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Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Heat of Competition

I don't know about the rest of you but I was very impressed with the play of the LPGA and PGA players Friday, especially Hunter Mahan... and it's all about the heat.

See, where I live in North Carolina is roughly 260 miles SSE of Bethesda MD where the AT&T is being played. We're getting some of the same weather -- Friday it was 102 degrees here, with a heat index around 109. The biggest difference was the humidity, which was around 30-40% here versus the much higher humidity they experienced. That meant any breeze we had actually made us feel a bit cooler. Despite that, we were still under a "code red," warning anybody who had to be outside that it could be dangerous to your health... and not just if you had health problems.

In the midst of Bethesda's stifling heat, in the worst part of the afternoon, Hunter managed to turn in a 6-under round. That's just amazing to me! Bear in mind that only Cameron Tringale managed to match that score, but he started (and finished) his round earlier than Hunter.

The weekend is slated to be really hot there. The weather.com forecast for Bethesda lists an "Excessive Heat Watch from Sat, 11am until Sat, 9pm EDT" and possible thunderstorms. If that happens, the humidity could go through the roof and turn this tournament into a real test of endurance.

The forecast for Rogers AR isn't much better. Less humidity than Bethesda but a higher UV index. The ladies may not get much of a break themselves.

At least neither tournament has to worry about unexpected snowstorms.

Friday, June 29, 2012

More Facebook Problems

Well, all my recent Facebook posts have disappeared AGAIN... and this time I know they were there because I have been watching them. The last post you can see is from May 8th.

I don't know what's going on, but all I can say is that Facebook apparently doesn't like me. For obvious reasons I'm not going to worry about the Ruthless Golf page there going forward. At least, not until they get things fixed.

It's Another Busy Golf Day!

There's so much golf on today that I thought I'd make sure you know what's on and when. Of course, it's all on GC, and all these times are ET, which is the time on the east coast of the United States (like here in North Carolina where I live).

9am - 11:30am: The European Tour's Irish Open, which is where Rory, Padraig, Graeme, and Darren are all playing.

11:30am - 1pm: The newly-branded Web.com Tour's United Leasing Championship, which is where Casey Wittenberg, Joseph Bramlett, Jamie Lovemark, James Nitties, and all those other up-and-comers are playing.

1pm - 3pm: The Champions Tour's Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship (that's a major), which is where Fred Couples, John Cook, Greg Norman, Fred Funk, Tom Watson, etc. are fighting it out.

3pm - 6pm: The PGA Tour's AT&T National, with Tiger, Jason Day, DL3, Marc Leishman, and amateur Beau Hossler, among others.

From 6pm - 6:30pm you get Golf Central and then...

6:30pm - 8:30pm: The LPGA Tour's Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, with pretty much all the big names (they're warming up for the U.S. Women's Open next week) and, notably, Juli Inkster is making her first appearance after elbow surgery.

That means ALL of the tours are on at one time or another today. Make sure you check your local time so you don't miss your favorites!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Web.com Tour is Now

I mean, literally NOW -- immediately, even!

Web.com Tour logoAfter the press conference Wednesday morning announcing the "immediate" sponsorship of the Web.com Tour, I moused my way over to PGATOUR.com and -- lo and behold! -- all traces of the Nationwide Tour were gone from the site. When Tim Finchem said "now," he meant NOW!

You can get more details from this article announcing the Web.com deal and this article outlining the 3 main keys to the deal. (Both articles are at PGATOUR.com.)

There will probably be some debate over whether this was a good deal or not, largely because Web.com was pretty blunt that this was a "branding" decision for them. In other words, they aren't couching this purely in talk about how great it is to be associated with the PGA Tour, although Web.com's CEO David Brown made it clear that the Tour's image was a big draw for them. No, Brown made it clear that they expect to get lots of exposure from this deal -- not just on their new tour, but on the PGA and Champions Tours as well.

I don't know about you, but I thought it was kind of refreshing. I get tired of hearing the Tour talk about themselves as a "product" all the time, but I appreciated that Brown didn't dance around and try to minimize the business aspects of the deal. And given that the Tour is planning to develop PGATOUR.com more aggressively (and on their own), this deal is clearly a good one for both sides since Web.com specializes in (drumroll, please) internet business development. As one of the articles I mentioned earlier put it,
"In addition, Web.com, via its Official Marketing Partnership, will offer its internet services and online solutions for players across all three Tours and events looking to grow their individual brands."
Web.com is going to help all the players and all the events as well the Tour itself, so both sides are very happy with this deal. Nationwide will continue to work with the Tour and is apparently also very happy with this deal. And the new deal is for 10 years, which is pretty darn good in this economy.

It'll be interesting to see how this new partnership plays out. Web.com is a HUGE company and the potential benefit for all the Tours is incredible.

Now if they could just figure out some way to get the LPGA involved as well... (Say, Ty Votaw IS part of the PGA Tour now. Hmmmm...)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Sand Shots" from the Rough

I've posted several clips on different types of chips and pitches, but I don't think I've posted one yet on how to play a bunker-style shot from deep rough. Well, we're going to fix that today. Here's PGA Master Golf Instructor Ken Green from the Aviara Golf Academy to give you the basics:



Ken's explanation is pretty simple, so let me just add a couple of thoughts.

First, this is basically the same technique you use out of the sand. You hit slightly behind the ball and let the thick grass throw it out.

Second, this shot gives you some height on the ball. That means it'll land a bit softer and (hopefully) won't roll as far.

And finally, if you've been paying attention to the basics I blog about constantly, like a one-piece takeaway, using connection, keeping your hands in front of you, and such, you've already got this shot in your repertoire. Just pay attention to what Ken said in the video above and you'll be using this shot like an expert in no time!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mel Reid's Swing

A lot of Americans aren't familiar with Melissa Reid (who generally just goes by Mel), but she's someone we'll hopefully be seeing more often here in the U.S. during the coming months. She got a lot of attention this past weekend by winning only a month after her mom died. She said that after what she and her family had been through, golf was easy.

I want to take a quick look at her swing -- you'll see immediately why she's become so successful on the LET -- but first I'm including a four-and-a-half minute piece Golfing World did about her in February. For those of you who aren't familiar with her, it'll serve as a good introduction.



Now, here's a look at her swing. I was only able to find a couple of down-the-line shots, but the angle on this one will show you why she's so good.



From this angle you can clearly see a few things that I mention continuously on this blog, like a one-piece takeaway and a smooth change of direction at the top. But I'd like to take particular notice of how steady and balanced she is throughout her swing. From this angle, you'd be able to see if her head did any bobbing up-and-down or if she stood up during her backswing.

How does she maintain this position? It's because her hips stay level during her swing, and they stay level because she keeps her knees flexed throughout her turn back and then down. Her right hip is moving backward during her backswing, not sliding sideways away from the target. She probably feels as if her right knee straightens slightly because her right hip is moving away from her target line but, as you can see, it never completely straightens out. When you keep your lower body this steady, everything in your swing becomes much more consistent.

Mel Reid is a mentally tough player, and her mind controls a bulletproof swing. Try to copy Mel's lower body stability and your swing should improve as well.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Limerick Summary: 2012 Travelers Championship

Winner: Marc Leishman

Around the wider world of golf: A very busy weekend! Lee In-woo won the Volvik Hildesheim Open on the men's Asian Tour; Mark Calcavecchia won the Montreal Championship on the Champions Tour; Danny Willett got his first win at the European Tour's BMW International Open; Mel Reid won the Raiffeisenbank Prague Golf Masters on the LET; Brittany Lang won the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic on (of course) the LPGA; Casey Wittenberg won the Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open on the Nationwide Tour; and Mayu Hattori won the Earth Mondamin Cup on the JLPGA. Check the Constructivist for details.

Leishman hoists his first trophy

For what it's worth, the LPGA's tournament was clearly the most interesting this weekend. The 3 leaders were playing together in the final group and no one could pull away, then a player 8 strokes back tied them and posted early... and then the weather turned. The leaders couldn't pull away, so there was a 4-player playoff, and Brittany Lang won it -- not only getting her first win but breaking the "curse" that no player from NCAA golf powerhouse Duke University had ever won on the LPGA.

With that said, the Travelers tournament was probably pretty exciting for Marc Leishman. The Aussie shot his own 8-under round and had to sit for 2 1/2 hours while the remainder of the field charged and fell back. The round he thought would get him a Top10 ended up winning the tournament.

What else can I say? The last four holes pretty much destroyed the field. Players like Charlie Hoffman would pull away, only to make a couple of bad shots and end up falling short. One after the other, players like Tim Clark and Roland Thatcher got close enough to sniff victory... then got a noseful of dirt as they plummeted face first back to earth.

How sure was Marc that he wouldn't win? He had gone to get something to eat and watch some "football" (that's soccer for us Americans). He wasn't even planning to watch the tournament!

It's ironic that Travelers sells insurance. This event certainly proved that there are no guarantees in golf!

So this week's Limerick Summary salutes the guy who needed no insurance at all to get his first win... just a beer and some soccer. Good on ya, mate!
A final-round lead's no insurance
Of victory; seeking assurance
Through the last group is futile.
Although waiting's brutal,
You might win with Marc's plan—endurance.
The photo came from the front page of PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Who Has the Best Storylines?

I was looking over the PGA and LPGA scoreboards to see which tournament looked more interesting today. The tournaments are on opposite each other (PGA on CBS, LPGA on GC) so which one has the best storylines?

I'm not sure I can choose one. Here are the ones that seem most interesting to me from both tours.

On the PGA, co-leader Brian Davis hasn't won yet. You may remember that Brian lost a playoff to Jim Furyk a couple of years back when he called a penalty on himself that they had to run the video in slo-mo just to see it. Getting his first win would be a great story.

On the LPGA, Brittany Lang is 2 strokes back after shooting birdie-birdie-eagle on the last 3 holes, putting her in a tie for second place. Brittany hasn't won either, but there's an extra twist to her story -- she graduated from Duke University, a school here in my state that's an NCAA golf powerhouse. However, no Duke player has ever won on the LPGA! This makes her story one of those "breaking the curse" stories. That would be pretty cool.

Then there are the comeback stories. On the PGA you've got Padraig Harrington (-9) and Stuart Appleby (-10) -- both of whom were playing great but they dropped off the face of the planet -- and Tim Clark (-9), coming back from injury. All have won before. On the LPGA you've got leader Inbee Park (-14) who hasn't won in 4 years. (Obviously I'm only looking at players who are close enough to the lead that they could conceivably win.)

And then there's your recent major winners with a chance to win. On the PGA both Masters champ Bubba Watson (-8) and U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson (-7) are within shouting distance of the leaders (-12). On the LPGA Wegmans champ Shanshan Feng (-9) and U.S. Women's Open Champ So Yeon Ryu (-8) are barely in range of the lead (-14). For Webb and Shanshan, this would be back-to-back wins (there was a week off between the LPGA tournaments, but it would still be consecutive wins.)

So what will you watch today? I'm torn. I guess I'll jump back and forth until I get so interested in one that I forget the other...

At least for a while. Then I'll switch again. ;-)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Junkman's At It Again!

I've posted video of Fredrik Jacobson before, but since he's currently leading the Travelers again -- he's defending champ, you know -- I thought it might be nice to look at his swing again. Here's some video from last week at the U.S. Open:



If you saw GC Friday night, you may have seen the video showing him laying off the club as he started his downswing a la Sergio (GC said he came over-the-top, but if you've read my book on the topic you know they're using that term incorrectly) and then holding the clubface open. You may have gotten the impression that he does that all the time, but he doesn't. Both this video and the one on the other post clearly show a Steve Stricker-type move. The difference is that he was fading the ball in the GC clip and is drawing the ball in the ones I have. You can clearly see the clubface closing at impact in this clip.

Just one thing I'd like to point out. Here's a video grab from about the :04 mark in the video, showing Freddie at waist high. Take a good look at that clubface, folks -- he's NOT twisting his forearms on the way back. That's why he hit 71% of his fairways on Thursday and 79% on Friday. If you want to hit the ball consistently, don't twist your forearms. If you twist them on the way back, you have to untwist them the same amount on the way down... and that's hard to do on every swing.


The video from the other post is really good, and it shows Freddie-Yak from both a face-on and down-the-line view. But this one clearly shows how consistent Freddie's swing is, which help explains why he not only manages to keep his card but seems to be getting better as he ages. I wouldn't bet against him defending his championship this weekend.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Alright, I Slacked Off

I spent the night watching the NBA Playoffs, so I didn't write a post for today. Everybody deserves a day off once in a while!

In case you didn't see it, the Miami Heat won. LeBron James finally got that monkey off his back and a championship ring on his finger. Whether you like LeBron or not -- he tends to be a polarizing figure, in case you don't keep up with pro basketball -- I think anybody can understand the joy and relief of finally achieving a difficult goal. Congrats, LeBron!

And for you OKC Thunder fans, I wouldn't worry about the loss. Those kids are still awfully young... and way too talented not to get another chance at the finals. (LOTS of chances, no doubt.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Ladies Are Back!

Just a quick reminder that the LPGA is back in action this week. Here's a quick update of today's TV schedule:

From 9am until 12:30pm (that's ET) GC has the European Tour. That's the BMW International Open, which is one of the larger and more prestigious tournaments on their tour.

The LPGA's new Canadian event, the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic, runs from 12:30pm until 2:30pm. This is a full-field (144 players) event in Waterloo, Ontario. The LPGA tournament website is here and the live leaderboard is here. And rather than redo work that has already been done, I'll just refer you to Tony Jesselli's fine preview of the event.

From 2:30pm until 3pm GC will run Golf Central, followed by the PGA Tour's Travelers Championship from 3pm until 6pm. The rebroadcast is from 8:30pm to 11:30pm.

And remember, GC posts their TV schedule at this url in case you ever need to check when something is on. Bookmark that one if you want to save yourself some frustration!

One other note: Several big names are sitting out the LPGA event this week -- Tony's got the link to the pairings page in his post -- but American viewers will be interested to know that Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson are both in the field. Stacy probably sees this as a chance to gain some ground on Yani since she's not playing. We'll see if her plan works. (As much trouble as Yani's had the last few weeks, however, I'm not surprised she's skipping. I bet she's working with her teacher Gary Gilchrist.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Some Updates

I've had some Facebook problems among other things, so let me get you guys up-to-date on some changes you may have noticed.

First, the Facebook problem: I mentioned my missing posts last week, and at the time I thought they had vanished overnight. I now think they never posted, but I missed them because of the view I see when I pull up the blog's Facebook page. The posts were being sent to Facebook as usual, but apparently Facebook has made some changes that interfered.

I went into Twitterfeed to try and fix the problem, but apparently the normal post tweet (which has the post title and some of the opening paragraph) is now sent to Facebook, which creates an entirely new tweet with the words "Ruthless Golf Blog" and an entirely new mini-link. That new tweet posts on Facebook and then gets sent out on Twitter, resulting in the same post being tweeted twice. I haven't figured out how to fix it yet, but I know about the problem. In the meantime just be aware that you can use either tweet to access the post.

You may also have noticed a gadget in the sidebar for the RuthlessGolf.com store at Zazzle. In case you don't know, Zazzle is the equivalent of electronic publishing for T-shirts and mugs and all kinds of other things, and they're used by places like Hallmark and Disney. Ultimately I'm planning to do some stuff for my other sites using Zazzle but I needed to learn how it all works, so I created two "stores" there to learn how to create different kinds of products. One is the RuthlessGolf store, which you can get to from the gadget that shows the light and dark T-shirts (you can also get hoodies and sweats with the images from those links) or from a link in the Some Useful Golf Links list. The other is the Defiant Publishing store (for non-golf stuff) with a link in the Just for Fun list.

If you try them, let me know what kind of service you get, how easy it was to use, etc. That will help me make sure everything is set up correctly.

Finally, Will Shakespeare is back! My poetry blog, Will Shakespeare for Hire, has been on hiatus since March 2011 because I needed the time for other projects. Updating four times a week sometimes took a lot of work! Ironically, the blog has continued to draw traffic while I was "gone." I did it entirely for fun, and intended it to encourage other people to try their hand at poetry. The idea was that Will put up poetry not because it was "great poetry" but because poetry is fun, and if people read the blog and felt that they could do better, maybe they would. Will writes everything from blank verse and sonnets to haiku and horror stories in verse. For example, one of Will's last haiku was called "Golf Ball":
Guided by dimples
Arranged in precise patterns…
But it still gets lost 
Some of the poems were serious and a lot were funny. One of my most searched-for poems (nearly 2/3 of my traffic at one point) was "Scheherazade," about a battered woman and a drunk husband. At the other extreme, one of my personal favorites was "Beach Blanket Bimbo." And if you have not-so-fond memories of learning to read, you might enjoy "Dick and Jane Order Pizza."

While I still have projects underway, Will has been bugging me with new poetry, new forms to try out, and just new ideas. I'll probably just update about three times a week, but Will's poetic announcement of his return to the blog will post at 8am ET today.

I think that's everything. There's a new Quick Guide in the works, but I'll have more news on that when it's ready to go.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Quick Look at Webb's Swing

The media's analysis of Webb Simpson's swing is well underway. As one example, you probably saw Michael Breed's breakdown on The Golf Fix Monday night. But if you want to know why Webb's swing is so solid, I can explain it to you real quick.

And surprise! It's not his putting. For all the talk about that belly putter helping with short putts, Webb's stat page at PGATOUR.com says he actually gets worse as he nears the hole! He's 84th when putting between 3 and 5 feet from the hole, but 2nd from over 25 feet. (That clearly helped him at Olympic, though. Nobody could get close to the hole on those greens.) If you want to find his secret, you've got to look at his full swing.

I'm going to compare him to Steve Stricker, someone whose swing I've used as a prime example of how a weekend player should try to swing. It's an extremely simple, low-maintenance swing that will stay in shape with very little practice.

First, let's look at Stricker's swing. Here's a down-the-line breakdown from Peter Kostis from the 2011 Memorial:



And here's a face-on view from the 2010 U.S. Open (it's hard to find newer face-on views that allow embedding, but this still looks right):



Now take a look at Webb's swing from just this past week at the Olympic Club:



Do you see any differences? They're minor.

In the front view, during the backswing, Webb straightens his right leg more than Steve, which causes him to raise up slightly. As a result, Webb has more of a down move to start his downswing than Steve. You can see it clearly at impact (roughly :31 in the 2nd Stricker clip and :30 in the Simpson clip), where Steve's head is centered over his right knee while Webb's head is slightly behind his. Webb's head has also dipped a bit lower than Steve's. Webb has moved slightly away from the target at impact -- a move that can be a bit hard on your back, but certainly doesn't cause an accuracy problem when it happens as late in the swing as Webb's does.

That's the cause of the primary difference between their down-the-line views as well. It makes Webb look as if he "stands up" a bit at the very top of his backswing, then you can see his head and right shoulder dip a bit more than Stricker's on the way down.

Breed said Webb has always had a slight problem with swaying away from the ball on his takeaway, and fighting this almost certainly causes his extra movement at the top. But you can see (in the front view again) that Webb doesn't move off the ball when he's swinging well, and the head movement is so small that it doesn't cause a problem as long as he avoids a slide during his backswing. He stays steady over the ball, so he hits it the same way time after time.

You don't have to have a perfect swing to play consistent golf. Webb's swing is very simple, very similar to Stricker's basic move, and he stays steady over the ball throughout his swing. That's how you hit lots of narrow fairways, land on lots of small greens, and carry off your first major trophy.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Limerick Summary: 2012 U.S. Open

Winner: Webb Simpson

Around the wider world of golf: Things were pretty quiet this week, due to the men's major. Kristie Smith won the Tate & Lyle Players Championship on the Symetra Tour; Thaworn Wiratchant won the Queen’s Cup on the men's Asian Tour; Darren Fichardt won the Saint-Omer Open on the European Tour; Carly Booth won the Deutsche Bank Ladies Swiss Open on the LET; and Hyun-Ju Shin won the Nichirei Ladies on the JLPGA. The Constructivist has the details on that last one.

Webb lifts his first major trophy

Well, I guess the Olympic Club lived up to its reputation for giving us an unexpected winner... even if he was more unexpected than usual.

Webb was in my "likely range" of contenders -- players within 4 strokes of the lead starting the day. Still, Webb said that even though he thought he could win, he didn't think he would win. He was asked if, before the day started, he would have been happy with a runner-up, and he said yes since that would have represented a big step forward in his major tournament performances.

Now he's glad he didn't get that choice. Webb's 68-68 weekend was the best of the field and was fairly tame compared to most players. Beau Hossler, the 17-year-old amateur, led the Open for a hole or so; Lee Westwood lost a ball in the "Janzen Tree"; Jim Furyk snap-hooked a drive on the shortened 16th (I didn't know Jim knew how to hit a snap hook); and Padraig Harrington rediscovered how to play golf, just to name a few.

Although everybody will be talking about the "birdman" who interrupted the award ceremony (a dozen clips are already on YouTube; Webb's lighthearted "enjoy the jail cell, pal" remark was pretty funny), I thought the coolest video came courtesy of Webb's wife. Dowd, who's something like seven months' pregnant and was sitting in the building with Webb watching Graeme putt out, ran through just about every facial emotion you can imagine as she realized that Webb had won. Despite the speed of info on the Internet, it appears that her video hasn't reached the information highway yet.

That's 3 straight majors won by Americans -- Keegan Bradley at the PGA, Bubba Watson at the Masters, and now Webb. I'm not saying "the tide has turned," only that the "mix" really is a mix now as newer players enter the battle. (The next wave of Asians hasn't really started yet... but it's coming.) At any rate, it bodes well for the American Ryder Cup team later this year.

In the meantime, this week's Limerick Summary salutes the newest winner of our national championship. And given the impact that social media is having on our game -- for example, word is already spreading that Dowd said Webb might not play in the Open Championship next month because of the new baby's timing -- I couldn't help having a little fun with our new champ's name:
For news of this June's major dogfight,
You needn't check Google for insight.
The champ is quite well
At his new URL—
Just look for Olympic. That's Webb's site!
The photo is from the U.S. Open page at majorschampionships.com.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

3 Out of 5 Ain't Bad

I'm feeling pretty good about my picks right now. While Olympic has been host to 4 upsets -- which I'll simply define as "the leader going into the final round didn't win" -- I think DL3 at +10 is too far back to figure in today's play, and Justin Rose at +5 is borderline at best. The Weather Channel's forecast for today (which may be a bad link by the time you check it -- it has "tomorrow" as part of the url, but which you can still check from a link at the U.S. Open leaderboard page), says the final round will be pretty much like all the others -- 71 degrees F, 64% humidity, 13mph SW winds.

I've been looking at players no more than 4 strokes back -- you may recall I used the same measure after the first round -- which means players at +3 or better. Jason Dufner still sits at that number, along with amateur Beau Hossler, Webb Simpson, and several others. I won't dismiss any of them as a possibility.

Likewise, both Ernie Els and Lee Westwood are at +2. Lee (my pick to win at the beginning of the week) has redeemed himself quite nicely since his 73-72 opening rounds. Can he post another 67 today and get back to even? I don't know, but that might be enough.

Colin Montgomerie picked Ernie Els to win, and I wouldn't be surprised if he did either. He's doing just what I expected -- make up ground with his ball striking. With rounds of 75-69-68, a 67 would also get him back to even.

Do I really think even par will win this Open? To be honest, no. I don't think the "Olympic Curse" will hold this time -- at least, not as long as the USGA doesn't let the course get out of control where good shots don't fare any better than bad shots. But I don't suspect they'll let the greens be as receptive as they were yesterday either. In the end, I think either Jim Furyk or Graeme McDowell will manage to post a -1 round, which will probably put the tournament out of everybody's reach...

Except for maybe Fredrik Jacobson's, who happens to be sittiing all by his lonesome at +1 and coming off a 72-71-68 tournament. I have to admit, I really like Freddie's chances now that he's gotten himself into position.

Wouldn't it be a hoot if the Olympus Curse held true... and the Junkman hauled off the heavy metal? Well, after he won his first PGA Tour tournament last year, he said each of his kids was going to want a trophy. I'd hate to be in the middle of the fight over this one!

At any rate, I'll be watching this one closely. Although I picked Luke Donald to win the Masters and he didn't, I did pick both Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson as players to watch there. With 3 of my 5 players to watch at this Open still viable, I just might have a chance at the Grand Slam this year!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

What a Shake-Up!

WOW! Did anybody really expect this? So many big names faded away early, and so many others stepped up to fill the gap.

All 5 of my picks made the cut -- and, theoretically at least, still have a chance to win this thing -- but the main contenders at day's end were not the players most of us expected to see. Still, none of them can be considered flukes. Just among the lead 7 (players between -1 and +1):
  • David Toms, Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, and Graeme McDowell are all major winners. All but Toms are U.S. Open champions.
  • Michael Thompson was runner-up at the 2007 U.S. Amateur held at the Olympic Club and low amateur at the 2008 U.S. Open.
  • John Peterson was the 2011 NCAA Individual Champion and was runner-up (while still an amateur) to Harris English (also an amateur at the time) when he won the 2011 Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational.
  • And Nicholas Colsaerts, though maybe not familiar to American fans, is a multiple winner on the European Tour, including the 2012 Volvo World Match Play Championship in May.
Even Beau Hossler, the 17-year-old amateur who made news Friday when he briefly took the lead -- and is still only 4 shots off the lead -- is playing in his 2nd Open. He's gone through Open qualifying 2 years in a row!

Add in all the other "stories" in the field behind these players, and you simply can't say there's a fluke in the bunch.

The USGA says they will do very little watering to the course for Saturday, and the weather is predicted to be the warmest yet. This may literally end up being one hell of an Open!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The First Round Is in the Books

Granted, one round -- especially in a major -- isn't enough to reliably predict what will happen in the next 3 rounds. Still, there are a few things we can say.

For all practical purposes, the lead is -1. No offense to Michael Thompson, but it's hard to believe that he's going to keep up that 22-putt pace. His knowledge of the course will certainly help him but the course won't get easier over the weekend. If he can manage to get 1 or 2 more under over the next 3 rounds, he'll be in pretty good shape come Sunday.

I think if you were +3 or better after Thursday's round -- 4 strokes behind all but Thompson -- you're in position for the rest of the week.

Of the players I "marked off" my list of likely contenders, Tiger and Kuchar were the two big surprises. Kuch was extremely consistent, which I didn't expect given his Driving Accuracy and GIR stats so far this year. And Tiger simply looks to be farther along with his swing than I expected him to be at this point. If it holds up, that can only be bad news for the rest of the field!

Here are the 5 players I picked as favorites. I should note that all 5 played late in the day, when the course should have been getting harder:
  • Ernie Els: +5 -- Ernie was my biggest disappointment. He really put himself behind the 8-ball, which I didn't expect since he was playing so well coming in.
  • Jason Dufner: +2 -- There are a lot of players at this score, so I'd say Jason played an average round.
  • Davis Love III: +3 -- Still in it, but I thought early on that he was going to be at even or better.
  • Justin Rose: -1 -- No surprise here. Justin's been on form all year, and he's overdue for a major.
  • Lee Westwood: +3 -- I'm pleased that he didn't shoot himself out of it Thursday. When your threesome gets on the bogey train, it's easy to just get pulled down along with them. I'll be very interested to see how he comes back today in an early grouping with slightly more receptive greens.
Here are a few surprise players who I think we should be watching as well:
  • Graeme McDowell: -1 -- If you saw his interview on Feherty, you know he said he thought he was finally back on track. I think his play Thursday, as well as his after-round interview, indicated that he'll be in the mix come Sunday. He has been here before, you know!
  • Jim Furyk & Ian Poulter: E -- Both of these guys did much better than I expected, with fairly clean cards. Furyk would especially like to win this one, since he injured his wrist right after his first major and (I feel) never got a decent opportunity to build on it.
  • Ryo Ishikawa, Francesco Molinari & Michael Allen: +1 -- Pleasant surprises from all 3! We've been waiting for Ryo to show up this way, Molinari already has a WGC on his resume, and Allen has been on fire on the Champions Tour.
  • Rickie Fowler: +2 -- This is a good position for Rickie... and it's yet another time he's posted a lower score than Rory when they played under similar conditions. Knowing that probably helps his mindset as well.
Today's rounds should give us an idea who may be up to the challenge this weekend. Brandel Chamblee noted that, in the past 4 Opens at Olympic, two players have managed to separate themselves from the rest of the field by Sunday. With the quantity of strong players currently at the top of the leaderboard, that may be more difficult this time around.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

TV Times for the U.S. Open

Just to get you off on the right foot... Here are the TV times for the Open as listed at the championship's main page:

Thu, June 14 12-3 PM ET

3-5 PM ET

5-10 PM ET
Fri, June 15 12-3 PM ET

3-5 PM ET

5-10 PM ET
Sat, June 16 4-10 PM ET
Sun, June 17 4-10 PM ET

GC will start broadcasting Live From... at 6am ET this morning. And the live leaderboard is here. Enjoy the tournament today and let's see what storylines pop up!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Don't Forget About Neil!

Just a quick reminder that Neil Sagebiel from the Armchair Golf Blog will be on Morning Drive this morning to talk about his new book, The Longest Shot. I don't know what time he'll be on, but Morning Drive airs from 7am-9am ET and then repeats from 9am-11am ET.

Best of all, if I read their schedule correctly, it's going to repeat a 2nd time today from 11am-1pm ET, so there's a good chance you can catch Neil on one of them!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Facebook Problems?

I don't know what's up, but I zipped over to Facebook to check my page and suddenly June (and most of May) is missing! It was there yesterday, but today it's gone. I should point out that I'm talking about the Ruthless Golf page; my personal page (and Mick Michaels's page, for that matter) seem to be perfectly fine.

Perhaps the contraction in Facebook stock prices is affecting their server storage space? ;-)

My U.S. Open Picks

No doubt you've already heard everybody and their brothers (and occasionally their sisters and even their grandkids) spouting off about their favorites to win this week at Olympic.

I've also picked 5 players to watch this week... but I've chosen them based on very different criteria than most analysts. I've decided to take a contrarian stance.

Most of the picks I've heard are based on one simple fact: At the Olympic Club, just as it is at every U.S. Open, putting will be the most important skill, with chipping and pitching a close second.

That concept is flawed. The Olympic Club is a bizarre layout with the doglegs and slopes in opposition from a normal layout. By that I mean that the fairways slope away from the dogleg -- a dogleg left slopes to the right, meaning the ball will tend to run into the rough unless you hit it just perfectly, and vice versa.

Because of this, ball striking will be the most valuable skill this week. It's going to be so hard to get on the green in regulation that a good ball striker with merely decent putting and chipping skills will outplay the guys who can putt and chip well but can't get near the green in few enough strokes to capitalize.

With that said, here -- in no particular order -- are my 5 "golden boys" for the Open:
  • Ernie Els: Els has been on the verge of winning for months now. His ball striking is awesome, but he's missed a few key putts. He's going to hit enough greens that his putting will seem miraculous.
  • Jason Dufner: Dufner is the guy on my list about whom I'm most concerned. My fear is that he's still a bit tapped out physically and emotionally from that great month he had. I'm going to assume the two weeks he took off will have given him enough rest.
  • Davis Love III: At 48 he may seem a bit old, but he's healthy, playing well, trying to make his own Ryder Cup team, and on a high after qualifying for the Open.
  • Justin Rose: Again, a player whose ball striking has been impeccable -- he won the WGC-Cadillac earlier this year, you'll recall -- and he's been in the hunt since. Again, it's been putting that let him down... but that's not going to be as big a problem this week.
  • Lee Westwood: Yes, Lee's my favorite. He's putting and chipping well enough for this track, mainly because I believe he'll be on the green in fewer strokes than most of his competition.
What about the guys being picked most? Here are my thoughts on the main ones:
  • I don't believe Tiger's "back" yet; if you follow this blog, you know he'll probably be my choice for the Open Championship next month if he continues on his present track. But I think his distance control is going to be a problem this week.
  • I don't think Rory McIlroy's got his swing straightened out yet either. He's still making too many big numbers.
  • Matt Kuchar simply isn't driving it well enough.
  • Steve Stricker's whole game has seemed just a bit off all year. The Olympic Club isn't the place to find it.
  • Luke Donald's going to have trouble with the length of the course. Usually I don't think that's as big a problem for the short hitters as most analysts make it out to be, but the weird slants on this course will make it hard to get any shot that misses the fairway close to the green. That's going to hurt all the shorter hitters this week.
  • And Phil? Well, it simply depends on whether Phil plays strategy or power. I hope I'm wrong, but I wouldn't bet on strategy.
So there you have it -- my 5 choices for U.S. Open glory. Oh, and one last thought: If ever a course was designed to create an upset-type winner, it's the Olympic Club. Remember, this is where Jack Fleck beat Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Limerick Summary: 2012 FedEx St. Jude Classic

Winner: Dustin Johnson

Around the wider world of golf: Shanshan Feng won the Wegmans LPGA Championship and became the first golfer from mainland China, male or female, to win a major; Lee Westwood won the Nordea Masters on the European Tour; Tom Lehman snagged the Regions Tradition, the 2nd Champions Tour major of the year; Line Videl won the LET's Allianz Ladies Slovak Open; Lauren Doughtie won the Ladies Titan Tire Challenge on the Symetra Tour; Lee Williams won the Mexico Open on the Nationwide Tour; the Britain-Ireland team won the Curtis Cup, breaking a 16-year string of wins by the US; and Hyo-Joo Kim -- an amateur! -- won the Suntory Ladies Open on the JLPGA. The Constructivist has details on that one.

DJ hoists his 6th PGA Tour trophy

You can be forgiven if your first reaction on seeing the photo above was "But that's not Rory McIlroy!" All the talk coming into the St. Jude was about Rory's three missed cuts and his preparation for his Open defense next week.

At various points there were a number of potential stories in the mix -- J.B. Holmes in a comeback from brain surgery, Davis Love III potentially playing his way onto his own Ryder Cup team, and even John Daly's continuing improvement. (Note: With Daly's final round 64, we would have had a playoff if he had merely shot par on Saturday. Talk about a story!)

But Dustin Johnson? It's only his second start back after an injury-plagued first half of the season. As if it wasn't enough to get back in shape after some knee surgery late last year, a desire to heave jet skis around had sidelined him since early March. Even his coach Butch Harmon was stunned by his performance this week.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect was how DJ did it. Quite frankly, it was a quiet, almost unimpressive round of golf -- not at all what we expect from him. He fired an even-tempered round of 66 with a single bogey and 5 birdies. He silently marched through an erratic field, posted his score, and took his 6th PGA Tour event -- an accomplishment that makes him the first player since Tiger to win in each of his first 5 seasons. It also gives him the most wins of any Tour player in his 20s.

Does that make DJ a favorite going into the U.S. Open this week? Probably not. He's proven to be a bit wild at times, and Olympic won't be a forgiving track. But then again, when you aren't able to even swing a club for 6 weeks, you aren't supposed to win in your second start back.

At any rate, this week's Limerick Summary salutes DJ on his accomplishment and offers a bit of useful advice to help him continue in his winning ways:
A jet ski won't help with your golf score;
Deadlifting one just makes your back sore.
DJ… Since you've proved it,
Hire others to move it!
Don't act like the Hulk and you'll win more.
The photo came from the front page of PGATOUR.com. And some of the facts about DJ's career came from this Tour wrap-up page.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Lee Triumphs

I suppose I could write about a number of things today.

Tennis player Maria Sharapova won her first French Open Saturday, completing the career Grand Slam. That's pretty cool.

LeBron James and the Miami Heat won the Eastern Conference finals and will play the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals next week. That was pretty impressive.

Boxer Timothy Bradley beat Manny Pacquiao in a split decision to win the WBO Welterweight Title. The ESPN updates showed Pacquiao winning pretty much all but the first round on points, so this may end up being a pretty controversial topic for the next few days. The rhetoric has already started.

A horse named Union Rags won the Belmont Stakes, nipping Paynter by a head. I don't know how important that was to Union Rags, but I understand his owner and a bunch of gamblers were very excited.

I should also mention that GC said Neil Sagebiel, who writes the Armchair Golf Blog, will be on Morning Drive Wednesday to talk about his new book, The Longest Shot. That's also a very neat bit of news.

But the European Tour finished early this week. That gives me a chance I normally wouldn't have to write about that tournament. So let me give a little love to the tour on the other side of the pond.

Lee gets another win

The Nordea Masters (it used to be the Scandinavian Masters) turned out to be a good U.S. Open warmup for Lee Westwood. A really good one, in fact, since he won going away. I think winning is always a good warmup for a tournament, and when you win by 5 strokes -- and it could have been better -- it certainly bodes well for his trip to Olympic. He only had 3 bogeys all week!

I think it bodes well for Sergio, Mikko Ilonen, and Peter Hanson as well. All three tied for third. Sergio shot the low round of the the day, a 67, and Ilonen shot 68. Hanson had already been playing well this year; you may remember that he already finished 3rd at the Masters, 4th at the WGC-Cadillac, and 5th at the WGC-Accenture. All three men should feel pretty good going into the Open, don't you think?

And now they'll arrive in California a day early, with a chance to get over their jet lag and maybe get in an extra practice round.

At any rate, given how erratic Rory's been at Memphis this week, it certainly should make for a more interesting major. Congratulations, Lee!

The photo came from the Nordea Masters page at europeantour.com.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Yani Survives!

Who would've believed that would be a story at this major? Yani made the cut right on the number and it's a testament to how tough Locust Hill is playing -- not because of Yani's play, but because of the rest of the field's play. If I remember correctly, when Yani finished, her +6 was outside the cutline and 90 players were at +5 or better.

In the end, 73 made the cut at +6. It was just a brutal day out there.

And somehow Se Ri Pak, injured shoulder and all, managed to gain a one-shot lead at -3. All it took was a 1-under 71. I saw only 3 scores in the 60s -- a couple of 69s and a 68.

Cristie Kerr struggled, shooting +4 in the second round and yet she's still only 5 off the lead.

But Paula Creamer is now low American in the field. With rounds of 70-72, her -2 puts her just behind Se Ri and tied with Sandra Gal, Mika Miyazato, and Inbee Park.

It doesn't look like it's going to get any better, either. I checked weather.com for Pittsford NY and they predict 77 degrees F, scattered thunderstorms -- 60% chance of rain -- 71% humidity and 8mph winds.

And GC plans to cover as much of it as possible. Buckle in for 5 hours of carnage, from 2pm to 7pm ET today.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Look

It's hard for me to think much about golf at this moment. I just finished watching Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics. It was awesome.

In case you aren't a basketball fan, let me tell you that you missed some history. LeBron James, under all kinds of personal pressure where the media (and fans) have questioned his heart for the game, plus the knowledge that they had to win this game or be out of the playoffs, turned in a playoff game performance with stats that only Wilt Chamberlain ever matched. I think they said that was way back in 1964.

But one thing that really stood out was the look on LeBron's face. The camera zoomed in on him several times during the game and he looked... well, not angry but extremely determined. The Heat's coach said LeBron had been that way for 24 hours, and that his determination literally raised the bar for the whole team.

Thursday I also watched some of the Wegmans, and I noticed that Cristie Kerr had a "look" that I haven't seen with her for a while. It wasn't a serious look like LeBron's. Rather, it was the way she looks when she "walks in" her putts. She was hitting the ball all over the place during the first round and had to dig it out of the rough most of the day. And yet she finished just one shot off the lead.

When Cristie Kerr is walking her putts in -- that is, she starts walking after them before they ever reach the hole -- she's as dangerous as LeBron is when his game is on.

Two years ago Cristie Kerr blew the field away on this very course. And now she's got that look that means she's putting light's-out again. I think I'm picking her to win this week.

I don't think I'd bet against LeBron & Company in the 7th playoff game either. Looks can be dangerous on any playing field.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Major, Major

The Little Caesar's guyI couldn't help but think of the Little Caesar's "Pizza, Pizza" guy.

But instead we got major, majors. Yep, two of 'em, starting today.

First we get the 2nd LPGA major of the year. The Wegmans LPGA Championship airs today on GC from noon to 2:30pm ET. The Constructivist is there at Locust Hill this week; this is the first post he did, a preview on Monday, and he's posted interviews and such since. This is a good way to get ready for play. I think almost everybody expects it to be a shootout between Yani Tseng, the defending champ, and Stacy Lewis, who's won two of the last three events.

You can check the LPGA live leaderboard here.

The second major is the 2nd Champions Tour major of the year. The Regions Tradition airs today on GC from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. (Obviously the St. Jude will be aired in the afternoon between the two, then re-aired after the Tradition.) Tom Lehman is the defending champ, but Michael Allen (who just qualified for the U.S. Open on Monday) has two wins already this year and Jay Haas just won last week, plus Fred Couples is there. In fact, Couples, Haas, and Lehman are paired together the first two days, so this could be fun.

The Champions Tour live leaderboard is here.

That should be enough to keep us all busy until next week. In the meantime, I think I'll get some pizza...

The picture of the "Pizza, Pizza" guy came from this pizza blog. Yum!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Don't Forget the Early Golf

And by "early" I mean starting TODAY. In one of those unusual situations that we see occasionally in golf, the European Tour's Nordea Masters actually starts on a Wednesday rather than the typical Thursday.

The reason? It's simple. Nordea hopes to attract players who might be in the U.S. Open, so they're starting early to give them an extra travel day between tournaments. A smart move on their part, if you ask me.

It convinced Lee Westwood to play the Nordea. In the past couple of years Westwood has played the St. Jude in order to be closer to the Open site. But according to an article at pga.com (not PGATOUR.com):
The 39-year-old world No. 3 will be making his 57th attempt to win a major at the Olympic Club and is still searching for the secret to success in terms of how best to prepare.
"I haven't found the right way yet, so I might as well keep trying different ones," said Westwood, who at Wentworth two weeks ago confessed to feeling tired after three stints in America and trips to Asia and the Middle East already this year.
"It's difficult to prepare for a West Coast major because nowhere is near," he explained Tuesday. "If you play Memphis it's still a four to five-hour flight to California, so it's a tussle whether you play in all that heat or you go to Sweden, where there will be steady conditions and it finishes on Saturday."
It's an interesting thought. You could probably make an argument that the Nordea Masters is less likely to run over than the St. Jude -- the front that brought all that rain to Memphis on Monday could still affect things -- so Lee might actually be able to get to California more quickly from Sweden.

Sergio is also playing the Nordea before heading to the Olympic Club. I'm not sure how many other Open entrants will be in the field, as I haven't seen a complete entry list for the major yet, but I'd be surprised if Lee and Sergio were the only ones.

The Nordea Masters gives us yet another extra day of golf this week. GC has live coverage running from 9am ET (that's right after Morning Drive) until noon. Sergio tees off at 1:30 am ET so he won't be in Wednesday's coverage, but Westwood tees off at 6:30am ET so we should get to see most of his final 9.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Golf's Longest Day Wasn't Long Enough

Golf Channel will have some extra coverage today of "Golf's Longest Day," as they billed the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying on Monday. Apparently the weatherman didn't receive a complete list of qualifying sites, which left us a couple of interesting storylines for today.

Here's the deal: The Memphis site got completely rained out. The start was delayed by bad weather. About 4 groups got out and played one hole in the afternoon. You read that right -- one hole. And by 2:30pm the entire day was scrapped because beautiful weather means nothing when the course is underwater.

This is interesting, and not just because it could delay PGA Tour players who are scheduled to play the FedEx St. Jude Classic pro-am on Wednesday. This is one of the larger qualifying areas, so there are a lot of Tour pros there. (And of course the St. Jude is played in Memphis, another reason for the large number.)

The other reason goes like this: There are alternates who didn't get in at the other sites, and they're traveling to Memphis in hopes of getting a spot if some of the Memphis players withdraw. (A very real possibility if the qualifier gets more delays and some of the players decide they need to get in a practice round. At least 70 players will get paid at the St. Jude, after all! Go for the major or the Tour card? An interesting conundrum.) GC mentioned that one alternate had already called the site and was driving over 500 miles to get there. You can bet that some other alternates will make the same effort.

And then there was the Oregon site. Casey Martin was medalist there. You may remember him -- he has a leg disease that makes it very painful to walk. A court ruling gave him the right to use a cart during PGA Tour rounds several years ago; some players had a problem with that, but the courts ruled that it didn't give him an unfair advantage. The pain got bad enough that he eventually quit the Tour and took a coaching job. (His Ducks came close to winning the NCAA tournament last week.) Tripp Isenhour said the time not playing may have actually helped his game. Doctors had not believed he would still be able to walk and play after this long. Here's a link to an ESPN story with more details.

But the really interesting aspect here isn't just that Casey qualified. It's that there were only 2 spots open and today, because of weather delays, there will be a playoff for the 2nd spot. One of the two players in that playoff is one of Casey's students, Daniel Miernicki.

There were good stories Monday as well, of course. Not only did Casey Martin qualify, but so did Michael Allen from the Champions Tour, Davis Love III, and Charlie Wi. (Wi was the medalist. Way to go, Charlie!)  But there's still some drama left before next week.

Interesting stories to follow today, folks. Interesting stories.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Limerick Summary: 2012 Memorial Tournament

Winner: Tiger Woods

Around the wider world of golf: A lot happened this weekend. The University of Texas won the NCAA men's golf championship; Jay Haas won the Principal Charity Classic on the Champions Tour; Thongchai Jaidee got his first ET win at the ISPS Handa Wales Open; Carlota Ciganda won the Deloitte Ladies Open on the LET; Stacy Lewis won the ShopRite LPGA Classic on the LPGA; James Hahn got his first win at the Rex Hospital Open on the Nationwide Tour; former Big Breaker Sara Brown got her first Symetra Tour win at the My Marsh Golf Classic; and Mi-Jeong Jeon won the Resort Trust Ladies on the JLPGA. (The Constructivist has details on that one.)

And don't forget that GC plans to cover U.S. Open Qualifying all day long today at all the sites where it's being held.

Two champions

I guess Spencer Levin will have to keep knockin'. There was a large Cat guarding the door.

I didn't expect Tiger to play that well Sunday, given how sick he was. We didn't find out until early Sunday that he had played for two days with a 102-degree fever. But once the fever broke Saturday night, it appears the floodgates did too.

It's hard to believe you might have missed it, but Tiger birdied 3 of the last 4 holes -- 15, 16 & 18 -- to win the Memorial by 2 and tie Jack's 73 total PGA wins right in front of Jack. The shot of the tournament was his chip-in on 16, which Jack said was the best he'd ever seen given what was at stake if he didn't pull it off. There are already several clips on YouTube, including one from the PGA Tour that has embedding disabled but includes Jack's commentary. In the meantime, here's a short clip of the shot itself:



With this win Tiger jumps up to #5 #4 in the OWGR and #3 in my RGWR. He now has 3 wins -- the Chevron (against players like Graeme McDowell and Zach Johnson) and both Arnie's and Jack's tournaments -- in only 6 months.

Ironically, while Tiger actually seems a little more open right now -- for example, when the media asked if he could remember the last time he was this excited (he said he actually didn't remember what he did at 16 because he was "really happy"), he admitted it was the Chevron win -- his critics still don't seem willing to admit that maybe he knows what he's doing. I heard a few commentators who assessed his play this week as just ok, despite the difficulty of the course and him being sick. Do I detect some sour grapes? Perhaps indigestion from eating too much crow?

At any rate, this week's Limerick Summary pays tribute to all the doubters out there... and the record-tying performance of some kid named Eldrick. Way to go, big fella:
Think the legend won't get any bigger?
Then he roars back again… and with vigor!
Critics mutter, "Oh, gee,
Now it's seventy-three…"
And again, Tiger gets the last snigger.
The photo came from the front page of PGATOUR.com.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

"I Hear You Knockin'..."

Says the old song, "but you can't come in." Do you remember it? (This is the original -- I like the quirky vocals:)



I suspect Spencer Levin is tired of this song. And today he has a chance to turn it off forever.

Can he do it? That's the question.

On the plus side, he's putting light's out this week. He's leading the field in Total Putts and Putts per GIR, he's second in "Strokes Gained - Putting," and he's T5 in Sand Saves. He's only hitting about half his GIR which is usually the kiss of death, but it appears that he's scrambling well since he's still T4 in birdies and T58 in bogeys. (You want to be low in that category, right?)

But can he handle the stress of leading this time? You'll remember his meltdown at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, when he lost a 6-stroke lead to Kyle Stanley -- who was coming back from a similar meltdown the week before. This is the big question for Spencer.

I think he can. I watched him play the 17th Saturday. He drove into a bunker and, rather than take a big gamble with the lead on the line, he played out safely to the fairway -- too safely, according to Feherty & Friends -- and calmly got up and down for par.

Yeah, I think he can do it. Even with Sabbatini, Fowler, and Woods on his tail. (Unless Tiger's health improved overnight, I'm not sure he'll be a factor today. Given how well he's been hitting it, I think he's sicker than he's let on.)

And when he finally does come in, Jack's gonna shake his hand. That would be some sweet revenge, wouldn't it?

Come on in, Spencer. Please. It's time, boy!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

No, I'm Still Not Saying He's Back...

But I told you we needed to wait until sometime in June or July before we made any judgments about where he is.

Tiger Woods headshotRight now, he's looking pretty good. Especially compared to Rory McIlroy.

Overall, his stats for the 2nd round are pretty solid. If you check the PGA Tour page with his scorecard for the Memorial, you'll find that he hit 79% of his fairways and 78% of his GIR. His driving distance was only 280 yards as opposed to his 311 Thursday, but the course was wet and windy on Friday. He took the same number of putts as Thursday and his putting was better when he hit the green, although his "strokes gained - putting" stat was only about half as good as his first round.

Personally, if I saw my putting stat was down and I still shot a lower score, I don't think I'd worry about it too much... but that's just me. I'd be more bummed out about the two double-bogeys -- that's more than Steve Stricker and Luke Donald combined -- but I'd still be 4 ahead of Stricks and 5 ahead of Donald.

I think I'd get over it.

Just for perspective, let's look at Rory again for a minute. Rory has now missed three cuts in a row with a swing that's been working like a BMW -- "the ultimate driving machine" -- for months. Now it's his turn to visit the engine shop. Tiger has missed only one cut this year despite his struggles. It's certainly not time for Woods fans to panic.

At any rate, he's just one off the lead after shooting 70-69 on a tough course. He's back in position after a few weeks on the rack getting his own swing retuned. Now that he's back on the road, let's see how he stands up under the pressure of a tough course and a chance for his first multiple-win season in a while.

No, I'm still not saying he's back.

But I like what I'm seeing. I'll be very interested to see what he does at Royal Lytham St. Anne in July.

The head shot came from the scorecard page metioned earlier in the post.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Ruthless Golf World Rankings: June 2012

The RGWR gave me a bit of a shock this month. I couldn't believe how much the rankings had been shaken up in a mere 3 weeks. (As you'll recall, I was a week late with May's rankings.) The biggest shock was Lee Westwood's fall completely off the chart! Although he has 5 Top5s in the last 4 months, he no longer has a win on either the PGA or European Tours, so he is no longer eligible for the RGWR. (Proof positive that just because you can fool the OWGR doesn't mean you can fool me!) And since I try to take current form into account, don't be surprised if this month's rankings indicate some surprise contenders at the next couple of majors.

Here's the RGWR criteria:
I focus on the last 12 months of play -- that's long enough to see some consistency but short enough to be current. Every player in the RGWR won at least once on either the PGA or European Tour. The OWGR rates consistency over the last 2 years, so I see no reason to rank that; my RGWR says if you're a top player, you've won somewhere recently. My priority list (based on quality of field) looks like this:
  1. majors, TPC (PGAT), BMW PGA (ET), and WGCs
  2. FedExCup playoffs and prestige events (like Bay Hill and Dubai), the latter often determined by the history and difficulty of the course
  3. other PGA and ET events
I put extra emphasis on recent form -- 2 wins separated by 6 months don't carry the weight of 2 wins back-to-back -- and I make some allowance if you're recovering from injury or serious sickness. Also, remember that I count Top5s as a separate category from wins; if you see a player has 3 Top5s, those are seconds through fifths only.

I assign points to tournaments this way:
  • Majors: 10 points
  • TPC & BMW PGA: 8 points (yes, I'm calling them equals!)
  • WGC: 7 points
  • Prestige events: 5 points
  • Regular wins: 3 points
  • Top 5 finishes: 2 points
  • Other wins: 1 point
I give full credit (not in point value, but they carry the same weight as "official" victories) for wins on the "minor" tours like the Nationwide and Australasian Tours provided the winner has a current win on the PGA or European Tour. These wins will count only as "regular" wins and not "prestige" wins, no matter how prestigious they may be for their tour, because they generally don't have the field strength of a regular PGA or ET event.

I'm not counting the Grand Slam of Golf as a win in my rankings. I've decided that 4 players isn't a large enough field to give it the weight of a win against a larger field. However, I do take a win there into consideration in my rankings, much as I do money title or scoring awards. Other limited-field events (up to maybe 24 players or so) are counted as wins if the player also has an official win on the "big tours" but they only get a single point. The OMEGA Mission Hills World Cup (the 2-man team event) counts in this category.

And because of a strange quirk on the ET site, I've decided I have to specifically state that a tournament win can only count once. Therefore, to avoid possible confusion, I'm just telling you that the RGWR says you can only win a tournament once at a time.

As usual, although the point totals (and even the number of wins) a player has affects my rankings, they don't override my personal opinions. It's my ranking system, after all:
  1. Luke Donald: 4 wins (1 BMW, 1 prestige), 6 Top5, 35 points. This was a tricky call. I gave Luke the top spot for three reasons: Rory appears to be struggling a bit while Luke's play has picked up noticeably, Luke has won more this year (2 vs. 1); and Luke successfully defended a title for his first time... and that title was a huge one, the BMW PGA. In essence, Luke's last 3 months have been better than Rory's in my opinion.
  2. Rory McIlroy: 4 wins (1 major, 1 prestige, 1 other), 9 Top5, 37 points. See #1 for the explanation.
  3. Branden Grace: 3 wins, 2 Top5, 13 points. Branden remains the only three-time winner of 2012 (among the men, anyway). He has 3 wins in less than 5 months, he added another Top5 in May, and he's currently #4 in the Race to Dubai. Not bad for a rookie, eh? That's worth some love in the RGWR.
  4. Jason Dufner: 2 wins (1 prestige), 2 Top5s, 12 points. Two wins and 1 Top5 in 3 starts, with a marriage in-between? Are you kidding me?
  5. Rickie Fowler: 2 wins (1 prestige), 4 Top5, 14 points. Don't forget his Korean Open win last October. This is 2 wins, both won head-to-head with Rory McIlroy. Rickie added 2 more Top5s in May, making him one of the hotter players.
  6. Matt Kuchar: 2 wins (1 TPC, 1 other), 1 Top5, 11 points. The other win is the World Cup with Gary Woodland late last year. The TPC was arguably the biggest event in May and it leapt him to #5 in the OWGR. In a month dominated by Fowler, Dufner, and Donald he makes my Top10 as well.
  7. Steve Stricker: 3 wins (2 prestige), 0 Top5, 13 points. Beyond the Top6, most players are just treading water. Stricks is in neutral, living on past glories at this point... but he does have 3 wins.
  8. Hunter Mahan: 2 wins (1 WGC, 1 prestige), 1 Top5, 14 points. No changes this month.
  9. Louis Oosthuizen: 2 wins, 4 Top5, 14 points. No changes this month.
  10. Bubba Watson: 1 win (1 major), 3 Top5, 16 points. I'm giving Bubba a pass for the newly adopted baby. 
Players to watch:
  • I'm a big believer in Ben Curtis right now. The only reason he didn't make the RGWR is that he only has 1 win and 2 Top5s. But he's gotten them in the last 2 months...!
  • I know everybody is talking about Zach Johnson because he's had a T2 and a win in the last 2 weeks. But Zach's scores haven't been that bad this year, they just haven't been spectacular. In his last 16 rounds, only one has been over 72.
  • I've got a feeling about Jason Day. He's right on the verge...