Donaldson comes from behind to win in Abu Dhabi

Tourism Minister Presents Irish Open Trophy

Tourism Minister Presents Irish Open Trophy (Photo credit: DUP Photos)

For three days, it appeared likely that Justin Rose would pick up his 14th professional victory this week in Abu Dhabi. Rose carried a two-shot lead into Sunday’s final round over Welshman Jamie Donaldson, who’s a quality player in his own right, but certainly doesn’t have the credentials of Rose.
 
What happened
 
Rose carried a two-shot lead into Sunday, but never seemed to be in form. Every time he got something going with a birdie, a bogey seemed to be around the corner. Neither he or playing partner Thorbjorn Olesen could keep ahead of Donaldson, who made five birdies before approaching the par-5 18th. Donaldson missed a short four footer for par, leaving the door open for both Rose and Olesen to make birdie and get into a playoff. Both men would miss birdie putts, with Rose’s lipping out from eight feet. You can watch full highlights of Sunday’s final round here. Donaldson spoke after the round to EuropeanTour.com

“It’s pretty surreal really, I’ve played really good all week although I’ve got away with murder up the last,” said Donaldson.

“I thought one of them would hole if not both, but when both putts slipped by it was my week.

For Donaldson, it’s his second European Tour victory, with the first coming last July when he took the Irish Open. It also moves him inside the top-30 in the world rankings, which may surprise some considering his relatively low profile in North America. The win also makes him exempt for another couple of years on the European Tour into 2015, and includes invites to the WGC events this season. One more interesting tidbit about Donaldson: In the last four years, he’s entered the final round within five shots of the lead 17 times, and he’s ended up in a worse position at the end of the tournament in all but three of those events. This obviously helps that number a little bit.
 
Of course, Donaldson’s win will fade into the background considering what happened earlier in the week, so let’s try and make sense of what happened to Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
 
Tiger Woods’ two-shot penalty causes a missed cut

So, a quick primer for those who aren’t aware: Woods hit his tee shot on the fifth hole in Friday’s second round way right and into some bushes. When he approached, he was of the opinion that the ball was embedded, allowing him to take a free drop. There was no rules official on the hole at the time, so Woods called over Martin Kaymer, who agreed that it was embedded, and Woods proceeded to drop his ball, chip back into the fairway and make his bogey.
 
Two reporters, Rex Hoggard of Golf Channel and Alistair Tait of Golf Week, sought clarification on the ruling from senior rules official Andy McFee. McFee, who was unaware of the situation at the time, went to investigate and determined that Woods broke rule 25-2 which states that a player cannot get relief due to a ball plugged in sand. For clarity, here’s where Woods drove his ball. Knowing that Woods was near the cut line, McFee approached him after he teed off on the 11th, and let him know that he may be getting penalized two shots for what happened on the 5th. Woods went on a good run on the back, but a bogey on the 17th did him in, and he ended up missing the cut by one stroke after being assessed a two-stroke penalty.
 
First off, let’s get one thing out of the way: Woods should have known better, and called a rules official over to the site. Throughout all of Woods’ struggles in recent years, he’s never been known to have a brain fart on the course. In this case, it’s all on him to get the correct ruling. If he does, it’s a one-stroke penalty, and he’s still playing on the weekend. With that said, I still have a problem with how it played out.
 
The idea of people calling in rules violations has always been a contentious one in the game, but it usually involves spectators, not working journalists. Hoggard and Tait may have been seeking clarification, but whether they wanted to or not, they became part of the story. As far as I can tell, their job is to report on what happened, and this falls outside of that area. Non-rules officials calling penalties, especially ones like this where Woods, Kaymer and Rory McIlroy were of the opinion that the right thing was done, is wrong. What actually makes it worse is that Tait didn’t even mention in his story for Golf Week that he was involved in the decision. Like I said, it really falls on Woods to make the correct call here, but there’s still something wrong with how it played out. Let’s move on.
 
Rory McIlroy misses cut as well, switches out Nike putter
 
An interesting little subplot developed in Friday’s second round. After a dreadful opening round 75 where McIlroy made 31 putts, he decided to change putters because he didn’t feel comfortable with the weight of the Nike Method on the greens at Abu Dhabi GC. The switch to his old Scotty Cameron is interesting only because of McIlroy’s recent switch to Nike, and his refusal to answer a question about it prior to the tournament getting underway. At his over the top introduction by Nike this week, McIlroy was asked if he had the freedom to switch putters if he wasn’t comfortable, something that Woods has done in the past. McIlroy refused to answer the question, saying that he wasn’t going to go into the specifics of the contract.
 
This being the first week where McIlroy has been a Nike athlete, you’d have to think that Nike wasn’t overly thrilled when their new acquisition decided to drop their product after one poor round on the greens. The switch didn’t really help him though, as he still made 30 putts on Friday before missing the cut at 6-over par. For what it’s worth, McIlroy will be just fine, no need to worry about him and the Nike clubs.
 
Awful shot(s) of the week
 
Well, we might as well keep going on the Woods/McIlroy theme here. These both come from the opening round. First, Woods:

He would go on to make bogey after probably the worst shot of his professional career. I still like how a “stone-cold top” from Woods runs out almost 200 yards, whereas if I did one of those, I’d only be walking about 50 yards before hitting my second.
 
Now McIlroy:

 
McIlroy tried to hit a cut here, and well, it didn’t cut.
 
Final notes about the event:

  • It’s the first regular European Tour event where Woods has missed the cut.
  • The missed cut by McIlroy in his opening event of the year is the first by a world number one in a season debut since Nick Faldo in 1994.
  • Tough start to the season for Robert Rock. After finishing near the bottom of the heap last week, the defending champion had to pull out this week due to illness.
  • On the flip side, Thorbjorn Olesen had a nice bounce back after struggling in his first event as a new Nike athlete. Expect big things for the Dane this season after this week’s T2.
  • Englishman David Howell actually had a share of the lead in Sunday’s final round until he four-putted the 13th green. The worst part? It was from four feet out.
  • Amateur Sohail Al Marzouki finished dead last this week after posting scores of 81 and 90 before missing the cut. The 20-year old is one year away from graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, and doesn’t appear to be too interested in the game, saying that it’s really only a hobby for him. Well, with scores like that, it’s a good thing that he’s close to getting that degree.

Humana Challenge Betting Preview

San Diego's favorite son pitches one of only a...

San Diego’s favorite son pitches one of only a handful of shots taken around the 18th green during Tuesday’s practice round (his only practice round) at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, CA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Humana Challenge, formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic, used to carry a lot of weight on the PGA Tour. Hope attached his name to the event in the mid-60’s, and attracted not only the best professional golfers, but also the highest profile celebrities to come play at his event in the pro-am format. Back then, it was a big deal to see Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and former United States president Dwight Eisenhower tee it up with the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Billy Casper.
 
However, much of that has changed in recent years with many of the high profile golfers, such as Tiger Woods opting to avoid the pro-am format, which generally produces longer rounds and more crowd attention. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi event is also running this week, one of the events that has no problem with paying allegedly astronomical appearance fees for a player like Woods. With all that said, the field for this week’s Humana Challenge is better than it’s been in recent years, headlined by the 2013 season debut of Phil Mickelson.
 
2013 Humana Challenge Fact Sheet

  • Course: PGA West (Palmer Course and Nicklaus Course) and La Quinta CC
  • Location:  La Quinta, California
  • Yardage: 6,924 to 7,060 yards, par 72
  • Defending Champion: Mark Wilson

TV Schedule:

  • Thursday – 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Friday – 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Saturday – 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Sunday – 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)

The Humana is played on three separate courses, with the Palmer Course getting the final round assignment this season. Typically, the players go insanely low here. In fact, there hasn’t been a score higher than 15-under par since Casper posted that number in 1969. As John Wunder noted in his preview for GolfWRX, the winners of the event over the past twelve seasons have posted an average of 66.29 strokes per round, which means that we’re looking for players who have the ability to go low, and get there fast. The forecast is calling for nothing but sunshine and very little wind, so in all likelihood, we’re going to see multiple players around the 20-under par number by the time the tournament ends on Sunday.
 
Key Storyline This Week
 
Phil Mickelson starts his 2013 campaign at the Humana, and all eyes will be on him. He turns 43 in June, and it’s tough to pinpoint what to expect from him this season. He had a win and seven other top-10’s last year, and he was arguably the best player for the Americans in the Ryder Cup, but he has fallen to 19th in the world rankings. It was over fifteen years ago when Mickelson was that low in the rankings. He’s got one win in each of the last three seasons, all at comfortable venues like Pebble, Augusta and Redstone. He’s still going to be a force on the PGA Tour, the question is how much of one.
 
Suggested plays
 
Five favourites according to the books: Snedeker, Kuchar, Clark, Mickelson, Simpson
 
We had a good week at the Sony Open, with both Tim Clark and Charles Howell III coming in on each-way bets. We’ll try to keep it going with five suggested plays this week at the Humana.
 
Phil Mickelson (Best Odds 16-1 at Bet365)
 
I know I just wrote about how Mickelson could be on the downswing, but I still think he’s got the most talent of anyone in the field this week. He’s a two time winner of the event, and has been known to be a quick starter in the past. His ability to go low is well known, and he hasn’t had a bad event by his standards since August. This is one of the few places where I think you can still bet him with confidence, especially on an each-way.
 
Tim Clark (Best Odds 16-1 at Betfair)
 
I usually hate backing players in consecutive weeks, but everything sets up great for Clark this week. He’s played the Hope/Humana three times, and has two runner-ups and a fifth. Combine that with his second place finish last week, and you’ve got a guy who’s got the right form to pick up a win. His ability to hit tons of fairways was strangely absent last week, but I’d expect that to jump up a little this week. His second career PGA Tour win could come in California.
 
Robert Garrigus (Best Odds 26-1 at Betfair)
 
This is the perfect event for Garrigus, and he’s had success here in the past, finishing as the runner-up to Mark Wilson last year and having a 14th place finish in 2009. I say it’s the perfect event because of the less than stellar field, and when Garrigus is hot, he’s as good as anyone in the game. The one thing that gives me pause with picking Garrigus every week is that he’s an awful putter, ranking 146th last year in strokes gained putting. Still though, 26-1 is a nice price in a subpar field.
 
Pat Perez (Best Odds 50-1 at Bet365)
 
Much like Clark, Perez only has one career PGA Tour win, but it did come at this event in 2009. If you ask any player on the PGA Tour who has done the least with the most talent, Perez would be right at the top of the list, but the man who has struggled with injury and anger management issues had a nice finish last week at the Sony, tying for ninth. Of his 37 rounds at the Hope/Humana, only four of them have been over par, and if he’s serious about calming himself down on the course, he could be someone to watch in 2013. I like him as an each-way bet. Of course, if he does calm down, we’ll probably see less of this:
 

 
John Senden (Best Odds 61-1 at Betfair)
 
I thought the Australian-born Senden was going to have a breakout year in 2012, and while that didn’t happen, he still had six top-10’s, including one at the Humana. He’s got three top-10’s here in his career, and he was pretty good at Waialae last week, breaking par in every round. If he can keep putting like he did last week, he could be ready for that breakout in his age 41 season.
 
Other things to watch:

  • How does Russell Henley respond after winning his first PGA Tour event last week? It’s been a few years since the golf world was that impressed with a rookie, and there’s going to be a lot of focus on the University of Georgia standout.
  •  

  • Ryo Ishikawa played in an insane 39 events worldwide in 2012, and the young Japanese phenom recently got another invite to the Masters this season, despite limited success. When playing against lesser competition in Asia, he’s been solid but that hasn’t translated to North America. It was a little contentious when he got the invite this year, so a couple of good finishes in North America would go a long way to re-establishing him globally.
  •  

  • Tournament organizers caused a bit of a fuss last week when David Duval was denied an exemption into the event, despite firing his legendary 59 at the 1999 event. Expect to hear more about this during the week.
  •  

  • Speaking of former champions that people haven’t heard of in a while, Mike Weir and Jesper Parnevik are teeing it up this week. Weir was cut last week in Hawaii, but had a pair of decent rounds before the weekend, while Parnevik was recently announced as the latest athlete signed by Puma Golf.

Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship Betting Preview

Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Tiger Woods in Abu Dhabi.

Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Tiger Woods in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy: European Tour Twitter account @European_Tour

Now that the pomp and circumstance regarding Rory McIlroy’s decision to switch over to Nike is complete, we can focus on this week’s marquee golf event, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. As you can see from the picture above, star power will not be lacking this week as both McIlroy and Tiger Woods will be making their season debuts in Abu Dhabi. A loaded field has made the journey overseas to join the Nike duo, including Ernie Els, Justin Rose, Jason Dufner, and three-time winner of this event, Martin Kaymer.
 
2013 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship Fact Sheet

  • Course: Abu Dhabi GC
  • Location: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  • Yardage: 7,600 yards, par 72
  • Defending Champion: Robert Rock

TV Schedule:

  • Wednesday – 10:30 PM to 8:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Thursday – 11:00 PM to 8:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Friday – 10:00 PM to 8:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Saturday – 10:00 PM to 8:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)

The first thing to note about Abu Dhabi GC is the length. The course is an absolute beast, measuring in at 7,600 yards, which is almost 1,000 yards longer than last week’s Volvo Golf Champions at Durban GC. You’d think that would place a premium on driving distance, but going back to 2008, a player in the top-5 in driving distance that week has come away victorious only once. However, the leaders in par-4 scoring have won in four of the last five years at the event.
 
Chris Card, the General Manager of Abu Dhabi GC told Sky Sports’ Dave Tindall that the course is in fantastic shape, just like it’s been in the past. Typically when you see that, the winning score gets lower and lower. Robert Rock’s winning score of 13-under par last year was the highest winning number in tournament history, a full eleven shots behind Martin Kaymer’s 24-under par total from 2011. The rough hasn’t been grown out as high as it was last year prior to the event, so you can expect the score to jump back up a few shots. While the course itself isn’t known for its difficulty level, it is one of the more visually appealing courses out there, with great views of the surrounding landscape. Also helping to keep the scores low this week should be the weather, as there’s nothing but sun and little wind in the forecast.
 
Flyovers for each hole are in the below playlist:
 

Key Storyline This Week
 
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have once again “randomly” been paired up for the opening two rounds of the event, so the bromance will continue for at least the first two days. The focus is always on them when they play in an event, but they’ve been paired with Martin Kaymer, who has won this event three times and also has a solo second. It won’t shock anyone to see Kaymer outscore both Nike men this week. The trio tees off at 7:40 AM local time, 10:40 PM ET, which falls right into Golf Channel’s broadcast window.
 
Suggested plays
 
I’m not crazy about either McIlroy or Woods this week, but if you’re interested they are currently sitting at roughly 5-1 an 7-1 respectively. If I had a suggestion on either, I’d lean slightly towards Woods.
 
Martin Kaymer (Best Odds 10-1 at Bet365)
 
It’s hard to not like Kaymer this week. Yes, he missed the cut here last year, but that was when he was going through a rough patch of play, including a swing change that he finally started to feel comfortable with near the end of last season. He was inside the top-11 in four of his last seven events in 2012, and had a decent showing at the Ryder Cup, which included hitting the winning putt for Europe. As I said above, three wins and a second in this event, but he also loves the area with a second and two fourth place finishes at the Dubai Desert Classic. He’s being overshadowed by Woods and McIlroy this week, which is exactly how he likes things.
 
Justin Rose (Best Odds 16-1 at Betfair)
 
I’m assuming that the reason you can get Rose at 16-1 is based on him never playing the course, but the number is too high for a player with his ability. He’s undoubtedly the third best player in the field behind Woods and McIlroy, and he does have a pair of runner up finishes previously in the area, along with six top-10’s in his last ten events worldwide. Great value, especially on an each-way bet for one of the best players in the world.
 
Paul Casey (Best Odds 30-1 at Bet365)
 
This one will probably come back to haunt me, but I really like Paul Casey this week. He’s won the tournament twice in the past (2007 and 2009) and had a good run last week in South Africa. It’s hard to believe that someone this talented has fallen to 121st in the world, but most of that can be attributed to injuries. There’s no better place for him to make a statement about where his game is than somewhere he’s comfortable, and Abu Dhabi GC is that place.
 
George Coetzee (Best Odds 47-1 at Betfair)
 
Coetzee might be the most anonymous player inside the top-50 in the world, but the guy can flat out play. He doesn’t have a win on a tour larger than South Africa’s Sunshine Tour, but he does have twenty top-10 finishes in the last three seasons, including two last year in the UAE. I don’t think he gets his first win this week, but he’s a great each-way bet at that price.
 
Thongchai Jaidee (Best Odds 94-1 at Betfair)
 
This is my dartboard special, and it’s based purely on form. Jaidee has five top-10’s in his last six starts, including last week in South Africa. He’s also been inside the top-15 four times at Abu Dhabi GC, and has enjoyed prior success in the area. The field’s pretty stiff this week, but an each-way bet at 94-1 represents some really good value.
 
Other things to watch:

  • The most underrated performance of last week? Padraig Harrington in South Africa. He ended up with a solo 4th at Durban, and it went so far under the radar that I didn’t even mention him in my recap. He hasn’t won a tournament since the 2008 PGA Championship, and didn’t play for Europe in the Ryder Cup at Medinah in September, which he has mentioned as a motivating factor in getting his career going again. He hasn’t exactly struggled recently, but this was just the start he needed to 2013, and he’s in the field this week in an event where he’s had success in the past.
  • When Robert Rock won this event last year, he came from relative obscurity. The win moved him from 117th to 55th in the world rankings, but he hasn’t had a great time since the victory, as he’s fallen all the way back to 104th. If he’s looking to get back on track, this could be the week.

Rory McIlroy officially signs on with Nike

Tourism Minister With Rory McIlroy at Irish Op...

Tourism Minister With Rory McIlroy at Irish Open 18th Tee (Photo credit: DUP Photos)

The worst kept secret in golf was finally made official today, as Rory McIlroy has signed on with Nike. It is a head to toe deal, meaning that McIlroy will switch from Titleist equipment, as well as his apparel sponsors, most notably Oakley and Jumeirah. The terms of the deal aren’t official, but rumours suggest it’s a ten year deal worth roughly $200-250 million. The announcement happened at a lavish ceremony in Abu Dhabi where McIlroy is set to begin his 2013 season on the European Tour’s next stop, the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
 
McIlroy, currently the world’s number one ranked player, becomes the biggest catch for Nike in a massive offseason makeover. Up and coming players Kyle Stanley, Nick Watney, Thorbjorn Olesen and Seung-Yul Noh joined the fold a few weeks ago, and the addition of McIlroy seriously strengthens a brand that already included Tiger Woods, as well as other top players like Carl Pettersson, Charl Schwartzel and Francesco Molinari.
 
So, what does it all mean? Outside of being financially secure for the rest of his life, not a whole lot should change for McIlroy. Now, when we first started talking about this a few months ago, there was a suggestion that McIlroy could struggle, at least initially, with the new gear. Other players have struggled in the past with equipment changes, and we’ve actually seen this recently with both Stanley and Olesen having less than stellar debuts this season with Nike gear. In McIlroy’s case, I don’t think it’ll be an issue. We’re talking about a generational talent, who at 22 years old, already has ten wins worldwide and two majors. He’ll be fine. Equipment changes happen in the industry all the time, and if you look at the two widely assumed best players of the last twenty years, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, they did just fine when they left Titleist as well.
 
Of course, if he does start to struggle, expect the media to be all over him for this switch. People seem to forget, but last year before McIlroy confirmed his place as the world’s best player, he struggled by his standards in the middle of the season. After finishing tied for second at the Wells Fargo in early May, he was cut in four of his next five events. Someone or something had to be to blame, and so there was focus placed on McIlroy’s new relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. Throughout, McIlroy handled the situation with class, insisting that his bad run had nothing to do with Wozniacki, and it was just something that happens from time to time. Sure enough, McIlroy was just fine, as he reeled off four wins, five other top-10’s and a solid performance at the Ryder Cup after that stretch. As Bubba Watson says frequently, golf is hard, and I think sometimes people, especially those who are inside the game and get paid to talk about it, forget that.
 
Ultimately, it’s on McIlroy to prove that he’s worth the money that Nike is throwing at him. The good news is that we won’t have to wait long before we can see him with his new Nike gear, as the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship gets underway Wednesday night at 10:00 PM ET on Golf Channel.
 

Henley impresses in Sony Open victory

Picture 4

Russell Henley in Saturday’s third round. Courtesy: PGATour.com

So far in 2013, two established names have come away victorious worldwide in Dustin Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen, and while Russell Henley isn’t at that level yet, the rookie from Georgia made quite an impression on the golf world by winning Sunday at the 2013 Sony Open.
 
What happened?
 
Henley played all four rounds with fellow rookie and good friend Scott Langley, and the two dueled for all four days at Waialae. The rookies shared the lead going into Sunday’s final round, setting a new 54-hole scoring record of 17-under par 193. The pair seemed to find a comfort level playing with each other, something that Langley relayed to Stephanie Wei after Saturday’s third round:

“We kind of have that common bond out there, and you can see it, I think, when you see both of us play.  We’re having fun, we’re smiling, we’re happy to be here.  So I think that helps us play good.  We’re definitely just excited about the opportunity and just cherishing it.”

Unfortunately for Langley, the momentum on Sunday only seemed to continue for Henley. Langley opened the final round with a bogey on the first, while Henley birdied. Langley bogeyed the 7th, and despite birdies on 9 and 10, he just never seemed to get it going. Tim Clark, who played the final round with the two rookies, was on fire all day, but couldn’t catch Henley. When the group made their way to 17, Clark drained a birdie putt to get within two shots, but Henley matched him, and the look on Clark’s face was priceless. Clark knew he threw everything he could at Henley, but it didn’t matter. Pure shot after pure shot, and incredible putting made catching Henley nearly impossible. Henley would go on to birdie the 18th, firing a final round 63 and picking up his first career PGA Tour win.
 
Key shot of the tournament
 
Henley’s approach into the 16th green after a horrendous drive was the type of shot that you don’t expect to see out of a rookie. He was actually so far left off the tee that he almost went out of bounds. Being in Hawaii, Henley’s only shot to get the ball near the green was to go real high over the palm trees. He stuck it within twelve feet, and calmly drained the birdie putt.
 
Notes about Henley and the win

  • Henley became the first rookie to win his first start on the PGA Tour since Garrett Willis won the 2001 Tucson Open.
  • This victory for Henley was no fluke. The 23-year old was a standout at the University of Georgia, and he does have three Web.com Tour victories under his belt, including two last season. Everyone knew he was going to have success on the PGA Tour, but no one expected it to come this fast.
  • What struck me most about Henley originally watching him on Thursday was his resemblance to Brandt Snedeker. Not only does Henley look like him, but he plays like him too. The short, quick practice putts, his mannerisms and how fast he plays are hallmarks of Snedeker’s game.
  • Henley’s been on fire too. He actually hasn’t had a round over par since September 21st, 2012, a run of 20 consecutive under par rounds.
  • The win also gives Henley a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and an invite to this year’s Masters.

The stupid thing Johnny Miller said this week
 
No video or player calling out Miller this week, but NBC’s lead analyst still managed to upset some people in Australia. During Saturday’s third round, Miller was commenting on American Scott Piercy, when he broke into an Australian accent:

He was mistaken for Aussie golfer Cameron Percy, and while Brenton might be letting him off the hook, he really shouldn’t be. First off, he should know that Piercy isn’t Australian, but even if he was, what’s the deal with the accent?
 
Also from Miller this week, he and Gary Koch wondered on the air why South Africa’s Rory Sabbatini wasn’t playing on the European Tour’s stop this week, the Volvo Golf Champions, since the tournament was being held in Sabbatini’s homeland. Of course, the Volvo is much like the PGA’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions in that it’s an exclusive field event, based on last year’s winners and those who have ten European Tour victories. Miller’s been accused in the past of not knowing enough about the global game, and this certainly falls into that category.
 
Other notes from the Sony Open

  • I doubt that it’ll get lost in the shuffle, but Tim Clark’s week was phenomenal, especially his final round 63. When I suggested him as an each-way bet this week, I didn’t think he’d go as low as 20-under par. If he’s finally healthy, he’s someone to watch this season. He only has one win on the PGA Tour, but this was his 11th runner-up.
  • Between Henley, Chris Kirk and Harris English, there were three University of Georgia Bulldogs inside the top-10 this week.
  • The human ATM machine, Matt Kuchar, picked up a T-5.
  • Interesting week for John Daly, who ended up making the cut but finishing last thanks to a third round 79. Sounds like typical JD stuff, but he apparently hurt himself on the sixth, leading to a triple bogey:

The next PGA Tour stop will be the Humana Challenge, getting underway on Thursday morning.

King Louis reigns in South Africa

English: South African golfer Louis Oosthuizen...

English: South African golfer Louis Oosthuizen at the Valle Romana Open, Marbella, Spain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The final result shouldn’t be a surprise considering he was the favourite in the books, but Louis Oosthuizen picked up his tenth professional victory this morning in South Africa, winning the Volvo Golf Champions in his native South Africa. The win will actually move Oosthuizen two spots in the Official World Golf Rankings, jumping over Adam Scott and Justin Rose into 4th. It’s been a meteoric rise for Oosthuizen since winning the Open Championship in 2010. The man with arguably the sweetest swing in the game right now, who after winning a car in Friday’s pro-am asked tournament organizers to switch it out for an excavator, is now sitting behind only Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Tiger Woods in the OWGR.
 
It wasn’t the easiest win for Oosthuizen after firing a third round 74, with an ugly front nine 40. Scott Jamieson actually carried a five-shot lead going into the final round on Sunday, and considering his recent form with a win and a third place finish last month in South Africa, it should have been wrapped up for Jamieson. As we saw last year on the PGA Tour though, the 54-hole lead doesn’t guarantee anything. It was as much about Oosthuizen winning today as it was Jamieson losing it. Jamieson’s only real professional victory happened last month, and by the looks of things on Sunday, he never really looked comfortable with the lead, knowing that Oosthuizen was chasing after a front nine 32. Oosthuizen was in the clubhouse with a two-shot lead, watching as Jamieson approached the 18th, needing an eagle to force a playoff. Jamieson nearly holed out from the gallery, leading to an easy tap-in birdie, but it wasn’t enough, as Oosthuizen held on for a one-shot victory. Jamieson will be fine in the long run, and he’s got his 2013 schedule off to a great start with a win and two other top-5’s. For Oosthuizen, who blew three 54-hole leads himself last season, it’s obviously the exact result he wanted to start his year.
 
Other notes on Oosthuizen courtesy of the European Tour:

  • Oosthuizen’s form has really been on point recently. The win gives him his fifth top-six in his last six events.
  • It’s the third consecutive season in which Oosthuizen has won the first event of his season.
  • His first come from behind victory.

A few final thoughts on the event:

  • Nicolas Colsaerts is a freak of nature. When people think of the longest hitters in golf, the players that immediately come to mind are Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson, but the Belgian Bomber is the current kingpin when it comes to driver distance. Last year, Colsaerts averaged 318.3 yards off the tee, and he put that on display in Thursday’s opening round. The below image comes from the par-5 3rd hole. For the record, both him and Ernie Els made birdie, so it wasn’t a massive advantage for Colsaerts.
  • Thongchai Jaidee, who was right up there with Oosthuizen and Jamieson all week, actually held up pretty well. It’s his first top-10 finish in the last two years when he’s been in the top-10 after the opening round. It seems like a random stat, but when you’re 0-9 in that regard previously, it’s a nice thing to be able to hold up for four consecutive days.
  • I touched on this in my tournament preview, but I was really interested to see how Thorbjorn Olesen performed this week, seeing as how it was going to be the first event he played with new Nike gear. We saw Kyle Stanley struggle with that in Hawaii last week, and it looked to get Olesen too. His rounds of 75-72-74-71 placed him third last in the field, ahead only of Jbe Kruger and Jose Maria Olazabal. Olesen’s too good to be affected by this for long, but at least he’s having some fun with it:
  • After a tough start with an opening round 74, Paul Casey rebounded nicely with three consecutive 69’s. After ending last season with some solid performances, Casey could finally be getting some of his form back. He’s one to watch this year. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that he was ranked inside the top-10 in the world.
  • The same goes for Matteo Manassero, who started tough but finished with three rounds under par and picked up a T-9. The 19-year old is the best young player in the world not named McIlroy.

Speaking of McIlroy, he’ll be in the field next week along with Tiger Woods in Abu Dhabi for the HSBC Golf Championship. The TV coverage in North America starts Wednesday night at 10:00 PM ET on Golf Channel.

Volvo Golf Champions Betting Preview

English: South African golfer Louis Oosthuizen...

English: South African golfer Louis Oosthuizen at the Telkom PGA Championship, Fourth round. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In addition to the Sony Open this week, the European Tour plays their first event of the 2013 calendar in South Africa. The Durban Country Club hosts the Volvo Golf Champions, a semi-exclusive 33 player field comprised of last year’s winners in Europe and those who have at least ten European Tour victories in their career. It’s a little lacking in terms of star power for the casual golf fan, but there are plenty of interesting players to talk about this week.
 
2013 Volvo Golf Champions Fact Sheet

  • Course: Durban Country Club
  • Location: Durban, South Africa
  • Yardage: 6,734 yards, par 72
  • Defending Champion: Branden Grace

TV Schedule:

  • Thursday – 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Friday – 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Saturday – 7:00 AM to 11:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Sunday – 7:00 AM to 11:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)

 
The Durban Country Club is one of the best courses in South Africa. It’s been around since the 1920’s, and as you can see from the above yardage, it’s very short. You don’t find many professional courses that play under 7,000 yards anymore, but Durban is one of the most unique courses in the world. It was built on sand dunes, causing some of the wildest undulations that you’ll ever see.
 

 
Many players won’t take driver out of the bag until late in their rounds because of how narrow the fairways are, and when you combine that with the massive undulations all over the course, what you get is a place that puts a premium on accuracy and genuine shot making. Ernie Els once said that “Durban is one of those special courses which test every club.” It’s one of my favourite courses to watch on TV too, as you don’t get to see this type of course often enough worldwide.
 
In most books, native South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Ernie Els are the top favourites. At roughly 5-1 for Oosthuizen and 7-1 for Els, I’d like to see a little more value there. I think one of them wins the event, especially with their prior form at Durban. The two have combined for two wins, a third, and three other top-15’s, but there isn’t enough there for me at those odds. Let’s look at some suggested each-way plays for this week.
 
Francesco Molinari (Best Odds 16-1 at Sporting Bet)
 
Molinari is one of the most accurate ball strikers in the world, and he should be able to do well at Durban. His only prior experience at the course led to him finishing 43rd in 2005, but he’s a way better player now than he was then. The only thing that’s giving me a little hesitation is his putter, but if he can get hot on the greens, he could be in the winner’s circle on Sunday. I think he ends up finishing inside the top-5.
 
Matteo Manassero (Best Odds 20-1 at SkyBet)
 
Manassero might be the best young player in the game, depending on your definition of young. The 19-year old Italian picked up his third European Tour victory a couple of months ago in Singapore, one of his seven top-10’s last season. Despite being a short hitter at just over 274 yards on average, Manassero hits a ton of fairways. My bet is that Manassero adds at least one more title to his collection in 2013.
 
Robert Rock (Best Odds 50-1 at bwin)
 
Rock finished fifth in the 2010 South African Open, but that’s not my logic here. 50-1 is simply too high for a player of Rock’s calibre, and if you look at the players around him on the board, something’s off. No offense to Danny Willett, Thongchai Jaidee and Richie Ramsey, but none of them are as good as Rock. It could be a long shot, as the oddsmakers are usually on top of this stuff, but it seems too high.
 
Other things to watch:

  • Branden Grace’s 2012 season wasn’t a fluke by any means, but his four wins kinda came out of nowhere. It’ll be interesting to see if he makes the real jump to star status in 2013.
  • Thorbjorn Olesen is one of the best young players in the world, and he recently moved to Nike. Kyle Stanley was dreadful in Hawaii this week, and Nick Watney also struggled at times with the new Nike gear. Olesen should be fine going forward, but I won’t be surprised if he struggled in the early going.
  • This will be Retief Goosen’s first tournament after having back surgery. He hasn’t won worldwide since the 2009 Transitions, and only has three victories since 2006. At 43 years old, he could be nearing the end of the line if he can’t stay healthy. The game is better with a healthy Goosen.
  • What kind of season will Paul Casey have? He was awful last season until about October where he reeled off four consecutive top-20’s. Much like Goosen, a healthy Casey makes the game much more interesting in 2013.

Sony Open Betting Preview

Keegan Bradley reads a putt during the final r...

Keegan Bradley reads a putt during the final round of play. (Photo credit: GoToBermuda)

Thanks to the massive delays this week at Kapalua, we’ve got a quick turnaround for the next stop on the 2013 PGA Tour schedule. The tour stays in Hawaii, as they head to Waialae for the Sony Open. Before we get to the preview, I’ll take a quick look back at last week’s suggested plays.
 

  • Ian Poulter (14-1) Finish: T9
  • Brandt Snedeker (16-1) Finish: 3rd
  • Rickie Fowler (25-1) Finish: T6
  • Jonas Blixt (37-1) Finish: T18
  • Johnson Wagner (100-1) Finish: T13

 
It’s tough to assess anything from last week thanks to the crazy delays at Kapalua, but overall, the results aren’t too bad. When I make my five picks for each event, I try to look for at least a little bit of value, and usually the last pick or two are deep longshots, hence the Johnson Wagner selection.
 
2013 Sony Open Fact Sheet

  • Course: Waialae Golf Course
  • Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Yardage: 7,044 yards, par 70
  • Defending Champion: Johnson Wagner

TV Schedule:

  • Thursday – 7:00 to 10:30 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Friday – 7:00 to 10:30 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Saturday – 7:00 to 10:30 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Sunday – 7:00 to 10:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)

 
Waialae plays shorter than most professional courses at just over 7,000 yards, but it usually presents a stiff test. As Rob Bolton of PGATour.com points out, the wind is usually a factor, as well as the exceedingly difficult to hit fairways. Last season, players were only hitting the fairway roughly 46% of the time. For comparison sake, last week in tough conditions, Dustin Johnson was last in fairways hit at roughly 53%. On the flip side, Waialae presents some the easier par-5’s on tour, so those who can take advantage, preferably from the fairways, will likely be able to pick up the most strokes. There are two other stats to keep in mind as well when talking about potential winners this week:
 


 
For what it’s worth, there are 26 players in the field this week that satisfy both of those criteria.
 
Dustin Johnson is the heavy favourite this week, coming in at 10-1 in most places, with Keegan Bradley around 17-1. Of course, Johnson won the first event on the 2013 PGA Tour calendar just yesterday, coming away victorious at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He’s probably the most talented man in the field, but winning in back-to-back weeks is a rarity in the pro game. In the last ten years, only six players (McIlroy, Woods, Mickelson, Singh, Els, Perry) have pulled it off. It’s understandable that he’s listed where he is, but I have a tough time believing that he gets it done in back-to-back weeks.
 
My suggested plays are listed below. All each-way, with the exception of the first one.
 
Keegan Bradley (Best Odds 17-1 at Bet365)
 
I’ve been trying to figure out why Bradley’s listed so low on many power rankings for this week, and aside from an injury that I’m unaware of, it doesn’t make sense to me. He had a good week at Kapalua, and he’s one of the most talented players in the world. He hits enough fairways, is one of the best putters in the game and usually takes advantage of the par-5’s. His T-13 last year was decent, and he should be in position to make the next step.
 
Charles Howell III (Best Odds 23-1 at Bet365)
 
I thought last year was going to be the breakout season for Chucky Three Sticks, but it didn’t really materialize. I’m backing him again to start 2013, but it’s mostly because of his ridiculously good track record at Waialae. In 11 events, Howell has six top-5’s, with three of those happening in the last four years. Howell’s big wish to qualify for the Masters in his native Georgia, and picking up a win here would get him that spot.
 
Zach Johnson (Best Odds 24-1 at Betfair)
 
Johnson’s a former winner of the event with a 15-under par triumph back in 2009, but he hasn’t had much success here outside of that. However, he should have gotten a little rust off by playing at Kapalua and his combination of hitting fairways and making putts is rivaled by very few players.
 
Tim Clark (Best Odds 26-1 at bwin)
 
The little South African struggled in the early part of 2012 due to his recovery from elbow surgery, but he had a strong finish to the season with five top-15 finishes from June on. He usually plays well at Waialae, with three top-25 appearances, including a T-2 in 2011. We mentioned above how hitting the fairway is of the utmost importance at Waialae. Since 2009, Clark hasn’t ranked lower than 4th in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour.
 
Graham DeLaet (Best Odds 151-1 at SkyBet)
 
Obviously we’re looking at really long odds here, but DeLaet is getting zero respect. He’s had two decent finishes at Waialae in the past, with a T-25 and a T-29. His opening round 63 last year gave him the first round lead before failing to keep it up over the final three days. He had three top-10’s last season, and that 63 tells me that he can go low on this course. At 151-1, there’s too much value to ignore on an each-way bet.

Dustin Johnson wins the Hyundai Tournament of Champions

Dustin Johnson

Dustin Johnson (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Well, it may have taken five days and a Tuesday finish, but the 2013 Hyundai Tournament of Champions is finally over. Dustin Johnson came away victorious, despite a few scares in the final round.
 
What happened?
 
For days, it looked like we wouldn’t see a conclusion at all to the first tournament on the 2013 PGA Tour season, with heavy winds postponing play for the first three rounds of the event. After sensibly shortening the event to 54 holes, they played 36 yesterday and completed the final 18 this  afternoon. For the most part, Johnson was at the top of the leaderboard, holding a share of the lead after the first round and taking a three shot advantage over Steve Stricker heading to today’s finale.
 
Despite the three shot lead, it didn’t look at all certain today. First, Brandt Snedeker came charging, playing his first six holes in 5-under par before bogeying the next three. His decent run on the back-nine netted him a solo third. Then, Stricker got back within one with some solid play of his own, but it was Johnson who let him back in. Johnson bogeyed the ninth, and after making birdie on 12, he double bogeyed the 13th. This streak led Stricker to get within a shot, but Johnson would chip in for eagle on the 14th and added a pair of birdies down the stretch to seal it at -16. Click here to view the final leaderboard.
 
Other notes on Johnson from the win:

  • His 53.3% driving accuracy was last in the 30-man field, but he did end up 2nd in both driving distance and GIR. (Courtesy: Mike McAllister)
  • The win moves Johnson into 12th in the Official World Golf Rankings.
  • It’s Johnson’s 7th win on the PGA Tour, and oddly, he’s won the last three events that have been shortened to 54 holes.

Lastly on Johnson’s play this week, what was interesting was his course management. Stricker touched on this in his post-round interview with SI’s Stephanie Wei:

Of course, this is nothing new with Johnson. His course management has always been one of his weak points, but Stricker’s right that in some ways it can be a positive. Johnson won’t get phased out there when something goes wrong, which is a pretty important thing to have as a golfer.
 
Non-golf related scoring news
 
So, apparently Johnson is dating Instagrammer/”actor”/”golfer”/mermaid Paulina Gretzky. Good to see that he’s caught a break after dating Amanda Caulder and Natalie Gulbis. I’m sure the two will have LOTS to talk about. For his part, Johnson is playing the unconfirmed confirmation card:
 


 
The stupid thing Johnny Miller said this week
 
I’m hoping this will become a regular feature of the tournament recaps this season, and with Miller, there should be plenty of candidates. It figures that this starts off with a big one, and we’ve got video:
 

 
The audio is kinda difficult to hear thanks to the crazy wind, but Adam Fonseca of SBNation has the full quote:

“You just can‘t stay over the putt that long, you got to get in there, line it up and hit it,” Miller said as Poulter danced his way around the putt. “He surely doesn’t have the Tom Watson attitude so far, he’s afraid he’s going to hurt himself and that would probably set the game back 20 years.”

The part I like about it is the five or six seconds of dead air after the comment before Dan Hicks steps in. Someone obviously told Poulter about the comment, so he fired back on Twitter:
 


 
It’s not the first time Poulter and Miller have gone at it, and it probably won’t be the last. Both are at fault here though. Poulter, as he’s wont to do, was being dramatic both on the course and on Twitter, and the idea that he asked Miller to say that to his face without, you know, saying anything to Miller directly is laughable, but Miller’s “set the game back 20 years” remark is a little out of bounds. Everyone was frustrated by the situation at Kapalua this week, from the fans to the players to the broadcasters, and predictably, nothing was mentioned on the broadcast yesterday. My guess is cooler heads prevailed, but don’t expect either guy to change at any point soon. They both definitely contributed to the blowing wind at Kapalua.
 
Tough start for Kyle Stanley with Nike
 
It’s tough to judge players in these conditions, especially with all of the stops and starts this week, but Kyle Stanley was certainly hoping for a better performance this week in his first tournament as a member of the Nike Golf family. Stanley’s final round 72 was decent, but opening with a 78 and an 80 isn’t what he or Nike wanted to see.
 
Tantrum of the week: Bill Haas
 
Bill Haas is one of the most mild mannered players on the PGA Tour, but he had a tough week. As most players saw, Kapalua’s greens can be a little inconsistent at times and getting the speed right was difficult. Haas is an average putter by PGA Tour standards, but this week, he finished last in putting and didn’t make one over 7.5 feet. After missing another short one on Tuesday, Haas did his best Lionel Messi impersonation.
 

Been there.
 
Stricker perseveres through pain
 
We know Steve Stricker is severely cutting back on his schedule, and despite finishing second this week, we got a good glimpse at one of the reasons why. Yes, Stricker wants to spend more time with his family and work on his new foundation, but the man is in serious amounts of pain when he plays. He’s got nerve trouble, and was having problems with the entire right side of his body all week. The Plantation Course is a tough walk as it is with the undulations, but combine that with Stricker’s health and all of the starting and stopping, and it’s amazing that he played as well as he did. It’s never good to see a player lying down in the middle of the fairway to stretch, but that’s exactly what Stricker had to do in the second round to stay loose. If I had to bet, we’ll see more of Stricker than he lets on, but the man clearly needs to get healthy. Unfortunately, it means that we won’t get to see one of the best in the world very often anymore.
 
Sergio takes the week off and plays poker
 
So, Sergio Garcia was eligible to play at Kapalua by way of his win at the Wyndham in August, but he chose not to attend. He was keeping himself busy though, as he played in a $10,000 poker tournament in the Bahamas.
 
The PGA Tour stays in Hawaii this week, as the Sony Open gets underway in just two days, while the European Tour plays the third tournament in their schedule, with the Volvo Golf Champions from South Africa.

David Duval won’t play at the Humana Challenge

David Duval

David Duval (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

In 2013, David Duval not playing in a PGA Tour event should hardly qualify as news, but last night, he dropped some info on Twitter that surprised many in golf circles.
 


 
Now, the reason this is important is because the Humana Challenge, formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic, is where Duval fired his legendary 59 in the final round of the 1999 event. Duval is one of only five players in the history of the PGA Tour to post such a number, and it obviously means a great deal to him, considering that it’s part of his Twitter handle. It should mean a lot to him. It’s one of those things that he’ll always be remembered for, right up there with winning the Open Championship and being ranked as the number one player in the world.
 
Unfortunately for Duval, he’ll also be remembered for his spectacular fall from the top of the game. That Open Championship win in 2001 was his last victory on the PGA Tour, and he’s actually only had nine top-10’s since that win at Royal Lytham. Duval has had a myriad of issues that have kept him away from the course over the years, whether it was injury, lack of desire, and when his wife became ill, but he has always made time for the Humana, playing in the tournament every year since that win, with the exception of 2004. Of course, it’s because of his struggles over the years that he doesn’t have a guaranteed spot in the event, or many others for that matter. For the most part, he’s relying on exemptions to play in an attempt to get his game back on track.
 
Admittedly, it’s a little strange that they didn’t grant him an exemption. Most past champions of any event are usually given an exemption without any hesitation, but there’s no rule that says they are guaranteed a spot. Of course, each tournament is different. In 1999, the year Duval won, the Humana/Hope changed their exemption rules. Prior to Duval’s win, tournament champions got a lifetime exemption to the event. That changed to a 10-year exemption in 1999, and Duval has been given a special exemption to play in the last three years.
 
Last year, former Masters champ Mike Weir was denied an exemption into the Northern Trust despite winning the event twice in 2003 and 2004, and let’s not forget the Ernie Els exemption nonsense from the Masters last year when he was passed over for Ryo Ishikawa. Els hasn’t won a green jacket, but many were shocked when Augusta National decided to pass him over for the young Japanese phenom. My point is that if you want to play on the PGA Tour, there’s really only one way to guarantee that: play well. The fact is, last year Duval played in 17 events worldwide and his finishes looked like this:
 
T60, 66, T66, 13 cuts, 1 WD.
 
More to the point, since winning in 1999, he’s got one top-10 at the Humana/Hope, and that was in 2000. We’ll never hear the reasons behind who was granted an exemption to the event, but the tournament organizers clearly think that a spot in the event is better used for another player. For what it’s worth, Duval doesn’t seem to be complaining about it. He’s understandably a little frustrated, but he gets that it’s on him.
 

 
I like Duval, as do most people who follow the game closely. Once he’s decided to quit playing, he’d be a great fit on any golf broadcast, if he so chooses. He’s an intelligent, witty guy, who would certainly be a breath of fresh air when compared to some of the guys currently on NBC, ESPN, CBS and Golf Channel, but until he does decide to quit, he’s probably going to run into more of these scenarios. There are lots of people who are pulling for him, and he’s apparently close to signing a new deal with Nike, reuniting him with the company that helped turn him into a star over a decade ago. Maybe this setback will help spur him on, but at the very least, it’s an interesting storyline to follow early in the 2013 golf season.