Sterne gets back in the winner’s circle in Johannesburg

Richard Sterne fired a stunning final round 64 en route to his first European Tour win since 2008, taking the Joburg Open by seven shots over Charl Schwartzel. It’s the sixth European Tour victory for Sterne, but his first since the South African Open in December of 2008.
What happened
Sterne entered Sunday’s final round tied for the lead at 17-under par with fellow South African Trevor Fisher Jnr, who was looking for his first win as a professional outside of the Sunshine Tour. Fisher started out hot, making an eagle on the opening hole, but it was all downhill from there. Fisher finished with a 1-under par 71 on Sunday, which was the worst final round score of anyone who finished inside the top-15. Sterne’s 64 tied him for low round of the day with Ricardo Santos, and allowed him to set the new scoring record for this event at 27-under par, besting the previous mark set by Schwartzel in 2010 when he got to 23-under par. Sterne also became the first player since Tiger Woods in 2002 to drop only one shot in an officially sanctioned European Tour event.
Notes about Sterne and the win
Sterne was in contention last week as well, carrying the lead in Dubai at the midway point before finishing as the runner-up to Stephen Gallacher. When you combine that with his past success at the course, where he won this event in 2008 and finished tied for 3rd at the 2002 Vodacom Golf Classic, you can’t be surprised that he found his way back to the winner’s circle this week. It’s been a long road back for Sterne, who missed most of the 2010 and 2011 seasons due to a severe back injury. He had some good finishes last year, and it’s easy to forget that before the injuries, Sterne was ranked inside the top-30 in the world. Sterne won three events in 2008 and looked to be one of the rising stars in the game until he was forced to sit out. Sterne had three bulging discs in his back, and was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis which basically prevented him from making any kind of movement. Thanks to all of the injuries, Sterne actually fell just past the 1000 mark in the world, a miraculous fall for someone with his kind of talent.
It’s tough to predict where Sterne goes from here, but it’s certainly not out of the question that he returns to being a force on the European Tour. With the win, he moves inside the top-60 in the world rankings, and is currently slated to play in the WGC-Match Play in a couple of weeks. If he can stay hot and get into the top-50, he’ll earn a spot in the Masters, where he hasn’t played since 2009.
Other notes from the event

  • Despite finishing seven shots behind Sterne, you’d have to think Charl Schwartzel is happy with the result. He hadn’t played since December, but with the runner-up finish, he’s placed inside the top-5 in each of his last five events.
  • A pair of solid finishes once again for George Coetzee and Ricardo Santos. For Coetzee, he’s close and he will get that first win at some point in 2013, and Santos has quietly put together a solid start to his season after winning the European Tour Rookie of the Year in 2012. He’s really only had one poor event since missing the cut in Singapore back in November.
  • Not sure what happened to Branden Grace this week, as the defending champion missed the cut after rounds of 72 and 70. It’s probably just a blip on the radar for him, but considering his form and track record here, I’m shocked that he finished as poorly as he did.
  • Decent finish as well for 2010 U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein who ended up tied for 19th. Uihlein shocked some people when he decided to come over to Europe to play professionally after missing out on his PGA Tour card, but after a pretty good year on the European Challenge Tour, Uihlein could be poised to make some moves in 2013.

AT&T Pebble Beach Betting Preview

Brandt Snedeker

Brandt Snedeker (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

After Phil Mickelson blew away the competition last week in Phoenix, a loaded field of the world’s best players and former major winners are in California to play in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
2013 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am Fact Sheet

  • Course: Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula
  • Location: Pebble Beach, California
  • Yardage: 6,816 to 6,858 yards, par 70 & par 72
  • Defending Champion: Phil Mickelson
  • Five Consensus Favourites: Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Nick Watney, Lee Westwood

TV Schedule:

  • Thursday – 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Friday – 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Saturday – 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM ET (Golf Channel) & 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM ET (CBS)
  • Sunday – 1:00 AM to 12:30 PM ET (Golf Channel) & 3:00 PM to 6:30 PM ET (CBS)

The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is pretty much the marquee stroke play event of the early PGA Tour season, and most of that has to do with the venue. The tournament is held on three separate courses, with Pebble Beach handling two of the four rounds including Sunday’s finale, while Spyglass Hill and the Monterey Peninsula will also be used. Pebble Beach is one of the most picturesque areas of the United States, and always provides a breathtaking backdrop for the annual event with some of the most iconic holes in golf, most notably the par-3 7th. At most, the hole plays at 106 yards, but when the wind gets up, it becomes one of the most difficult par-3’s in the world. In the 1992 U.S. Open, Tom Kite hit a sand wedge on Saturday and a 6-iron on Sunday just because of how windy it got in the final round. There are many holes at Pebble that are affected in this way, and the wind is supposed to be pretty brutal on Friday, so those who can manage the conditions, or those who get lucky with the course draw, will likely give themselves an advantage.
Of the three courses, Spyglass is probably the toughest thanks to all of the elevation changes, and assuming that the wind is down, the Monterey Peninsula should be where players do most of their scoring. All three courses clock in at less than 7,000 yards, so they are shorter than most players will see during the season.
Key Storyline This Week
With so many good players in the field, you could really look at just about anything to focus on, but I’m going to go with the two consensus favourites this week. Both Mickelson and Dustin Johnson love this event, winning it on multiple occasions. Of course, Mickelson ran away with the win in Phoenix last week, but he was terrible in the two events before that. It’s worth noting that when Mickelson won this event in 2005, he also won in Phoenix the week before when it was known as the FBR Open. Winning in back-to-back weeks is just something you don’t see very often, and with most places pegging Mickelson as the 7-1 favourite, there just isn’t enough value in it for me.
As for Johnson, after winning the season opener at Kapalua, he withdrew the following week at the Sony and followed that up with a T-51 at the Farmers. He’ll be playing with hockey legend Wayne Gretzky in the pro-am portion of the event, who just happens to be the father of DJ’s new girlfriend, Paulina. His record here is outstanding, finishing inside the top-8 at Pebble in five of six career appearances.
Suggested plays
Brandt Snedeker (Best Odds 12-1 at Bet365)
The logic here with Snedeker is pretty simple: He’s playing too well to pass up. He’s been inside the top-3 in three of his first four events to start 2013. In those 15 rounds, only one of them has been over par. Further to that, he’s played ten events since missing the cut at the PGA Championship in August, and he’s been under par in 37 of 39 rounds. He’s only got one top-10 finish at Pebble in his career, but when a guy is this dialed in, you pretty much have to take him until he cools off.
Lee Westwood (Best Odds 22-1 at Pinnacle)
You should never be able to get Westwood at this kind of a price, especially when he’s coming off of a good week. He finished tied for fifth last week in Dubai in his season debut, and he does have a good record in his three events at Pebble. Not that it means a ton, but in his pre-tournament press conference, Westwood mentioned that if he could pick one place to play his final round of golf, it’d be Pebble Beach. He obviously likes it here, and like I said earlier, the price is simply too good to pass up.
Webb Simpson (Best Odds 37-1 at Betfair)
It’s not often that you get a chance to grab a major winner from the previous season at long odds like this. Simpson, last year’s U.S. Open champ, missed the cut in the Humana two weeks ago, and we haven’t seen him since. He’s a streaky player, and his best finish at the course was a tie for 46th last year, but there’s good value here. When he’s hot, there are very few players better than him, and if the wind picks up, he’ll be just fine. When the wind is at least 15 mph, Simpson is nearly a full stroke better than when it’s less than 15 mph. That may not seem like much, but at Pebble Beach, it can mean an awful lot.
Tim Clark (Best Odds 45-1 at Betfair)
Clark’s only finished outside of the top-20 twice at Pebble, and it probably has to do with his lack of distance being minimized by the short courses. He’s a machine when it comes to hitting fairways and greens, and even when he misses, he’s one of the best scramblers in the world. Despite not finishing particularly well in the past few weeks, Clark actually has the best scoring average (67.36) of any player on the PGA Tour in the last three months.
Greg Owen (Best Odds 298-1 at BETDAQ)
Greg Owen is your dartboard, hail mary selection of the week. In four events this season, his best finish is a tie for 51st at the Farmers, but he always seems to play well here. In seven appearances, the Englishman has 3rd, 4th and 9th place finishes, as well as a T-21 and T-39. At 230th in the world, Owen stinks compared to other professionals, but for some reason, he loves Pebble Beach. The general public forgets how good these guys are, and when someone is comfortable somewhere, even someone like Owen, they have the ability to go low. He’s not going to win this tournament, but at 298-1, throw a couple of bucks down on an each-way finish.
Other Tournament Notes

  • Jim Furyk makes his 2013 season debut this week. After vomiting all over himself for much of 2012, it’s going to be interesting to see how he bounces back. He still had a good year in 2012, making north of $3.6 million, but he blew four Sunday leads and was a major factor in the collapse of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. If I had to bet on what to expect from Furyk this season, I’d say that it only gets worse from here.
  • David Duval will also be in the field, and he will be back using Nike clubs for the first time in two-plus seasons. Duval officially re-signed with Nike earlier this week after leaving the manufacturer in 2010.
  • There was a time when Mike Weir was a surefire lock to be at the top of the leaderboard at Pebble Beach. From 2003 to 2009, Weir finished no lower than 4th on only two occasions here, but all of that has changed in recent years with his struggles. He has started to get part of his game back though, so who knows, Pebble could be the place where Weir puts it all together again.
  • Lastly, keep an eye on Padraig Harrington, who very quietly has put together three top-10’s in his last four events, including last week in Phoenix.

Joburg Open Betting Preview

Charl Schwartzel

Charl Schwartzel (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Charl Schwartzel headlines a massive field in South Africa this week, as the European Tour heads to Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club for the Joburg Open.
2013 Joburg Open Open Fact Sheet

  • Course: Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club
  • Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Yardage: 7,237 to 7,592 yards, par 71 & par 72
  • Defending Champion: Branden Grace
  • Five Consensus Favourites: Charl Schwartzel, George Coetzee, Branden Grace, Richard Sterne and Danny Willett

TV Schedule:

  • Thursday – 11:00 AM to 2:30 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Friday – 11:00 AM to 2:30 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Saturday – 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Sunday – 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM ET (Golf Channel)

In what will likely be the biggest field of the year on any major tour, 210 players are set to tee it up this week. Unfortunately for the European Tour, most of the world’s best are either taking the week off or are at Pebble Beach for the AT&T Pro-Am. As we’ve seen a couple of times already this season, the tournament will be played on two separate courses, with players alternating between the West and more difficult East course in the first two rounds before playing the weekend on the East.
The weather isn’t expected to be great for the event, with rain in the forecast and below average temperatures. Assuming the conditions don’t bother the players too much, you can expect low scores as the difficulty of both courses tends to skew to the easy side. In the six years that the event has been held, the winning score has been higher than 15-under par only once.
Key Storyline This Week
In most events that he plays, Charl Schwartzel is one of the best players in the field. Of the 210 players in the field this week, he’s the only one ranked inside the top-20 in the world, and fellow South Africans Branden Grace and George Coetzee are the only others inside the top-50. These are the events that he should go out and dominate if he wants to be mentioned among the truly elite players in the game. Now, he has won his last two events, and has finished in the top-5 in each of the last four times that he’s teed it up. When you combine that with the fact that he is a former two-time champion of this event, and outside of missing the cut last year, he’s never finished outside of the top-20 on the course, you’d think that he’d be one of my suggested plays this week, but he’s not.
I’m a little concerned about the near two-month layoff between events, and to be honest, there’s no value with him anywhere right now. In most places, I’m seeing him at roughly 3-1 to win the whole thing, and even though it’s likely that he does come through this week, it doesn’t seem like it’s worth it to even bother with putting money on him.
Suggested Plays
George Coetzee (Best Odds 8.5-1 at Coral)
One of these days, I’m going to write something about Coetzee getting his first European Tour win, and it’ll likely happen sooner rather than later. He nearly had that win two weeks ago in Qatar before Chris Wood took him down, and since missing the cut at the PGA Championship in August last year, he’s really only had two poor events, finishing in the top-15 in nine of twelve tournaments. He’s had decent performances here in the past, and he was a multiple time winner on the Sunshine Tour in and around the Johannesburg area.
Branden Grace (Best Odds 9.5-1 at Betfair)
Much like Brandt Snedeker on the PGA Tour, Grace is simply playing too well to ignore. He won the event last year, and has placed in the top-7 in all three events he’s played on the European Tour so far in 2013. I don’t usually like taking defending champions in events because repeating is a rarity, but I really think Grace represents the best chance of winning this week.
Danny Willett (Best Odds 30-1 at Stan James)
Willett always plays well in South Africa, finishing outside of the top-20 in all events in the area just once in seven events since 2009. That includes a pair of fourth-place finishes in this event, as well as a T-14 last year. He missed the cut last week in Dubai, but he had been playing well before that. 30-1 seems like a great price for an each-way bet.
Robert Rock (Best Odds 35-1 at Betfair)
I was a week early on Rock when I thought he would do well again in Abu Dhabi, but he found some form last week in Dubai with a nice T-7 finish. This is really just a case of trying to find a little bit of value with a player who is simply better than most in the field. If he’s healthy, which he says he is, he should be near the top of the leaderboard this week.

Mickelson cruises to Waste Management win

Leader Phil Mickelson teeing off on the 18th h...

Leader Phil Mickelson teeing off on the 18th hole at TPC at Sawgrass during the final round of the 2007 Players Championship. Mickelson bogeyed the hole but still won the title by two shots. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Phil Mickelson’s opening round 60 set the tone for the whole week, as the four-time major winner never relinquished the lead en route to his 41st PGA Tour victory, and third at TPC Scottsdale.
What happened
As we documented on Thursday, Mickelson came perilously close to joining the rare “59 Club” in his opening round. He had to settle for an opening round 60, and was never ahead by less than three strokes at any point when he was on the course. I actually said to a few co-workers on Thursday that I thought he was going to give up the lead pretty quickly because I thought he’d have a tough time in Friday’s second round off of such a great day on Thursday. When he fired a second round 65, it was all over. He was driving the ball far too well, and his accuracy with his irons and putting was incredible. When he last won this event in 2005, his GIR was 62.5%, and this week it was 87.5%. His putting? He gained 1.85 strokes over the field this week. Brandt Snedeker led the PGA Tour last year with an average of 0.86 per event. Mickelson was so good this week, you can pretty much ignore how bad he was in his first two events of the year.
The Stupid Thing Johnny Miller Said This Week
With Jim Nantz and CBS doing the Super Bowl this week, NBC took control of the weekend coverage. Mickelson switched drivers this week to Callaway’s new RAZR Fit Xtreme, and he was tremendous with it, hitting tons of fairways all week. Of course, Johnny Miller has been a Callaway endorser since the early 90’s, and whenever a Callaway athlete has a successful week, we are treated to endless love for the company and product line from NBC’s lead analyst. With Mickelson’s driving this week, Miller started selling the product harder than ever.
I guess he’s just doing his part for the company that pays him, and it was worth noting that Mickelson switched clubs for this week, but Miller certainly didn’t need to be ram it down our throats as much as he did on the weekend.
The PGA Tour’s new social media policy
I’ve avoided comment on this for the past couple of weeks, but the idiotic policy change by the PGA Tour to attempt to silence the play-by-play of their events on Twitter was magnified on Thursday afternoon. For those unaware, the PGA Tour sent out a memo to all journalists covering the Tour that basically said that live play-by-play was now going to be banned, and those who disobeyed were going to have their access revoked. They later eased up a little bit saying that one tweet per hole was going to be allowed. The reason behind this, allegedly, is that the PGA Tour thinks that the tweets are taking away from their coverage on and their Shot Tracker.
Shot Tracker can be a useful tool, when it works. Unfortunately, it provides little in the way of context and is frequently unreliable when it comes to, you know, actually tracking shots. In a sport that is struggling to maintain its relevance in the North American sports scene, the most prolific organization in the world is trying to stop people from discussing its game and all of the great things about it. The worst part about the whole thing is that I’m not even surprised. Every negative stereotype that you can project about golf and its governing bodies comes to fruition with this policy, and it just shows once again how out of touch they are with reality. They’ve been getting ripped non-stop in the media, but so far, they haven’t really relented.
Now, Mickelson’s chase for 59 on Thursday was a big deal. Golf Channel cut away from their regular programming to jump in early, and my Twitter feed was getting pretty excited about the whole thing. The other reason I know it’s a big deal is because of the way my office reacted. I work in sports media, but golf is never the focus, especially on Thursdays of non-majors. Everyone was glued to the TV when Mickelson approached the 18th tee and it was magnified even more when he stepped up to attempt his putt that lipped out. Events like that are what Twitter was made for, and it’s when Twitter is at its best.
Trying to stop people who want to talk about the game from talking about it is about as asinine as it gets, but hey, it’s their decision. Can you imagine the NFL implementing something like this for the Super Bowl? Of course you can’t, because there’s no way that the NFL would ever do something that stupid.
Padraig Harrington’s field goal
Padraig Harrington was one of the many players this week to have a little fun with the fans on the 16th. One of Harrington’s sponsors is Wilson, who is the official manufacturer of the footballs used in the NFL, so in Saturday’s third round, Harrington decided to attempt a field goal into the crowd. For someone who has allegedly never kicked or thrown a football, he actually did pretty well. Video below:

Other notes from the tournament

    • I don’t have a ton to say about Vijay Singh’s PED use or his withdrawal from the event this week with “back soreness”. What I will say is this: Vijay is either the dumbest person on the planet for not thinking there could be something illegal inside deer antler spray, or he thinks that we’re stupid enough to believe he’s innocent. Much like other sports, I’m simply tired of the whole discussion. Let me know when someone more relevant in the golf world is caught with something.
    • Mickelson’s dominance is going to overshadow his performance, but Brandt Snedeker had a tremendous week. Rounds of 64-66-65-65 gave him his second consecutive runner-up finish. In fifteen rounds played this year, only one has been over par.
    • Pat Perez was DQ’d after Friday’s second round for signing an incorrect scorecard.
    • Lastly, we didn’t see anything too crazy at the 16th this week, but take a look at the below image. Always come prepared to heckle at TPC Scottsdale.

Gallacher gets second European Tour win in Dubai

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.
What happened
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.

GIFS: Phil Mickelson’s lip-out for 59

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.

01.31.13-Phil-Lip-Out-1 01.31.13-Phil-Lip-Out-2 01.31.13-Phil-Lip-Out-3 01.31.13-Phil-Lip-Out-4

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.

Waste Management Phoenix Open Betting Preview

Kyle Stanley

Kyle Stanley (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

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

TV Schedule:

  • 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.

Dubai Desert Classic Betting Preview

Deutsch: 23. BMW International Open bei Muench...

Deutsch: 23. BMW International Open bei Muenchen Golfer Sergio Garcia. Durch Fotomontage wurde ein Mikrophon zum Golfball umfunktioniert. Partielle Aufhellung durch Benutzer –Cornischong; Ballfälschung Usien (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

TV Schedule:

  • 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.
Suggested Plays
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 dominates Torrey Pines for first win of 2013

A view of Tiger Woods as he walks off the 8th ...

A view of Tiger Woods as he walks off the 8th green at Torrey Pines during this morning’s practice round at the 2008 U.S. Open in San Diego, CA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.
What happened
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:
Tiger's punch on 4
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 hangs on to win in Qatar

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.
What happened
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.