Monday, March 30, 2015

Kerr Ends Korean Domination, And The Masters Field Is (Almost) Set

- Players from the United States hadn't won an event on the LPGA Tour in 2015, so leave it to one of the veterans to end that streak. Cristie Kerr shot an almost flawless final round 65 to win the Kia Classic. Honestly, Kerr's win was kind of unexpected - she didn't finish in the top 25 in any event this season prior to Kia, but Kerr is a borderline Hall of Famer and one of the most veterans on Tour, so form means nothing to her, as she can win seemingly out of nowhere.

- Lydia Ko has now played her last 28 rounds under par, one short of Annika Sorenstam's record. She is certainly the favorite to win next week at the ANA Inspiration, but in all honesty, she should have won the Kia Classic. Ko left too many shots on the table, and her putter let her down towards the end. These are all small flaws, however, and I'm sure Lydia won't be thinking about the Kia Classic when she tees off on Thursday.

- If Mirim Lee can become just a little more consistent, she will be a major player on the LPGA Tour. Lee is only 24 years old and in her second season on the LPGA Tour, but she's already won twice, and has two runner up finishes already this season. She seems to pop up on the leaderboards when you least expect it, then go away the moment you start thinking she's going to go on a roll, but she's still a really good player who can become part of that next tier of elite players.

- File this under the category "same thing, different week", Inbee Park and Hyo Joo Kim both finished in the top 10. Honestly, Kim will likely be a bit disappointed when she looks back on this week as she was in perfect position to win the tournament until a third round 72 took the wind out of her sails. Still, these two will be near the top of everyone's list when they make their picks for next week.

- Lexi Thompson, once again, seems to be peaking at the perfect moment. After being relatively quiet since winning the Kraft-Nabisco last year, she now has two top 10 finishes this season with a T12 in Singapore. As proven last year, the Dinah Shore course sets up perfectly for Thompson's game, so don't be surprised if the defending champion finds herself in the mix on Sunday.

- The most surprising result from this weekend was likely Sakura Yokomine's top 10 finish. After failing to make a single cut in her rookie season on the LPGA Tour, Yokomine was in contention through three rounds, and though she stumbled on the final day, she was able to hang on for her first top 10 finish as an LPGA professional. I had high hopes for Yokomine entering this season, and up until now she has been rather disappointing. Hopefully this finish sparks something in her and she begins to ascend.

- Not surprisingly, Se Ri Pak was unable to follow up her sterling third round 64, but she still managed her first top 10 finish in a year. Pak has been hampered with injury issues for the past three seasons and her career looked to be close to over, but she found her game at the Kia Classic and seems to be improving every week. The ANA Inspiration is the only major remaining from her resume (besides the Evian, which...I mean, come on), and last year she found lightning in a bottle and finished in third place. Pak has been circling this tournament for years, and now that she seems healthy, she could finally pull this off. Whether she does or not, however, it was great seeing Pak give another run up the leaderboard.

- We get it. Jimmy Walker is great. He is going to win a ton of tournaments and be a mainstay for the United States President and Ryder Cup teams for the next several years. He will likely be leading the FedEx Cup standings for the next six years. To me, none of that matters anymore because Walker has already secured his spot on that second tier list of players in the world. In fact, he's at the top of that list. If he chooses to be considered one of the absolute elite players in the world, though, he needs to win a major. He will have an opportunity to do so, as both the US Open and the PGA Championship appear to be on courses that suit Walker's game.

- Another week, another blog post about how great Jordan Spieth is going to be over the next several years. Honestly, Spieth has become borderline boring. He shows up, performs great, and leaves. What else is there to really say? Talking about his age has been done to death, and it isn't about his age anymore anyway. He's one of the top 10 players in the world. He is on the short list of best American players currently. He will likely perform well at The Masters once again. We're spoiled with this kid right now.

- Zach Johnson has become unwatchable on the greens. He hits almost every fairway and his ball striking is fantastic, but he can't make a ten foot putt right now. I hope he turns that around quickly, because he could be a contender for every major if he can figure out his putter.

- Want another example of how form doesn't mean anything? Look no further than Richie Ramsey, who hadn't cashed in a check all season until his win in Morocco this week. When Ramsey won the US Amateur, he looked like he was going to be the next great golfer out of Scotland. His career has been a rollercoaster ride since then, but hopefully this win will get him to turn his game around and start becoming a big name player.

- Every year, there is an older past champion who finds his way near the top of The Masters leaderboard. This year, perhaps it is Jose Maria Olazabal's turn. Despite a recent loss in form and struggled with arthritis, Olazabal has not missed the cut in his previous two Masters trips, and this week, he briefly found himself tied for the lead in Morocco before finishing T9. Olazabal misses more cuts than he makes now in the twilight of his career, but perhaps he can put it together for one last sprint up the leaderboard.

- The Masters Field is set (with the exception of the winner of the Shell Houston Open), and Paul Casey has to be the luckiest man in the world right now. Sitting at 49th in the World Golf Rankings, Casey took this week off knowing that several players could jump him with strong finishes. In Morocco, the pressure was on Alexander Levy, who entered the tournament as the highest ranked player in the field. He surprisingly missed the cut. Then it was George Coetzee's chance, as a victory would have secured him a spot in the field. He gave it a run and finished T3, but he gave away way too many shots throughout the course of the week. In San Antonio, it was up to Harris English, who needed a top 10 finish to get in, but he never got comfortable and finished T30. Marc Warren could have played in Morocco to give himself a chance at making The Masters, but decided instead to play in Texas. That gamble didn't pay off, as he finished T35. The pressure of making The Masters can get to anyone, and this week, every player who had an opportunity to make the field failed to do so.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Would More Than 100 Players Really Hurt The Masters?

Entering this week, 95 players had already locked up their Masters invitations, with another three players inside the top 50 of the World Golf Rankings that are assured to stay there at the end of the day on Sunday. That means there are a confirmed 98 players heading to Augusta (counting Tiger Woods, who has yet to commit).

Several other players, both in San Antonio and Morocco this week, could play their way into The Masters with solid weeks this week, and the winners of both the Valero Texas Open and the Shell Houston Open are given invitations if they are not already exempt. At this point, I will make the not-so bold prediction: The Masters will have over 100 players teeing it up for the first time since 1966.

For Augusta National, this may seem like a nightmare scenario. They believe that a smaller tournament makes it more exclusive, and, in turn, more prestigious. The US Open gets their flare from the amount of players who register for local and sectional qualifying every year. Almost anyone in the world has a chance to win that tournament. For The Masters, only the best get to walk the grounds of Augusta National.

But is this really a nightmare scenario for The Masters?

Let's first take a look back at the aforementioned 1966 Masters. Part of the reason the event had that many participants was because of the amount of former champions that played that week. It was the final Masters Tournament for Byron Nelson, and you also has players who played a majority of their best golf in the 1930's, such as Gene Sarazen and Henry Picard. These players weren't contenders for the title (though Nelson did miss the cut by only one stroke), but it still must have been a joy to watch these legendary players walk the grounds of Augusta for a day or two.

The tournament itself ended up being a memorable one. Jack Nicklaus won his second consecutive green jacket, but had to do so in a playoff against Tommy Jacobs and Gay Brewer. Four time champion Arnold Palmer gave it a run, but ended up finishing two shots out of the playoff. The fact that there were over 100 players in the tournament didn't take away from the drama at the end, nor did it provide an unworthy champion.

Fast forward to 2015, where Ben Crenshaw will be playing in The Masters one final time. Other past champions, such as Tom Watson and Ian Woosnam, are unlikely to even make the cut, more less contend. Seven amateurs are going to play and experience the thrill of a lifetime, and it would be a victory if any of them were playing on Saturday. When it's all said and done, however, will we be remembering the number of players in the field on Thursday, or will we remember the champion on Sunday?

Of course, there are a lot of factors that remain. One depends on who is in contention on Sunday. A bunched leaderboard with some big name players will attract a ton of attention. If it is similar to last year, where Bubba Watson was not challenged on the back 9, it will be another year with down ratings. Also, if an unusual number of players make the cut, it could lead to some slow play on the weekends. The current cut at The Masters is the top 50 players and anyone within 10 strokes of the leader. If no one gets out to a big lead, you could see a lot of players playing on Saturday and Sunday who may not have much of a chance to win the green jacket.

In the end, however, the field size does not really matter, especially if it's going to be a one year problem. Would I have an issue if they changed their qualifications a tad? Not really, though they need to hold on to the tradition of inviting back all the past champions, and they need to keep the qualification of every PGA Tour full field winner gets an invite. After that, if they wish to change things around, you will not hear much complaining from me, but I'm not going to be less interested this year just because the field list went over the century mark.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wednesday Preview - Kia Classic

This week is the final tune-up for the top LPGA pros heading into the first major of the year as the players tee it up for the Kia Classic.

Course: Aviara Golf Club, measuring at 6,600 yards. It's not an incredibly difficult course, but the scores can go up slightly depending on the wind. Winning score should be in the low teens under par.

Strength Of Field: A-. All the top pros are playing, including last week's winner Hyo Joo Kim, along with Lydia, Inbee, and Stacy. They all want a warm-up before the ANA Inspiration.

Extra Tidbits: Every tournament of the 2015 season has, to this point, had ties to the Republic of Korea. Five players play under the Korean flag and Lydia Ko was born in Seoul before moving with her family to New Zealand...Last year, Anna Nordqvist won her second and last title of the 2014 season by one stroke over Lizette Salas. Europeans have won three of the five editions of the Kia Classic. There has yet to be an American winner.

Fantasy Four

Lydia Ko - Has finished in the top 10 in her last ten starts. The current record is held by Karrie Webb, who once finished in the top 10 sixteen consecutive weeks. Ko could break that record.

Hyo Joo Kim - Last week's winner has six top 10's in seven LPGA starts, with two victories. Could be Lydia Ko's biggest threat at the top of the Rolex Rankings by year's end.

Stacy Lewis - Three consecutive top three finishes. Her streak will end soon, either with her cashing in with a victory or wish her struggling and falling from the leaderboard. Given her talent, I'd rather bet on the former. 

Sei-Young Kim - Another top 10 last week, which brings her total to three in five LPGA starts. Since her victory in the Bahamas, she has finished no worse than T16. Even those who followed the KLPGA Tour very closely are surprised by how quickly Kim took to the LPGA Tour and how impressive she has been.

Because of how deep the field is, I have elected not to select a sleeper this week. Expect one next week. 

Wednesday Preview - Valero Texas Open

The PGA Tour heads to Texas for two weeks prior to The Masters, and this week they descend upon San Antonio for the Valero Texas Open.

Course: TPC San Antonio, measuring at 7,400 yards. The event found a permanent home at TPC San Antonio back in 2010. This is not an easy course, and with wind always in the forecast, a low ball flight and a great short game will be king this week. Expect winning scores to be in the single digit under par, but with good weather, it may creep up to ten under par.

Strength Of Field: C-. Coming off the Florida swing, where so many big name players tee'd it up, this is a bit of a let down. Jordan Speith and Dustin Johnson are your needle movers this week. Most of the top pros are either using Houston next week as a warm up for Augusta, or they shut it down after the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Only 13 of the top 30 in the world are playing this week. This makes it a perfect opportunity for a Cinderella story to make it to The Masters.

Extra Tidbits: This is the final week to qualify for The Masters based on World Golf Ranking. Those inside the top 50 will receive an invite. The spotlight will be on Marc Warren and Harris English, the two who can play their way in with a big week in San Antonio. Warren is currently sitting at 52 in the World Golf Rankings, with English sitting at 53. Alexander Levy, who is at 54, is playing on the European Tour this week, and could also play his way into The Masters...The Texas Open is a huge event for any native Texan on the PGA Tour. Among the Texans who can claim to be winners of their state's open are Byron Nelson, Ben Crenshaw, and Justin Leonard, who is tied with Arnold Palmer for the most wins in the Texas Open...27 players who are already qualified for The Masters are teeing it up this week...Daniel Chopra, Lance Lopez, J.J. Killeen, and Thomas Birdsey are the Monday Qualifiers. Chopra is a two time PGA Tour winner who made the cut in his only other start in 2015, the Puerto Rico Open. Killeen is a former Tour member who last held his card in 2012.

Fantasy Four:

Jimmy Walker - Native Texan who is currently sitting at number one in the FedEx Cup standings. Looking for some strong momentum heading into the first major of the year. Strong crowd following Walker could give him a boost. 

Ryan Palmer - Another native Texan who has been playing well all season. Has a low ball flight that should set up perfectly for TPC San Antonio. This week will feel like a major for Palmer, and he will have plenty of backing from the crowd.

Daniel Berger - Playing too well to ignore. Finished T13 last week with a final round that included an albatross. Currently inside the top 20 in the FedEx Cup, but will need to win in order to make The Masters. He's making his case for best rookie of 2015.

Zach Johnson - Final round at Bay Hill was great, but could have been better had it not been for a few dumb mistakes. Still struggling with the putter, but his game seems to work in Texas. Finished inside the top 10 last year during a stretch of golf where he was really struggling. This is the time of year he seems to start putting it together, and this will be the first major test.

Last Weeks Team:
Henrik Stenson: 2
Keegan Bradley: T49
Sean O'Hair: T29
J.B. Holmes: CUT

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Jack Nicklaus Receives Congressional Gold Medal

It was a day of celebration through the tears as Jack Nicklaus, the son of a pharmacist who grew up to become the greatest professional golfer of all time, was honored with the highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal today on Capital Hill. Nicklaus, whose 18 major titles remains the gold standard in golf, was presented with the award by Speaker John Boehner. Both Nicklaus and Speaker Boehner are from Ohio. Boehner said in part:

“With Jack, there are so many stories to tell, but everyone usually wants to talk about the same thing: the comeback at the 1986 Masters. People ask you where you were when it happened … that’s how big a deal it was. Even the sun brags about being in the gallery...With Jack, it’s how he gave the game a gold standard – a ladder to climb. That’s true on and off the course, as we’ve heard here. But Jack was so good that he was the best in both victory and defeat.

“You see, the toughest thing to learn in golf isn’t the swing or the short game – it’s losing. Because no matter what, you have to shake the other man’s hand at the end – and mean it, too. Then you have to go face the man in the mirror...That’s what gives the ’86 Masters its size. To win, Jack had to overcome Watson, Seve, Tom Kite, Greg Norman – and, according to some, Father Time. Not a slouch on that list. That day, we were part of something special – something bigger – just as we are now. Because in golf, as in all things, it is not whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game. And no one has played it better for longer than Jack.

So, in the immortal words of Verne Lundquist – ‘yes sir!’ – the Congressional Gold Medal goes to the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus of the state of Ohio.”

The full transcript of the speech can be read on Speaker Boehner's web site.

Nicklaus is the third professional golfer to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. The first was Byron Nelson, and the second was Arnold Palmer. Palmer flew into D.C. to to be at Nicklaus' ceremony, and Nicklaus greeted Palmer prior to the ceremony in an image that will be preserved in the minds of golf fans everywhere.

These two icons of the sport took a fierce rivalry in the 60's and 70's and turned it into an incredible friendship, and it is wonderful to see both of them receiving the praise and the honors they deserve after all they have done for the sport of golf. We will see Nicklaus and Palmer together again as they, along with Gary Player, hit the ceremonial first tee shot on Thursday at The Masters.

Nicklaus remains an ambassador of the game, hosting two events on the PGA Tour and working on countless course designs all over the world. He and his wife Barbara founded the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation to provide family access to world-class pediatric health care.

Congratulations on this prestigious honor, Mr. Nicklaus, and thank you for all you have done for the game of golf.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hyo Joo Makes Case For A Big Four

- It was only a matter of time before Hyo Joo Kim got her footing under her as a full time LPGA pro, and that time ended up being three events. Hyo Joo fired four brilliant rounds at the JTBC Founders Cup to win her second LPGA title, and her first as a card carrying member. Kim, whom I predicted would lead this historic rookie class, already has a major title to her name, so success was expected, but she still may have been flying under the radar for many casual golf fans. What may be most impressive about this victory is that Hyo Joo never really looked comfortable with the lead on Sunday. Several times, she had the opportunity to close the door on her competitors, and she made a few mistakes. Hyo Joo never let that affect her, however, and she was able to hold off the charge of some of the game's best by playing brilliantly down the stretch.

- Is there now a Big Four in women's golf? You could make the case that Hyo Joo Kim is as talented as any of the big name players in the sport today. Kim is coming off a season where she won six times on the KLPGA Tour, won a major on the LPGA Tour, and was in the top 10 in every LPGA Tour start she had in 2014. She has gone head to head with Inbee Park, Karrie Webb, and now Stacy Lewis, and has come out on top against all of them. She may not be as consistent as the other top players in the women's game, but she has every bit as much talent, and she will only become better as the year goes on. Perhaps Lydia Ko's hold on the Rolex Number One ranking isn't as secure as I once thought.

- Stacy Lewis has to be furious by now. For most players, being in the top 10 every week would be an amazing year, but Lewis has failed to cash in golden opportunities every week this season. At a certain point, either things will start rolling right for Lewis, or her time as a top player will start coming to an end, because no one can continue to come close without cashing in.

- Speaking of coming close, the nation of Thailand has to be wondering what they have to do to get an LPGA champion. Each week, a new Thai golfer comes close to cashing in, only for it not to be. At the start of the season, it was Ariya Jutanugarn who had several opportunities to win, only to have the trophy taken from her hands at the end of tournaments. This week, her older sister Moriya was in prime position until a final round 70 knocked her down the leaderboard. Finally, Pornanong Phatlum made a late rally to finish tied for third, but it was too little too late to walk away with a victory. Hopefully soon, Thailand can rejoice their victory, because this has to be agonizing.

- Some players are set up to win on some golf courses, and it appears as if Matt Every is set up to win at Bay Hill. After struggling following his maiden victory at the Land Of The King last year, Every put it all together once again to defend his Arnold Palmer Invitational title. Hopefully Every is able to use this success and translate it into better results this time around.

- Did the tournament officials cause Henrik Stenson the title? After being out of position for most of the final round, Stenson and playing competitor Morgan Hoffman were put on the clock on the 6th hole, and again on the 16th hole. Stenson claims that this causes him to rush his shots coming down the stretch, which meant he wasn't as comfortable as he should have been when he was trying to win a golf tournament. Everyone seems to hate slow play, but no one wants to see a player lose a golf tournament because of timing officials. It's a very fine line to walk, but if you want to eliminate slow play in golf, this may be a necessary evil.

- Who is the favorite to win the green jacket? Odds still favor Rory McIlroy, and he looked somewhat impressive in his first trip to Bay Hill, but there is still a lot more that has to go into Rory's game in order for him to complete the career grand slam. Rory is still the best player in the world, but those who expected a Tiger Woods-like dominance are getting fed up with Rory's ability to fade in and out of form, seemingly with no explanation.

Friday, March 20, 2015

News Grab-Bag: 3/20/2015

- Another week, another group of people offering their insights into Tiger Woods and his struggles. The first is Sean O'Hair, who says that Tiger looks "lost." O'Hair said that Woods' head might be clouded, which is part of the reason why he is struggling. O'Hair can speak from personal experience, as he was one of the best young golfers on Tour until personal life issues caused him to struggle in his 30's. The other offering insights into Tiger was Arnold Palmer, who said Woods just needs to practice and regain confidence. Palmer suggests that only Tiger can figure out his own problems, and that he is best served by practicing.

- Best wishes to Azahara Munoz, who will be out of action for at least a month after having surgery on her hand. She was having problems with her hand the last couple events, and it got to the point where she had no other option but to get it taken care of. Munoz's surgery will put her out of the AZA Inspiration, the first major of the year.

- Congratulations to former LPGA player Grace Park, who gave birth to her baby girl Hayden Kim last weekend.

- What is Bubba Watson serving at the Masters' Champions dinner? "Food", according to the defending champion. Watson is remaining quiet on his menu choices, and was hoping to remain quiet on it two years ago, as well, but Sir Nick Faldo ended up leaking the menu on Instagram. I wonder if Bubba will initiate a "no cell phone" policy?

- Thoughts go out to the family and friends of David Miller, former University of Georgia player, who passed away suddenly on Wednesday. Miller was a team mate and best friend of Bubba Watson, who withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational to attend his funeral. Miller was also a team mate of Tour players Erik Compton and Kevin Kisner.

- Thoughts go out to the family and friends of former PGA Tour player George Cadle, who passed away this week at the age of 66. Cadle won the Kentucky State Amateur three times in the late 60's and played on the PGA Tour from 1974 to 1991. He made 160 cuts and finished runner-up at the 1983 Greater Milwaukee Open. Cadle was inducted into the Kentucky Golf Hall Of Fame in 2010.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wednesday Preview - Arnold Palmer Invitational

The PGA Tour players head to the land of the King as they pay homage to Arnold Palmer at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Palmer will be shown everywhere this week, much like Donald Trump was two weeks ago, only Palmer has actually accomplished something in the game of golf.

Course: Bay Hill, measuring at 7,400 yards. This course is easier than some of the previous courses these players have played, but that doesn't mean it's a walk in the park. Weather dictates a lot this week - wind can turn this course into Doral. Without wind, the winning score should be low teens under par.

Strength Of Field: B+. A lot of big name players, including Rory McIlroy, are teeing it up this week. A lot of players play this tournament to honor The King, which is part of the reason why McIlroy is playing this event for the first time. For some of the players, this will be the last event they play until The Masters.

Extra Tidbits: Tiger Woods, who won this event eight times, is missing from the field. Tiger still hopes to return by The Masters...Palmer gets to select the players that get an invitation to the field, and he generally likes to spread the love to older players and international players. Former winner Rod Pampling gets an invite, as does Ryo Ishikawa, Alexander Levy, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, and former Open Champion Stewart Cink...Kenny Perry marks the 10 year anniversary of his victory, and will be playing Bay Hill for the final time...Martin Laird, winner in 2011, is the only European winner of this event.

Fantasy Four:

Henrik Stenson - Has finished fourth two weeks in a row. Peaking just in time for the Masters. Stenson is solid, consistent, and a little bit boring with how good he can be. He's a European Matt Kuchar.

Keegan Bradley - Has not had the best year, but he plays well at certain courses, and Bay Hill is one of those courses. Has finished third and second the last two years at Bay Hill. Finished T4 at Rivera, so it's not like he's playing horribly. Bay Hill tends to rewards big hitters, which Bradley is.

Sean O'Hair - Sleeper pick, but I'm cheating a bit on this one. Got beaten in the playoff last week, but still looked solid all week. Has a great record at Bay Hill, including a T10 last season when he was struggling. Bay Hill appears to be a course where O'Hair can thrive.

J.B. Holmes - Finished in the top 25 in his last four events, including two second place finishes. Made his way all the way to 15th in the FedEx Cup rankings. Finished T10 here last season. Another big hitter that should play well at Bay Hill.

Last Weeks Team:
Luke Donald: T53
Adam Scott: CUT
Rod Pampling: CUT
Jim Furyk: T40

Wednesday Preview - JTBC Founders Cup

This week belongs to the ladies of yesteryear as we celebrate the founders of the LPGA Tour with hte JTBC Founders Cup. Two of the founders, Shirley Spork and Marilynn Smith, both in their late 80's, will be on hand to take in the tournament and the festivities surrounding it.

Course: Wildfire Golf Club, measuring at 6,500 yards. This is not a difficult golf course, and expect birdies to be flying as long as the weather allows it. Winning score could be close to twenty under par.

Strength Of Field: C+. Lydia Ko and Stacy Lewis are here, but there are quite a few players missing that played overseas last week, including Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu, and Shanshan Feng. This is likely the weakest field we have seen so far this season.

Extra Tidbits: This was the tournament that did not award cash payouts to the players during the first iteration of the event, but that was abandoned after outcry from both players and fans...There have been four tournaments played, and Karrie Webb has won this event twice. Officially, that means Karrie Webb has won 50% of all the Founders Cups ever played, a ridiculous stat that makes no sense without context...Guilia Molinaro and Kathleen Ekey are the Monday qualifiers...Last year, Cheyenne Woods played this event on a sponsors exemption. This year, she gets in via her status on the LPGA Tour.

Fantasy Four:

Lydia Ko - No reason to jump off the Ko Train just because she got beat by the former number one two weeks ago. Hasn't finished worse than second in four starts in 2015. Luckily, there is no limit on how often you can pick a player in this game like there is the PGA Tour game, so expect Ko to be here almost all season.

Stacy Lewis - Holds the record for lowest winning score at this tournament. Finished third behind Inbee and Lydia two weeks ago. At this point, the question isn't whether Lewis will contend - she will The question is if she can win on Sunday. 

Mirim Lee - Needs to work on her consistency, but she's becoming an elite player on the LPGA Tour. Finished tied for second three weeks ago in Thailand. Has a history of going low, and this is a course where you can shoot low scores. 

Na Yeon Choi - Struggled after her victory to kick off the season in the Bahamas, but rebounded with a T12 two weeks ago. Choi does much better on easier courses, so perhaps she was just waiting to return Stateside to start contending again.

(SLEEPER) Minjee Lee - Seems like every other rookie has jumped out to an impressive start while Minjee is taking her time. Best finish is a tie for seventh in Australia, a course she had familiarity with already. She will make the cut, but where she finishes is a complete mystery.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Rory McIlroy The New Face Of EA Sports PGA Tour Franchise

For 16 years, Tiger Woods was the face of the EA Sports' PGA Tour franchise, releasing Tiger Woods PGA Tour every year from 1998 until 2014. After a fall from the top of the golfing world, Woods was removed from the title, and the future of the franchise was left in question for the next year.

Those questions were answered, however, as developer Electronic Arts announced today that the next video game in the franchise will be named Rory McIlroy PGA Tour. Rory McIlroy becoming the new face of the gaming franchise not only shows a shift to McIlroy as the top player in the world, but also shows that McIlroy has at least some level of marketability. EA hopes that McIlroy can attract the casual fans and persuade them into spending money on the video game, a tough task.

McIlroy and Woods are not the only two players to have games named after them. In response to the perceived monopoly that Electronic Arts has on the golf market, John Daly was named the face of a video game in 2010 called John Daly ProStroke Golf. The game was developed by Gusto Games and, not surprisingly, the game did not sell well. Back in 1988, Lee Trevino was the namesake of a game called Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf, which didn't include any actual fighting.

The new Rory McIlroy cover can be seen here. The game's release date is currently set for June 2015, which is their usual annual release window. The details of McIlroy's contract has not been released, so it is unknown how long McIlroy will be the namesake of the franchise. McIlroy will likely determine that by how he performs on the course.

On a personal note, this is a blog on two of my biggest passions, golf and video games. I'm the happiest blogger in the world right now.

Speith Wins Two Before 22

- Did you know that Jordan Speith had critics? I have read articles and comments saying that Speith, who just recently became old enough to legally drink, should have won his second PGA Tour event by now. Well, those critics are eating their hat right now as Speith was consistently solid all week and tamed the Snake Pit to win the Valspar Championship. Age aside, what Speith has accomplished is incredibly impressive. He has won twice, came close to winning The Masters, and played on both the Presidents and Ryder Cup teams all in his first three years on the PGA Tour. He has become one of the best players in the world, and he is still several years away from his prime.

- At this point, I expect Patrick Reed to contend in every tournament he plays in. He has gone from being mocked for his "Top 5" statement last year to looking legitimately like a top five player. He wasn't able to win in Tampa, but that had more to do with Speith's incredibly clutch putting than it does Reed's performance. There wasn't a position around the green that Reed couldn't get up and down from, and his bogey free finals round was nothing short of amazing. Look for Reed to challenge for a major this year, possible one that takes place on a difficult golf course that requires a lot of short game mastery.

- It was nice to see Sean O'Hair back in contention on the PGA Tour. After being one of the best young players on the PGA Tour, his 30's have not been kind to O'Hair, who lost his PGA Tour card last season and hasn't come close to a victory since 2012. His second place finish this week comes off the heels of five straight made cuts, including a T25 at The Honda Classic. Perhaps O'Hair is getting his groove back, which would be an amazing story. Let's see where he goes from here.

- Henrik Stenson may be the most consistent golfer in the world right now. He doesn't win a lot of trophies, but he cashes huge paychecks every week. In the end, though, it all comes down to the majors for Stenson, who has never won one. It really doesn't matter what Stenson does in any of these tournaments, as long as he's able to walk away with one of those four big tournaments.

- It's good to see Danny Lee finish strong at the Valspar Championship. Lee plays a ton of tournaments, but has struggled with his consistency. One week, he has a strong finish and places around the top 10, and the next week he missed the cut. Lee deserves to have success for all the golf that he plays, and hopefully we'll see him a few more times this season towards the top of the leaderboard.

- I wonder if Vijay Singh has one more victory left in him. A year ago, I would have told you that we have seen Singh hold up his last trophy, but he has now been in contention two different weeks on Sunday. He faulted a bit both times, but the fact that Singh, who just turned 52 years old, has gotten himself in position to win twice this season is incredibly impressive, and I don't think Singh is done quite yet.

- The Ladies European Tour held their annual World Ladies Championship in China this week, and as usual some big names tee'd it up. Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu, and Suzann Pettersen were all in contention on Sunday. Park came into Sunday with a one shot lead over Ryu, but it was Ryu who outdueled Park and walked away with the victory. Ryu played brilliantly over the weekend, shooting a 65 on a tough golf course in tough conditions to go from the middle of the pack to the final group, and tied for the best round of the day on Sunday with a 69 to seal the tournament. The issue Ryu has had on the LPGA Tour lately has been her ability to close out tournaments. If Ryu gets that behind her, she could be winning golf tournaments fairly regularly, as she has the all around game to contend every week.

- After the tournament, Ryu was asked about playing with her friend, Inbee Park, and Ryu had this to say:

"It was good to play with Inbee, my best friend on the tour. She is not number one right now, but I believe she is the true number one, so it was great to compete with her.

Many have taken this as a swipe at World Number One Lydia Ko, though I doubt Ryu, who is generally a nice, personable person, would take a shot at a 17 year old. This was likely Ryu just supporting her good friend; however, I still absolutely hate this quote. I hate it because it not only unintentionally takes a shot at Ko's accomplishments, but it also puts unnecessary pressure on Inbee to back up words she didn't say. I almost wish Ryu would have said something along the lines of "I am better than Lydia Ko." She never WOULD say that, but at least Ryu would have put the pressure on herself. Besides, Inbee remembers when people were questioning her reign as the Rolex Number One and how many people thought she didn't deserve to take over the ranking in an off week. Let Lydia have her time, and if Inbee is truly the real number one, she'll prove it at the ANA.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Tiger Woods Skipping Arnold Palmer Invitational

It's official - Tiger Woods will not be playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, a tournament he has won eight times. Tiger released a statement on his web site, saying he talked to Mr. Palmer and let him know that he would not be in the field next week.

Tiger loves Bay Hill, and has always played well there, so it was likely the best tournament for him to return in order to get ready for The Masters. With Tiger skipping the API, the speculation is now that he will not be competing at The Master. Tiger, to his credit, has let that door open.

"I hope to be ready for the Masters, and I will continue to work hard preparing for Augusta."

Tiger swears that the issue has nothing to do with injuries, and rather is about his lack of decent play since his return from back surgery. Tiger has been playing a lot of golf at his home course in order to get back to a level where he can win on the PGA Tour. He does not want to play if all he is going to do is miss cuts.

If Tiger misses Augusta, however, it means that his game is in far worse shape than we saw in Phoenix and Torrey Pines. It is one thing to miss several regular PGA Tour events, but no one just skips The Masters. Even if you aren't playing well, you tee it up at Augusta National. If he misses The Masters, then don't expect him back anytime soon. Personally, though, I do expect him to play The Masters. Whether he will play well, however, remains to be seen. 

The Biggest Surprises Of 2015

We can now count the number the days before the first majors of the season on both of the major US Tours - 20 days until the ANA Inspiration and 27 days until The Masters. Every golfer is looking for momentum entering the tournament, and while some players have been performing better than expected, others have been very disappointing in the early part of 2015. In lieu of a Grab-Bag (because news has been slow lately), I will highlight four players, two on either Tour. One of these players is looking surprisingly ready to win the first major of the year, and the other needs to start playing better if they want to walk away a major champion in less than a month. 

PGA Tour:

1) Daniel Berger - I'm sure Berger wasn't on anyone's short list for Rookie Of The Year, especially considering all the talent in this year's rookie class. Berger, however, has had a strong start to the PGA Tour season, with three top 10's, including a playoff loss to Padraig Harrington at The Honda Classic. When Berger received his PGA Tour card at the beginning of the season, Berger was ranked 286th in the world. Berger is now ranked 73rd in the world, and needs to be in the top 50 by the end of the Shell Houston Open in order to receive an invite to The Masters. Berger may not receive an invitation to The Masters, but if he does, he would be coming in with a lot of strong vibes. Given how he has played in some of the strongest fields of the year, I doubt Berger would be intimidated by Augusta National.

2) Justin Rose - Rose has won at least one each of the last five years, including two wins in a row last year. There was a point last season when Rose was one of the top players in the world and looks poised to win another major title. After an absolutely fantastic Ryder Cup performance and a near miss in Dubai to end the European Tour season, Rose has had struggled out of the gates in 2015. He missed his first two cuts on the PGA Tour and finished near the bottom of the field at the WGC-Trump Invitational. Rose has fallen from 5th to 9th in the world, and he will likely fall further after a missed cut at the Valspar Championship. Rose never had the greatest record at Augusta National, notching only two top 10's in his career, but if he keeps playing the way he is, he may not even be playing the weekend, a surprising result for someone of Rose's stature. 

LPGA Tour:

1) Amy Yang - Yang has always been a borderline player. She would find a way to contend in a few tournaments, but no one really considered her to be one of the top players on Tour. That's why it's a surprise to see Yang currently sitting at 2nd on the Race For the CME Globe Standings. Yang has three top 10's in five starts this season, including a win in Thailand and a runner up in Australia. Yang's game seems perfect for the Dinah Shore Course, and if she maintains her momentum coming back to the States, she will be among the favorites to take a leap into the pond.

2) Paula Creamer - After she won in Singapore last season, it looked like Creamer was back to being one of the top players on the LPGA Tour. She really hasn't been a factor since, and her best finish in four starts this season is T46. It's been a long time since Creamer has been the number two ranked player in the world, as her Rolex Ranking has fallen all the way to 26th without any sign of rebounding. She is still a featured player with plenty of star power, but she will not be among the favorites at the ANA Inspiration and she will have to work if she wants to make her sixth consecutive Solheim Cup team.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wednesday Preview - Valspar Championship

It doesn't get any easier - after the PGA Tour players took their lumps at PGA National and the Trump Doral Trump Blue Monster Brought To You By Trump, they stay in Florida on the hard courses for the Valspar Championship. The players will navigate the Snake Pit after navigating the Bear Trap and Hogan's Alley to get them prepared for Amen Corner. Everything has a nickname.

Course: Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort, measuring at 7,300 yards. It's another tough course, with trouble lurking just off the fairways on almost every hole. Expect the winning score to once again be in the single digits under par.

Strength Of Field: B-. Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson are teeing it up this week. This used to be an event that didn't attract big name players, but with the conditions being difficult, many international players have added this event to their schedule after Doral to prep them for the Masters.

Extra Tidbits: The number one amateur in the world, Ollie Schniederjans (totally didn't copy and paste that), makes his PGA Tour debut this week. He is a senior at Georgia Tech and is expected to be a big time pro when he decides to join the Tour full time...John Senden broke a seven year drought last year when he birdied two holes in the Snake Pit in the final round...Only three champions in fourteen years have finished in the top 10 the following year, John Senden is entering this week struggling with his game...Neither Danny Lee nor Nicholas Thompson were eligible for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. That have made up for it by playing in all but one tournament in 2015...Roberto Castro, Greg Chalmers, Michael Kinkopt, and Jonathan Randolph are your Monday qualifiers. 

Fantasy Four:

Luke Donald - Brilliant record at Innisbrook. His recent form has not been good, but he performed well at the Honda Classic, another tournament and course that he has played well at. Donald is becoming a horse for certain courses - not playing well otherwise, but very good at certain tournaments.

Adam Scott - Finished 4th last week. Looked great with his new short putter after burning the broomstick. Looking for good form entering Augusta. He's a great player on tough courses.

Rod Pampling - Sleeper pick. Got entry into the tournament thanks for his T10 at the Puerto Rico Open. Made the cut in his last six starts, including a second place finish in Australia and a top 10 on the Tour. Needs to make as much money as he can in the limited starts he will receive in order to regain his Tour card, so he will be plenty motivated to perform.

Jim Furyk - Fans will always be frustrated with Furyk as he is unable to close the door on Sunday, but he notches a ton of top 10s and finds himself in contention several times a year. Former champion at Innisbrook. This is one of those tournaments that will give him an opportunity to break his winless drought. 

Last Weeks Team:
Hideki Matsuyama - T23
Jamie Donaldson - T44
Thongchai Jaidee - 69
Bubba Watson - 3

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dustin Johnson Knocks The Rust Off

- It didn't take long for Dustin Johnson to get back his winning ways. Five events back from his hiatus, Johnson took control of the final round at Doral to win the WGC-Cadillac Championship, the biggest win in Johnson's career. In his five events this season, Johnson has finished in the top 5 three times. There has been a lot of conversation over who the best American golfer is, and Johnson doesn't seem to come up in those discussions. I think that will change after this week.

- You can't held but feel bad for J.B. Holmes. After all the issues he has gone through in his career, he looked poise to win the biggest event in his career, but he could not handle the final round pressure after entering with a five shot lead. Holmes has never been that close to winning a big time tournament before, so perhaps Holmes needed was a little experience.

- Bubba Watson once again found himself in contention to win a golf tournament, and once again he was unable to close the deal. Watson has won two major and seven times overall on the PGA Tour, but he could double his wins if he was able to put away tournaments when he has the opportunity to do so.

- Did anyone else find the whole Rory McIlroy/Donald Trump saga on the driving range to be the perfect example of self promotion. Let's go over the timeline of events - Rory tosses his 3 iron into the lake on Friday. A scuba diver, paid for by Trump, dives into the lake on Saturday. Trump then stands on the driving range, awaiting McIlroy's arrival so he can present the club to him. Trump found the opportunity to inject himself in a situation that was much talked about, which is what he's good at.

- I have plenty of things I can be critical of when it comes to Donald Trump - his politics, his desire to have his name on every form of media, etc. - but the man can build a golf course. Both events played this week on the PGA Tour were on Trump courses, and both were tough courses that created drama filled events that came down to the wire. Mr. Trump, I implore you - please don't run for president, and buy some more golf courses.

- Alex Cejka spent close to 20 years bouncing around between the and PGA Tours, but he was never able to win a Tour event. Finally, after grinding all week, Cejka is able to call himself a PGA Tour champion. This feels like a lifetime achievement award for Cejka - a win at the Puerto Rico Open gets him PGA Tour membership for two years and an invitation to the PGA Championship, but that is hardly as important to Cejka as the trophy he gets to take home with him.

- The people of Singapore were treated to a treat at the LPGA Tour event, as the event came down to the wire with the best players in the world. In the end, it was Inbee Park who was able to walk away with her first (of an assumed many) victory in 2015. Park was terrific all week - she was brilliant on Thursday during easier conditions, and played as well as anyone during tough conditions on Sunday. Inbee showed the grit that got her to the top of the Rolex Rankings and make her great for the past three years.

- 2, 1, 1, 2. Those are the finishes Lydia Ko have notched in the past four tournaments. Inbee for the best of her this week, but Ko isn't going to hand anyone anything. On the flip side, Stacy Lewis seems to be solidly the number three player in the world. She's better than almost everyone, but she doesn't seem to have the explosiveness of Inbee or Lydia. She will still win a bunch of tournaments, but her path to number one has gotten that much tougher.

Friday, March 6, 2015

News Grab-Bag: 3/6/2015

- Now that we've talked about the Ryder Cup for two weeks in a row, it's now time for the President's Cup to get some love. This week, the vice-captains for both teams were announced. Joining Jay Haas is the three time winning captain Fred Couples and the next Ryder Cup captain, Davis Love III. Haas has never been the captain of one of these teams, so surrounding himself with two men who have done it is a great strategy. Joining Nick Price on the International side is the already previously announced KJ Choi, as well as Tony Johnstone and Mark McNulty. McNulty played on two Presidents Cup teams and has the second most wins of all time on the Sunshine Tour. Johnstone represented Zimbabwe in the World Cup eight consecutive years from 1994 to 2001. Both served as vice-captains for Price two years ago, so it appears as if Price isn't going to be changing his strategy much.

- Arnold Palmer has been hampered with some injury issues for the past year, but that will not stop him from continuing his annual role as honorary starter at The Masters. Palmer will hit the ceremonial first tee shot alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Palmer has been in this role since 2004, but it was in jeopardy when Palmer had shoulder surgery a couple months ago.

- Recommended reading: I'm A Golfer And I'm Gay; Get Over It! By Roger Hockenberry

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wednesday Preview - WGC-Cadillac Championship

This week is TrumpFest, as both PGA Tour events take place at Trump properties, the big one being the WGC-Cadillac Championship. It's the first WGC event of the calender year and the second of the season, following the event in China back in November.

Course: TPC Blue Monster at Trump Doral, 7,500 yards of total chaos. The redesign completely baffled the field last year, and I'm not sure much will be different this year. Somewhere around even par will be the winner this week.

Strength Of Field: A. All of the top 50 in the world are here this week. You can't do much better than that.

Extra Tidbits: The biggest name missing from the field, obviously, is Tiger Woods, who won this tournament seven times. His world ranking has fallen to the point where he did not qualify for the event. Also missing is James Hahn, who qualified through the FedEx Cup, but is home celebrating the birth of his first child...Gusty winds are expected to take place all week, making this difficult golf course seem almost impossible at times...Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson make their 2015 PGA Tout debut this week. Dustin Johnson will be playing in his fourth straight tournament. Also, American David Lipsky, who lead the Asian PGA Order of Merit last season, is playing this week.

Fantasy Four:

Hideki Matsuyama - Five top 10's this season. Looking for a breakout in a big event, and this is his first opportunity to do so. As good of a ball striker as anyone on Tour. If the scores really start going up, Hideki could be the last man standing in the chaos.

Jamie Donaldson - Coming off a top 10 in difficult conditions at PGA National last week. Coming into his own as a big time player from Europe. Is not intimidated by the big stage, and has some history playing in difficult conditions.

Thongchai Jaidee - Hasn't missed a cut anywhere since the PGA Championship. Coming off a T2 in his home country a few weeks ago. Finished inside the top 10 at this event last year. Typically performs his best in final rounds when everyone else is trying to hang on and get into the clubhouse.

Bubba Watson - Top 5s in his last two starts at Doral. The wind is a concern for his driving - he typically has a high ball flight, but his experience at this course along with his ability to cut down the par 5s should make him a contender this week.

This week, there is also an alternate field event taking place, the Puerto Rico Open. As usual, I will not be doing a complete break down of that event, but I will give you the four players I think will succeed at that event.

Vaughn Taylor - Has played really good golf this year, playing out of the past champions category. Seems to have his life straight and his game on point. Top 25s in all three of his starts this season, including a top 10 at Pebble Beach.

Ryo Ishikawa - Ended his missed cut streak last week with a top 25. Has made all three cuts in Puerto Rico, including a second place finish three years ago. His weakness has been his driving accuracy, and that will not be as big of a concern this week - wayward shots are not penalized as much on this course.

Y.E. Yang - Been playing a lot of golf around the world lately, and making cuts a little more frequently than he has. Made cuts in his last two starts in Puerto Rico. Looked to be on his way towards a big finish at PGA National until a three over par final nine sent him down the leaderboard. Still, he's better than he was at this time last year.

S.J. Park - Alternate field events have been money for rookies, and Park has shown to be one of the best this year. With Tony Finau and Daniel Berger sitting this event out, Park jumps to the top of the page. A rookie will be there at the end, and Park seems to have the most upside of any of them.

Last Weeks Team:
Rory McIlroy: CUT
Sang-Moon Bae: CUT
Victor Dubuisson: CUT
Sergio Garcia: T31

Wednesday Preview - HSBC Women's Champions

Count on them, Singapore! The LPGA plays their final event of the Pacific Swing this week as the players head to Singapore, the land of...the Singapore people. It's becoming harder to be clever in these opening statements.

Course: Sentosa Golf Club - Sepapong Club. 6,600 yards and sneaky difficult. It won't be as hard as what the players faced in Australia, but it will be more difficult than what they saw in Thailand. Wayward shots get more of a penalty, and the short game will be under a microscope this week.

Strength Of Field: A. 49 of the top 50 19 of the top 20 in the world are here this week, so there is no knocking this field. Normally I deduct for being a limited field event, but it is the best limited field event we have seen so far this season, and likely will again until we go back to Asia at the end of the year.

Extra Tidbits: Last year, Paula Creamer hit a 75 foot putt on the final hole to win in a playoff. You will see and heat about this putt five thousand times this weekend...In Gee Chun gets an exemption into the field this week. She is a top KLPGA star and almost won the HanaBank last year...No player has ever won the HSBC Women's Champions twice. All seven years have yield seven winners...American players have only won two of the last 19 tournaments on Tour. Koreans have won 10.

Fantasy Four:

Lydia Ko - Two wins in two weeks, and there is nothing that suggests she will slow down. Expect Ko to be in my number one spot for most of 2015.

Amy Yang - Playing the best golf of anyone not named Lydia Ko at the moment. Won last week after finishing second the week before. Currently first in the Player Of The Year standings, and while I bet she will be passed by Ko sooner rather than later, I will be interesting to see how well Yang can capitalize on her success.

Stacy Lewis - Former winner of this event who almost won last week. Lewis will notch a ton of top 10s and will likely win a few times this season, but the real success of Lewis' season will ride on the majors and her pursuit of Ko. For now, always expect her on the leaderboard.

Suzann Pettersen - Has started to play good golf again. Limited field events on foreign soil are Pettersen's bread and butter, as seen last week with her T7 finish in Thailand. Starting to become the forgotten player with all these other golfers flying at a thousand miles an hour.

(SLEEPER) Sei-Young Kim - A winner this year, so she barely qualifies as a sleeper. Followed up her victory in the Bahamas with a T5 last week. She was a surprise to a lot of people when she won, but has started to show the game it takes to compete on a week to week basis. Reminds me a lot of Mirim Lee.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Amy Yang Strikes While The Iron Is Hot

- Well, that didn't take very long. One week after coming narrowly close to taking down the number one player in the world and winning her second LPGA Title, Amy Yang chased down Stacy Lewis in the final round of the Honda LPGA Thailand to win Tour title number 2. This is Yang's third top 5 in four events this season, and she now leads the money list, the Chase For The CME Globe, and the Player Of The Year standings. It is still incredibly early in the year, but Amy Yang is on track to completely shatter everyone's expectations and have by far her best season on Tour. The key to Yang's success? Her ball striking - she ranks second on Tour in greens in regulation.

- Speaking of Stacy Lewis, if she were able to convert every time she was in contention to win a tournament, she would have 1,341 LPGA titles. I may be exaggerating a bit, but it is amazing to me that someone who is one of the best players in their sport can leave so many opportunities on the table. This time, it was an incredibly poor weekend that did her in. Lewis had a commanding lead in this tournament after opening rounds of 66-64. but could not break par in either of her weekend rounds. Sometimes, there are players who just rise up and beat you, but Lewis let this one slip out from under her.

- What I saw this weekend gave me more proof that Lydia Ko is going to be number one for a while. With Stacy Lewis playing poorly on the weekend and handing away the title, and Inbee Park notching a back door top 10 after two rough opening rounds, Ko was able to shoot a second round 61 in New Zealand and easily walk away with the LET tournament in her home country. The gap is starting to widen, and we still haven't reached the first major of the season.

- The upside that Mirim Lee has is tremendous. After winning twice last season, she finished T2 in Thailand this week to pick up where she left off. She will fly under the radar for most of her career. She will likely never be the best player in the world, but she will settle for a couple of major titles.

- I caution everyone not to get too excited about Beatriz Recari's performance this week. Sure, it was great to see her back in contention of an LPGA tournament, but this was really Recari's first good week in quite some time, and it was really just one good round, her final round 63, that got her there. It's her first top 10 of the season, and only her second in two seasons, and in between she missed the cut in the Bahamas. I would love to see Recari contending on a regular basis once again, but I want to see her making cuts more frequently first.

- Padraig Harrington, where have you been?! After struggling mightily the past couple of years, Harrington was able to eliminate his demons, at least for one week, and win on the PGA Tour for the first time in seven years. At one point, it looked like Harrington would take over at the number one player in the world, and the last few years it looked like Harrington was headed towards retirement. This perhaps isn't a career resurgence for Harrington, but seeing him win again is an absolute joy, and it's great for golf.

- How ironic is it that Harrington gets back into the winner's circle two weeks after he was denied the opportunity to lead the European Ryder Cup team? Harrington doesn't get to lead that team, but he does get to play The Masters once again, and, perhaps, if he wins again or if he's able to capitalize on this momentum, perhaps he will make the team on his own merits.

- So far, it has been an amazing 2015 for the PGA Tour. Big names winning tournaments, drama that comes down to the final hole, great (and not so great) shots down the stretch, playoffs - 2015 might have already exceeded 2014, and we haven't even played The Masters yet.

- Who is Daniel Berger? We're quickly finding out. After beginning his rookie season with two missed cuts, he has been playing some fantastic golf. Coming off a top 10 at Pebble Beach, Berger's final round 64 got him the clubhouse lead, and then he sat back and watched everyone crumble around him in order to get into a playoff. He might not have won it, but it was still a great tournament for the rookie, who is quickly making a name for himself on Tour.

- Patrick Reed was in contention until he dumped a ball in the water on the 15th, but it was still a good week for a man who is quickly making a case to be the best American golfer. Reed would need to win a major for that to happen - after all, Bubba Watson has two green jackets - but I would not be surprised if Reed were to win one of the big ones and get himself into the top 5 players of the world. Reed would silence most of his critics if he were able to do so.

- Another week, another tournament where Paul Casey is in contention. He has come back from the depths to now be in contention every time he tees it up, but that story will soon be replaced by one that asks when Casey is going to be able to cash in on these opportunities. I'm sure Augusta is on his mind, as well, so Casey will be pushing to try and win before April. There are a few tournaments left in Florida that suit his eye, so this may end up being a good trip for Casey. His golf has come around and his personal life is in a good place, so I think Casey is about to get back in the winner's circle and get back to contending in majors.

- Is anyone more of a sleeper than Jamie Donaldson? He's the 26th ranked player in the world, a Ryder Cupper, and a three time European Tour champion, and yet I rarely hear him talked about. Watch Donaldson in the majors this year. He could be someone who contends a few times without every getting the spotlight on him.

- I doubt Ian Poulter will ever want to see water again after that horrendous final round. I can't consider myself a Poulter fan, mainly because I root for the United States in the Ryder Cup and I know what he's done to us, but that was difficult to watch. No golfer, no matter if you're a weekend hacker or a professional, wants to go through a day where you put five balls in the water. That just takes the fun out of golf. Seeing him birdie the final two holes and post five under par tells me that he won't allow that to permanently effect him, which is good.

- Over 200 players tee'd it up in South Africa looking for a spot in the Open Championship, and in the end it was three Brits who walked away with an invitation to St. Andrews. Andy Sullivan, the winner of the Joburg Open, as well as Anthony Wall and David Howell. This was Sullivan's second win this season, both of which have taken place in South Africa. He has been playing solid golf this season, so he will be expecting more from his first major championship than to just enjoy the scenery. Wall is a journeyman player that has been around for some time, though his only win on the European Tour took place back in 2000. He has already played in five Open Championships, so this will not be new territory for him. The biggest name, however, is Howell, who was once a top 10 player in the world and played on two Ryder Cup teams. Howell's career slipped badly and was on the edge of obscurity, but a victory in 2013 revitalized him. He finished T15 in the Open last year. He struggled during the Desert Series earlier this year, so to see him contend again is a good sign of things to come.