Golf Claps & Silent Treatment: Tour Championship

September 26, 2011 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Entertaining News, Golf News, Pro Insider, Spy Blog 

Bill Haas has been pegged for golf greatness since he was a teenager. He may finally have reached star status with Sunday’s victory at the Tour Championship.

Bill Haas wins Tour Championship

Bill Haas (r) and Tim Finchem

What no one could have predicted, at least a week ago, was that Haas would emerge as the 2011 FedEx Cup winner, too. Thanks to the playoff series’ baffling points formula – and the leaders’ last-tourney stumbles – Haas’ lone victory of the year earned him the title and $10 million check.

That Haas, 29, came out ahead of Webb Simpson and Luke Donald highlights the conundrum faced by the PGA Tour in awarding points. Looking to create maximum drama at the Tour Championship, the Tour weighs the finale’s results more heavily than the other three FedEx events. That makes it more likely that Tour Championship contenders are also vying for the Cup’s riches, but increases the odds that a player without great credentials – a la Haas – will take the whole enchilada.

Our math skills aren’t up to the task of devising an alternative, so we’ll get to the business of this week’s highs and lows.

Golf Claps

Bill Haas: Though he nearly gave it all away with bogeys on two of his final four holes in regulation, Haas was gritty in his playoff with Hunter Mahan. Haas hammered home a 10-foot par putt to stay alive on the first extra hole, then played one of the year’s most memorable shots on the second.

His ball lying on the edge of a water hazard, Haas splashed out a delicate explosion shot that settled with 3 feet of the cup. After matching Mahan’s par there, Haas drained a 6-footer on the third playoff hole to claim his signature victory. So far.

The belly putter: Those murmurs you hear are actually grumbles, and they’re coming from golf traditionalists decrying yet another Tour win for a non-conventional putter. Haas, who anchors a mid-length wand to his belly, joined Simpson, PGA champion Keegan Bradley and WGC-Bridgestone winner Adam Scott among late-season victors using extra-long flat sticks.

Silent Treatment

FedEx Cup contenders: Of the top five in the points standings heading into the Tour Championship, only Luke Donald contended on Sunday. His third-place finish was easily the best of the group as Justin Rose (T20), Matt Kuchar (T20), Simpson (22) and Dustin Johnson (T23) barely caused a ripple.

If not for Haas’ heroics, this could have been one dud of a climax.

Golf Claps & Silent Treatment: BMW Championship

Justin Rose was the ultimate driving machine in winning the BMW Championship. Well, at least for one round.

Justin Rose wins BMW Championship

Justin Rose

The Englishman hauled off the hardware on the strength of a first-round 63 in which he hit every fairway while averaging 304 yards per poke. Rose’s driving stats slipped, but his willpower never wavered; he won by two with a gutsy Sunday finish.

Rose and 29 of his PGA Tour brethren now pack their bags for Atlanta and the Tour Championship, where the 2011 FedEx Cup will be decided. Those in position to cash the $10 million winner’s check include Rose, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar.

On with this week’s cheers and jeers…

Golf Claps

Justin Rose: Ah, the sweet smell of success. It has come all too infrequently for Rose, a wondrous talent who won for just the third time in his Tour career with a 13-under total at Chicago’s Cog Hill Golf Club. Clearly the class of a 70-man field, Rose stumbled down the stretch before a chip-in birdie on the 71st hole provided a two-shot cushion.

Rose’s rock-solid par on the tough 18th may be a sign of newfound toughness. For now, the finish puts to rest doubts about Rose’s ability to close out a big tourney.

The Aussies: John Senden and Geoff Ogilvy needed stellar performances just to make the Tour Championship. The Australian pair delivered, placing second and third, respectively, to punch their tickets to Hot-lanta.

Good on ya, mates.

Lexi Thompson: We’d be remiss without a detour to the women’s side, where a girl made history over the weekend. Lexi Thompson, age 16, didn’t just win the Navistar LPGA Classic. She shredded the field by five shots, showing monster talent and a killer instinct that marks her as the golfer Michelle was supposed to be by now.

Of course, Thompson has to become a full-fledged LPGA Tour member before she can set about dominating the game. Golf blogger Stephanie Wei has the details.

Silent Treatment

Dustin Johnson: The defending BMW champ was riding high entering this year’s event, but went off track in a T65 performance. Still Johnson maintained his second-place standing in the FedEx Cup race and stands a good chance of winning it all – provided he can turn things around in a hurry after leading the BMW field in bogeys (23).

Rees Jones: Phil Mickelson’s not the only one who wants to sue the “Open Doctor” for malpractice. Jones’ remodeling of Cog Hill’s revered No. 4 course was panned by the mild-mannered likes of Steve Stricker, who said the owners “need to get their money back” from the veteran architect.

While fans often dismiss players’ course criticisms as mere whining, that’s not the case here. Mickelson, Stricker and others routinely deride Jones’ work for its one-dimensionality, saying his style – marked by over-abundant bunkering and multi-fingered greens -- sucks all strategy from the game.

The operative word being “sucks.”

Spy on Golf: Tracking the Cup and Course Rankings

In all honesty, football has captured a sizeable chunk of our meager attention span. We’re still focused intently on golf, though, as the PGA Tour season slips away faster than Tiger Woods’ world ranking points.

A few topics we’ve been pondering of late:

  • Will the FedEx Cup deliver a worthy champion?
  • What’s the best golf city in America?
  • Which college golf courses pass Golfweek’s ratings test?

Luckily, we’ve already got the answers. Read on to find out for yourself:

FedEx Cup logoTwo down, two to go: Who’s the FedEx favorite? Is it current points leader Webb “Don’t Call Me Homer” Simpson? Uber-bomber Dustin Johnson? Steady-as-she-goes Luke Donald or Matt Kuchar?

They’re all in the mix, along with Brandt Snedeker, Jason Day, Nick Watney, even Phil Mickelson and his belly putter. While Tiger Woods is sorely missed, his absence has created quite a scrum for the title. And say this for the much-maligned Cup: It’s brought the cream to the top.

The race to the finish starts Thursday at Cog Hill GC outside Chicago, where 70 players will compete to advance to the final 30 and the Tour Championship. Based on the list of contenders, the Cup should indeed produce a champ to be proud of.

Dallas-Ft. Worth tops Golf Digest rankings: Great, just what DFW needed – another reason to puff out its chest.

Golf Digest recently surveyed America’s metro areas and determined that Dallas-Ft. Worth beats all comers for outstanding public golf. Criteria included climate as well as the cost and quality of public golf, and while DFW didn’t rank higher than seventh in any category, it scored well in all of them.

More surprising were some of the cities ranked right behind the Big D. For example, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati held down spot Nos. 2 and 3, and Tampa (T4 with Los Angeles) bested golf hotbed Orlando, which tied with Seattle – yes, Seattle -- for No. 6.

Having lived in Seattle pre-Chambers Bay, we can vouch for its public-golf bona fides. What we can’t understand, though, is the Emerald City’s ranking of No. 6 for climate. Was the survey conducted by rain frogs?

These college courses have class: While we’re on the subject of course rankings, Golfweek just published its list of the country’s top 30 college tracks. And the winner is… the Course at Yale, designed by the iconic pair of Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor.

The rundown features a nice blend of old and new. Behind Yale (circa 1926) comes Taconic GC in Williamstown, Mass., a 1927 gem that serves as the home course of Williams College. A pair of underclassmen follow: The Rawls Course at Texas Tech (2003) and Palouse Ridge GC (2008), headquarters for the Washington State golf teams.

Like any reputable course ranking, Golfweek’s is a who’s-who of architects. Alister MacKenzie, Donald Ross, William S. Flynn, Robert Trent Jones Sr., Pete Dye, Tom Fazio Tom Doak and Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw are among the honorees.

Spy on Golf: Tales of Redemption

September 8, 2011 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Entertaining News, Pro Insider, Spy Blog 

With the FedEx Cup playoffs on hiatus this week, we considered taking a breather, too. Hey, if there’s one thing more taxing than playing golf for a living, it’s writing about it.

Amateur David Law won the Northern Open

David Law

Yeah, not really. Besides, there’s still plenty of golf goings-on to discuss, such as:

Scottish amateur lays down the Law

How’s this for an in-your-face response: Snubbed for a spot on the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team, David Law went out and won last week’s Northern Open. A professional tournament.

Law, who must watch GB&I take on the United States from the sidelines of the very links where he won the 2009 Scottish boys championship, posted a four-round total of -14 to become the first amateur to win the event in 40 years.

For good measure, he took the high road afterward. “The timing of this is more important to other people,” he said, “than it is to me.”

Law is actually the first alternate for GB&I should one of its 10 players become incapacitated. Could make for a real Hollywood ending.

New Bjorn identity

From 1996-2006, Thomas Bjorn was a mainstay on the European golf scene. The burly Dane earned a pair of Ryder Cup berths, regularly contended in major championships, and never finished worse than 21st on the European Tour money list.

Over the next three years, Bjorn’s scores soared and his world ranking plummeted – all the way to 250th by the end of 2009. His swing and passion seemed to vanish overnight.

Bjorn began showing signs of renewal in 2010, when he won the Portuguese Open, then returned to genuine prominence by claiming the Qatar Masters in June of this year. His back-to-back victories at the Johnnie Walker Championship and Omega European Masters completed Bjorn’s rousing comeback story at age 40.

Yet more proof that golf is, despite appearances to the contrary, a forgiving game.

A couple more takes on golf’s hot topics:

  • Mickelson adds sports psychologist to team: Julie Elion joins Phil’s phalanx of on-call gurus, featuring Dave Pelz (short game), Dave Stockton (putting), Butch Harmon (full swing) and Sean Cochran (fitness). Next thing you know, Mickelson’s hair stylist will be joining him at Tour stops.
  • Faldo says Tiger won’t catch Nicklaus: Sir Nick claims Tiger is too distracted to win four more majors. And we thought his shredded knee, shattered ego, dozens of young challengers and re-re-reconstructed swing were the big obstacles.

Golf Claps & Silent Treatment: Deutsche Bank

September 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Entertaining News, Golf News, Pro Insider, Spy Blog 

Who’s the fresh-faced fellow winning another golf tournament every time you turn around?

Webb Simpson wins Deutsche Bank Championship

Webb Simpson

That’s Webb Simpson, an emerging young talent on the PGA Tour. (Not a drone from sector 7G.)

Simpson, eh?

Yep, Webb Simpson claimed his second victory in three weeks by outlasting a stellar cast at the Deutsche Bank Championship. The guy’s developing an appetite for trophies to rival Homer Simpson’s (no relation) taste for donuts.

Simpson’s recurring theme is one of several that keep popping up week after week. (See: Els, Ernie; putter, long.) Herewith, our Golf Clap winners and Silent Treatment losers from the Deutsche Bank:

Golf Claps

  • Webb Simpson: More like thunderous applause for the genteel North Carolinian. With a final-round 65, Simpson zipped past the likes of Luke Donald, Jason Day and Adam Scott, then took out Chez Reavie in a playoff at TPC Boston. Simpson is now the unlikely leader of the FedEx Cup race heading into the final two events.

As for the gratuitous Simpsons reference each time Webb wins… Get used to it. It’s all the excuse we need to flog our all-time favorite show.

  • Ernie Els: Once again, the Big Easy was staring at FedEx Cup elimination. Once again, he survived to play another week, his 72nd-hole birdie securing spot No. 68 in the 70-man BMW Championship two weeks hence. If he keeps living on the edge, Els’ nickname may get revoked.
  • The long putter: Simpson’s wand of choice added another feather to its cap; four of the past five Tour winners have wielded extra-long putters. This week, ever-experimenting Phil Mickleson joined the belly brigade en route to a 10th-place tie – and proving that you really never know what Phil will do next.
  • Thomas Bjorn: A shout-out across the pond to the 40-year-old Dane, who won for the second week in a row on the European Tour. Considering he’d all but disappeared a few years back, you might say Thomas has been Bjorn again.

Silent treatment

  • Bubba Watson: The big lefty spit the bit on Monday, stumbling to a 74 after leading through three rounds. A two-time winner in 2011, Watson made seven bogeys before redeeming himself with an eagle on the last. He wasn’t alone among faltering leaders. Scott started hot, then staggered home with a par-free 37 on the final nine.
  • Nick Watney: No one sank further than Watney, whose 11 on the par-5 second hole was the centerpiece of a closing 80 – and a 49-spot tumble down the board. That’s gotta hoit.

Golf Claps & Silent Treatment: The Barclays

August 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Entertaining News, Golf News, Pro Insider, Spy Blog 

That gust you heard wasn’t Hurricane Irene, but a sigh of relief coming from the PGA Tour officials who decided Saturday was a suitable day to conclude The Barclays.

HurricaneYes, with all of New Jersey under a state of emergency and nearby New York shutting down its mass transit system in advance of the cyclone, the show went on at Plainfield CC in Edison, N.J. Fortunately, they managed to finish the FedEx Cup’s first 2011 event early Saturday afternoon and get everyone off the course safe and sound.

Dustin Johnson weathered the storm better than anyone. The lanky, athletic wonder swamped 36-hole leader Matt Kuchar with a final-round 65, vaulting into the top spot in the Cup standings with three tourneys to go.

The next sound you hear will be our polite acknowledgement of the weekend’s winners.

Golf Claps

  • Dustin Johnson: Hurricane, schmurricane. Johnson rained on Kuchar’s parade with a front-nine 29 (6-under), then cruised home with nine straight pars as Kuchar crumbled. The win was Johnson’s first this season and fifth of his career. It put him not only in command of the FedEx Cup race, but in contention for the subjective title of Best American Golfer.
  • Vijay Singh: Thought ol’ Veej was done for, didn’t you? Hardly. By tying for third, Singh jumped from 36th to eighth in the Cup standings, giving him a chance to take the whole shooting match for the second time. While he hasn’t won in three years, Singh, now 48, is feeling fine thanks to a recent injection in his ailing back. Watch out for him at this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship, which he won in 2008.
  • Ian Poulter (pictured): Staring at FedEx Cup elimination, the colorful Englishmen needed a furious finish toIan Poulter keep his season alive. Four birdies in the last five holes and a closing 64 did the trick, pushing Poulter from 114th all the way to 78th.
  • Ernie Els: Likewise, Els fired a final-round 67 to sneak into the top Cup’s 100 – 99th to be exact – and qualify for the Deutsche Bank. Things don’t come as easy for big Ernie as they once did, but at least he’s showing signs of life.

Silent Treatment

  • Tour planners: OK, so all’s well that ends well. But it seemed odd, almost arrogant, to be playing a golf tournament amidst the chaos Irene brought to the Northeast. While families sought shelter and supplies in preparation for the worst – which thankfully didn’t materialize – pro golfers whistled while they, um, worked. Weird.
  • The eight who dropped out: Say goodbye to Bryce Molder, Hunter Haas, Chris DiMarco, Paul Goydos, Nick O’Hern, Matt Bettencourt, Tim Herron and Michael Bradley. They slipped from the top 100 in the Cup standings and failed to qualify for the remaining events. But hey, that means plenty of free time to watch football!

Spy on Golf: FedEx Cup Keeps It Short, USGA Goes Long

What’s the golf world talking about this week?

Aside from Tiger Woods, that is?

FedEx Cup logoFor starters, the PGA Tour’s oft-maligned but fairly entertaining FedEx Cup gets underway Thursday with The Barclays. No “Classic,” no “Championship,” just The Barclays. (Yeah, it takes some getting used to.)

Golf also holds its biggest non-professional event this week. The U.S. Amateur, boasting a roster of past winners like Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, will crown its 111th champion at Erin Hills Golf Course in the hinterlands of Wisconsin.

Here’s an oddity: The Barclays features a course measuring less than 7,000 yards, while the amateurs must tame a track tipping out at 7,700-plus. More on that in a moment.

As for Tiger, he spent last weekend working with the geek squad at EA Sports, preparing the 2013 version of his immensely popular video game. Too bad the game has a better Q Rating than Tiger himself. One survey reveals that 42 percent of the public view Woods unfavorably – not far behind America’s most disliked celeb, Paris Hilton (60 percent).

Maybe somebody should introduce those two…

FedEx Cup: Uphill climb for some players

Here’s how The Barclays shakes out:Plainfield Country Club

The top 125 players in the regular-season FedEx Cup standings comprise the field; the top 100 in the post-tourney standings survive to play next week at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston.

The Tour folks guesstimate that the current top 87 are safe regardless of how they fare this week, leaving 13 spots up for grabs. That means guys like Anthony Kim (92), Graeme McDowell (93), Retief Goosen (103) and Camilo Villegas (109) need to get hot or go home.

More interesting, to us anyway, is how the pros handle Plainfield County Club, a Donald Ross-designed classic in Edison, N.J. At just 6,964 yards, it’s a pipsqueak by today’s standards. It’s also been drenched by rain in recent weeks, meaning the course could be vulnerable to a deluge of low scores.

Erin Hills continues new direction for USGA, American golf

While the pros tackle diminutive Plainfield, the amateurs face the longest course in USGA history. At its max, Erin Hills stretches to a gulp-inducing 7,760 yards, topping by 18 yards the record set in this event last year by Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington.

Both courses were built within the last five years and will host future U.S. Opens (Chambers Bay in 2015, Erin Hills in 2017). And their length comes with a couple of caveats.

For one, ace USGA setup man Mike Davis promises significant changes in day-to-day tee placements, predicting Erin Hills actually will play between 7,200 and 7,600 yards.

Second, the course is conditioned to play firm and fast, allowing drives to run out to what figure to be ridiculous distances. That’s in keeping not only with the Chambers Bay template, but the nascent move toward firmer fairways throughout American golf.

It’s a movement we’re completely on board with for a number of reasons; we’ll discuss those in a future installment.

In the meantime, enjoy this week’s action. Oh, and if you run into Tiger, tell him you know of a girl who’s just his type.

Golf Claps & Silent Treatment: Wyndham Championship

August 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Entertaining News, Golf News, Pro Insider, Spy Blog 

“D’oh!” – Homer Simpson.

“Dough!” – Webb Simpson.Webb Simpson

That’s dough, as in a $936,000 check the latter collected for winning the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C. Cash is sure to keep rolling in for the talented 26-year-old, whose victory looks like the first of many.

Simpson – Webb, that is – had been building up to his moment all season. He carried a pair of runner-up finishes and a slew of top-25s into the event, which he calmly won with a bogey-free 67 on Sunday.

He’s now earned more than $3.6 million in this, his third full season on Tour. Something tells us he won’t be working at the nearest nuclear plant any time soon.

On to our weekly round-up of those we applaud, and those who left us appalled:

Golf Claps

  • Elongated putters: Here we go again. By using a belly putter, Simpson became the third consecutive winner relying on a flat-stick that doesn’t fit traditional dimensions. Long putters were once considered a last resort for aging pros with shaky hands and achy backs; not anymore. Simpson (26), PGA champ Keegan Bradley (25) and WGC-Bridgestone winner Adam Scott (31) are a long way from the Champions Tour.
  • Carolina golfers: Simpson was raised in Raleigh and played college golf at Wake Forest. Third-place finisher Tommy Gainey hails from the “other” Carolina – Bishopville, S.C., to be exact. Carl Petterson, a Swede who played at North Carolina State, tied for fourth while Tar Heel State standard bearer Davis Love III posted a solid T12. Nothing like a little home cooking.
  • Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and William McGirt: Your final qualifiers for the FedEx Cup are a pair of three-time major champs and… Some other guy. McGirt is a Tour rookie with just one top-20 all year, but he slipped into the 125th and final spot with a T52 showing in Greensboro. By the way, McGirt is from Fairmont, N.C.

Silent Treatment

  • Ernie Els: Yep, the Big Easy lands on both lists this week. The silence is for Els’ final-round 72, a 2-over dud that dropped him from contention to a tie for 30th. Gotta say, we miss watching that Sinatra-smooth swing when things get tight on the weekend. Here’s hoping Ernie regains his form soon.
  • Justin Leonard: The longtime stalwart played his way out of the FedEx Cup with a bogey on the 72nd hole. Good for McGirt, bad for Leonard, a 12-time winner who missed the playoff series for the first time since its 2007 inception.
  • The two-gloves look: Sorry, Tommy Gainey, but the only thing worse than watching a pro wield a long putter is watching one wear a pair of gloves. Looks like you’re about to grab a hot pan from the oven.

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