Friday, April 30, 2010

Tiger Woods Implodes at Quail Hollow

They say you have to hit rock bottom before you begin the long journey upwards. If that's indeed the case, then Tiger Woods at least hit golf bottom at the Quail Hollow Championship. His 79 featured wild drives, water balls, and nonchalant three putts. Sort of like my game on a national stage. He missed only his 6th cut in his professional career and he missed by a mile. His two round +9 total left him a staggering 17 shots behind leader Billy Mayfair who was at -8. Woods' playing partner Angel Cabrera was one back of Mayfair at -7. Four players gathered at -6 including Phil Mickelson. Full Field 2nd Round Scores.

After Woods' horrible performance speculation will reach new heights. Have his personal demons finally cracked the impenetrable shell he's exhibited for his whole career? Is Hank Haney really the guru to fine tune his swing? Didn't Woods play better golf under Harmon? Is this just a blip on the radar screen, or just a couple of bad days? Certainly anyone that has ever picked up the sticks can relate to a couple of bad rounds. Bad rounds? Bad rounds for Woods are even par. Woods shooting a 79, featuring a smooth 43 on the back, is like me carding a 130. OK, a 132.

Woods is signed up for next week's PLAYERS Championship. The TPC Sawgrass isn't a course he speaks highly about. Quail Hollow is one of his favorites. That makes for a lot to accomplish in the week between. On the bright side, Woods has an extra weekend to prepare.

Til' next,

Friday, April 16, 2010

"..... And All I Got Was This Masters Chocolate Chip Cookie."

I didn't get to the Masters this year. Or any year, truth be told. It was on my TV screen, but that's a huge distant second to being on those hallowed grounds. One of my co-workers however, visits the Masters every year, as regular as a physical, complete with the requisite exams. He and his father have worked as course volunteers for a number of years. Great gig if you can get it. Much to my surprise, he returned to work on Tuesday with a souvenir, a token piece of Bobby Jones' legacy. A chocolate chip cookie in a Masters wrapper. Based on it's hardness it may be from a batch actually eaten by Mr. Jones. My little slice of history.

A little investigation was in order. Keep in mind that no cookie was harmed in the process, evidenced by the accompanying photo. In fact, I doubt I could have harmed this baby with a jackhammer. It was harder than 9th grade math. I have no clue on which day it was procured or the circumstances by which it traveled from Augusta to my far northern location. Some things are better left unasked. I was immediately reminded of the excellent article recently offered by Neil at Armchair Golf Blog  in which he details the stunningly low prices for food at the Masters. Strangely I found no mention of chocolate chip cookies on the menu board. That leads me to believe that a cookie must be a throw-in with a sandwich purchase. If anyone knows otherwise, please clue me in.

The list of ingredients reads like a college chemistry textbook, with thiamine mononitrate being one of the more appealing elements.  A whopping 150 calories from fat, 330 mg of sodium, and 27g of sugar makes this a guilty pleasure and a defibrillator a necessity. The sugar crash alone means this cookie is better served on the back nine. No point is missing a classic Masters finish. Fairness demands that I also point out that the cookie has 10% of your RDA of iron and 8% of vitamin A.

The question remains...... What do I now do with this nugget? I could keep it for posterity and include it in my estate to be hoarded like a family fruitcake by my progeny or I could offer it up on Ebay and contemplate early retirement. Decisions, decisions...

Til' next,

Sunday, April 11, 2010

2010 Masters - It's Phil!

I confess I've never been much of a Mickelson fan. Nothing personal, it's just you're either a Woods or a Phil fan. I was in the Woods camp.Today at the final round of the 2010 Masters the balance shifted. Phil captured his 3rd green jacket with a phenomenal display of bogey free, pressure golf on one of the sport's biggest stages. His 67 was the 2nd best round of the day and landed him at -16 for the tourney. Phil and his family have endured tremendous personal strife in the last year with the breast cancer battles waged by his mother and wife Amy. The couple's embrace on the 18th hole today was touching and poignant. The contrast between this and Tiger Woods' recent troubles was startling. Mickelson put his competition away with a 12th hole birdie and a "had to see to believe" 2nd shot on the par five 13th. Out of the pine straw, around a tree from 200 yards, to three feet, nothing but net. His closest pursuers at that point, Lee Westwood and KJ Choi, must have felt like they were pushing against an immovable force of nature and fate.

Westwood finished alone in second with a lackluster 71, -13.  Anthony Kim's 65 vaulted him to solo 3rd. He was the clubhouse leader -12 until the final group finished. KJ Choi was in the thing until bogies on 13 and 14, doubled by Mickelson's birdies on 12 and 13, turned him into also-ran status. Tiger Woods, as he did all week, mirrored Choi's efforts and putted out at -11, tied with Choi. Woods' tee woes continued. For the life of me I'll never understand why he wouldn't at least consider hitting 3 woods off the tees. He's nearly as long with a 3 wood as most players are with their drivers. Fred Couples ended at -9, leaving us to wonder what he might have accomplished with a healthy back. Still, a stellar performance from the 50 year old who proved he can still air it out with the flat bellies. Ageless Tom Watson carded a 73 today, good enough for 18th place and -1 for the event. Final Full Field Scores.

When all is said and done the 2010 Masters was a riveting tournament with twists and lead changes galore. A cross-section of the contenders was varied in age, nationality, and personas.  The weather cooperated and the course was in superb shape. Kudos to tournament officials who adjusted the set up and made the event tough, but fair. I must say this year's Masters renewed my interest.

Congratulations Phil, nice victory, worthy champion.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Westwood, Mickelson in Final Group at 2010 Masters

Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson are both in the catbird seat going into tomorrow's final round at the 2010 Masters. 18 of the last 19 Masters champs have come from the final pairing with Zach Johnson being the only exception in 2007. Westwood remained steady after having shared the 2nd round lead with countryman Ian Poulter. His smooth 68 gave him a single stroke advantage over Mickelson. Poulter's fate wasn't quite so favorable as he slipped to a tie for 6th with a 74. Mickelson tied for the day's best round with a 67. You had to see it to believe it however as he was 5 under on holes 13, 14, and 15 by going eagle, eagle, birdie. That run was highlighted by an incredulous fairway hole-out on 14 from 139 yards. Tiger Woods and KJ Choi should perhaps get a room as they will be paired again in the second to last group. That marks four straight days playing together. They'll start tomorrow's round at -8, 4 behind Westwood. Woods opened today's round with birdies on one and three and finished with a birdie. In between was marked by him struggling with his putter. His mid-round highlights featured five bogies. Expect him to be a pin seeking monster on Sunday to close the deficit. That could be a dangerous strategy, but necessary nonetheless. You can't count on both Westwood and Mickelson to be off their games, especially in light of how they've played thus far. Fred Couples put himself back into the mix with a 68. He's in solo 5th place at -7, five back. Ricky Barnes and Hunter Mahan at -6 have a remote chance, but would need a lot of things to go right for them and a lot of things to go wrong for the leaders. Poulter resides at -6 as well, but today's 74 has seemed to take the startch out of his sails. At -5 are Anthony Kim and YE Yang. Neither has much of a shot, but can pad their paychecks with a good round and a move up the board. Full Field 3rd Round Scores.

Expect perfect weather and conditions for tomorrow's finale. Remember that no one is exempt from pressure under these conditions and so much at stake. The beauty of Augusta is it allows, especially on the back nine, tremendous risk/reward holes that can swell or disintegrate a lead in a matter of minutes. All that adds up to what should fascinating viewing. It only happens once a year, so be there or be square.

Til' next,

Thursday, April 8, 2010

2010 Masters, 1st Round - Couples, Watson Turn Back Clock

It appears that 60 is the
new 50 and 50 is the new 40, at least today anyway during the 1st round of the 2010 Masters. Fred Couples, feeding off the momentum of three consecutive Champions Tour wins, leads the pack after a smooth 66. Ageless Tom Watson with a 67 was the clubhouse leader until Couples' gem. Also finishing with 67s were Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, YE Yang, and KJ Choi. Tiger Woods broke 70 for the first time in his Masters opening round with a -4, 68. Joining him in the log jam for 3rd were Ricky Barnes, Anthony Kim, Ian Poulter, and Nick Watney. Full Field 1st Round Scores.

Except for some midday wind Augusta National was relatively benign today. A line of encroaching thunderstorms miraculously passed the course by and spared a delay. The tees were moved up for the most part and moisture allowed the greens to be receptive, at least as receptive as one could expect at Augusta. Sun is forecast for the remaining three days and drying will radically change the nature of the course. Proof of that is 31 players scoring under par today.

Woods' reception was fairly warm. After carding his 68 I'm sure he realized that resuming his career here was a good idea.  Playing in his group wasn't a hindrance to his playing partners. In fact KJ Choi's 67 bested Woods and Matt Kuchar shot a -2, 70 to be in the hunt. Having the first round out of the way was a huge step in Woods' personal recovery effort.

The real story here though was Couples and Watson. This Average Golfer can't wait for the second round to see if they can continue their excellent play. Watson especially, playing on a 7,400 yard behemoth is proof that golf savvy and course knowledge can overcome distance.  Being north of 50 myself only reinforces my rooting for either of them to be a factor on Sunday. Let it unfold.....

Til' next,

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

2010 Masters - Odds and Expert Picks

As is our custom here at Average Golfer, I'll lead with an encouraging "Bet early and often". This year's version of the Masters may be particularly tough to handicap. The world #1 is coming off a five month hiatus. The rest of the field is relatively even with who should have been a favorite, Phil Mickelson, playing poorly, and who shouldn't have been considered, Ernie Els, on a tear.

Sticking with tradition, in a tradition laden event, we rely on our trusty British bookmakers, Ladbrokes. In an unusual tactic to attract more money, Ladbrokes, if Woods wins the Masters, will pay off a 2nd place finish as a win. You get to bet the Masters without Woods skewing the board. Interesting.

Ready, let's figure this baby out.....

Woods, 5:1 - No brainer. Of course he can win. I think the ring rust will prevent him from doing so. Still, bet against him at your own peril.

Mickelson, 14:1 - Lefty hasn't been exactly sharp. Expect him to find some here though. Won't win.

Els, 16:1 - Riding a current hot streak. Easy to root for. Could win.

Harrington, 20:1 - Seemingly steps it up for majors. Has the cajones. Could win.

Westwood, 20:1 - Popular pick. Should have bagged a major by now. Putter fails him on bathtub greens. Won't win.

Stricker, 25:1 - Find me a reason he can't win here. See? Could win.

Goosen, 25:1 - Has the short game and stomach for Augusta. Expect him to contend. Could win.

Casey, 33:1 - Another trendy pick. Suspect putter though. Great putters shine here. He's not one. Won't win.

McIlroy, 40:1 - Would be a huge story. Needs a little more seasoning. Doubt it, but maybe if....

Ogilvy, 40:1 - Two years ago, perhaps. Now, who knows? Has the tools and psyche. Could win.

Furyk, 40:1 - He's straight enough and just long enough. Needs hot putter which is no guarantee. Could win.

Poulter, 40:1 - Think he deserves better odds. Unflappable and underrated. Could win.

Kaymer, 40:1 - Under the radar. Would benefit from more looks at Augusta. Don't think so.

Villegas, 40:1 - Hard to argue. His game is better than it appears, if that makes sense. Could win.

Anthony Kim, 40:1 - Fresh off a win. Talent's there. Set birdie record last year here. Could win.

For the sake of brevity I've left anyone with 50:1 odds or greater out of the discussion. Keep in mind there's a plethora of great players in that group highlighted by defending champ Cabrera, Dustin Johnson, Mahan, Vijay Singh, O'Hair, Garcia, et al. Some relatively straight tee balls and a hot putter can bring one a long way at the Masters.

Enjoy and thank me later for the picks......

Average Golfer's Expert Masters Picks

1. Stricker
2. Poulter
3. Woods

Dark Horses

Tim Clark

Til' next,

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Masters - A Great Exhibition, Not Much of a Tournament

Despite it's "major" status, don't confuse the annual get- together at Augusta National for a contest to decide one the year's best players. A great spectacle, yes, a great tradition, yes, a harbinger of spring golf season, indeed, a great tournament, no way.

With a field of typically less than one hundred players, watered down with past champions powered by Avodart, the Masters' selectivity eliminates about 50 world-class golfers from the get-go. This year's list of tired champs includes Mark O'Meara, Ben Crenshaw, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle, Larry Mize, Craig Stadler, and Raymond Floyd. At least six of these guys are has beens on the Champions Tour. And...before you bring up Tom Watson on the heels of his Open Championship performance last year, I'll paraphrase Mr. Watson himself, who remarked that he has a chance in links golf where shot shaping and course knowledge plays a role, but he conceded having no chance at the 7,435 yard turbo-charged Augusta National, where bombing drives is paramount to approach the bikini waxed greens (salute Gary McCord) with something resembling a wedge in your hand. As proof consider this partial list of who didn't get an Augusta invite. J.B. Holmes, Stephen Ames, Ross McGowan, Bubba Watson, Jeev Milkha Singh, Rickie Fowler, Bryce Molder, DL III, Matthew Goggin, Charles Howell III, and Martin Laird. All of these guys staying home this week are ranked in the top 100 in the world. I'll take 7 of them and play the oldster past champions for your house. You in? Didn't think so.

Before you go all four letter word on me, let me say "I love the Masters". The beauty of the course, the quirky tradition, the Bobby Jones heritage, all wonderful. Just enjoy it for what it is, a timeless anachronism, and realize what it's not, a great golf tournament.

Til' next,

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Table Set For 2010 Masters

Anthony Kim almost handed the Shell Houston Open victory to Vaughn Taylor today. Had he done so,  Taylor, the Augusta native, would have been playing next week on his home court. As it is Taylor will be a spectator at Augusta. Kim's bunker to bunker maneuver on the 18th hole with his second and third shots forced him to win it on the 1st playoff hole. A win's a win though and Kim captured his 3rd career PGA Tour victory.

All of which leads us to the question of favorites for this year's Masters. To this Average Golfer it's really looking like a crapshoot. Woods will be battling ring rust among "who knows?" how many other demons and distractions. Mickelson's play this year has been a roller coaster, to be kind. Ernie Els appears to be the hottest stick, but he'll have to climb the mountain that says he can't get it done in the majors. Steve Stricker has all-around stats and moxy, but isn't really a constant presence in the major golf discussion. Perhaps strangely under the radar we'll find the defending champ, Angel Cabrera. He leads the tour in driving distance, which would put a wedge in his hand on many of Augusta's stupidly long holes. Hey, worked last year. Cabrera seems immune to pressure, a convenient quality to possess in majors.

A young gun? Possible. Villegas, Mahan, McIlroy, the aforementioned Kim, among others, all have the tools to accomplish the mission. Still, there's a mystique about the Masters and experience factor the means it's more likely for Nicklaus to win at 46 than anyone else to win in their twenties. The diabolical greens and course knowledge required to know exactly where to place every shot works against youth. 

Tomorrow we'll show that while the Masters is a great golf exhibition, it's nowhere near the best test of golf. Don't change that channel.

Til' next,