Posted on December 10, 2013
Punch Shots is a collection of stories that I didn’t get around to earlier or didn’t fit into another article. I’ll give a link to a larger story and have some quick thoughts below.
Anyone who’s paid attention to Tiger Woods at any point over his career knows that he’s one of the most guarded people you’ll come across. After a young Tiger opened up to Charles Pierce in 1997, he hasn’t really been the most talkative, even with his closest allies in the media, of which there are many. So, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when he mentions that he hasn’t really taken to social media, despite a Twitter account with over 3.7 million followers. From the Back9Network:
Posted on December 8, 2013
Tiger Woods entered the day at Sherwood with a two-shot lead over Zach Johnson, but he couldn’t hang on, eventually losing to Johnson on the first playoff hole after a crazy series of events unfolded on the 18th.
To be honest, there wasn’t a whole lot that happened on Sunday until the back nine. Johnson never got too far behind, but was pretty much only making pars with the occasional birdie thrown in on the front, which was never going to be enough to catch Tiger at Sherwood. Tiger would bogey the 14th, allowing Johnson to make up a shot and after both players made par on the tough par-3 15th, Johnson looked to have the edge on 16 after a tremendous wedge shot from 88 yards out.
Tiger responded from the rough with a great flop shot:
Johnson responded with a great approach at the par-3 17th leading to a birdie and after Tiger made par, the players went to the 18th all square. That’s when it got crazy. With Tiger finding the greenside bunker, the advantage went to Johnson who was in the middle of the fairway. He then proceeded to hit one of the worst shots I’ve ever seen, wiping one right into the water.
Advantage Tiger, right? Wrong. Zach from the drop zone:
We were off to a playoff. Both players found the fairway, but Johnson had the advantage as he found the green with Tiger ending up in that same greenside bunker. Johnson two-putted for his par, and after another good bunker shot, Tiger had a short one to continue the playoff.
With that, one of the craziest finishes in golf history concluded and Zach Johnson was the winner of the final Tiger Woods Challenge at Sherwood.
- 1. Zach Johnson -13 *wins in playoff*
- 2. Tiger Woods -13
- T3. Bubba Watson -9
- T3. Matt Kuchar -9
What The Win Means For Johnson
To be honest, it probably doesn’t mean that much for Johnson outside of the fact that it always feels good to win a tournament, especially one where you can beat Tiger Woods in a playoff. Just some fantastic stuff on a day where golf was likely the furthest thing from the minds of many. Johnson will now take the next few weeks off and we’ll see him at Kapalua for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
What The Loss Means For Woods
He takes every loss hard, even ones in tournaments like this where it isn’t supposed to mean as much. I’m sure he wanted to win the last event at Sherwood too, but realistically, he hasn’t picked up a club since he played in Turkey, so he shouldn’t take it too hard. For much of the week, he was by far the best player on the course, so he’s going to be just fine. Just please, golf writers, don’t start with the “a few years ago, Zach Johnson would have been afraid of Tiger” articles.
Tiger’s new driver
Tiger put a new driver in the bag this week, opting to go with the Nike VRS Covert 2.0 in an attempt to get some more distance. He also put some extra weight in the shaft, going from about 73 grams to a little over 100 grams, which should make it a little more stiff, giving it the feel of a steel shafted club. It seemed to work, as he drove it pretty good this week and he’s now the third player to win with it in the bag, after Charl Schwartzel won the Alfred Dunhill and Rory McIlroy took the Australian Open. If you’re going to experiment with new clubs, now is the time.
Jason Dufner had a little fun with Keegan and Tiger
Some typical fun between Dufner and Keegan in the below video:
Also, Dufner was able to do something that few have been able to do: get a response out of Tiger on Twitter. Well, he got a response out of Tiger’s team on Twitter, anyway.
- It’s been a long time since I can remember a par-3 playing as difficult as the 15th did on Saturday. Coming in at 192 yards, which is usually only a 5 or 6-iron for the pros, but of the eighteen players in the field, eight found the hazard for a total of eleven balls and a stroke average of 4.1.
By my count, I've got it at Rory, Spieth x2, Stricker x2, Keegan x2, Dufner, Poulter, McDowell and Zach Johnson as finding the hazard on 15.—
Adam Sarson (@Adam_Sarson) December 07, 2013
There was a huge amount of wind on Saturday, especially on the back nine and it was clearly quite effective. Ian Poulter wasn’t impressed.
- For some reason, Tiger wasn’t wearing a fullback hat this weekend, which admittedly is a weird thing to notice, but he just looked so different. If anyone has any idea why this happened, let me know.
- Is there any top player that hits more bad shots than Bubba Watson? It seems like the difference between his floor and ceiling is way bigger than everyone else.
- Next year, the event moves from Sherwood to Isleworth.
- NBC showed an interview with Tiger on Sunday that was conducted after Saturday’s third round, and while he didn’t tell us anything that was groundbreaking in any way, it was the kind of interview that I think people wish Tiger would give a little more often. He’s one of the smartest players in the game, and can be funny and engaging when he wants to, which just doesn’t happen enough and let’s not forget that he has done quite a bit for charity through this tournament.
$25M to charity and 100,000 kids through the Tiger Woods Learning Center. Hat doffed.—
Paul Mahoney (@paulmahoneygolf) December 08, 2013
Posted on December 8, 2013
I didn’t get a chance to watch much of the coverage of either tournament this week, so I won’t be writing a full recap post, but there were two pretty big wins on the European Tour early this morning on the East Coast. Miguel Angel Jimenez won in a playoff at the Hong Kong Open, breaking his own record for the oldest man to win on the European Tour at nearly 50 years old, and Thomas Bjorn took the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa, holding off Sergio Garcia and Jamie Donaldson.
By February, these guys will be a combined 93 years of age, and are clearly still playing at a ridiculously high level. Jimenez will be eligible for the Champions Tour early in 2014, and while they would love to have him, he has no interest in joining the tour at this point, opting to play with the best players in the world since he can still compete with them. Bjorn is on a hell of a run, with two wins in the last three months, along with three other top-20 finishes.
Both players have played most of their careers in Europe, so they aren’t the most well known to North American golf fans, aside from Jimenez’ famous stretching routine, but they’ve both had an incredible amount of success. Both wins are big for these guys, but for completely different reasons.
Coming into the week, Jimenez was perilously close to falling outside of the top-50 in the Official World Golf Rankings, coming in at number 48. Usually I don’t put a ton of stock into the OWGR, but those who are inside the top-50 at the end of the year get an automatic invite to the Masters. With the win, Jimenez will move into 38th and should stay inside the top-50 unless something crazy happens next week at the Nelson Mandela Championship. Considering he missed out on the tournament last year, i’m sure Jimenez will be happy to make his 15th trip to Augusta National.
For Bjorn, he’s projected to move into 26th in the OWGR, but the Dane has made it clear that he would love a spot on Paul McGinley’s Ryder Cup team at the end of 2014. He’s been a member of Europe’s entries on two occasions, but hasn’t played since 2002 when Sam Torrance led Europe to a win over the United States at the Belfry. Considering that he won the Johnnie Walker at Gleneagles back in 2011, the site of the Ryder Cup in September, you’d think that McGinley would give Bjorn an even closer look than other players. My bet is that we’ll see Bjorn on that team in ten months time.
I’ll have a full recap of Tiger Woods’ Northwestern Mutual World Challenge later this afternoon.
Posted on December 4, 2013
Twenty-five of the top thirty players in the Official World Golf Rankings are playing somewhere this week, as the European Tour hosts two events, one in South Africa and the other in Hong Kong, while Tiger Woods and his 18 man field are at Sherwood for the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge.
Key Storyline This Week
The most important thing is mentioned above, as only five players inside the top-30 in the OWGR (Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker, Hideki Matsuyama and Nick Watney) aren’t playing somewhere this week. This time of year is frequently referred to as golf’s silly season, and while these limited field events in South Africa and California with thirty and eighteen players in them respectively don’t dispel that notion, we should see some quality play with that many good players teeing it up.
The other thing of note for this week is that this is the last year that Tiger will be holding this event at Sherwood, opting to move it to Isleworth in 2014.
With the three events and short fields this week, I won’t be doing as much of an in-depth preview of each one, but I do have a few suggested plays for all three.
Five Consensus Favourites
- Hong Kong Open: Miguel Angel Jimenez, Marcus Fraser, Thorbjorn Olesen, Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Soren Hansen
- Nedbank Challenge: Henrik Stenson, Charl Schwartzel, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer
- Northwestern Mutual World Challenge: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Dustin Johnson and Ian Poulter
Hong Kong Open
Miguel Angel Jimenez (Best Odds 8-1 at William Hill)
Those of you who read these posts regularly know that I rarely take the favourite, but the Mechanic is the best player in the field and he’s been playing well in the last few weeks. Plus, he’s won here three times, including last year, and has finished outside of the top-25 in only two of his nine appearances at the course.
Robert-Jan Derksen (Best Odds 33-1 at Boylesports)
Finished inside the top-15 in each of his last three appearances in 2011, 2009 and 2007. He’s had some good success in China and has two finishes inside the top-20 in his last three starts. Good putter and short game player, and in a weak field, he’s a little overpriced here.
Richard Finch (Best Odds 66-1 at Betway)
Pure form bet here, as Finch finished as the runner-up to Charl Schwartzel last week at the Dunhill thanks to a superb putting performance. He’s missed the cut in all three appearances here, but hasn’t had any disastrous results, with his highest round coming in at a 74.
Sergio Garcia (Best Odds 12-1 at bet365)
Sergio is a former two-time winner at Gary Player CC and has yet to finish outside of the top-12 in any of his eight appearances. Even in a limited field, that’s a solid run of finishes, and there are still few players who have played as well as him over the last calendar year. There’s considerable value here with Sergio compared to the other favourites above him.
Thomas Bjorn (Best Odds 41-1 at Betfair)
Much like Sergio, Bjorn is on a great run right now, picking up four top-20 finishes in his last seven events, including a win and a runner-up. Good course form as well, even if he hasn’t been here since 2001, which is why you can get him at this kind of price.
Louis Oosthuizen (Best Odds 53-1 at 32Red)
If there’s one player I can’t seem to get away from in these previews, it’s Oosthuizen. A combination of inconsistency and some pretty serious injury concerns have given Oosthuizen some awful results over the last few months, but he says he’s healthy and even in a field this good, he’s right up there with the best. He won here back in 2007 and finished tied for fourth last year.
Northwestern Mutual World Challenge
Graeme McDowell (Best Odds 12-1 at bet365)
With a field this small and this good, there isn’t much value to be had. Bill Haas is considered the biggest longshot out there at roughly 40-1, so you won’t find the best prices this week, but I like McDowell here for the obvious reasons. He’s been playing well and his only three appearances in the event have yielded the following finishes: 2-1-1. Don’t forget that he loves the California area as well, with his U.S. Open win at Pebble and runner-up at Olympic.
Matt Kuchar (Best Odds 24-1 at BETDAQ)
Doesn’t have the best track record here, but the human ATM machine is playing the same kind of solid golf he’s known for, with three consecutive top-10′s. He’s got as good of a chance to win this week as anyone, and he’ll be playing with Tiger for the first two rounds, so maybe he’ll be able to get some extra information.
Posted on December 1, 2013
Two wins in twelve months is really good for most players, but when you’re Rory McIlroy, you’re expected to do so much more. His much publicized equipment switch, plus other personal drama, which you could argue was overblown by the media, was supposed to be to blame for his relatively poor 2013 season.
Late Saturday night, on the East Coast anyway, McIlroy did battle with Adam Scott at Royal Sydney. Coming into the day, Scott had a commanding four shot lead and was attempting to win the Australian Grand Slam, having won a few weeks ago at both the Australian PGA and the Talisker Masters. If he could hang on for the win, he’d be only the second player to accomplish the feat, with fellow Aussie Robert Allenby being the lone man to do it back in 2005.