Friday, August 29, 2014

News Grab-Bag: 8/29/2014

- Thoughts go out to the family and friends of Amanda Bennett, wife of Matt Kuchar's caddie Lance Bennett. Amanda died suddenly early Wednesday. The PGA Tour has rallied behind the family, and all the players played Friday's opening round with black hats with "Amanda" written on them.

- As you have all heard by now, Tiger Woods has split with swing coach Tom Foley. While this is an interesting story, I honestly have nothing more to add. I just want to see Woods back and healthy again.

- Lydia Ko may be missing some significant time soon. Ko has had a history of cysts in her wrist, but in recent weeks the cysts have gotten worse to the point where it is causing a high amount of pain. Ko has already committed to the Evian Masters and still plans on competing in that event, as well as the event in Alabama. Ko, however, may be missing the Asian swing at the end of the year in favor of surgery. It would be a shame as Ko has climbed to number 3 in the Rolex Rankings and had a shot at the beginning of the year to take over the number one spot until Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park both started playing lights out golf. At the same time, Ko is too young to have to play through pain, so she should seek to get this problem fixed as quickly as possible.

- If you read my post on Wednesday you would have heard the announcement of the retirement of Jeong Jang and Hee-Won Han. Both players may want to hold off on cutting the cake, though - Jang is safely inside the cut line, and as of this writing, Han one shot inside the cut, as well. No matter how they play this week, though, I still want to see them play in the Hana Bank as their last tournament.

- How about this for playing an international schedule - the first round of the JLPGA Q-School was yesterday. KLPGA pro Ha Neul Kim played in the event, then flew from Japan back to Korea and is currently playing in the KLPGA tournament. She shot an opening round 68 and is one shot off the lead. With the rise of Korean players playing well on the JLPGA Tour, Kim, who was once the best player on the KLPGA, is hoping to revitalize her career with a chance in scenery. I was hoping that chance of scenery would be in America, but we don't always get what we wish for.

- I know you were all on the edge of your seats, but the wait is finally over - Los Angeles Country Club will host the 2023 US Open.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Jeong Jang And Hee-Won Han Retire

This week, the LPGA will be saying goodbye to two women who helped usher in the explosion of golfers from Korea during the late 90's and early 2000's. Immediately following Se Ri Pak's break out season in 1998, Jeong Jang and Hee-Won Han were among the ladies from the Republic of Korea that came to America and started winning golf tournaments. In essence, they were part of the original :Seoul Sisters", a term that can now be applied to close to 50 players.

Jeong Jang won the Korea Women's Open as a teenager in 1997, and qualified for the LPGA in her first attempt in 2000. She was a solid, consistent player for a number of years, but did not win her first LPGA Title until 2005, when she stormed through Royal Birkdale and won the Women's British Open, becoming the forth major champion from Korea in the process. She would win her second and last LPGA tournament in 2006, though she would come close a number of times, including the Evian Masters in 2007, where she lost to Natalie Gulbis in a playoff. Jang's last decent season was 2012, and hasn't recorded a top 10 since 2010, though she did miss the entire 2011 season, as she got married and gave birth to her daughter Seul.

Hee-Won Han joined the LPGA in 2001 and won the Rookie Of The Year Award in the same season. Han also won the JLPGA Rookie Of The Year Award in 1998, and would win twice the following season on that tour. Han would go on to win six times on the LPGA, all within a three year span between 2003 and 2006. She was never able to win a major, but did some close on a number of occasions, including the 2009 Women's British Open, where she finished third. Like Jang, Han also missed a majority of a season in 2007 when she gave birth to her son, Dale. Han's career slowly started to decline from that moment, as her husband and child remained in Korea while she continued to play on the LPGA Tour. She recorded her last top 10 finish in 2012.

With the retirement of Jang and Han, coupled with the retirements of Mi Hyun Kim and Grace Park the last couple of years, only one player from South Korea remains on the LPGA Tour that joined prior to 2002, and that is the one who started it all, Se Ri Pak. These were all players I remember rooting hard for when I first started watching the LPGA, and it's sad that they're moving on with their lives, though I completely understand their decisions. Park and Kim have been hampered with injuries, and Han and Jang have young children. It's a perfectly logical just doesn't make it any easier.

I hope Jang and Han get an exemption to play the Hana Bank Championship in Korea, and go out like Park and Kim were able to. Ending your career in Portland doesn't seem to have the same special feeling like ending your career in Korea would. Hopefully they reconsider and play one last time in from of their home crowds.

Hee-Won Han and Jeong Jang, I salute you! Best of luck with everything going forward, and congratulations on your careers! You will be missed!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

First Olympic Golf Medals Rewarded In Nanjing

The Youth Olympic Games are currently taking place in Nanjing, China (and I'm sure you've ALL been watching) and for the first time in over a hundred years, Olympic medals have been rewarded in an official Olympic competition. Part of the reason this event hasn't gotten any coverage through the golf media is because the big name young golfers either decided not to play or were ineligible. The United States didn't even field a team, and only amateurs were eligible. Still, this was a landmark moment for golf as they continue to move towards Rio 2016.

On the boys' side, the gold went to Renato Paratore of Italy, silver to Marcus Kinhult of Sweden, and Danthai Boonma of Thailand. Paratore is the 5th ranked amateur player in the world and won a couple of European amateur events, including the Portuguese Amateur Championship. He's also played a few events on the European Tour, and made the cut at the Open de Espana back in May. Several members of the Italian press are already comparing Paratore to the Molinari Brothers, Matteo Manassero, and Costatino Rocca. It's amazing how quickly Italian golf has surged.

The the girls' side, Korea's So-Young Lee won the golf, Cheng Ssu-Chia of Taiwan won the silver, and Supamas Sangchan won the bronze, completing the Asian sweep of the girls division. So-Young Lee played in one event on the LPGA Tour this season, finishing T22 at the LOTTE Championship. She also qualified for this years US Women's Open, but withdrew before the start of competition. Lee has stated that she will turn pro after the Asian Games, so look for her on the KLPGA Tour next season.

There was also a mixed team event, which is not an event that will be on the schedule at Rio. Sweden took home the golf, Korea the silver, and Italy the bronze. Congratulations to all the medalists!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Two Year Winless Droughts End

- Now that Hunter Mahan has turned his game around and won his first event since 2012, perhaps we will finally see Mahan win his first major title. Mahan has been a borderline great player who goes in streaks, and now that he is on the other end of a bad streak, who knows what we will see from him. I think it is a safe bet that we will see Hunter Mahan in Scotland at the end of the season, and hopefully give a much needed boost to the American team.

- With this win, Mahan will continue his streak of playing in every FedEx Cup event since it's inception, as he is now a lock to make it to East Lake.

- Another 54 hole lead, another weekend without a trophy for Jim Furyk. This is starting to get old.

- Late career Stuart Appleby has been very interesting to watch. For a majority of the last couple of seasons, Appleby has not been a part of the conversation. Prior to this week, Appleby only had two top tens this season, and while he was making cuts, he never really had a run at a tournament. Every once and a while, though, much like this week, Appleby will make a charge and remind people of the great player he was and still has the ability to be. I hope we see Appleby win again on Tour, as he is one of my favorite players.

- Good for Cameron Tringale for finishing second a week after having to forfeit his winnings for a rules infraction at the PGA Championship. Perhaps calling the infraction on himself cleared his mind and relaxed him.

- Let me get this straight - Ernie Els can finish in the top 10 at the PGA Championship, then barely make the cut and finish towards the bottom at the Wyndham Championship, and turn around and get another top 10 at the Barclays? I don't understand you at all, Big Easy.

- It was becoming a common thing on this site to discuss So Yeon Ryu and her inability to close the deal in tournaments where she had the chance to lead. It became such a common trend that I swore not to write about her again until she wins again. Well, a month later, Ryu went wire to wire in Canada to pick up her first victory on the LPGA Tour. The reason I knocked her so often on this site was that I always thought Ryu was much better than her results. She's always had the skill level to not have more than two victories on Tour, and her notching top 10s and runner up finishes was proof of that. While it got a little close down the stretch, Ryu's incredibly solid play all week long shows the kind of player she can be. Ryu admitted on Instagram that she's waited a long time for this win, and perhaps with that mental hurdle gone, Ryu can start raking in trophies.

- Na Yeon Choi's runner up finish is only her third top ten of the season. I don't know how great players can suddenly stop playing well, but NYC looked like she was on track to become the number one player in the world until a fall from form the last two seasons has dropped her all the way to 15th in the rankings. Perhaps this is a return for form for the former US Women's Open champion, or perhaps it was just a good week in a friendly environment. Either way, it was great to see NYC back towards the top of the leaderboard.

- Koreans go 1-2-3 on the leaderboard for the first time in 2014, which just so happens to be three tournaments after the International Crown. In fact, since the International Crown, Koreans have won every event on Tour, with two runner up finishes and eight top 10s for various Korean players. I don't know if the International Crown was the kick in the pants for the Korean players, or if they were just tired of hearing about the rise of the American players and the lack of success of Koreans on Tour this year, but they're back, and right before the international portion of the schedule.

- With Inbee Park's third place finish, coupled with Stacy Lewis's disappointing week, the gap between the two players has now shrunk to an incredibly small margin. Considering how dominating Lewis looked this seasons, and how Inbee struggled for part of 2014, it's astonishing that this has become a battle once again.

- Perhaps giving up your LPGA membership can benefit you after all. Former world number one JiYai Shin has won twice this season in Asia after forfeiting her LPGA membership, and now Momoko Ueda wins her first JLPGA event since 2011 after leaving the LPGA prior to the start of this season. While I enjoyed watching both players, I'd rather see them excel on a level even though I can't watch them than see them struggle in the US. Hopefully Momoko plays in the Mizuno Classic, an event she has won twice, towards the end of the season.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wednesday Preview - The FedEx Cup Playoffs

This week is the Barclays, the first round of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Normally, I would do a typical preview where I talk about the course and the field, but we're likely to see the same field of golfers for four weeks straight, so instead of making the same predictions each week, I decided to clump the entire stretch into one post. I decided to break down the fields into three groups - players 100 or below that could make a run, players in the middle of the pack who could surprise some people, and players I see contending and eventually winning the FedEx Cup. Sound like fun? Great!

Making The Leap:

Paul Casey (118) - Only played 15 events this season with Past Champions status, but recorded a top 25 in eight of those starts. Now that he has his card for next season secured, he can focus on winning on the PGA Tour for the first time since 2009, and possibly sneaking his way onto the Ryder Cup team. He was on the bubble entering the final event of the year, but would have easily made the playoffs if he played more events. I have a feeling Casey will be competitive in each playoff event, and make it all the way to East Lake.

Sang-Moon Bae (120) - Only player in the field that moved his way into the playoffs after being on the outside entering last week. Has zero top 10's this season, but the adrenaline of last week may translate into this week and give Bae a boost.

Lee Westwood (107) - Been a disappointing season for Westwood, but does have top 10s at the Masters and the Players, and briefly held the lead at the PGA Championship on Thursday. He's going to need a good run in the playoffs if he wants any chance at making the Ryder Cup team.

Don't Sleep On Them:

Retief Goosen (96) - Has made the cut in 13 straight tournaments, but has only four top 25s during that stretch. He's the kind of player that will just kind of hang around. I can easily see him making it to the BMW Championship with no attention being made to him. Quiet and consistent, just like he was in his prime.

Henrik Stenson (70) - Had a rough year after winning the FedEx Cup playoffs last season, but has only played 12 events on the PGA Tour this season after devoting a majority of his time to the European Tour. Finished T3 at the PGA Championship, so don't be surprised if he wins the first event of the playoffs and make a run to the cup, much like he did last season.

Hunter Mahan (62) - Has played in every FedEx Cup event since it's inception, but he needs a couple of big weeks in order to keep that streak alive. Had a down season, but has always performed well in stretches, and recorded a T7 finish at the PGA Championship following a top 25 at the Bridgestone.

Real Contenders:

Rickie Fowler (16) - Four majors, four top 5 finishes. He season outside of that is relatively mundane, but it can't be ignored that Fowler has performed his best at the biggest stages, and he seems to embrace the FedEx Cup as a big deal. Besides, his second victory HAS to be around the corner, right?

Sergio Garcia (7) - Eight top 10's in 13 stars is all that needs to be said about Sergio's season. In fact, the only thing that is missing from his resume this year is a victory. His T35 at the PGA Championship is more of an anomaly and speaks more about his comfort with Valhalla then it does about his current form. Look for him to be in the magic top 5 entering the Tour Championship.

Adam Scott (15) - Amazing to me that Scott is 15th in the standings, but that is attributed entirely to his lack of production in the majors this season. He's the defending champion of the Barclays, so he has some experience winning in the playoffs. Will be completely under the radar thanks to the new World Number One.

Your FedEx Cup Champion:

Rory McIlroy (1) - My only question mark is whether Rory really wants to give it his all during the entire stretch of the playoffs. He's the best player in the world and can win any tournament as long as he maintains his focus. Three wins in three events, which includes a World Golf Championship and two majors. Could be considered one of the all time greatest seasons of golf if he were to also cash the ten million dollar check.

Wednesday Preview - Canadian Pacific Women's Open

The ladies of the LPGA Tour head back across the northern border for the Canadian Pacific Women's Open. The tournament used to be a major on the LPGA from 1979 until 2000, and still carries the stigma of a significant tournament, and in fact has one of the richest purses on the LPGA Tour, which is quite hilarious when you consider the last two years the winner has not cashed that large check.

Course: London Hunt & Country Club, which enters the rotation for the first time. This course was absolutely ravished by the winter season, but the club and the greens keepers have done a fantastic job getting the course in tournament shape. Seeing as this is the first time we are seeing this course, I will make no prediction on the final tally.

Strength Of Field: B+. Michelle Wie is the only really significant player missing from the field. The top 5 in the world all return to battle it out once again.

Extra Tidbits: A Canadian has not won this event since the first tournament back in 1973...Two years ago, Lydia Ko won the Canadian Women's Open to become the youngest champion on a major professional golf tour at 15 years old. She returned last year to defend her title...Seven players have won two or more tournaments on the LPGA this season. Stacy Lewis is the leader with three victories. Inbee Park's LPGA Championship victory made her the most recent to double up in 2014. Only Paula Creamer, Lexi Thompson, Lizette Salas, Mo Martin and Mirim Lee have one victory in 2014...Charley Hull, Ariya Jutanugarn, and Stephanie Meadow are among the players receiving sponsor's exemptions this week. Emma Jandal, Jillian Hollis, Elizabeth Tong, and Emme De Groot (I am Groot!) are your Monday qualifiers.

Fantasy Four:

Lydia Ko - I have no reason to pick against her in Canada, especially considering how well she's playing this season. It would be an historic feat if Ko were to pull off the three peat, but if anyone is capable of doing it, I believe she is.

Inbee Park - Best player on Tour for the past three weeks. Her win at the LPGA Championship showed that she has restored confidence in her ability to seal the deal when in a position to win. Was the runner up two years ago, and cashed the first place check when Ko was still an amateur.

Mirim Lee - Consider me a believer after her top 10 performance last week. Might be playing the best golf of anyone not named Inbee over the past three tournaments. I have no reason to believe she can't keep up her strong performances.

Stacy Lewis - Is still the number one player on Tour, though may need another win soon if she wishes to keep that distinction. Backdoored a top 10 last week, which she seems to be doing a lot of lately with strong final rounds. Her middle two rounds have been her downfall, as her strong final rounds occur after she's already out of the tournament. Last week was her first top 10 since her win in Arkansas.

(SLEEPER) Meena Lee - Finished just outside the top 10 at the LPGA Championship, which continues her strong performances this year as she's already notched four top 10's, including the US Women's Open. Hasn't won since 2006, and is extremely overdue. With Inbee and Mirim winning the last two weeks, it may be time for a run of Korean champions. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Koreans Have Risen Again On The LPGA

- After two weeks of blowing leads late in tournaments, it is only fitting that Inbee Park wins the LPGA Championship by coming from behind. We can sometimes forget how hard it is to win a professional golf tournament, and no one has made it harder on themselves than Inbee has, so to see her rewarded in this fashion seems right. Now that she strung together three great weeks, and cashed in on another victory, I wonder if she's going to give Stacy Lewis a real run towards the end of the season. They have one more major that could be a deciding factor.

- I know everyone is saying that Brittany Lincicome proved herself to be the next American major winner, but I can't see that as being true. Personally, this may have been Lincicome's best opportunity to win, as her career has started to take a slight downturn the past two seasons. Of course, Lincicome is still only 28, so she'll have several more opportunities, but who knows if she'll ever get another great opportunity like she got heading up the 72nd hole of the LPGA Championship. I know IK Kim is still looking for her breakthrough from a similar situation.

- Lydia Ko is ready to be a major winner. Nothing has made me realize that more than her performance on Sunday, trying to chase down the leaders late as they were trying to pull away from her. Ko's bogies on the final two holes derailed her chances, but she gave more of a charge at it than anyone else. Physically, she may be the best player on Tour, and if she can get through a few mental hurdles, she may be almost unstoppable.

- I am now convinced that Mirim Lee is ready to be a big time player on the LPGA Tour. I wanted to see how Mirim would be able to handle her first major following her first victory on Tour, and she handled it better than most could have expected. She stumbled on the back 9 on Sunday, but she did not completely implode and shoot 80 like she could have. I believe this, more than her victory last week, will give Mirim confidence moving forward.

- Two weeks, two wins for Koreans on the LPGA Tour after everyone was applauding the rise of the American golfers this season. This is not to say that the Koreans are ready to retake their dominance, but it is great for all parties involved to have both American and Korean players playing well. Asia is one of the biggest markets for the LPGA, and if their stars are playing well, they will continue to support the product. A battle for supremacy between Korean and American stars on the LPGA can only be a positive thing for that Tour.

- I remember a few years ago the golf world was talking about the young guns being ready to step up and take over the PGA Tour when guys like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were ready to step away. Right towards the top of that conversation were Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas. Kim has been nowhere to be seen the past several years, and Villegas has struggled, notching only two top 10's since 2011. His victory at the Wyndham Championship turned back the clock a few years and showed us the kind of skills he is able to possess if he were to play at the top of his game. The win was Villegas' first top 10 of the season, so I'm not ready to say he's going to become this great player again, but it is a great step in the right direction for the Columbian.

- The Wyndham became a scene of pure disappointment for many players, such as Freddie Jacobson, Heath Slocum, and Brad Fritch, and while every golf writer will focus on the negative, I will, instead, discuss the positive. Sang-Moon Bae's final round 66 was enough to move him from 126 in the FedEx Cup standings to inside the top 125, giving him a tee time for next week. Also helping his cause was bubble boy Paul Casey, who was sitting right at 125 when the week started and was able to put together a decent tournament and get himself into the playoffs. For most players, the playoffs start at the Barclays, but for Casey and Bae, the playoffs started this week, which may give them some extra motivation and confidence heading into next week. The previously mentioned Slocum was able to translate his narrow entry into the playoffs in 2009 into a victory, so there is some previous history on this sort of thing happening.

Friday, August 15, 2014

News Grab-Bag: 8/15/2014

- This was news that was released last week, but it looks like the breaks on Michelle Wie's great season have officially been hit. Wie, who is sitting out of this week's LPGA Championship, is expected to miss 3-5 weeks with a finger injury. The injury bug appears to be going around on the LPGA, with Se Ri Pak sidelined with a wrist injury until the Evian Masters, and Lydia Ko and Mo Martin all playing through injuries this week. With players on that Tour playing almost every week, is it not a surprise to see some of them get hampered by injuries.

- Tiger Woods has made Captain Tom Watson's decision a little easier, as he announced this week that he is taking himself out of Ryder Cup consideration. Woods stated that his back was not fully healed when he returned last month, something most people speculated entering the PGA Championship, and that he would shut it down until his World Challenge in December.

- After missing the cut at the Wydnham Championship, David Duval stated that he is not done playing professional golf, and will still try to regain his PGA Tour card, if not for next season, than beyond. Duval stated at the beginning of the season that this year would be his last if he was unable to regain playing privileges, but said that an arm injury cost him several tournaments the moment he was starting to play well. Duval is currently No. 200 on the FedEx Cup standings, and the top 200 gain entry into the Tour finals for a chance at receiving a Tour card for next year. Duval will now wait to see if anyone knocks him out of that position.

- Best wishes go to Paula Creamer's long time caddie Colin Cann, who had back spasms flare up prior to the start of the second round and had to sit it out. Cann has been Creamer's caddie her entire 10 year career. Creamer would go on to shoot 77 and miss the cut, so hopefully Cann can get some rest.

This week, we learned of the passing of comedic genius and one of the greatest actors of all time, Robin Williams. Williams has an absolutely hilarious stand up routine, with one joke revolving around the creation of golf. If you haven't seen it, you should. It's NSFW, as there are quite a few swears in it, but every golfer, and every fan of comedy should at least watch this skit, and the whole show, if you can.

Oh Captain, My Captain! Thank you for all the laughs you have given us!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Picks For The 2014 LPGA Championship

This week is the fourth of five LPGA majors, as the LPGA heads to Rochester for the final time for the 2014 LPGA Championship. Frankly, this is my least favorite of the majors as it is the least inclusive. Only LPGA players can qualify for the event, which means Hyo Joo Kim, who has been dominating the KLPGA this season, is ineligible to participate. Regardless, this is still a major tournament and with so many players playing well this year, this could be the tournament that could define a year.

The course in Rochester has tight fairways, so I stayed away from some long hitters that didn't have the driving accuracy. Other than that, there is no formula other than picking the players who have played well this year. The LPGA, more than any other major on the schedule, rewards the top players.

Likely To Not Contend:
Lexi Thompson - This course is just too tight for Thompson, who has never finished inside the top 10 at the LPGA Championship and hasn't recorded a top 10 on Tour since the US Open. I expect her form to return before the end of the season, but this isn't the place to do it.

Yani Tseng - A lot of people like Yani this week because of her past history, but she has never played at Monroe Golf Club before. With everybody seeing the course for the first time, I expect Yani to finish in the middle of the road this week.

Mirim Lee - The only rookie other than Lydia Ko to win on the LPGA Tour this year. Mirim Lee contending would make for a great story, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Her previous finishes in majors are a T26 and a missed cut. She's playing better now than she did at any other point of the season, but I need to see more before thinking she can contend for a major.

Keep An Eye On:
Haru Nomura - Only missed one cut this season, but last week's fourth place finish was only her second top 10 of the season. A lot of middling results, but has shown improvements, and should be slightly encouraged that she made the cut in her previous two major performances. She has been the best player from Japan this season, and yet she slides under the radar, which may be perfect for her. After a couple of seasons bouncing between Asia and the LPGA Tour, she has locked up her card for next season.

Sleeper Pick:
Amy Yang - Four top 10's this season, including the Kraft Nabisco Championship and US Open. Not even sure she qualifies as a sleeper anymore, but her recent performances in majors should be enough to give people notice.

5) Shanshan Feng - Winner two years ago at Locust Hill. Notched a top 10 last week after finishing tied for second at the Women's British Open. Her next win is coming very soon, but may be overlooked considering some of the names playing at the highest level.

4) Suzann Pettersen - Starting to return to form after an injury seemed to derail her early in the season. If she is completely healthy, she should have no problem returning to her winning form. While she has been completely forgotten about this season, she is still only forth on the Rolex World Rankings.

Numbers 3, 2, and 1:
I have honestly gone back and forth several times with all three players in my top 3, and I can not decide on which one I have the most confidence in to win the LPGA Championship. Naturally, they are the top 3 players in the Rolex World Rankings, and someone can make a case for all three of them, but I can also make a case AGAINST all three.
Lydia Ko may have the most momentum and confidence entering the LPGA Championship, but I still have a hard time seeing a 17 year old winning a major, even if that 17 year old is defying everything we ever knew about age in sports.
Stacy Lewis finished outside the top 10 by one stroke last week, but that was all because of her final round 66. Prior to that, Lewis looked out of it, which may be a result of the stunning exit of Team USA from the International Crown early in the event. Still, she is the best player in the world and should be considered the favorite.
Inbee Park is the defending champion and has played incredibly well the past several weeks, but she also has had two chances to close the deal on victories - one at the Women's British Open and one last week at the Meijer. I worry about players who give away leads late in a tournament, but Inbee's the caliber of golfer that can easily rebound.

I'm honestly completely torn. I know I'm supposed to pick one player, but right now, I simply can not do this. What I will say, though, is if all three of these players are in contention heading into the weekend, then we can expect yet another fantastic LPGA major.

Wednesday Preview - Wyndham Championship

We enter the home stretch as this week marks the final regular season tournament on the PGA Tour. After this, we have four playoff events that will conclude with the Tour Championship in Atlanta. Some players have already punched their ticket into next week, and for other, the playoffs start now, as a weak finish this week could mark the end of someone's season.

Course: Sedgefield Country Club, a 7,100 yard track that is one of the shortest on Tour and has provided an assortment of different kinds of championship. A lot of short hitters have played well on this course. Double digits under par has won every year since 1994, so the winner will have to make a bunch of birdies.

Strength Of Field: D-. Almost everybody who already has a tee time booked for next week is off this week. Patrick Reed is the highest rated player in the FedEx Cup race, and Hideki Matsuyama is the highest rated OWGR player. A far cry from the stretch of strong, deep fields the past several weeks.

Extra Tidbits: Greensboro remains the land of Snead, as World Golf Hall of Famer Sam Snead won 8 editions of this event, including the first one in 1938. His last victory in 1965 set the record for the oldest winner on Tour, a record that has yet to be broken. Snead was almost 53 when he won...Only 18 players have ever jumped from outside the top 125 and made it into the playoffs following a strong finish at the Wyndham. Heath Slocum is the only player in two years to do so...Rocco Mediate returns to the PGA Tour this week, making his 23rd start in Greensboro. Mediate won this event in 1993...Stephen Gallacher got a sponsor's exemption into the field. Gallacher is on the bubble for the European Ryder Cup team.

Fantasy Four:

Hideki Matsuyama - Made the cut in 8 straight starts, which includes two majors on top of his win at Memorial. Highest rated golfer in the field. Countryman Shigeki Maruyama won this event in 2003. May be the only highly ranked player in the field that is playing really well right now.

Ernie Els - Roller coaster season, but is coming off a top 10 at the PGA Championship following an incredibly strong final round 65. He is already locked into the playoffs, but would love to capitalize on his success in the final major of the year. His 2012 Open Championship remains his most recent victory.

Joe Durant - Sleeper Pick. Made the cut in his last four events, with three of them being top 25 finishes. His goals for next year are unclear, as he is qualified for the Champions Tour, but is also inside the top 200, which exempts him into the Tour Finals. Another high finish may push him towards going for his card next season.

Chad Campbell - Is currently 147th in the FedEx Cup race, so he likely needs a top 10 finish to make it into the field next week. His T7 at the Travelers Championship remains his only top 10 of the season. I have a feeling, however, that he does just enough to make it and secure his card for next season.

Monday, August 11, 2014

All Rory, All The Time

- Prior to this week, Rory McIlroy had three majors victories, all by considerable margins which made him look like the most dominate golfer on the planet. So why do I think his most recent, one shot victory at the PGA Championship is the most impressive win of his career? It's because Rory had to prove something on Sunday. He didn't have a large lead that he could run and hide from the field. He fell behind to several high class players and needed to fight his way back in sloppy conditions while his competitors continued to high high quality shots. One of the knocks against Tiger Woods is that he has never won a major coming from behind. He put a stranglehold on the field and never looked back. Rory needed to fight and claw his way for a win, which not only shows his physical talents, but his mental toughness, as well. When Rory made two bogies early, a lot of players in the field could have just collapsed and became an afterthought. Rory, instead, hits an incredible shot on a par 5 to set up an eagle. This is the kind of talent we're going to get used to seeing from the Northern Irishman.

- Hey guys, remember Phil Mickelson? Remember the 44 year old that hasn't recorded a top 10 in 2014? Yeah, that man almost won another major championship. Phil said last week that if he were to contend for the PGA Championship, it would "come out of nowhere." Well, out of nowhere it came, as Phil showed his old self once again. If it weren't for a few missed putts, Phil would have won his second PGA Championship. I'm sure Captain Tom Watson is feeling a lot better today, knowing that Phil is getting his game turned around, but how is Lefty feeling? He knows he doesn't have many majors left in him, and any that slip away have to feel like a lost opportunity, but at the same time, the fact that he was able to make a run at it when his game was primarily in shambles should make him encouraged going forward.

- Speaking of missed opportunities, how about elder statesmen Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, and Steve Stricker all notching top 10's in the PGA Championship. For Stricker, his time for winning a major is likely over, as he is quietly entering retirement. It would be a complete shock if someone only plays a few times a year suddenly wins a major. For Furyk and Els, however, they have to be both A) encouraged that they still have the game to compete in majors, and B) upset that they let an opportunity slip away. Els has not had a great season this year, so I'm sure the result is fine for him, but for Furyk, who has 8 top 10's this season without a victory, this had to seem like a bit of a waste. Opportunities aren't going to keep popping up for Furyk, so I'm sure top 10's aren't his goal. He wants trophies.

- Victor Dubuisson has decided to start peaking at the right moment. Dubuisson was a lock for the European Ryder Cup team after his runner up finish at the match play, but he then went on a stretch of golf where he did not play well. He took quite a few tournaments off in the summer, and was fairly quiet on both the PGA and European Tours. The US had to feel some confidence knowing that, perhaps, Dubuisson was a weak link for the Euros. Two straight top 10 finishes in majors ended that speculation, and now Dubuisson enters the Ryder Cup with a ton of confidence.

- Henrik Stenson will win a major in 2015. Check back on this blog post next year.

- Rickie Fowler's four top 5 finishes in majors this year was incredibly impressive, but to me, it means nothing unless he's able to cash in that confidence with a win in the playoffs. Yes, it is important to peak at the biggest events of the year, but what Fowler has really shown this year is that he is way too talented to only have one win out Tour. He is someone that can create buzz and get people excited about golf, but he needs some more trophies. If he leaves 2014 without a victory, then in the grand scheme of things, it will just be remembered as another really good season, not a great one.

- I wonder if Mikko Ilonen gave Paul McGinley something to think about this week. Ilonen currently sits at 47 on the World Golf Rankings and followed up his victory at the Irish Open in June with a top 10 in the PGA Championship. In the end, I'm afraid McGinley will end up going with someone like Ian Poulter, who has had an incredibly disappointing season, if only for the experience he brings to the table. Still, Ilonen would make a great story, and I would love to see McGinley take the risk.

- If you thought Mo Martin's victory was out of the blue, then you're going to be absolutely stunned by this week's winner on the LPGA Tour. Mirim Lee is a rookie on the LPGA this season, and was in a back and forth battle with Danish golfer Line Vedel for the right to beaten by Lydia Ko in the Rookie Of The Year race. Lee finished second at the Founders Cup, but had done nothing else this season until a 12th place finish a few weeks ago in Ohio. The fact that Mirim was not only able to handle the pressure of being in the final pairing, but also was able to stare down and beat some of the biggest names in women's golf is nothing to scoff at. This may be a flash in the pan like some other surprise winners we have seen on Tour, or it could be the start of a really good career for Mirim. How she handles her success will be the true test. It's hard to win, but it's even harder to sustain great play. Let's see how Mirim plays in the LPGA Championship.

- If I was a betting man, I would have bet my house on Sunday that Inbee Park was going to win the Meijer Classic. Some players just have it on certain days, and some don't. While Mirim Lee was playing the best golf she's ever played, Inbee struggled. I wonder if she wasn't still slightly worn out by the pressure of the International Crown two weeks ago. Several other big name golfers looked like they weren't playing at their highest potential, either. It's a shame, because a win would have been Inbee's second of the season, and would make everyone remember who Queen Bee was. Still, don't discount her for the season's fourth major. If Inbee gets motivated, she may be the player to beat.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Captain Watson Rightfully Concerned About US Team

Entering 2014, the United States was feeling incredibly confident in their chances to retake the Ryder Cup in Wales this September. Tiger Woods was coming off five victories last season, Phil Mickelson won the Open Champion and looked to be a Player Of The Year candidate, Jimmy Walker took a commanding lead in the FedEx Cup standings with three wins early, and Patrick Reed was on his way to being a top 5 player in the world. Meanwhile, the European Team was struggling and was finding ways to blow leads and get themselves out of contention.

Since then, however, fortune has not been on the American's side. Tiger Woods had back surgery in April and has not been healthy since. Phil Mickelson has struggled all season and hasn't posted a single top 10. Patrick Reed now has more missed cuts in the last 10 weeks then he does made cuts, and Ryder Cup veteran Zach Johnson couldn't buy a putt.

Over the past two weeks, life has gotten even worse for the Americans. Dustin Johnson was suspended from the PGA Tour and will not be playing in the matches. This week, both Jason Dufner and Matt Kuchar, who both looked like they were going to make the team, withdrew from the PGA Championship with back injuries. Kuchar insists that he is fine and will be ready to go once September hits, but Dufner has had a bulging disk in his neck for a while and it seems to have gotten worse, to the point where he doesn't know if he'll be back at all this season. If you consider him a scratch for the matches, that's another Ryder Cup veteran down for the Americans, who are now desperately lacking depth and experience.

To make matters even worse for the Americans, the Europeans have started playing great golf as of late. Martin Kaymer, who was off the team entering the year, won the Players Championship and US Open to secure a spot on the team. Sergio Garcia has got himself into position to win several times this year, as has rookie Victor Dubuisson and veteran Thomas Bjorn. Oh, and there is this guy named Rory that has dominated the past two months and now looks like he has a stranglehold on the world rankings. Suddenly, players like Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell, who are usually reliable players for the Euros, look like they might not make the team because of how well everyone else is playing. What a great problem to have for Captain Paul McGinley.

Right now, on paper, the Americans don't just look like underdogs. They look completely outmatched. From top to bottom, the Europeans have the superior team, as well as home field advantage, and they are the defending champions. The US hasn't won the Ryder Cup since 2008, and hasn't won in Europe since 1993.

While things may look dire for the Americans, it could actually provide them with some motivation. The Americans have nothing to lose. There is no pressure on them. They are SUPPOSED to lose the Ryder Cup in September, so if they walk in with that attitude and just decide to play loose, they may shock the world...I wouldn't bet money on that, though.

On a side note, Tom Watson named Steve Stricker as assistant captain for Team USA. As of this writing, Stricker is four shots back of McIlroy at the PGA Championship. With the way the US team is dropping, Watson may actually need him to pitch hit.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Poorly Predicting The 2014 PGA Championship

It is that time again - time to pretend like I know what I'm talking about and break down the field for the final major of the 2014 PGA Tour season. Ah, it seems like just yesterday I was wrongfully predicting the Masters, and here we are four short months and three not-so-good majors later, and we're almost at the end of the season. I'm getting a little teary eyed.

My process for predicting this one is simple - the first three majors were won by players who already won a major championship. Therefore, I predict that it will be a perfect 4-for-4 and the trend continues. Also, each of those majors were won by someone in their 20's, but I was not ready to break the field down that much, so I just went with players younger than 40.

Players To Watch (That Don't Fit That Category): 
Sergio Garcia - Two runner up finishes in two weeks in a season where Sergio has played incredibly well. I really like his chances to win this week, but I have to stick with my formula. Nevertheless, this may be his best opportunity to finally win a major.

Rickie Fowler - I honestly can't imagine a player posting four top 5 finishes in four majors during a PGA Tour season without winning one of them, and since I don't think Fowler is going to win, then I don't think he's going to repeat his success. It would be a heck of a story if he did, though.

Hideki Matsuyama - Been quiet since his win at the Memorial, but that doesn't mean he's been bad. Made the cut in both the US and Open Championships, and finished a shot out of a top 10 in Ohio last week. The PGA Championship produces plenty of champions that perhaps fly under the radar, and Matsuyama would fit that category. Played in his first PGA Championship last year, where he finished T19.

Tom Watson - The last time a golf tournament was played at Valhalla, it was won by Tom Watson (2011 Senior PGA). Last time the PGA Championship was played here, in 2000, Watson finished in the top 10 at the age of 49. This is most likely Captain Watson's final PGA Championship, the one that prevented him from completing the career grand slam, and while I don't expect him to win, I do expect he puts on one last show.


5) Adam Scott - I don't think Adam Scott is happy just letting his number one ranking slip by the wayside. If anything, I expect Rory McIlroy's recent dominance to motivate Scott to get better. He is a man, I feel, truly enjoyed being the best in the world, and it's not like Scott handed Rory the crown - Rory took it from him. Would be be a shock to see Scott winning the PGA Championship and taking his top ranking back?

4) Geoff Ogilvy - It would be a heck of a shock if Ogilvy were to walk out as the PGA Champion, but shocks tend to be produced at this major. Ogilvy returned to the winner's circle last week at the alternate field event in Reno, and sometimes those are the types of things that motivate someone to return to the form they once had. At 37, Ogilvy is far from done, and could use the PGA Championship to show that.

3) Bubba Watson - Has not looked comfortable on the golf course since his Master's win, but Bubba was never the kind of guy who could play well at the US Open or Open Championships - he loves to bomb it and take a bunch of risks. That's exactly the kind of strategy that could pay off at the PGA Championship. Valhalla will yield plenty of birdies, and that plays into Bubba's wheelhouse.

2) Rory McIlroy - Rory is the prohibitive favorite, and it's dumb to bet against him, but no one has won the Open Championship and the PGA Championship back to back since Tiger did it in 2006. If Rory truly is the "next Tiger Woods", then this would be the perfect way to prove that, but I just think it's too much pressure for anyone. If you predict Rory to win, then that means you're predicting historical level stuff, and I just can't do that.

Justin Rose - It's like we forgot about him. Two wins leading up to the Open Championship, and a T4 finish last week in Ohio. Rose has had a pretty phenomenal season considering he started it coming off an injury, but his season has been overshadowed by Rory, Sergio, Rickie, and the struggles of Tiger and Phil. Not a lot of people are going to be betting on Rose this week, which makes it the perfect opportunity for him to grab major number 2.

Champion: Justin Rose
Winning Score: -12
Winning Margin: 2 strokes

Wednesday Preview - Meijer LPGA Classic

It seems like forever since we've had a stroke play event on the LPGA Tour, but here we are, heading to Michigan, for the John Meijer LPGA Classic (Say what you need to say!).

Course: Blythefield Country Club. Measures at 6,400 yards. I know nothing about this course, as it will be the first time the LPGA will be playing in Michigan since 2000.

Strength Of Field: B-. 9 of the world's top 10 are playing, with 17 players from the International Crown teeing it up, but that does not include So Yeon Ryu, Na Yeon Choi, Yani Tseng, or Carlota Ciganda.

Extra Tidbits: Michelle Wie is looking to rebound this week after missing two straight cuts on the LPGA Tour. Prior to the Women's British Open, Wie didn't miss a single cut this season...Michigan State's Lindsey McPherson and University of Michigan's Grace Choi are the sponsor exemption this week. The Monday qualifiers are Carling Nolan and Paula Hurtado...For the first time in a long time, the number one ranking is not up for grabs. Stacy Lewis has a large enough lead over Lydia Ko that Ko can not pass Lewis, no matter the outcome of this week.

Fantasy Four:

ShanShan Feng - Is one great round away from closing the deal on career victory number 4. Has played some high quality golf this season. New course for everyone in the field could be an equalizer. If she's going to win, now may be the best opportunity to do so.

Azahara Munoz
Beatriz Recari
Belen Mozo - On the heels of their victory at the International Crown, I feel as if it is only fitting to give these three a spot in my team this week. Their Solheim Cup victory last year didn't give the European players a huge lift, but perhaps the national pride will jolt the Spanish players towards more success. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Rory McIlroy Begins (Another) New Era

- With his come from behind victory Sunday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Rory McIlroy took over the number one spot in the world. People were quick to crown Rory as the next dominate golfer (I.E. Tiger Woods) and declare that we are currently in for an "Era Of Rory", as evidenced by his back to back victories in Liverpool and Akron.

Indeed, Rory's victories have brought in a lot of light in an otherwise bleak PGA Tour season, as big names continue to struggle to return to form. Rory returning to the top of the world seemed inevitable, as no one is as flashy and has as much talent in the men's game as Rory does. When Rory wins, he does so in style, and when he is playing at his best, there isn't a single part of his game that causes concern. He is the best in the world at everything, and could easily win multiple majors in a season.

That, however, also happens to be the problem with the McIlroy Era hype. While McIlroy is the most talented man in golf, he is also one of the streakiest, and sometimes finds times to disappear while at the peak of his game. After Rory's other two major victories where he absolutely dominated the field people were already making the Tiger Woods comparison, only for Rory to be hampered by a lack of form soon after those impressive victories. In fact, after each of his previous majors, Rory did not record another top 10 in a major championship for a full calender year.

What I am saying is, yes, Rory is no doubt the best in the world, but we need to see more before we start comparing him to some of the best to have ever played the game. Right now, he needs to focus on the PGA Championship. If he can somehow win two majors in a row, all bets are off. Of course, the entire golf world will also be looking ahead to the Masters, where Rory will try to complete the Career Grand Slam at the age of 25.

- You really have to feel for Sergio Garcia...well, at least I do. When Sergio got his start in the game, he ran right against the Tiger Woods Era of dominance. Sergio soared up the rankings and was on everyone's watch list, but he could never take down Tiger. Now Tiger has fallen and it looks like it can become Sergio's time to shine, but Rory McIlroy comes on the scene to take his place at the top, and now Sergio can't beat him, either. I still like Sergio's chances this week at Valhalla, but you have to wonder if back to back runner up finishes will end up doing him more harm than good.

- While the entire world was watching the Rory-Sergio duel, Geoff Ogilvy won his first PGA Tour event in four years. Ogilvy, most remembered for being one of the many men to be there on Sunday when Phil Mickelson couldn't win a US Open, had fallen hard, as injuries and a loss of form sent him all the way to 216th in the World Golf Rankings. In fact, had he not won, it looked like Ogilvy was on track to lost his PGA Tour card. Now he has status for another two years, and will play in the PGA Championship this week. Not bad for a man who almost didn't show up in Reno.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Dustin Johnson Suspended For Cocaine Use...Maybe...

Earlier this week, we heard that Dustin Johnson would be taking an indefinite leave of absence in order to fix some things in his personal life and to "get the help he needs." He was incredibly vague throughout the statement, and refused to elaborate, only to say that he would be gone and he needed help with personal issues. This opened the door for massive speculation that Johnson may have been suspended by the PGA Tour, seeing as the Tour never publicly discloses suspensions.

The next day, an anonymous source told (which I just now found out is a real site) that Dustin Johnson had, in fact, been suspended by the PGA Tour - six months, in fact, for cocaine use. It is Johnson's third failed drug test - one for marijuana use, and his second for cocaine. The marijuana test did not warrant a suspension, but the first cocaine test came with a two month suspension back in 2012. The PGA Tour was quick to deny the suspension, saying that Johnson is taking a leave of absence on his own accord.

Of course, the speculation wouldn't occur if the PGA Tour wasn't notorious for never publicly releasing suspension information. I understand that there is a level of privacy involved, but the PGA Tour remains the only major sports league to not publicly announce suspensions. Most people (including myself) are taking the PGA Tour's denial of the suspension with a grain of salt.

I will say, though, that the suspension is not that surprising to me. What is actually surprising is the fact that there aren't more young, successful golfers that get nailed with this kind of thing. I can't believe for a second that Dustin Johnson is the only man on Tour who has struggled with substance abuse problems. He just may be the only one who has been busted multiple times.

All that being said, I hope Johnson uses this time to get the help he needs and recover from this. He is too young and too talented to let something like cocaine slow down his career. In the words of Rick James "Cocaine is a hell of a drug." I also hope that we will soon see an end to this dumb policy by the PGA Tour. If Dustin Johnson's problem would have remained private, who knows if anyone would have stepped up to help him.