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.
The final result shouldn’t be a surprise considering he was the favourite in the books, but Louis Oosthuizen picked up his tenth professional victory this morning in South Africa, winning the Volvo Golf Champions in his native South Africa. The win will actually move Oosthuizen two spots in the Official World Golf Rankings, jumping over Adam Scott and Justin Rose into 4th. It’s been a meteoric rise for Oosthuizen since winning the Open Championship in 2010. The man with arguably the sweetest swing in the game right now, who after winning a car in Friday’s pro-am asked tournament organizers to switch it out for an excavator, is now sitting behind only Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Tiger Woods in the OWGR.
It wasn’t the easiest win for Oosthuizen after firing a third round 74, with an ugly front nine 40. Scott Jamieson actually carried a five-shot lead going into the final round on Sunday, and considering his recent form with a win and a third place finish last month in South Africa, it should have been wrapped up for Jamieson. As we saw last year on the PGA Tour though, the 54-hole lead doesn’t guarantee anything. It was as much about Oosthuizen winning today as it was Jamieson losing it. Jamieson’s only real professional victory happened last month, and by the looks of things on Sunday, he never really looked comfortable with the lead, knowing that Oosthuizen was chasing after a front nine 32. Oosthuizen was in the clubhouse with a two-shot lead, watching as Jamieson approached the 18th, needing an eagle to force a playoff. Jamieson nearly holed out from the gallery, leading to an easy tap-in birdie, but it wasn’t enough, as Oosthuizen held on for a one-shot victory. Jamieson will be fine in the long run, and he’s got his 2013 schedule off to a great start with a win and two other top-5’s. For Oosthuizen, who blew three 54-hole leads himself last season, it’s obviously the exact result he wanted to start his year.
Other notes on Oosthuizen courtesy of the European Tour:
- Oosthuizen’s form has really been on point recently. The win gives him his fifth top-six in his last six events.
- It’s the third consecutive season in which Oosthuizen has won the first event of his season.
- His first come from behind victory.
A few final thoughts on the event:
- Nicolas Colsaerts is a freak of nature. When people think of the longest hitters in golf, the players that immediately come to mind are Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson, but the Belgian Bomber is the current kingpin when it comes to driver distance. Last year, Colsaerts averaged 318.3 yards off the tee, and he put that on display in Thursday’s opening round. The below image comes from the par-5 3rd hole. For the record, both him and Ernie Els made birdie, so it wasn’t a massive advantage for Colsaerts.
Belgian Golfer (@BelgianGolfer) January 10, 2013
- Thongchai Jaidee, who was right up there with Oosthuizen and Jamieson all week, actually held up pretty well. It’s his first top-10 finish in the last two years when he’s been in the top-10 after the opening round. It seems like a random stat, but when you’re 0-9 in that regard previously, it’s a nice thing to be able to hold up for four consecutive days.
- I touched on this in my tournament preview, but I was really interested to see how Thorbjorn Olesen performed this week, seeing as how it was going to be the first event he played with new Nike gear. We saw Kyle Stanley struggle with that in Hawaii last week, and it looked to get Olesen too. His rounds of 75-72-74-71 placed him third last in the field, ahead only of Jbe Kruger and Jose Maria Olazabal. Olesen’s too good to be affected by this for long, but at least he’s having some fun with it:
Some good work on the range after the round! You can easy say that I needed it also 🙂—
Thorbjørn Olesen (@Thorbjornolesen) January 12, 2013
- After a tough start with an opening round 74, Paul Casey rebounded nicely with three consecutive 69’s. After ending last season with some solid performances, Casey could finally be getting some of his form back. He’s one to watch this year. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that he was ranked inside the top-10 in the world.
- The same goes for Matteo Manassero, who started tough but finished with three rounds under par and picked up a T-9. The 19-year old is the best young player in the world not named McIlroy.
Speaking of McIlroy, he’ll be in the field next week along with Tiger Woods in Abu Dhabi for the HSBC Golf Championship. The TV coverage in North America starts Wednesday night at 10:00 PM ET on Golf Channel.
In addition to the Sony Open this week, the European Tour plays their first event of the 2013 calendar in South Africa. The Durban Country Club hosts the Volvo Golf Champions, a semi-exclusive 33 player field comprised of last year’s winners in Europe and those who have at least ten European Tour victories in their career. It’s a little lacking in terms of star power for the casual golf fan, but there are plenty of interesting players to talk about this week.
2013 Volvo Golf Champions Fact Sheet
- Course: Durban Country Club
- Location: Durban, South Africa
- Yardage: 6,734 yards, par 72
- Defending Champion: Branden Grace
- Thursday – 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Friday – 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Saturday – 7:00 AM to 11:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)
- Sunday – 7:00 AM to 11:00 AM ET (Golf Channel)
The Durban Country Club is one of the best courses in South Africa. It’s been around since the 1920’s, and as you can see from the above yardage, it’s very short. You don’t find many professional courses that play under 7,000 yards anymore, but Durban is one of the most unique courses in the world. It was built on sand dunes, causing some of the wildest undulations that you’ll ever see.
Many players won’t take driver out of the bag until late in their rounds because of how narrow the fairways are, and when you combine that with the massive undulations all over the course, what you get is a place that puts a premium on accuracy and genuine shot making. Ernie Els once said that “Durban is one of those special courses which test every club.” It’s one of my favourite courses to watch on TV too, as you don’t get to see this type of course often enough worldwide.
In most books, native South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Ernie Els are the top favourites. At roughly 5-1 for Oosthuizen and 7-1 for Els, I’d like to see a little more value there. I think one of them wins the event, especially with their prior form at Durban. The two have combined for two wins, a third, and three other top-15’s, but there isn’t enough there for me at those odds. Let’s look at some suggested each-way plays for this week.
Francesco Molinari (Best Odds 16-1 at Sporting Bet)
Molinari is one of the most accurate ball strikers in the world, and he should be able to do well at Durban. His only prior experience at the course led to him finishing 43rd in 2005, but he’s a way better player now than he was then. The only thing that’s giving me a little hesitation is his putter, but if he can get hot on the greens, he could be in the winner’s circle on Sunday. I think he ends up finishing inside the top-5.
Matteo Manassero (Best Odds 20-1 at SkyBet)
Manassero might be the best young player in the game, depending on your definition of young. The 19-year old Italian picked up his third European Tour victory a couple of months ago in Singapore, one of his seven top-10’s last season. Despite being a short hitter at just over 274 yards on average, Manassero hits a ton of fairways. My bet is that Manassero adds at least one more title to his collection in 2013.
Robert Rock (Best Odds 50-1 at bwin)
Rock finished fifth in the 2010 South African Open, but that’s not my logic here. 50-1 is simply too high for a player of Rock’s calibre, and if you look at the players around him on the board, something’s off. No offense to Danny Willett, Thongchai Jaidee and Richie Ramsey, but none of them are as good as Rock. It could be a long shot, as the oddsmakers are usually on top of this stuff, but it seems too high.
Other things to watch:
- Branden Grace’s 2012 season wasn’t a fluke by any means, but his four wins kinda came out of nowhere. It’ll be interesting to see if he makes the real jump to star status in 2013.
- Thorbjorn Olesen is one of the best young players in the world, and he recently moved to Nike. Kyle Stanley was dreadful in Hawaii this week, and Nick Watney also struggled at times with the new Nike gear. Olesen should be fine going forward, but I won’t be surprised if he struggled in the early going.
- This will be Retief Goosen’s first tournament after having back surgery. He hasn’t won worldwide since the 2009 Transitions, and only has three victories since 2006. At 43 years old, he could be nearing the end of the line if he can’t stay healthy. The game is better with a healthy Goosen.
- What kind of season will Paul Casey have? He was awful last season until about October where he reeled off four consecutive top-20’s. Much like Goosen, a healthy Casey makes the game much more interesting in 2013.
Thanks to the massive delays this week at Kapalua, we’ve got a quick turnaround for the next stop on the 2013 PGA Tour schedule. The tour stays in Hawaii, as they head to Waialae for the Sony Open. Before we get to the preview, I’ll take a quick look back at last week’s suggested plays.
- Ian Poulter (14-1) Finish: T9
- Brandt Snedeker (16-1) Finish: 3rd
- Rickie Fowler (25-1) Finish: T6
- Jonas Blixt (37-1) Finish: T18
- Johnson Wagner (100-1) Finish: T13
It’s tough to assess anything from last week thanks to the crazy delays at Kapalua, but overall, the results aren’t too bad. When I make my five picks for each event, I try to look for at least a little bit of value, and usually the last pick or two are deep longshots, hence the Johnson Wagner selection.
2013 Sony Open Fact Sheet
- Course: Waialae Golf Course
- Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
- Yardage: 7,044 yards, par 70
- Defending Champion: Johnson Wagner
- Thursday – 7:00 to 10:30 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Friday – 7:00 to 10:30 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Saturday – 7:00 to 10:30 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Sunday – 7:00 to 10:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
Waialae plays shorter than most professional courses at just over 7,000 yards, but it usually presents a stiff test. As Rob Bolton of PGATour.com points out, the wind is usually a factor, as well as the exceedingly difficult to hit fairways. Last season, players were only hitting the fairway roughly 46% of the time. For comparison sake, last week in tough conditions, Dustin Johnson was last in fairways hit at roughly 53%. On the flip side, Waialae presents some the easier par-5’s on tour, so those who can take advantage, preferably from the fairways, will likely be able to pick up the most strokes. There are two other stats to keep in mind as well when talking about potential winners this week:
Stat for the Sony. 9 of the past 14 Sony winners had played in the Tournament of Champions the previous week.—
Dave Tindall (@DaveTindallgolf) January 08, 2013
Sony Open: since 1996, every winner had played at Waialae at least twice beforehand. Only rookie winner in 47-year history: Lietzke (1977).—
Stanley (@Golf_Stats) January 08, 2013
For what it’s worth, there are 26 players in the field this week that satisfy both of those criteria.
Dustin Johnson is the heavy favourite this week, coming in at 10-1 in most places, with Keegan Bradley around 17-1. Of course, Johnson won the first event on the 2013 PGA Tour calendar just yesterday, coming away victorious at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He’s probably the most talented man in the field, but winning in back-to-back weeks is a rarity in the pro game. In the last ten years, only six players (McIlroy, Woods, Mickelson, Singh, Els, Perry) have pulled it off. It’s understandable that he’s listed where he is, but I have a tough time believing that he gets it done in back-to-back weeks.
My suggested plays are listed below. All each-way, with the exception of the first one.
Keegan Bradley (Best Odds 17-1 at Bet365)
I’ve been trying to figure out why Bradley’s listed so low on many power rankings for this week, and aside from an injury that I’m unaware of, it doesn’t make sense to me. He had a good week at Kapalua, and he’s one of the most talented players in the world. He hits enough fairways, is one of the best putters in the game and usually takes advantage of the par-5’s. His T-13 last year was decent, and he should be in position to make the next step.
Charles Howell III (Best Odds 23-1 at Bet365)
I thought last year was going to be the breakout season for Chucky Three Sticks, but it didn’t really materialize. I’m backing him again to start 2013, but it’s mostly because of his ridiculously good track record at Waialae. In 11 events, Howell has six top-5’s, with three of those happening in the last four years. Howell’s big wish to qualify for the Masters in his native Georgia, and picking up a win here would get him that spot.
Zach Johnson (Best Odds 24-1 at Betfair)
Johnson’s a former winner of the event with a 15-under par triumph back in 2009, but he hasn’t had much success here outside of that. However, he should have gotten a little rust off by playing at Kapalua and his combination of hitting fairways and making putts is rivaled by very few players.
Tim Clark (Best Odds 26-1 at bwin)
The little South African struggled in the early part of 2012 due to his recovery from elbow surgery, but he had a strong finish to the season with five top-15 finishes from June on. He usually plays well at Waialae, with three top-25 appearances, including a T-2 in 2011. We mentioned above how hitting the fairway is of the utmost importance at Waialae. Since 2009, Clark hasn’t ranked lower than 4th in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour.
Graham DeLaet (Best Odds 151-1 at SkyBet)
Obviously we’re looking at really long odds here, but DeLaet is getting zero respect. He’s had two decent finishes at Waialae in the past, with a T-25 and a T-29. His opening round 63 last year gave him the first round lead before failing to keep it up over the final three days. He had three top-10’s last season, and that 63 tells me that he can go low on this course. At 151-1, there’s too much value to ignore on an each-way bet.
Well, it may have taken five days and a Tuesday finish, but the 2013 Hyundai Tournament of Champions is finally over. Dustin Johnson came away victorious, despite a few scares in the final round.
For days, it looked like we wouldn’t see a conclusion at all to the first tournament on the 2013 PGA Tour season, with heavy winds postponing play for the first three rounds of the event. After sensibly shortening the event to 54 holes, they played 36 yesterday and completed the final 18 this afternoon. For the most part, Johnson was at the top of the leaderboard, holding a share of the lead after the first round and taking a three shot advantage over Steve Stricker heading to today’s finale.
Despite the three shot lead, it didn’t look at all certain today. First, Brandt Snedeker came charging, playing his first six holes in 5-under par before bogeying the next three. His decent run on the back-nine netted him a solo third. Then, Stricker got back within one with some solid play of his own, but it was Johnson who let him back in. Johnson bogeyed the ninth, and after making birdie on 12, he double bogeyed the 13th. This streak led Stricker to get within a shot, but Johnson would chip in for eagle on the 14th and added a pair of birdies down the stretch to seal it at -16. Click here to view the final leaderboard.
Other notes on Johnson from the win:
- His 53.3% driving accuracy was last in the 30-man field, but he did end up 2nd in both driving distance and GIR. (Courtesy: Mike McAllister)
- The win moves Johnson into 12th in the Official World Golf Rankings.
- It’s Johnson’s 7th win on the PGA Tour, and oddly, he’s won the last three events that have been shortened to 54 holes.
Lastly on Johnson’s play this week, what was interesting was his course management. Stricker touched on this in his post-round interview with SI’s Stephanie Wei:
Stricker on DJ's course mgmt: " I was like: Dude, what are you doing? He took out driver on a couple holes and he let me back in the game.."—
Stephanie Wei (@StephanieWei) January 08, 2013
Stricker to DJ on 15: "I was like: Why don't u take iron out, make me make birdies instead of u hitting it in trees & opening it up for me"—
Stephanie Wei (@StephanieWei) January 08, 2013
More Stricker on DJ: "He's got a lot of talent & looks like very little fear in him, he'll hit one crooked & pull out driver & try it again"—
Stephanie Wei (@StephanieWei) January 08, 2013
Of course, this is nothing new with Johnson. His course management has always been one of his weak points, but Stricker’s right that in some ways it can be a positive. Johnson won’t get phased out there when something goes wrong, which is a pretty important thing to have as a golfer.
Non-golf related scoring news
So, apparently Johnson is dating Instagrammer/”actor”/”golfer”/mermaid Paulina Gretzky. Good to see that he’s caught a break after dating Amanda Caulder and Natalie Gulbis. I’m sure the two will have LOTS to talk about. For his part, Johnson is playing the unconfirmed confirmation card:
Just asked Dustin Johnson about his relationship with Paulina Gretzky: "I don't know who you're talking about," he said with a huge smile.—
Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) January 08, 2013
The stupid thing Johnny Miller said this week
I’m hoping this will become a regular feature of the tournament recaps this season, and with Miller, there should be plenty of candidates. It figures that this starts off with a big one, and we’ve got video:
The audio is kinda difficult to hear thanks to the crazy wind, but Adam Fonseca of SBNation has the full quote:
“You just can‘t stay over the putt that long, you got to get in there, line it up and hit it,” Miller said as Poulter danced his way around the putt. “He surely doesn’t have the Tom Watson attitude so far, he’s afraid he’s going to hurt himself and that would probably set the game back 20 years.”
The part I like about it is the five or six seconds of dead air after the comment before Dan Hicks steps in. Someone obviously told Poulter about the comment, so he fired back on Twitter:
Johnny miller why don't you come interview me live and say that stuff straight to my face...... Was you watching a different channel.—
Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) January 06, 2013
It’s not the first time Poulter and Miller have gone at it, and it probably won’t be the last. Both are at fault here though. Poulter, as he’s wont to do, was being dramatic both on the course and on Twitter, and the idea that he asked Miller to say that to his face without, you know, saying anything to Miller directly is laughable, but Miller’s “set the game back 20 years” remark is a little out of bounds. Everyone was frustrated by the situation at Kapalua this week, from the fans to the players to the broadcasters, and predictably, nothing was mentioned on the broadcast yesterday. My guess is cooler heads prevailed, but don’t expect either guy to change at any point soon. They both definitely contributed to the blowing wind at Kapalua.
Tough start for Kyle Stanley with Nike
It’s tough to judge players in these conditions, especially with all of the stops and starts this week, but Kyle Stanley was certainly hoping for a better performance this week in his first tournament as a member of the Nike Golf family. Stanley’s final round 72 was decent, but opening with a 78 and an 80 isn’t what he or Nike wanted to see.
Tantrum of the week: Bill Haas
Bill Haas is one of the most mild mannered players on the PGA Tour, but he had a tough week. As most players saw, Kapalua’s greens can be a little inconsistent at times and getting the speed right was difficult. Haas is an average putter by PGA Tour standards, but this week, he finished last in putting and didn’t make one over 7.5 feet. After missing another short one on Tuesday, Haas did his best Lionel Messi impersonation.
Stricker perseveres through pain
We know Steve Stricker is severely cutting back on his schedule, and despite finishing second this week, we got a good glimpse at one of the reasons why. Yes, Stricker wants to spend more time with his family and work on his new foundation, but the man is in serious amounts of pain when he plays. He’s got nerve trouble, and was having problems with the entire right side of his body all week. The Plantation Course is a tough walk as it is with the undulations, but combine that with Stricker’s health and all of the starting and stopping, and it’s amazing that he played as well as he did. It’s never good to see a player lying down in the middle of the fairway to stretch, but that’s exactly what Stricker had to do in the second round to stay loose. If I had to bet, we’ll see more of Stricker than he lets on, but the man clearly needs to get healthy. Unfortunately, it means that we won’t get to see one of the best in the world very often anymore.
Sergio takes the week off and plays poker
So, Sergio Garcia was eligible to play at Kapalua by way of his win at the Wyndham in August, but he chose not to attend. He was keeping himself busy though, as he played in a $10,000 poker tournament in the Bahamas.
The PGA Tour stays in Hawaii this week, as the Sony Open gets underway in just two days, while the European Tour plays the third tournament in their schedule, with the Volvo Golf Champions from South Africa.
In 2013, David Duval not playing in a PGA Tour event should hardly qualify as news, but last night, he dropped some info on Twitter that surprised many in golf circles.
So it's official. I will not get a spot at the Humana.—
David Duval (@david59duval) January 08, 2013
Now, the reason this is important is because the Humana Challenge, formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic, is where Duval fired his legendary 59 in the final round of the 1999 event. Duval is one of only five players in the history of the PGA Tour to post such a number, and it obviously means a great deal to him, considering that it’s part of his Twitter handle. It should mean a lot to him. It’s one of those things that he’ll always be remembered for, right up there with winning the Open Championship and being ranked as the number one player in the world.
Unfortunately for Duval, he’ll also be remembered for his spectacular fall from the top of the game. That Open Championship win in 2001 was his last victory on the PGA Tour, and he’s actually only had nine top-10’s since that win at Royal Lytham. Duval has had a myriad of issues that have kept him away from the course over the years, whether it was injury, lack of desire, and when his wife became ill, but he has always made time for the Humana, playing in the tournament every year since that win, with the exception of 2004. Of course, it’s because of his struggles over the years that he doesn’t have a guaranteed spot in the event, or many others for that matter. For the most part, he’s relying on exemptions to play in an attempt to get his game back on track.
Admittedly, it’s a little strange that they didn’t grant him an exemption. Most past champions of any event are usually given an exemption without any hesitation, but there’s no rule that says they are guaranteed a spot. Of course, each tournament is different. In 1999, the year Duval won, the Humana/Hope changed their exemption rules. Prior to Duval’s win, tournament champions got a lifetime exemption to the event. That changed to a 10-year exemption in 1999, and Duval has been given a special exemption to play in the last three years.
Last year, former Masters champ Mike Weir was denied an exemption into the Northern Trust despite winning the event twice in 2003 and 2004, and let’s not forget the Ernie Els exemption nonsense from the Masters last year when he was passed over for Ryo Ishikawa. Els hasn’t won a green jacket, but many were shocked when Augusta National decided to pass him over for the young Japanese phenom. My point is that if you want to play on the PGA Tour, there’s really only one way to guarantee that: play well. The fact is, last year Duval played in 17 events worldwide and his finishes looked like this:
T60, 66, T66, 13 cuts, 1 WD.
More to the point, since winning in 1999, he’s got one top-10 at the Humana/Hope, and that was in 2000. We’ll never hear the reasons behind who was granted an exemption to the event, but the tournament organizers clearly think that a spot in the event is better used for another player. For what it’s worth, Duval doesn’t seem to be complaining about it. He’s understandably a little frustrated, but he gets that it’s on him.
It's up to me to perform this year.—
David Duval (@david59duval) January 08, 2013
I like Duval, as do most people who follow the game closely. Once he’s decided to quit playing, he’d be a great fit on any golf broadcast, if he so chooses. He’s an intelligent, witty guy, who would certainly be a breath of fresh air when compared to some of the guys currently on NBC, ESPN, CBS and Golf Channel, but until he does decide to quit, he’s probably going to run into more of these scenarios. There are lots of people who are pulling for him, and he’s apparently close to signing a new deal with Nike, reuniting him with the company that helped turn him into a star over a decade ago. Maybe this setback will help spur him on, but at the very least, it’s an interesting storyline to follow early in the 2013 golf season.
There really isn’t an off-season anymore when it comes to golf. Events with big names were still being played a couple of weeks ago, with the European Tour opening their 2013 season in South Africa on December 8th. The PGA Tour’s 2013 schedule commences this week, with the winners only Hyundai Tournament of Champions from the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Hawaii. The 30 player field comprised of last year’s winners on the PGA Tour is a little light on star power, with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Justin Rose skipping the opener, among others. However, the field is a little better than usual, led by 2012 Masters winner Bubba Watson, Ryder Cup star Ian Poulter and defending champ Steve Stricker.
2012 Hyundai Tournament of Champions Fact Sheet
- Course: Plantation Course at Kapalua
- Location: Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
- Yardage: 7,411 yards, par 73
- Defending Champion: Steve Stricker
- Friday – 5:30 to 10:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Saturday – 5:30 to 10:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Sunday – 3:00 to 6:00 PM ET (NBC) & 6:00 to 10:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
- Monday – 4:00 to 8:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
2013 will be the last year that the Hyundai remains as the season opener on the PGA Tour, with the Fall Series officially taking over that mantle later this year. It gives the tournament organizers a chance to rework the format of the event, since many of the stars traditionally skip the event. Woods himself has only played eight times in the event, which doesn’t do much for the tournament. Introducing a full field for the event might be the best way to go in the future, but for now, the 30-man field remains. Note that the Hyundai starts on Friday and has a Monday finish. Also, prime time golf on the East Coast!
Stricker is the only player in the field who has won at Kapalua in the past, and actually has the only runner-up performance as well. Stricker’s score of 23-under par was the fourth lowest winning score recorded on the PGA Tour in 2012, but it’s only the fifth lowest winning score recorded at Kapalua. In the fourteen years that the PGA Tour has stopped at Kapalua, the average winning score has been 20-under par, with Ernie Els holding the 72-hole record with a 31-under par 261 in 2003. Basically, this means that you can expect another really low number in 2013.
If you look at the winners of the event since 1999 when Kapalua became the host, the players walking away victorious are usually those who have the ability to get hot and go real low. Stricker is the exception to this of course, as he doesn’t usually go real low, but seven of the previous nine winners have been either first or second in strokes gained putting during the week, which speaks to Stricker’s success.
Now, without a truly dominant player like Woods or McIlroy in the tournament, there’s some good value betting options available this week. In most books online, Matt Kuchar is listed as the favourite at roughly 11-1, but we’re looking for a little more value than that. Here are five plays that I like this week:
Ian Poulter (Best Odds 14-1 at William Hill)
I’m a big fan of Poulter, and as I mentioned last week, he’s been one of the best players in the world for longer than most people think, as he hasn’t been out of the top-30 in the world rankings since April of 2009. He’s one of the world’s best putters, and as we saw at the Ryder Cup, he has the ability to go low. In his lone appearance at Kapalua, he finished T-6 at 18-under par. 14-1 is great value for Poulter.
Brandt Snedeker (Best Odds 16-1 at SkyBet)
Arguably the best putter in the world, Snedeker had his coming out party in 2012 with two wins and nearly $5 million in earnings. Snedeker’s lone prior appearance in 2008 yielded a tie for 10th, and he has been known to start hot in previous seasons.
Rickie Fowler (Best Odds 25-1 at Stan James)
Call this a hunch. Fowler hasn’t played at Kapalua before, as his win last year at the Wells Fargo was his first on the PGA Tour, but much like Poulter, his ability to go low is well known. I don’t think he’s ready to win a major this year, but he’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t pick up a couple of wins, and an easier course against a small field is one of his better chances. He’ll likely either be there at the end, or he’ll never be close. No middle ground here.
Jonas Blixt (Best Odds 37-1 at Betfair)
Blixt’s win at the Frys in October may have only been recognized by hardcore golf fans, but his numbers suggest he’s one to watch in 2013. He finished 16th in scrambling and 2nd behind only Snedeker in Strokes Gained Putting last year on the PGA Tour. Outside of that win at the Frys, he did have four other top-10’s and only had four rounds of 75 or higher all season. That’s a pretty good level of consistency for a rookie on the Tour. The best thing is, you’ll be able to get him at long odds all year, until he starts winning regularly.
Johnson Wagner (Best Odds 100-1 at Sporting Bet)
Wagner is my longshot play of the week, but it is justified. He’s been under par in all eight of his rounds at Kapalua in the past, and he has the fifth best average finish at this event of any player in the field, with a pair of top-10’s. Betfair actually had Wagner at 113-1 when I started writing this post, and has taken him down to 61-1, so people are quickly moving on him. Get in on him while you can, even as a nice each way bet.
Those are my picks for the Hyundai, and I’ll be back again next week for the Sony Open.
Trying to predict outcomes in sports is usually a foolhardy exercise. As easy as Nate Silver made predictions look earlier this year, it really isn’t that simple. With that said, I’m going to lay out five things that I expect will happen in the world of golf in 2013. Feel free to look back at this in 12 months time and laugh at me for how off-base I was. Here we go.
Tiger Woods will win at least one major championship
People have been predicting this since Woods made his return to golf from injury and scandal a few years ago, but it hasn’t come to fruition. So, why is 2013 any different? Everything started to come together for Woods last year, and despite the absence of a major victory, he did pick up three wins on the PGA Tour at big tour events. As I mentioned last week, Woods felt that last year was the first season where he felt healthy and comfortable with the swing changes implemented by Sean Foley. So, which one does he win? The Masters is the most likely bet with his freakishly good track record at Augusta (four wins and eight other top-10’s) but I can definitely see him winning the Open Championship as well. Ernie Els won the last Open held at Muirfield in 2002, but Woods was in a position to challenge before a third round 81 derailed his chances. That 81 is still his worst ever professional round. I think Woods gets it done in 2013, and gets at least one step closer to Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 career major victories.
Jim Furyk’s disastrous end to 2012 will continue into 2013
Jim Furyk’s reputation as a closer was always overblown, but 2012 was a nightmare for Furyk, as he blew four 54-hole leads, and was a big part of the American collapse at the Ryder Cup. He’s 42 years old, and will be 43 in May. The first thing that typically leaves a golfer when they get older is their nerves, and considering those nerves appeared to be missing last year, one has to think that they will just keep getting worse. The number one sign that someone is uncomfortable on the course is when they start deviating from routine. When Furyk was taking extra time to hit his shots and standing over his putts for an eternity at the Ryder Cup, it was just another reminder that it was all slipping away from him. Now, it wasn’t all bad for Furyk last year, as he did earn over $3.6 million in 2012, but it should have been so much more. Expect that number to be cut down significantly in 2013.
The anchored putter debate is far from over
I’m not sure how this will play out, but we haven’t heard the last about the banning of anchored putters. Whether it’s players like Keegan Bradley following through with potential lawsuits, or the PGA and European Tours ignoring the decision by the USGA and R&A, there’s much more to be discussed on this front. Since the ban isn’t supposed to take effect until 2016, it’s going to be interesting to see how players like Bradley and Ernie Els react. Will they switch now, or will they try and make as much money as possible until they are forced to change?
Bud Cauley becomes the next young American golf star
This one is hardly a bold proclamation, seeing as how Cauley has been on the radar of golf fans for quite a while now, but he’s still a relative unknown. The 22-year old finished 44th on the PGA Tour money list in 2012, with seven top-15 finishes. He got better as the year went on as well, and was mentioned by some as having an outside shot at making the American Ryder Cup team. Rickie Fowler broke through in 2012, and you can expect Cauley to do the same in 2013.
Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Adam Scott and Justin Rose: One of these men will break their major drought
The five men listed above have a combined zero majors, but that will change in 2013. Both Donald and Garcia have held the “best player in the world without a major” title in the past, and you could argue that Scott has as well. You can make a case for each man, and that’s what I’ll try to do here:
- Donald: The most consistent player in the world, and has the best short game of anyone around not named McIlroy. His best shot might come at the U.S. Open, which is being held at Merion in 2013. The course hasn’t hosted a major since 1981, and will be playing way shorter than most courses on the schedule, which will place a premium on accuracy, the area where Donald excels most.
- Garcia: We’ve been waiting for this one, haven’t we? Garcia’s been projected to win a major for over a decade now, but things started to come together again for him at the end of last season. He won the Wyndham in August, and was in position to win the Barclays the next week. He followed that up with a good performance at the Ryder Cup, and he won in Malaysia a couple of weeks ago. His recent eye surgery and new TaylorMade equipment certainly won’t hurt things either.
- Poulter: People may have become familiar with Poulter from his legendary performance at the Ryder Cup, but he hasn’t been outside of the top-30 in the World Golf Ranking since April of 2009. He will always be a better match play player than a regular tournament player because that’s just the way he’s wired, but he is too good to go without a major. One of the world’s best putters.
- Scott: 64-67-68-75. Those are the scores for Scott at the 2012 Open Championship, and his four-shot lead going into the final round looked insurmountable, but for some reason, Scott never looked comfortable. Outside of his second place finish in the Open, he had three other top-15’s in the majors. If Poulter is too good to go without a major, Scott is WAY too good. Don’t discount the Stevie Williams factor either, as the caddie is the best in the business.
- Rose: The 2012 season was the coming out party for Justin Rose. One win (WGC-Cadillac) and twelve top-10’s worldwide, plus a fantastic performance at the Ryder Cup, culminating in his comeback victory against Phil Mickelson in the Sunday singles. That undefinable “it” factor? Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Zach Johnson and others have had it, and so does Justin Rose.
Those are my five predictions for the upcoming season. If you have any, post them in the comments.
At this point, I thought that we were done with the “What’s Wrong with Tiger Woods” stories. Surely, that horse has been bludgeoned to the point of no return over the last three years. As I wrote back in June, Woods is basically in a no-win situation at this point. The expectations are staggeringly high. If he doesn’t live up to them, he gets blasted. If he does, he was supposed to get there anyway.
This brings me to the story posted by Selena Roberts last week at her new venture, Roopstigo. Roberts of course is a respected investigative journalist, who’s most famous for working at Sports Illustrated and breaking the Alex Rodriguez steroid story in 2009. Roberts’ work has consistently appeared in Best Of lists and the top publications worldwide, so I was intrigued when I saw my Twitter feed light up with people giving praise to her latest piece about Woods. I’ve read it several times now, and not only does it seem off, it comes across in some spots as downright misinformed.
Let’s start at the beginning. The title of the piece, “How He Lost The Grip On Greatness: Tiger’s Money Trap”, infers that his financial situation is the reason Woods hasn’t played up to his lofty standards. To be honest, Roberts presents financial information that was previously unknown, and she should be commended for her research. The problem is that there’s nothing concrete that suggests any actual link between Woods’ finances and his results on the course. I’m not going to judge Woods on his financial situation, since I don’t think I’m qualified to do it. What I will do though is dispute the actual golf related material in the piece.
Roberts rightly posits that Woods is a bit of a recluse. Despite the fact that he needs to be a public figure based on his occupation and stature, he’s never been one that has wanted to be out in front. He’s preferred to live a life of privacy, as is his right. Roberts also correctly points out the need for Woods to be the best, whether that comes from his pursuit of breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 major victories, or chasing down new best friend Rory McIlroy as the world’s current number one player. We all know that what drives Woods more than anything is his desire to be the best.
Where the piece begins to fall apart is the next paragraph, starting with a quote from Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee. Chamblee mentions how Woods “lives like a billionaire”, before admitting that he has no idea how his finances play into his “struggles”. I’m really not sure why that quote was even used in the piece if Chamblee wasn’t going to link it to his performance on the course.
“In a dramatic shift from the dominance he enjoyed in the mid-2000’s, when he was ranked first or second in final round play, Woods was 32nd this year.”
Again, as I wrote in June, people need to get used to the idea that Woods regaining what he had is probably never going to happen. He’s going to be a good, and probably great player. But the dominant, world-beating Woods who dwarfed the competition isn’t coming back. Also, Woods seems to be the only athlete on the planet who gets legitimately compared to who he used to be, and people just seem to be okay with it. Do people really expect Kobe Bryant to be the same guy that he was when the Lakers were winning three titles in the early 2000’s? What about Ray Lewis and Ichiro? Even if we ignore team sports and focus on individual ones, no one is wondering what’s wrong with Roger Federer. People have come to grips with the fact that those guys, while still quality players in their own right, will never be the same, but Woods doesn’t get afforded the same luxury.
Chamblee continues by mentioning that Woods’ weekend scoring average is consistently higher than it is pre-cut. In this case, he’s right. If you go based on last year’s statistics, Woods’ scoring average on the weekend is about a stroke higher than it is before the cut. Chamblee also makes the assertion that this is all mental. Granted, Woods’ highest scores in final rounds all came at notable tournaments, including all four majors, but there are several good quality final rounds in his 2012 season as well. In fact, his two lowest rounds of the year, a 62 at the Honda Classic and a 63 at the CIMB Classic, both came in final rounds.
“Somewhere a long the way, he lost the joy. Now he looks like he does it because he’s good at it and that’s what he’s supposed to do. That’s part of what’s happening with Sean Foley.”
At this point in the analysis, Chamblee starts making assumptions. He’s assuming that Tiger doesn’t enjoy playing anymore. He’s assuming that the only reason why he’s playing is because he has to. On the course, Woods has always shown emotion. When he won at Bay Hill in March, his first legitimate PGA Tour win since the BMW Championship in September of 2009, Woods was beaming. The same thing happened at the Memorial in June and at the AT&T in July. Yeah, he’s upset when he plays poorly, but so is every other golfer. The amount of TV time that Woods gets magnifies the petulant behaviour that he exhibits. I’m not trying to justify the behaviour, but that’s a discussion for another day. Also, to say that Sean Foley, Woods’ coach since 2010, is responsible for an alleged lack of happiness inside Woods when he’s on the course is a little ridiculous.
Chamblee, discussing the work of Foley with Woods:
“Tiger is worse in every statistical category with few exceptions. He drives it shorter and hits fewer fairways. He hits fewer greens and he is a considerably worse putter. He is far more of a conservative golfer than he was and far more limited in his shot shaping. He is addicted to an idea now. He is over influenced by that idea. It’s literally at best corrupted but probably completely robbed him of his ability to create.”
Again, this depends on what we’re comparing Woods to. Woods’ injury history is well documented as well, and he’s made reference in recent weeks that he finally felt healthy again this season. Since it seems that Chamblee is discussing Woods’ time with Foley, let’s take a look at those numbers. Below are four graphs, outlining the four statistical categories that Chamblee mentions. Remember, Foley and Woods started working together in 2010. First, driving distance:
After a slight dip from 2010 to 2011, Woods’ average jumped back up almost four yards in 2012. So, if we’re discussing Foley’s work with Woods, Chamblee is incorrect in this case. Now again, the 300+ yard averages from the mid-2000’s do stand out, but that’s common for golfers in their early 30’s. To illustrate that point, take a look at the below graph with six of Woods’ contemporaries, all of whom have been considered at one point to be long hitters.
You’ll notice that the graph is very similar over the years, at least in the shape that each player has taken. Low start, followed by a big spike and a gradual decline. Woods is simply taking the same path that pretty much every other golfer has taken over the years, except that the distance is longer in his case. Woods has actually been fairly steady over the past five years in comparison to other players.
Woods’ accuracy off the tee has never been great, and it completely plunged in 2011 under Foley. This year, Woods rebounded nicely with an almost 15% increase. Now, a lot of this could be related to him taking 3-wood off the tee a little more this year instead of driver, but a 15% jump shouldn’t be ignored.
Greens In Regulation percentage:
Once again, if we’re comparing Woods to his success from the early-to-mid 2000’s, he is down in this category. However, if we’re just taking it from when Foley took over as Chamblee has made it seem, there was a steady improvement from 2010 to 2011, before a slight dip last year, despite moving up eight spots in the ranking across the PGA Tour. That goes to the theory that most players today are less pinpoint with their irons, and are more concerned about bombing the golf ball.
Strokes Gained Putting:
Strokes gained putting is a relatively new stat on the PGA Tour, with data only going back to 2004. As the name suggests, the stat tracks how may strokes were gained per round against the rest of the field. Woods took a nosedive in 2010 when working with Foley, but again, has seen steady improvement under Foley in the last two years.
Basically, the data shows that if we’re making fair comparisons with an allegedly healthy Woods, combined with him getting comfortable with Foley’s teaching, Chamblee’s criticisms are completely unfounded. Now, if we’re comparing him to what he was when he was in his early 30’s, then yes, he is a worse golfer. Again though, how fair is that? The success of golfers after the age of 35 is limited, so the fact that Tiger won three tournaments last year and could have won several others is a testament to how good he still is. Now, as it relates to Chamblee’s comments about Woods’ lack of ability to shape shots and create, Wayne Defrancesco does a much better job than I ever could at debunking that myth in the video below:
“If Tiger Woods fired Sean Foley, and never, ever spoke to Sean again, he would be a better golfer.”
Now again, this isn’t the first time that Chamblee has put it out there that Woods should fire Foley. Why Woods would even consider firing Foley after winning three times on the PGA Tour, and earning over $6 million last season is beyond me. Once again, Chamblee is looking at what Woods was instead of what he is. If Woods fired Foley, it would mean starting again with a new coach, his third in four years. Last year demonstrated that Woods can still be one of the best golfers in the world, capable of winning any tournament in the world. Last year also showed us that he’s starting to get used to Foley’s teaching.
Roberts acknowledges that Foley isn’t the only variable, mentioning that the players today, like McIlroy, have started to pass Woods thanks to his injury trouble. Combine that with the amount of mileage on his body, and the fact that, you know, golf is pretty difficult at times, and you have reasons that make up a believable argument as to why Woods hasn’t been the dominant player that he was ten years ago. Of course, these factors are just mentioned quickly and tossed aside. Roberts than presents a graph, showing Woods’ final round scoring average from 1996 to 2012, which again fits her narrative for the piece, but doesn’t do anything to prove that his dip in success is related to anything other than the above factors.
The last page of the piece explores the details of Woods’ finances, including the point that Woods owes ex-wife Elin Nordegren $54.5 million before January of 2016. Again, I’m not going to delve too much into that, but the fact that Woods made roughly $70 million last year alone leads one to believe that paying that off wouldn’t be a huge deal, even if his play and sponsorships take a bit of a hit.
Chamblee continues, discussing Woods’ pursuit of Nicklaus’ major record:
“There have been three wins in majors in the last 56, by people over the age of 40. So his window is over the next 12 majors realistically. Can he win four of the next 12? He’ll contend – there’s no question that he’s a good player – but he’s got so many weaknesses that rob him of critical shots now as compared to the past. So, no, I don’t think he’ll get to 18 or 19. No, I don’t.”
Chamblee is correct in describing the likely window for Woods, but then he loses the plot again. He mentions his weaknesses compared to previous years, but players who win three tournaments in a year against good fields and are at or near the top of several statistical categories, do not have “many weaknesses.” Woods might get to 19 majors, and he might not. Frankly, it’s stupid to suggest that he will, but it’s also ridiculous to suggest that he can’t.
Should Tiger Woods fire Sean Foley? In Brandel Chamblee’s mind, the answer is obviously that he should. Unfortunately, Chamblee appears to be overlooking the facts. Nobody who follows the game closely would be surprised if Tiger Woods won at least one major next season. Firing Foley and starting over with someone else would probably guarantee that Woods doesn’t win a major for at least another year, and considering Woods’ age, that doesn’t seem like the brightest idea if he has aspirations of catching Nicklaus.
For what it’s worth, Woods has never entertained the idea of firing Foley, at least publicly. Patience has never been Woods’ best virtue, but it seems like in this case, he’d be best served to ignore Chamblee like he has in the past. He won’t ever be the same player again, but he’s never been closer to getting most of it back, and firing Foley at this stage would be a backward step.