Oh, to spend Halloween playing Pumpkin Ridge, the famed Oregon club whose Witch Hollow and Ghost Creek courses scare the knickers off the heartiest golfing souls.
Instead, we’re summing up this weekend’s action from the pro tours while waiting for the trick-or-treaters to trickle in.
Luckily, there’s plenty to report. Golf’s global reach was apparent as a slew of U.S. stars battled in Malaysia and Rory McIlroy won a non-official but highly lucrative event in China, where Taiwan’s Yani Tseng continued to terrorize her so-called competitors.
Our idea of a Cinderella costume
We’ll make this week’s rundown quick. Gotta slip into our Carl Spackler costume for tonight.
Bo Van Pelt: The 36-year-old has quietly become one of the PGA Tour’s steadiest performers, but has had trouble closing the deal when in contention. He practically slammed it on Sunday, winning the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic in Malaysia by six shots. Van Pelt’s final-round 64 earned him a cool $1.3 million and a big shot of confidence from beating Camilo Villegas, Vijay Singh, Robert Allenby and other stars in the Asian Tour event.
Sergio Garcia: It’s fitting that on Halloween, we’re comfortable declaring this of the former poltergeist: He’s baaaack. Garcia followed up his victory at the Castello Masters with another at the Andalucia Masters, beating countryman Miguel Angel Jimenez by a shot. Home cooking has been kind to Garcia, who became the first Spaniard to win a stroke-play even at storied Valderrama.
Rory McIlroy: The international man of mystery pocketed $2 million – golf’s biggest payday – by fending off Anthony Kim in a playoff at the Shanghai Masters. It didn’t get him any closer to Luke Donald’s No. 1 world ranking, but the win confirmed that McIlroy remains plenty hungry following his U.S. Open triumph.
Yani Tseng: The game’s top female made the most of her own trip to China, winning the Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open for her 11th worldwide victory this year. That includes a pair of majors and marks Tseng the clear choice as golf’s most dominant player, regardless of gender.
450-yard par 4s: For the first time ever, average driving distance on the PGA Tour eclipsed 290 yards for an entire season (290.9 to be precise). To put that in perspective, Lee Janzen’s average tee shot in 2011 was 290.1 yards. In 1993, the year Janzen won his first of two U.S. Opens, he averaged 257.1.
He was 29 then. He’s 47 now. Frightening how much equipment has changed, isn’t it?
All hail Luke Donald, the undisputed No. 1 golfer in the world.
Technically, Donald has stood atop the world golf ranking since May 29, when he unseated fellow Englishman Lee Westwood. But there’s been plenty of clamor in the meantime, his critics arguing that Donald hadn’t done enough to earn the top spot.
Nevermind that no one else had, either, since Tiger Woods abdicated the throne last year. The major-less Donald, who went five years without a PGA Tour win (2006-2011), was an easy target.
With his incredible come-from-behind victory at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic in Orlando, Donald silenced the doubters. Six straight birdies and a closing 64 were his polite way of saying “Shut up,” in proper King’s English, of course.
As a bonus, Donald leapfrogged Webb Simpson to claim the tour’s money title with a cool $6,683,214 on the year. That’s even more impressive when you consider how much he plays overseas. In fact, Donald’s in position to win the European Tour’s money race as well, which would make him the first person to take both in the same year.
Yeah, he’s No. 1.
Now on to our cheers and jeers, golf style, for the weekend that was:
Luke Donald: Did we mention that he played alongside Simpson for all four rounds of the CMN? Or that Donald was two shots behind his playing partner, and four shots off the lead, with eight holes to go?
Disney trappings aside, this was a gutsy performance. It may just have locked up PGA Tour Player of the Year honors, too. Donald was one of seven players with a pair of wins this season (not counting two in Europe) and by far the most consistent of the bunch.
The lone missing piece to his resumé remains that elusive major. At age 33, his time is now.
Sergio Garcia: While Donald was busy stamping his signature on the 2011 season, Garcia marked his resurgence complete with an 11-shot victory at the Castello Masters. The Spaniard thrilled a home crowd with a final-round 63 to lap the field, dedicating his win to the late, great Seve Ballesteros.
Having emerged from the oblivion that was 2010, Garcia may be poised to finally fulfill the potential he flashed as a teenager and 20-something. Welcome back, El Niño.
David Duval and Ben Curtis: A pair of former Open Championship winners, Duval and Curtis failed to earn exempt status for the tour in 2012. Duval, who seemed to be inching (ever so slowly) back to something like his old form, slipped to 152nd on the money list by missing the CMN cut. Curtis did likewise to finish 149th for the year.
For a so-called gentleman’s game, golf sure can turn acrimonious.
The latest examples include the revelation of a years-long, alpha-male spat between Greg Norman and Tiger Woods, and Rory McIlroy’s stunning split with agent Chubby Chandler. While no nasty words have been exchanged (publicly, at least) in the latter instance, it’s surely not an amicable parting.
Who needs reality TV when golf gives us this kind of drama?
All that, plus word on a jaw-dropping new course on the Chinese coast and an adult beverage bearing Arnold Palmer’s name and mug, in our weekly roundup of entertaining golf news.
Shark vs. Tiger
We were thinking Norman’s most recent comments about Tiger’s unworthiness as a Presidents Cup captain’s selection might have been spurred by Woods breaking the course record – shared by Norman – at the Medalist Club in Hobe Sound, Fla.
BTW, Norman designed the course, too. Double-ouch.
Turns out the animosity between the two goes back more than a few weeks, according to this article by Robert Lusetich. Apparently, sharing Butch Harmon’s time when both were under his tutelage was more than these supposed grown-ups could handle.
Norman tried to defuse the rancor in an email to Lusetich. “I have said this before and I will say it again, I hope Tiger does turn his game around,” Norman wrote. “It would be great for golf.
“I have said all I need to say about this.”
Let’s hope not. We’re kind of enjoying this little spat.
Big Mac attack
Another off-course bombshell dropped Friday morning, when news of McIlroy’s defection to Horizon Sports Management hit the wires. The 22-year-old U.S. Open champion spent his formative years with Chandler’s International Sports Management group, whose clients won four of five majors starting with the 2010 Open Championship.
Chandler has been praised for his delicate handling of McIlroy’s career since the Northern Ireland phenom turned pro at age 18. No definitive answer yet as to why McIlroy jumped ship to Horizon, a relatively new firm based in Dublin whose stable includes Ernie Els and Graeme McDowell.
Will this episode become another black eye for the likeable McIlroy, following his dismissive remarks about links golf and a Twitter spat with a TV announcer over McIlroy’s caddie?
Or is it just another sign that McIlroy has an inner ruthlessness that belies his outward charm? Image be damned, that could bode well for his future.
Chinese fireworks from Coore & Crenshaw
We don’t have much to say about the new Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw course in Shanquin Bay, China, except that it looks spectacular. This being a Coore-Crenshaw design and seaside, to boot, it should draw plentiful attention from architecture aficionados.
Darius Oliver has a detailed review and terrific pics at Planet Golf.
Sorry Arnie, we’ll stick with beer
Not sure about the sales prospects for the new Arnold Palmer Hard Malt beverage – half ice tea, half lemonade, and 5 percent alcohol – but I do know one golfer who won’t be trying it.
That would be me. If Arnie ever slaps his name on a hoppy pale ale or toasty imperial stout, count me in.
Ben Crane is a funny guy, but he was all business Sunday at the McGladrey Classic.
Perhaps best known for his series of quirky YouTube videos and his role in the laughably bad “Golf Boys” routine, Crane ran down Webb Simpson with a final-round 63, then won on the second playoff hole.
All this while his wife was in Dallas prepping for the birth of the couples’ third child (scheduled to arrive Monday via C-section). For good measure, Crane nearly withdrew from the McGladrey Thursday with an aching hip.
As for Simpson, it wasn’t all bad. He overtook Luke Donald for the PGA Tour money lead with one event remaining. The pair will slug it out for the title this week at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic in Orlando.
Crane, understandably, is skipping the event. Too bad – we were hoping for a duet with Mickey Mouse.
This week’s applause meter goes to 11 -- 12 if you count the 0:
Bud Cauley: The curly-locked Cauley, a 21-year-old from Alabama, finished T15 to earn $64,000, plenty to put him inside the top 125 on the money list. That gives Cauley PGA Tour exempt status for 2012 – in other words, no Q-School for Bud.
He’s just the sixth player ever to take the express route to the Tour; the others included Tiger Woods.
Tom Lewis: Speaking of Woods, he was one-upped this weekend by Lewis, an English phenom who won in his third professional start. Actually, Lewis two-upped Tiger, who took his sweet time before winning on the fifth try.
Lewis blew past a bevy of veterans with a final-round 65 at the Portugal Masters. You may have watched the 20-year old in July during the Open Championship, where his Thursday 65 was the lowest round by an amateur in the event’s history.
Greg Norman: Maybe the Shark should put a gag order on himself. Then again, his mouth may have already done its damage.
Clearly, Norman believes Woods is washed up. How else to explain his weekend comments stating that Keegan Bradley should’ve gotten the Presidents Cup pick that U.S. captain Fred Couples spent on Tiger.
“I can understand the name of a Tiger Woods and his history of what he’s done on the golf course,” Norman said. “But I pick the guys who I think are ready to get in there and play and have performed to the highest levels leading up to it.”
Psst, Greg: You’re coaching the other team!
It’s not that we disagree with Norman. On the contrary, we’re with him 100 percent. But we’re not coaching against Tiger!
Neither is Couples, who takes a step closer to looking like a genius every time Norman opens his yap.
A quick trek around the golf galaxy, with stops in South Korea, Oregon and Jupiter on the itinerary.
Your in-flight movie is “Drive,” so we can all figure out how the film inspired a California man to toss a hot dog in the general direction of Tiger Woods last Sunday. Sometimes, truth really is stranger than fiction…
Fowler wins, draws yawns: Much debate this week about Rickie Fowler’s victory at the Korean Open, a stop on the OneAsia tour. Thanks to its remote dateline, Fowler’s first win as a pro was met with a collective so-what by a large chunk of pundits.
But considering he won by six shots over fellow wunderkind Rory McIlroy, we’d say Fowler deserves some credit. Former PGA champion Y.E. Yang finished 11 shots behind despite the home-country advantage.
Prediction: Fowler wins at least twice in 2012. On the PGA Tour, that is.
A-Bandon hope, Pebble Beach: All hail Bandon Dunes, the new king of North American resort golf. So says Golf Digest, and – having yet to make the Bandon pilgrimage -- who am I to argue?
Frankly, I have no desire to debate GD on this one. Given Bandon’s expansion to four courses, all of which rank among America’s 100 best, it was only a matter of time before Mike Keiser’s pure-golf wonderland knocked Pebble Beach Resorts from the top spot.
If you’re thinking of visiting all 75 properties, you’d better be well funded. Nineteen of them feature nightly room rates of $500 or more, including the breathtaking $1,445 commanded by Sandy Lane in Barbados.
At a paltry $250, Bandon’s a relative bargain, too.
Jupiter is the new Orlando: If it often seems the pros’ games are other-worldly, this might be why: A large number of them have relocated to Jupiter.
Sorry, wrong Jupiter. Apparently, Jupiter, Florida, is the hot place to be for the PGA Tour’s elite. Everyone knows Tiger Woods recently moved into his $54 million palace on Jupiter Island, but the likes of Dustin Johnson, Luke Donald and Charl Schwartzel have also set up shop in or near the Palm Beach County golf haven.
As luck would have it, this blog is based in Jupiter as well. Here’s hoping some of that pro golfer mojo rubs off on the locals.
Els supplies belly laugh: We nominate this paradoxical gem from Ernie Els, addressing his use of a belly putter, for Quote of the Year: “As long as it’s legal, I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them.”
Now that honors for the year’s best quote and headline (Saltman wins body weight in ham for hole-in-one) are wrapped up, all that’s left are trivial titles like Player of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Leading Money Winner.
We almost forgot: Brandon Kelly of Petaluma, Calif., the man who threw the wiener at Woods, is our Tosser of the Year.
This weekend’s golf tournaments should’ve been broadcast on the Food Network.
With ham and hot dogs flying on the European and PGA tours, we kept waiting for Alton Brown to take over the play-by-play.
In case you missed it, the weekend started with Elliott Saltman winning a Spanish ham for his hole-in-one at the Madrid Masters, and ended with some lunatic tossing a frankfurter – bun and all – at Tiger Woods during the Frys.com Open.
Too bad it wasn’t the Fries.com instead.
The unusual spate of food-related news nearly overshadowed Bryce Molder’s clutch playoff victory over Briny Baird. Actually, Woods’ return from a two-month sabbatical did eclipse Molder’s breakthrough, at least in the eyes of media and fans.
But that’s nothing new.
Herewith, our weekly list of the week’s pros and cons. Ketchup, mustard and relish not included:
Bryce Molder: Since leaving Georgia Tech in 2001, Molder’s career has been one long cautionary tale. A can’t-miss kid who (mostly) missed, Molder was bounced from the PGA Tour in 2002, spent several years kicking around the Nationwide circuit, then played reasonably well on the big tour the past two seasons.
The beauty of golf, though, is that second acts are common. Molder has clearly matured, evidenced by his gritty, six-hole playoff win capped by a cathartic birdie putt. Having waited until the ripe old age of 31 to grab his maiden victory, maybe Molder can finally start living up to all that promise.
Tiger Woods: It’s tempting to stick him on the Silent Treatment list, what with Woods’ ho-hum tie for 30th at 7-under par. But he seemed to get things heading in the right direction after an opening 73, going 68-68-68 and briefly reaching the top 10 on Sunday.
Everyone forgets how well Tiger played at the Masters, where he tied for fourth and appeared to have his swing changes nearly sorted out. If he can stay healthy long enough for Sean Foley’s teaching to really take, we could see something approaching the Tiger of old pretty soon.
Briny Baird: We’re loath to relegate the likeable Baird to the jeers column; he did little wrong during the tournament proper or playoff, holing an eagle chip on 17 to send it to overtime. But Baird had the trophy in his grasp twice during extra holes, and couldn’t convert birdie putts from 8 and 12 feet. Still winless after 348 Tour starts, Baird doesn’t figure to get many more chances like that.
Paul Casey: As the top-ranked player in the field, Casey looked like the favorite despite a two-shot deficit entering the final round. A charge never materialized, however, as Casey stumbled with a pair of sixes on the front nine en route to an even-par 71. He was the only player among the top 23 finishers not to break par Sunday.
Cruising the web, perusing some favorite sites, using our golf-dar to identify random news items upon which to opine.
It’s relatively quiet, aside from a certain player’s return to action (if not form) after a two-month layoff. We did uncover a few stories worth noting, however, including a contender for the title of: Best. Headline. Ever.
Saltman wins body weight in ham for hole-in-one
When Elliott Saltman, a Scottish pro best known for his three-month suspension on charges of cheating, aced the third hole during the first round of the Madrid Masters, he won something better than a new Cadillac or BMW. He won his weight in cured Spanish ham.
This fellow is no shrimp -- Saltman tips the scales at 240 pounds -- and this is no ordinary ham. Saltman’s hunk of hog is reportedly worth €8,000, or the equivalent of about $10,600.
“This is going to last me until next Christmas,” Saltman told Reuters, “nevermind this one.”
For that matter, he’s got enough to carve out a nice emergency ham, Homer Simpson style.
Can’t wait for Cantlay
American golf fans, desperately seeking one of their own to challenge the world’s top young guns, may have their man: Patrick Cantlay, the 19-year-old wiz kid from UCLA.
Already verging on household-name status thanks to a brilliant summer, Cantlay added another notch to his belt in the first round of the Frys.com Open. Paired with Tiger Woods, Cantlay breezed to a 2-under 69 while Tiger struggled to shoot 73 in his first competitive round since August.
It was nothing new for Cantlay, the NCAA player of the year as a freshman, low amateur at the U.S. Open, and owner of the PGA Tour record for lowest round by an amateur (60, at the Travelers Championship).
Cantlay will return to UCLA for at least one more season at the collegiate level. Hopefully, he’ll soon challenge Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Ryo Ishikawa et al for world supremacy.
Worst shot in golf? The shank tops them all
Golf Digest recently asked readers to name their most frustrating shots. Not surprisingly, the shank was the “winner,” beating out the humiliating whiff, soul-crushing yip and humbling top.
We didn’t vote, but agree that the shank is the worst of the worst. Unlike a whiff or a top, the hosel rocket often ends up unplayable. And while the yips are equally hard to shake, there’s an easy way around them: just pick it up and call it good.
If your partners/competitors complain, ask them if they really want to watch you miss another 2-footer. The yips are contagious little buggers.
Who’s making news in golf this week?
Who else? As we write this, the top eight headlines on golfchannel.com involve Tiger Woods.
Rocco Mediate and Tiger Woods
Among other topics, there’s his new endorsement deal with Rolex, his pending appearance at the Frys.com Open, and Rocco Mediate’s recent comments on the state of Tiger’s game.
Geez, not even the president gets this much attention.
Take Tiger out of the equation and things are relatively quiet around golf. Of course, that’s like saying if you take the sauce off your spaghetti, all that’s left is pasta.
Since we love pasta – and non-Woods-related golf issues – we’ll dig right in…
Im-Mediate reaction: Sorry, we simply must take a bite of sauce before moving on… Mediate is one of our all-time favorite pros. He’d be on the short list for filling out our dream foursome. But when Rocco said Woods’ woes are strictly physical, we let out a big, “Huh?”
No doubt Tiger’s knee troubles and swing changes have something to do with his two-year winless streak. But to assert that Tiger’s psyche is the same as it was pre-scandal is crazy talk.
Our take: Tiger isn’t playing like his old self because he doesn’t feel like his old self. Where he once thrived on being the center of attention, he now feels vulnerable – exposed, even -- when all eyes are on him. No longer bullet-proof between the ears, Woods now bludgeons putts he would have gutted in his glory days.
Maybe Rocco’s right and Woods just needs to get the old swing plane straightened out. We think he needs a different kind of therapy.
Another golf trend we like: Following up on last week’s post, it’s great to see the fun, creative things being done with short courses these days. Next year Bandon Dunes Resort will open a par-3 course called Bandon Preserve, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. It should jump immediately to the top of best-of lists everywhere.
The Golf Purist has more details and a sneak preview of the scorecard.
The Prairie Club, Horse Course
At the Prairie Club in Nebraska, the Horse Course is a 10-holer inspired by the basketball game of horse. There are no tee boxes, so the player with honors chooses where the next hole is played from.
How cool is that?
Independent Golf Reviews has photos and a rave review of the Horse Course, at the bottom of a full write-up on the up-and-coming resort.
Other stuff we’re chewing on…
Luke Donald finally three-putts: The world’s No. 1 player went 449 holes without three-jacking before his streak ended last week during the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Imagine how good he’d be with a belly putter.
The new Brangelina: The golf world’s collective gag reflex got a workout with the news that Rory McIlroy had given his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, a wedge inscribed with the couple’s pet name: WOZZILROY. Guess LET’SMAKEEVERYONEPUKE wouldn’t fit on the club.
Technically, that’s the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Cool host. Wonderful cause. The title? Not what you'd call headline-friendly.
Good thing the winner’s name is. That would be Kevin Na, who earned his first tour victory to the delight of punsters everywhere. Well, you’d have thought so, anyway. We were pretty disappointed at the ho-hum headlines posted after Na’s win, so here’s our contribution:
Na, Na, Na, Na… Goodbye to Tour Veteran’s Long Winless Streak
Sorry, that’s the best we could do on deadline.
Luckily, Na himself showed a lot more moxie under the gun. With Nick Watney breathing down his neck on Sunday, Na birdied 15, 16 and 17 at TPC Summerlin to pull away and win by two.
Think his nerves were wracked with that precious first win within grasp?
On to this week’s cap-tips and eye-rolls, otherwise known as…
Kenny Perry: A quick detour to the Champions side, where Perry won the SAS Championship carrying the heaviest of hearts after the passing of his sister, Kay, Saturday night. Her death came two years to the day after Perry’s mother was taken by the same disease, breast cancer, and Perry nearly withdrew. Instead, he heeded the advice of his father, who told Perry to “go out there and represent Kay today.”
Perry did his sister proud, claiming a one-shot victory thanks to a clutch eagle on 17. “I felt like I had some help there,” an emotional Perry said afterward. “Excited to win, but I’d rather have my sister back.”
Kevin Na: The 28-year-old ensured that the 16 he recorded at April’s Valero Texas Open won’t be his claim to fame for 2011. A notorious slowpoke on the greens, Na made every second count Sunday, especially on 17. When his 42-foot birdie putt toppled into the hole, it effectively ended Na’s eight-year, 211-event Tour winless streak.
Here’s hoping he keeps it up; we want a few more cracks at that headline.
David Duval: The enigmatic one made a rare appearance on the leaderboard, finishing T23 despite taking double-bogey on the 72nd hole. Duval has made just nine cuts in 21 events this season, but we’re still rooting for a return to form. Hey, anyone with the guts to come out to his fellow Tour players – as a Democrat, that is – shows the kind of courage that’s all too rare these days.
Tim Herron: We love “Lumpy” as much as the next golfer/couch potato, so it was painful to watch his chances of winning the Shriners drown on No. 16. The double-bogey cost him a shot at winning for the first time since 2006, but he still holds a place in our cholesterol-clogged hearts.