Sunday could be a huge day for Charlotte's Johnson Wagner.
Wagner takes a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico, the other PGA Tour event being played this week. It doesn't have the stars like all those who have gradually been culled from the field at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship but it still has plenty of players and would be a terrific victory for Wagner.
Even if Wagner doesn't win, a good finish can go a long way toward easing his mind. He started this season without a full exemption on tour and needs to make the most of the starts he gets, particularly early when it's tough to get in smaller fields. He's doing that in Mexico.
Talking with Wagner before he left Charlotte for the Mayakoba, he sounded like a guy who really believed he was close to a week like he's having. He's been disappointed by his relative lack of success since winning the Shell Houston Open two years ago but he finished strong last year, even if he missed keeping his card by one stroke.
He said he was nervous Saturday early in the third round and he's sure to feel even more nerves in the final round. When he beat Paul Casey to win at Houston, his only PGA Tour win, Wagner said he was almost shaking on the final green. That's understandable.
But he knows now that he can do it which should surely help today. Wagner has a ton of talent and is one of the really good guys on tour or anywhere else. A win can redirect his career and a good finish will take some pressure off.
Wagner is having to do it the hard way this year, not being fully exempt. But a good day Sunday could make things a whole lot easier.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Sunday could be a huge day for Charlotte's Johnson Wagner.
Friday, February 25, 2011
Okay, so I only picked three of eight winners in Friday's matches at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
One of the good things about match play is yesterday doesn't matter. You start fresh every day.
That said, I'll take another stab at guesswork for the quarterfinals. Here goes nothing:
-- Luke Donald vs. Ryan Moore: There's a stylish element to this match which pairs two players who don't rely on power but on managing their games. That's what you say about guys who don't routinely bomb it 310 off the tee.
I love Moore's unique style but I more love Donald's match play success in recent years. Pick: Donald.
-- Miguel Angel Jiminez vs. Martin Kaymer: The Mechanic keeps hanging around, winning matches then enjoying his cigars and wine. There's something to be said for that.
Then there's Kaymer, who can take over the No. 1 world ranking if he reaches the finals. It could happen. Pick: Kaymer.
-- Matt Kuchar vs. Y.E. Yang: Kuchar continues to solidify his place as one of the best American golfers and this week adds to it. Yang, meanwhile, has been quiet since taking down Tiger Woods in the PGA but he's back. Pick: Kuchar
-- J.B. Holmes vs. Bubba Watson: Gentlemen, start the jaw dropping.
This is golf's version of a muscle-car competition. I see your 322-yard drive and raise you 10. Holmes wasn't in this tournament until Tim Clark withdrew and now he could win. Watson hasn't trailed in any match so far and he's been playing beautifully this year. Should be fun to watch: Pick: Watson
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Observations from a second day at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship:
-- Who's wipe-out was worse, Rory McIlroy's 8 & 7 loss to Ben Crane or Phil Mickelson's 6 & 5 loss to Rickie Fowler?
Does it matter?
McIlroy walked into a buzz saw against Crane, who was 7-under par par for the 11 holes they played if you count one conceded birdie. That's going to beat anyone especially when the other guy -- McIlroy in this case -- isn't sharp.
Crane is famously, uh, deliberate over his shots but the good news is he didn't have to hit many shots against McIlroy. Crane is also famous for his on-line videos, which prove pro golfers can have a sense of humor.
Asked if he's underrated in match play, Crane deadpanned that he's never made it past the round of 16 so it would be hard to say he's underrated.
"I don't think anyone is going, 'Wow, Ben Crane is really coming through this bracket...look out. Gosh, sorry you've got to play Ben Crane..boy, tough draw there.'"
Who knows, maybe that's what Miguel Angel Jimenez is saying right now.
Fowler's win over Mickelson was another case of a player getting hot at the right time. Fowler had six threes on his card and he only played 12 holes. Not hard to do the math there.
"If you ham and egg it the right way, you make birdies on the right holes and make pars on the others, a match can go that way. It's the beauty of the beast," Fowler said.
But Mickelson didn't look sharp. He keeps talking about how close his game is to being very good but after a second-place finish to start the year, Mickelson hasn't been a factor on Sunday.
He won't be this Sunday, either.
-- It was a tough way to go for Charlotte's Robert Karlsson. He was 1-up on Hunter Mahan with six holes remaining but lost the last three holes, three-putting twice, to be eliminated.
-- Remember the name Matteo Manassero, if you don't already know it.
He's young enough (17) to make Fowler feel old but his game is grown up. He's not super-long -- a rarity among young players -- but he's solid and already seems comfortable on the big stage.
Manassero faces Luke Donald, an excellent match-play golfer, in the third round today. That's a tough ask for Manassero but don't be surprised if he pulls it off.
-- Now that they're down to eight matches, here's a look at each one:
- Y.E. Yang vs. Graeme McDowell: Two recent major championship winners square off. Yang has stayed under the radar and McDowell admits his game isn't where he wants it to be but he's played better than he's practiced. Pick: McDowell.
- Fowler vs. Matt Kuchar: This may be the week when Fowler breaks through. He loves match play and it shows: Pick: Fowler
- Luke Donald vs. Matteo Manassero: A classic youth against experience pairing. Manassero is playing well but Donald thrives in his format. Pick: Donald.
- Ryan Moore vs. Nick. Watney: This was supposed to be Lee Westwood's bracket but it hasn't turned out that way. Watney has been working with Butch Harmon on the range after his rounds this week and it's apparently paying off. Pick: Watney
- J.B. Holmes vs. Jason Day: Holmes wasn't supposed to be here but got a last-minute call to fill in for Tim Clark and now he's beaten Camilo Villegas and Ernie Els. If he can do that...Pick: Holmes
- Bubba Watson vs. Geoff Ogilvy: This is an odd pairing but then most of them are where Watson is involved, given his incredible power. Ogilvy's track record in this event suggests he can get it done. Pick: Ogilvy
- Miguel Angel Jimenez vs. Ben Crane: After playing 11 holes 7-under par against McIlroy, did Crane spend all this birdies on Thursday? He's an underrated player who may change that view this weekend. Pick: Crane
- Mahan vs. Martin Kaymer: This could be one of the best matches of the day. Neither makes many mistakes. But there's a reason Kaymer is ranked No. 2 in the world. Pick: Kaymer.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Observations from the first day of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, a little bonus day built into my assignment covering the NASCAR race in Phoenix this weekend:
-- No sooner had Tiger Woods given us an old Tiger moment -- making an eight-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to extend his first-round match against Thomas Bjorn -- than he gave us another moment, this time with the new Tiger.
After seeing him do a baby fist pump after holing his birdie putt to stay alive at 18, it was shocking to see him blow a tee shot into the desert along the right side of the first hole. The reason he was in trouble against Bjorn was primarily due to his short game, which cost him a couple of holes, and then his driver deserted him again.
If he's truly on the way back, Woods needs to produce a tournament that makes it easier to believe. It's one thing to hope. It's something else to believe it. I'm not sure how much he believes in his game right now. He needs some positive feedback and he's not getting it right now, not in tournaments.
-- It's the nature of a match-play bracket that the field gets whittled away in a hurry, still it's odd to see Woods, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Ian Poulter and Dustin Johnson, among others, dispatched immediately.
And what's up with Furyk's suddenly shaky game?
-- Rory McIlroy wasn't trying to rip anybody but he got a dig in, anyway, when he was asked Wednesday about how comfortable the young players seem to be facing Woods and Phil Mickelson, among others.
McIlroy said, "Phil hasn't gotten any worse (but) Tiger's not as dominant as he used to be and Phil won the Masters last year."
It drew chuckles in the media room and a sheepish shrug from McIlroy but he's not wrong.
-- I'm interested to see what happens in the Mickelson-Rickie Fowler second-round match. Fowler is one of those young players who plays with an older head on his shoulders. This could be a big moment for him.
-- The golf course at Dove Mountain is striking to look at, framed as it is by mountains and cactus but it's the epitome of target golf. Miss a fairway or many of the greens and your ball will wind up in the desert. Just ask Tiger.
It's so different from what we see and play in the Carolinas. It can't help but have an artificial look about it because there's no grass in the desert except the fairways.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Finally, a week where all the top players in professional golf are together.
It's only taken until the end of February so let's see...the PGA Championship was in August, which means it's been....too many months.
I'm a big fan of match play golf. There's a different kind of drama to it and it forces players to play differently. They can't play just to make the weekend. They have to make something happen.
The bracket for this week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is drawn up like the NCAA tournament bracket with Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods as the top seeds. The fun is in the match-ups, both starting out and what may happen down the line.
In Woods' bracket, there are first-round matches pitting Bubba Watson against Bill Haas and Mark Wilson against Dustin Johnson. There's also Geoff Ogivly against Padraig Harrington.
So, if Woods can beat Thomas Bjorn in his first match, he'll have to play his way through two of the aforementioned six players just to reach the finals where he could face Paul Casey, who seems to make an annual appearance in the finals at Dove Mountain.
How about the first-round match between Twitter stars Stewart Cink and defending champion Ian Poulter? Should the tour suspend its rules and allow them to tweet during play?
Potential second-round match-ups: Mickelson against Rickie Fowler and Westwood against Anthony Kim.
Who do I have in my final four?
I'm taking Westwood, Bubba, Kaymer and Fowler.
Given my record in picking winners, they may be gone by lunchtime Wednesday.
Monday, February 21, 2011
The Wells Fargo Championship is still 10 weeks away but it has already secured a commitment from Martin Kaymer, current ranked No. 2 in the world rankings.
Kaymer has accepted a sponsor exemption into the field because he is not a full-time member of the PGA tour. Kaymer won the 2010 PGA Championship and surged up the world rankings with three late victories last year.
In addition to Kaymer, the tournament also has commitments from defending champion Rory McIlroy, former champion Jim Furyk, Hunter Mahan and Bubba Watson, all ranked among the top 20 in the world.
The Wells Fargo Championship will be played May 2-8 at the Quail Hollow Club. For ticket information, visit http://www.wellsfargochampionship.com/
For Corey Nagy, the former Charlotte 49ers All-American, 2011 could hardly have begun better.
Nagy won his first pro event Saturday, beating two-time Walker Cup player Brian Harman in a a sudden-death playoff to win the Smithwick Shootout in the eGolf Professional Tour season-opener at Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Financially, it was worth more than $31,000 to Nagy but its true value may be in how it reinforced his self-confidence. Disappointed after not advancing through the second round of PGA Tour qualifying school last fall, Nagy adjusted his focus, starting with a busy eGolf tour schedule that will lead into a series of Monday qualifiers on the Nationwide Tour later this spring.
In winning at Hilton Head, Nagy played through a hand injury he suffered during the third round and left him uncertain if he could play the final round despite holding the lead. Nagy said he jammed a wedge into the turf on Friday and felt pain in his right hand.
The pain persisted and it led to cautious swings early in the final round.
"On the fifth hole in the final round, I told myself that pain is only for the moment. What happens in this tournament will last forever," Nagy said.
He decided to live with the pain and make his normal, aggressive swing.
"The win means even more because I wasn't 100 percent and I figured out a way to get it done," Nagy said. "I thought about Tiger winning the U.S. Open on a broken leg. I figured if he could win the Open with something like that, I could win here."
The victory convinced Nagy to make the two-week trip to Morocco next month to play a pair of eGolf events there, getting a taste of international travel and competition in the process. When the Nationwide Tour swings closer to Charlotte in late March, Nagy will start trying to Monday qualify with the goal of earning status on the tour.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Robert Karlsson, who moved from Monaco to Charlotte last year, begins his first full season on the PGA Tour this week at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles.
Before teeing it up, the world's 16th-ranked golfer answered five questions, most unrelated to golf.
You've played 68 PGA Tour events in your career but this year you're officially a rookie by virtue of your full-time membership. What are you expectations for this season?
RK: It’s one of my big things not to build up big expectations. I take every tournament as a separate event and see where we end up. If I build up too much, I get out of focus. I will enjoy every shot if I can. That’s my expectation.
You were born in Sweden and still visit. What do you miss most about your homeland?
RK: Not much actually. I’ve been away for such a long time. I come and go. I see myself as a world citizen. For 20 years I’ve been trvaeling around the world.
You moved to Charlotte from Monaco. What's the biggest difference in the two places?
RK: The attitude of the people. Monaco is a very small and very rich community. It’s a little bit of an enclosed island within a big country. It’s driven by money and flair. Charlotte is a place where people come and live and have their normal life and work. Monaco is not a place where people work,.
Have you learned your way around Charlotte? Can you get to Southpark?
RK: I don’t need directions (to Southpark). I can do that. I can get to the (uptown) arena. I’m pretty decent. If I get lost, I have my bearings. I’m trying to drive without much help from naviagtation system.
On your website (www.robertkarlsson.com) there's a photo of you holding an accordion. Do you play?
RK: I can’t play. It’s a picture we use for my biggest challenges in life. It was a fun illustration.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Spectators will be allowed to bring their cell phones to PGA Tour events, including the Wells Fargo Championship, starting at the Honda Classic later this month.
The PGA Tour announced the new guidelines today after testing the policy at five events. There will still be restrictions-- the phones must be kept on silent; there will be designated talking areas; and the mobile devices can't be used for taking photos or video during tournament play -- but the change will be welcome news to most golf fans.
It's a logical move by the tour. There's no doubt some fans have been reluctant to attend tournaments because they would not be allowed to have their cell phones with them.
"Mobile devices are such a part of people's lives today and the tour understands that people don't want to be away from them for a long period of time," said Kym Hougham, executive director of the Wells Fargo Championship.
"In fact, the mobile devices can help people at the course follow what's happening at the tournament and I'd expect to see the tour come up with an app that will fit every tournament."
It's not as if fans hadn't been sneaking phones into tournaments before. Rather than work to keep phones off the course, tour and tournament officials will work to educate fans on when and how to use them on the course.
"We'll still confiscate phones if they're taking pictures or video with them from Thursday through Sunday," Hougham said. "But it's a nice move by the tour."
The new guidelines do not apply to the four major championships including the Masters. Those tournaments will set their own policies about cell phones.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
I'm sitting here looking at a photo of Tiger Woods' new digs in Florida, a reported $80-million compound that includes a four-hole practice facility, three pools, a track, a tennis court and a 5,700-square foot workout facility, not to mention beach access and room to park his yacht.
And a few minutes ago I was watching Tiger Woods finishing 20th in Dubai, shooting 75 on Sunday, closing with a double bogey and catching some justifiable flak for spitting on the 12th green. Not the kind of Tiger Sunday we used to know.
The game that helped build the house has gone missing. So has the confidence. And, so has the certainty that he will eventually break Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major championship victories.
Woods used to make it look easy. Even when he was grinding, there was an elegance about it. And now golf has become work for Woods. He's always worked at it, maybe harder than anyone and that it was part of the secret of his success. But his work was producing symphonies, not radio jingles.
Woods is working at it again, trying to recreate his old magic with a new technique and it's a slow process with no promises.
Because of what he's done on the golf course, Woods has created the impossible expectations that come every time he steps to the first tee and we went along for the ride. Now it's bumpy. Now every round is like a check of the thermometer when the patient is sick.
Is he getting better? Is he getting worse? What's the prognosis?
There's every reason to believe he's going to be fine but in two starts this year -- the fresh start season -- Tiger has been ordinary. He continues to talk a good game, saying he's making progress, sounding like a man reinforcing his own convictions. That's part of what he needs to do, committing to his third major swing change.
It's strange watching Woods play golf like this. It feels awkward.
Is it possible Woods never gets it back? Yes.
Is that likely? No.
He has more major championships in him, a few more I think. He's struggled through swing changes before but this time it feels different because it is different. There's more involved than swing planes.
Tiger's next start is expected to be the World Golf Championship Accenture Match Play Championship in another week. Wonder what happens there?
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
Tuesday, February 08, 2011
If you've heard about the restoration project currently underway at Pinehurst No. 2 but haven't entirely gotten your head around what's going on and why, there's a new dedicated website -- PinehurstNumber2.com -- that allows you to see what's happening and hear from Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, the men handling the project.
The site offers fascinating flyovers of different holes, showing how they looked before the project began and showcasing the differences now that the rough has been removed and sandy waste areas have returned alongside fairways. Coore and Crenshaw provide voiceovers explaining the thought process behind the project, offering context to what is an historic restoration.
The site will be updated as various elements of the project are completed.
No. 2 is closed until March 4 while work near the greens is completed but much of the work has been done. It will take some time for new natural areas to be weathered in but the overall impact of the course changes will be spectacular. Seeing the before and after images brings into focus how much No. 2 had gotten away from what it originally was and highlights the artistry of Coore and Crenshaw.
When No. 2 hosts the 2014 men's and women's U.S. Opens, it will be the first Open venue without rough. The idea is to bring back what Donald Ross originally created in the scruffy sandhills, replacing acres of bermuda rough with sandy areas dotted with wire grass, pine cones and pine needles.
It's a month before No. 2 reopens but you don't have to wait to get a look at it.
Monday, February 07, 2011
Tommy 'Two Gloves' Gainey already knew how cruel golf can be.
You don't toil all those years on mini-tours, scratching out a living while driving golf's backroads without knowing that the game can have all the charm of a piranha at feeding time.
But just in case Two Gloves needed a reminder, he got it today.
Gainey was a stroke out of the lead in the final round of the Waste Management Open in Phoenix standing on the tee of the driveable par-4 17th hole at TPC Scottsdale. That's when golf gave him a pie in the face -- again.
Two Gloves took that homemade slash of his -- it looks like a man who stepped into a swarm of bees -- and watched his tee shot ricochet of a red stake beside the green and roll into the water. That part wasn't so bad. Gainey had made the gamble of trying to drive the green, knowing he needed at least one more birdie to have a chance to win.
Then it got worse. He chunked his third shot and watched it roll down the greenside bank and into the same water hazard, taking six figures with it into the little pond. Gainey, whose mind had to be filled with flying monkeys about that time, eventually made a triple-bogey seven.
The math goes like this: Two closing pars would have gotten Gainey a solo third and $414,800. Instead, he spent $250,100 with his triple bogey and, while $164,700 isn't a bad week's work, it probably didn't feel very satisfying to Gainey, who's trying to make it on the PGA Tour in his second chance.
Gainey is perfect for the tour because he's not like everyone else. He's homemade, down to earth and as colorful as a box of Crayolas. You can see him grinding, slapping shots with that snake-killing swing of his and treating every shot as if the fate of the world hangs on it.
He cares, he tries and he doesn't often find himself in the position he found himself with two holes remaining in the Waste Management Open. Maybe it will work out differently for him the next time.
I'm hoping there is a next time for him.
Wednesday, February 02, 2011
If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to play a major championship course set up just the way it is for the pros, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort is going to give you that chance.
In advance of the 2012 PGA Championship coming to the spectacular oceanside course made famous by the 1991 Ryder Cup matches, the resort will set the course up later this summer just as it will be set up for the major championship next year.
That means 7,606 yards of potentially windswept golf among the dunes alongside the Atlantic. It means firm greens, fiery fast green speeds and the same rough lines and rough lengths as Phil, Tiger and Dustin Johnson will face in 2012.
The special week will be held Aug. 1-7 this year and will be available at normal golf rates on the Ocean Course.
“It’s the dream of serious golfers everywhere, whether a scratch or a 30-+ handicap to play one of the world’s great courses in the same conditions as the professionals play it in a major championship,” said Brian Gerard, Kiawah’s director of golf. “During this special week, we’ll give our guests a chance to see how their games compare to the best players in the world."
There will be an ongoing low-net competition during the week with the winner receiving a two-night stay at the Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Players in the challenge must present proof of a certified USGA handicap and play with a Kiawah caddie.
If you think you’re up to handling the Ocean Course is PGA Championship trim, call 800-576-1570 or go to www.kiawahresort.com/packages/golf.
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
At the risk of invoking television ratings numbers, the word from CBS Sports is that Sunday ratings of the final round of the Farmers Insurance Classic/Open/Championship were up more than 50 percent from a year ago.
What makes that relevant is that Tiger Woods was in the field but not in the storyline in San Diego, unless you count his continuing inability to reemerge on the good side of his latest swing tinkering. It was, instead, a tournament about Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Jhonny Vegas and all those shots of the southern California coastline.
In other words, someone other than Tiger drew eyes to televisions. Maybe that's an overly simplistic reading on what happened but that's the way it looks.
That's a good thing. It's a reminder that golf can exist without Tiger, though it's much better when he's explaining all the birdies he made instead of the patience required in making a swing change. We're getting as tired of hearing it as he must be in waiting for it to click in so we can assess the Sean Foley era as compared to the Hank Haney and Butch Harmon eras.
In the meantime, we got to see Bubba Watson play cartoon golf. That's not a criticism but a nod to the unconventional nature of his sometimes mind-blowing game. He hits it ridiculously long and with a swing that has him leaning and tilting and hitting 300-yard cut shots off the tee. He's fun to watch in the way John Daly used to be fun to watch.
Watson doesn't fit the tour mold. He's emotional, he's bold and he's as different as the pink shaft in his driver. He makes you pay attention.
That's what Phil Mickelson does. Guys like that bring a spark with them. They make spectacular things happen, or at least make you think the spectacular might happen.
The back nine on Sunday was a reminder of how compelling a good golf tournament can be. It had big personalities, big shots and a big audience.
And it didn't have Tiger at the end.