Happy Chappell At Valero

23 April 2017
PGA Tour

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Kevin Chappell won the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio on Sunday, fending off the challenge of Brooks Koepka with an 8-foot birdie putt on the par five 18th hole to win by a solitary stroke. Koepka had steamed forward from the pack with a final day -7 round of 65 that included a birdie on the 18th, but it would leave him painfully just short of the final winning total of -12. Koepka, seeking his second PGA Tour win, played the 18th hole with impressive careful strategic nous in the circumstances, choosing to lay up and rely on his wedge game to ensure birdie, but Chappell, himself seeking his first victory in his 180th start, stood up to the pressure playing the 18th in very similar fashion with the only clearly evident difference being a slightly longer birdie putt. Chappell took his chance and the wild celebration left in no doubt what the win meant to the 30 year old Californian.

On a course that proves a tough test year in year out, with scoring on Saturday in particular quite high due to the windy conditions, Chappell negotiated it aggressively yet assuredly and the overall quality of his final round of 68 should not be undervalued in the midst of Koepka’s 65. Fresh from a top ten in his first ever Masters appearance a couple of weeks ago, perhaps Chappell entered the week inspired by the experience, helped also by a return to a TPC San Antonio course on which he has previously performed very well, including a solo second place finish in 2011 and T4 in 2016. The springboard effect may lead to further success for Chappell in the near future, although that summation seems to apply to almost every single winner nowadays and they cannot all win. (I am still backing Sergio Garcia for the Grand Slam nonetheless.)

Scrambler Pick – Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Next up, the Tour returns to NOLA, but this time experimenting with a new team format similar to that of the World Cup of Golf – teams of two in strokeplay with foursomes applying for the first and third rounds and fourball (best ball) for the second and fourth rounds. There are some tasty looking teams on offer, not least Jason Day & Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose & Henrik Stenson, Jordan Spieth & Ryan Palmer, Branden Grace & Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Cantlay & Patrick Reed, Daniel Berger & Thomas Pieters and Bud Cauley & Justin Thomas. Of the above listed players, just Jason Day, Daniel Berger, Ryan Palmer and Justin Rose have recorded finishes of note at TPC of Lousiana, with Rose the only former winner, but that’s no reason to discount teams that include Fowler, Spieth, Stenson, Peiters, Thomas and Finau. The favourites are largely from the above list, but there are some interesting teams further down the field. Three I would highlight are the following:

Byeong Hun An & Seung-Yul Noh – This Korean duo looks menacing. Noh was the winner here in 2014 and An was runner up here last year. Neither is quite setting the world alight recently, but this could be where it all changes.

Alex Cejka & Soren Kjeldson – Say no more than that Kjeldson’s last win came at the World Cup of Golf at the end of 2016. I am sure he can take Cejka with him on a journey to the top five at least.

Luke Donald & Jamie Lovemark – a subtle combination of recent good form and a half decent record on this course for both. I like the chances.

At 35/1, you must go with the Koreans!

Hala Sergio! #SergioSlam2017

The Masters
9 April 2017

Sergio Garcia won the 81st Masters.

Sergio Garcia won The Masters.

Sergio Garcia is a major champion.

Yes indeed it is all true. Last week I told you that it might happen. There was no rocket science behind it, just a refusal to accept that his day would not come. If you kept the faith and stuck with him then well done to you.

You can find lots of stats that might help explain the reasons why Sergio won: his driving; his irons and GIR return; his proximity to the pin; his scrambling; his strokes gained; his putting; but you’ve heard it all already and for me it was simply a case of dominating certain holes in a manner in which he had not quite done in recent years. For example, last week I told you he had struggled badly on the 1st hole in 2016, playing it in +4 for the week. This year he played it in -2, including that superb birdie on Sunday that set the early tone. For 2015 and 2016 combined he played a total of nine holes in over par, whereas this year only the 4th, 7th, 10th and 11th holes stifled him, and at that, at no more than +1 over the four days for each. Damage limitation, and ceteris paribus (e.g. continuing to make a mockery of no. 15, continuing to make solid pars on 12 and 16), it was a formula that would prove successful.

I also told you last week that Sergio needed to sort out his front nine numbers in particular. He had been nine shots worse on the front side in 2015/2016 than on the back nine. This year, he obliterated the front nine, playing it in -6 for the week, which was even better than the -3 he recorded on the back. He was at least three shots better than the 2015/2016 averages on the 1st, 5th and 6th holes. The way he managed to scramble a bogey on the 10th and a par on the 13th on Sunday underlined the execution of a damage limitation regime that helped to reduce the negative impact of any mistakes. The 13th the ultimate turning point, somehow salvaging a par from an unplayable in the woods.

But the stats are the stats. This was a win made possible only by the years of near misses. Justin Rose summed it up best himself. If you want to win majors you’ve got to be ready to lose them. If you are good enough to be in the position to win them you will get into the position again and again and there will be pressure. You will need to learn to cope with it. When the chance comes, it gets intense. Sergio had that intense look in his eye. The conviction with which he smoked his first tee shot on Sunday. And again on the 2nd. Again on the 3rd. And when things temporarily went south early on the back nine only for a reprise on the 13th green, the tee shots on 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 were all flawlessly fierce and fueled by a Spanish adrenaline ignited by the returning whiff of victory and a steely determination to not let it slip this time. The approach on 14 was the most predictable outcome in the history of golf. You just knew he would not fail to find that slope. I told you last week that he loves the 14th.

Then, the approach on 15. This deserves an entire book. Probably one of the top five greatest golf shots in Masters history. Maybe the best. The look in his eyes as he leered up and down at ball and pin will live long in the memory. And the putt. The PUTT. Tell yourself Sergio isn’t a great putter. He putted into the hole an eagle putt on 15 on Masters Sunday having almost thrown it away. This on top of other vital putts for birdie and par made earlier on. TELL YOURSELF SERGIO CANNOT PUTT. It is not true and maybe it never was. Maybe it was just something we convinced ourselves.

The standard of golf down the stretch will be remembered forever. The 16th hole, where Rose answered Sergio and clawed back a shot by making his birdie with that Olympian spirit. He did not really deserve to lose. Two Ryder Cup warriors this time battling against one another. The 18th was drama in the extreme. Convinced that Rose would not miss, I feared that this would be the defeat of all defeats for Sergio and force him into early retirement. But no, a chance to WIN. A slippery downhiller, but still a chance to win. Shades of Carnoustie’s 18th green in 2007. And when the putt strayed out on the right side, the bastard ghosts of Carnoustie you feared had crossed the pond to Georgia and Sergio would be broken again.

But no. It was Sergio’s driving that wore Justin down more than anything. The 18th hole set up perfectly for Sergio’s power cut. He fired it out there yet again in the playoff as if it was on tap, and when Rose let his tee shot slide into the trees it was effectively done. Sergio firing into the 18th green with a wedge as he had done in regulation. 100% committed to every swing. The putt did not have to drop but it was fitting that it did. A celebration notable in its pure elation rather than raw emotion. The Augusta crowd almost as jubilant as Sergio and his family. I found this telling. He did not seem to emit the sense of relief, or “finally”, that you might have expected. It was just pure joyous celebration.

Above all it was Sergio’s refusal to accept defeat that pulled him through. No fear of failure anymore. No acceptance of just trying one’s best and see if it is good enough anymore. No “played well but the other guy just played better” anymore. No. No. NO. This was flat out REFUSAL.

As is often said when someone breaks a hoodoo, the floodgates may well open up and Sergio could become a multiple major winner before too long. Not only do I agree, I’ve got my money on “SergioSlam 2017”.

Vamos!

Dustin Puts The Other 63 In The Dustbin

26 March 2017
PGA Tour / European Tour

Dustin Johnson won the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club on Sunday, defeating a resilient and resurgent Jon Rahm 1 up on the 18th hole in the final, having seen off the challenge of Japan’s Hideto Tanihara earlier in the semi-final. The final match looked all but done with Johnson 5 up after eight holes without having had to produce anything near his best golf to that point. Rahm won the next two holes in succession, but when DJ won the 12th hole to get back to 4 up you felt that Rahm would end up in the garbage can along with the other 62 contenders and DJ would become the first player to win all four WGC titles (Tiger never won the HSBC Champions). Rahm had other ideas though and wins on the 13th, 15th and a dramatic twenty foot putt drained on the 16th meant that DJ’s lead was just 1 up with two holes remaining. The tricky pin position and swirling wind on the short 17th led to steady pars by both, but the 18th was birdieable and I favoured Rahm to claw back the deficit at the death and take it to extra holes. However, when he narrowly misjudged his chip from behind the 18th green, just failing to get his ball to release down the slope towards the pin, his chance for birdie was greatly reduced and in the end a par was not enough. DJ has been performing impeccably since Riviera, notching up WGC wins now seemingly with relative ease, although, as usual his outward demeanour belies the hunger deep inside and the undeniable work ethic on and off the course behind the scenes.  DJ has very much cemented his position at the top of the OWGR with this win, while Rahm now moves up to 14th.

Bill Haas defeated Tanihara to win the third place prize, Bill’s best ever finish in a WGC event, whilst quarter final places for Phil Mickelson, Soren Kjeldsen, Ross Fisher and Alexander Noren all represent very strong returns for the week. There were a few notable group stage casualties including Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Match play golf also failed to extract the best out of Ryder Cup aficionados Patrick Reed and Thomas Pieters, whilst Sergio Garcia and Shane Lowry suffered from being drawn in the group of death along with eventual finalist Rahm. Perhaps if the prize for losing all three group matches was not $49,500 just for turning up then we might have seen some different outcomes. Dustin himself (1), Noren (8) and Mickelson (14) were among just five of the top sixteen seeds to reach the knockout stages and the only three of which to make it as far as the quarters. This includes defending champion Jason Day, who very sadly has had to take time out from the game to support his mother who is undergoing surgery. The Scrambler wishes the Day family the very best with this. Day’s press conference was admirable in its bravery and also its honesty – “she’s the reason I am here” – we sometimes forget the importance of what has made the player in the background.

At various points throughout the week, the explosive driving of both Rahm and DJ was highlighted, but on Sunday afternoon in particular this was underlined as they drove a combined 850+ yards on the par five 12th hole, leaving nothing but wedge approaches for both. This was slightly sensationalized in the coverage given that the hole plays significantly downhill and there is a path to help the ball along the way, however, the stats are no less jaw-dropping and it is the accuracy of the driving that is so impressive. Rahm also drove the 13th green over water into the wind and drove his tee shot on the 18th through the green, both similarly huge and accurate hits under pressure playing against the world number one. He may not have won, but Rahm’s stock is rapidly rising, almost as fast as his blood temperature whenever he makes a mistake, but perhaps not quite as fast as that of Tyrell Hatton.

Scrambler Pick – Shell Houston Open: This week the Tour returns to Houston on a course that has staged the event since 2006. Past winners in the field include JB Holmes, Jim Herman, Matt Jones, Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey, Johnson Wagner and Adam Scott, however the former winner that jumps out at me most of all was also the winner of the alternate event last week in Puerto Rico, D.A. Points. At 150/1, not putting a few quid on him each way would be absolute insanity. Yes, the field also includes Spieth (has finished second here), Kuchar (likewise), Stenson (second here twice), Rahm, Rose, Rickie, Swafford and Walker, but some of these guys might have Augusta on their minds, whereas D.A. Points will just be playing on cloud nine, on a track on which he has won before, fresh off his first victory since he last won….right here. Yes, my previous pick for an each way windfall (Schneiderjans at the Valspar: MC) was pathetic, but this week looks almost too good to be true. On Point!

The Hand of DJ Too Good In Mexico City

5 March 2017
PGA Tour / European Tour

Dustin Johnson won the WGC Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City by just one shot over England’s Tommy Fleetwood, with Ross Fisher and Jon Rahm finishing a shot further back in a tie for fourth. In a city that has not hosted an elite sporting event of such global magnitude since the 1986 World Cup, when the Hand of God was a decisive factor, it was the gifted and legitimate hands of world number one DJ that were the difference, leaving neither a sense of regret concerning unfortunate refereeing oversights nor any need for divine intervention. Despite contenders Mickelson, McIlroy, Thomas, Fisher and Pieters all jostling for position to become the main threats to DJ on Sunday, it turned out that the young Spaniard Jon Rahm was the main challenger on the back nine, even edging into a one stroke lead after a birdie on the 15th hole took him to -5 for the day and -14 overall, however a prompt Johnson response on the 15th to get to -14 and a bogey-bogey run on the 16th and 17th by Rahm ended the Spaniard’s challenge, yet simultaneously, Tommy Fleetwood emerged from the pack at the death as his back nine 32 culminated in a 39-foot birdie putt drained on the 18th green to pile some last minute pressure on DJ, who was grappling along behind to par the last three holes. Par the last three holes he did, playing to a conservative yardage on the dangerous par three 17th and recovering brilliantly from a pulled tee shot on the par four 18th, in fact the 120-yard fairway bunker shot from an awkward stance on the 18th was rightly highlighted as the decisive tournament winning shot, reminiscent of Steve Stricker at Deere Run in 2011.

The main pretenders to DJ’s world number one throne and other in-form candidates, namely Rory, Jordan, Rickie, the Justins, Sergio, Hideki and Adam, all ultimately failed to keep pace with DJ this week. Justin Thomas came closest, but his back nine club-throwing show put him out of touch of the lead and he could not recover in time. The leaderboard was loaded over the weekend, however in the very closing stages it was Rahm, Fisher, Pieters and Fleetwood who came to the fore. In truth it is rare in golf that even three or four of the top ten players in the OWGR end up challenging for a tournament victory with three holes remaining, but it is nonetheless disappointing that McIlrory and JT, for example, could not hang in there until the end. The absence of Day and Stenson was also a non-recurring anomaly you would hope. Much like Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood took this big stage as a chance to back up recent winning performances and mix it on a higher level and both gave excellent accounts of themselves. For Fisher, Hatton and Pieters, their top-ten performances also back up recent form and will give them confidence for the months ahead.

The irony of the WGC Championship event having been relocated from Trump Doral to Mexico and staged just weeks after the new US President’s inauguration was highlighted in the prelude to the event, but such was the resounding success of the tournament that all non-golf narratives were long forgotten as early as Thursday morning. The course withstood the test of the best players in the world seeking to rip it to shreds, with its narrow lines, undulations and taxing greens with a variety of opportunity and challenge presented by pin placements. Given the altitude, of which we were constantly reminded in coverage to the point of distraction, the course in effect played much shorter than 7,000 yards, but it left many of the big hitters scratching their heads. True, the winner was a bomber, but you don’t get to world number one unless you can do everything very well and Dustin’s short game and putting (apart from day one) were good enough. The event was hugely enjoyable, with large crowds delighted to have the top players in the world on their doorstep and cameos such as football announcers commentating on hole-outs, not least for Justin Thomas’s ace, enhancing the spectacle. If crowds are chanting at a non-Ryder Cup event, then that is a clear sign of success and it would seem to go deeper than a mass gathering of drunken louts packed into a bowl in the desert at Phoenix. Even the beeps from the traffic jams heard alongside the 1st green were entertaining.

Most commentators when asked about Mickelson this week would probably say the same thing – good old Phil, spraying the ball all over the course but still able to make unlikely pars and birdies, negotiating gaps that nobody else could even imagine and holing out from all over the place to finish T7. Yes, it is the magic of Phil, but there was a side to him on show that I previously would have overlooked but this week was just plain annoying. That three hole stretch on Saturday, when twenty minutes or more in total were spent looking for balls, consulting with officials and almost inventing new rules, was infuriating to watch. Professionals should always use the rules to their advantage when it is reasonable, but rules officials bowing to the word of Phil and his refusal to accept penalty, distracting playing partners to the detriment of their own rounds in the process, was not enjoyable viewing, even if he was technically breaking no rules and showing his experience. Other incidents compounded the assessment. The playing of a shot to greenside with the group ahead still on the green and the “so-what-I-am-Phil” attitude. On the 18th green on Sunday, as the local crowd who were quite obviously vehemently behind the efforts of Jon Rahm and wished to give him a prolonged ovation after he holed out, caddie Bones holding an obnoxious hand in the air to say “quiet please Phil is is here”. Too bad Bones and too bad Phil, wait your turn and let Mexico support its man for another few seconds. I also had a slight concern with the caddie situation on Friday. As was pointed out continuously in coverage, Phil’s brother Tim Mickelson is Jon Rahm’s manager. When Bones had to retire early on Friday, Tim stepped in as replacement caddie to Phil. In most other sports there are rules preventing such conflict of competitive interest. How could Tim Mickelson conceivably influence the contest such that it would benefit Jon Rahm you might be asking? Theoretically it is a a far-fetched likelihood, but it is not inconceivable even in accidental terms. On Sunday Rahm and Mickelson were grouped together. Would it have been okay then? Maybe so. This entire passage could sound like I am questioning the honour of the Mickelsons. I am not at all, but what I am questioning is small print within the code of competition.

Scrambler Pick – The Valspar Championship: This section is in danger of becoming more and more pointless as the weeks roll by and at this stage I would not expect anyone to back my tips for an each way return. Louis Oosthuizen, in hindsight probably weary from a crazy schedule of air miles in recent weeks, never got going and returned a sluggish T48 in a field of 76 players. I am not looking to call the winner necessarily, but I am looking for some value from a little bit deeper in the field every week. This week the Tour returns to Florida and the horribly named “Snake Pit” of Innisbrook’s Copperhead course. I am putting my house on Ollie Schneiderjans at 80/1. I will not bother explaining why, other than pointing to three top-tens so far this season, including at Torrey Pines and Riviera. Go Ollie!

Fowler Sunday KO in Rickie / Hatton Honda Bout

26 February 2017
PGA Tour

Rickie Fowler won the Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens shooting a final round one over par 71 to return a total of -12, four shots ahead of Morgan Hoffman and Gary Woodland on Sunday. Yes in the end England’s fiery Tyrell Hatton may have finished further back on -7 in a tie for fourth along with six other players, so it wasn’t exactly a one-on-one contest down the stretch, however the final grouping of Rickie and Hatton nonetheless offers an excellent opportunity for such an analogous headline to contain some relevance at least. Fowler’s first three rounds of 66-66-65 left him four strokes ahead of Hatton going into the final round, but when Hatton bogeyed two of the first four holes it was immediately a case of Rickie against whoever else might fancy a charge from the bunch behind. Rickie encouraged the pack with a double bogey on the 6th and at one point Gary Woodland was just one stroke behind, but Fowler’s sensational pair of back-to-back birdies on the 12th and 13th in tandem with various Bear Trap induced meltdowns from the challengers left daylight again between the leader and the field. A spectacular approach on the par four 16th set up a birdie to more or less put the win to bed and even a tee shot in the drink on the 17th could do nothing to fluster the 28 year old Californian, subsequently saving bogey brilliantly to allow a triumphant walk down the 18th where his mate Justin Thomas was waiting to join in the congratulations.

Rickie had not won on four previous occasions when taking a 54 hole lead into a final round and had struggled to contend regularly since his painful failure to close out the 2016 Phoenix Open, but 2016 also contained the highlights of a Ryder Cup success to which he contributed two points and an appearance at the Rio Olympics that he very much embraced. So he never really went away, he has just been waiting to pounce and pounce he certainly did, with a jab and an uppercut, dominating this demanding tournament from start to finish and closing it out in a confident fashion that evoked the Fowler of 2014/2015, yet being an improved and perhaps wiser version of same. This win adds to the intrigue for the year ahead with so many of the top names jostling for position and in great form. Since January 2016 Fowler, Spieth, Johnson, McIlroy, Thomas, Matsuyama, Day, Garcia and Stenson have won 29 times worldwide and since the turn of the year the healthy among them have seemingly been taking turns in the winner’s circle as and when they please. Add to this the general form of Mickelson, Rahm, Scott, Noren, Reed and Rose among others and the remainder of 2017 is looking like a mouthwatering prospect.

Rickie becomes the fourth US player to win the Honda Classic since its move to PGA National in 2007 (Wilson 2007; Thompson 2013; Henley 2014) and just the fifth player in that entire eleven year period to shoot -10 or better for the tournament. It is one of the more punishing layouts on Tour and for Johnny Miller to somehow try and find a way to undermine the manner of Rickie’s victory is daft beyond words. Rickie was on course to break Camilo Villegas’s 2010 tournament record of -13 before bogeying the last two holes, but can be forgiven for these lapses after an exacting week and difficult final day in breezy conditions. Tyrell Hatton, not known on The European Tour for having a laid back temperament, fought back well from his early setbacks to shoot -1 on the back nine. A superb tee shot on the 17th looked to have set up a certain birdie and allow him a shot at solo 2nd going down the par five 18th, but a miscue from short range, put down rightly or wrongly to a spike mark, infuriated the Englishman and left him cursing his way to a par on the 18th and a T4 finish. That fire is still there, but it would be wrong to suggest that it is holding him back, as his golf since last summer has seen him shoot up to 18th in the OWGR and he looks right at home in the company of the Fowlers of this world.

The Scrambler Pick of the week for a relatively long-odds windfall was Luke Donald at 55/1. Luke was handily placed going into the final round but a Sunday 73 dropped him to T27, five shots back of the each way payout. An improvement this week is required – see below.

Scrambler Pick – WGC Mexico Championship @ Club de Golf Chapultepec: Against the political background of Trump’s America still in its early days, it is a highly ironic twist that has led to the Florida Swing’s WGC event being diverted from The Blue Monster at Trump Doral in Miami to Mexico City this week. It will be the first time since this WGC event was moved to Doral in 2007 that the championship has been taken elsewhere and it will also in fact be the first time since 1962 that Doral will not have hosted a PGA Tour tournament. The golf course is not at all new to professional golf and has hosted The Mexican Open on the PGA Tour LatinoAmerica in recent years. The course is a mature tree-lined parkland that is quite narrow in places, with interesting challenges to shot shapes and lines imposed by awkwardly positioned trees, doglegs and fairway bunkering on several holes. Some of the greens look quite tricky but until we know how fast they will run it is difficult to predict. Whilst there are two par fives over 620 yards, a couple of very long par fours and three par threes over 200 yards, the course also offers a generous selection of shorter or more strategic holes and length is somewhat negated by the altitude. The par five 6th hole looks an absolute gem as does the par three 17th. I think a fine combination of accuracy, mid/short iron distance control and flatstick prowess will prevail here rather than an overpowering approach, which steers me more down the path of a Spieth than a DJ. But who am I kidding, any of the listed players above can get it done around here if they turn up. So to the pick – my shout for an each way return is Louis Oosthuizen at 50/1. Fresh off a 5th place finish at the not too dissimilar looking Lake Karrinyup CC in Perth a couple of weeks ago, which came between strong weeks at Phoenix (solo 3rd) and last week at Honda (T21), it should not surprise anyone if Oosthuizen was to take off this week and I for one will be waiting to benefit from such an outcome. Forget the each way, he is sure to win!

No Land of Confusion for Dustin

19 February 2017
PGA Tour

Superman where are you now / When everything’s gone wrong somehow

The men of steel, the men of power / Are losing control by the hour

Dustin Johnson did not have these words from Land Of Confusion by Genesis in his head during the first three rounds of the Genesis Open at Riviera, shooting 66-66-64 to set up an imperious lead, but the mundane level par final round of 71 can only be explained by a man tormented by the voice of Phil Collins in his head over every backswing and missed putt. The tournament record of -20 was under threat when Johnson reached that score after six holes of the final round, but 1980’s pop music took over and eventually dragged Dustin back to -17, still five shots ahead of Thomas Pieters and Scott Brown. Or, the more likely explanation for the +3 return for the closing ten holes is simply that Dustin was so far ahead of the nearest challengers (nine shots at one point) that the procession inevitably became absent of the spark that had marked the first three rounds, fatigue also playing its part noting the 36-hole Sunday finish necessary due to the weather delays.

DJ led the field for the week in driving distance, strokes gained off the tee and GIR, a formidable combination and ominous for the year ahead. The dominant victory, perhaps overdue given his excellent prior record of five top-five finishes at the iconic Pacific Palisades course just off Sunset Boulevard, is more impressive given the career milestones that come with it. DJ is now only the fourth player to win at least once in every year of his first ten seasons on the ‘modern’ Tour, joining the most elite company possible in this bracket: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Not to mention the win has also given DJ the number 1 slot in the world rankings for the first time.

Swinging like Superman, putting just as brilliantly, he is a man of steel and power, but he is also a man of composure, calm and control. The recent Golf.com article on DJ revealed one particular story that I found fascinating. The morning after the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay, DJ got up early for a round of golf with family friends as if nothing had happened on the final green the previous evening. Come to think of it, as he walked off the 18th green that day carrying his five month old son Tatum, he had probably gotten over the disappointment by the time he reached the scorer’s tent. Such is DJ’s attitude to life since his late 2014 sabbatical, it seems he has found the ultimate formula on and off the course and this means he could be a difficult man to shake off the top of the world rankings.

So to the weekly “how many majors will he win” discourse. The problem with DJ, Spieth, McIlroy, Day, Garcia, Stenson, Matsuyama, Rose, Thomas, Mickelson, etc etc, being top players in good form and with major winning credentials is that there are only four majors per year and they cannot all win them all. We have already heard mentioned several times this season that certain players “should” win majors. But there are only four of them a year and look at the above list of players. Look at some of the others not in that list (Fowler, Scott, Rahm, Pieters, Reed, etc etc). DJ has finished T6 and T4 in his last two Masters, but prior to that he has struggled to feature at the business end of things around Augusta. I suspect he will be thereabouts this time around, but I do not see him separating himself from the field. Augusta is just too tricky and in any case Jordan could have it won by Friday evening. Erin Hills however looks very much like a DJ course – Whistling Straits meets Chambers Bay perhaps – so I expect him to put in a strong defence of his title in Wisconsin. To The Open, whilst he has shown that he can golf his ball around links tracks before, I think that local knowledge could prove vital on this occasion. It will also be interesting to see if DJ plays in the European Tour links events in the weeks before The Open. Either way this one is not straight forward to assess. Finally the PGA, DJ has chosen to skip the regular Tour stop at Quail Hollow in the last few years, so without a form guide it is difficult to assume he will run riot at a track that so many of the top players will know inside out in tournament conditions. That’s not to say the major week set-up won’t be different and of course he has game and form that can deal with any circumstance right now, but this is hard to sustain and golf course familiarity can be decisive when it comes to the big weeks. In summary, I like him very much for the defence of his US Open, maybe a sneaky top-five at Augusta, but beyond that I am looking elsewhere.

Scrambler Pick – Honda Classic at PGA National: Last week I implored you to put your house on Charles Howell III at 66/1 for an each way windfall. Charlie put in a valiant effort, finishing T15 at -8, just three strokes back of the each way payout, but close is not close enough when you need a professional golfer to pay for your weekend beers. Stick with me though, there is a big one coming. We are getting close. T36 to T15 to a bonanza week next week. Your ticket to the Honda bonanza is right here. The Florida swing begins at Palm Beach Gardens and the ‘Bear Trap’, a course that can be brutal and punishing. Winning scores at PGA National have been single figure under par numbers in all but two of the last ten years. In fact only four players in total have managed to record -10 or better for the week in the last decade and three of them occurred in 2012. In 2015 and 2008 the winner came home in -6 for the week and in 2007 it was one lower at -5. My man for the week is Luke Donald at 55/1. T23 and T17 in the last couple of events and a course that suits his strategic nous. His rally back into the world’s top fifty is about to gather a new increased pace. Go with Luke. He also won this event in 2006 albeit that was at Mirasol the year before the tournament moved location. I am also going to take advantage of Soren Kjeldson at 200/1. He has struggled to perform on the PGA Tour the last few weeks, but he is too good to keep down and I think a tough test such as this will bring him back to the mix.

 

Jordan Big Tops The Circus

12 February 2017
PGA Tour

Jordan Spieth won his ninth PGA Tour title at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Sunday, returning a bogey-free final round of 70 to post an overall total of -19 and a four shot margin of victory over Kelly Kraft, with former winners Dustin Johnson (-14) and Brandt Snedeker (-13) behind in third and fourth spots respectively. With this victory, ‘Heir Jordan’ jumps to 3rd in the 2017 FedEx Cup standings and becomes the second youngest player since WWII to win nine times on the PGA Tour (behind only Tiger Woods) and the player with the joint most number of wins on Tour in the span since 2013 (tied with Jason Day).

Jordan had produced some promising signs recently, beginning the year with consecutive third place finishes in the two Hawaii events, followed by another top-ten in Phoenix, but nobody should be surprised if Jordan turns up and wins whatever his form. His previous results at Pebble had been encouraging and this week he inevitably secured another one of his bucket list titles. All facets of Spieth’s game are in formidable shape, but the putter remains the ultimate decisive weapon, the lengthy birdie attempt holed on 17 to effectively put the win beyond doubt being a prime example, followed by the arguably even more impressive longer attempt on the 18th that just shaved the edge of the cup. Jordan expects to make make putts from anywhere and is one of the few players who consistently sends his ball rolling with that threatening ‘go-in’ look. When Jordan gets to the Augusta press room I hope that when fielding the inevitable questions regarding number 12 that he plainly responds: “if I play here like I have played here before then I have a great chance to win”. He is the favourite at Augusta by miles and miles.

As for the tournament itself, the circus referenced above is to highlight the travesty of what should be one of the most enjoyable spectator events of the season overshadowed by the wearisome fiasco that has become the Pro-Am. The antics of Bill Murray are just not funny anymore (actually they never were) and any professional who tells you that playing with high handicap amateurs does not distract them is lying. Staging a tournament on three different courses with a final day cut in the professional event in itself creates a disjointed format and would not be necessary in a standard tournament format. Similar to the annual European Tour tournament with St Andrews as its focal point, the obvious argument in its favour is that celebrities playing with pros is good for the profile of the sport. The organisers will argue that the amateurs are under instructions to pick up and get out of the way if they have taken too many shots and are delaying the progress of the hole. Some of the celebrities also use their involvement in golf to raise money for charity, which is obviously great. But, still, this is an era in which the golf authorities are actively trying to speed up the game, get more people watching and get more people playing. I fail to see how Bill Murray dressed like and acting like a clown along with six hour rounds of golf are going to achieve this. What spectators really want is to watch great golf being played by the best players in the world Thursday to Sunday. Wednesday is Pro-Am day and that is how it should stay.

If they are going to continue with the Pro-Am format I would propose a different set of rules where the celebrities would be at most ‘senior-scratch’ level, i.e. maximum handicaps of 5. This would keep the likes of Justin Timberlake (4), Kenny G (4), Andy Roddick (3), Jake Owen (3) and Kelly Slater (3) involved, whilst eliminating the ridicule brought to the table by hackers such as Ray Romano, Bill Belichick, Condoleezza Rice and Bill Murray. Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Andy Garcia and Kelly Rohrbach are admirably all on the brink with handicaps of 7, but I am afraid that under my proposal this is still not good enough to co-exist with the best players in the world in a serious professional event where world ranking points, FedEx Cup points and careers are all at stake. If insufficient low-handicap celebrity players are around to fill the spaces, then fine – simply scrap the Pro-Am altogether and stage a proper tournament, the kind of tournament that the famous peninsula deserves. Speaking of which, a further point worth noting is that Pebble Beach will again host the US Open in June 2019, meaning that the top players may want to play in a competitive environment at Pebble Beach over the next couple of seasons. I would hope that a potential 2019 US Open winner is not discouraged from undertaking valuable groundwork by ‘Larry the Cable Guy’ and his hazardous slice. This week’s European Tour event, the The World Super 6 Perth, is an interesting alternative attempt at innovation in competitive professional golf and note that there is no reliance on celebrity tomfoolery to enhance the event’s appeal. We will see come next Sunday if the format achieves its objectives.

Scramble Picks – Genesis Open at Riviera: My last prediction for an outside each way windfall was Kyle Stanley in Phoenix. A T36 result was not embarrassing, but nonetheless a disappointing return. This week I am looking for Charles Howell III at 66/1 to do some damage high up the leaderboard.  He is in decent form following his recent second place finish at Torrey Pines and he won here at Riviera in 2007. You would be a fool not to.