Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wednesday Preview - LPGA North Texas Shootout

There is no rest for the weary, as the LPGA tries to continue its fantastic 2014 at the North Texas Shootout (Yee Haw).

Course: Las Colinas Country Club, measuring at 6,400 yards. Three keys this week: Putting, putting, putting. The players are going to have birdie opportunities, and you're going to need to convert them if you want any chance. If you're playing well, you should be able to hit the fairway, as course is generally pretty wide open; however, wayward shots will be punished.

Strength Of Field: B-. Lexi Thompson returns, but two time winners Karrie Webb and Anna Nordqvist take the week off, as does last weeks winner Lydia Ko. Paula Creamer withdrew earlier this week. Inbee, Stacy, and Suzann all tee it up this week.

Extra Tidbits: This event has an interesting cut system, with a first cut coming Friday down to the top 70 players, and a second cut to the top 50 players on Saturday. Players who make the first cut and miss the second are still given credit for a made cut and will get paid as such...Lexi Thompson returns to action this week, the first tournament since winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship...Last year, Inbee Park fired a -4 67 to clip Carlota Ciganda, who was in control of the tournament until the back 9 on Sunday.

Fantasy Four:

1) Stacy Lewis - Came close, once again, last week. Leads the Race For The CME Globe standings without posting a victory. Has finished outside the top 10 only once this season. Being passed by Ko in the Rolex Rankings should give her extra motivation this week.

2) Lexi Thompson - Either feast or famine for Lexi, who has three top 10 finishes this season to go along with three finishes outside the top 25 and one missed cut. Will either be rested and relaxed following her major victory, or the distractions will be too much for her. If she is focused and playing her best, she is unbeatable.

3) Inbee Park - Defending champion and world number 1 somehow flying under the radar thanks to Thompson, Wie, and Ko. Has finished outside the top 10 just once this season, but zero wins this season has her ranked 9th in the Race To The CME Globe standings. 

4) Michelle Wie - Hasn't finished outside the Top 16 in any start this season. Followed up a victory in Hawaii with a T9 at the Swinging Skirts. One week removed from victory should give Wie a breather from the publicity. Ranks 3rd in the CME Globe, 1st in official money, and, most importantly, 2nd in scoring average. 

(SLEEPER) Mo Martin - Has only missed one cut this season. Appears to be one round away from putting together a really good tournament. Has a game similar to Ciganda's, who almost won the event last season. I think she'll be the "who?" name at the end of the week sandwiched on the leaderboard by a bunch of huge names.

Wednesday Preview - Wells Fargo Championship

This week, the PGA Tour returns to the East Coast as players head to North Carolina for the Wells Fargo Championship. Quail Hollow always seems to host a great championship, bringing in the big fields and providing Sunday drama down the stretch. 

Course: Quail Hollow Club, one of the most beautiful courses in the Carolinas. 7,400 yards that can play as easy or as difficult as the club would like. The "Green Mile", which is the final three holes on the course, is one of the hardest closing stretches on tour. 

Strength Of Field: B. The highest ranked player in the field is Phil Mickelson at 9th, but a lot of the players in the field this week are in the teens, and are names that you would like to watch in the weekend - Phil, Rory, Rose, Zach. This is usually the best field between the Masters and the Players, and it remains the case this year, as well.

Other Tidbits: Four players, who are teeing it up this week, have never missed a start at Quail Hollow - Stuart Appleby, Rory Sabbatini, Charles Howell III, and JJ Henry...Last year, Derek Ernst shocked the world by beating a high quality field for his first victory. Unfortunately, it was not a jumping point for Ernst, who has struggled since...Of the previous six winners, four of them have been under the age of 24...Quail Hollow was the site of Rory McIlroy's first PGA victory in 2010...Quail Hollow will host its first major championship in 2017, when it hosts the PGA Championship.

Fantasy Four:

1) Phil Mickelson - Came one shot short of a playoff last year after blowing a lead on the 72nd hole. Has not played well this season, but Quail Hollow can provide a boost for the season. Has rested since his missed cut at the Masters.

2) Jimmy Walker - Has also rested since his T8 at the Masters. While he has cooled off since his torrid start, it's not like Walker's game has complete collapsed - in fact, Walker hasn't missed a cut since his victory at Pebble Beach. Has the kind of game to compete at Sawgrass and could use Quail Hollow as a warm-up.

3) Y.E. Yang - Sleeper Pick. Taking a huge flier on this one, but I get the feeling he'll play well after watching his countryman Seung-Yul Noh pick up his first victory last week. Yang's exemption for winning the 2009 PGA Championship runs out this season, so he needs some strong finishes in order to retain his card. Has made 10 of 15 cuts this season.

4) Jim Furyk - Worst finish in the last four starts has been T20. Has finished in the Top 10 4 times at Quail Hollow. Hasn't missed a cut this season, and has three top 10's. Shockingly hasn't won since his triumph at the 2010 Tour Championship.

Last Weeks Team:
Rickie Fowler - MC
Justin Rose - T8
Stuart Appleby - T17
J.B. Holmes - T11

Monday, April 28, 2014

"Give Them The Opportunity To Fail"

In my recap of the first LPGA event of the year, I talked about Lydia Ko and how she "needs to be given the opportunity to fail before she can become the face of the sport". One of my readers from New Zealand pointed this quote out to me and then pointed to her Ko's stats this year: Rolex Number 2, a victory each year since 2012, and zero missed cuts. Of course, this is supposed to make me look foolish in retrospect, correct?

The fact is, my main point remains. While Ko hasn't had a "failure" of a season, she did have the opportunity to win the second event of the season until a final round 73 kept her from closing the deal. Almost instantly, several writers were saying that this was Ko's "young nerves" and that she "ran into Hall of Famers and faltered", things of that nature. This was followed up after The Masters when, after Jordan Speith came agonizing close to becoming the youngest player to ever wear the green jacket, the question of whether Jordan "needs to win a major soon" in order to validate his successes cropped up.

What Ko and Speith and Lexi Thompson have done is spoiled us. They've been so great at such a young age that we expect them to take over their respected tours without getting an opportunity to develop. It's what crippled Michelle Wie until recently. With all the hype surrounding Wie, she was expected to have great rounds every time she tee'd it up, to the point when every good round was shrugged off, and every bad round was magnified. If a 17 year old Wie was in contention and wasn't able to close the deal, questions of whether or not she should change her caddie or her swing coach, or if playing with the men was a mistake, or if she was too much hype and was paid too much, etc. began to crop up. It crippled her development as a player.

Say Ko doesn't win a major until she's 20 (I don't think that will happen, but let's hypothesize). How many golf writers would be deem her a "bust", saying that she wasn't able to "cash in on her promise"? My point in allowing these players the opportunity to fail is just allowing patience with those who aren't even old enough to drink. Nobody is great every week for their entire career. If Ko misses the next four cuts, it doesn't make this season any less spectacular.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Lydia's Best Week Ever!

- How is this for a weekend? You turn 17, you find out you've been named one of Time's Most Influential People, and you win a golf tournament. That was the weekend, in a nutshell, for Lydia Ko, who just won her third LPGA title, and first as a professional. Ko is projected to move to number 2 on the Rolex World Rankings, and now has a complete stranglehold on the Rookie Of The Year rankings.

- Here are the last three winners of LPGA events - Lexi Thompson, Michelle Wie, and Lydia Ko. These three are quickly rising up the top of the rankings, are in the pole positions for Player Of The Year honors, and Wie is the elder of the group at 24. The LPGA is in great hands.

- Speaking of Wie, I am more encouraged than discouraged by her T9 finish at the Swinging Skirts. With all the media surrounding her following her victory in Hawaii, it would have been easy to finish well down on the leaderboard. She didn't let the pressure get to her, and she finished strong.

- If they gave trophies for runner up finishes, Stacy Lewis would have to buy a new house just to put them somewhere. It would be really easy for Lewis to become frustrated with her near finishes, especially now that she just got passed by Ko, and with several other young stars playing so well. Lewis just needs to stay the course and continue what she's doing. They say it's hard to win on the PGA Tour, but it is far harder to win on the LPGA, with so many great players looking for an opportunity to break through. Speaking of bring really good and not winning...

- It's becoming a weekly occurrence that we see Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park near the top of the leaderboard. After all, these are two of the players battling for number one in the Rolex Rankings. They, however, will need to win soon with so many other players playing so well behind them. Top finishes will keep Park ahead of Lewis and Suzann Pettersen (whose return to action was less than spectacular), but it won't keep her ahead of the likes of Ko or Thompson if they continue to win.

- If you're not buying the Hyo Joo Kim stock yet, I don't know what it's going to take to convince you. Kim notched her second straight top 10 finish, and seemed unphased playing in front of all the media who were watching the Ko/Lewis duel. A top 10 gets her into the North Texas tournament next week, but there is no guarantee that she will accept the invitation. Kim, after all, is already exempt into the US Open.

- It seems amazing that Seung-Yul Noh is only 22, since it seems like he's been around forever. The fact is that Noh did turn professional seven years ago, and a victory this week at the Zurich Classic is exactly what has been missing between him and vindication. When he first made the jump to the United States, you would have thought he was going to take the Tour by storm with his history in Asia. After a couple of struggling seasons, Noh is finally playing at the highest level and has a win to show for it, and now we can finally start seeing the Noh that played so well as a teenager.

- Noh is another example as to how the new qualifying system works. Sure, there are some things to work out, such as the playing opportunities for graduates, but to me, it seems clear that the four tournament playoff prepares players for the PGA Tour far more than the Q-School ever did.

- If you would have told me before the start of the season that a Korean man would have won before a Korean woman (discounting the Korean born Kiwi Ko), I would have called you crazy. Regardless, Noh becomes the first man from somewhere other than the United States and Australia to win on Tour this season, as the Asian countries remain shut out in the LPGA in 2014.

Friday, April 25, 2014

News Grab-Bag: 4/25/2014

I'm still collecting donations for the 8-Bit Salute. Donate and support the troops!

- R&A chief Peter Dawson announced Tuesday that he will be stepping down in 2015, ending his 16 year run as the head of the organization. He will remain the head of the International Golf Federation, which oversees golf in the Olympics, through at least 2016. With all the shake-ups at the top of the USGA, as well as Tim Finchem rumored to be stepping away in 2016, the world of golf, at least at the executive level, is going to look drastically different in a couple of years.

- The USGA received a record number of entries for qualifying for the US Open. 10,127 players are going to be competing in open qualifying, the first time in history that the USGA received over 10,000 entries. Local qualifying will begin May 2nd, and sectional qualifying will take place on June 2nd. US Open Sectional Qualifying, by the way, is one of the most exciting days for golf fans, with 10 golf tournaments taking place all over the country with the hope of playing in the national open. Two international qualifiers, in England and in Japan, will take place on May 26th.

- Lydia Ko got herself a lovely 17th birthday present, as she was named on of Time Magazines "100 Most Influential People". She follows Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa, Yani Tseng, and Michelle Wie as the only LPGA professionals to ever make the list. Ko is also the only golfer and one of only five athletes to make the list.

- Tiger Woods did some light work around the green this week, and his agent told Golf Channel that his time table to return is "sometime this summer". That could mean sometime between the US Open and the PGA Championship. If I had to guess, I would doubt we would see Tiger at the US Open. He'll likely wait until after the Tour returns from across the pond and come back in time for the PGA Championship. Circle the Bridgestone Championship in Ohio.

- The San Francisco Giants are giving these away on Monday. Anyone care to pick me up one?

- I didn't get to cover this in my wrap-up in Monday, but congratulations to 15-year-old Minami Katsu on becoming the youngest winner in JLPGA history. Katsu topped the record that was previous held by Hyo-Joo Kim, whom I previously mentioned in my wrap up, and follows in the footsteps of Ryo Ishikawa who also won in Japan when he was 15.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wednesday Preview - Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic

The LPGA returns to the Bay Area for the first time since 2010, and if the interviews and sound bites by the top players are any evidence, the move is an incredibly popular one. The Swinging Skirts, from what I can gather, is a non-profit group based out of Taiwan that is instrumental in growing the game and bridging the gap between the roots of golf in Scotland and the new audience being gathered in Asia. Hopefully, bringing a tournament to the United States will give them a bit more publicity going forward.

Course: Lake Merced Golf Club. Seeing as this is the first year for this tournament, I have no idea how the course is going to play or where the winning score is going to be. I would guess that it would be around the same level of difficulty as Hawaii was, so around -10 for the winning score. Anything could happen, though.

Strength Of Field: B. It is a top heavy field - many of the top players in the world are playing, but there are also a large number of TLPGA players in the field, as well, so you can't say that the field is incredibly deep. Not like it matters - no one outside the top 50 has won on the LPGA this year. The only real big name missing from the field is Lexi Thompson.

Extra Tidbits: Suzann Pettersen returns to action after sitting out several weeks with a back injury...Swinging Skirts also have a tournament in Taiwan that usually attracts the best fields in Asia. Many LPGA pros, including Suzann Pettersen, fly over to compete in that tournament. Lydia Ko won the event at the end of last year in only her second event as a professional...many top Taiwan LPGA professionals received an exemption into the tournament. Also, too, did England's Charley Hull and Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn, as well as Korean sensation Hyo Joo Kim...Swinging Skirts is known for their incredibly odd art, so if you see pictures of gigantic shoes or rings around the golf course, do not be alarmed.

Fantasy Four:

1) Paula Creamer - Hasn't played great since her win in Singapore, but a return to California should be what the doctor ordered. Creamer played in the Bay Area as an amateur, so Creamer should have an idea as to how the course should play. Creamer has made the cut in 80 consecutive events. 

2) Inbee Park - Has become the new top 10 machine, recording 5 of them in 6 events this season. Seems to love the pressure of remaining the number one player in the world, especially with Pettersen and Stacy Lewis in the field. Won't bet against Inbee until she gives me a reason to do so.

3) Michelle Wie - Part of me is cautious as to how she will respond after finally picking up her third victory last week, but returning to the Bay Area should be a relaxing experience for her. Wie went to school at Stanford. Hasn't finished worse then T16 in any event she's played this season. First in scoring average and money list. 

4) Se Ri Pak - You can be either optimistic or pessimistic based on her performance last week. I am more optimistic, as Pak is now notching top 10's with frequency. Three top 10's in three starts. Could easily win if she can put four rounds together.

(SLEEPER) Ariya Jutanugarn - Finished in the top 25 after Monday qualifying last week. Ariya is trying to join her sister Moriya on Tour, so top finishes in tournaments are going to be necessary. Appears to be healthy after returning from her shoulder injury. 

Wednesday Preview - Zurich Classic

Pretty anti-climatic week this week, as the PGA Tour heads to New Orleans for the Zurich Classic. Not going to lie,'s a pretty boring one this week.

Course: TPC Louisiana, 7,400 yards of relatively wide open space and non-punishing rough. After a stretch of difficult golf courses, expect an absolute birdie fest this week.

Strength Of Field: D-. One of the weakest fields we've seen all season. Justin Rose, ranked 11th in the world, is the highest ranked player in the field. The lower ranked players are jumping all over this event to qualify for the Players, while the higher ranked players are resting before their trip to Sawgrass.

Extra Tidbits: Six of the last nine winners of the Zurich Classic made this tournament the site of their first victory...Last year, Billy Horschel won in a playoff against D.A. Points at -20. Expect scores to be around there again this year.

Fantasy Four:

1) Rickie Fowler - We're all probably set to get burned by Rickie again after his performance at the Masters. Eventually Fowler has to win again, and this season has been a particularly strong one, with three top 10's, two of them at a WGC event and a major. He will either win or miss the cut, but with the way he's been trending and with there being a lack of real favorite to win this event, I give Rickie a really good shot.

2) Justin Rose - Heading back in the right direction just in time, as he is currently on the outside of the European Ryder Cup. Going to be defending the US Open in a couple months, and will need a few strong finishes to get his confidence back. Finished T14 at the Masters, but that followed a missed cut at Bay Hill.

3) Stuart Appleby - Sleeper Pick. Has only missed two cuts since the start of 2014. Sits at a quiet 66th in the FedEx Cup, and on the heels of a top 25 in South Carolina. Last event he won was the birdie fest at Greenbrier in 2010, where Appleby shot a 59. 

4) J.B. Holmes - Hasn't missed a cut since the Honda Classic, and has finished in the Top 25 three times in four events. Can relax now that he met the terms of his medical extension. TPC Louisiana rewards long hitters and doesn't punish inaccuracy, so Holmes should be able to overpower several holes.  

Last Weeks Team:
Will MacKenzie: CUT
Kevin Na: CUT
Stewart Cink: T61
Trevor Immelman: T74

Monday, April 21, 2014

How Are My Predictions Holding Up?

The very first blog post on this site was my 5 Bold LPGA Predictions, which I assumed was going to make me look foolish by the end of the year. So, am I looking foolish? Let's take a look. First, we'll start with the minor predictions that I didn't go into detail with:

- Se Ri Pak will win the HanaBank Championship- The Hana Bank Championship isn't until October, so we have a long way to go before we know the outcome of this one.
- Lydia Ko won't win on the LPGA Tour, but will still be Rookie Of The Year - So far, so good on this one, as Ko has a commanding lead in the ROY standings but has yet to win this season.
- The five majors will have five different champions - We're only one major into the season, so we won't know until much later. 
- Eun-Hee Ji will win before Yani Tseng - Neither player has won, and neither seem close to winning, either.

With the small ones out of the way, let's take a look at the five bold predictions I made prior to the start of the LPGA season, and see where we stand. 

5) Lexi Thompson Will Win A Major

Verdict: SUCCESS! Even I admitted, however, that this wasn't as much of a bold prediction as I'd like to pretend. Thompson was entering this season in tremendous form, so to say that she was going to win a major wasn't really that odd. I will say, however, that I expected it to be the LPGA Championship, and not the Kraft Nabisco, which makes my prediction of five different major champions at risk of being failed. There are a lot of great players out there playing lights out golf right now, but Thompson may be playing the best of them all, and can easily win another major before the season is over.

4) Beatriz Recari Will Win The Most Tournaments By A European Player

Verdict: We won't know until the end of the season for sure, but I'm calling this a FAILURE. A lot of factors are going against this one right now. One of them is Recari's struggles with her form and some injury issues which has caused her to struggle to make cuts this season. Another is Sweden's Anna Nordqvist, who has won twice this season already. In order for this to come true, Recari will have to return to form and win three times without Nordqvist winning again or any other European player getting hot. That's a lot to ask right now, but the Asian swing at the end of the year can yield some interesting results. For now, though, it's not looking good.

3) The Player Of The Year Will NOT Come From The Big Three

Verdict: Still undermined, but It's Looking Good. While Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park are playing well this season, neither have won yet, and players like Anna Nordqvist, Karrie Webb, Lexi Thompson, and Michelle Wie are playing at the highest level right now. This could easily change if Inbee or Lewis win, but right now they are both trailing. Suzann Pettersen has been sidelined with a back injury, and given her form prior to the injury, I doubt we'll be seeing her in the conversation. 

2) So Yeon Ryu Will Be The Top Ranked Korean

Verdict: There hasn't been a single winner from Korea yet this season, but given how Inbee Park has played, I'm going to call this a FAILURE. A win can easily change this verdict, but Ryu seems to be going in the opposite direction - when she was notching top 10's a year ago, she was in the middle of the conversation on Sunday before finding a way to lose. It seems, however, that her top 10's this year have been backdoor - top finishes without really contending. Is Ryu wants to pass Park and make this prediction a success, she will HAVE to win. It doesn't appear as if Park will start struggling anytime soon.

1) Michelle Wie Will Win In 2014

Verdict: SUCCESS! This prediction looked crazier before the first event tee'd off then it did prior to Wie's victory in Hawaii, where she was in top form. Wie had a couple of good tournaments down the stretch in 2013, but nothing spectacular, while her 2014 performances have all been great, never finishing outside the top 25 in any tournament she's played this season. If I knew Wie would be playing this well, I would have predicted she would win several times this season, and make a run for Player Of The Year. That would have been an incredibly bold prediction. As it is, Wie is playing as good as anyone on Tour right now.

I must say, I'm not doing bad for myself so far this season. We are only a forth of the way into it, so there is plenty of time for several of these predictions to turn bad, but as it stands right now, I feel confident. I think I'm starting to get the hang of this golf analyst stuff.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Aloha! The Big Wiesy Returns!

- There are movie writers out there jealous of the script that has been written this week. Michelle Wie, for years, gets pummeled by golf writers for failing to live up to the promise she showed ten years ago. Two weeks ago, she comes close to winning her first major title, but comes up short to another phenom, Lexi Thompson, only to return home to Hawaii and win her first LPGA Tour event in four years. It's the kind of redemption story you hear about all the time in sports, but you're still amazed when it happens. I doubt there will be a more popular victory this season, by players and fans alike.

- For those who completely wrote off Wie, here are some facts for you - she is 24, has finished in the top 10 four times this season, including a runner up finish at a major and a win this week. She has taken over the top spot on the money list, is second in the Race For The CME Globe, and is playing the best golf of her career. I know players like Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko are making it so we expect greatness at such a young age, but sometimes failure can turn someone into a much stronger player.

- Is there a better scenario for the LPGA then to see a Thompson/Wie back and forth throughout the course of the season. Sure, I love a lot of players on tour; in fact, I find myself partial to many of the Asian born players, but even the most biased fans of certain players have to admit that the idea of Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie being on top of the world would be ideal to bring in interest for the Tour.

- I will forgive you if you didn't know the name Hyo Joo Kim. She hardly ever plays in the US, and she only turned professional in 2012, so the casual golf fan likely has not heard anything about her. That will change very soon, I would suspect. Kim's fourth place finish this week validated what many fans of Asian golf already know - Hyo Joo Kim is really, really good. She should be at all the majors this year, and expect her to be in contention for at least one of them. Oh, and while we're on the topic of phenoms - Kim is only 18 years old.

- Se Ri Pak's third round 74 derailed her, but it is not going to change the outlook I have on her going forward. Pak is feeling it now. She no longer seems worried about her shoulder, which was the main thing holding her back the past several years. With Wie breaking through this week, no one seems more "due" for another victory then Pak...except maybe So Yeon Ryu, who just notched another top 10, but seems to be getting further and further away from LPGA victory number 3.

- I'll be honest - when Matt Kuchar three putted the 17th green, I thought he had just choked away another victory. As my father always used to say "sometimes, it's better to be lucky then good." Kuchar has had everything go against him in final rounds the past three weeks, and when that bunker shot when in the hole on the 18th, it was almost as if golf was repaying him for his patience. I'm sure he'd rather have a green jacket then a tartan one, but a win is a win, and after the month Kuchar has had, I'm sure he's not going to complain.

- If you asked me if I'd rather be entering the final round with the lead, or a stroke or two back, I'd rather come from behind. Once again, the 54 hole leader fails to convert, and it was former World Number One Luke Donald that was the culprit. A runner up finish is nice for Luke Donald, who has struggled lately, but he's going to need a lot more if he's going to try and make the Ryder Cup team. With so many players not guaranteed a spot yet (Donald, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter), the final spot on the team may come down to the veteran who is able to sneak out a victory. I don't know if this week was an example of Donald's game improving, or if it was just the fact that this golf course caters to his eye, but he's going to need some more big weeks coming up. Besides, I don't know how much I can look at this week from an optimistic standpoint if Donald can't seal the deal with a two shot lead.

- Kuchar's final round 64 was far and away the best round of the day, and nobody broke 70 all four days of the tournament, which goes to show that a golf course doesn't have to be 7,500 yards to be difficult. Harbour Town's wind and rain gave the course some bite, and players had to rely on superior ball striking and putting to perform well this week. Wow, what a concept.

- When someone finds Zach Johnson's putting, can you also find his confidence while you're at it? No one has gone from being spectacular to being incredibly mediocre quicker this season than Johnson, who looked liked he was poised to take over the top spot in the World Golf Rankings. Zach is one of my favorite players, and I really hope he finds his game again soon, because it's hard to watch him the way he's playing.

- Did anyone SERIOUSLY think Jordan Spieth was in for a letdown after the Masters?

- I'm not sure what to take from Lee Westwood's victory in Malaysia this week. On one end, a win is a win, and for someone who has struggled the past year and a half, raising another trophy may be the confidence needed. On the other hand, it was a win that occurred on the other side of the world with a weak field. Westwood is another one of those Ryder Cup faithfuls that needs to do some work to make the team, so we will have to see is this translates into more strong performances for the Englishmen.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

News Grab-Bag: 4/19/2014

Happy Easter everybody!

- The Players Championship announced this week that their playoff format will be moving away from sudden death and into a three hole aggregate playoff. The move is supposed to combine the pressures of winning a Players Championship with the final three holes of TPC Sawgrass, sometimes known as the best finishing holes in golf. Runner up in the event a few years ago, Paul Goydos, said that the move may be a difficult one for time restraints, and that the event already ends around 8 o'clock. While Goydos has a point, I do not believe the organizers would plan such a move without finding a way to prevent against that. Look for tee times to be moved up. As long as Goydos' fears do not come true, this will be an absolute ideal scenario for the PGA Tour and television.

- Web.Com Tour player Josh Broadway took offense to World Golf Hall Of Famer Nick Faldo leaving the announce booth and teeing it up at the RBC Heritage this week. To quote his Twitter:
:Faldo...REALLY??? Get back in the booth and give the guys a chance to play that are trying to keep their job!! "
While I understand that playing opportunities are hard to come by for some of the graduates, Faldo is one of the players who have paid their dues over the years and deserves the opportunity to play whenever he would like. It is an odd situation, seeing as Faldo has been commentating full time for the past several years, but I would have a hard time thinking Broadway would say this same thing about Tom Watson, who ALSO tee'd it up this week and ALSO missed the cut. Nick Faldo doesn't owe it to anyone to look out for anybody.

- Golfing phenom Lydia Ko is coming under fire in her home country of New Zealand. While Ko was competing as an amateur, she was able to receive funding through the New Zealand government for certain travel expenses. Now that Ko is a professional, most people assumed that the funding would stop, but a report out this week seems to suggest that Ko could still receive funding through the government because Ko will likely represent New Zealand at the 2016 Olympics. Something to be noted here - the report doesn't actually state that Ko applied for the funding or is currently receiving it; just that she is still eligible to do so. Until it known that Ko is actually accepting this money, perhaps we should hold back on out criticisms of her. There is way more of this story we do not know.

- In what may be the weirdest golf story in a long time, Pablo Larrazabal was attacked by a swarm of hornets during the second round of the Malaysian Open, which caused him to run in terror and jump into a lake. And they say golf isn't a dangerous sport. How many basketball players have ever been attacked by a swarm of hornets? None, I assume! By the way, Larrazabal ended up making the cut, so I'm sure he'll be extra careful walking the fairways this weekend.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday Preview - LPGA Lotte Championship

After a one week break coming off the the season's first major, the LPGA returns, this time from beautiful Hawaii, which I'm sure has far better spring weather right now than Pennsylvania (we got snow today. Seriously. Snow).

Course: Ko Olina Golf Club. Measuring at 6,300 yards, Ko Olina will be one of the easier golf courses the ladies play this season, as long as the weather stays nice. Hawaii can get some pretty nasty wind gusts, though, and that cause the scores to skyrocket. The fairways are relatively wide open, though, and wayward shots are not horribly punished, so expect low scores.

Strength Of Field: D. Without defending champion Suzann Pettersen or Stacy Lewis, the field just isn't captivating enough for a non-golf fan to really pay much attention. Lexi Thompson, fresh off her major victory, also sits this one out, as well as two-time winner this season Karrie Webb. Exemptions to some of the top KLPGA pros are nice, but shouldn't move the needle stateside.

Extra Tidbits: Plagued by a bad back, defending champion Suzann Pettersen continues to be sidelined. This will be the third week in a row Pettersen has missed due to injury, and forth overall this season...Ariya Jutanugarn, ranked 37th in the world and was once featured in the top 25, was one of the Monday qualifiers for this event...Several KLPGA pros, including top ranked Ha Na Jang, were given sponsor exemptions into the field.

Fantasy Four

1) Michelle Wie - Hometown golfer with one week's rest after her runner up finish at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. The opportunity is perfect for Wie to notch win number three. Open fairways should give her the opportunity to bomb it, and with her improved putting, the course should be hers for the taking.

2) Inbee Park - Weak field should give Park an edge. She has played decently well over the past month, though perhaps not up to the standards she set for herself last season. With Pettersen on the shelf and Lewis not playing this week, Park has the opportunity to really distance herself from them.

3) Se Ri Pak - Now is the time to find out if her last two tournaments were flukes, or if she is truly returning to form. Has more room to negotiate the course. Coming off of two straight top 10's, with the most recent being a tie for third at the Kraft Nabisco. Weak field should relax her.

4) Azahara Munoz - Has regained her consistency that she lost last season. Four top ten's this season, including one at KNC. Could find some inspiration with Miguel Angel Jiminez's performance at the Masters last week.

(SLEEPER) Ha Na Jang - Player of the year on the KLPGA last season, with a win already this season. American audiences likely haven't seen much of her, but she absolutely crushed fields last year, coming close to setting the record for most money won in a season on that tour. Playing in Hawaii with a weak field should bring Jang into contention, as there will be very little adjustment needed.

Wednesday Preview - RBC Heritage

The players get to catch their breath this week as the PGA Tour leaves Augusta National and heads to South Carolina for the RBC Heritage, an annual after the Masters tradition. Instead of handing out a green jacket, it gives away a relatively ugly looking plaid one, which I think is supposed to signify that the players should have peaked one week earlier.

Course: Harbour Town Golf Links, which is only 7,100 yards and one of the shortest courses the players see all season. Short doesn't always mean easy, though, as high winds ravished the players during the final round last year, and tricky greens kept scoring lower.

Strength Of Field: D. The biggest headline is going to be Jordan Speith, coming off of his near miss at Augusta National. Other than him, there aren't many players playing this week that is going to cause excitement for the casual fan. That is deceiving, though, as this golf course can yield big names as champions, so check back with me on Sunday.

Extra Tidbits: World Golf Hall Of Famers Nick Faldo and Tom Watson are both teeing it up this week. Faldo is playing in a non-major event for the first time in four years, as he has spent a majority of his time working as a commentator. Watson is coming off a missed cut at the Masters...Davis Love III holds the record for most wins at Harbour Town, with 5...Graeme McDowell's 275 was the highest winning score at Harbour Town since Peter Lonard's 277 in 2005...The last person to win at Harbour Town after winning the Masters was Bernhard Langer in 1985. That streak will continue, as Bubba Watson declined to play this week...Jason Day was originally scheduled to play this event, but withdrew after the Masters.

Fantasy Four

1) Will MacKenzie - Has played too solidly this season to not win sometime soon. Three top 10's in his last four starts. Had two weeks off after not playing in the Masters or the Shell Houston Open. Five top 10's total this season is the most in one year for MacKenzie. Finished runner up at the Texas Open.

2) Kevin Na - Top 15's in each of his last two starts. Been haunted by chants of slow play, but doesn't appear to be effecting him. Four top 10's to go alongside his other strong finishes this season. Excellent ball striker on a course that awards it.

3) Stewart Cink - Sleeper pick. Trending upwards after a T14 at the Masters. Two time champion of this event. Currently ranked 103 in FedEx points, which is one of the best positions we've seen since his 2009 Open Championship triumph. If he is to start becoming a contender again, this is the kind of course he needs to perform well at.

4) Trevor Immelman - Mixed bag of results this season, but did finish in the top 10 here last season. This is more of a gut pick then it is anything else, and may bite me in the end, but something about this course and this field tells me Immelman will be part of the conversation on Sunday.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bubba Joins Elite Category Of Champions

- Going into this week, there were a lot of writers, commentators, and golfers who said that experience may be overplayed at Augusta National. Yet, coming down the stretch Sunday at the Masters, those without the experience were the ones who faulted, and a former champion, Bubba Watson, played absolutely spectacularly to claim his second green jacket in three years, and now becomes one of only 12 men to win more then one green jacket.

- There was a time on the front 9 when I thought Bubba had shot himself out of the tournament. He made a bogey on the third hole, Jordan Speith was two up, and it was the perfect Bubba blow-up moment for him to just slink down the leaderboard. What he did over the next 8 holes was put a complete stranglehold onto the field, and while several golfers tried to make a push, Bubba's ball striking was too good to be caught.

- There are no such thing as nerves of steel during Sunday at the Masters, and we saw that with Jordan Speith coming down the stretch. Speith is an incredibly solid golfer who hardly ever lets the moment get to him, but it was his first Masters Tournament, and there is nothing that can mentally prepare you for that moment. Speith is going to be more then fine - he's going to be sensational, and could very well be right back in this position next year. I saw more great things from Speith then I did bad things this week.

- I honestly have no idea what to make of Jonas Blixt. He won twice, yes, but he also hasn't been seen on many leaderboards this season. And yet, he finishes in the top 5 in the last two majors. I would really like to see him win a big tournament sometime this season before I gush over his game.

- Cheers for healthy living! ...well, maybe not. It certainly isn't hours in the gym and a high fiber diet that has allowed Miguel Angel Jimenez to compete for a green jacket at the age of 50. When Jimenez broke his leg in 2012, I feared that we had seen the last of Jimenez on the major stage, but a strong performance at the Open Championship, a win in Hong Kong, and now a fourth place finish at the Masters shows me that the World's Most Interesting Golfer isn't planning on entering a retirement home anytime soon.

- While Jimenez's performance was amazing, and while the golf world focused on another great performance by Fred Couples, the best performance by a 50-plus golfer this week might have been 56 year old Bernhard Langer. It's Langer's first top 10 in a major since 2005, and coupled with his recent play on the Champion's Tour, you can make the argument that Langer is entering one of his best stretches of his career. Tom Watson came close to winning the Open Championship at age 59. I wonder if Langer at age 56 can do him one better. Langer would have to win a Champion's Tour major in order to get exempt into one og the big ones, but I really hope it happens, because Langer is playing at such a high level right now.

- Rickie Fowler, John Senden, Thomas Bjorn, and Kevin Stadler and all make plans for April next year, as their top 10 finish get them exempt into the 2015 Masters. For Senden and Stadler, this was another victory on top of the one they notched this season, and for both of them, the needle is pointing upwards. For Bjorn, not only does it get him back into the Masters next year, but more importantly may have secured his spot on the Ryder Cup team this year. Bjorn's career has returned from the depths of the sport, and is now an actual threat to win in any tournament he tee's it up in. I still believe Bjorn will win the Open Championship this year and finally give him the validation he deserves. The head scratcher is Fowler, who has not played particularly well the last two years, but a top finish in the match play, as well as this week's performance, reminds us of his potential. I wonder if Fowler's problem is a mental one. Perhaps he doesn't get as excited for a regular Tour stop as he does for a major, which is why he isn't winning like he should.

- After Friday, I thought we would have seen the first back-to-back Masters champion since Tiger Woods, but Adam Scott's third round 76 completely derailed him. Scott is just another player who seems cursed by the drive to number one. It seems as if only Tiger can excel with the burden of being the world's best player placed on his shoulders. Other players either are unable to take the position when they have the opportunity to do so, or do not perform well when they have it.

- I REALLY thought Phil Mickelson was going to contend this week, despite recent performances. It is a really troubling sign when Lefty can't even make the cut at a tournament he's won three times and at a course that perfectly suits his game. I don't know what is wrong with Phil right now, but he better figure it out real soon if he wants to finally win his illusive US Open. If he plays the way he's been playing at Pinehurst, not only will he not be completing the Career Grand Slam, but he can make weekend plans.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Carin Koch Named European Solheim Cup Captain

A month of speculation is finally over, as Team Europe has their captain - Sweden's Carin Koch. Koch was a member of four Solheim Cup teams, and served as Captain Neumann's vice-captain last year in Europe's victory over the Americans.

Koch's individual career looks relatively unimpressive, as she only won twice on the LPGA Tour and once in Europe; however, she excelled on the Solheim Cup stage, going 10-3-3 in her four appearances in the event. Not only that, but Liselotte Neumann believed in Koch enough to bring her along as a vice-captain last year, so this appointment appears to make sense on the service. Koch was bound to get the position at some point, and with the Europeans defending the Cup on home soil, they appear to be playing with house money. She's not the big name like Juli Inkster was for the Americans, but she has enough experience to be able to hold this team together.

Koch's first order as captain was to name Annika Sorenstam as vice-captain, a position she has held the two previous Solheim Cups. At this point, you almost have to speculate that Annika is turning down the position of captain for some reason. She would seem the most logical to take over the team whenever she chooses, and with her being named vice-captain three Cups in a row, Team Europe clearly has confidence in her abilities to lead. Perhaps Annika is waiting for her kids to grow a bit older and for the Cup to return to America before taking over the team.

There were reports earlier in the week that Liselotte Neumann was going to take over again as captain, but those reports were apparently untrue. I did not take much stock in them to begin with, as Neumann appeared to suggest after last year that she had no intention on returning as captain. It is hard to follow up a performance like the Europeans had last year, so why not go out on top?

Both the American and the European teams need to have different approaches going into the Solheim Cup matches. The Americans need to have more focus, and not worry about the glitz and glamour and all the side activities that they tend to do in these events. For the Europeans, they need to not focus on the crowd or the fact that they are the defending champions; they're still going to be the underdogs, and they need to play as such. Koch is a perfect captain to get them into that mentality. The jury is still out whether Inkster can fulfill the goals for the Americans.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wednesday Preview - The Masters Tournament

For the first time in my "blogging career", I get to preview the Masters. There isn't a more iconic golf tournament in the world. Between the green jacket, the golf course. and the past champions on the course, the Masters is rich with traditions that make this tournament the most unique. 

Course: Augusta National. It doesn't get any better then this. While the easiest of courses they will play in the major circuit, the iconic nature of the course can actually get into a players head. Fairways are wide open in most spots, but putting is absolutely crucial. 

Strength Of Field: A-. I would love to give this event the highest score possible, the fact that there is no Tiger, coupled with the fact that there are only 97 players competing, and several of them are amateurs and past champions past their prime, and it just can't be considered the "best field in golf." In fact, the nature of all the majors make it so they aren't necessarily the best fields, but that doesn't make them easier to win. In fact, the Masters may be the hardest golf tournament to win, so the strength of field means nothing.

-I am doing something different this week. Instead of doing a typical "Fantasy Four", I am going to give four contenders, a sleeper, a dark horse, and my eventual champion. Difference between a "sleeper" and a "dark horse" - a sleeper is someone who has performed moderately well this season, and who wouldn't shock the world if they won. A dark horse comes from way down the field list.

The Contenders:

4) Jason Day - Would be my champion, but being out since his win at the match play with a thumb injury scares me. Has been close here on several occasions, and appears to be the next in line to win a major championship. His first round will tell the story of his week - if he shoots something in the 60's, he may very well be winning a green jacket.

3) Phil Mickelson - Has had a pretty awful 2014 season, but like Tiger, you can never count him out at Augusta National. With this being a wide open event, and all of the players at the top having question marks surrounding them, Lefty could very well sneak in for his fourth jacket. Last week was his best week this season.

2) Adam Scott - Playing well entering this week, but the stresses of being the defending champion can not be overstated. Should be at or near the top of the leaderboard heading into Sunday. 

1) Rory McIlroy - Will one day wear a green jacket, and is entering this tournament with far more confidence then we've seen previously. Whether or not he wins will depend on his accuracy off the tee, and where his head is going into the weekend. Hasn't been in position to win a major since his triumph at the 2012 PGA Championship.


Hideki Matsuyama - Returned home to Japan to graduate college and rest, which may be exactly what he needed after some weak results in February and March. Made the cut twice as an amateur, once being the low amateur. Hasn't finished outside the top 20 in all three majors as a pro.

Dark Horse

Fred Couples - No matter how old Fred gets, I always expect to see him on the leaderboard on Sunday. Has had an incredibly strong Champions Tour season heading into this week. Experience is incredibly important at Augusta National, and Fred knows where to put the ball here.


Sergio Garcia - Peaking at the right time. Adam Scott's victory last year was the perfect example of someone finally cashing in on their promise, and I expect Sergio to do the same this year. If he's ever to win a major, this may be the year for him to do so.

Last Weeks Team:
Ryo Ishikawa: T31
Retief Goosen: T7
Ryan Palmer: T7
J.B. Holmes: T12

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lexi Leaps Into Poppie's Pond, And A Star Is Born...Again

- US Open qualifier at 12, LPGA champion at 16, and now a major champion at 19. Lexi Thompson was never satisfied with being an "up and coming star". She always wanted to be a winner and a champion. The media may keep referring to her as the "19 year old", but anyone who has followed the LPGA knows Lexi has had the game for some time to cash in on a major.

- If Lexi's putting is as good the rest of the year as it was this week, watch out. She may go on a tear and start collecting trophies in bunches. She hits it farther than anyone on Tour and her ball striking is among the best, if not THE best. Mentally, Lexi has shown herself to be tougher than competitors twice her age, and she takes her bogeys and mistakes and moves on from them. The putter might have been the only thing holding her back, and if that's now working, it may become Lexi's era.

- There were so many great stories leading into Sunday and so many people I was rooting for, but I think the one I was leaning towards was the one that got very little play in the social media build up for the final round. It would have been fantastic to see Se Ri Pak finally win the career grand slam, especially after all she has been through the last couple of years. Unfortunately, it was just not in the cards for her, but the last two weeks have shown that Pak is at least healthy enough to contend. With a lot of the Korean stars struggling, how ironic is it that it's the mentor that rises to the occasion to give the country some hope? Hopefully, Pak continues her strong play, and maybe we can see her cash in on a victory this season. There is another major that she hasn't win yet - one that takes place in France...

-The initial reaction is to be disappointed that Michelle Wie was unable to win on Sunday, but keep a few things in mind before recasting her as the "phenom who couldn't win." With the conditions as difficult as they were, Wie's one under par round should have been enough to win, and she just to happened to catch a buzzsaw named Lexi. Also, Wie is going from being in the complete depths of despair to challenging for titles. New players on tour are told that it takes time to "learn how to win", and in Wie's case, it is "relearning how to win." Seeing how she played, how she putter, and how she kept it all together mentally gives me far more positives than it does negatives, and I still believe we will see Wie hoist a trophy before year's end.

- I'm sure Charley Hull is going to say that nerves weren't the reason for her +4 76 on Sunday, but if you are 18 years old, you are in one of the final groups going for your first major title, you're playing with a legend of the game, and you're name isn't Lexi Thompson, than nerves were bound to sneak in somewhere. It is a natural, normal reaction that will become easier to fight the more times she's in contention. With all these teenagers winning around her, I know it may seem like it is important for Hull to make a huge splash now. But it isn't. Give her some time to grow her game the way she needs to.

- Another week, another "who?" winning on the PGA Tour. This time, it was Matt Jones cashing in on his first PGA Tour win. While Jones has been playing better this season than someone like Steven Bowditch, he is still another name that very few people likely know. It is, however, a rather feel good story. Not only has Jones played well recently, but he had a chance to qualify for the Masters in his final event last season, and missed a shot putt to knock him out. This was a redemption story for Jones, as well as a fulfillment of his talent. Besides, winning in a playoff by holing a chip? That's one of those highlights that sticks around for years.

- Why can't players win when they're in the lead? 54 hole leaders are now 9 for 20 this season, and one of them was Steven Bowditch, who tried all he could to give his lead up last week.

- Two weeks, two missed opportunities for Matt Kuchar who went from favorite to win the Masters to real question mark in one day. It's one thing to be handed an opportunity like he was at Bay Hill and not cash in, but it is entirely another when you dominate the tournament for three rounds and allow yourself to be overtaken. Kuchar is one of the top players on Tour, and yet he could not win the last two times he has had that opportunity. That is a major concern for me.

- Congratulations to Shawn Stefani and Retief Goosen, who both finished in the top 10 and earned enough FedEx Cup points to meet the conditions of their medical extensions. They will now have their cards for the entire season, and be given better status on Tour to help set their schedules.

- Right now, I am feeling really good about both Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy's chances at Augusta. Sure, Sergio didn't play great on Sunday, and Rory didn't play great UNTIL Sunday, but they both seemed like they worked out the problems that may have plagued them heading into this week. This is a perfect example of how Houston helps prepare for Augusta - these two have to be excited entering this week that their games are going up at the perfect time.

- One man who can't be as excited is Phil Mickelson, who once again failed to notch a top 10; however, he did come close and actually played pretty decent this week, despite admitting he was still sore from his oblique muscle. You wouldn't think that Phil would have any chance to win the Masters with the way he's played recently, but he is someone you can never count out, especially at that golf course. Phil can go a whole year without a top 10 and then magically win the Masters.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

News Grab-Bag: 4/3/14

- If you've lived in the middle of the ocean for the past week with no means of communication, you probably missed the news that Tiger Woods will not be playing the Masters for the first time in his career. He underwent a "procedure" (see: surgery) to repair his back, and will be out several months, putting all the majors in jeopardy. What may be more important, if he misses a considerable amount of time, he will not qualify for the FedEx Cup, nor will he make it onto the Ryder Cup team.

- Despite a pulled oblique muscle, Phil Mickelson tee'd it up at the Shell Houston Open, which suggests he will be good to go at the Masters.

- And to finish off this injury train of sadness, Rolex Number 2 Suzann Pettersen missed the season's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, with a back injury. It is unknown at this time how long Suzann will be out of action, but one has to believe that the pain has to be rather severe if Suzann is willing to miss the first major of the season.

- The LPGA announced this week the creation of the Annika Major Award, an award named after Annika Sorenstam given to the player who plays the best over all five majors. The award will be based on a points system, and in order to qualify a player must win one of the majors. The player will receive a watch an a $100,000 bonus. I personally think the LPGA has too many awards as it is, but hey, anything that puts more cash in the pockets of the players is fine by me.

- There has been a lot of questions surrounding the first major on the LPGA Tour, but Mike Whan has cleared one thing up - the event will remain at Mission Hills. Whan stated that three potential sponsors are on hand this week for the event, but he also stated that, if the sponsors have a problem with the event being held at Mission Hills, the LPGA will fund the event themselves. Whan has proven himself to be a man of his word, so it's a safe bet that plunge into Poppie's Pond will continue to be a tradition.

- Do you like Paulina Gretzky on the cover of Golf Digest? If so, then you do not share the same opinion as several of the top LPGA pros, including Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park.
“It’s frustrating for female golfers,” Lewis said. “It’s the state of where we’ve always been. We don’t get the respect for being the golfers we are. Obviously, Golf Digest is trying to sell magazines, but at the same time you like to see a little respect for the women’s game.”
Honestly, I think I agree with Stacy. Obviously, Golf Digest can do what it likes, but it seems wrong to me to have someone on the cover who only got into the game because their fiance is a golfer, instead of actual golfers who have worked incredibly hard to make it to the top. This isn't Maxim or GQ or any other fashion magazine - it's Golf Digest. I can't say it's surprising, though - with print media dying, they have to do something to get sales. 

- With Tiger being out of the Masters, four players could pass him in the World Rankings. Adam Scott is the closest, and third or better will make him the number one players in the world. Henrik Stenson could get there this week with a win in Houston, or two strong finishes this week and next at Augusta. Jason Day could do it by winning the Masters, and Phil Mickelson can do it by winning both in Houston and at the Masters. No matter what happens, though, it is safe to say Tiger's reign at number one is about to come to an end.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wednesday Preview - Kraft Nabisco Championship

The first major of the year on any tour takes place this week with the LPGA Tour's Kraft Nabisco Championship. The winner not only receives a lifetime of glory, but a leap into Poppie's Pond, one of the finest traditions in golf. Some like to compare this tournament to the Masters, but I have a tough time seeing anyone at Augusta National jumping into a lake when they win a green jacket.

Course: Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club. May be the best and most scenic course the ladies will play all season. The course plays to 6,500 yards, the biggest obstacle on this course are the bunkers. There are many of them, and they are deep. Putting will be absolutely key, as will keeping your head on your shoulders. Take it one hole at a time.

Field Strength: A. It is usually the best field of the year, but there has been one withdrawal that prevents this from being an A+ field.

Extra Tidbits: Suzann Pettersen has withdrawn from the tournament with a back injury. There was a question as to the severity of Pettersen's pain prior to the start of the Kia Classic, but there is no doubt now. You don't just SKIP this tournament. Pettersen's schedule following the Kraft Nabisco is now in question...This was the start of Inbee Park's massive 2013 season. She would dominate this event, then go on to win the LPGA Championship and the US Open to be the first woman since Babe Zaharias to win three majors in a row...Despite their domination of the sport over the past ten years, Koreans have only won three editions of the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Grace Park was the first to do so in 2004, and then there wasn't another one until 2012. Koreans, however, have won the last two.

Fantasy Four:

Lexi Thompson - I said at the beginning of the year that I thought Lexi was going to win a major this year, and this seems to be as good of an opportunity as any. Coming off a near victory at the Kia Classic. Does not have the best record here, but doesn't have a great record in any major venue. Distance off the tee should significantly shorten this course.

Inbee Park - Defending champion and Rolex Number One. Off to a good start this season after struggling down the stretch last year. Is trending in the right direction, which is rare for someone ranked number one.

Stacy Lewis - Continues to be a top 10 machine. Finished outside the top 10 only once this season. Champion here in 2011.

Lydia Ko - Not feeling as confident about Lydia as I did a few weeks ago, as she followed up her back 9 collapse at the Founders Cup with a relative no show at the Kia Classic. Still has the game to compete, and this course is set up perfectly for her ball flight. The question is never Ko's talent, but rather her temperament. 

(SLEEPER) Se Ri Pak - The only major (outside the newly crowned Evian Masters) that she has not won. Trending in the right direction, but her shoulder will always be a concern. Struggles putting four rounds together, but has avoided the big numbers lately. Perhaps the last best shot for Pak to finally claim this tournament.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Wednesday Preview - Shell Houston Open

We enter the final event prior to the Masters as the players looking for one last tune up head to Houston for the Shell Houston Open. This event is the one that typically always predates the Masters, with the notable exception being last year (Valero Texas Open actually had the spot). This, however, feels right. And the players seem to agree.

Course: Golf Club of Houston, which is an incredibly simple name for a not-so-incredibly simple course. A little over 7,400 yards, the course is known as playing incredibly similar to Augusta National, which is why so many players love to play it before the Masters. If closing the deal hasn't been hard enough this year, wait until players get a look at the 18th hole, which is one of the hardest on tour.

Strength Of Field: B. We don't know yet if Phil Mickelson is going to play (I doubt it), but it doesn't stop the field from being world class. Rory, Henrik, Sergio, Poulter are among the many players using this tournament as a warm-up to the Masters.

Extra Tidbits: Qualifying has officially wrapped up for the Masters, with one exception. The winner of the Shell Houston Open, if not already qualified, gets a spot into the tournament...There has been only one back to back winner of the Houston Open, and that was Vijay Singh in his prime (2004-2005). The defending champion is D.A. Points, and no offense to him, but I doubt we're going to see a break in that trend...Only two men have won the Shell Houston Open to punch their ticket into the Masters. That doesn't speak well for those seeing a Hail Mary this week, but there is one bright side. Points, who won last year, was one of those two players...The course record is 63, which means players aren't likely to get relief from the brutal courses they have seen over the past two months.

Fantasy Four:

(NOTE: All of my picks this week qualify as "Sleeper Picks". Instead of picking the three best players and a sleeper, I am going with four players would could really use a win to elevate themselves into the Masters. It probably means I'm going to crash and burn, but hey, I do that anyway.)

Ryo Ishikawa - Missed cut last week shows his consistency issues, but it is better to be inconsistent than be consistently bad, which he was last year. Dots missed cuts with top 25s. Has played in every Masters since 2009. 

Retief Goosen - Has yet to put four good rounds together, but looks healthier than he has in years and is starting to make cuts frequently. If he can avoid big numbers, he can keep himself in contention. Former major champion should have extra motivation this week.

Ryan Palmer - Narrowly missed out on a Masters invite by shooting an final round 82 last week. Game is good enough to content, but needs to keep mental focus in order to win again. 

JB Holmes - Has played well this season on a Medical Extension. Still blasts it a mile, and if he can get the putter working, he can contend just about anywhere. Should be more focused on keeping his card then he is getting into the Masters, which may actually help him.

Last Weeks Team:
Jason Kokrak: T31
Fredrik Jacobson: T16
Ryan Palmer: T56
Jordan Speith: 10