybe the defeat  wasn’t that hard on Donald after all).

Donald absolutely comes alive when there’s a big prize on the line…as witnessed by his excellent string of performances in the season’s biggest tournaments:  World Match Play – 1st, WGC Cadillac – 6th, The Masters – 4th.  This weekend’s event is the next “biggie” on the Tour calendar and I fully expect Donald to come out guns a blazin’ to the roar of the crowds droning “Luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuke!”

Matt Kuchar – Kuchar’s record in the “big” tournaments so far this year is slightly less impressive than Donald’s, but he still has to be a serious consideration when there’s a significant trophy on the line. 

Third at the World Match Play.  5th at the WGC Cadillac.  The only hole in his “biggie record’ was a disappointing showing at Augusta, where a pair of 75’s left him in 27th place.

In addition to his very impressive 2010-2011 PGA Tour record, Kuchar has also performed pretty well at the TPC at Sawgrass the past few years.  He has posted two top 15 finishes in the past two years.

I’m not 100% sold that he’s going to turn in a big performance this week…but I’m sold enough to put him on my roster.

Sergio Garcia – Call me sentimental.  Call me romantic.  And, in honour of international Monty Python Quote Day, “from now I want you all to call me Loretta.”

I’m picking Garcia this weekend, mostly because of what happened last weekend.  I’m talking of course, about the far-too-soon death of El Nino’s long-time friend, mentor and hero, Seve Ballesteros. 

Garcia was putting in a very solid performance at Quail Hollow, opening with back-to-back rounds of 69.  Before teeing off on Saturday, word of Seve’s death quickly made its’ way around the locker room…and Garcia held himself together for a 74…which I think was a hell of a score given what his state of mind probably must have been.  Even more remarkable was the 70 he posted on Sunday after being hounded by press all day and night for quotes and remembrances on Seve.

There’s something really poetic about Sergio coming out this weekend and winning.  Call it winning one for Seve if you like. 

His form has returned very nicely this year…and he definitely has the chops to take on the TPC and beat the rest of the field, having finished second to Phil Mickelson in 2007 and then winning the event the following year.

Maybe I’m a romantic old fool after all, but the sentimentalist in me will be pulling hardest for El Nino to win this weekend.

And now before I embarrass myself any further, let’s shift gears and see what selections my daughter made on the dartboard this week.

D&D’s Picks (Daughter and Dartboard):

  • ·         Brian Davis
  • ·         Lucas Glover
  • ·         Chris Kirk
  • ·         Vijay Singh

And that’s all for this week folks.  As always, thanks VERY much for reading…and enjoy the tourney!



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