Friday, May 30, 2014

News Grab-Bag: 5/30/2014

- A deal was struck between the LPGA and the PGA of America this week to change the LPGA Championship to the Women's PGA Championship. The deal not only brings in the PGA's organizing team, but also, with the help of sponsor KPMG, increases the purse of the tournament to $3.5 million, a $1.25 million increase. The changes will take place in 2015, making this year the final year of the Wegman's LPGA Championship. The PGA has announced intentions to move the tournament to different areas, which means the annual stop on Rochester is now no longer a tradition for the tournament, which seems to upset a lot of people. There is a tradition there that many people wished to uphold. You know what else was a tradition on the LPGA Tour? Low prize money and few opportunities to play for the best players in the world. Times are changing, and the money is coming back to the Tour, and while there may be some sentimental people out there who hate some of these changes, understand that the most important people in this equation are the players, and they are getting paid far more now than they were just ten years ago. Any time I hear a tournament getting a prize boost, even if it's to the detriment of a long standing tradition, I consider it a victory. There are also a few people who seem upset by the fact that there will no longer be a tournament called the "LPGA Championship", but that doesn't bother me in the least. Almost every tournament on the LPGA Tour has the name "LPGA" somewhere in the official title. That doesn't happen on the PGA Tour. It's not called the "PGA Sony Open." Everyone is going to be hesitant about this change until 2015, and when they realize the PGA of America actually knows what they are doing (most of the time), they will be completely on board.

- To their credit, the LPGA did release a very nice statement towards the people of Rochester. There is a reason they have a PR department and I sit behind a computer and never speak to anyone.

- Tiger Woods withdrew from the US Open this week in a move that should shock absolutely no one.

- The PGA Tour announced today that they still have no idea what they are doing when it comes to this Finals thing, as they made some pretty drastic changes halfway through their season that puts more weight on the regular season performances. Instead of handing out 25 cards from the regular season and 25 cards based on the finals, the changes will put both together, as players get to carry their money over to the finals and the combined money makes up the priority ranking for the following season. This means the reverse of what happened last year - instead of those who played regularly on the Tour being at a disadvantage, it is now those who fell outside the top 125 on the FedEx Cup list that are at a disadvantage.

This is what passes as good journalism over at the Golf Channel these days.

- Congratulations to the Alabama Crimson Tide as they won their second straight men's NCAA golf championship this week. Last week, the Duke Blue Devils won their sixth national championship in D1 women's golf.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wednesday Preview - ShopRite LPGA Classic

The LPGA heads to New Jersey for the 26th time for one of the longest running LPGA tournaments - the ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer. 

Course: Stockton Seaview Hotel & Golf Club. This is the only case I have ever heard of a hotel and golf course being linked together in the name of the course. 6,100 yards, it is a birdie or bust course where putting will be at a premium, if the weather cooperates. Under perfect conditions, driving won't be a big deal, as the course is generally wide open.

Strength Of Field: A. Everyone is here. This should be an absolute shoot out with the best players in the world.

Extra Tidbits: This is a three round golf tournament, teeing off on Friday and ending on Sunday. It was once the norm on the LPGA Tour, but has now become a rarity in exchange for traditional 72 hole tournaments...18 of the top 20 in the world are playing this tournament, with every member of the top 10 in the field...Only three women have ever won multiple installments of the tournaments, and they are all hall of famers - Betsy King, Juli Inkster, and Annika Sorenstam.

Fantasy Four:

Michelle Wie - You would be a fool if you didn't have Wie on your team, who notched another top 10 last week. Wie is one top 10 shy of her career high for a season, and is second in the CME Globe.

Lexi Thompson - Still has yet to finish outside the top 10 since her major breakthrough. It will be either feast or famine this week for Lexi, as easy condition and a three round tournament means she will have to fire at pins. Is second in rounds in the 60's on Tour.

Lydia Ko - Well rested after her win at the Swinging Skirts and a T5 at Kingsmill. Isn't the best at anything, but doesn't have any real flaws in her game, either. Not sure if the three round structure will help or hurt her. 

So Yeon Ryu - Is a top 10 machine, but isn't able to grab her third victory. No one seems more due for a victory than Ryu. Is on a swinging points - may go on a run of great play, or may start to fall. 

(SLEEPER) Eun Hee Ji - Coming off a T7 last week. Has 7 top 25s this season, and is 23rd in the CME Globe standings. Has recovered from a couple bad seasons to now be making cuts regularly and finding herself in contention more often. 

Wednesday Preview - The Memorial Tournament

One of the great traditions on the PGA Tour is the staging of the Memorial Tournament the week after Memorial Day. A great tournament on a great golf course hosted by the greatest golfer of all time, Jack Nicklaus. 

Course: Muirfield Village Golf Club, 7,300 yards of pure beauty in central Ohio. This is a ball strikers paradise - past champions have been tacticians around a golf course. 

Strength Of Field: B+. The best field you're going to get outside of a major or a WGC event. Adam Scott, fresh off his victory at Colonial, heads to Ohio to play in the Memorial, and Jason Day returns from his thumb injury in order to tee it up. Several international stars are using this tournament as a warm up for the US Open, including Thailand's Kiradech Aphibanrat, Korea's Hyung-Sung Kim, and South Africa's Thomas Aiken.

Extra Tidbits: Mexico's Carlos Ortiz, who leads the Money List, gets an exemption into the event. He will be playing his first PGA Tour event...17 of the 24 players from last years Presidents Cup are competing in the Memorial this week. Notable absences include Tiger Woods, Zach Johnson, and Graham DeLaet...Ernie Els will play in his 21st consecutive Memorial...This year's Memorial honoree, which is given out every year by Jack Nicklaus, will be LPGA great Annika Sorenstam...The Memorial was the site of Jack Nicklaus final non-major PGA Tour event in 2005. The year prior, in 2004, Nicklaus made the cut at the age of 64.

Fantasy Four:

Matt Kuchar - Missed the cut last week, but it doesn't take away from his exception play lately. Defending champion. Muirfield Village is the perfect example of a course that fits Kuchar's game. 

Adam Scott - I am always hesitant to take someone fresh off a victory, but Scott was never the kind of person that would rest on his laurels. Seems relaxed now that he is finally the world number one. Muirfield and Colonial have many similarities, and should be able to translate his confidence over from Texas to Ohio.

Steve Stricker - Sleeper Pick. Has only played 5 times this season, but most recent was a T13 at the Players. Champion in 2011. If his putter his working, he should easily content. 

Justin Rose - Is playing well, with three straight top 10's on the PGA Tour, coupled with a 25th at the BMW PGA Championship. Another great ball striker whose game should suit Muirfield Village. 

Last Weeks Team:
Jim Furyk: T51
Zach Johnson: 73
Paul Casey: CUT
Matt Kuchar: CUT

Monday, May 26, 2014

Some Sanity Restored To The Tour

Happy Memorial Day everybody!

- Finally, the string of top ranked golfers not being able to close ends as Adam Scott caps off his first day as world number one with a victory at the Colonial. A lot of people are still going to question whether or not Scott truly deserves to be number one with Tiger Woods on the shelf, but a few more wins like these should silence any doubters he may have.

- While one number one was winning, a former number one was returning to glory as Rory McIlroy came from seven shots back to win the premier event on the European Tour, the BMW PGA Championship. A lot of people are going to talk about this win in the context of Rory's week, which came off the announcement that he ended his engagement to his girlfriend, but it should be spoken in the context of golf - Rory won a big event with a tough field in a Ryder Cup year right before the second major of the year. That is far more significant than any personal life stuff Rory may be going through.

- It was good to see Jason Dufner back in contention, but he needs to improve his putting if he wants to be considered a world class player. He missed several really short putts in the weekend that ended any chance he had to win the tournament. In terms of ball striking, Dufner is as good as anyone on Tour. Those putts inside of 10 feet, however, is a real problem for him, and one someone his age should not be experiencing.

- I have to apologize, because I seem to always forget about Jessica Korda. I get so excited about several of these other young stars going great things on the LPGA Tour that Korda seems to get lost in the shuffle, but don't be mistaken - Korda's game matches up with anyone's. Korda, however, is not as consistent as the likes of Lydia Ko or Lexi Thompson - her second win this season was only her third top 10 in 2014.

- It's amazing how similar Korda is to the woman who came in second place - Anna Nordqvist. Her runner up finish was only her third top 10 of the season, as well, and she had two victories prior to this tournament. Neither Korda nor Nordqvist have to apologize - two trophies ties them for first place for most victories this season - but they could be in an elite class if they were able to challenge more frequently.

- Michelle Wie may very well be the Player Of The Year this season, and were it not for a first round 71, she would have the victories to prove it. Even with only one win, however, she seems to never finish outside the top 10 anymore. Wie's issues have been starting tournaments - she has a round in the 70's either on Thursday or Friday every tournament this season. If she played as well during the week as she does on weekends, she'd have to buy a new house to hold all those trophies.

- Incredibly soon we will be seeing Charley Hull join the ranks of Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson as teenage winners on the LPGA Tour. She has the game and the temperament to stand on their level - the only thing missing is a victory. I expect that to occur this year.

- Colin Montgomerie finally won his major! ...I mean, it's a senior major, but we shouldn't shed light on these kinds of things.

- How about Tom Watson coming in second place at the Senior PGA Championship? Every time it looks like Mr. Watson is about to call it a career, he does something else to remind us how great he truly is. His career will be measured two different ways - his victories and his duels with Jack Nicklaus, and his longevity long after his 50th birthday.

Friday, May 23, 2014

News Grab-Bag: 5/23/2014

- There still is no timeline to the return of Tiger Woods, who said he was doing some chipping and putting, but has yet to make a full swing with a golf club. If he hasn't started that process yet, I would think the target of The Open Championship may be in serious jeopardy. It may be for the best, however - I would rather see Tiger return at 100% than see him rush to action, be sloppy, and risk further injury.

- Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki called off their engagement this week. I wish both the best going forward.

- A couple of women are throwing away our misconceptions about age in professional sports. Earlier this week, Lucy Li, 11, became the youngest person to ever qualify for the US Women's Open, beating out Lexi Thompson's old record, who was 12 when she first qualified for the Open. A few days later, Laura Davies, at age 50, qualified for this year's Open, as well. One of these stories would have been impressive enough, but both of them occurring within days of each other shows just how inclusive the game of golf is, and how the game is advancing in a way where age is no longer a barrier in competition. While most people are just now hearing about Lucy Li, it is important to note that she didn't come out of nowhere. She won her age group's Drive, Pitch & Putt competition at Augusta National this year, and was the youngest player in history to make it to match play at the Women's Amateur Public Links Championship.

-This is great to hear - the purse for the US Women's Open will be increasing this year from $3.25 million to $4 million, according to The USGA has not officially confirmed the purse for the two Opens, but most are treating this story as true, which is a great sign for the women's game. A few years ago, money was hard to come by in the women's game, with fewer and fewer tournaments to play in, sponsors leaving the Tour, and the purses being minuscule. I have talked over and over again about the job Mike Whan has done on the LPGA Tour, but credit also goes to the ladies on Tour, who have remained strong through some tough times and have played such good golf that it has brought interest back into the game.

- Speaking of LPGA sponsors, Rolex, which has been a part of the LPGA since 1980, signed a contract extension through 2023. This keeps Rolex on as the official sponsor of the women's world golf rankings, as well as the Rolex First Time Winners, something unique to the LPGA where first time winner's are honored at the end of the season and given a brand new Rolex watch.

- Sergio Garcia withdrew from the BMW PGA Championship, the premier event on the European Tour this week with a knee injury. Sergio claims he will be alright come the US Open, but it is something to keep an eye out for. Sergio joins a long list of big name players hampered in some way with injuries this season.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wednesday Preview - Airbus LPGA Classic

The LPGA heads to Mobile, Alabama for the coolest sounding golf tournament in the United States - Airbus LPGA Classic. I just like the idea of Airbus - it's a bus in the air. Simple. Replace one letter in the sponsor name and it becomes the Airbud LPGA Classic, which would have been an interesting concept for a movie.

Course: Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Mongolia Grove, which is an incredibly odd name for a golf course, but whatever. 6,500 yards, but it is relatively wide open, so it's going to be full speed ahead for some of the bombers on Tour.

Strength Of Field: B+. The field is missing Lydia Ko, which prevents this from being an A field, but like always a lot of the stars are here.

Extra Tidbits: This tournament last year was the start of some controversy. Jennifer Johnson won the tournament, but fell short of qualifying for the Solheim Cup team, and captain Meg Mallon chose Michelle Wie over Johnson. Many people, including Johnson, criticized Mallon for leaving an LPGA champion off the team...Ariya Jutanugarn continues her qualifying ways, shooting a 65 on Monday to qualify for the tournament. Charley Hull was given a sponsors exemption...Stacy Lewis has another opportunity to take over the number one spot in the world with a victory this week. Inbee Park returns to action to defend the spot.

Fantasy Four:

Michelle Wie - Hasn't finished worse than 16th this season, and with this course being accepting to bombers, Wie should excel here. Finished 3rd in her last start.  

Lexi Thompson - Another bomber that could let it fly this week. Both starts since her major triumph have been top 10's, including a T2 last week. In the top 10 in almost every major category, except for driving accuracy, which shouldn't effect her this week. 

Stacy Lewis - Finished in a disappointing 12th last week, but hasn't had back to back tournaments outside the top 10 since June of last year. Leads in almost all categories on Tour. Currently leads the CME Globe and Player Of The Year lists.

Inbee Park - Has only played 8 tournaments this season, and finished outside the top 10 in two of them. Needs big weeks in order to keep her number one ranking with so many players getting closer to her. 

(SLEEPER) Christina Kim - Followed up a T6 in Texas with a T29 last week, where she was in contention until a final round 73. Results are trending up. Only missed one cut this season. Is 12th in greens in regulation. 

Wednesday Preview - Crowne Plaza Colonial

One of my favorite golf tournaments is this week, as the PGA Tour stays in Texas for the Crowne Plaza Colonial. The Colonial has taken place every year since 1946, making it the longest annual non-major PGA Tour stop.

Course: Colonial County Club, which measures as 7,200 yards. It is a ball strikers course, with tight fairways and sharp doglegs which punish wayward shots. Winners have all been tacticians and masters around the green. Bombers don't fair well, perhaps with the exception of Boo Weekley last year, who has one of his best ball striking weeks last year.

Strength Of Field: B. The Colonial has gone back and forth with the field strength. Some years it attracts the top players, and some years they avoid it. This year, it has attracted the number one player in the world, as well as several other top players that will provide with some great drama.

Extra Tidbits: I can't believe it's been 11 years since Annika Sorenstam played Colonial. I remember it like it was yesterday. I also remember it being incredibly controversial, with many people saying she was "taking a spot in the field" away from someone who could actually contend. By the way, 11 years later, Rod Curl is going to be teeing it up at 71 years old, and I haven't heard a single person yell about him taking a spot in the field...Prior to being placed at TPC Sawgrass in 1982, The Players Championship rotated through several courses around the country. One of which was Colonial in 1975...Rod Curl will tee it up this week after his son, Jeff, was given an invitation into the field. Another over 50 past champion, Keith Clearwater, returns to the PGA Tour to make his 27th appearance at Colonial. Clearwater won the Colonial in 1987, and Curl won in 1974.

Fantasy Four:

Jim Furyk - I hate going with the favorites to win, especially this season, but there are too many trends I can not ignore. Furyk has finished runner up in two consecutive tournaments. Playing the best golf of anyone, only does not have a win to show for it.

Zach Johnson - Two time winner, and the all time money winner, who hasn't finished worse than 19th in his career at Colonial. Has not played particularly well the last couple months, but has enough confidence and familiarity at Colonial that it should jump start his game. 

Paul Casey - As close to a sleeper pick as you're going to get from me this week. Top 25's in the past three tournaments while playing under the Past Champions category. Currently sits inside the top 125 on the FedEx Cup points. 

Matt Kuchar - I have starts to burn with Kuchar, who has finished inside the top 10 in 5 of the last 6 tournaments, and only one missed cut this season coming all the way back in February. Number one in adjusted scoring this season.

Last Weeks Team:
Jordan Speith: T37
Ryo Ishikawa: MDF
Ryuji Imada: CUT
Gary Woodland: T7

Monday, May 19, 2014

Comeback Stories Come Close, But Fall To First Timers

- I was rooting like crazy for Mike Weir to win the Byron Nelson Classic. Seeing where Weir was in his career a few years ago, it would have been an incredible comeback story. Weir's putting ultimately let him down on Sunday, but a solo second is absolutely nothing to turn your nose at. It puts Weir in position to make the FedEx Cup playoffs for the first time since 2008, and more importantly, it gets him closer to retaining his Tour membership for next year, a job security he hasn't has in three years.

- I'll be honest, I know very little about recent champion Brendon Todd. I know what I was told during the broadcast, which is that Todd once missed 29 of 39 cuts on the Tour, but that is the extent of Todd's story that I knew. The way this season has gone, there are bound to be a few champions that make you sit back and go "who?" Let's see if Todd takes this victory and makes us remember his name by having a great season.

- Charles Howell III is on a threshold right now. He is in the middle of a very good season, and after two years of near misses, we will either see Howell win a tournament this season, or we may never see him win one again. He appears to be trending in the right direction, though, so do not be surprised if we see CH3 hoisting a trophy by years end.

- What does Graham DeLaet need to do to get a victory? In the past two seasons, he has 13 top 10 finishes, but zero victories. Nobody has more top 10s without a win than DeLaet. You almost have to wonder if frustration is starting to creep into his mind.

- It's amazing how things work out sometimes. Lizette Salas was in a middle of a tough stretch, where she missed two cuts and hadn't finished better than 22nd since the Kia Classic, and all of a sudden she finds lightning in a bottle and wins the Kingsmill going away. Anyone who has followed Lizette's career knows that it is no surprise that she won, but it is a bit of a surprise HOW she won. While others made a charge, all Lizette had to do was make pars and walk away with the trophy, and that's exactly what she did. Lizette is the perfect example as to what can happen if you just don't let a stretch of bad golf bother you.

- Yani Tseng was Lizette's closest competitor for a while, but a double bogey on the final hole put the end to her chances. Still, it is great to see Yani back in contention again. Yani was so good that you have to wonder what happened to make her fall off like she has. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, as it would be great to see Yani in the mix with some of these young competitors on a weekly basis.

- The teens continue to rule, as both Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko notched top 10's this week. At this point, it's hard to come up with things to say about these two, as all superlatives have been used already. They are two of the best on Tour, and we should expect them to be in the hunt every week.

- Inbee Park retained the number one ranking without even playing this week, as neither Ko nor Stacy Lewis were able to win in Kingsmill. Lewis looked like she had a real chance, but she uncharacteristically fired a final round 74 to knock her out of the top 10. Even stranger is that Lewis was even par going into the final hole, where she had a triple bogey 7 to end her tournament. Her finish this week is only the second time this season she finished outside the top 10.

- For the first time in what seems to be a lifetime, Paula Creamer did not tee it up on Saturday after missing her first cut since 2010. That was a stretch of 82 straight tournaments. I'm sure she's bummed out about it, but all streaks come to an end eventually, and this was among the most impressive.

- I think Miguel Angel Jimenez is going to make the Ryder Cup team after all. He set the goal for himself this year, and nothing seems to be stopping him at this point. He comes in 4th at the Masters, then wins in his only Champions Tour event, then get married, and finally wins on the European Tour, breaking his own record for oldest winner. Jimenez already has the best life ever, but it would be hard to top the month he has had. I no longer doubt the man, and if he wants to be on the Ryder Cup team, then I assume he's going to make it.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

News Grab-Bag: 5/16/2014

- Dr. Thomas Hess was cleared in the the wrongful death case against him brought on by the family of Erica Blasberg. The jury pointed to the fact that Blasberg did not blame anyone for her suicide in 2010. Even though this is not the result they wanted, I hope the Blasberg family soon find peace through all of this.

- We have a last minute inclusion into next week's field, as new world number one Adam Scott has added the Colonial to his schedule. Scott hasn't played the Colonial since 2011. Scott will take the number one spot in the world golf rankings away from Tiger Woods on Monday.

- This year, when the US Open tees off at Pinehurst, the golf world will be taking the time to remember Payne Stewart, who dramatically won the 1999 US Open at the age of 42 months before his death. We will also, to a lesser extent, remember the shocking victory of New Zealand's Michael Campbell, who overcame a four stroke deficit in 2005 to win his only major title. Unfortunately, Campbell will not be in the field for a return trip, as he recently announced he will be taking a break from golf after his separation from his wife. Campbell has been through a lot since his break up victory, and I wish him nothing but the best going forward.

- European Tour chief George O'Grady apologized this week for the handling of the death of caddie Ian MacGregor. MacGregor suffered a heart attack during the final round of the Madeira Islands Open last week, and passed away as a result. O'Grady admitted that the European Tour was not prepared for such an event, and, while he didn't admit that resuming the final round was a mistake, he did say that the European Tour handled the event poorly. O'Grady went on to say that the event is in the past, and that the European Tour will handle funeral arrangements for MacGregor.

- A few corrections need to be made from my Wednesday Preview post. I implied that Line Vedel was second in the Rookie Of The Year standings, when she is actually third, behind Mirim Lee. Also, I stated that Lydia Ko could "get closer to number one" this week, when, in actuality, a first place finish would actually put her at number one. Sorry everyone!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wednesday Preview - Kingsmill Championship

The LPGA returns from its one week hiatus for the Kingsmill Championship Presented by JTBC. This was the very tournament that got me obsessed with the LPGA, as a 15 year old me watched Grace Park out-dueled three of the best players in the game to walk away with her fourth victory.

Course: Kingsmill Resort, a 6,300 yard course in Virginia. It is a ball strikers paradise, as shots to the pin are encouraged. The winning score hasn't dipped below -8, with the lowest being a dominating -19 by Annika Sorenstam in 2008. 

Strength Of Field: B. Michelle Wie and Rolex Number One Inbee Park is missing, but almost everyone else is playing the event. 

Extra Tidbits: A victory by Stacy Lewis can jump her over Park for the Rolex Number One ranking. Lydia Ko can get within a couple of points with a victory, as well. Park has been number one for 57 weeks...Playoffs dominate this event. Two years ago was the epic nine hole playoff between Paula Creamer and JiYai Shin, and last year Cristie Kerr and Suzann Pettersen needed extra holes to decide the winner...Cristie Kerr has the most wins in this event, walking away with three trophies, including last years...LET Tour member Charley Hull was one of the players receiving a sponsors exemption this week.

Fantasy Four:

Stacy Lewis - Winner two weeks ago, and has a whooping 8 top 10's this season. There is no reason to ever leave Lewis out of my top 4, unless she starts to struggle. A victory gets her back to number one.

Lexi Thompson - Backed up her victory at the Kraft Nabisco with a top 10 two weeks ago. Consistency is my only concern about Lexi, who is unbeatable if she is playing at her best. 

Lydia Ko - Returning to action after her victory three weeks ago. Could get incredibly close to number one with a victory this week. Her victory came off the heels of three mediocre weeks, but has not missed a cut this season, and has three top 10's on top of her victory, so it's feast or famine for Ko this season.

Cristie Kerr - Won three events at Kingsmill, including last year. I would pick Kerr here if she wasn't playing well, but she's coming off of 6 straight top 10s, so she's hitting it well heading into what may be her favorite tournament.

(SLEEPER) Line Vedel - Would be in the lead for the Rookie Of The Year race, if Lydia Ko didn't join the Tour this year. T4 last week, and made the cut 5 out of the 7 events she has played this season. Sometimes flying under the radar is the most comfortable position to be in.

Wednesday Preview - HP Byron Nelson Championship

The PGA Tour heads back to Texas for another two week stop. This week is the HP Byron Nelson Championship in Irving. 

Course: TPC Four Seasons, which measures a little less than 7,200 yards. It is not a difficult course, but weather conditions can make things challenging. Past winners have been a mixed bag of solid ball strikers and long hitters. 

Strength Of Field: D. Major players are staying home...though, let's be honest. The way the top players have been playing this season, it wouldn't really matter if they were playing in the event or not. Several players, including David Duval and John Daly, are playing without having to use a sponsors exemption. Jordan Spieth is the big name player in the field.

Extra Tidbits: Jordan Spieth tees it up at the Byron Nelson Championship for the fourth time. It was this tournament when he received his first exemption at the age of 16 and was in contention to win the tournament going into Sunday...Scott Verplank will be playing this event for the 27th time. The record for most appearances in this event is 28 by Lanny Wadkins and Tom Watson...25 year old Case Cochran, son of former PGA Tour pro Russ Cochran, qualified for the event by getting a hole in one during Monday qualifying during a 4-for-3 playoff...Last year, Sang Moon Bae took advantage of Keegan Bradley's Sunday collapse by shooting a final round 69 to win his first PGA Tour event.

Fantasy Four:

Jordan Speith - Has six top 10's this season, including the Players Championship and the Masters, two courses he saw for the first time. This is Speith's fourth appearance at TPC Four Seasons. Final round scoring average is a concern, but I have no doubt he'll be in contention again.

Ryo Ishikawa - Rested after playing twice in Japan, most recently notching a T4. Recorded one of his only top 10's last season at this event. Putting together his best season on Tour to date, and finished T18 in Harbor Town in his most recent event.

Ryuji Imada - Sleeper pick. Played twice this season on past champion status, and made the cut in both events. Is 3 for 4 on the Tour in cuts made, with two top 25 finishes. If he wants to get his card back for next season, he will need to make the most out of his limited opportunities.

Gary Woodland - Similar style of golf and similar results in tournaments as J.B. Holmes before he broke through two weeks ago. Quietly 22nd in the FedEx Cup with 3 top 10 finishes. Could overpower several holes on this course as long as the wind doesn't get out of control.

Last Weeks Team:
Matt Kuchar: T17
Ryan Moore: T26
Zach Johnson: T26
Rory McIlroy: T6

Monday, May 12, 2014

Kaymer Returns To The Spotlight

- I'm sure many most professional golfers would have no problem winning only twice on the PGA Tour if those two victories were the PGA Championship and the Players, but I'm sure Martin Kaymer will not be satisfied now that he has visited the winner's circle for the second time. Kaymer showed why he was the number one golfer in the world at one point, and while he stumbled a bit after the rain delay, Kaymer always seemed to be in control of his emotions. Kaymer was another player who, for some reason, could not transition his game from overseas to the US, but maybe now that he has adopted a "stop thinking about it" attitude, we will see the trophies come more rapidly for the talented German.

- I'm ready for the golf world to start freaking out about another Sunday slump for Jordan Speith. After the Masters, there were writers asking if he needed to win a major soon to validate his success. After struggling on Sunday at the Players, I'm sure the questions of whether or not Speith can close are going to start cropping up. They are ridiculous and unwarranted, and I'm sure Speith is going to win soon when no one expects him to. Remember, it took 4 years for Jason Day to win his second Tour title.

- Speaking of due to win, Jim Furyk has to put one of these away soon, right? For two years in a row, it seems like Furyk has secured bridesmaid status seemingly every week. The last two weeks Furyk was in contention to win, it came on the heels of a final round charge. Regardless, Furyk seems determined to make his way onto the Ryder Cup team this year after being left off the President's Cup team last year. Two years ago, Furyk was a captains pick for Team USA, and many questioned David Love III's decision to place Furyk on that team. I'm sure Furyk isn't going to want to give Tom Watson a choice.

- From here on out, I am penciling Sergio Garcia into my fantasy team for the Players Championship. If it weren't for a few careless bogies on the back nine, Garcia would have been dueling with Kaymer down the stretch, looking for his second Players Championship victory. Garcia is a curious case to me - each week he could win as easily as he could miss the cut. I never quite know where his game or his head is each week. This week, however, is a great sign, and if he keeps it up, that illusive major may be right around the corner.

- In the end, the PGA Tour made the right decision, but how they botched the Justin Rose should show that some of these old rules of golf need to be addressed. Of course, Rose's situation was different than most - he called in the potential penalty himself, and the potential violation, if truly noticeable, would be one many agreed with; however, the fact that they originally had to view the movement of the ball with an HD camera and STILL decided to penalize Rose shows where the mindset of rules officials are. They want to maintain the "dignity" of the game so much that they are going to penalize before giving the player the benefit of the doubt.

- My thoughts are with the family and friends of European Tour caddie Iain McGregor, who died after suffering a heart attack during the final round of the Madeira Islands Open. McGregor was working for Alastair Forsyth as they were playing the 9th hole, Foresyth's final hole of the day. Shockingly, after a delay, the European Tour sent players back onto the course to finish the tournament, which may have been the worst decision ever made by a golf tour. If it were a player, the tournament would have ended immediately. Still, an incredibly sad situation, and all the best to McGregor's loved ones on this day.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

What We Can Learn From Erica Blasberg's Story

This week, the suicide note written by Erica Blasberg moments before her death in 2010 was read in court for the civil wrongful death trial taking place against Dr. Thomas Hess. ESPN has more on the story here, if you are interested in the case and the circumstances surrounding Erica's death.

The Blasberg story has fascinated me on several ends. From a golfer perspective, I always wondered how someone with that much promise out of high school and college could not transfer her game to the professional level. We know now that Erica lived a self destructive lifestyle, which may be sad but is also not surprising for professional athletes, especially ones that were pushed into the sport they were competing in. I'm 26, and I can only imagine the lifestyle I would live if I had money at my disposal. Of course, the lifestyle has only come into light because of what happened to her. If she had been a successful golfer, no one would have questioned her life choices.

This story also fascinates on me on a personal level. I am someone who has lived with depression my whole life, and I know I constantly have to surround myself with people who are going to help me, and not people who are going to push me down the wrong path. Erica seemed to be surrounded by people who were damaging to her condition - whether it was her father, who pushed her into golf and (seemingly) didn't give her the loving affection she needed, or Irene Cho, who didn't want to push the issue for fear of losing her trust, or John Broder, who was using Erica for his own personal satisfaction and not helping Erica on an emotional level. This is not to say that any of the people I mentioned were the reason Erica committed suicide; however, they appear to be people who could have prevented this dark episode from occurring. Of course, no one ever expects someone to commit suicide. I'm sure if Erica's father or Irene knew that they could do something to prevent this, they would have jumped at the opportunity.

In the end, there may have been nothing that could have prevented Erica from taking her own life, but I do hope that Erica's legacy does not end here. We need to push for better awareness of suicide - the warning signs, as well as prevention. We must also eliminate the stigma that depression only exists among angsty teenagers and those who have endured severe trauma. Depression is an illness that can afflict anyone, regardless of their background. It is not something that should be shamed. It is not a matter of trying to get a person to "cheer up". It is a serious illness that should be treated as such. I'm not sure if the PGA or LPGA Tours offer support for those with mental illnesses such as depression, but I sure hope they do.

I am not going to make a comment on the case itself. Clearly Dr. Hess obstructed justice - he plead guilty to it - but I do not know if that means he was directly involved in Erica's death. Whatever the outcome, though, I hope we never forget Erica's story, so we never have to write about a similar situation again.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Wednesday Preview - The Players Championship

Shake off that Masters hangover already! The PGA Tour heads to Florida for the "Fifth Major", The Players Championship, which awards the most money and most FedEx Cup points of any non major.

Course: TPC Sawgrass. It is not a particularly long course, measuring only 7,200 yards, and the rough is not too troubling, but anything wayward will be lost on this course. The winners of this event have all been tacticians who were near the top of the list in greens in regulation.

Strength Of Field: A. Injuries are preventing this year's edition from being on par with the Players Championships of the past, but every player who is healthy, eligible, and didn't get married this week are at Sawgrass this week.

Extra Tidbits: Defending champion Tiger Woods will not be returning to defend his title as he remains sidelined after back surgery...43 balls landed in the water on the par 3 17th last year. The record is is whooping 93 in 2007, when high winds dunked 50 in the pond in the first round that year...The last 54 hole leader to win the Players Championship was Stephen Ames in 2006. None have happened since the tournament moved from March to May in 2007...Only three men have won the Players Championship while shooting four rounds in the 60's.

Fantasy Four:

Matt Kuchar - Four consecutive top 5 finishes, with the most recent being a victory at Harbor Town. Won this event in 2012. Precision golfer. This golf course perfect suits Kuchar's game. 

Ryan Moore - Has cooled down lately, but is still 12th in the FedEx Cup standings. Fits the perfect bill of a Players Champion. Is accurate enough off the tee to give himself chances.

Zach Johnson - Feast or famine with Zach, who followed up two terrible weeks with a T14 at Quail Hollow. Was runner up to Kuchar two years ago. Has the accuracy off the tee and the short game to be a winner here, but his putting lately gives me caution. 

Rory McIlroy - You can be encouraged by his consistency to bank top 10 checks, or discouraged by his inability to really be a part of the conversation on Sunday. I choose to former, as McIlroy continues to improve each week. 

Last Weeks Team:
Phil Mickelson: T11
Jimmy Walker: CUT
Y.E. Yang: T23
Jim Furyk: 2

Monday, May 5, 2014

Holmes And Watson Proving Length Isn't Elementary

- J.B. Holmes was already in the midst of an amazing story this season, coming back from back and shoulder injuries, not to mention brain surgery in 2011, to fulfill the terms of his medical exemption. His victory at Quail Hollow was the perfect stamp on his comeback. There isn't a Comeback Player Of The Year award anymore (probably because Steve Stricker retired the trophy), but if there was, J.B. Holmes would have it locked up this season.

- Holmes and Bubba Watson have proven this season that the long ball is back. In the early part of the 2000's, the long hitters were at a distinct advantage, but courses changed in the later years to make precision key. This year, it looks like length is king once again, but don't let that fool you - you still need a great short game to compete. What Holmes and Watson both possess now is touch around the greens and confidence in the putting stroke.

- Could J.B. Holmes make the Ryder Cup team? It seems like a long shot, but a few more top finishes could make him a very intriguing pick for Captain Tom Watson. Holmes did play in the only victorious Ryder Cup in recent memory - 2008, when Holmes recorded 2 and a half points to help push the US to victory. With several other Ryder Cup veterans on the outside looking in right now, Holmes would need to have a couple of strong finishes in majors in order to make the case, but it isn't outside the realm of possibility.

- I'm starting to wonder if Phil Mickelson put too much pressure on himself regarding the US Open this year. Nobody that great just forgets how to compete. Saturday's round reminded us of the skills he possesses. If I had to guess, I would say that Lefty circled Pinehurst from the moment the 2013 season ended, and he realizes that this may be his last best chance to win the one major missing from his resume.

- Two men likely to make the European Ryder Cup team, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, are rounding into form at the perfect time. Rory appears to be one good round away from being a serious contender, and Rose just needs to avoid a very simple mistake in order to start hoisting trophies again. The players for Team Europe have been pretty quiet thus far this season, so they could really use stalwarts like McIlroy and Rose to start kicking it into gear.

- Going into this season, I felt like we've seen the last of Jim Furyk as someone who can win golf tournaments. He almost made me look like a fool with that final round 63 that was almost good enough for a playoff. Furyk always struck me as someone who should have won more time then he actually did in his career. It's a shame that that's the first thing that comes to mind when I think of someone who won 16 times, including a major and the FedEx Cup. Furyk's game has improved the past several of tournaments, however, so he may still prove me wrong yet.

- Brendon de Jonge shot an 80 in the first round. He went on to score a top 10 finish. Just think about that for a second.

- I knew it was just a matter of time before Stacy Lewis' frustration caused her to crush a field and take home another victory - I just didn't think it would have been this quickly. It is rather amazing that we've spent the last several weeks talking about players like Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko and how they were going to take over the Tour, and yet Lewis was the one leading the money list. 2014 has been a great year for Americans on Tour, but remember that Lewis is still queen of them all until someone takes her throne. She doesn't seem too keen on letting it go, either.

- When Michelle Wie got within two of Lewis' lead, the first thought in my mind was "here we go again". Her charge was reminiscent of the charge she made in Hawaii to take down Angela Stanford, and I thought she was going to be able to do the same this week, as well. Two closing bogies, coupled with Lewis' brilliant second nine, put away any chances of that happening, but Wie was able to notch her 4th consecutive top 10, and 6th overall this season, which places her second in the Race For The CME Globe standing, right behind Lewis. 

- The cream rises to the top on the LPGA Tour. If you're great, you'll find yourself in contention, or at the very least in the top 10 at the end of the week. Lexi Thompson didn't have the best week, but she was able to gut out solid weekend to finish T6 in her first tournament since her victory at the Kraft Nabisco. Suzann Pettersen also notched a top 10, though I'm sure she would have rather had better considering she was in the second to last group on Sunday. Still, considering her recent play, as well as the fact that she missed time due to injury, she should be happy to know she's at least headed in the right direction.

- Big props go to Christina Kim, who was in contention all week and ended up tied for 6th. Every golfer goes through peaks and valleys in the sport, but Kim's valleys were far lower than many others, as she had to battle depression issues, as well as losing priority status on Tour over the past several years. Kim is a fiery personality, and one that is incredibly polarizing, but you can't help but be happy for her as she continues to climb back up.

- Speaking of climbing back up, it's great to see Na Yeon Choi back on the front page of the leaderboard. It seems like it's been ages since I've been talking about NYC in a positive light. She's always been one of my favorite players, so I hope this isn't a coincidence and I'll be writing about her again really soon. I'm sure all Korean golf fans are hoping for the same thing, considering has uncharacteristically bad (by comparison) their stars have played this season.

- I would like to see how Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples would perform on Tour if they played their regularly. It was Langer and Couples battling again this week on the Champions Tour, this time with Langer walking away the victor, but with Couples taking over the number one position in the Charles Schwab Cup points. With Langer's top 10 finish at the Masters and Couples being in contention until Sunday, I wonder if where they would end up on the FedEx list. I might be overstating their performances - one week at a course they play every year and three rounds a week against older golfers is far different than playing each week against people driving it 350 yards. It's just a curiosity I have.

Friday, May 2, 2014

News Grab-Bag: 5/2/2014

- Thoughts go out to former PGA Tour professional and current Golf Channel analyst Notah Begay III, who is home resting following a heart attack suffered earlier this week. Begay's family has a history of heart disease, but the positive news is that the stint was put in place quickly and Begay is expected to make a full recovery and return within a few weeks. Great to hear.

- I hope you're used to seeing Donald Trump in the golf world, because he's going to be around a lot more incredibly soon. I was announced this week that the Trump National Bedminster located in New Jersey will be host to the 2022 PGA Championship. Not only that, but it was also announced that Trump has purchased Turnberry, host to four Open Championships. I don't know what this means for Trump, Turnberry, or the PGA Tour. I have my own personal opinions of Trump in regards to his business practices and his politics, but Trump seems intent on keeping Turnberry as it is. Say what you will, but Trump seems to love golf and believes in the traditions of the game, so I am going to remain optimistic about this until I have a reason to be otherwise.

- Jason Day announced that he will not be playing in The Players next week, and that he was "a few weeks away" from returning from a thumb injury. Hopefully he is taking all the rest he needs. Day is a charismatic players who would be great for the Tour if he was playing at his full potential.

- Talk about a reversal of fortune! On Thursday, Brendon de Jonge shot an 80, which made him an almost certainty to miss the cut, but followed that up with a Friday round of 62, an 18 shot turn around. It is the second best turnaround in 20 years - only Kevin Stadler's rounds of 81-61 in 2008 was bigger. De Jonge improved his positioning by 125 spots. De Jonge is -2 going into the weekend - the last player to win a PGA Tour event after failing to break 80 in one of the rounds was Kenny Knox in 1986.

- Anyone know about a little known rule called the "88 Rule" on the LPGA Tour? It is a rule, put in place in the early 90's, that stated that any non-exempt LPGA pro who fails to break 88 in a round is banned for a year from the Tour. It was put in place because, at the time, local pros used to tee it up with LPGA professionals in tournaments when they honestly didn't have the game to compete, and many of them had a hard time breaking 90, which was causing pace of play issues and frustration at the hands of the LPGA pros. Honestly, I think it's an outdated rule that needs to be wiped off the books. Only twice in recent history has the rule been mentioned, and they happened to come in the same tournament - 2007 Ginn Tribute. A pre-exempt Michelle Wie was close to that number when she withdrew with two holes remaining, and MacKenzie Kline, who was 15 years old and had a heart defect which forced her to ride in a cart and breath through oxygen tubes throughout the round. Why do I bring this up? Because LPGA pro Christine Song, after shooting a 90 in the first round last week, went on to shoot an 88 in the first round this week. Had Song been a KLPGA or JLPGA pro playing this week on a sponsor exemption, or a Monday qualifier, or someone notched a top 10 last week and got into the field that way, she would have been banned from competition, but because she is exempt on Tour this season, the rule does not apply to her. Basically, what I am saying is that Hyo Joo Kim, who is number 2 on the KLPGA money list and recorded two top 10's this season, would have been banned, but Song, who hasn't made a cut all season, gets a pass. Perhaps it's time to do one of two things - apply the 88 rule to all players, regardless of exempt status, or get rid of the rule all together. My vote would be for the latter.