Charlie Beljan is not a well-known golfer. Inside golf circles though, he’s known as a pretty honest guy who gives good quotes, something which is sorely lacking in a game that, to most people, is seen as about as fun as going to church. Golf needs more players who are willing to speak their mind instead of providing canned quotes and PR driven responses.
This brings us to Sunday night. Beljan had just finished up his tournament, losing in a playoff against John Merrick, and he was asked about the par-4 10th, the second playoff hole which ultimately decided the event. His response:
For those unaware, the 10th is a drivable par-4 where extreme accuracy is required with deep bunkers guarding the front and back of the green, and a narrow point of entry. With Merrick safely in the fairway after laying up with an iron, Beljan proceeded to step up and hit driver. It went well left of the green, and with the thick kikuyu, Beljan really didn’t have much of a play outside of chipping out sideways with the hopes of two putting and forcing a third playoff hole. Merrick two-putted for par, while Beljan took three shots to finish the hole, and the tournament was over.
I don’t have a problem with a player coming out and criticizing the courses they play on. In fact, I wish it happened more often, but in this case, it comes across as petty after a loss. The 10th at Riviera is a classic risk/reward type hole, where very few players successfully drive the green. Many of the players were asked this week about the hole, and to a man, they all said they’d be happy with par and to go on to the 11th tee.
Now, after seeing Merrick find the fairway with a layup, Beljan obviously thought he saw an opening, and he tried to take advantage. So far this week, Beljan came away with two birdies and two bogeys when playing the 10th, so he knew the risks involved with hitting driver. He made a bad swing and paid dearly for it, and he certainly didn’t have a problem with the hole on Thursday and Saturday when he made birdie. I’m fully aware that we criticize athletes for being boring and then blast them for being controversial, but this is what can happen on holes like this. I’d be upset too if I had just threw away $475,200, but he’s got nobody to blame but himself.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Beljan’s words have riled up the golf community. Last August, his target was President Barack Obama. After this, his Twitter account was deleted before rebooting it a couple of months later.
Much like his political beliefs, I’m betting that he’s going to be a little more careful with what he says going forward on the golf course. We should be happy to see players speak their minds, but in the case of Charlie Beljan, silence might be the best path to take.
John Merrick defeated Charlie Beljan in the second playoff hole at Riviera to take the 2013 Northern Trust Open. It’s the first PGA Tour victory for Merrick, the Long Beach native who used to play Riviera on a regular basis, and grants him his first berth in the Masters since 2009.
As usual at Riviera, it didn’t come down to what we expected when the day began. The “name” players, such as Bill Haas, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson, ended up fading away, making room for Merrick and Beljan. Haas entered Sunday’s final round with a three shot lead and looked to be in control through the first six holes, as he made it through in 1-under par. Bogeys would follow on five of the next seven holes, and his two late birdies weren’t enough to salvage the round for the defending champion. Fredrik Jacobson, who got into the WGC-Accenture Match Play next week when Brandt Snedeker pulled out a few days ago, looked solid for most of the day before pulling his tee ball left on the 18th and proceeded to miss a short four footer for par that would have got him into the playoff.
On the opening playoff hole, both men headed back up to the 18th tee. Merrick drove his tee ball right into the rough, making it nearly impossible to hit the green in two, but his approach under the trees was miraculous, landing just behind the green. Beljan found the fairway off of the tee, but pulled his pitching wedge from 160 yards, landing just on the edge of the kikuyu rough. Merrick’s chip was decidedly better than Beljan’s, but both ended up making par to extend the playoff to the difficult par-4 10th.
Once on the 10th, Merrick played it safe with an iron and wedged his approach to about 20 feet. Beljan, after seeing Merrick lay up, took out the driver and hit it way left and couldn’t get his pitch to land on the green. Merrick made his two putt, while Beljan couldn’t get his to drop, giving Merrick the victory.
Riviera remains one of the marquee stops on the PGA Tour, but never seems to get the credit that other courses seem to get, probably because it’s been so long since the course hosted a major championship. It really has some of the best holes in golf, especially the par-3 4th and the drivable par-4 10th. It usually attracts the big names, and it did again this week. It’s still a tough enough test to host a major, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another major being brought to Riviera in the future. If Merion can host the U.S. Open this year, surely Riviera can grab a major.
GIFs of the tournament
Both GIFs below come from Saturday’s third round. First, Webb Simpson takes an unusual route to the hole on the par-3 6th green. Even though it doesn’t go in, it’s a pretty impressive putt.
Secondly, Luke Donald put himself in trouble on the 13th off of the tee, but he managed to get himself out of it pretty nicely. I’d try and explan how difficult this shot is, but after the round, Donald actually said that he thought it might be the best shot of his career. That pretty much sums it up I’d say.
- Tiger Woods played a round today with United States President Barack Obama and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane. Of course, Golf Channel made it out to be an event of national importance, as they do with pretty much every one of Woods’ moves. Rich people played golf when they had some free time. It’s not a news story, stop making it out to be something of value.
- Another tough week for Dustin Johnson, who missed the cut for the second week in a row, and tweeted this before his second round:
— Dustin Johnson (@DJohnsonPGA) February 15, 2013
I know that he’s had a bit of a tough run since winning the opening event of the year, but someone might want to tell Johnson to be a little more careful with what he tweets. When most of the people who follow you on Twitter don’t play golf for a living, or have access to the things that you have based on your admittedly deserved success, they don’t usually take too kindly to you complaining about your lot in life.
- I didn’t write anything about it this morning because I didn’t get a chance to watch any of the event, but Darren Fichardt managed to capture the Africa Open today by two shots over Gregory Bourdy and Jaco Van Zyl.
- Even though they’d probably tell you otherwise, nice showing from Adam Scott and Luke Donald in their first events of the year, finishing at -6 and -4 respectively. Can’t say the same for Graeme McDowell, who missed the cut by one stroke.
- On the other end of things, very disappointing for both Matt Kuchar and Sergio Garcia who looked to be on-point after the first round. Kuchar opened with a 64 to lead the event, with Garcia just one behind after a 65. Garcia ended up tied for 13th, while Kuchar fell way down the board, with rounds of 73-74-73 to end up tied for 38th.
- Merrick has one of the nicest looking swings on the planet, meanwhile Jacobson looks like he has no business on the course at times. My favourite story about Jacobson is how the European Tour players always say that he’s the best 10-handicapper in the game.
- Even though he pissed all over himself on 18, I wouldn’t want to play Jacobson next week at the Match Play. He’s going to get one of the top players in the world, but they haven’t played in weeks. Could be a good upset pick, especially considering his good run of form.
- Tough way to end for Charl Schwartzel, who caught some bad breaks all week, and just missed birdie putts on both 16 and 17. Ended up just one shot back, and has finished inside the top-5 in each of his last six starts worldwide.
- Want to know how difficult a course really is? Look at the players who miss the cut, and that’s a pretty good indicator. This week at Riviera: McDowell, Johnson, Charles Howell, Nicolas Colsaerts, Tim Clark, Zach Johnson, Brendon de Jonge, Geoff Ogilvy, Padraig Harrington, Bubba Watson, Bo Van Pelt and Bud Cauley.
My first round of golf with my own clubs came when I was 15. I had been to driving ranges numerous times, listened to my dad and other family members talk about the game, and I grew up at the beginning of Tiger Woods’ stranglehold over not only the game, but the entire sporting world. I remember watching him and 19-year old Sergio Garcia go head to head at Medinah in 1999 and being mesmerized. I wanted to play, and when I got those clubs (a starter set of Virage’s) I couldn’t have been more excited. Then I got out there.
I was terrible, and worse yet, I had absolutely zero patience for the game. I played every sport growing up, and was actually pretty good at most of them, but I couldn’t get the hang of golf and my temper on the course couldn’t be contained. Throwing clubs, swearing, taking chunks out of the ground after bad shots; you name it, I did it. There’s a reason I’m on my fourth putter entering my tenth year of play.
I know that Lydia Ko started playing much earlier than myself, but watching her play the professional game with ease at 15 is astonishing. Of course, she isn’t the first teenager to come along and hang with the adults. She has said on numerous occasions that Michelle Wie is her idol, and Lexi Thompson has had some success as well, with three wins on her resume at only 18 years old, but Ko is better than both of them. The idea that someone could be this good at 15, both physically and mentally, is still a bit of a shock to the system.
She picked up her third win in a professional event last week in New Zealand, which combined with her two wins last year, has moved her to 30th in the world rankings, and given her one more professional win than Wie. Granted, it probably says something about the state of the women’s professional game that a 15-year old amateur can be ranked that high, but there’s no denying her talent, which was on display again yesterday. This week, she joined the field for the opening event of the 2013 LPGA season, the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open at Royal Canberra. She was paired with Wie and World Number One Yani Tseng. Ko opened with a first-round 63, and currently sits with a one-shot lead.
The mainstream media seems to be ignoring the story, unlike when Wie and Thompson were making waves. If she goes on to win this week in Australia, we’ll probably start to see the coverage ramp up a bit. Of course, the golf media is all over it which is both good and bad. Yesterday, we saw the bad when a quote from Wie was taken out of context. When asked about Ko and if she should turn pro sometime soon, Wie offered this remark, courtesy Golf Channel:
“I have no advice for her,” Wie said. “Turning pro or not turning pro, going to college, not going to college, it’s a very personal decision. It’s not something someone can say: `I think you should turn pro. I think you should stay an amateur. I think you should do this or that.’
“It’s her life; it’s her career. When I turned pro, I really wanted to turn pro. That was a very personal decision for me. I really wanted to do that, and I have no regrets. I hope she makes the right decision for her. Whatever decision she makes, it has to really just be on her and what she wants to do.”
Several outlets, including Golf Channel, simply led with the “I have no advice for her” line, and left it at that. I think if Wie was being honest about the whole thing, she would have changed up how her turning pro was handled, but there’s nothing wrong with what she said. What else is she supposed to say? If she comes out and says she should or shouldn’t turn pro, she gets ripped into for that comment as well.
In any event, the story won’t be going away anytime soon. If there’s anything that we’ve learned from paying attention to golf in recent years, it’s that no matter the age of the player, you can find success at the pro level. Whether it’s Thompson and Ko, or Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, the age of the player has no bearing, positively or negatively on the outcome. My one hope in this case is that we don’t get obsessed with comparing Ko to other players. Don’t focus on saying she’s the next Sorenstam or Woods or whoever, just let her play and enjoy the fact that we are watching a really talented player, regardless of age.
After playing at Pebble Beach last week, the PGA Tour heads to another iconic venue this week as Riviera Country Club plays host to the 2013 Northern Trust Open.
2013 Northern Trust Open Fact Sheet
- Course: Riviera Country Club
- Location: Pacific Palisades, California
- Yardage: 7,349 yards, par 71
- Defending Champion: Bill Haas
- Five Consensus Favourites: Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel, Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott
- 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 to 6:00 PM ET (CBS)
- Sunday – 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM ET (Golf Channel) & 3:00 to 6:30 PM ET (CBS)
Riviera CC is often referred to as a thinking man’s course, where every club in the bag is required and superior ball striking is rewarded. This is probably due to the narrow fairways and tiny greens, where one mistake can really end up costing you. Riviera is a lot like other courses in that when the wind is up, the difficulty spikes significantly. Last year, Bill Haas ended up winning at 7-under par in tough conditions, which was the highest winning score of any non-major event in 2012, but prior to that, winning scores have gotten to 20-under par. Luckily for the players this week, the wind isn’t expected to get above 10mph.
Riviera houses several signature holes on the challenging layout, but here are five to keep an eye on:
Par-3 4th (236 yards)
Ben Hogan called this the best par-3 in America, and while I’m not sure that’s still true today, it’s right up there. It plays long at 236 yards and has a massive bunker guarding the left-hand side of the green. In the last five years, the handicap on the hole has been 2-4-5-4-2, so most players will be happy to get away with four pars here this week.
Par-3 6th (199 yards)
The 6th would be a standard par-3, but it’s famous for having a bunker right in the middle of the green. It’s one of those things that you either love or hate, with those who hate it suggesting that it’s nothing more than a gimmick. At the very least, it can provide some interesting shots depending on where players leave themselves, and where the pin is located on that day.
Par-4 10th (315 yards)
The 10th is a definite swing hole. With the short distance, the green can be driven, but extreme accuracy is required with deep bunkers guarding the green. Those who successfully drive the green will have a huge advantage, but if they miss, they could take themselves out of the event.
Par-4 15th (487 yards)
The 15th is the longest par-4 on the course, and is consistently one of the toughest holes on the layout. Most players will have to hit a power fade to avoid the bunker on the right side of the fairway, but if they can do that, they should be set up pretty well for an approach into the largest green on the course. It’s not easy once you get on the green though, as it is multi-tiered, which can lead to some very difficult two-putts.
Par-4 18th (475 yards)
The closing hole at Riviera is one of the most recognizable finales in all of golf. The tee shot is uphill and completely blind to the players, and finding the fairway is pretty much required to hit the green in two shots. The green sits in a bowl with the clubhouse on top, creating an amphitheater like atmosphere around the closing hole.
Key Storyline This Week
A trio of big name players are making their 2013 season debuts this week. We last saw Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell at the DP World Championship last November, while Adam Scott played in the Australian Open in the first week of December. Donald and Scott have both had success at Riviera, with Scott winning this event back in 2005 when it was shortened to 36 holes due to rain. I’d be surprised if any of them pulled out a victory this week, especially when you consider that this is probably the best field that we’ve seen worldwide in 2013, but obviously you can’t count out players with their ability. By the way, the PGA Tour has decided to group them together for the first two rounds.
Sergio Garcia (Best Odds 20-1 at Bet365)
When we last saw Garcia, he was doing this to a bunker in Dubai:
Despite that tantrum above, he’s actually one of the hottest players in the world right now, with six top-10’s in his last nine starts worldwide, including a pair of wins. He usually plays well at Riviera too, only finishing outside of the top-25 twice in seven career starts, and if it wasn’t for a second-round 76 last year, he would have finished higher than a tie for 4th. If you ask anyone inside the game, they’ll tell you that there are very few players who know the game like Garcia, which is probably one of the reasons he’s always made mention of how much he loves playing here, since it’s not a place where you can just do whatever you want. There’s no reason why you should be able to get him at 20-1 this week, so jump on it.
Charl Schwartzel (Best Odds 23-1 at Pinnacle)
Brandt Snedeker has been the best player in the world over the past few weeks, but Schwartzel is a close second. He hasn’t finished outside the top-5 in any of his last five events, including two wins and a runner up finish last week at the European Tour’s Joburg Open. The one thing that’s giving me pause about him is that he’s never played at Riviera, which is usually a bad sign at a course that makes you think about every shot, but you just can’t ignore a player who’s running this well. Until he has a bad performance, put your money down on him with confidence.
Jimmy Walker (Best Odds 33-1 at Pinnacle)
Walker isn’t as hot right now as Schwartzel, but he does have a pair of top-4 finishes in his last three events, and he has had success here before, finishing tied for 4th in each of the last two years at the Northern Trust. He also loves playing in the California area, as he has eight top-10’s in his last ten events in the held in the state. He’s really starting to consistently appear on the leaderboard, and it seems like this is a spot where you can get him at good value considering the strength of the field.
Kevin Stadler (Best Odds 66-1 at bwin)
Stadler’s been under par in 13 of his 14 rounds on the PGA Tour this year, and was great last week at Pebble Beach, finishing in a tie for third, and if you look at his past at Riviera, he’s under par in 14 of his 18 rounds there as well. He’s a very good ball striker, and finds enough fairways that he shouldn’t put himself in too much trouble. My concern would definitely be in his sub par putting, but he’s been better so far in 2013.
Peter Hanson (Best Odds 67-1 at BETDAQ)
Much like Schwartzel, Hanson’s never played at Riviera, but it still doesn’t make any sense that a player of Hanson’s caliber is available at 67-1. He’s been playing pretty well to start 2013, and unlike Stadler, he’s one of the best putters in the world. It’s simply too good of a price to pass up.
J.B. Holmes (Best Odds 113-1 at Betfair)
Granted, J.B. Holmes has been awful for months, but this price is way too high with his track record at Riviera. In six appearances, he’s finished outside the top-12 only once. Like I mentioned with Greg Owen last week, sometimes guys are just so comfortable at a course that it’s difficult to explain. Holmes being comfortable at Riviera doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, but it just works. He won’t win this week, but a strong finish seems likely.
- Fred Couples makes one of his rare PGA Tour appearances this week. He won this event back in 1990 and 1992, and has loads of top-10 finishes at Riviera, but he shouldn’t really be a contender at this point in his career. Not that he needed the help to draw a crowd, but he has been paired with Bubba Watson and Lee Westwood for the first two rounds.
- Arron Oberholser is attempting another comeback this week. He played only two tournaments last year due to injury, and those two were his first since October of 2009.
If you thought last week’s field for the Joburg Open was lacking in big names, you clearly haven’t looked at the field for this week’s stop on the European Tour, the Africa Open.
2013 Africa Open Fact Sheet
- Course: East London Golf Course
- Location: East London, South Africa
- Yardage: 6,691 yards, par 73
- Defending Champion: Louis Oosthuizen (not in field)
- Five Consensus Favourites: Thomas Aiken, Jaco Van Zyl, Ricardo Santos, Garth Mulroy and Joost Luiten
- Thursday – 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Friday – 9:00 AM to 12:30 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)
As you can see from the list of favourites above, it’s not pretty for the European Tour this week. You can bet that tournament organizers were hoping for a better turnout, at least from the local South African stars. Defending champion Oosthuizen is taking the week off, and so is Branden Grace, George Coetzee and last week’s winner Richard Sterne, and the other prominent South Africans, including Charl Schwartzel, Ernie Els, Tim Clark and Retief Goosen are all playing this week at the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust Open.
Despite the short length of the course, it actually plays to a par-73, a rarity amongst today’s courses. The East London Golf Club was built in 1893, and unfortunately, hasn’t really held up to the standards of difficulty that are present in the modern game. In the three years that this event has been held, we’ve seen winning scores of -20, -16 and -27. The fairways are about standard in terms of width, but because most of the course features a heavy treeline, the naturally windy section of South Africa really doesn’t become much of a factor. The course has smaller greens than most, and they generally play pretty fast, with the expectation that the stimpmeter will run to about 10, which is about USGA standard for the U.S. Open. With the weaker field, I can’t really see the winning total getting to the level of Oosthuzien’s 27-under from last year, but there will be low scores this week.
Suggested Plays (All Each Way)
Ricardo Santos (Best Odds 16-1 at Bet365)
I’m pretty sure that the only reason Santos isn’t the outright favourite this week is because of his poor form on the course, as he missed the cut here last year in his loan appearance. Don’t be turned off because of that though. He’s one of the hottest players in the world right now, and he really hasn’t had a bad tournament to start 2013, including last week’s T-3 at the Joburg. The 2012 European Tour Rookie of the Year looks poised to win again, and in a less than stellar field on an easy track, he seems like a solid bet.
Joost Luiten (Best Odds 22-1 at Betfair)
Much like Santos, Luiten has only played here once in the past and he didn’t really fare that well, ending up in a tie for 28th in 2010. The thing about East London is that it doesn’t really favour any type of particular player. Luiten’s just pretty solid across the board, assuming that he doesn’t put himself in trouble, which he doesn’t do very often, and he did finish inside the top-6 a few weeks ago in Abu Dhabi.
Fredrik Andersson Hed (Best Odds 35-1 at Bet365)
Andersson Hed is actually the only player in the field this week that’s ranked inside the top-100 in the world. He’s a pretty streaky player, but the one thing that never seems to leave him is the putter. It just seems like a decent price for one of the better players in the event, and if it wasn’t for an opening round 74 in 2010, he would have finished much higher than tied for 18th.
Tjaart Van Der Walt (Best Odds 58-1 at BETDAQ)
Van Der Walt was 25-under par in this event last year, and couldn’t get a win thanks to Oosthuizen’s sterling performance. That runner-up finish for Van Der Walt was also his last top-10 result. It might be wishful thinking to suggest that he could do it again this week, but he looked pretty good at the Joburg at times, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see his name near the top of the leaderboard on Sunday.
James Morrison (Best Odds 150-1 at Coral)
I’m basing this selection on one event entirely. Morrison finished tied for fourth in the inaugural Africa Open in 2010, but hasn’t been back since. He’s actually played very little quality golf at all recently, missing his last four cuts and only finishing inside the top-10 once since May of last year, but I’m willing to take a flyer on him at 150-1.
After back-to-back runner-up finishes to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker’s final round 65 was enough to hang on over a slew of contenders, as he won the 2013 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on Sunday. The victory gives Snedeker his fifth career PGA Tour win, and his seventh top-10 finish in his last ten events.
Snedeker entered the final round in a tie for the lead with James Hahn, and even though there were a few moments where it looked possible that he would be caught by either Hahn, Chris Kirk or Jimmy Walker, Snedeker seemed in control at all times. He’s not a big hitter, but he is arguably the best putter in the world, and it showed this week, especially in the final round. His control on Sunday was superb, hitting tons of fairways and greens, and outside of a horrible downhill putt on the 9th, he didn’t make a bad stroke on the greens all day. For all of the complaints about slow play in the game right now, Snedeker is the polar opposite. There is no hesitation, which was really evident when compared to Hahn, who at times looked like he was standing completely still.
After this week, he’s been under par in 18 of 19 rounds in 2013, and there’s no doubt that he’s the hottest player in the world right now. With the win, Snedeker moves into 4th in the Official World Golf Rankings, sitting behind only Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Luke Donald. He’s currently not scheduled to be in the field next week at the Northern Trust Open, but he should be appearing the week after in the WGC-Accenture World Match Play.
1. Brandt Snedeker -19
2. Chris Kirk -17
T3. Jimmy Walker -14
T3. James Hahn -14
T3. Kevin Stadler -14
Chris Berman shows you how not to play a bunker shot…twice
ESPN’s Chris Berman always plays in the pro-am portion of this event and claims to carry a 15 handicap, but this is definitely not the way to play a bunker shot. Watch until the end to see the look of disgust on Berman’s face.
And take two…
Take this as your reminder that we’re not far away from having to listen to Berman at the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. At that point, you’ll be begging to see this instead of hearing things like Justin “Kiss From A” Rose.
The broadcast window
This is by no means a new issue, but if there’s something that the PGA Tour can very easily address, it’s the broadcast window. Every weekend, there’s a half-hour window in which there is no live TV coverage while the action switches to CBS or NBC from Golf Channel. The idea that the viewer can watch the first 90 minutes of TV coverage of the final two rounds, but then has to wait 30 minutes in between is ridiculous. I understand that they are also working on their digital coverage to get more access, but the last thing that any organization should want to do is have people walk away from the TV when the tournament is on.
In Sunday’s final round, viewers missed out on seeing the final group play a pair of holes, including the famous par-3 7th. I understand that there are other issues at play here, but they really should get this sorted out so people can actually watch full, proper coverage on the weekend.
Clint Eastwood is a huge golf fan, and works as an ambassador for the Back9Network. He’s made numerous appearances on CBS over the years, but the one he made this week was definitely the most awkward. For some reason, CBS decided that it was a good idea to have Eastwood appear for the last 45 minutes of the broadcast. After taking a couple of questions from Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo, Eastwood simply had enough of the headset, and took it off.
Nance thinks Clint Eastwood’s headphones slipped off and needs help… twitter.com/jim_thome/stat…
— Jim Thome (@jim_thome) February 10, 2013
The look of horror on the face of Nantz when he realized that Eastwood’s headset was off was priceless.
Other notes about the event
- ICYMI, Phil Mickelson took a bit of a tumble in Saturday’s second round. He was never a factor in the event after winning last week, but he will be in the field at the Northern Trust on Thursday.
- Two surprising missed cuts this week: Dustin Johnson and Nick Watney. In the case of Johnson, he spent the pro-am portion playing with Wayne Gretzky, the father of his girlfriend Paulina. Considering his history here, with two wins and three other top-10’s in six events, his result is definitely the most shocking of the week.
- After finishing in the top-10 twelve times in 2011, Jason Day struggled in 2012, but he’s already got a pair of top-10’s this year. Keep an eye on him in the coming weeks.
This is the second Phil Mickelson GIF post that I’ve
made in two weeks.
This one however, is decidedly more humorous.
In Saturday’s third round at Pebble Beach, Mickelson went looking for his ball and took a bit of a tumble.
Mickelson ended up firing a third-round 73, and sits 11 shots back of leaders Brandt Snedeker and James Hahn.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.