Sunday, August 30, 2009

Heath Slocum Outplays Big Names, Takes Barclays

The setting is The Barclays, the 1st event of the pseudo- PGA playoffs, pushed to status by an outlandish FedEx Cup payoff. Heath Slocum is faced with a twenty footer on the final hole of the tournament for the win. Tiger Woods, on the same green moments earlier, has a seven footer for an almost assured spot in a playoff. Who's your money on? If you're being honest in your answer, you'd be wrong. Slocum laced his putt, Woods yanked his outside the cup giving Slocum the win and vaulting him from 124th to 3rd in the Fedex Cup standings. Heretofore unheralded Heath shot a final round 67 to best a host of all-stars at -8. That illustrious group of first losers included Woods, Padraig Harrington, Steve Stricker, and Ernie Els. Woods and Stricker maintained their first and second place status in the four event playoff. Third round leaders Paul Goydos and Steve Marino fell off the planet in the final round. They seemed to feed off each other's miscues. Pity, as Goydos would have been a great interview as the winner. Still, it was a potential career changing win for Slocum, a light hitting journeyman who may have just discovered he has more potential in the game than just earning seven figures by making cuts. Slocum was also noted as being one of the few players not dismissing the Liberty National course as a dog track. In fact he noted that it was his new favorite course and would consider the $500,000.00 membership fee if asked to join their elite clique. Final Full Field Scores.

The FedEx Cup field, now winnowed from 125 to 100, advances to the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston. Tiger, Phil, and Vijay are previous winners and there's no reason to expect they won't contend. The Monday Labor Day finish is unique and is a nice extension to the weekend in this Average Golfer's opinion. Follow along as the "dash for cash" continues.

Til' next,

Sunday, August 23, 2009

US Hangs on to Solheim Cup for Two More Years

In a singles Sunday that was closer than the final 16-12 victory inferred, the US maintained their dominance on home soil and retained the 2009 Solheim Cup. Three early victories by Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford and break-out girl Michelle Wie gave the appearance of a potential rout, but European tenacity left the outcome in doubt until near the end. After the US posted the three early victories the Europeans led in six matches, more than enough to capture the cup. A three birdie string by legend Julie Inskster in her match with Gwladys Nocera reversed what looked like a certain Euro victory and may have turned the momentum tide for the US. Laura Davies gave away what appeared to be certain victory against Brittany Lang by losing the final two holes. Morgan Pressel's 3 and 2 win over Anna Nordqvist was the official cup clincher. Final singles results.

Wie's victory over Helen Alfresson may have the longest ramifications. Michelle showed fight and guile over the always tough and experienced Helen after giving back an early three hole advantage. Rather than fold she continued to hit impressive shots and make pressure putts. Her prodigious power and talent may have been finally unleashed on a world stage devoid of her parents. She seemed extremely happy and relaxed with other players for the first time ever and they with her. Her 3-0-1 record as a rookie made her the Woman of the Match in this Average Golfer's book. Paula Creamer beat Suzann Pettersen 3 and 2 despite being outdriven by an average of two clubs on nearly every hole. Her reputation as the women's game's best iron player was on display. Creamer hit her approaches first and close, placing pressure that Pettersen couldn't shake off. Suzann was off all week and didn't really display her status as the Euro's top player. Christina Kim's match with impressive Tania Elosegui was perhaps the day's most entertaining. They battled back and forth and were locked in a tie for a good share of the match. Elosegui's mimic of Kim's celebratory finger twirl served to reinforce the tenacity of these matches. Late missteps bt Elosegui gave Kim a 2-up win. As much as I like Kim I thought perhaps her antics were just a little over the top today and that they grew a bit tiresome. The heavily partisan crowd was extremely loud, but never in bad taste as far as I could tell.

I'm sure the LPGA would love to bottle the interest level and feel of this event for the regular tour. The problem is it can't be done. A team competition with territory based partisanship can't exist in the independent contractor world of a professional golf tour. The tour needs to embrace the South Korean wave and find a way for fans to identify with the rank and file players. As good as Creamer, Stanford, Wie and the rest of the American contingent is they aren't any better than their Asian sisters and are surpassed by sheer numbers of talented players. An American winner won't crowned every week. The LPGA is wise to seek out Asian ties and sponsors as that's exactly where the game is going and growing. Xenophobes won't save the tour. A better economy and global outlook might. And maybe the new Michelle Wie.

Top flight golf, exciting final day matches, and a rooting interest made this a great day on the couch for this Average Golfer. Hope y'all enjoyed as well. See you in Ireland.

Til' next,

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

2009 Solheim Cup - Mismatch?

Average Golfer's rare foray into women's golf is highlighted this week by the 2009 Solheim Cup being played at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, IL. The venue sounds like a spot to pick some apples after a hearty pancake breakfast. The matches shape up to be noticeably in favor of the US squad. Never discount the intricacies of match play however when all you need to do is win the hole. Disaster holes mean only that, one hole. I'd bet Padraig would have preferred match play in the last two weeks.

Our favorite betting site, Ladbrokes, has installed the USA squad as a 1.22:1 favorite. The European contingent lays at 5:1, or you can attain 12:1 odds on the match ending in a tie. The USA carries a 7-3 match record into this event having never lost on home soil. Led by the likes of Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, veteran Julie Inkster and rookie Michelle Wie, the US team has no one ranked lower than 51st in the world. The Euros feature Laura Davies, who has played in every Solheim Cup, Suzann Pettersen, Sophie Gustafson, Women's British Open winner Catriona Matthew, and Helen Alfredsson, returning to play after serving as captain. Full teams listing.

Unlike it's male counterpart of late, this one seems to lack the controversy that can drive interest and excitement. The most controversy that exists is still within the US team from two years ago when the highly charged Dottie Pepper, a US Solheim legend, in her capacity as golf commentator, referred to the US team as "Chokin', freakin' dogs" during a low point in the '07 matches. Ms Pepper unfortunately forgot the axiom that any microphone within range should be considered an open microphone. Perhaps some tension will develop on the course with spirited play. It would serve to pique my interest level to see a little personal competitiveness. "Nice shot, nice shot, pick it up" is a recipe for an early nap. Davies and Alfredsson can spark the Euros while Creamer and Christina Kim are more than capable of the same for the US.

Team match play often comes down to pairings, the Woods/Mickleson pairing in the Ryder Cup being a prime example of the negative buddy system. I see a Wie/Creamer or Wie/Kim as being a lightning rod for some action. For a greater analysis of the players and potential pairing you must read The Constructivist's article at Mostly Harmless. This scion of women's golf has forgotten more about the LPGA and LET than I know.

It may be almost time to rethink the relevancy of the USA/Europe match up as the world's #1 player is Mexican and the dominant country is South Korea. Regardless, there's some tradition sewn into these matches and that discussion can be back- burnered for a bit. Let's hope for some good weather, compelling matches and enjoy the fact that professional athletes are playing for their respective countries, not for mind numbing purses with even second place prizes that create instant tax problems. Enjoy.

Til' next,

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Y.E. Yang Snaps Woods' Streak at 91st PGA Championship

Make no mistake, Y.E.Yang flat out beat Tiger Woods to capture the 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine ending Woods 14 major tournament winning streak when holding the 54 hole lead. Yang's final round 70 earned him a three shot win after Woods' 75 put the streak in it's final resting place. Y.E. finished the tourney at -8. I suppose it was inevitable. After all, Jack Nicklaus finished 2nd a record 19 times in majors. Granted, Woods' 33 whacks with the flat stick in the final round didn't help his cause, but it was Yang who chipped in for eagle on the drivable par four 14th and it was Yang who stuck it to eight feet from 207 yards on 18 to set up just the third birdie of the day on the closing hole and seal the deal. Those were shots we've come to expect Woods to pull off under major championship pressure. Yang simply out-Tigered Tiger. Full Field Final Scores.

Consider the fact that Yang didn't begin playing golf until he was 19 years old and then donated 18 months to the Korean army. That's spotting the field a lifetime of experience. His breakthrough win was earlier this year at the Honda Classic. In the short time since then he's demonstrated he's a quick learner. Expect the 37 year old to set off an explosion in Asian golf, a fete accomplished for the women's game by Se Ri Pak. Asia's already building courses like crazy and Yang's triumph is just the catalyst needed to propel the game from the ground up. Golf is truly an international sport with Y.E. Yang's victory the latest exclamation point.

The final men's major of the year is really the curtain drop for the 2009 men's professional season. Everything else is just an encore with us holding the lighters in the dark. Average Golfer will still pay attention of course, especially this week's Solheim Cup being of interest, but the influence of international players dents some venerable events. The Ryder Cup and the Solheim Cup may have to revisit their protocol with so many top players coming from outside Europe and the US. The contrived Fedex Cup hasn't gotten much of my interest other than it being a ridiculous pay day. Your opinions?

Finally..............Congrats to Y.E. Yang!

Til' next,

Friday, August 14, 2009

Halfway at Hazeltine - Tiger's Tail Lights

A four stroke lead at the mid point of a major for Tiger Woods is almost too much to rally from. Woods shot a -2, 70 today and put the clubs away carrying a four stroke advantage over a host of challengers at the 91st PGA Championship. Only a sloppy chip and errant ten footer by Woods on the 18th hole kept it from being five. Padraig Harrington did his best to remain within sniffing distance, but backpedaled 3 strokes to land at -3 for the tourney so far. He was grouped with Ross Fisher with a stellar 68, Lucas Glover, Brendan Jones, and two-time PGA Champion Vijay Singh. Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood held up the Brit contingent at -2. Full field scores.

Who's gone?

Big names sent packing by missing the +4 cut include Stuart Appleby, Sergio Garcia, 78 today, Davis Love III, Justin Rose, Bubba Watson, Nick Watney, Steve Stricker, and Adam Scott after a dreadful 82, 79. Rumor says that Scott has jettisoned Butch Harmon as his coach after watching his career sink. Perhaps Butchie will call JD.

What's next?

What's up next is for the one or more of the chasers to step up tomorrow, fire at pins, and hope to go low in an effort to chase down Woods. From what I've seen of Hazeltine so far it doesn't appear to be the type of layout where Woods would post any huge numbers and retreat back to the masses. Relatively open, plenty long and drying out play to Woods strong suits, length and the world's best short game for the inevitable missed greens on enormous holes, especially the par fours. The poa greens that Woods putts better than anyone are just frosting. He's swinging well and I wouldn't count on that changing in the next two days. So who has the moxy and game to back it up to narrow the deficit? Tune in, tomorrow should reveal most of the remaining cards in this deck. I expect Sunday will be a barn burner or a coronation. Saturday's the key in this one.

Be there.

Til' next,

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

91st PGA Championship - Odds and Expert Picks.

Wouldn't you know, just like that I'm an expert. Hard to be too expert with betting at the 91st PGA Championship with the line so skewed by Tiger Woods, a stupefying 2.75:1 set by our resident expert friends at Ladbrokes, the renowned British betting house. Average Golfer will throw you his two cents for free as anyone with any cajones will look outside Mr. Woods to make a play. Anything less pays more humbly than a passbook savings account. If I was at the track I'd be wheeling Woods in an exacta box just to make beer money.

We'll cover the players to 51:1, which is only a span of thirteen! The finish will include picks to win and dark horses for those of you with more money than brains. Ready? Then pay attention. After all, somebody here has to........

Tiger Woods, 2.75:1 - Ridiculous. Going for 3 in a row. C'mon, you didn't come here to earn a pittance. Should win.

Lee Westwood, 26:1 - Looking like a pretty damn good bridesmaid. We're number two! We're number two!

Paddy Harrington, 26:1 - Assuming he's not shell shocked from last week, could win.

Phil Mickelson, 26:1 - Rumor has him hitting it squirrely in practice. One of the few that can score with his B game. Doubtful, too much rust.

Hunter Mahan, 34:1 - Long, straight, great short game. What's not to like? Could win.

Retief Goosen, 41:1 - I've picked Goose to show up all year. He hasn't. He won't.

Sergio Garcia, 41:1 - Game suits the course. Head is on a milk carton. Doubtful.

Steve Stricker, 41:1 - Solid Strick. Look behind you, there he is. Could win.

Angel Cabrera, 51:1 - Long odds for major winner. Can air it out here. Possible.

Geoff Ogilvy, 51:1 - M.I.A. Odds on recent rep alone. Not Michael Campbell, but..... Won't win.

Henrik Stenson, 51:1 - Robot golf will only get you so far. Naked act only works once. Won't win.

Kenny Perry, 51:1 - Layout fits. Get the putter humming and........Perhaps.

Stewart Cink, 51:1 - Broke his maiden. Got the tools and all the other cliches. Could win.

Over 51:1 includes a horde of great players. Kim, Villegas, Furyk, Allenby, Fisher, Singh, Els, McIlroy, ad nauseum. As stated, Woods' dominance throws a giant monkey wrench into the works. Regardless, I'll pick away........

Average Golfer's Top Three, (In no particular order)

1. Woods
2. Mahan
3. Harrington

Dark Horses for the Adventurous

1. Rich Beem, Well, of course!
2. Mark Wilson
3. Kevin Streelman

There you go. Free picks. Gratis, on the house. Bet early and often and no bitching.

Til' next,

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tiger Woods Waltzes Into 91st PGA Championship.

It would be hard to imagine coming into the last major of the year on a hotter streak than Tiger Woods. Victories in his last two tournaments, albeit almost by default last week at the WGC-Bridestone Invitational, bode well for fine performance from him at the 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, MN. 99 of the top 100 world ranked players are here, so this is no cakewalk. Regardless, Woods seems to be the best equipped for the challenge. Factor in his obvious desire to snag one major to complete his year and continued chase of Jack and this should be riveting. 91st PGA Championship Full Field.

Hazeltine will play as the longest major in history at 7,674 yards. That's 4.36 miles in layman's terms, longer than 10th grade math. Many players interviewed however have commented that the course is "right there in front of you", meaning the length is mitigated somewhat by be able to see where you need to position yourself to hit fairways and greens. Longish clubs into par four greens will be the order of the day with the difference being Tiger's 3 iron vs Jim Furyk's hybrid, neither club described as a scoring implement. So, as fitting in a major, par should be precious with expected bogeys figuring into the mix. Weather and wetness will be the unknown. A wet course will decidedly favor bombers, while if the fairways dry, the field should crowd up.

Tiger, defending champion Padraig Harrington, and Rich Beem, the 2002 winner here, will share a pairing for the first two days. Interesting group considering what transpired at the end of last week's event. I'll be paying attention to the pace of play, although I doubt it will be foremost on PGA Tour official's work lists on Thursday. Average Golfer knows that pace of play is a hot button issue and negatively affects the game in general. Still, as in other sports, I feel that officials should never become part of the outcome or even the story. The answer? Of course I have none.

Stayed tuned for picks and odds tomorrow.

Til' next,

Coming Soon.........An 18 Hole Golf Course.

Two miles from my house. One of the perks for living in a resort area. The H.E. stands for "Honest Ed", a local icon that recently ran for mayor of our fair city. Really.


Til' next,

....and yes those are used tires, Ed guarantees it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tiger Woods vs. The Field at Bridgestone Invitational

Firestone Country Club hosts a fitting warm up to next week's PGA Championship, the WGC -Bridgestone Invitational, an 80 player limited field event. I'm no fan of shortened field tournaments, but at least this one's filled with top players as opposed to a certain major that's stuffed with WWII vets. Don't be swayed by the fact that Tiger Woods, who is coming off a win last week, has also won here six times. That's no good reason to pick him this week and confirms you as a lemming. After all, he has a 1 in 80 chance, right? Well, not quite. Ladbrokes has him established at odds of 2.25:1, ridiculous for a golf tournament. The second favorite is Phil Mickelson at 17:1 after a hiatus and he's followed by Jim Furyk at 26:1. Full field.

So let's throw Woods out of the mix and see who else might have a shot. Firestone is narrow and tree lined with ancient turtle back greens, so this Average Golfer is thinkin' straight off the tee and a great short game would be nice to have in the arsenal. Immediately coming to mind are Furyk, Goosen, Leonard, Mahan, Stricker, and Westwood. There's six good picks to throw up against Senor Woods. The boys to avoid are Els, Garcia, Ogilvy, and Singh. Els and Garcia's heads are Elswhere. Ogilvy's in an uncharacteristic funk and Vijay hasn't quite rounded into form after the knee surgery, although he's making good progress with two recent top tens.

Of course many of the chosen 80 are capable of winning this thing, just unlikely. My sentimental pick is Davis Love III. He plays well here and I'd like to see him enjoy a little more twilight glory. It should be a top notch event. Set your Tivo if you'll be out on the course yourself, or pull up the easy chair and watch them do what they do best.

Til' next,