Kuchar outlasts Mahan to win WGC-Accenture Match Play

Matt Kuchar

Matt Kuchar (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Matt Kuchar was able to take down Jason Day and followed that up by defeating defending champion Hunter Mahan in the final on Sunday to claim the 2013 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. The win gives Kuchar an incredible 15-3 record at this event, and improves his overall singles match play record to 15-6 in his professional career.
 
What happened
 
Kuchar played 32 holes on Sunday against Day and Mahan, and outside of two holes early against Day, he never fell behind in either match. Perhaps even more impressively, on a day when the conditions were tough with cold weather and heavy wind, Kuchar was 1-under par while his opponents combined to shoot 6-over. There were times, against Mahan in particular, when it looked like Kuchar would relinquish control but it never came to fruition. The turning point in the final match came on the 17th hole. With Mahan cutting Kuchar’s lead to just one hole, both players drove their balls into the bunker on the right hand side of the fairway. Mahan’s ball was sitting down in the sand, while Kuchar’s was in pretty much the best spot it could possibly be. After Mahan’s approach landed in the shrubs, Kuchar stepped up and stuck one to a few feet, allowing him to take home the Walter Hagen Cup.
 
Much like my regular recaps, I’m not going to give you a shot-by-shot breakdown of the five-day event, as there really isn’t much point in that. Below are my general thoughts on the event as a whole, and what we can expect to see going forward.
 
Ritz-Carlton GC as the host course
 
Obviously there will be tons of focus on the snow delay that basically wiped out the entire first day, and some of day two. Some are calling for the tournament to be moved from the area seeing as how there has been snow activity in two of the last three years, and there are definitely reasons to support that. First off, the players can’t stand the place. Last year, Golf World polled 81 current players on the PGA Tour, asking them to rank their favourite and least favourite courses, with Dove Mountain ranking in as the second-most hated course, ahead of only Liberty National. Obviously the field didn’t suffer, as only Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker were absent from the top-64 players in the world, but you’d have to think it’d make the players happy if they switched the venue. Secondly, for a “world” match play event, it’s kind of ridiculous that it’s only been held outside of the United States once. Perhaps a trip to a world-renowned course like Royal Melbourne or Royal County Down would give the event a shot in the arm.
 
Of course, there are things blocking the moving of the event. Ritz-Carlton is slated to host the event next year, and you’d think that even with the weather-related issues, they’re going to want to keep hosting the event. That might be a moot point if Accenture, the title sponsor of the event, decides to get involved, but it is something to think about before suggesting that the event will be moved. Also, you know that the PGA Tour will want to keep the event within the regular broadcast window, so even though it’s a WGC event, the PGA Tour will probably flex their muscle in this regard, making a move to a place like Royal Melbourne or Royal County Down unlikely.
 
I think what ends up happening is that the event will be moved in 2015, but those hoping that it ventures outside of the U.S. will likely be upset, as the PGA Tour will ultimately get their way.
 
What’s wrong with Dustin Johnson?
 
People are going to start asking about Dustin Johnson, and the rumblings have already started about his relationship with Paulina Gretzky being the cause of his struggles since winning at Kapalua. It’s all eerily reminiscent of the nonsense being spouted about Rory McIlroy’s struggles in 2012 and linking them to his relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. Of course, McIlroy ended up being just fine and while I’m not comparing Johnson to McIlroy in terms of his skill level, people need to be logical about the kind of player Johnson is. He’s always been a streaky player, as evidenced by his record after all of his previous wins:

  • After 2008 Turning Stone: T15, MC, MC, T11
  • After 2009 Pebble: 10th, 1st round WGC knockout, T35, MC
  • After 2010 Pebble: 1st round WGC knockout, T56, MC, T40
  • After 2010 BMW: T22, T9, 3rd
  • After 2011 Barclays: T42, T65, T23, MC
  • After 2012 St. Jude: MC, T44, T33, T9

Yes, he’s struggling. Yes, he’s switched out every club in his bag except his driver in the last two weeks. Yes, he lost to Alex Noren in the first round of the match play this week, but this is something that we’ve seen in the past. It’s difficult to follow up a win on the PGA Tour, especially when you’re as streaky as Dustin Johnson.
 
Rory and Tiger
 
Obviously a big part of the tournament was the first round eliminations of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. I don’t have much to say about either player going out early to be honest, but as usual when a top player goes out early at this thing, there’s standard shock and overreaction. Match play, at its core, is a crap shoot. When you get 64 of the best players in the world together and pit them head-to-head in match play, anything can happen. For McIlroy, it’s only the second event he’s played in this year, and the second with his new Nike clubs. He’s a little rusty, but much like last season, he’s going to be just fine. The GIF below pretty much summed up his day on Thursday. After having to play a shot left-handed just to get into the bunker, the world number one flared his next shot into a bed of cacti.
 
Rory-bunker-flare
 
As it relates to Woods, his match with Charles Howell was one of the last to get underway on Thursday, and there was some discussion as to why Woods didn’t push for the match to be stopped when they were given the option on the 16th tee due to darkness. At that point, Howell was 2-up and it was suggested that considering Woods had never lost a single round against Howell that it’d be a good idea to let Howell sleep on the lead and think about closing him out. The problem, as Woods pointed out to Golf Channel’s Steve Sands, was that he was actually playing quite well. The Woods/Howell group was the only first round match-up to go bogey-free, and Woods thought he had a chance to take it with how well he was playing, but Howell simply outplayed him. Much like McIlroy, there isn’t much to worry about here with Woods, but let’s knock it off with the talk about Woods not being a good match play player. With the loss to Howell, Woods’ record in match play events dropped to 44-14-2, which isn’t too bad.
 
One last note on Woods: his 14 losses in single match play events have come against 13 different players, losing twice to Nick O’Hern. His record against those players while in the same stroke play event? 3005-1142-381, or a 66.3 winning percentage. Full results below:

  • vs. Constantino Rocca: 52-11-3
  • vs. Mark O’Meara: 313-104-33
  • vs. Jeff Maggert: 287-118-53
  • vs. Darren Clarke: 244-98-32
  • vs. Peter O’Malley: 84-27-17
  • vs. Nick O’Hern: 162-37-20
  • vs. Retief Goosen: 304-158-38
  • vs. Chad Campbell: 252-90-30
  • vs. Mike Weir: 383-136-54
  • vs. Tim Clark: 239-81-23
  • vs. Thomas Bjorn: 227-79-21
  • vs. Nick Watney: 174-96-20
  • vs. Charles Howell III: 284-107-37

GIFs of the week
 
First, Graeme McDowell can’t handle the toss from Alex Noren:
 
GMac-catch
 
Secondly, the GIF probably won’t do it justice, but Ian Poulter’s 39-foot snake putt against Steve Stricker on Saturday was ridiculous. It’s tough to explain the level of difficulty involved in hitting one of these, but suffice to say, it’s high.
 
Poulter-snake
 
Other notes on the event

  • With the win by Kuchar, Americans have now won the first eight PGA Tour events of 2013.
  • Do you think Mickelson felt bad about pulling out of the event when he saw how much it snowed? Didn’t think so.
  • Jason Day ended up defeating Ian Poulter in the consolation round on Sunday, although it was pretty much never shown on TV by the NBC crew.
  • Before the Golf Channel switched off of their coverage on Sunday, Kelly Tilghman referred to Kuchar as the “assassin behind the smile”. I know Tilghman takes hyperbole to a new level, but good god, that’s awful. The game of golf would be a lot better off if those who covered it stopped trying to make it seem like more than a bunch of guys whacking a white ball around a field.
  • Lastly, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced during the broadcast that the PGA Tour doesn’t believe that the anchored putting ban, set to be put in place by the USGA and R&A, is the right path to go down. The fact that he announced this during the event is unbelievable, but I’ll have some more thoughts on that later.
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WGC-Accenture Match Play: Round of 64 Preview

English: Luke Donald during The Heritage Pro-A...

English: Luke Donald during The Heritage Pro-Am in Hilton Head, SC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Starting on Wednesday, 64 of the world’s best golfers will tee it up in the 15th annual WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, a Jack Nicklaus-designed course at Dove Mountain in Marana, Arizona. It’s a bracket format, with 32 head-to-head matches taking place on Wednesday and finishing on Sunday. The only players inside the top-64 in the world who are not taking part in the event are Brandt Snedeker and Phil Mickelson. Snedeker pulled out recently with a rib injury, while Mickelson is taking the week off to spend time with his family. Match play events are always dartboard events because each player is so good, that it rarely matters who the better player is in a given match-up. All of these guys can go low, even the 16-seeds, so it’s never an exact science.
 
Below are my thoughts on the 32 Wednesday matches. Two things to note about the data:

  • All odds are from Bet365
  • Stroke Play H2H records go back to 2001, and include events only when they were playing partners.
  •  
    Bobby Jones Bracket
     
    (1) Rory McIlroy vs. (16) Shane Lowry

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: McIlroy leads 2-0
  • McIlroy’s Career Match Play Record: 14-7-1
  • Lowry’s Career Match Play Record: 0-0
  • Odds: McIlroy -275/Lowry +220
  •  
    Lowry essentially got in this event via his win at the Portugal Masters in October, and outside of finishing tied for 9th at the Volvo last month, he’s missed the cut in three of his last four events. McIlroy of course is the best player in the world, but we haven’t seen him since his much ballyhooed Nike debut in Abu Dhabi where both he and Tiger Woods missed the cut. There’s no value with betting McIlroy in this spot, but I can’t really see him losing this match. He’s a far better player than Lowry, and he almost won this event last year, finishing as the runner-up to Hunter Mahan.
     
    (8) Rickie Fowler vs. (9) Carl Pettersson

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Pettersson leads 2-1-1
  • Fowler’s Career Match Play Record: 2-2-1
  • Pettersson’s Career Match Play Record: 1-3
  • Odds: Fowler -162/Pettersson +125
  •  
    Neither player has played in a ton of professional match play events, but Fowler is the obvious play here. Even though he missed the cut in Phoenix in his last start, he did put together back-to-back T6’s prior to that. Pettersson on the other hand has been awful over the last month, never finishing higher than 43rd and withdrawing last week at the Northern Trust with the flu.
     
    (4) Dustin Johnson vs. (13) Alexander Noren

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Tied in only round together
  • Johnson’s Career Match Play Record: 4-5
  • Noren’s Career Match Play Record: 0-1
  • Odds: Johnson -175/Noren +137
  •  
    I honestly think that Johnson either loses to Noren, or he wins this whole thing. He’s been terrible since winning at Kapalua, and while that’s not out of the ordinary for him, it’s kinda tough to predict when he’ll break out of the funk. He’s been switching clubs and putters in recent weeks, which is the telltale sign that a player isn’t comfortable. You might not know much about Noren, but he’s a very good, consistent player who isn’t long off of the tee, but is a good ball striker and putter. I’m probably going to regret this later, but I’m taking Noren to win this one.
     
    (5) Graeme McDowell vs. (12) Padraig Harrington

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Harrington leads 13-5
  • McDowell’s Career Match Play Record: 13-9
  • Harrington’s Career Match Play Record: 22-21
  • Odds: McDowell -120/Harrington -105
  •  
    McDowell and Harrington have taken opposite approaches to start 2013, with Harrington making the Match Play his sixth event of the season, while McDowell made his debut at the Northern Trust, missing the cut. Most of Harrington’s success in match play events came when, not surprisingly, he was playing better golf. He hasn’t won a single match since 2008, while McDowell finished as the runner-up to Nicolas Colsaerts last year at the Volvo. I like GMac to come through despite the lack of events played so far this year.
     
    (2) Bubba Watson vs. (15) Chris Wood

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: N/A
  • Watson’s Career Match Play Record: 5-6
  • Wood’s Career Match Play Record: 0-1
  • Odds: Watson -187/Wood +150
  •  
    Wood finally got his first European Tour win this year at the Qatar Masters, but he’s really up against it here with Watson. Wood should be able to nearly keep pace with the long-hitting Watson off the tee, but he’s widely considered one of the worst putters in Europe and I just don’t see how he’s going to be able to beat Watson over 18 holes.
     
    (7) Jim Furyk vs. (10) Ryan Moore

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Furyk leads 2-1
  • Furyk’s Career Match Play Record: 19-18-1
  • Moore’s Career Match Play Record: 3-3
  • Odds: Furyk -110/Moore -110
  •  
    I don’t have a ton to say about this matchup, to be honest. Moore went on a bit of a run here in 2011 before being knocked out by Luke Donald, while Furyk has only won more than one match in a year once at this event since 2002. Slight lean towards Moore, but won’t be surprised either way with the result.
     
    (3) Charl Schwartzel vs. (14) Russell Henley

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Tied in only round together
  • Schwartzel’s Career Match Play Record: 8-8
  • Henley’s Career Match Play Record: 0-0
  • Odds: Schwartzel -200/Henley +160
  •  
    Since coming from nowhere to win the Sony Open, Henley has gone T56-T67-MC, while Schwartzel continues to be the hottest golfer on the planet not named Snedeker. He’s finished in the top-5 in each of his last six events, picking up two wins. Schwartzel wins in a romp.
     
    (6) Zach Johnson vs. (11) Jason Day

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Day leads 3-1-2
  • Johnson’s Career Match Play Record: 9-11
  • Day’s Career Match Play Record: 3-3
  • Odds: Day -137/Johnson +110
  •  
    Of all of the first round matchups, there’s no bigger contrast in style than this one. Day gets it done with the long game, while Johnson is all about fairways, greens and the putter. At least, that’s the way Johnson usually plays, but that hasn’t been the case in 2013. This year, Johnson ranks 122nd in Strokes Gained Putting, so when you combine that with his driving distance of 264 yards which ranks him last on the PGA Tour amongst qualified players, you can see why he’s struggled. Day on the other hand, is having a nice rebound from a tough 2012. Despite the ranking, the books have made Day the favourite, and rightfully so. Day takes out Johnson in the first round.
     
    Ben Hogan Bracket
     
    (1) Louis Oosthuizen vs. (16) Richie Ramsay

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: N/A
  • Oosthuizen’s Career Match Play Record: 1-5
  • Ramsay’s Career Match Play Record: 0-0
  • Odds: Oosthuizen -225/Ramsay +175
  •  
    There was a thought that Oosthuizen would fade away after winning the 2010 Open Championship, but it’s actually been the complete opposite. He’s picked up four wins and 25 top-10’s since and has jumped all the way to 4th in the Official World Golf Rankings behind only McIlroy, Woods and Donald. Ramsay’s a decent player who hits lots of fairways and greens, but really shouldn’t pose much of a threat to Oosthuizen. Ignore the poor prior record in match play, and take King Louis to advance to the second round.
     
    (8) Branden Grace vs. (9) Robert Garrigus

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: N/A
  • Garrigus’ Career Match Play Record: 0-0
  • Grace’s Career Match Play Record: 1-1
  • Odds: Garrigus -150/Grace +120
  •  
    Much like Furyk/Moore, I don’t have a ton to say here. Anyone who watches the European Tour on a regular basis knows how good Grace is, and when he’s on Garrigus is one of the best players in the world. To be honest, I don’t think Grace is getting enough respect here. Before missing the cut at the Joburg two weeks ago, he had three consecutive top-7’s, and is probably the most underrated player in the game right now. I like Grace over Garrigus.
     
    (4) Keegan Bradley vs. (13) Marcus Fraser

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: N/A
  • Bradley’s Career Match Play Record: 1-2
  • Fraser’s Career Match Play Record: 0-0
  • Odds: Bradley -200/Fraser +160
  •  
    I watch more professional golf than just about anyone I know, and if Marcus Fraser passed me on the street, I wouldn’t have any idea who he was. That doesn’t mean that he can’t beat Bradley, but I have a difficult time putting any faith behind a player who has won once in the last decade. Even though Bradley hasn’t been playing great, he should be an even bigger favourite than he currently is.
     
    (5) Ernie Els vs. (12) Fredrik Jacobson

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Jacobson leads 2-1
  • Els’ Career Match Play Record: 30-21
  • Jacobson’s Career Match Play Record: 2-4
  • Odds: Jacobson -120/Els +105
  •  
    You won’t see many 12 seeds favoured over a 5 in this event, but it’s justified here. Els has one top-10 finish since winning the Open Championship last year, while Jacobson has a pair in the last two weeks. We talked about the contrast in styles with Day and Johnson, but there’s no bigger contrast in swing styles than that of the silky, smooth Els and whatever the hell you want to call Jacobson’s move towards the ball. Els used to be a great match play player, but he hasn’t won more than one match in an event since 2009, and clearly isn’t in the best form. Jacobson is an incredibly streaky player, and he seems to be in the middle of a hot streak, so I’ll be going with Jacobson for at least one round.
     
    (2) Justin Rose vs. (15) K.J. Choi

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Choi leads 6-3-2
  • Rose’s Career Match Play Record: 9-10
  • Choi’s Career Match Play Record: 8-11
  • Odds: Rose -175/Choi +137
  •  
    Last year at this event, Choi was a 4-seed due to him being ranked 19th in the world at the time, but he’s seen quite a fall in the past 12 months. His last win on a major tour was at the 2011 Players, and he’s only been within five of the lead going into a Sunday once in the past year, and that was on the Asian Tour when he won the CJ Invitational. He’s fallen 43 spots to 62nd in the rankings, and just barely got into the event this year. By comparision, Justin Rose has 15 top-10’s since last year’s Match Play and has jumped 19 spots from 23rd to 4th in the world. He should be an even bigger favourite than he is, and I’d be shocked if Choi poses much of a threat.
     
    (7) Bill Haas vs. (10) Nicolas Colsaerts

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: N/A
  • Haas’ Career Match Play Record: 0-3
  • Colsaerts’ Career Match Play Record: 9-4
  • Odds: Haas -137/Colsaerts -110
  •  
    Despite vomiting all over himself in Sunday’s finale at Riviera, Bill Haas has been on fire in recent weeks with three consecutive top-10’s on the PGA Tour, while Colsaerts has struggled in his transition from the European Tour, with his best finish being a tie for 44th at the Farmers. Colsaerts’ 9-4 record is severely enhanced by last year’s win at the Volvo, and even though I think he’ll eventually be fine in 2013, Haas is playing too well to ignore in the opening round.
     
    (3) Sergio Garcia vs. (14) Thongchai Jaidee

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Garcia leads 5-1
  • Garcia’s Career Match Play Record: 21-20-1
  • Jaidee’s Career Match Play Record: 3-1
  • Odds: Garcia -162/Jaidee +130
  •  
    I’m going to take Garcia here simply because he’s a far more talented player than Jaidee, but Jaidee does have a good track record at the Ritz-Carlton, going 3-0 in 2010 until he ran into Ian Poulter. Both players are in good form, with Jaidee finishing inside the top-10 in seven of his last ten events worldwide, while Garcia hasn’t finished outside the top-25 since August of last year. At the end of it, I think Garcia’s too good for Jaidee, but it will go down to the wire.
     
    (6) Matt Kuchar vs. (11) Hiroyuki Fujita

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: N/A
  • Kuchar’s Career Match Play Record: 9-6
  • Fujita’s Career Match Play Record: 0-1
  • Odds: Kuchar -250/Fujita +187
  •  
    Fujita plays almost exclusively in Asia, so it’s tough to get a read on how good he really is. In 2012, the only time he played against the best competition was in the U.S. Open, Open and PGA Championships, as well as the WGC-HSBC Champions. Kuchar’s a human ATM machine, with consistent finishes across the board every year, and even though I’m not crazy about his chances this week, he should be able to get by Fujita.
     
    Gary Player Bracket
     
    (1) Tiger Woods vs. (16) Charles Howell III

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Woods leads 3-0-1
  • Woods’ Career Match Play Record: 44-13-2
  • Howell’s Career Match Play Record: 6-7
  • Odds: Woods -225/Howell +175
  •  
    The records don’t show it, but there is a history here between the two. Woods defeated Howell in the quarterfinals of the 1996 U.S. Amateur, but they haven’t really crossed paths since. Obviously Woods is a big favourite here, but don’t discount Howell, who was playing great until he missed the cut at the Northern Trust, and still only has two rounds over par in 2013 in 18 chances. The media would like for you to believe that Woods has been a poor match play player, but that really isn’t the case if you look at his record. The one are where he struggles in match play seems to be when he plays “weaker” competition. Losses to players like Shaun Micheel, Peter O’Malley and Chad Campbell are far more prevalent than against top players. I still think Woods gets it done against Howell, but he’s the most vulnerable of the number one seeds thanks to the matchup.
     
    (8) Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano vs. (9) Francesco Molinari

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Castano leads 9-8-2
  • Castano’s Career Match Play Record: 0-1
  • Molinari’s Career Match Play Record: 3-4-2
  • Odds: Molinari -137/Castano +110
  •  
    If this was a regular stroke play event, I’d take Molinari in most instances, as he is the far more consistent player, but I like Castano here. If you look at the stats across the board over the last three months, very few players have been better than him, and he won’t have to worry about playing Tiger Woods in the opening round this year. If he does meet him down the road, I think he’ll be a little more careful with his words this time around.
     
    (4) Webb Simpson vs. (13) David Lynn

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: N/A
  • Simpson’s Career Match Play Record: 0-3
  • Lynn’s Career Match Play Record: 0-0
  • Odds: Simpson -225/Lynn +175
  •  
    Lynn got into this event by finishing second behind Rory McIlroy at the PGA Championship last year, and he really hasn’t done much since. That runner-up finish vaulted him 56 places in the world rankings, and it’s been downhill ever since. Simpson hasn’t been great to start 2013, but he was solid all week at Riviera, so he could be rounding into form. Simpson is simply a far better player.
     
    (5) Peter Hanson vs. (12) Thomas Bjorn

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Hanson leads 3-2-2
  • Hanson’s Career Match Play Record: 5-9
  • Bjorn’s Career Match Play Record: 11-15-1
  • Odds: Hanson -162/Bjorn +130
  •  
    I don’t really have a strong lean either way in this one. Both players would have liked better starts in 2013, and even though Hanson’s a better player and might be the best putter in the world, I don’t think he should be this big of a favourite. If I had to pick someone, I’d take Hanson.
     
    (2) Lee Westwood vs. (15) Rafael Cabrera-Bello

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Westwood leads 3-0-1
  • Westwood’s Career Match Play Record: 27-22-1
  • Cabrera-Bello’s Career Match Play Record: 4-2
  • Odds: Westwood -200/Cabrera-Bello +160
  •  
    Westwood has made it out of the first round in this tournament every year since 2007, and got all the way to the semifinals last year before being knocked out by Rory McIlroy, while Cabrera-Bello was eliminated by Jason Day in the first round in his lone appearance in the event. Cabrera-Bello did go on to win four matches at the Volvo, but he seems to fade a bit when playing against the best competition. Westwood advances.
     
    (7) Martin Kaymer vs. (10) George Coetzee

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: N/A
  • Kaymer’s Career Match Play Record: 14-12
  • Coetzee’s Career Match Play Record: 0-1
  • Odds: Kaymer -137/Coetzee +110
  •  
    I’m a fan of both players, but I like Coetzee in this spot. He’s been in the top-10 in each of his last four events, and he’s got the stats to back it up, too. Over the last three months, he ranks first in total putting, sand saves and par-3 scoring average, while also ranking second in driving distance and fifth in overall scoring average. Kaymer’s a good player, but I’m not convinced that he’s completely comfortable with his swing changes. Coetzee still doesn’t have a win on either the PGA or European Tours, but it’s going to happen soon.
     
    (3) Jason Dufner vs. (14) Richard Sterne

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: N/A
  • Dufner’s Career Match Play Record: 1-1
  • Sterne’s Career Match Play Record: 0-2
  • Odds: Dufner -150/Sterne +120
  •  
    Sterne says he’s finally healthy after nearly retiring from a back injury a couple of years ago, and after three consecutive top-10’s, including a win in his last start, he could be right. This is a tough spot for him against Dufner though, and it really depends on your logic when picking winners here. If you like current form, there are few hotter players than Sterne, but if you like overall talent, Dufner’s your guy. In an 18-hole shootout, anything’s possible, but I’m betting on Dufner coming through.
     
    (6) Hunter Mahan vs. (11) Matteo Manassero

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: N/A
  • Mahan’s Career Match Play Record: 15-6-1
  • Manassero’s Career Match Play Record: 3-2
  • Odds: Mahan -150/Manassero +120
  •  
    It’s amazing that this is the 19-year old Manassero’s third appearance at this event, but the kid has a ton of game. He’s one of the shortest hitters out there, but he’s deadly accurate and he’s performed pretty well here in his two previous outings. Mahan’s a popular pick this week considering his stellar record and win last year, not to mention that he played well last week at Riviera before his short game got in the way. Mahan deserves to be the favourite here, and even though I like Manassero, I don’t think he has what it takes to beat Mahan here.
     
    Sam Snead Bracket
     
    (1) Luke Donald vs. (16) Marcel Siem

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Donald leads 2-0-2
  • Donald’s Career Match Play Record: 24-11
  • Siem’s Career Match Play Record: 0-0
  • Odds: Donald -225/Siem +175
  •  
    There are 32 matches here on Wednesday, and there isn’t an outcome that I’m more sure of than Donald beating Siem. Since winning in France last July, Siem hasn’t finished inside the top-10 once, and Donald is not only one of the best players in the world, but he has a great record in match play. He’s one of those guys that you always expect to see at the top of the leaderboard, and this week really shouldn’t be any different.
     
    (8) Paul Lawrie vs. (9) Scott Piercy

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: N/A
  • Lawrie’s Career Match Play Record: 12-8-1
  • Piercy’s Career Match Play Record: 0-0
  • Odds: Piercy -150/Lawrie +120
  •  
    Slight lean towards Lawrie here, but there isn’t a match-up that provides less intrigue to me than this one.
     
    (4) Steve Stricker vs. (13) Henrik Stenson

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Stricker leads 2-1-1
  • Stricker’s Career Match Play Record: 15-14
  • Stenson’s Career Match Play Record: 16-9
  • Odds: Stricker -110/Stenson -110
  •  
    The odds on this one make perfect sense. With Stricker’s reduced schedule this year, he hasn’t played since Kapalua, and Stenson hasn’t been on-point yet in four events in 2013. Stricker has proven he doesn’t need to be playing consistently to be effective, but I have a tough time believing that he gets very far if he can get through here. Stenson’s match play record is mostly propped up by the 2007 WGC, which he won and he has been knocked out in the first round in three consecutive seasons by Davis Love, Ben Crane and Lee Westwood. I like Stricker here, but that might be it for him.
     
    (5) Nick Watney vs. (12) David Toms

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Toms leads 6-2-2
  • Toms’ Career Match Play Record: 29-12
  • Watney’s Career Match Play Record: 7-3
  • Odds: Watney -200/Toms +160
  •  
    If the odds were solely based on the past history in match play events, Toms would be a massive favourite. Unfortunately for Toms, he hasn’t finished higher than a tie for 54th this year, despite five of his eight rounds being in the 60’s. The thing is, Watney hasn’t been great in 2013 either and it seems like he could still be trying to adjust to his new Nike clubs. In his previous three appearances at the WGC, Watney has won two matches before getting beaten out in the Round of 16. I think Toms provides tremendous value at +160, and that’s where I’m going.
     
    (2) Adam Scott vs. (15) Tim Clark

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Scott leads 4-3-1
  • Scott’s Career Match Play Record: 16-7
  • Clark’s Career Match Play Record: 7-11
  • Odds: Scott -200/Clark +160
  •  
    Much like Russell Henley, Clark started out the season very hot at the Sony and ended up finishing in second place. Since then, he hasn’t done much, but he does have a decent track record at the Ritz-Carlton getting to the Round of 16 on two occasions, including a win over Tiger Woods in 2009. Adam Scott opened his season at the Northern Trust and finished inside the top-10, but he’s never done well here despite his solid match play record. I don’t think Clark has much of a chance here, as Scott should roll over him pretty easily.
     
    (7) Jamie Donaldson vs. (10) Thorbjorn Olesen

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Donaldson leads 4-2-2
  • Donaldson’s Career Match Play Record: 0-0
  • Olesen’s Career Match Play Record: 0-0
  • Odds: Olesen -125/Donaldson +110
  •  
    If you’ve been reading this blog in the last few months, you know that I’m a big fan of Olesen, and I like him to beat Donaldson on Wednesday. There was a ton of hype around the new Nike athletes, and Olesen has been the best of the bunch in 2013 with a runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi and a T-3 in his last outing in Dubai. Donaldson’s track record isn’t littered with success, but he did win that week in Abu Dhabi where Olesen finished in second. They aren’t the most well-known players in the event, but they are both fun to watch, and it should be a close match.
     
    (3) Ian Poulter vs. (14) Stephen Gallacher

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: N/A
  • Poulter’s Career Match Play Record: 28-10-2
  • Gallacher’s Career Match Play Record: 0-0
  • Odds: Poulter -225/Gallacher +175
  •  
    For whatever reason, Poulter loves match play far more than regular stroke play events. It’s probably the direct, head-to-head competition that he thrives on, and as you’d expect, he has won this event before. That win came in 2010, but he hasn’t had any success in the last two years, as he’s been knocked out in his first match in both years. Those losses came against Stewart Cink and Sang-Moon Bae, and I wonder if part of that has to do with Poulter playing down to his competition, since he seems to do well against better players. I don’t really have much to say about Gallacher, but even though he hasn’t really been playing, I’ll still take Poulter here.
     
    (6) Bo Van Pelt vs. (11) John Senden

  • Previous Match Play H2H: N/A
  • Previous Stroke Play H2H: Senden leads 5-4-2
  • Van Pelt’s Career Match Play Record: 1-2
  • Senden’s Career Match Play Record: 2-4
  • Odds: Van Pelt -150/Senden +120
  •  
    Both Van Pelt and Senden have started slowly in 2013, with Van Pelt firing an awful 79 on Friday at the Northern Trust and admitting afterward that he “wasn’t such a big fan of golf right now”. Van Pelt is clearly the better player, and he’s actually only had two bad rounds all year with the above 79 and a final round 81 at the Farmers. If Senden was in better form, he’d be worth a look, but I’ll hope the real Van Pelt shows up.

2013 WGC-Accenture Match Play: Records for all 64 players

Ian Poulter

Ian Poulter (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

With the WGC-Accenture Match Play set to go this week, I took a look at the past records of the 64 entered players in match play type events. Each player is shown with their records in the following areas:

  • WGC-Accenture Match Play (2009-2012): Their WGC record at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, where the event is being held this week.
  • WGC-Accenture Match Play (1999-2008): Their WGC record at the other courses to play host since the inaugural event in 1999.
  • Volvo Match Play (1998-2012): Their record in the European Tour Match Play. Note that Ernie Els won from 94-96 but those aren’t included.
  • Ryder Cup: Singles records only when played at the Ryder Cup.
  • Pres. Cup: Singles records only when played at the President’s Cup.
  • Total record across all five categories.

Now, each player who has played at least one professional match play event is also clickable. When you click on the player name, you get a full record, including event, course, player win/loss and final score. If you can’t fully see the record for some of the more experienced players, click on it again to zoom in.

Obviously the Match Play isn’t an exact science, but this table does give you a window into who typically plays well and who struggles in the different format. Everything should be accurate, but if you see something that’s out of place, let me know in the comments.

GOLFER WGC (09-12) WGC (99-08) VOLVO (98-12) RYDER CUP PRES. CUP TOTAL
             
Adam Scott 1-4 13-7 0-3 N/A 2-3 16-7
Alexander Noren 0-1 N/A N/A N/A N/A 0-1
Bill Haas 0-2 N/A N/A N/A 0-1 0-3
Bo Van Pelt 1-2 N/A N/A N/A N/A 1-2
Branden Grace N/A N/A 1-1 N/A N/A 1-1
Bubba Watson 5-3 N/A N/A 0-2 0-1 5-6
Carl Pettersson N/A 1-3 N/A N/A N/A 1-3
Charl Schwartzel 5-4 N/A 2-4 N/A 1-0 8-8
Charles Howell III N/A 4-7 N/A N/A 2-0 6-7
Chris Wood 0-1 N/A N/A N/A N/A 0-1
David Lynn N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
David Toms 1-2 23-8 N/A 2-1 3-1 29-12
Dustin Johnson 2-4 N/A N/A 2-0 0-1 4-5
Ernie Els 6-4 6-9 15-4 N/A 3-4 30-21
Francesco Molinari 1-3 N/A 2-1-1 0-0-1 N/A 3-4-2
Fredrik Jacobson 0-1 2-2 0-1 N/A N/A 2-4
George Coetzee 0-1 N/A N/A N/A N/A 0-1
Gonzalo Fernandez- Castano 0-1 N/A N/A N/A N/A 0-1
Graeme McDowell 2-4 1-2 8-2 2-1 N/A 13-9
Henrik Stenson 0-3 12-2 3-3 1-1 N/A 16-9
Hiroyuki Fujita 0-1 N/A N/A N/A N/A 0-1
Hunter Mahan 9-3 1-1 2-1 1-0-1 2-1 15-6-1
Ian Poulter 8-3 10-6 6-1-2 4-0 N/A 28-10-2
Jamie Donaldson N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Jason Day 3-2 N/A N/A N/A 0-1 3-3
Jason Dufner 0-1 N/A N/A 1-0 N/A 1-1
Jim Furyk 3-4 7-8 0-1 4-3-1 5-2 19-18-1
John Senden 2-1 0-1 0-2 N/A N/A 2-4
Justin Rose 1-3 4-4 2-3 2-0 N/A 9-10
K.J. Choi 1-3 5-6 0-1 N/A 2-1 8-11
Keegan Bradley 1-1 N/A N/A 0-1 N/A 1-2
Lee Westwood 7-5 5-8 12-5 3-4-1 N/A 27-22-1
Louis Oosthuizen 1-3 N/A 0-2 N/A N/A 1-5
Luke Donald 10-3 6-4 7-3 3-1 N/A 24-11
Marcel Siem N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Marcus Fraser N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Martin Kaymer 9-4 0-1 4-6 1-1 N/A 14-12
Matt Kuchar 9-3 N/A N/A 0-2 0-1 9-6
Matteo Manassero 3-2 N/A N/A N/A N/A 3-2
Nick Watney 6-3 N/A N/A N/A 1-0 7-3
Nicolas Colsaerts 0-1 N/A 9-2 0-1 N/A 9-4
Padraig Harrington 0-3 10-9 9-6 3-3 N/A 22-21
Paul Lawrie 2-1 4-4 4-3-1 2-0 N/A 12-8-1
Peter Hanson 5-4 0-1 0-2 0-2 N/A 5-9
Rafael Cabrera Bello 0-1 N/A 4-1 N/A N/A 4-2
Richard Sterne 0-1 0-1 N/A N/A N/A 0-2
Richie Ramsay N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Rickie Fowler 2-2 N/A N/A 0-0-1 N/A 2-2-1
Robert Garrigus N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Rory McIlroy 10-4 N/A 3-3 1-0-1 N/A 14-7-1
Russell Henley N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Ryan Moore 3-1 N/A 0-2 N/A N/A 3-3
Scott Piercy N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Sergio Garcia 4-4 8-7 7-5-1 2-4 N/A 21-20-1
Shane Lowry N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Stephen Gallacher N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Steve Stricker 3-4 9-5 0-1 1-2 2-2 15-14
Thomas Bjorn 1-2 4-6 5-7 1-0-1 N/A 11-15-1
Thongchai Jaidee 3-1 N/A N/A N/A N/A 3-1
Thorbjorn Olesen N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Tiger Woods 2-3 31-6 2-2 4-1-2 5-2 44-13-2
Tim Clark 4-2 1-5 1-3 N/A 1-1 7-11
Webb Simpson 0-1 N/A N/A 0-1 0-1 0-3
Zach Johnson 2-4 5-4 N/A 2-1 0-2 9-11

Charlie Beljan doesn’t care for the 10th at Riviera

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.

Courtesy: GeoffShackelford.com

Courtesy: GeoffShackelford.com

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 gets first PGA Tour win at Riviera

John_Merrick

John Merrick Courtesy: FindTheData.org

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.
 
What happened
 
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
 
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.

Courtesy: PGATour.com

Courtesy: PGATour.com

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.

Donald-rescue

Courtesy: PGATour.com

Other notes

  • 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:

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.

At 15, Lydia Ko is one of the best in the world

34th Queen Sirikit Cup 25-27 April 2012

34th Queen Sirikit Cup 25-27 April 2012 (Photo credit: Singapore Sports)

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.

Northern Trust Open Betting Preview

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

Deutsch: 23. BMW International Open bei München Golfer Sergio Garcia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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

TV Schedule:

  • Thursday – 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Friday – 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Saturday – 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM ET (Golf Channel) & 3:00 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.
 
Course Flyover
 

 
Signature Holes
 
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.
 
Suggested Plays
 
Sergio Garcia (Best Odds 20-1 at Bet365)
When we last saw Garcia, he was doing this to a bunker in Dubai:

Garcia-Bunker
 
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.
 
Other notes

  • 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.

Africa Open Betting Preview

page16_ricardo_santos

Ricardo Santos – Courtesy: ThePortugalNews.com


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

TV Schedule:

  • 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.

Snedeker makes it look easy at Pebble Beach

Brandt Snedeker

Brandt Snedeker (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

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.
 
What happened
 
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.
 
Final Leaderboard
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.
 

berman-bunker-1

Courtesy: PGATour.com


 
And take two…
 
berman-bunker-2

Courtesy: PGATour.com

 
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
 
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.

 
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.

GIF: Phil Mickelson takes a tumble at Pebble

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.

Phil-spill

Mickelson ended up firing a third-round 73, and sits 11 shots back of leaders Brandt Snedeker and James Hahn.