October 10th, 2004.
That was the date of Stephen Gallacher’s last win on the European Tour. That day he won the Dunhill Links Championship, taking down a young Graeme McDowell in a playoff. Nearly nine years later, Gallacher has his second European Tour title, winning today’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club.
Gallacher carried a three shot lead into Sunday over opening round leader Richard Sterne, but the gap was closed early as Gallacher carded a pair of bogeys to open his round, while Sterne birdied the second. The two went back and forth all round until Gallacher holed out for eagle on the 16th from just over 100 yards. That combined with back-to-back bogeys on 15 and 16 gave Gallacher a four-shot lead with only two holes to play. Gallacher ended up regaining his three-shot lead from the start of the day, getting to 22-under par and picking up up his second European Tour win.
Notes on Gallacher and his win
- The win moves Gallacher into the top-60 in the Official World Golf Rankings, and assuming he keeps up some decent form, he should qualify for the Match Play in a couple of weeks.
- If he can manage to play really well and get into the top-50, he’ll qualify for the Masters for the first time in his career.
- By winning, he’s now fully exempt on the European Tour until the end of 2015.
- His 22-under par score ties the tournament record set by Thomas Bjorn who won the event in 2001.
- The hole out on 16 was actually his fourth hole out of the week, which goes more towards luck than good play, but obviously Gallacher will take it.
Shot of the tournament
Gallacher’s hole out on 16 is what won him the tournament. The look on his face after it lands in the cup is almost one of embarrassment. Four hole outs in a tournament is a rarity, so it’s almost as if Gallacher felt bad about it.
Westwood and Garcia
Lee Westwood’s first event of the year was better than I thought it would be, finishing in a tie for fifth. All four rounds were under par, and by all accounts, his short game was actually in order this week. I’m still a little wary about his outlook for the season, but he really couldn’t have hoped for a better start to his 2013 season. Sergio Garcia faded a little bit as the weekend rolled around, but considering his past at this event, it’s not surprising. Still though, just like Westwood, all four rounds were under par this week.
Other notes from the tournament
- Another good finish (T-3) for Thorbjorn Olesen this week, who I pegged as my top pick for the tournament on Tuesday. It’s almost a good idea to throw your money down blindly on him until he has a bad week. He’ll win at least once this season.
- Robert Rock had his first quality finish in a long time, making only three bogeys in his final 54 holes. His T-7 was the first top-10 finish he’s had in a regular stroke play event since winning in Abu Dhabi in January of 2012.
- Last week’s winner Chris Wood finished in a tie for 30th.
Golf is a cruel, cruel game sometimes. Phil Mickelson had a chance to do what few golfers have ever done, fire a 59 in a professional round. There’s only been five in the history of the PGA Tour, but Mickelson had a chance to be the sixth today at TPC Scottsdale. After a solid approach into the 9th, Mickelson’s last hole of the day, he needed to drain a 25 footer for birdie, which would have given him the elusive 59. The four GIF’s below show how close Mickelson was to joining the club.
The reaction of Mickelson’s caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, is priceless in the last GIF. Mickelson had to settle for 60 and an 11-under par round, giving him a four-shot lead heading into Friday’s second round at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Kyle Stanley will attempt to defend his title this year at the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course, but as usual when it comes to this event, there’s only one thing that anyone really wants to talk about: The famed par-3 16th and the crazy party atmosphere surrounding the hole.
2013 Waste Management Phoenix Open Fact Sheet
- Course: TPC Scottsdale – Stadium Course
- Location: Scottsdale, Arizona
- Yardage: 7,216 yards, par 71
- Defending Champion: Kyle Stanley
- Five Consensus Favourites: Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker, Nick Watney and Bubba Watson
- Thursday – 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Friday – 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Saturday – 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM ET (Golf Channel) & 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM (NBC)
- Sunday – 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM ET (Golf Channel) & 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM (NBC)
You don’t often hear the words “crazy party atmosphere” uttered around a PGA Tour event, but the par-3 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course is a fun time. About 20,000 fans pack in around the entirety of the hole, from the tee box to the green and they drink, smoke, chant and heckle for four rounds. It’s only 162 yards long, but much like the island green at TPC Sawgrass, the surroundings make it a much more difficult approach than it should be. There’s typically a wait of at least an hour to even get a seat, so if you’re planning on getting in, make sure you give yourself enough time. Obviously with the different atmosphere, some players react positively and others, negatively. Rickie Fowler takes the positive approach as you can see below.
Two years ago, Fowler gave away his trademark Puma hats to the fans on his way to the green:
And last year, he asked the crowd to make some noise before he teed off, Happy Gilmore style:
As I mentioned though, it’s not all positive, as John Senden found out a few years ago when he had some trouble on the green. This is the only place in the world of golf where you’ll see fans boo the players:
Of course, it’s only one hole on the course, but the rest of TPC Scottsdale is relatively pedestrian until you get to the final four holes. The 15th is a reachable par-5 with water in play from the tee, and we’ve talked about the 16th already. The 17th is a drivable par-4 which can yield eagles quite easily, while the 18th is one of the most exciting closing holes on the PGA Tour. With water in play off of the tee and deep bunkers guarding the right side of the fairway, accuracy is paramount, and the approach into the green doesn’t get any easier with another deep bunker on the right side of the green, and a heavily sloped green on the left. There is a ton of potential for a change at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the day on Sunday with these four holes, and we saw that last year with Stanley coming from behind to steal the victory away from Spencer Levin. No lead is safe at TPC Scottsdale.
Key Storyline This Week
Phil Mickelson has always had success at Scottsdale, winning twice and placing inside the top-10 on six other occasions, but he’s been awful to start 2013, and is definitely on the wrong side of his career, turning 43 this June. I don’t think anyone knows what to expect out of Mickelson this season, and he hasn’t exactly inspired confidence in his first two events. Another bad tournament doesn’t signal the end of the line, but I can’t place any money on him without seeing something of positive consequence first.
Suggested Plays This Week
Bubba Watson (Best Odds 18-1 at Betfair)
I took Watson last week at Torrey Pines, but he had to withdraw due to illness. He says he’s feeling better this week, and I don’t think there’s a more talented player in the field, so 18-1 is simply too good to pass up. We talked about the final four holes above and when you consider that there’s a par-5 and a drivable par-4, that falls right into Watson’s wheelhouse. With his length, nobody would be shocked if he came away with several eagles on those two holes alone. He’s finished outside the top-10 on the PGA Tour once since the end of August, and has a pair of top-10’s at Scottsdale in the past. He’s already having fun with the 16th hole too, asking fans on Twitter for suggestions on what he can do when he gets to the tee.
Rickie Fowler (Best Odds 18-1 at Bet365)
As mentioned above, Fowler clearly doesn’t get intimidated by the atmosphere at Scottsdale. He’s also on a run of good form, finishing in the top-6 in his last two events, and that was after an awful opening round 77 at Torrey Pines had him in last place on Thursday night. He’s had success here in the past, finishing as the runner-up to Hunter Mahan two years ago. He’s actually gone down to the favourite at roughly 14-1 in a lot of books, so get your money in on him now before the tournament gets underway.
Martin Kaymer (Best Odds 28-1 at Paddy Power)
People like to rip on Kaymer for his fall from being ranked as the world’s best player a few years ago, but he’s very quietly put together a solid run of form in Europe over the past few weeks. He’s placed inside the top-10 in four of his last five events, including Abu Dhabi where he was paired with the Rory McIlroy/Tiger Woods power couple. Now, he doesn’t have a good track record at TPC Scottsdale, missing the cut in his lone appearance, but he did grab a runner-up to Luke Donald in the Phoenix area in the 2011 Match Play. He’s playing too well to pass up at 28-1.
Hunter Mahan (Best Odds 35-1 at Stan James)
Mahan won this event in 2010, and has always played well in Phoenix, winning the Match Play last season against Rory McIlroy. He’s only had a pair of top-10 finishes since April of 2012, but I’m giving him a look this week. He actually played pretty well last week at Torrey Pines, and he’s a notoriously quick starter. 35-1 seems to be a little high considering his past history here.
Aaron Baddeley (Best Odds 66-1 at Betway)
2007 was a long time ago. Aaron Baddeley won this tournament six years ago back when it was known as the FBR Open, and he’s only got one win since, but there’s reason for optimism here. The Australian has battled injury and inconsistency over the years, but he was decent at the Humana, finishing tied for 27th, and he grabbed a T-6 last week at the Farmers. Even with all of the problems, the putter has never been an issue, and if there’s one quality that most pros would like to carry with them, it’s the flat stick. I like him this week on an each-way bet.
Graham DeLaet (Best Odds 170-1 at Betfair)
DeLaet will win an event sometime soon, and while I’m not sure this is the one, 170-1 seems crazy high for him. He finished tied for 9th last week, and if he can get the putter going, he’ll be a force on the PGA Tour. I usually try to give one dartboard pick a week, and it goes to DeLaet at TPC Scottsdale.
It’s been a long time since Sergio Garcia was the runaway favourite in a regular European Tour event, but that’s the situation we’re in this week with the Dubai Desert Classic. The tournament also marks the 2013 season debut of former world number one Lee Westwood.
2013 Dubai Desert Classic Fact Sheet
- Course: Emirates Golf Club
- Location: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
- Yardage: 7,301 yards, par 72
- Defending Champion: Rafael Cabrera-Bello
- Five Consensus Favourites: Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson, Thorbjorn Olesen and Jamie Donaldson
- Thursday – 4:30 AM to 8:30 AM ET (Golf Channel)
- Friday – 4:30 AM to 8:30 AM ET (Golf Channel)
- Saturday – 4:00 AM to 8:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)
- Sunday – 4:00 AM to 8:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)
The European Tour ends their Middle East swing with a trip to the Emirates Golf Club, a course typically considered a tough test, particularly if the wind starts to become a factor. That’s probably the reason that the tournament has produced a list of established champions, including Seve Ballesteros, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie, Ernie Els, Tiger Woods and the first career victory for Rory McIlroy. There is a history of repeat winners as well, with both Els and Woods coming away victorious on multiple occasions.
At just over 7,300 yards, the length is pretty much standard for the pros, but the course contains no par-3’s over 200 yards, which is a bit of a rarity these days. Doglegs are present throughout the course, and water will come into play on more than half of the holes. With the wind expected to pick up as the tournament goes along, it’ll be the players who can control their irons the best who will likely be at the top of the leaderboard. The last note about the course is that the greens are very firm and fast, running at about 12.5 on the stimpmeter when checked yesterday morning.
Key Storyline This Week
There are two big things to watch this week. First, Sergio Garcia’s run of good form continued last week, grabbing a runner-up finish to Chris Wood in Qatar. Garcia hasn’t had a ton of success at the Emirates in his four events played (MC, 19th, 11th, 20th), but much like we’ve seen with Charles Howell III on the PGA Tour this season, you have to keep an eye on him because of how well he’s played. I don’t think he gets it done this week, but I won’t be surprised if he finally gets that major victory this season.
Secondly, we’ve got the 2013 season debut of Lee Westwood to watch. The former world number one fell to the 8th spot in the rankings this week thanks to jumps from other players, but he didn’t exactly end his year on anything spectacular. He hasn’t been this low in the rankings since October of 2009, and much like Garcia, is still looking for that first major championship. I have no idea what to make of Westwood this season, and part of that can be attributed to his firing of longtime caddie Billy Foster, which we talked about in November. Westwood is one of the streakiest players in the world, and even though I think it’s possible that he wins this week, I can’t put my money behind him just yet.
Thorbjorn Olesen (Best Odds 22-1 at Bet365)
I’m ignoring Olesen’s form at the Emirates (MC, 42nd) because he’s been playing well in recent weeks. The new Nike man struggled with his new clubs in his first tournament of the year, but he’s played well since, finishing as the runner-up two weeks ago to Jamie Donaldson in Abu Dhabi and if it wasn’t for a poor final round last week, he would have had another top-10 in Qatar. He broke out last year winning in Italy, and managed to crack the top-50 in the OWGR for the first time at the end of last season. I think Olesen wins at least one event this season, and probably has a good finish or two in the majors as well. This week seems like a good spot for him in a weaker field.
Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Best Odds 31-1 at Betfair)
I don’t often take defending champions in events, but there’s a little bit of value here with Cabrera-Bello at 31-1. He led the tournament last year in GIR, and is near the top again this season, despite playing more rounds than most players on the European Tour. What’s really impressive is that his final round scoring average so far this season is 66.66, which basically means that he’s been unbeatable on Sunday’s this season. I’m not going to compare him to Woods or Els, but the history of repeat winners is also enticing me a little bit, especially at 31-1.
Alexander Noren (Best Odds 37-1 at Betfair)
Noren was a big part of my fantasy roster last season, and I was waiting for a big week for him in 2013, and it finally came in Qatar. He had a very under the radar 4th place finish last week, and much like most golfers, he’s very streaky, but the one thing that never leaves him is the putter. With the greens the way they are this week, he could have a big edge on the field. When he’s on, he’s one of the better players on the European Tour, so I’m taking a flyer on him this week based almost entirely on last week. In his five years in the event, his best finish came in 2009 where he ended up 22nd.
Thomas Bjorn (Best Odds 50-1 at Ladbrokes)
Bjorn has had a disappointing couple of weeks in the Middle East, breaking 70 only once. It’s surprising for someone who’s usually so consistent, and after finishing 9th in his season debut, many were expecting another solid year. If there’s anywhere he’s comfortable, the Emirates is it. He’s a past champion here, and has four other top-10’s, including last year when his finished in a tie for 9th. I think he’s got some decent value on an each-way bet at roughly 50-1.
Joel Sjoholm (Best Odds 151-1 at Betfair)
As usual, I’ve got one dartboard special and I’m giving it to the man who loves to wear the plus-four’s, Joel Sjoholm. He’s one of the most popular players on the European Tour, and even though he hasn’t played well to start the season in 2013, he had a chance to win here last year if it wasn’t for a final round 72. His back-to-back 66’s on Friday and Saturday propelled him into a tie for 9th, and as we all know, golfers are creatures of habit. They can be playing poor golf, but a round at a spot where they are comfortable can break them free of that funk. This is what I’m banking on this week with Sjoholm. Don’t throw a ton of money down on him, but he represents great value at 151-1.
Tiger Woods picked up his 75th career PGA Tour title and his 8th at Torrey Pines on Monday, winning the Farmers Insurance Open by four strokes over Brandt Snedeker and Josh Teater.
After Saturday was completely wiped out due to a massive amount of fog, Woods started his third round with a two-shot lead over Billy Horschel. Woods was on point all day, finding fairways and shaping shots into greens with ease. What set Woods apart this week from his play last season as well as last week in Abu Dhabi, was his control with his irons and wedges. Despite winning three times last year, it seemed like Woods was consistently a few yards short or long with the short clubs, which are supposed to be the scoring clubs for the pros. Woods had no issues with that this week, going pin hunting on just about every opportunity and executing exquisite bunker shots and wedges. Once he got rolling on Sunday, it was academic. David Feherty of CBS mentioned on the broadcast that it reminded him of the Woods of old, and it certainly looked that way. Now, where Woods goes from here is the big question.
What the win means for Tiger Woods
Some will tell you that after winning his 75th PGA Tour title, and his 8th at Torrey Pines, that Tiger Woods is “back”. Others will try and minimize the accomplishment suggesting that it wasn’t a major and that since it came at a course where he has had a ton of success, it doesn’t mean much. Both camps of people would be wrong. As we’ve talked about on multiple occasions in the past, Tiger Woods will never regain what he had 15 years ago, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t be a successful player. It is completely unreasonable to expect any player, Tiger Woods or otherwise, to be the same player they were when they were 15 years younger, but to suggest that it’s meaningless because he always plays well at Torrey Pines is asinine. The fact is that on one of the world’s toughest courses, Woods made it look easy, and that should be the focus.
Woods’ former coach Hank Haney said earlier this week that Woods always saw Torrey Pines as the start of his season, regardless of where he teed it up previously, and that a good performance at Torrey usually meant that good things were to come. I said in my season preview that I thought Woods would win at least one major, and I’m standing by that. For those that will say it wasn’t a major this week, it’s a valid point, but keep in mind that if he didn’t win this week, people would be asking why. Now, it wasn’t all positive for Woods. He looked downright awful off the tee on Monday, but it really didn’t matter because of the massive lead he had built up over the previous couple of days. After the round, Woods mentioned to Feherty that he got a little frustrated with the slow play and lost his focus, which contributed to the poor shots. I don’t buy that at all, but hey, with that kind of a lead, it’s easy to see how someone could lose their focus.
Note that when Woods has started his PGA Tour season with a win in the past, he has gone on to win a major in each of those years. How relevant that is when he was terrible last week in Abu Dhabi is really up to your own interpretation. Frankly, I don’t think it means much. It doesn’t change my outlook in the least for Woods in 2013.
Shot(s) of the tournament
Realistically, the shot of the tournament could have been just about anything from Woods on the weekend. He hit so many that were on-point, but these two stood out.
This didn’t win the tournament for Woods, but it’s a ridiculous display of shot making. Playing the 4th in the beginning of his final round on Sunday, Woods found himself in what should have been a nearly impossible situation. His punch around the tree and just short of the green is spectacular, not to mention that he’d go on to chip the following shot in for birdie. It is NOT supposed to look that easy. GIF of the punch below:
Secondly, this bunker shot on the 11th in Monday’s final round is crazy good. Anyone who’s played a bunker shot without having their feet in the sand will tell you how difficult that is, not to mention the touch involved with getting it as close as he did.
Other notes from the tournament
- Kyle Stanley continues to struggle for Nike. He was terrible for most of last season before jumping to the big swoosh a few weeks ago, and so far his finishes look like this: Last (30th) at the Hyundai, T67 at Sony and cut at both the Humana and this week. I’d like to think that he’s too good to be struggling this much, but he hasn’t had a top-10 since winning in Phoenix last February.
- Great week for the Canadians in the field, as both Brad Fritsch and Graham DeLaet finished in a tie for 9th, and Mike Weir managed to end his streak of 18 consecutive missed cuts on the PGA Tour. Unfortunately for Weir, who is not ranked in the Official World Golf Rankings, he finished outside the top-51, meaning he will not receive any points towards this week’s rankings. It’s been over two years since Weir actually received points, but it shouldn’t be too much of a problem if he continues to make cuts.
- Tough week for Phil Mickelson, who never really seemed to get on the right track. Of course, that didn’t stop CBS and Golf Channel from showing his every move, despite being more than 15 shots behind Woods. Ian Poulter mentions this frequently that it’s part of the problem with the game right now that certain players, Mickelson and Woods namely, take up most of the coverage even when they are playing poorly. There are a lot of talented, young players out there, but unless you’re a hardcore fan, you’ll probably never know who any of them are based on the current TV structure.
- Really nice bounce back for Rickie Fowler after a brutal opening round 77. He surely wanted to finish higher than in a tie for 6th this week, but when you end the first round in dead last, it actually sounds pretty good.
- Lastly, it’s always great to see Erik Compton finish anywhere near the top of the leaderboard. If you’re unfamiliar with his back story, you definitely need to check it out.
Chris Wood made eagle on the par-5 18th in Qatar this morning to win the Commercialbank Qatar Masters by one shot over Sergio Garcia and George Coetzee. It’s the first European Tour win for the 25-year old Englishman, who carried a three-shot lead over Garcia entering Saturday’s final round.
Wood got off to a shaky start. After making a pair of pars to open his round, Wood made a double-bogey on the par-3 third and bogeyed the par-4 6th. While Wood was struggling, Garcia and Coetzee were going low, combining for 13 birdies and an eagle on Saturday, with both men ending up at 17-under par when their rounds were complete. Wood went on to birdie the 8th, 9th and 14th to get to 16-under par when he approached the 18th. After a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway, Wood had just over 200 yards to go and he stuck it on the green, leaving him with about eight feet to pick up the victory, while a two-putt would force a three-way playoff. Wood confidently drained the putt, giving him the victory in Qatar, his first on the European Tour.
Notes about Wood and the victory
- This has been a long time coming for Wood, who along with Coetzee, was widely considered the best player on the European Tour without a victory. He had put together three runner up finishes and 19 top-10’s before this win.
- Wood gets a two-year exemption on the European Tour through 2015.
- Wood gets into this year’s WGC-Bridgestone and WGC-HSBC Champions, as well as next year’s Volvo Champions in South Africa.
- With the win, he moves inside the top-60 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Assuming that he stays inside the top-64, he’ll be eligible to play in the WGC-Accenture Match Play this March in Arizona.
The case for easing up on the Rules of Golf
The video linked here (thanks to the European Tour who doesn’t allow embedded video) is from Wednesday’s opening round. Justin Rose was about to tap his ball in for par, when he noticed it moving, so he called over an official. There’s great audio of the discussion between Rose, Martin Kaymer, Louis Oosthuizen and the rules official, with the official basically admitting that even though it was 50-50 that Rose’s putter had nothing to do with the ball moving, he had to penalize him a stroke. Looking at the video, I still can’t see it move, and neither did the commentators, but that’s the honesty with which these guys play the game.
My problem with the rule in this instance is that there’s too much of a grey area here. The official said that if the wind had moved the ball after Rose grounded his club, there would be no penalty, but they were going to go on the assumption that the putter being grounded behind the ball was what made it move. It’s impossible to know what moved the ball, especially when it’s obvious that Rose never touched it.
My favourite part of the video comes in at the 2:54 mark. Rose is told that he must replace his ball back to the original spot, even though it only moved slightly. Under his breath, you can definitely hear Rose mutter, “That’s fucking stupid.”
Other notes from Qatar
- I mentioned this on Twitter the other day, but I’m going to talk about it again. Sergio Garcia is in for a monster year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he finally gets that major win that has eluded him to this point in his career. He’s been lights out since he had eye surgery, winning once and posting three other top-10’s in four events. Get your money in on him now before he has even more success prior to the golf season really getting underway in a couple of weeks.
- Another tough beat for George Coetzee, who ends up with another runner-up finish. The guy is too talented to not win an event soon, and I think 2013 is the year for him. I said it a few weeks ago, but he’s definitely the most anonymous player inside the top-50 in the OWGR.
- Three consecutive top-10 finishes for Branden Grace after this week, and back-to-back T-10’s for Jason Dufner and Martin Kaymer. Considering that a lot of people were predicting poor seasons for those three, they have kicked off their campaigns on the right foot.
- Just an awful week for Ernie Els, who finished second from the bottom with scores of 72-71-74-76.
Next week, the European Tour is back in Dubai for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, where we should see the 2013 season debut of Lee Westwood.
The PGA Tour heads to one of its most iconic locations this week, as Tiger Woods heads up a field of the world’s best at Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open. For the second straight week, players will be on multiple courses, alternating between the North and the South in the first two rounds before heading back to the South Course for the weekend.
2013 Farmers Insurance Open Fact Sheet
- Course: Torrey Pines North and South
- Location: La Jolla, California
- Yardage: 6,874 to 7,569 yards, par 72
- Defending Champion: Brandt Snedeker
- Thursday – 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Friday – 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Saturday – 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM ET (Golf Channel) & 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM (CBS)
- Sunday – 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM ET (Golf Channel) & 3:00 PM to 6:30 PM (CBS)
Typically, the winner at Torrey Pines is one of the best players in the world. That seems obvious to say, but there are tons of courses that produce less than stellar champions, ones where just about anyone can get hot and stay at the top of the leaderboard. There’s a reason that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have won ten events combined at Torrey Pines, and why other champions include Jose Maria Olazabal, John Daly, Davis Love, Bubba Watson and last year’s winner Brandt Snedeker. Torrey Pines presents a consistently challenging layout, especially on the South Course, and greens that are difficult to read even from short distances.
Key Storyline This Week
As it always is when he tees it up, the performance of Tiger Woods is the storyline to watch this week. Woods has won seven times at Torrey Pines, so it makes sense that he’s the consensus favourite this week, and you’d think that the rust is starting to wear off after he played last week in Abu Dhabi. I’m not overly concerned about his poor performance in the UAE, and I doubt that he is either. Keep in mind that his success here isn’t just based on those seven wins, as he has four other top-5 finishes at Torrey Pines, including his last major championship, when he won the 2008 U.S Open in a playoff against Rocco Mediate. I’m not going to guarantee a win for him this week, but I’d be absolutely shocked if he finishes outside of the top-10.
Bubba Watson (Best Odds 15-1 at Betfair)
When Woods is in an event, he’s almost certainly going to be the favourite, which leaves tons of great value for other players in the field. Watson is a former winner of the event, and finished fourth a few weeks ago at the wind-shortened Hyundai Tournament of Champions. His freakish length is what gets the most attention, but his short game has approved dramatically over the last few years, and at 15-1 there’s too much value to pass up.
Phil Mickelson (Best Odds 18-1 at Bet365)
Quite a week for Phil Mickelson. After finishing a less than stellar four days at the Humana, the four-time major winner made some ill-advised remarks about paying too much in taxes, and then quickly apologized a day later. Now, he heads to Torrey Pines, a place where he’s won three times and is expected to contend. His play at the Humana left a little to be desired, but his scores of 67-66-66 to close out the tournament are a positive, even at a scorer’s paradise like PGA West. Much like Woods, I’d be shocked if he doesn’t finish inside the top-10, with a solid chance to win the whole thing.
Rickie Fowler (Best Odds 25-1 at Bet365)
Fowler is the perfect example of someone who is trending upward at Torrey Pines. In the three events he’s played there, not including the U.S. Open where conditions were much tougher, Fowler has finished in the top-20 all three times. He hasn’t played since the Hyundai, but he did finish in sixth place in really tough conditions. At this point, he should be ready to pull one out at Torrey Pines in his fifth trip, and with all of the talent in the field this week, you have a chance to get him at longer odds than normal.
Charles Howell III (Best Odds 31-1 at Betfair)
First off, you may look at this as an attempt to ride the hot hand, but that’s not entirely the case. Howell has six top-15 finishes at Torrey Pines, including a pair of runner-ups in 2005 and 2007. The big knock on Howell over the years has been the putter, but so far in 2013, he’s been on fire on the greens, averaging just over 27 putts per round and currently ranking 16th on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained Putting. Of course, the fact that he hasn’t had a round higher than a 67 this year doesn’t hurt either. Note that his runner-up finish at the Humana last week gave him 14 for his career. The only player in his 30’s with more than that? Tiger Woods.
Nicolas Colsaerts (Best Odds 58-1 at BETDAQ)
We’re going to be seeing a lot more of the Belgian Bomber this season on the PGA Tour, and people are expecting big things. Colsaerts is the longest hitter in the world, and even though he’s never seen Torrey Pines, I like him in this spot at 58-1. Much like Watson, his distance gets all of the attention, but he has pretty nice touch around the greens, and he performed well last year at big events like the Ryder Cup and the Open Championship. His lone start of 2013 yielded a 9th place finish, and it’s not often that you can get a player ranked 36th in the world at this kind of a price.
Jonas Blixt (Best Odds 90-1 at BETDAQ)
There isn’t much current form to go on with Blixt. After finishing 18th at the Hyundai, he missed the cut two weeks ago at the Sony. Blixt is a world-class putter and scrambler, and played pretty well here last year before a final round 75 derailed any chance he had of picking up his maiden victory. That win did come later in the year at the Frys, also played in California, so he does seem to like the area. He’s my dartboard special at 90-1.
Other things to watch:
- Does the cut streak continue for Mike Weir? The 2003 Masters champ came close to ending his drought at the Humana last week, and would have done it if he didn’t triple bogey his final hole on Saturday. The streak now sits at 18 missed cuts in a row for Weir on the PGA Tour, but he did show signs of life last week. He does have a fifth place finish at Torrey Pines, but that was back in 2001.
- Weir’s fellow countryman Adam Hadwin will be playing in the event thanks to picking up the win at the Monday qualifier. Hadwin just missed out on earning his tour card last year, finishing just outside the top-25 on the Web.com Tour money list. Mark Baker, Michael McCabe and Brad Adamonis will also be playing thanks to the Monday qualifier.
- 19-year old Jordan Spieth will also be making his pro debut this week by way of a sponsor’s exemption.
Some things are just better left unsaid.
For the uninitiated, Phil Mickelson made some pretty cryptic comments on Sunday after he finished his final round at the Humana Challenge. Parts of the transcript, courtesy of Scott Michaux, are posted below.
Q. When you’re asked about Stricker’s semi‑retirement, with the political situation the last couple months, blah, blah, blah, what did you mean by that? Do you find it an unsettling time in a way?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it’s been an interesting offseason. And I’m going to have to make some drastic changes. I’m not going to jump the gun and do it right away, but I will be making some drastic changes.
Q. Meaning leaving from California?
PHIL MICKELSON: I’m not sure.
Q. Moving to Canada?
PHIL MICKELSON: I’m not sure what exactly, you know, I’m going to do yet. I’ll probably talk about it more in depth next week. I’m not going to jump the gun, but there are going to be some. There are going to be some drastic changes for me because I happen to be in that zone that has been targeted both federally and by the state and, you know, it doesn’t work for me right now. So I’m going to have to make some changes.
Q. So why do you say next week? What is going to happen so drastic next week?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, but I’ll probably be in the media center and I’ll probably be a little more open to it because San Diego is where a lot more things, it’s where I live, it’s where the Padre thing was a possibility, and it’s where my family is. And it just seems like a better fit than right here off of 18 on Palm Springs.
Q. Is it a stance that you are taking because on the one hand, you’ve made a lot of money, and no matter how much they take out, you are left with a lot of money?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah. I’ll probably go into it more next year or next week. But if you add up, if you add up all the federal and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and the state, my tax rate’s 62, 63 percent. So I’ve got to make some decisions on what I’m going to do.
Now, lets get one thing out of the way: Mickelson isn’t retiring, as some people have suggested is a possibility. As upset as he may be about the impending changes to the already high tax laws in California, he’s not going to give up playing the game that allowed him to earn over $45 million in 2012. Mickelson was asked about changing some things in 2013 and about Steve Stricker, who announced earlier this year that he was severely reducing his schedule, going down to about ten events per season. Of course, Stricker is doing this because he wants to spend more time with his family and his foundation, and even though he’s winding down, Stricker isn’t retiring either.
Now, the part of the story that’s drawing attention is Mickelson’s complaint about how much he’s being taxed. The reason for that is simple: How could anyone complain about taxes when you made north of $45 million in one year?
That’s been a common refrain on Twitter and in the articles I’ve read so far, and I get it. People who are struggling to get by don’t want to hear about the problems of someone who pulled in eight figures last year. According to Golf Digest, Mickelson has earned over $400 million in his career on the PGA Tour when you combine tournament earnings and endorsements. Mickelson isn’t struggling for money, and no one should feel sorry for him. His comments come across as tone deaf, completely oblivious to the fact that he has spent more money than most people could ever dream of having, but I understand where he’s coming from.
I’m not an expert on the American tax system, but Rex Hoggard of Golf Channel talked with a tax attorney from San Diego who claimed that Mickelson’s numbers are a little off. The attorney figures that Mickelson will probably pay about 53%, not 63%, which is still obviously a significant amount of money. He’s obviously had a lot of success on and off the course over the years, and he’s entitled to as much money as people are willing to pay him. Instead of retiring, the simple solution seems to be that Mickelson should move to a state that collects less in tax, say Florida or Texas. When asked about it today in his press conference, Tiger Woods suggested that the high amount of taxes in the state of California was part of the reason he moved to Florida in 1996.
What Mickelson should have done is just kept his mouth shut. Even though most people would probably agree that he’s entitled to more than 47% of his income, he’s not going to garner any sympathy here. Not to mention that I’m pretty sure no one really cares to hear what Mickelson thinks of the current tax structure in the United States. Of course, Mickelson has already started to backtrack, releasing this quote to the Golf Channel:
I absolutely love what I do. I love and appreciate the game of golf and the people who surround it. I’m as motivated as I’ve ever been to work on my game, to compete and to win championships.
Right now, I’m like many Americans who are trying to understand the new tax laws. I’ve been learning a lot over the last few months and talking with people who are trying to help me make intelligent and informed decisions. I certainly don’t have a definitive plan at this time, but like everyone else I want to make decisions that are best for my future and my family
Finances and taxes are a personal matter and I should not have made my opinions on them public. I apologize to those I have upset or insulted and assure you I intend to not let it happen again.
Obviously Mickelson realizes that he shouldn’t have said anything, but we also know that he fully believes in what he said in the first place. Mickelson has always been honest with the media over the years, and has been an entertaining interview, but I have to think he’ll be a little more careful with what he says in the future.
Fourteen of the world’s top fifty players will be in action at this week’s European Tour stop, the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. The Doha Golf Club will play host to some of the world’s best, including Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen, Jason Dufner, the season debut of Sergio Garcia and defending champion Paul Lawrie.
2013 Commercial Bank Qatar Masters Fact Sheet
- Course: Doha Golf Club
- Location: Doha, Qatar
- Yardage: 7,412 yards, par 72
- Defending Champion: Paul Lawrie
- Wednesday – 5:00 AM to 9:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)
- Thursday – 4:30 AM to 9:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)
- Friday – 4:30 AM to 8:30 AM ET (Golf Channel)
- Saturday – 4:30 AM to 8:30 AM ET (Golf Channel)
The Doha Golf Club is the host this week, and at 7,412 yards, it is a longer course than most players play on the European or PGA Tours. You’d think that those who have more distance off the tee would have an advantage, but that really isn’t the case. Over the last five years, the leader in driving distance has only won this event once. Even more amazing is that over that same period, only one player who has finished in the top-5 at this event has also finished in the top-5 in driving accuracy. Doha presents some pretty average looking fairways, but the doglegs make them difficult at times. Luckily for the players, there is very little wind in the forecast, which has caused some issues in the past, especially last year when the event had to be shortened to 54 holes. The key hole will likely be drivable par-4 16th, which has played consistently under par since the tournament began in 1998, and should provide some excitement down the stretch, especially if the tournament is close.
Key Storyline This Week
Expect there to be some talk about Tiger Woods and the tournament organizers not being able to come to terms on an appearance fee. For what it’s worth, Woods and his agent denied that he was even considering the event, opting to play at the Farmers Insurance Open this week at Torrey Pines, a course where he’s won seven times. Outside of that, the focus will likely be on Rose and Oosthuizen, although I’ll be watching Garcia closely. He’s won twice in the last four months, and he has five top-10’s in his last seven events worldwide. In a field full of solid, reliable players, Garcia is the true wildcard that could shake everything up.
Sweden’s Robert Karlsson touched on something this week on his Twitter account, noting that in his opinion, the PGA Tour simply has more depth than the European Tour. When you look at it realistically, he’s probably correct, and this week’s board is a perfect example of what he’s talking about. The first four or five guys in both fields this week are pretty comparable, but after that, the depth of the PGA Tour kinda takes over. What this means typically is shorter odds for bigger names in European Tour events, but there’s still some good value here this week.
Louis Oosthuizen (Best Odds 8-1 at Bet365)
Oosthuizen might be my favourite player in the game right now, and should be contending in every tournament he’s in this season. His track record at Doha isn’t great, with only two top-10’s in seven appearances, but he’s hotter than any other player in the field. He started his 2013 season by winning the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa, and he’s placed inside the top-6 in nine of his last fourteen events.
Sergio Garcia (Best Odds 12-1 at SkyBet)
One of the most under reported stories of 2012 is how well Garcia played. Nine top-10’s, including two victories worldwide, and despite his insistence that he doesn’t think he’s capable of winning a major championship, he certainly has the ability to do it. He’s played this event in each of the last six seasons and has four top-10 finishes. Garcia is consistently one of the best drivers of the golf ball in the world, and has started to find his putting stroke as well. He’s also known as a guy who gets off to a hot start to a season. It might be a little much to expect him to win his first event of 2013, but I like him to place high this week.
Branden Grace (Best Odds 26-1 at Betfair)
Grace finished tied for 47th here last year two weeks after winning back-to-back events. That’s his only appearance at Doha, so the track record isn’t great, but he’s played well again to start 2013, finishing 7th at the Volvo and 5th last week in Abu Dhabi. Everything seems to be trending upward for him right now, and 26-1 is too good to pass up for a guy who won four events last season.
Retief Goosen (Best Odds 75-1 at Betfair)
Goosen played his first event in almost five months at the Volvo two weeks ago, and didn’t look bad considering it was his return from back surgery. When he’s been healthy, he’s been a force at Doha, with a win, two other top-10’s and three top-25’s. If he’s as healthy as he says he is, 75-1 is a great price to get him at on an each-way bet. If he can’t play well this week, I don’t like his chances the rest of the year.
Richie Ramsay (Best Odds 89-1 at Betfair)
There’s no real positive course form here with Ramsay, as his best finish in Qatar came in 2010 when he ended up in 32nd place, and he’s actually never shot a round in the 60’s on this course in ten tries. So, why am I taking him? In his last 11 starts worldwide, he’s got five top-10’s, including a win, and he would have had six if he didn’t implode last Sunday in Abu Dhabi. Even when he’s struggling, he hits tons of fairways and greens. At 89-1, that’s good value on an each-way.
Brian Gay has defeated Charles Howell III and David Lingmerth to claim the 2013 Humana Challenge. When I wrote my preview for the Humana earlier this week, I noted that the scores were likely to be exceedingly low, and this week was no exception. Of course, Gay only became the story due to a massive collapse by third round leader Scott Stallings.
Stallings carried a five-shot lead heading into Sunday’s final round, but with how low the players were going this week, making up five shots wasn’t that big of a deal. Both Howell and Gay made par on the closing hole after Lingmerth ended with a birdie. All three men were in the clubhouse at 25-under par, waiting for the penultimate group of Stallings, Stewart Cink and Roberto Castro to finish up. Stallings, who bogeyed the 16th after a terrible tee shot into a fairway bunker, needed a birdie on the finale to win, and a par to join the trio in a playoff.
After a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway, Stallings pulled a 6-iron, knocking it into the water beside the green. After his drop, Stallings hit a poor chip and couldn’t sink the ten footer for par, missing out on the playoff. Gay and Howell both made birdie on the opening playoff hole, while Lingmerth could only manage par, and he was eliminated as Gay and Howell went back to the 10th tee. After Howell’s approach went into the greenside bunker, Gay stepped up and hit a beautiful shot, landing five feet in front of the pin. Gay dropped the birdie to win the Humana, capping off a brilliant day of golf for the 41-year old native of Fort Worth, Texas.
Notes about Gay’s win
- It’s his fourth win on the PGA Tour, and his first since winning the 2009 St. Jude Classic.
- Gay opened the day six shots behind Stallings, but fired a 63 to get into the playoff.
- The 63 shot by Gay doesn’t come without precedence. In 2011, Gay shot a 62 in the final round on the Palmer Course to finish solo fifth.
- The win also gets Gay into the Masters, which he has only played once in his career, getting cut in 2010.
Mike Weir’s cut streak continues
I tweeted on Thursday about the good run that 2003 Masters champ Mike Weir was on in the opening round. That 67 he fired was his best round since the Wyndham in August of 2010, and while he did make a pair of weekends last year on the European Tour, he had been cut in 17 straight PGA Tour events coming into this week. The excitement surrounding his opening round 67 was quickly muted when he followed it up with a second-round 75. It looked like he would easily miss his 18th consecutive cut, but he was on fire in the third round, reeling off ten birdies in his first thirteen holes. Even after a bogey on his fourteenth hole of the day, Weir was inside the cut line heading to his final hole of the day.
Weir approached the par-4 9th on the Palmer Course and proceeded to dunk his ball in the water off the tee. After taking a drop, he hit his third into the water as well, and by the time it was all over, Weir had made a triple-bogey 7, knocking him three back of the cut line. Weir has had a myriad of injuries as I’ve chronicled in the past, and he’s undoubtedly frustrated with the way this week unfolded, but he should be happy with the way he played, aside from the awful 75 he fired on Friday, which contributed far more to his missing the cut than his final hole on Saturday did. He used his top-25 career earnings exemption this season, so he does have a full card for 2013. If he’s really as healthy as he says he is, he’ll have no problem breaking that cut streak soon. Winning again, something he hasn’t done since 2007, will be a much more difficult proposition.
Final notes about the event:
- It’s a tough pill to swallow for Howell, but he’s on absolute fire to start the season. He’s finished with a T2 and a T3 this season, and has yet to shoot a round higher than 67 in eight tries. It’s also his fourteenth runner-up finish on the PGA Tour.
- The last four winners of the event all missed the cut. (Mark Wilson, Jhonattan Vegas, Bill Haas and Pat Perez)
- Camilo Villegas did make the cut this week, which is a welcome sight for both him and the PGA Tour. Villegas was looked at as one of the next big, young players to watch until he had a dreadful 2012 where he didn’t have a single top-10.
- It wasn’t the end result he wanted, but it wasn’t a bad week for Phil Mickelson at the Humana. After opening with a 72, Mickelson was well under par over the final three rounds, ending at 17-under par. Mickelson will be in the field next week at Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open.
- Much like Villegas, Stewart Cink had a much needed good week. Since winning the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry, Cink has recorded only five top-10’s, with the last one coming at the 2011 Wells Fargo. Prior to this season, he switched from Nike to TaylorMade, and as most golfers do, Cink has tinkered with his swing a lot in recent years. After a missed cut last week, you can’t say that he’s gotten it back, but it’s obviously a good sign.
- There were 22 players that got to at least 20-under par. The three round cut skews the stat a little bit, but there were only eight players who were over par all week, leaving the cut at 10-under par.