Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tiger Woods Hosts AT &T National - Odds and Picks

Venerable Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD is the locale for this week's Tiger-Fest, the AT&T National. Woods missed playing in his own event last year due to knee surgery. This year he's present and the odds-on favorite to win. This tournament isn't to be confused with his December invitee-only match in California, held typically in December, it's latest permutation being the Chevron World Challenge, a sponsor seeking missile that's rapidly developing the cred to be considered a regular Tour event. No such hype for this week's partakings as the the venue and the association with it's previous life being the Kemper Open guarantees recognition. Congressional's roots hark back to 1924 with a pantheon of famous establishers to include Calvin Coolidge, Warren Harding, Woodrow Wilson, William H. Taft, Harvey S. Firestone, William C. Carnegie, William Randolph Hearst and Walter P. Chrysler. Gee, if you couldn't get a money game going there, why bother? The Tour stop will be played the next two years at Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia. Congressional's hosting the US Open in 2011 and evidently can't hold a four day tournament with anyone else teeing it up for a two year window. That's kind of in stark contrast to this year's Open at Bethpage where the last public foursome was finishing their round as the big boys teed it up, or something like that. Congressional will play to 7,255 yards this week and a par of 70 whacks. Anthony Kim defends.

Let's see how our parimutuel pals at Ladbrokes see the outcome.......

T Woods 2.50

H Mahan 17.00

J Furyk 17.00

Anthony Kim 21.00

P Casey 21.00

S O'Hair 26.00

M Weir 34.00

R Allenby 34.00

V Singh 34.00

L Glover 41.00

N Watney 41.00

S Marino 41.00

B Weekley 51.00

Bubba Watson 51.00

D Love III 51.00

J Senden 51.00

K J Choi 51.00

P Goydos 51.00

R Moore 51.00

Average Golfer is going with a "triple box" of Woods, Casey, and O'Hair, in any order. Bubba Watson will be my dark horse. A number of international players will tee it at the Open de France. They include stalwarts Poulter, Harrington, Westwood, and Cabrera. This week is typically considered an Open Championship tune- up on both sides of the pond.

It shapes up to be a perfect mid-summer golf weekend. Tee it up with your regular foursome, then relax in front of the tube with a beverage and catch some action. Enjoy.

Til' next,

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Downhill Lie, By: Carl Hiaasen

Average Golfer Book Review

Face it, if you're reading this you're an average golfer. No tour card, no college scholarship, no single digit handicap. The Downhill Lie, A Hacker's Return to a Ruinous Sport, by Carl Hiaasen speaks to that inner voice in us that fools us into thinking that we can get better at this bloody sport. Hiaasen's explicitly documented journey of his return to the game after a long hiatus is crowded with forehead slapping passages and dark golf humor. Hiaasen merely has the chops to state what the rest of us hackers are afraid to admit. His laugh-out-loud funny style is the bonus that keeps us reading as if to prevent us from acting on our impulse to do the sensible thing, quit the confounding game. In that sense we have hope provided by the author. Yes hope, the misery that loves company flavor.

Hiaasen's return to golf is probably more prevalent than you'd imagine. I played as a young adult, but stored the clubs away during my child raising years. The game is particularly time consuming. Throw the five hour round in together with some range and practice time and you can shoot a rather large hole in your work week. Fortunately the author seems to have the luxury of schedule in his pursuit to be the best he can be.

The book is filled with so many hilarious poignant thoughts that I hesitate to reveal them here. It's too good a read to spoil with snippets. Still, I'll tantalize you with a couple. Day 98, "I phone my wife to tell her that I birdied one of those nasty par-3s that always gives me fits. She congratulates me enthusiastically, but later confesses that she has no idea what a birdie is." Day 126, "I shoot 51 on the front side, which is the same score that Jack Nicklaus shot on the first nine holes he ever played. He was, however, only ten years old at the time."

Follow Carl, lesson by lesson, session by session, round by round, on his addiction to improve at the most baffling of pursuits. You'll imagine yourself exactly in his position time after time between the covers of his journal. That, my friend, is interactive reading.

The Downhill Lie, By: Carl Hiaasen, Vintage Books. Available on Amazon.com, www.carlhiaasen.com

National Bestseller, Now in paperback.

*** Average Golfer Giveaway !! ***

The publisher has graciously provided me with two additional copies of The Downhill Lie, suitable for giving away. Email me at juniorshep@gmail.com with your choice to win this week's Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands and I'll mail copies to the 1st two closest picks in the order of finish and the earliest received. I'll return an email to the winners to obtain their mailing address on 06/29. Enter early!

Til' next,

Monday, June 22, 2009

109th US Open - It's Lucas Glover.

In the muck and mire that will define this year's US Open, South Carolinian Lucas Glover was the last man standing. His birdie on the par four 16th hole, his lone birdie of the day, broke a tie for the lead and separated him from a pack including tournament stories Phil Mickelson and David Duval. Two final pars left Glover at -4, two clear of Mickelson, Duval, and 3rd round leader Ricky Barnes. It was the second career victory for the soft spoken Glover. Mickelson endured more Open angst as he gathered his record 5th second place finish. Duval just missed the exclamation point on a Lazerus-like resurgence from the depths of career yips. Barnes just plain fell apart, reverting to an awkward swing that sprayed balls all over the Bethpage State Park. Brit Ross Fisher landed in solo fifth at -1. Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, and Soren Hansen were roped together in 6th place at even par for the event. Final Full Field Scores.

The crowd was jacked when Phil eagled the 13th hole hole, but bogeys on 15 and 17 ended his charge. As expected the fans were Phil fans urging him on until the end. In light of his wife Amy's cancer Phil showed remarkable heart and determination. Keep in mind this is high praise from Average Golfer, not an avowed Phil fan. Duval, in an astounding career comeback, lifted his own ranking by demonstrating great resolve. A triple on the par three 3rd hole could have effectively buried his chances, but he he exuded moxie with his finish that included three consecutive birds on 14, 15, and 16. His cruel lip-out bogey from four feet on 17 ended his rise. Had that putt dropped it may have placed a little more pressure on Glover's final two holes. As it was though, Glover neatly hit the 17th green and calmly and wisely hit 6 iron off 18 tee to ensure his victory.

Open Epilogue

All in all the weather was the dominating theme in this year's national championship. Between the mud balls, odd starts and stops of play, and the unusual Monday finish that wasn't playoff induced, this Open didn't have anywhere near a normal feel to it. Regardless, I'm certain the trophy feels perfectly fine in Lucas Glover's hands tonight. The luck of the draw, weather, difficult conditions are all a part of a sport played outside. I'm not sure I'd enjoy a golf dome if they had one. It all boils down to "Some days you're the dog, some the hydrant." Today Lucas Glover is the dog.

Til' next,

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Manic Monday Finish for '09 US Open

They'll resume play promptly at 9:00 tomorrow to settle the 2009 US Open. Ricky Barnes and Lucas Glover share the lead at -7, both players ending their final rounds for today after their drives on the 2nd hole. Advantage Glover. His par on the 1st made up the one shot deficit he faced when the final round began. Barnes' bogey had opened the door. When the horns stopped play due to darkness at 7:59 PM the players had the option of finishing the hole they were on. Barnes and Glover chose to mark, Glover in the fairway, Barnes in the hellacious fescue.

Barnes Leaking Oil

Barnes saw his six stroke advantage disappear on the back nine of the 3rd round. Glover bested him with 32 to Barnes' 37. That left a bevy of players with a hope should the relatively inexperienced leaders falter on Monday. David Duval, Hunter Mahan, Ross Fisher, and Phil Mickelson picked up their balls on Sunday evening in a lock at -2. One more back was Mike Weir and one further behind was a five way tie at even par including Tiger Woods.

So, potentially ten players could step up to fill the void should the leaders tank. It should be compelling action that will occur smack dab in the middle of Average Golfer's day at work. If ever there was a day to be self employed, tomorrow would be one. I should be able to catch an update during lunch which will either show the imminent winner or frustrate me with a tight finish. Regardless, we'll post closing thoughts on this year's Open tomorrow evening, rain or shine.

Bethpage a Bore?

I'll be the first to say having the US Open at a public, very public venue was a great idea in 2002. The idea of a raucus New York crowd thrown in a major championship was brilliant and it came off seamlessly. Perhaps it's been the depressing weather and stop and start action, but I don't see anything particularly exciting about Bethpage Black. Other than it's reputation as being longer than 10th grade math, there aren't any holes that stick in my mind. The 18th is a nice hole, but not a classic finisher you'd expect at a major. The 1st is actually a dynamic hole with the ability to showcase 2 and 3 shot swings. The narrow dogleg places extreme emphasis on tee accuracy and deserves to be toward the end of a round. One gimmicky 142 yard par three, presented today during the 3rd round, doesn't add up to 18 engrossing holes. The rest just seem like boorish 500 yard par fours, somewhat featureless and forgetable. I can think of a dozen courses I'd like to see in the rota next before Bethpage gets another call for our country's championship. What do y'all think?

Til' next,

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Parr Leads '09 US Open

Well, the USGA likes par to be a good score during the Open, so now we have one in the lead after the deluge shortened first round screeched to a halt. Canadian Andrew Parr was actually one under after going birdie, par, par over his three recorded holes. The 26 year old is playing in his first US Open and gets to claim the overnight lead tied with three other relative unknowns. The USGA halted play early in the day after observing that the 18th green had become a "slip 'n slide".

No relation to Jack Paar, one wonders why young Parr's parents just didn't go two more strokes and tag him Andrew Eagle. It also brings the confusion, at least for the first two rounds, of score in relation to par, or is it Parr? Heady stuff.

Expect the rain to be a factor with The Weather Channel predicting steady showers and a possibility of thunderstorms throughout the event. The bombers should prevail in wet conditions, not needing roll to move down this 7,600 yard trial.

Looks like the tournament really starts tomorrow, although Andrew Parr's journey has taken it's first tentative steps.

Til' next,

Monday, June 15, 2009

2009 US Open - Odds and Picks

Once again it's US Open time, the event that signals summer's arrival and culminates on Father's Day. Hopefully with a riveting finale that will make Father's Day even more memorable. Based on his Memorial Tournament victory Tiger Woods has been installed as the heavy favorite. You could get better odds on the sun not rising tomorrow. To give you an idea how lopsided the odds are, Angel Cabrera, two time major winner, is listed at 67/1. I like his length as a prerequisite to taming Bethpage Black, the penultimate monster course in the rota.

Without further review and with assistance from Ladbrokes, the venerable British betting house, Average Golfer will commence to handicap this year's field of combatants and arrive at a top three selection to the amazement of all. Hang on to your hats..........

Tiger Woods, 2.75/1, Nuff' said. Prohibitive favorite and rightfully so based on his last performance here. Predicted wet four days will only help. Should win.

Phil Mickelson, 15/1, Lefty would have to pull a rabbit out to win this. Weak showing last week. Understandable given his wife's illness. Won't win.

Geoff Ogilvy, 21/1, Has a US Open trophy. Not exactly peaking. Still, has steely nerves. Possible, not probable.

Jim Furyk, 21/1, Straight as a Mormon. Has the experience and a trophy. Wet conditions won't help. Could win.

Paul Casey, 26/1, Better than the odds show. Having a great year. Has length, could win.

Padraig Harrington, 34/1, Paddy's not quite Paddy of last year. Obviously can win majors, just not this one.

Sergio Garcia, 34/1, Killed by crowd last time here over regripping ad nauseum. Not playing well enough for the mobs to ride him. Can't win.

Steve Stricker, 34/1, "Mr. Hang In There" til' the end, then beat you. Hot or not putter may tell the story. Could win.

Camilo Villegas, 41/1, Has the goods. Loves the spotlight. Needs to improve over recent results. Could win.

Ernie Els, 41/1, Never exactly fiery, seems complacent. Last Open wins seem eons ago. Won't win.

Retief Goosen, 41/1, Master of fast greens. Been there, done that. Like him as a dark horse.

Rory McIlroy, 41/1, Could surprise with a great round or two. Lack of championship savvy will probably hurt. Like him 5 years from now as a favorite.

Sean O'Hair, 41/1, Stares down Tiger. If he's around on Sunday perhaps a chance. Small chance.

Vijay Singh, 41/1, Would have to revert to Vijay of old and in a hurry. Knee bothers him more than he lets on. Possible.

David Toms, 51/1, Too short to compete here. Top 10 would be a great week.

Henrik Stenson, 51/1, Odds seem too steep here. Has the length and total game to compete with Woods. Could win.

Kenny Perry, 51/1, Plenty long. Plays his best golf in his late forties. Go figure. Could win with a hot putter.

Luke Donald, 51/1, Might turn in a good round. Too short for this behemoth. Won't win.

Zach Johnson, 51/1, See Luke Donald. Dry Augusta more to his liking.

Sentimental favorites.........David Duval, Rocco, Darren Clarke.

Sleeper Picks.........Sabbatini, Allenby, Rose, and Poulter.

Average Golfer's expert Top Three finishers........

1. Woods
2. Goosen
3. Stenson

There, another year under wraps. Maybe it's my advancing age, but hasn't the last year just blown by?

Bet early and often.

Til' next,

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mickelson/Daly Would Have Been Dream Pairing at St. Jude Classic

Their personal tribulations notwithstanding, Phil's wife's cancer diagnosis, and Daly's phoenix-like attempt to regain Tour status, the matching of this duo for the first two rounds of this week's St. Jude Classic would have been a scheduling coup. On it's own merits the tourney is but a US Open tune-up for the better players and a precious tee time for those trying to keep their cards. Phil typically doesn't play this event and Long John is playing for the 1st time on US soil since his alcohol induced suspension.

Phil's 7:27 AM, 10th hole tee time and Daly's 12:54 PM start from #1 couldn't be much farther apart. I suppose that this insures that ticket buying fans have a full day of activity. It also promises The Golf Channel an opportunity to showcase each player during their coverage of the first two rounds. That's an insurance policy against either or both stars missing the cut.

Phil's using this a a US Open warm-up after his necessary layoff. Daly's using it to regain playing privileges or to qualify for next week's US Open should he pull off the remarkable and win the damn thing. Regardless, both men offer a reason to watch what would otherwise be a "B Tour" event squashed between last week's Memorial Tournament and next week's Open. The bowling alley fairways of TPC Southwind in Memphis seem diametrically opposed to each man's game. For this Average Golfer, that only increases my desire to watch bombers. May they both play well, albeit for distinctly different reasons. However, if all the planets are in alignment, we might get the dream pairing on the weekend.

McDonald's LPGA Championship - Women's 2nd Major Underway

My results with writing about women's golf are less than stellar. Not to be confused of course with my results with women in general. Suffice it to say then that I'll leave this week's coverage of the McDonald's LPGA Championship to an expert. Head over to Mostly Harmless and read The Constructivist's live commentary and enjoy some of the best women's coverage on the web.

Til' next,

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Woods' Final Round 65 Takes Memorial - US Open Tune-Up

If anyone questions whether Tiger Woods has recovered from his knee surgery, they need look no further than today's final round of Jack's Memorial Tournament. Woods' closing 65 overtook all pretenders and led to his 4th Memorial trophy. Rebounding from a 16th hole bogey that left him in a four way tie for the lead, Woods simply birdied his last two holes finishing at -12, a solitary stroke over tenacious Jim Furyk. As Average Golfer predicted, third round leaders Brian Davis and Matt Bettencourt wilted under the major-like pressure to finish 3rd and 5th respectively. Jonathan Byrd inserted himself into the tie for 3rd and Matt Kuchar and Davis Love III joined the knot for 5th.

At the start of today's final round you'd have gotten better odds that Woods would rally from his four shot deficit to win the thing than you would that he'd hit every fairway. Well, he did both. Despite Muirfield's generous landing areas that's still an impressive feat leading up to this year's US Open at Bethpage Black. Any questions about his iron play were answered on the 18th hole today with a moonshot 7 iron from 186 yards to 14 inches. My go- to club from 186 isn't an iron. Doubts about his putting were put to rest by Muirfield's icy greens that registered well above 12 on anyone's Stimpmeter. That sort of performance from all areas of his game only means that Woods is the prohibitive favorite in two weeks to win his 15th major. Woods vs. the field is the only bet worth looking at.

Whether you like Woods or routinely root against him, your eyes will be on him in two weeks. That makes the PGA Tour and the networks happy and prosperous.

Til' next,

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Photo Finish In Store at '09 Memorial Tournament

Mine That Bird, as the betting favorite, spit the bit at the 2009 Belmont Stakes, but no such favorite exists after three rounds of Jack's Memorial Tournament. Thirteen golfers are within five strokes of the leaders, leaders who don't strike fear into the five major champions hoping overcome their deficits tomorrow.

Matt Bettencourt shared the 54 hole lead with two-time Tour winner Mark Wilson. Bettencourt was last year's Nationwide Tour money winner. Wilson's a journeyman pro whose play this year has given him hope of achieving greater status on tour. They finished at -9, one stroke ahead of US Open winner Jim Furyk, two in front of major champions Davis Love III and Geoff Ogilvy. The other lurking major winners were Ernie Els and Tiger Woods at -5. Woods' 68 tied for 2nd best round of the day, with Ogilvy taking the honors with a sizzling 63. Inserting themselves into the mix among the glitterati were Jonathan Byrd at -8 and Matt Kuchar tied at -5 with Michael Letzig.

The fairways and greens at Muirfield are getting slicker than a used car salesman on the last day of the month. Look for experience to prevail. Mr. Bettencourt and Mr. Wilson have certainly played under pressure before or they wouldn't be here. Still, being chased on a golf course with a major-like set up by five major champions is a different deal all together. If one of them holds up they'll elevate themselves to a new level in the Tour pantheon. If not, they'll still take home a bundle of loot. Should be fun to watch.

Til' next,