Chris Wood made eagle on the par-5 18th in Qatar this morning to win the Commercialbank Qatar Masters by one shot over Sergio Garcia and George Coetzee. It’s the first European Tour win for the 25-year old Englishman, who carried a three-shot lead over Garcia entering Saturday’s final round.
Wood got off to a shaky start. After making a pair of pars to open his round, Wood made a double-bogey on the par-3 third and bogeyed the par-4 6th. While Wood was struggling, Garcia and Coetzee were going low, combining for 13 birdies and an eagle on Saturday, with both men ending up at 17-under par when their rounds were complete. Wood went on to birdie the 8th, 9th and 14th to get to 16-under par when he approached the 18th. After a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway, Wood had just over 200 yards to go and he stuck it on the green, leaving him with about eight feet to pick up the victory, while a two-putt would force a three-way playoff. Wood confidently drained the putt, giving him the victory in Qatar, his first on the European Tour.
Notes about Wood and the victory
- This has been a long time coming for Wood, who along with Coetzee, was widely considered the best player on the European Tour without a victory. He had put together three runner up finishes and 19 top-10’s before this win.
- Wood gets a two-year exemption on the European Tour through 2015.
- Wood gets into this year’s WGC-Bridgestone and WGC-HSBC Champions, as well as next year’s Volvo Champions in South Africa.
- With the win, he moves inside the top-60 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Assuming that he stays inside the top-64, he’ll be eligible to play in the WGC-Accenture Match Play this March in Arizona.
The case for easing up on the Rules of Golf
The video linked here (thanks to the European Tour who doesn’t allow embedded video) is from Wednesday’s opening round. Justin Rose was about to tap his ball in for par, when he noticed it moving, so he called over an official. There’s great audio of the discussion between Rose, Martin Kaymer, Louis Oosthuizen and the rules official, with the official basically admitting that even though it was 50-50 that Rose’s putter had nothing to do with the ball moving, he had to penalize him a stroke. Looking at the video, I still can’t see it move, and neither did the commentators, but that’s the honesty with which these guys play the game.
My problem with the rule in this instance is that there’s too much of a grey area here. The official said that if the wind had moved the ball after Rose grounded his club, there would be no penalty, but they were going to go on the assumption that the putter being grounded behind the ball was what made it move. It’s impossible to know what moved the ball, especially when it’s obvious that Rose never touched it.
My favourite part of the video comes in at the 2:54 mark. Rose is told that he must replace his ball back to the original spot, even though it only moved slightly. Under his breath, you can definitely hear Rose mutter, “That’s fucking stupid.”
Other notes from Qatar
- I mentioned this on Twitter the other day, but I’m going to talk about it again. Sergio Garcia is in for a monster year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he finally gets that major win that has eluded him to this point in his career. He’s been lights out since he had eye surgery, winning once and posting three other top-10’s in four events. Get your money in on him now before he has even more success prior to the golf season really getting underway in a couple of weeks.
- Another tough beat for George Coetzee, who ends up with another runner-up finish. The guy is too talented to not win an event soon, and I think 2013 is the year for him. I said it a few weeks ago, but he’s definitely the most anonymous player inside the top-50 in the OWGR.
- Three consecutive top-10 finishes for Branden Grace after this week, and back-to-back T-10’s for Jason Dufner and Martin Kaymer. Considering that a lot of people were predicting poor seasons for those three, they have kicked off their campaigns on the right foot.
- Just an awful week for Ernie Els, who finished second from the bottom with scores of 72-71-74-76.
Next week, the European Tour is back in Dubai for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, where we should see the 2013 season debut of Lee Westwood.
The PGA Tour heads to one of its most iconic locations this week, as Tiger Woods heads up a field of the world’s best at Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open. For the second straight week, players will be on multiple courses, alternating between the North and the South in the first two rounds before heading back to the South Course for the weekend.
2013 Farmers Insurance Open Fact Sheet
- Course: Torrey Pines North and South
- Location: La Jolla, California
- Yardage: 6,874 to 7,569 yards, par 72
- Defending Champion: Brandt Snedeker
- Thursday – 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Friday – 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Saturday – 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM ET (Golf Channel) & 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM (CBS)
- Sunday – 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM ET (Golf Channel) & 3:00 PM to 6:30 PM (CBS)
Typically, the winner at Torrey Pines is one of the best players in the world. That seems obvious to say, but there are tons of courses that produce less than stellar champions, ones where just about anyone can get hot and stay at the top of the leaderboard. There’s a reason that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have won ten events combined at Torrey Pines, and why other champions include Jose Maria Olazabal, John Daly, Davis Love, Bubba Watson and last year’s winner Brandt Snedeker. Torrey Pines presents a consistently challenging layout, especially on the South Course, and greens that are difficult to read even from short distances.
Key Storyline This Week
As it always is when he tees it up, the performance of Tiger Woods is the storyline to watch this week. Woods has won seven times at Torrey Pines, so it makes sense that he’s the consensus favourite this week, and you’d think that the rust is starting to wear off after he played last week in Abu Dhabi. I’m not overly concerned about his poor performance in the UAE, and I doubt that he is either. Keep in mind that his success here isn’t just based on those seven wins, as he has four other top-5 finishes at Torrey Pines, including his last major championship, when he won the 2008 U.S Open in a playoff against Rocco Mediate. I’m not going to guarantee a win for him this week, but I’d be absolutely shocked if he finishes outside of the top-10.
Bubba Watson (Best Odds 15-1 at Betfair)
When Woods is in an event, he’s almost certainly going to be the favourite, which leaves tons of great value for other players in the field. Watson is a former winner of the event, and finished fourth a few weeks ago at the wind-shortened Hyundai Tournament of Champions. His freakish length is what gets the most attention, but his short game has approved dramatically over the last few years, and at 15-1 there’s too much value to pass up.
Phil Mickelson (Best Odds 18-1 at Bet365)
Quite a week for Phil Mickelson. After finishing a less than stellar four days at the Humana, the four-time major winner made some ill-advised remarks about paying too much in taxes, and then quickly apologized a day later. Now, he heads to Torrey Pines, a place where he’s won three times and is expected to contend. His play at the Humana left a little to be desired, but his scores of 67-66-66 to close out the tournament are a positive, even at a scorer’s paradise like PGA West. Much like Woods, I’d be shocked if he doesn’t finish inside the top-10, with a solid chance to win the whole thing.
Rickie Fowler (Best Odds 25-1 at Bet365)
Fowler is the perfect example of someone who is trending upward at Torrey Pines. In the three events he’s played there, not including the U.S. Open where conditions were much tougher, Fowler has finished in the top-20 all three times. He hasn’t played since the Hyundai, but he did finish in sixth place in really tough conditions. At this point, he should be ready to pull one out at Torrey Pines in his fifth trip, and with all of the talent in the field this week, you have a chance to get him at longer odds than normal.
Charles Howell III (Best Odds 31-1 at Betfair)
First off, you may look at this as an attempt to ride the hot hand, but that’s not entirely the case. Howell has six top-15 finishes at Torrey Pines, including a pair of runner-ups in 2005 and 2007. The big knock on Howell over the years has been the putter, but so far in 2013, he’s been on fire on the greens, averaging just over 27 putts per round and currently ranking 16th on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained Putting. Of course, the fact that he hasn’t had a round higher than a 67 this year doesn’t hurt either. Note that his runner-up finish at the Humana last week gave him 14 for his career. The only player in his 30’s with more than that? Tiger Woods.
Nicolas Colsaerts (Best Odds 58-1 at BETDAQ)
We’re going to be seeing a lot more of the Belgian Bomber this season on the PGA Tour, and people are expecting big things. Colsaerts is the longest hitter in the world, and even though he’s never seen Torrey Pines, I like him in this spot at 58-1. Much like Watson, his distance gets all of the attention, but he has pretty nice touch around the greens, and he performed well last year at big events like the Ryder Cup and the Open Championship. His lone start of 2013 yielded a 9th place finish, and it’s not often that you can get a player ranked 36th in the world at this kind of a price.
Jonas Blixt (Best Odds 90-1 at BETDAQ)
There isn’t much current form to go on with Blixt. After finishing 18th at the Hyundai, he missed the cut two weeks ago at the Sony. Blixt is a world-class putter and scrambler, and played pretty well here last year before a final round 75 derailed any chance he had of picking up his maiden victory. That win did come later in the year at the Frys, also played in California, so he does seem to like the area. He’s my dartboard special at 90-1.
Other things to watch:
- Does the cut streak continue for Mike Weir? The 2003 Masters champ came close to ending his drought at the Humana last week, and would have done it if he didn’t triple bogey his final hole on Saturday. The streak now sits at 18 missed cuts in a row for Weir on the PGA Tour, but he did show signs of life last week. He does have a fifth place finish at Torrey Pines, but that was back in 2001.
- Weir’s fellow countryman Adam Hadwin will be playing in the event thanks to picking up the win at the Monday qualifier. Hadwin just missed out on earning his tour card last year, finishing just outside the top-25 on the Web.com Tour money list. Mark Baker, Michael McCabe and Brad Adamonis will also be playing thanks to the Monday qualifier.
- 19-year old Jordan Spieth will also be making his pro debut this week by way of a sponsor’s exemption.
Some things are just better left unsaid.
For the uninitiated, Phil Mickelson made some pretty cryptic comments on Sunday after he finished his final round at the Humana Challenge. Parts of the transcript, courtesy of Scott Michaux, are posted below.
Q. When you’re asked about Stricker’s semi‑retirement, with the political situation the last couple months, blah, blah, blah, what did you mean by that? Do you find it an unsettling time in a way?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it’s been an interesting offseason. And I’m going to have to make some drastic changes. I’m not going to jump the gun and do it right away, but I will be making some drastic changes.
Q. Meaning leaving from California?
PHIL MICKELSON: I’m not sure.
Q. Moving to Canada?
PHIL MICKELSON: I’m not sure what exactly, you know, I’m going to do yet. I’ll probably talk about it more in depth next week. I’m not going to jump the gun, but there are going to be some. There are going to be some drastic changes for me because I happen to be in that zone that has been targeted both federally and by the state and, you know, it doesn’t work for me right now. So I’m going to have to make some changes.
Q. So why do you say next week? What is going to happen so drastic next week?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, but I’ll probably be in the media center and I’ll probably be a little more open to it because San Diego is where a lot more things, it’s where I live, it’s where the Padre thing was a possibility, and it’s where my family is. And it just seems like a better fit than right here off of 18 on Palm Springs.
Q. Is it a stance that you are taking because on the one hand, you’ve made a lot of money, and no matter how much they take out, you are left with a lot of money?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah. I’ll probably go into it more next year or next week. But if you add up, if you add up all the federal and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and the state, my tax rate’s 62, 63 percent. So I’ve got to make some decisions on what I’m going to do.
Now, lets get one thing out of the way: Mickelson isn’t retiring, as some people have suggested is a possibility. As upset as he may be about the impending changes to the already high tax laws in California, he’s not going to give up playing the game that allowed him to earn over $45 million in 2012. Mickelson was asked about changing some things in 2013 and about Steve Stricker, who announced earlier this year that he was severely reducing his schedule, going down to about ten events per season. Of course, Stricker is doing this because he wants to spend more time with his family and his foundation, and even though he’s winding down, Stricker isn’t retiring either.
Now, the part of the story that’s drawing attention is Mickelson’s complaint about how much he’s being taxed. The reason for that is simple: How could anyone complain about taxes when you made north of $45 million in one year?
That’s been a common refrain on Twitter and in the articles I’ve read so far, and I get it. People who are struggling to get by don’t want to hear about the problems of someone who pulled in eight figures last year. According to Golf Digest, Mickelson has earned over $400 million in his career on the PGA Tour when you combine tournament earnings and endorsements. Mickelson isn’t struggling for money, and no one should feel sorry for him. His comments come across as tone deaf, completely oblivious to the fact that he has spent more money than most people could ever dream of having, but I understand where he’s coming from.
I’m not an expert on the American tax system, but Rex Hoggard of Golf Channel talked with a tax attorney from San Diego who claimed that Mickelson’s numbers are a little off. The attorney figures that Mickelson will probably pay about 53%, not 63%, which is still obviously a significant amount of money. He’s obviously had a lot of success on and off the course over the years, and he’s entitled to as much money as people are willing to pay him. Instead of retiring, the simple solution seems to be that Mickelson should move to a state that collects less in tax, say Florida or Texas. When asked about it today in his press conference, Tiger Woods suggested that the high amount of taxes in the state of California was part of the reason he moved to Florida in 1996.
What Mickelson should have done is just kept his mouth shut. Even though most people would probably agree that he’s entitled to more than 47% of his income, he’s not going to garner any sympathy here. Not to mention that I’m pretty sure no one really cares to hear what Mickelson thinks of the current tax structure in the United States. Of course, Mickelson has already started to backtrack, releasing this quote to the Golf Channel:
I absolutely love what I do. I love and appreciate the game of golf and the people who surround it. I’m as motivated as I’ve ever been to work on my game, to compete and to win championships.
Right now, I’m like many Americans who are trying to understand the new tax laws. I’ve been learning a lot over the last few months and talking with people who are trying to help me make intelligent and informed decisions. I certainly don’t have a definitive plan at this time, but like everyone else I want to make decisions that are best for my future and my family
Finances and taxes are a personal matter and I should not have made my opinions on them public. I apologize to those I have upset or insulted and assure you I intend to not let it happen again.
Obviously Mickelson realizes that he shouldn’t have said anything, but we also know that he fully believes in what he said in the first place. Mickelson has always been honest with the media over the years, and has been an entertaining interview, but I have to think he’ll be a little more careful with what he says in the future.
Fourteen of the world’s top fifty players will be in action at this week’s European Tour stop, the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. The Doha Golf Club will play host to some of the world’s best, including Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen, Jason Dufner, the season debut of Sergio Garcia and defending champion Paul Lawrie.
2013 Commercial Bank Qatar Masters Fact Sheet
- Course: Doha Golf Club
- Location: Doha, Qatar
- Yardage: 7,412 yards, par 72
- Defending Champion: Paul Lawrie
- Wednesday – 5:00 AM to 9:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)
- Thursday – 4:30 AM to 9:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)
- Friday – 4:30 AM to 8:30 AM ET (Golf Channel)
- Saturday – 4:30 AM to 8:30 AM ET (Golf Channel)
The Doha Golf Club is the host this week, and at 7,412 yards, it is a longer course than most players play on the European or PGA Tours. You’d think that those who have more distance off the tee would have an advantage, but that really isn’t the case. Over the last five years, the leader in driving distance has only won this event once. Even more amazing is that over that same period, only one player who has finished in the top-5 at this event has also finished in the top-5 in driving accuracy. Doha presents some pretty average looking fairways, but the doglegs make them difficult at times. Luckily for the players, there is very little wind in the forecast, which has caused some issues in the past, especially last year when the event had to be shortened to 54 holes. The key hole will likely be drivable par-4 16th, which has played consistently under par since the tournament began in 1998, and should provide some excitement down the stretch, especially if the tournament is close.
Key Storyline This Week
Expect there to be some talk about Tiger Woods and the tournament organizers not being able to come to terms on an appearance fee. For what it’s worth, Woods and his agent denied that he was even considering the event, opting to play at the Farmers Insurance Open this week at Torrey Pines, a course where he’s won seven times. Outside of that, the focus will likely be on Rose and Oosthuizen, although I’ll be watching Garcia closely. He’s won twice in the last four months, and he has five top-10’s in his last seven events worldwide. In a field full of solid, reliable players, Garcia is the true wildcard that could shake everything up.
Sweden’s Robert Karlsson touched on something this week on his Twitter account, noting that in his opinion, the PGA Tour simply has more depth than the European Tour. When you look at it realistically, he’s probably correct, and this week’s board is a perfect example of what he’s talking about. The first four or five guys in both fields this week are pretty comparable, but after that, the depth of the PGA Tour kinda takes over. What this means typically is shorter odds for bigger names in European Tour events, but there’s still some good value here this week.
Louis Oosthuizen (Best Odds 8-1 at Bet365)
Oosthuizen might be my favourite player in the game right now, and should be contending in every tournament he’s in this season. His track record at Doha isn’t great, with only two top-10’s in seven appearances, but he’s hotter than any other player in the field. He started his 2013 season by winning the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa, and he’s placed inside the top-6 in nine of his last fourteen events.
Sergio Garcia (Best Odds 12-1 at SkyBet)
One of the most under reported stories of 2012 is how well Garcia played. Nine top-10’s, including two victories worldwide, and despite his insistence that he doesn’t think he’s capable of winning a major championship, he certainly has the ability to do it. He’s played this event in each of the last six seasons and has four top-10 finishes. Garcia is consistently one of the best drivers of the golf ball in the world, and has started to find his putting stroke as well. He’s also known as a guy who gets off to a hot start to a season. It might be a little much to expect him to win his first event of 2013, but I like him to place high this week.
Branden Grace (Best Odds 26-1 at Betfair)
Grace finished tied for 47th here last year two weeks after winning back-to-back events. That’s his only appearance at Doha, so the track record isn’t great, but he’s played well again to start 2013, finishing 7th at the Volvo and 5th last week in Abu Dhabi. Everything seems to be trending upward for him right now, and 26-1 is too good to pass up for a guy who won four events last season.
Retief Goosen (Best Odds 75-1 at Betfair)
Goosen played his first event in almost five months at the Volvo two weeks ago, and didn’t look bad considering it was his return from back surgery. When he’s been healthy, he’s been a force at Doha, with a win, two other top-10’s and three top-25’s. If he’s as healthy as he says he is, 75-1 is a great price to get him at on an each-way bet. If he can’t play well this week, I don’t like his chances the rest of the year.
Richie Ramsay (Best Odds 89-1 at Betfair)
There’s no real positive course form here with Ramsay, as his best finish in Qatar came in 2010 when he ended up in 32nd place, and he’s actually never shot a round in the 60’s on this course in ten tries. So, why am I taking him? In his last 11 starts worldwide, he’s got five top-10’s, including a win, and he would have had six if he didn’t implode last Sunday in Abu Dhabi. Even when he’s struggling, he hits tons of fairways and greens. At 89-1, that’s good value on an each-way.
Brian Gay has defeated Charles Howell III and David Lingmerth to claim the 2013 Humana Challenge. When I wrote my preview for the Humana earlier this week, I noted that the scores were likely to be exceedingly low, and this week was no exception. Of course, Gay only became the story due to a massive collapse by third round leader Scott Stallings.
Stallings carried a five-shot lead heading into Sunday’s final round, but with how low the players were going this week, making up five shots wasn’t that big of a deal. Both Howell and Gay made par on the closing hole after Lingmerth ended with a birdie. All three men were in the clubhouse at 25-under par, waiting for the penultimate group of Stallings, Stewart Cink and Roberto Castro to finish up. Stallings, who bogeyed the 16th after a terrible tee shot into a fairway bunker, needed a birdie on the finale to win, and a par to join the trio in a playoff.
After a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway, Stallings pulled a 6-iron, knocking it into the water beside the green. After his drop, Stallings hit a poor chip and couldn’t sink the ten footer for par, missing out on the playoff. Gay and Howell both made birdie on the opening playoff hole, while Lingmerth could only manage par, and he was eliminated as Gay and Howell went back to the 10th tee. After Howell’s approach went into the greenside bunker, Gay stepped up and hit a beautiful shot, landing five feet in front of the pin. Gay dropped the birdie to win the Humana, capping off a brilliant day of golf for the 41-year old native of Fort Worth, Texas.
Notes about Gay’s win
- It’s his fourth win on the PGA Tour, and his first since winning the 2009 St. Jude Classic.
- Gay opened the day six shots behind Stallings, but fired a 63 to get into the playoff.
- The 63 shot by Gay doesn’t come without precedence. In 2011, Gay shot a 62 in the final round on the Palmer Course to finish solo fifth.
- The win also gets Gay into the Masters, which he has only played once in his career, getting cut in 2010.
Mike Weir’s cut streak continues
I tweeted on Thursday about the good run that 2003 Masters champ Mike Weir was on in the opening round. That 67 he fired was his best round since the Wyndham in August of 2010, and while he did make a pair of weekends last year on the European Tour, he had been cut in 17 straight PGA Tour events coming into this week. The excitement surrounding his opening round 67 was quickly muted when he followed it up with a second-round 75. It looked like he would easily miss his 18th consecutive cut, but he was on fire in the third round, reeling off ten birdies in his first thirteen holes. Even after a bogey on his fourteenth hole of the day, Weir was inside the cut line heading to his final hole of the day.
Weir approached the par-4 9th on the Palmer Course and proceeded to dunk his ball in the water off the tee. After taking a drop, he hit his third into the water as well, and by the time it was all over, Weir had made a triple-bogey 7, knocking him three back of the cut line. Weir has had a myriad of injuries as I’ve chronicled in the past, and he’s undoubtedly frustrated with the way this week unfolded, but he should be happy with the way he played, aside from the awful 75 he fired on Friday, which contributed far more to his missing the cut than his final hole on Saturday did. He used his top-25 career earnings exemption this season, so he does have a full card for 2013. If he’s really as healthy as he says he is, he’ll have no problem breaking that cut streak soon. Winning again, something he hasn’t done since 2007, will be a much more difficult proposition.
Final notes about the event:
- It’s a tough pill to swallow for Howell, but he’s on absolute fire to start the season. He’s finished with a T2 and a T3 this season, and has yet to shoot a round higher than 67 in eight tries. It’s also his fourteenth runner-up finish on the PGA Tour.
- The last four winners of the event all missed the cut. (Mark Wilson, Jhonattan Vegas, Bill Haas and Pat Perez)
- Camilo Villegas did make the cut this week, which is a welcome sight for both him and the PGA Tour. Villegas was looked at as one of the next big, young players to watch until he had a dreadful 2012 where he didn’t have a single top-10.
- It wasn’t the end result he wanted, but it wasn’t a bad week for Phil Mickelson at the Humana. After opening with a 72, Mickelson was well under par over the final three rounds, ending at 17-under par. Mickelson will be in the field next week at Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open.
- Much like Villegas, Stewart Cink had a much needed good week. Since winning the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry, Cink has recorded only five top-10’s, with the last one coming at the 2011 Wells Fargo. Prior to this season, he switched from Nike to TaylorMade, and as most golfers do, Cink has tinkered with his swing a lot in recent years. After a missed cut last week, you can’t say that he’s gotten it back, but it’s obviously a good sign.
- There were 22 players that got to at least 20-under par. The three round cut skews the stat a little bit, but there were only eight players who were over par all week, leaving the cut at 10-under par.
For three days, it appeared likely that Justin Rose would pick up his 14th professional victory this week in Abu Dhabi. Rose carried a two-shot lead into Sunday’s final round over Welshman Jamie Donaldson, who’s a quality player in his own right, but certainly doesn’t have the credentials of Rose.
Rose carried a two-shot lead into Sunday, but never seemed to be in form. Every time he got something going with a birdie, a bogey seemed to be around the corner. Neither he or playing partner Thorbjorn Olesen could keep ahead of Donaldson, who made five birdies before approaching the par-5 18th. Donaldson missed a short four footer for par, leaving the door open for both Rose and Olesen to make birdie and get into a playoff. Both men would miss birdie putts, with Rose’s lipping out from eight feet. You can watch full highlights of Sunday’s final round here. Donaldson spoke after the round to EuropeanTour.com
“It’s pretty surreal really, I’ve played really good all week although I’ve got away with murder up the last,” said Donaldson.
“I thought one of them would hole if not both, but when both putts slipped by it was my week.
For Donaldson, it’s his second European Tour victory, with the first coming last July when he took the Irish Open. It also moves him inside the top-30 in the world rankings, which may surprise some considering his relatively low profile in North America. The win also makes him exempt for another couple of years on the European Tour into 2015, and includes invites to the WGC events this season. One more interesting tidbit about Donaldson: In the last four years, he’s entered the final round within five shots of the lead 17 times, and he’s ended up in a worse position at the end of the tournament in all but three of those events. This obviously helps that number a little bit.
Of course, Donaldson’s win will fade into the background considering what happened earlier in the week, so let’s try and make sense of what happened to Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
Tiger Woods’ two-shot penalty causes a missed cut
So, a quick primer for those who aren’t aware: Woods hit his tee shot on the fifth hole in Friday’s second round way right and into some bushes. When he approached, he was of the opinion that the ball was embedded, allowing him to take a free drop. There was no rules official on the hole at the time, so Woods called over Martin Kaymer, who agreed that it was embedded, and Woods proceeded to drop his ball, chip back into the fairway and make his bogey.
Two reporters, Rex Hoggard of Golf Channel and Alistair Tait of Golf Week, sought clarification on the ruling from senior rules official Andy McFee. McFee, who was unaware of the situation at the time, went to investigate and determined that Woods broke rule 25-2 which states that a player cannot get relief due to a ball plugged in sand. For clarity, here’s where Woods drove his ball. Knowing that Woods was near the cut line, McFee approached him after he teed off on the 11th, and let him know that he may be getting penalized two shots for what happened on the 5th. Woods went on a good run on the back, but a bogey on the 17th did him in, and he ended up missing the cut by one stroke after being assessed a two-stroke penalty.
First off, let’s get one thing out of the way: Woods should have known better, and called a rules official over to the site. Throughout all of Woods’ struggles in recent years, he’s never been known to have a brain fart on the course. In this case, it’s all on him to get the correct ruling. If he does, it’s a one-stroke penalty, and he’s still playing on the weekend. With that said, I still have a problem with how it played out.
The idea of people calling in rules violations has always been a contentious one in the game, but it usually involves spectators, not working journalists. Hoggard and Tait may have been seeking clarification, but whether they wanted to or not, they became part of the story. As far as I can tell, their job is to report on what happened, and this falls outside of that area. Non-rules officials calling penalties, especially ones like this where Woods, Kaymer and Rory McIlroy were of the opinion that the right thing was done, is wrong. What actually makes it worse is that Tait didn’t even mention in his story for Golf Week that he was involved in the decision. Like I said, it really falls on Woods to make the correct call here, but there’s still something wrong with how it played out. Let’s move on.
Rory McIlroy misses cut as well, switches out Nike putter
An interesting little subplot developed in Friday’s second round. After a dreadful opening round 75 where McIlroy made 31 putts, he decided to change putters because he didn’t feel comfortable with the weight of the Nike Method on the greens at Abu Dhabi GC. The switch to his old Scotty Cameron is interesting only because of McIlroy’s recent switch to Nike, and his refusal to answer a question about it prior to the tournament getting underway. At his over the top introduction by Nike this week, McIlroy was asked if he had the freedom to switch putters if he wasn’t comfortable, something that Woods has done in the past. McIlroy refused to answer the question, saying that he wasn’t going to go into the specifics of the contract.
This being the first week where McIlroy has been a Nike athlete, you’d have to think that Nike wasn’t overly thrilled when their new acquisition decided to drop their product after one poor round on the greens. The switch didn’t really help him though, as he still made 30 putts on Friday before missing the cut at 6-over par. For what it’s worth, McIlroy will be just fine, no need to worry about him and the Nike clubs.
Awful shot(s) of the week
Well, we might as well keep going on the Woods/McIlroy theme here. These both come from the opening round. First, Woods:
He would go on to make bogey after probably the worst shot of his professional career. I still like how a “stone-cold top” from Woods runs out almost 200 yards, whereas if I did one of those, I’d only be walking about 50 yards before hitting my second.
McIlroy tried to hit a cut here, and well, it didn’t cut.
Final notes about the event:
- It’s the first regular European Tour event where Woods has missed the cut.
- The missed cut by McIlroy in his opening event of the year is the first by a world number one in a season debut since Nick Faldo in 1994.
- Tough start to the season for Robert Rock. After finishing near the bottom of the heap last week, the defending champion had to pull out this week due to illness.
- On the flip side, Thorbjorn Olesen had a nice bounce back after struggling in his first event as a new Nike athlete. Expect big things for the Dane this season after this week’s T2.
- Englishman David Howell actually had a share of the lead in Sunday’s final round until he four-putted the 13th green. The worst part? It was from four feet out.
- Amateur Sohail Al Marzouki finished dead last this week after posting scores of 81 and 90 before missing the cut. The 20-year old is one year away from graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, and doesn’t appear to be too interested in the game, saying that it’s really only a hobby for him. Well, with scores like that, it’s a good thing that he’s close to getting that degree.
The Humana Challenge, formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic, used to carry a lot of weight on the PGA Tour. Hope attached his name to the event in the mid-60’s, and attracted not only the best professional golfers, but also the highest profile celebrities to come play at his event in the pro-am format. Back then, it was a big deal to see Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and former United States president Dwight Eisenhower tee it up with the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Billy Casper.
However, much of that has changed in recent years with many of the high profile golfers, such as Tiger Woods opting to avoid the pro-am format, which generally produces longer rounds and more crowd attention. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi event is also running this week, one of the events that has no problem with paying allegedly astronomical appearance fees for a player like Woods. With all that said, the field for this week’s Humana Challenge is better than it’s been in recent years, headlined by the 2013 season debut of Phil Mickelson.
2013 Humana Challenge Fact Sheet
- Course: PGA West (Palmer Course and Nicklaus Course) and La Quinta CC
- Location: La Quinta, California
- Yardage: 6,924 to 7,060 yards, par 72
- Defending Champion: Mark Wilson
- Thursday – 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Friday – 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Saturday – 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Sunday – 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
The Humana is played on three separate courses, with the Palmer Course getting the final round assignment this season. Typically, the players go insanely low here. In fact, there hasn’t been a score higher than 15-under par since Casper posted that number in 1969. As John Wunder noted in his preview for GolfWRX, the winners of the event over the past twelve seasons have posted an average of 66.29 strokes per round, which means that we’re looking for players who have the ability to go low, and get there fast. The forecast is calling for nothing but sunshine and very little wind, so in all likelihood, we’re going to see multiple players around the 20-under par number by the time the tournament ends on Sunday.
Key Storyline This Week
Phil Mickelson starts his 2013 campaign at the Humana, and all eyes will be on him. He turns 43 in June, and it’s tough to pinpoint what to expect from him this season. He had a win and seven other top-10’s last year, and he was arguably the best player for the Americans in the Ryder Cup, but he has fallen to 19th in the world rankings. It was over fifteen years ago when Mickelson was that low in the rankings. He’s got one win in each of the last three seasons, all at comfortable venues like Pebble, Augusta and Redstone. He’s still going to be a force on the PGA Tour, the question is how much of one.
Five favourites according to the books: Snedeker, Kuchar, Clark, Mickelson, Simpson
We had a good week at the Sony Open, with both Tim Clark and Charles Howell III coming in on each-way bets. We’ll try to keep it going with five suggested plays this week at the Humana.
Phil Mickelson (Best Odds 16-1 at Bet365)
I know I just wrote about how Mickelson could be on the downswing, but I still think he’s got the most talent of anyone in the field this week. He’s a two time winner of the event, and has been known to be a quick starter in the past. His ability to go low is well known, and he hasn’t had a bad event by his standards since August. This is one of the few places where I think you can still bet him with confidence, especially on an each-way.
Tim Clark (Best Odds 16-1 at Betfair)
I usually hate backing players in consecutive weeks, but everything sets up great for Clark this week. He’s played the Hope/Humana three times, and has two runner-ups and a fifth. Combine that with his second place finish last week, and you’ve got a guy who’s got the right form to pick up a win. His ability to hit tons of fairways was strangely absent last week, but I’d expect that to jump up a little this week. His second career PGA Tour win could come in California.
Robert Garrigus (Best Odds 26-1 at Betfair)
This is the perfect event for Garrigus, and he’s had success here in the past, finishing as the runner-up to Mark Wilson last year and having a 14th place finish in 2009. I say it’s the perfect event because of the less than stellar field, and when Garrigus is hot, he’s as good as anyone in the game. The one thing that gives me pause with picking Garrigus every week is that he’s an awful putter, ranking 146th last year in strokes gained putting. Still though, 26-1 is a nice price in a subpar field.
Pat Perez (Best Odds 50-1 at Bet365)
Much like Clark, Perez only has one career PGA Tour win, but it did come at this event in 2009. If you ask any player on the PGA Tour who has done the least with the most talent, Perez would be right at the top of the list, but the man who has struggled with injury and anger management issues had a nice finish last week at the Sony, tying for ninth. Of his 37 rounds at the Hope/Humana, only four of them have been over par, and if he’s serious about calming himself down on the course, he could be someone to watch in 2013. I like him as an each-way bet. Of course, if he does calm down, we’ll probably see less of this:
John Senden (Best Odds 61-1 at Betfair)
I thought the Australian-born Senden was going to have a breakout year in 2012, and while that didn’t happen, he still had six top-10’s, including one at the Humana. He’s got three top-10’s here in his career, and he was pretty good at Waialae last week, breaking par in every round. If he can keep putting like he did last week, he could be ready for that breakout in his age 41 season.
Other things to watch:
- How does Russell Henley respond after winning his first PGA Tour event last week? It’s been a few years since the golf world was that impressed with a rookie, and there’s going to be a lot of focus on the University of Georgia standout.
- Ryo Ishikawa played in an insane 39 events worldwide in 2012, and the young Japanese phenom recently got another invite to the Masters this season, despite limited success. When playing against lesser competition in Asia, he’s been solid but that hasn’t translated to North America. It was a little contentious when he got the invite this year, so a couple of good finishes in North America would go a long way to re-establishing him globally.
- Tournament organizers caused a bit of a fuss last week when David Duval was denied an exemption into the event, despite firing his legendary 59 at the 1999 event. Expect to hear more about this during the week.
- Speaking of former champions that people haven’t heard of in a while, Mike Weir and Jesper Parnevik are teeing it up this week. Weir was cut last week in Hawaii, but had a pair of decent rounds before the weekend, while Parnevik was recently announced as the latest athlete signed by Puma Golf.
Now that the pomp and circumstance regarding Rory McIlroy’s decision to switch over to Nike is complete, we can focus on this week’s marquee golf event, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. As you can see from the picture above, star power will not be lacking this week as both McIlroy and Tiger Woods will be making their season debuts in Abu Dhabi. A loaded field has made the journey overseas to join the Nike duo, including Ernie Els, Justin Rose, Jason Dufner, and three-time winner of this event, Martin Kaymer.
2013 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship Fact Sheet
- Course: Abu Dhabi GC
- Location: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
- Yardage: 7,600 yards, par 72
- Defending Champion: Robert Rock
- Wednesday – 10:30 PM to 8:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)
- Thursday – 11:00 PM to 8:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)
- Friday – 10:00 PM to 8:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)
- Saturday – 10:00 PM to 8:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)
The first thing to note about Abu Dhabi GC is the length. The course is an absolute beast, measuring in at 7,600 yards, which is almost 1,000 yards longer than last week’s Volvo Golf Champions at Durban GC. You’d think that would place a premium on driving distance, but going back to 2008, a player in the top-5 in driving distance that week has come away victorious only once. However, the leaders in par-4 scoring have won in four of the last five years at the event.
Chris Card, the General Manager of Abu Dhabi GC told Sky Sports’ Dave Tindall that the course is in fantastic shape, just like it’s been in the past. Typically when you see that, the winning score gets lower and lower. Robert Rock’s winning score of 13-under par last year was the highest winning number in tournament history, a full eleven shots behind Martin Kaymer’s 24-under par total from 2011. The rough hasn’t been grown out as high as it was last year prior to the event, so you can expect the score to jump back up a few shots. While the course itself isn’t known for its difficulty level, it is one of the more visually appealing courses out there, with great views of the surrounding landscape. Also helping to keep the scores low this week should be the weather, as there’s nothing but sun and little wind in the forecast.
Flyovers for each hole are in the below playlist:
Key Storyline This Week
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have once again “randomly” been paired up for the opening two rounds of the event, so the bromance will continue for at least the first two days. The focus is always on them when they play in an event, but they’ve been paired with Martin Kaymer, who has won this event three times and also has a solo second. It won’t shock anyone to see Kaymer outscore both Nike men this week. The trio tees off at 7:40 AM local time, 10:40 PM ET, which falls right into Golf Channel’s broadcast window.
I’m not crazy about either McIlroy or Woods this week, but if you’re interested they are currently sitting at roughly 5-1 an 7-1 respectively. If I had a suggestion on either, I’d lean slightly towards Woods.
Martin Kaymer (Best Odds 10-1 at Bet365)
It’s hard to not like Kaymer this week. Yes, he missed the cut here last year, but that was when he was going through a rough patch of play, including a swing change that he finally started to feel comfortable with near the end of last season. He was inside the top-11 in four of his last seven events in 2012, and had a decent showing at the Ryder Cup, which included hitting the winning putt for Europe. As I said above, three wins and a second in this event, but he also loves the area with a second and two fourth place finishes at the Dubai Desert Classic. He’s being overshadowed by Woods and McIlroy this week, which is exactly how he likes things.
Justin Rose (Best Odds 16-1 at Betfair)
I’m assuming that the reason you can get Rose at 16-1 is based on him never playing the course, but the number is too high for a player with his ability. He’s undoubtedly the third best player in the field behind Woods and McIlroy, and he does have a pair of runner up finishes previously in the area, along with six top-10’s in his last ten events worldwide. Great value, especially on an each-way bet for one of the best players in the world.
Paul Casey (Best Odds 30-1 at Bet365)
This one will probably come back to haunt me, but I really like Paul Casey this week. He’s won the tournament twice in the past (2007 and 2009) and had a good run last week in South Africa. It’s hard to believe that someone this talented has fallen to 121st in the world, but most of that can be attributed to injuries. There’s no better place for him to make a statement about where his game is than somewhere he’s comfortable, and Abu Dhabi GC is that place.
George Coetzee (Best Odds 47-1 at Betfair)
Coetzee might be the most anonymous player inside the top-50 in the world, but the guy can flat out play. He doesn’t have a win on a tour larger than South Africa’s Sunshine Tour, but he does have twenty top-10 finishes in the last three seasons, including two last year in the UAE. I don’t think he gets his first win this week, but he’s a great each-way bet at that price.
Thongchai Jaidee (Best Odds 94-1 at Betfair)
This is my dartboard special, and it’s based purely on form. Jaidee has five top-10’s in his last six starts, including last week in South Africa. He’s also been inside the top-15 four times at Abu Dhabi GC, and has enjoyed prior success in the area. The field’s pretty stiff this week, but an each-way bet at 94-1 represents some really good value.
Other things to watch:
- The most underrated performance of last week? Padraig Harrington in South Africa. He ended up with a solo 4th at Durban, and it went so far under the radar that I didn’t even mention him in my recap. He hasn’t won a tournament since the 2008 PGA Championship, and didn’t play for Europe in the Ryder Cup at Medinah in September, which he has mentioned as a motivating factor in getting his career going again. He hasn’t exactly struggled recently, but this was just the start he needed to 2013, and he’s in the field this week in an event where he’s had success in the past.
- When Robert Rock won this event last year, he came from relative obscurity. The win moved him from 117th to 55th in the world rankings, but he hasn’t had a great time since the victory, as he’s fallen all the way back to 104th. If he’s looking to get back on track, this could be the week.
The worst kept secret in golf was finally made official today, as Rory McIlroy has signed on with Nike. It is a head to toe deal, meaning that McIlroy will switch from Titleist equipment, as well as his apparel sponsors, most notably Oakley and Jumeirah. The terms of the deal aren’t official, but rumours suggest it’s a ten year deal worth roughly $200-250 million. The announcement happened at a lavish ceremony in Abu Dhabi where McIlroy is set to begin his 2013 season on the European Tour’s next stop, the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
McIlroy, currently the world’s number one ranked player, becomes the biggest catch for Nike in a massive offseason makeover. Up and coming players Kyle Stanley, Nick Watney, Thorbjorn Olesen and Seung-Yul Noh joined the fold a few weeks ago, and the addition of McIlroy seriously strengthens a brand that already included Tiger Woods, as well as other top players like Carl Pettersson, Charl Schwartzel and Francesco Molinari.
So, what does it all mean? Outside of being financially secure for the rest of his life, not a whole lot should change for McIlroy. Now, when we first started talking about this a few months ago, there was a suggestion that McIlroy could struggle, at least initially, with the new gear. Other players have struggled in the past with equipment changes, and we’ve actually seen this recently with both Stanley and Olesen having less than stellar debuts this season with Nike gear. In McIlroy’s case, I don’t think it’ll be an issue. We’re talking about a generational talent, who at 22 years old, already has ten wins worldwide and two majors. He’ll be fine. Equipment changes happen in the industry all the time, and if you look at the two widely assumed best players of the last twenty years, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, they did just fine when they left Titleist as well.
Of course, if he does start to struggle, expect the media to be all over him for this switch. People seem to forget, but last year before McIlroy confirmed his place as the world’s best player, he struggled by his standards in the middle of the season. After finishing tied for second at the Wells Fargo in early May, he was cut in four of his next five events. Someone or something had to be to blame, and so there was focus placed on McIlroy’s new relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. Throughout, McIlroy handled the situation with class, insisting that his bad run had nothing to do with Wozniacki, and it was just something that happens from time to time. Sure enough, McIlroy was just fine, as he reeled off four wins, five other top-10’s and a solid performance at the Ryder Cup after that stretch. As Bubba Watson says frequently, golf is hard, and I think sometimes people, especially those who are inside the game and get paid to talk about it, forget that.
Ultimately, it’s on McIlroy to prove that he’s worth the money that Nike is throwing at him. The good news is that we won’t have to wait long before we can see him with his new Nike gear, as the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship gets underway Wednesday night at 10:00 PM ET on Golf Channel.
So far in 2013, two established names have come away victorious worldwide in Dustin Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen, and while Russell Henley isn’t at that level yet, the rookie from Georgia made quite an impression on the golf world by winning Sunday at the 2013 Sony Open.
Henley played all four rounds with fellow rookie and good friend Scott Langley, and the two dueled for all four days at Waialae. The rookies shared the lead going into Sunday’s final round, setting a new 54-hole scoring record of 17-under par 193. The pair seemed to find a comfort level playing with each other, something that Langley relayed to Stephanie Wei after Saturday’s third round:
“We kind of have that common bond out there, and you can see it, I think, when you see both of us play. We’re having fun, we’re smiling, we’re happy to be here. So I think that helps us play good. We’re definitely just excited about the opportunity and just cherishing it.”
Unfortunately for Langley, the momentum on Sunday only seemed to continue for Henley. Langley opened the final round with a bogey on the first, while Henley birdied. Langley bogeyed the 7th, and despite birdies on 9 and 10, he just never seemed to get it going. Tim Clark, who played the final round with the two rookies, was on fire all day, but couldn’t catch Henley. When the group made their way to 17, Clark drained a birdie putt to get within two shots, but Henley matched him, and the look on Clark’s face was priceless. Clark knew he threw everything he could at Henley, but it didn’t matter. Pure shot after pure shot, and incredible putting made catching Henley nearly impossible. Henley would go on to birdie the 18th, firing a final round 63 and picking up his first career PGA Tour win.
Key shot of the tournament
Henley’s approach into the 16th green after a horrendous drive was the type of shot that you don’t expect to see out of a rookie. He was actually so far left off the tee that he almost went out of bounds. Being in Hawaii, Henley’s only shot to get the ball near the green was to go real high over the palm trees. He stuck it within twelve feet, and calmly drained the birdie putt.
Notes about Henley and the win
- Henley became the first rookie to win his first start on the PGA Tour since Garrett Willis won the 2001 Tucson Open.
- This victory for Henley was no fluke. The 23-year old was a standout at the University of Georgia, and he does have three Web.com Tour victories under his belt, including two last season. Everyone knew he was going to have success on the PGA Tour, but no one expected it to come this fast.
- What struck me most about Henley originally watching him on Thursday was his resemblance to Brandt Snedeker. Not only does Henley look like him, but he plays like him too. The short, quick practice putts, his mannerisms and how fast he plays are hallmarks of Snedeker’s game.
- Henley’s been on fire too. He actually hasn’t had a round over par since September 21st, 2012, a run of 20 consecutive under par rounds.
- The win also gives Henley a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and an invite to this year’s Masters.
The stupid thing Johnny Miller said this week
No video or player calling out Miller this week, but NBC’s lead analyst still managed to upset some people in Australia. During Saturday’s third round, Miller was commenting on American Scott Piercy, when he broke into an Australian accent:
Good Australian accent Johnny Miller what a tool.—
David Linquist (@aussiedavepga) January 13, 2013
Brenton Speed (@BrentonSpeed) January 13, 2013
He was mistaken for Aussie golfer Cameron Percy, and while Brenton might be letting him off the hook, he really shouldn’t be. First off, he should know that Piercy isn’t Australian, but even if he was, what’s the deal with the accent?
Also from Miller this week, he and Gary Koch wondered on the air why South Africa’s Rory Sabbatini wasn’t playing on the European Tour’s stop this week, the Volvo Golf Champions, since the tournament was being held in Sabbatini’s homeland. Of course, the Volvo is much like the PGA’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions in that it’s an exclusive field event, based on last year’s winners and those who have ten European Tour victories. Miller’s been accused in the past of not knowing enough about the global game, and this certainly falls into that category.
Other notes from the Sony Open
- I doubt that it’ll get lost in the shuffle, but Tim Clark’s week was phenomenal, especially his final round 63. When I suggested him as an each-way bet this week, I didn’t think he’d go as low as 20-under par. If he’s finally healthy, he’s someone to watch this season. He only has one win on the PGA Tour, but this was his 11th runner-up.
- Between Henley, Chris Kirk and Harris English, there were three University of Georgia Bulldogs inside the top-10 this week.
- The human ATM machine, Matt Kuchar, picked up a T-5.
- Interesting week for John Daly, who ended up making the cut but finishing last thanks to a third round 79. Sounds like typical JD stuff, but he apparently hurt himself on the sixth, leading to a triple bogey:
tendon in the AC on my right shoulder popped out on #6 hitting a rock--thought I separated my (cont) tl.gd/kmkp77—
John Daly (@PGA_JohnDaly) January 13, 2013
The next PGA Tour stop will be the Humana Challenge, getting underway on Thursday morning.