Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Canadian Open Preview

Could anything really sound more boring than "The Canadian Open Preview"? If that was a TV show, you'd slot it somewhere between "The Olympic Synchronized Swimming Trials" and "The 2013 Penn St. Football Highlight Show" (ouch . . . too soon?).* Let's spend a few paragraphs looking back at the British Open before we turn our attention to the proud national championship of a country with two less major titles to its credit than either Fiji or Zimbabwe.

The British Open Update

(In Peter Alliss' voice) "Someone
come and stop him . . . give him a
large Brandy and mop him down." 
Choking comes in at least four different forms and golf provides the perfect bulletin board on which to display all of them:** (1) The most simple form is missing a two-foot putt to win like Scott Hoch did on the first playoff hole that would have won him the 1989 Masters (he would lose to Nick Faldo on the next hole); (2) Then you have the slightly more painful final hole catastrophe aided by a horrendous strategic decision made famous by Jean Van De Velde at the 1999 British Open (this is worth re-watching for the Peter Alliss commentary alone - 1999 British Open) and Phil Mickelson at the 2006 U.S. Open; (3) Add a few more holes to the equation and you have the multi-stroke lead frittering meltdown like Jason Dufner at last year's PGA Championship when he had a 5 stroke lead standing on the 15th tee and lost; (4) And finally you have the four plus hour tragedy of the big lead going into Sunday where shooting par virtually assures you of victory but instead you shoot your highest score of the tournament by at least 7 strokes a la Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters. I am not absolutely sure about this but I think Adam Scott just became the first player in the history of golf to do all four in the same tournament. Let's start with No. 4 and work backwards:

(4) Scott started Sunday with a 6 stroke lead over Ernie Els coming off three rounds where he shot 64-67-68. On Sunday, he shot 75 with 7 bogeys. Sixteen years ago Scott's mentor, Greg Norman, came into Sunday at Augusta on the heels of shooting 63-69-71 and then blew-up to a 78 with 6 bogeys and 2 doubles. Since Greg Norman won his first major in 1986, Australians have won only 5 of the next 100 (Norman, Steve Elkington, Wayne Grady, Ian-Baker Finch and Geoff Ogilvy). When you add guys like Scott, Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby and Jason "Dead to Me" Day, it seems like they should have won a few more. Then again, when you pick a mentor who is famous for leading majors on Saturday and not delivering on Sunday, you kind of get what you pay for (it's pretty much been open season on Norman at the FGR since the President's Cup - Shark Sandwich);

(3) Scott bogeyed the last four holes in a row just giving away 15-17 and then making a huge mental error on 18 (more on that in a second). I have to believe that this is the most painful part of it for him because, if you told a pro on the 15th tee he could shoot 2 over the rest of the way and win, no problem. To do it as your whole world is falling down around you is a different story. It was clear that the roar from Ernie's birdie on 18 got to him when he pulled his second shot on 17 long left but that's where I thought Stevie Williams was supposed to make the difference by talking him into a shot that took long out of play. Come on Stevie, I defended you last year when you declared after your . . . I mean Scott's win at the Bridgestone that "I'm a very confident front-runner" (The Bridgestone Update). Put one less club in your man's hand and tell him you'll beat him senseless if he goes left of the pin. If you're still not confident, then hit the shot yourself. You know you want to; 
Hey, that's an even better idea.


(2) Scott came to 18 needing a birdie to win and a par to tie and he had shrewdly hit iron there in the first three rounds to avoid the fairway bunkers on the left. He then made the same mistake that Van De Velde made on his second shot in 1999. He underestimated how much the pressure of the moment would mess with his swing.*** Scott's decision to try to thread a 3-wood down the middle instead of laying-up short of the bunkers was not quite in the elite class of stupidity with Van De Velde's 2-iron, but it certainly came from the same school of thought. Again, you have to wonder where Williams was when that decision was being made. It's not like making par would have sent Scott to a playoff against Tiger. This would have been four holes against Els who had already butchered the closing holes of two tournaments he should have won this year. Why hit a club that brings bogey into play? If I'm ever leading the British Open on Sunday, I'm paying an 80 year old Scottish caddie to walk with me and give me a subtle nod or shake of the head every time I reach for a club;

(1) Despite his Sunday meltdown, his bogey run at the end and his brain dead club selection on the 18th tee, Scott still would have forced a playoff if he made his 8 foot putt for par on the final hole. (It should be noted that 8 feet is the distance from which PGA Tour players make 50% of their putts). Obviously this on had some extenuating circumstances but it looked pretty straight and the greens were slow. If you miss it, that thing has to go at least 2 feet past the hole right? How far past did Scott's ball roll? 2 inches? When he first hit it, I actually thought he had left it short and, by the time it got there, it appeared to be peeling off to the left as it lost speed. Remember, a three putt cost him nothing. But that's the thing about pressure isn't it? It scrambles your freakin' brain whether you're a pro hitting an 8 foot putt for the 5,000th time or a kicker trying to hit a field goal from 32 yards (no, I'm still not over it) or a 5 handicap trying to hit a 50 yard pitch shot over a pond (I'll let you guess how that turned-out last Sunday). 

After it was over, everyone kept commenting on how well Scott was taking it and predicting that he was too talented not to come back and win multiple majors. Unfortunately for Scott who is by all accounts a great guy, recent golf history is littered with super talented players like Davis Love, III, Fred Couples and David Duval who were destined to win multiple majors but barely won one. Some players only get one chance. And that was before the game was overrun by dozens of guys who have the ability to win a major every time they tee it up. After what happened on Sunday, it would be a great story to see Scott putting on a green jacket or holding the Claret Jug one day but for now, he has to settle for the distinction of perpetrating possibly the most comprehensive meltdown in golf history.
It's been over a year since the
wedding. Isn't it about time for
Kandi to start modeling again?

Last Week's Report Card: B-

1. Jason Dufner - T31st
2. Ian Poulter - T9th
3. Sergio Garcia - M/C
4. Justin Rose - M/C
5. Martin Laird - T72nd
6. Matt Kuchar - T9th
7. Dustin Johnson - T9th
8. Francesco Molinari - T39th
9. Ross Fisher - T45th
10. Adam Scott - 2nd

The Canadian Open Top Five

1. Matt Kuchar
2. Hunter Mahan
3. Bo Van Pelt
4. Brandt Snedeker
5. Seung-Yul Noh

Now we head to Ontario for the tournament recently made famous as the "thing" everyone assumed Els was talking about during his victory speech when he said, "I was supposed to go to Canada but I think I'm going to blow that thing off." (Turns out Ernie was just kidding and is going to play but the FGR always loves taking a shot at the Canucks****). The Canadian Open is a tough one to forecast because they started moving it around to different courses a few years ago and lately it's produced random winners like Nathan Green, Chez Reavie and Sean O'Hair who had been pretty much left for dead when he won it last year.

This year they're playing at Hamilton Golf and Country Club which is short and tight. The last time it was there Jim Furyk won it which makes sense but I'm not sure Furyk has quite recovered from his own meltdown at Olympic so he does not quite make my list. I normally like to avoid players coming-off a major and a long trip but this field is pretty loaded and it's late in the season so it's time to bring-out the big guns like Kuchar and Mahan unless you want to save them for the Bridgestone or the PGA Championship which would be understandable considering they're going to be favorites at both. If you want a dark horse, check-out Seung-Yul Noh who has quietly been on fire for over two months. And with that, I'm off to help my son work on his serve so that maybe one day in 30 years he too can experience the feeling of having a relatively meaningless tennis match ruin his evening.

Endnotes

* I felt sorry for the Penn St. faithful for exactly two days after the story really broke last fall. I changed my mind when I saw a guy defiantly dressed from head to toe in a Nittany Lion hat and full warm-up suit . . . at my 8 year old son's soccer tournament. Stay classy Happy Valley!

** Tennis works pretty well too as I discovered last night while losing a three set match where my partner and I blew the first set after being up 5-2, 40-15. Unfortunately, I am an expert on choking. It is one of the things that has led me to the cathartic outlets of writing and drinking.

*** According to Van De Velde's caddie, as they were deciding whether to lay-up with a wedge or take a shot at the green, Ven De Velde said, "I hit 2-iron all the week and perfectly." He learned the hard way that hitting it perfectly all week is not the same as hitting it perfectly on the 72nd hole of the British Open when he blew it off the grandstand on the right which precipitated his downfall. He had five shots to get the ball into the hole from about 220 yards away with trouble everywhere around the green and he hit 2-iron!?! I've made better decisions that resulted in me walking down the side of a highway at 3:00 a.m. wearing one flip-flop.

"I hope this is the mess hall . . .
how's it going Eisenhower?"
**** After enduring the longest year of my life working as a first year associate for a partner who apparently liked being a lawyer a lot more than I did, I quit and the FGW and I bugged out for six of the greatest months of my life, four of which were spent blowing every dollar I had made in that year (plus a few that I hadn't made yet) wandering around Europe. One vivid memory was that all of the Canadians had big maple leaf flags stitched on the back of their backpacks. When I asked why they did that, they would invariably respond, "so no one will think we're Americans" and we would all laugh until one time when I responded, "you know every country on this continent would kick your ass in a war . . . including France" and then suddenly I was the only one laughing.  

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