Monday, August 29, 2011

The Barclays Update

As I was watching local news coverage of Hurricane Irene preempt the tape delayed final round of the Barclays, all I could think was “do you know if the hotel is pager friendly?....I’m not getting a sig’ on my beeper.”  Local news is like a toll booth without an EZPass lane.  You were pretty sure that, by keeping up with the most basic forms of modern technology, you had removed it from your life as an inconvenience and then it up and whacks you on the hand with its cane and says “not so fast sonny.”    

"Does anyone have some
roofing nails I can nibble on?"
Look, you can have your 6:00 p.m. weekday time slot to entertain those without cable TV and the dozens of fans that the cancellation of Larry King Live left behind but, on Saturday afternoon when we are snowbound or hurricane bound, stop overriding my golf coverage and subjecting me to the girl who would never shut-up in high school giving me a current weather report that I can see through my window.  Not to mention, if I want a forecast, do you think I’m going to trust the guy guest bartending at Bennigan’s this Friday night after he cuts the ribbon at the grand opening of the new Scion dealership, or badass Jim Cantore and the pros from Dover at the Weather Channel?  I don’t take swing tips from 17 handicaps so I’m not getting my weather from a guy who resisted Doppler radar technology for years because he thought the aching in his mother’s hip was more reliable. 
Fortunately, the Golf Channel came through with a replay of the third round so I was able to watch what had billed as the “exciting finish” to the Barclays.  I’m still trying to figure out which of the ten pars Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar made over the last five holes was the “exciting” part.  Maybe it was exciting because they had to take down the scoreboards which one of the announcers pointed out wouldn’t bother those guys who don’t look at scoreboards but would drive the scoreboard watchers crazy.  Are the actual scoreboards on the course really the only way a player can find out where he stands coming down the stretch?  If Johnson came to 18 and asked an official where he stood on the leaderboard, would the guy respond, “Sorry Dustin, I can’t give you that information but I can tell you that Blue Horseshoe loves par on this hole (wink, wink)?”  (I think my attempts to skew younger by ranting against the resistance to technology are being negated by my references to movies that came out over twenty years ago).  
"That's cool Adam because, you 
know, I hired a new caddie too."

Johnson’s win propelled him to the top of the FedEx standings.  Meanwhile my pick to win it all, Adam Scott inexplicably shot a 42 on the back nine on Saturday to drop from 9th to 67th in the tournament and 13th to 23rd in the overall standings.  Is it possible that Stevie Williams fears hurricanes more than he fears not being the center of attention?  (Could I pose another question to myself?)  Or maybe it was just the opposite and he couldn’t wait to get off the course so he could go surf Irene on a 2x4 while spearfishing barracudas with a Swiss Army knife.  On a semi-related note, we need Adam Scott to play Tiger in singles at the President’s Cup and Tiger to hire Brock Lesnar to caddie for him like Matt Dillon in My Bodyguard.  (Good Lord.  That’s a 31 year old movie reference.  I wonder if there were any good quotes in The Birth of a Nation?)   

No major surprises in the FedEx Cup standings as Vijay, Justin Rose and Y.E. Yang were the big movers.  Vijay should have won the tournament but his putting was really bad which, for Vijay, is like saying Keanu Reeves’ acting was really bad, like The Replacements bad.  My longshot John Merrick stayed alive, barely, and Sergio moved up a couple of spots.  Meanwhile, Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson and Spencer Levin who have missed three cuts combined since the first week of May all missed it this week.  What else do they have in common?  They’re all (a) on my team, (b) sitting outside of the Top 30, and (c) pissing me off.

"Jamaal Charles?....but the Chiefs'
schedule was so weak last year."

A shortened tournament with minimal drama means a light post this week.  And besides, we’re in the midst of fantasy football drafting season and I don’t see one running back without major bust potential so I need to stare at the cheatsheets like John Nash until a name rises off the page.  If only my imaginary friend would get out of my office and stop bothering me to go out for Chick-fil-A. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Playoff Preview Part 3

"We're not going to waste
OUR time picking longshots"
This thing got a little unwieldy so for picks 11-30, check out The Playoff Preview Part 2.  I will warn you that the top 10 are all favorites even though we know from experience that some schlub like Charley Hoffman or Heath Slocum is going to make it in there but I’m not going to waste OUR time by blindly throwing darts.  For you non-golf junkies, the rest of this is going to be a little dry and boring like a plain graham cracker. 

10. Webb Simpson: He’s playing some solid golf right now but most of his high finishes come when a lot of the next nine guys are not in the field.  He’s a year away.  (Wait, let’s see how many sports clich├ęs I can work in here).   

9. David Toms: We’re splitting hairs at this point as Toms could get hot and win this thing.  Just couldn’t bump him ahead of any of the next eight.

8. Luke Donald: He had ten Top 10’s in fourteen tournaments so you know he’s going to be in the mix.  

7. Matt Kuchar: He’s had solid playoff runs the last two years and seems to be getting on track after his only two missed cuts of the year. 

6. Charl Schwartzel: He had 9 Top 25 finishes in 13 tournaments and played his best when the field was strong so you have to like his chances.   

5. Nick Watney: He has as much game as anyone right now and he tied for 4th at East Lake last year.

4. Steve Stricker: The Sunday meltdown at the PGA Championship will have no effect on him because he never does anything in the majors and then he owns the playoffs.  To me that just means that he’s more nervous about winning a major than he is about winning money which makes him more likeable….if that’s possible.  

3. Sergio Garcia: He’s quietly having a solid season and I could see him winning one of the playoff tournaments.  I was actually starting to come around on Sergio and then I watched the highlights of the 1999 Ryder Cup where I can't believe one of the American players didn't beat him senseless with a bunker rake. 

2. Jason Day: Missing the cut at the PGA must have really chafed him and no one is more overdue for a win.   

"Hit it over there or I swear
I will break your arm."
1. Adam Scott: It pains me to say it because it’s going to kill my fantasy season but he’s at the top of his game right now and by “he” I mean Steve Williams.  If Adam Scott can just stay out of his way, they should bring home the cup.

So there it is.  One pseudo expert's semi-scientific analysis of the FedEx Cup.  The beautiful part is that if I shoot a complete air ball, you'll never hear about it again but if I'm right, I get to remove the "pseudo" from my title and double my appearance fees.      

The Playoff Preview Part 2

Here’s the problem with trying to apply logic to picking the outcome of golf tournaments or, in this case, a series of golf tournaments.  Last year, Luke Donald ended the regular season by finishing T46 at the Bridgestone and then missing the cut at the PGA so he wasn’t exactly on a roll.  He then finished T15, T2, T37 and 2nd in the playoff tournaments and 3rd in the final standings.  Was his success due to the “horses for courses” theory?  Not really.  In 2009, he finished T31, T54, T10, T25 which is aight (I need an Urban Dictionary spell checker).  In 2008, he didn’t play in the playoffs due to injury and in 2007 he finished Cut, T60, T30 and didn’t make the Tour Championship. 

Last year’s FedEx Cup Champ, Jim Furyk, came into the playoffs in 3rd place, missed the Barclays because he was disqualified for showing-up late to his pro am tee time (he said he overslept, I think he was paired with Donald Trump) and then went on to win the Cup thanks to his high regular season finish and his win at the Tour Championship.  Under the most recent point system, winning the Tour Championship is basically the golden ticket so if you’re going to pick the winner of the FedEx Cup, you better focus on East Lake.  Other than that, in the words of Reggie Hammond, “bulls—t and experience is all it takes” so “come on in and experience some of my bulls—t.”

My final 30 in reverse order:

30. D.A. Points: My “that guy is playing in the Tour Championship?!?” pick will cling to the last spot.

"Come on over John and let me
introduce you to some of the boys."
29. John Merrick: Since they went to the playoff format, the final Top 30 has been littered with guys like Kevin Streelman, Briny Baird and Jeff Quinney, the Tour Championship’s answer to Jugdish, Mohammet and Lonny.  I can see Mickelson re-introducing Merrick to those guys in the locker room.... “Super….then you’ll have lots to talk about.”   

28. Martin Laird: He’s missed the cut in four of his last five tournaments that had a cut which we know does not mean much, but it can’t be good. 

27. Jason Duffner: He’ll bounce back from his PGA collapse and cut at the Wyndham to make it to the finish line while looking like he ate bad clams for five street weeks.

26. Brandt Snedeker:  He four putted the 72nd hole at the BMW in 2009 and dropped from 28th to 33rd to miss the Tour Championship.  These are the critical pieces of information that fill your brain when you play fantasy sports and not because I had Snedeker, but because I had John Senden who was the last man in thanks to the 4-jack.  The sad part is that I remember that as a really good day for me.

25. Andres Romero: He’ll do just enough to get in and then disappoint.  Kind of like a congressman.  (I promise that’s the most political this blog will ever get).

24. Mark Wilson: There is always one freefall guy who holds his spot in the Top 30 just by making a few cuts in the first three tournaments.  I’ll go with the guy who’s only finished higher than 17th once since the Super Bowl.

23. Spencer Levin: My man has been a Top 25 machine all year which will be enough to move him up a few spots but nothing more.  If anyone knows of a charity auction where you can win a round with Spencer, please let me know.

22. Bo Van Pelt: Mr. Giggles wraps-up a nice season and will be picked too early as a player with great upside next year.   

21: Bill Haas: He has as ton of game but sometimes looks happy just to be in the mix which is another way of saying he needs to get a little more “jerk” in him if he’s going to be a consistent winner. 

20. Robert Karlsson: I’m out of Swedish jokes.

19. Fredrik Jacobson: I’m out of Swedish jokes and ping-pong jokes. 

18. Rickie Fowler: He’s been a little overrated all season (a little?!?) so this is probably a good spot for him as he’ll likely have a Top 5 at the Deutsche or the BMW and underperform at the other three.

"See if that tastes
magically delicious."
17. Keegan Bradley: With a name like Keegan Bradley, there has to be a hangover effect from the PGA win in both a golf and traditional sense.  (In researching Irish words for “hangover,” I came across this gem, “John Barleycorn: defined as a little leprechaun that sneaks into your room after you have a night of heavy drinking. He puts one foot on your chin and one foot on your nose and takes a wee crap in your mouth. Then cracks you in the head with his cane. This explains the bad taste in your mouth and headache when you wake up.”  Only the Irish could make having a small creature take a crap in your mouth while you sleep sound charming).

16. Zach Johnson: I’d like to rank him higher for selfish reasons but, as steady as he’s been this year, he has not shown he can put up the Top 3 finish against tough competition that he would need to make a big move.  I’m also having a hard time with those plaid collared shirts.  Can we please stop trying to improve the golf shirt?  (Hey I know, let's make one with a cup holder).   

15. Gary Woodland: I'm trying to balance what appears to be his great “I don’t give a rat’s ass” demeanor with the fact that, at this time last year he was prepping for the Knoxville News Sentinel Open on the Nationwide Tour which leads to the question, “how much does it cost to sponsor a Nationwide Tour Event?”  Let’s start clicking on those ads and see if we can make the “Fantasy Golf Report Open” at Clifton Park Country Club/Heroin Outlet a reality in 2014. 

14. K.J. Choi: Tough choices from this point forward because the Top 14 is loaded.  K.J. hasn’t done much since the AT&T National and…..that’s all I got because the rest of his season has been great and his track record on the playoff courses is solid.  It’s no fun talking about the really good players.

13. Bubba Watson: The curse of the “Golf Boys” drops him from 8th to 13th.

12. Dustin Johnson: He won the BMW last year and finished the season 5th overall but he was a better player then.  I think at some point in the off season, he simultaneously thought about the U.S. Open, the PGA and eating a chimichanga and muttered “what the f—k?  I don’t even like chimichangas.” 

11. Phil Mickelson: Phil just doesn’t seem that focused these days.  I think he kind of checked-out after giving away the British Open on the back nine on Sunday.  Then again the last time he frittered away a major like that was the 2009 U.S. Open and then he won the Tour Championship so who knows?  Who ever knows with Phil?

Scroll-up for picks 1-10.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Playoff Preview Part 1

"You won the British Open
.....WHA HAPPENED!?!?"
None of my guys played in the Wyndham and one of the last guys I wanted to win it did just that so I had a hard time watching it.  I did catch Justin Leonard bogeying 18 on Sunday to miss the Top 125 by one spot which had to feel just like sinking a 45 foot putt to win the Ryder Cup except exactly the opposite.  Leonard’s best finish of the year was a T13 at the Bob Hope Classic in January.  I blame Sean Foley.       

I also watched enough to wonder what Webb Simpson and Tommy Gainey talked about on Sunday considering their disparate backgrounds.  James Frederick “Webb” Simpson was a three time All American at Wake Forest and a member of the 2007 Walker Cup team.  According to his Wikipedia page, “he won several prestigious amateur tournaments.”  Tommy Gainey attended Central Carolina Technical College and worked on an assembly line wrapping insulation around hot water heaters.  According to his Wikipedia page, “he has won four events on the eGolf Tarheel Tour.”  I’d like to think that Simpson called Gainey “Thomas” all day (“nice putt Thomas”) and Gainey was muttering “f---ing pretty boy” under his breath.

With that exercise in manufactured drama out of the way, my interest is piqued as I have six players in the Top 38 of the FedEx Cup standings but only one (my new favorite player -  Keegan Bradley) a lock to make it to East Lake.  Last year eight players started the playoffs outside of the Top 30 and made it to the Tour Championship with Kevin Streelman and Martin Laird coming from as far back as 102nd and 95th.  I’m going to take the easy way out and guess that a couple less than that will make the move this year so, of our current Top 30, we’re going to have six players fade.

So let’s start with a multi-part (could be two, three or four but most likely two) preview of the playoffs with a review of those currently in the Top 30 who will not be making the trip to East Lake and the six who will be taking their spots:

(30) Tommy Gainey – Pretty strong showing from Two Gloves this year but he’s too erratic to hold onto the 30th spot.  (In my snobby voice) While hitting a pitching wedge 180 yards is obviously evidence of great strength, it most certainly is not the key to consistent scoring.       

"Oh dear God . . . he really
does wear two gloves."
(26) Charles Howell, III – He’s been playing well lately but his record in the playoffs stinks and I just can’t envision his name in the field for the Tour Championship.  Hold on…..nope, still nothing.      

(24)  Jonathan Byrd – Got off to a fast start in Hawaii and then made a sick birdie on the 72nd hole to get into the playoff with Lucas Glover at Quail Hollow but has not made a cut since June 12th.  I have him on my roster and he gets one week to prove himself or it’s “Welcome to Dumpsville, Population - Jonathan Byrd.”

(23) Rory Sabbatini – Another player who secured his playoff spot months ago and has been treading water ever since.  It’s got to be tough out there when half of the crowd is rooting for a tree limb to fall on your head.

(22)  Aaron Baddeley – He’s only made about $180,000 since The Players in mid-May and his record on the playoff courses over the last three years is lousy.  That’s all I’ve got on him – seems like a good guy otherwise.        

"Trust me Rickie, this is
going to  be hilarious."
(20) Hunter Mahan – The curse of the “Golf Boys” video.  Haven’t we learned from all of the live mike banter at the Skins Games and the skills challenges that professional golfers shouldn’t force funny?  Can something that was intended to be funny turn out not to be funny and be unintentionally funny at the same time? 

Here are the six I have taking their spots:

(32)  Zach Johnson – Has been playing well since the Wells Fargo in early May and only needs to climb two spots.  He was also my first round draft pick so, if he doesn’t make a move and it costs me the season title because I picked him over guys like Nick Watney and Luke Donald, I’m going to spend all winter roiling with angst and that would be bad. 

"Why does everyone
keep calling me
Bo Van Poopy Pants?"
(39) Bo Van Pelt – I was surprised to see him this far back.  He was playing really well until missing the cut at the PGA.  I expect him to put up at least one Top 5 during the playoffs which should bump him into the Top 30 which in turn might finally make him smile.  If my name was Bo Van Pelt, I think I’d smile all the time.  “Hi, I’m Bo Van Pelt, would you like to buy something from me?” 

(45) Robert Karlsson – He may be the best eligible player not currently in the Top 30 with three Top 5’s in his last seven tournaments.  He’s got too much game not to climb fifteen spots unless the release of his answer to “Golf Boys” with Carl Pettersson, Frederik Jacobson and Jesper Parnevik called “Swedish Meatballs” derails him.     

(59) Sergio Garcia –Sergio has only played thirteen PGA Tour events this year and he’s made the cut in twelve of them with three Top 10’s.  More importantly he has a great record on some of the playoff courses.  Even more importantly than that, he’s not on a roster that’s threatening my chances to win my league so I might actually be (gulp) rooting for him.      

(62) Andres Romero – It only takes one strong finish to jump from 62nd into the Top 30 and Romero is one of the guys with Top 5 potential every week right now.  (Considering that about 75 players have Top 5 potential every week right now, that is some razor sharp analysis).         

(104) John Merrick – I have to pick one deep sleeper.  I’m going with Merrick on a total whim and because he is statistically having a good year and for some reason it’s not translating into FedEx points.  How can you be ranked 21st in scoring average and 104th in FedEx Cup points?  (Answer – you rank 151st in final round scoring average).  I’m banking on Merrick playing at least one good final round, preferably this Sunday before his season is over.     

So those are the six in and six out.  Later this week, I’ll rank the Top 30 and try to figure out who is going to win $10M and then pull a Furyk in 2012.     

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Golf Trip to the Sun 2: The Irish Car Bomb's Revenge"

Last Thursday I returned to the scene of my near demise for some more Eastern Shore style golf. This trip was different from the original The Golf Trip to the Sun in two key respects: (1) the heat did not reach a point where you could grill halibut on your dashboard and (2) one of the two rounds of golf was replaced by a second night of over-indulgence. The event is known simply as the 8th Annual (with last year being the 7th Annual and the year before that being the . . . crap, I forget) and includes a group of longtime friends all of whom could be classified as professional drinkers ranging from Hooters Tour caliber to multiple major winners. Everyone involved owns their own business, is an executive and/or has a law degree and played lacrosse in college so we are always handling a highly volatile mixture of ego, aggression and alcohol.  At least once per trip, someone drops a beaker of it on the floor of the lab and sends everyone running for the decontamination showers. This year would be no exception.

What could go wrong?
The first night always starts off with a relatively mellow dinner at a local seafood restaurant (though every year it seems that they have put one more open table between us and the rest of the customers).  There are a lot of the bear hugs and laughs that you get from close friends who haven’t seen each other in a while. The dinner conversation starts with wives and kids then moves on to work which dovetails nicely into politics right about the time the check arrives and we prepare to leave for what has been known simply for the past eight years as the “Back Deck.” 

The Back Deck seems harmless enough. It is attached to the suburban three bedroom home owned by our host’s mother and it serenely overlooks the 8th green and 9th fairway of the community’s golf course. It is furnished with a few Adirondack chairs, a wooden bench and some tables – the perfect setting for a group of old friends to peacefully gather, smoke a few cigars and reminisce about old times. Instead, it inevitably turns into a heated political roundtable with a steadily escalating decibel level. Imagine an episode of The McLaughlin Group where the entire panel is drunk, and every five minutes either Robert Novak or Jack Germond charges across the stage and tries to flip the other over in his chair until Morton Kondracke and Pat Buchanan can step in and break it up. This goes on for about three hours until (a) everyone is too tired to stand-up, or (b) furniture is broken. 

"I'm going to kick
your ass Germond!"
This year it was the latter as I let my guard down while sitting on the wooden bench and suddenly found myself trying to leg press my way from under the weight of my political opponent to whom I was giving-up about 75 lbs. (When you’re the smallest guy on the trip with the biggest mouth, you grow used to these odds). Any chance I had of gaining some leverage was lost when the legs of the bench snapped and the whole situation dropped to the floor. At that point I was left grappling for a knee which I thought I had accomplished until I stood-up and discovered it belonged to an “innocent” bystander. When the dust settled, we all stared at the bench like a bunch of 12 year olds who had just broken mom’s favorite lamp with a Frisbee. Then we acknowledged that there was nothing we could do about it in our present condition, shrugged our shoulders and went to bed. (I was just glad that I wasn’t the direct cause of the damage considering that I was responsible for the bathroom drywall incident of 2008). 

The second day is an ultra marathon that fittingly starts where the first day ended.  By the time I got to the deck, guilt had apparently spurred a lot of activity as the bench had been replaced by newly purchased plastic Adirondack chairs. I was simultaneously handed a beer, offered a Bloody Mary and sucker punched in the kidney. The starting gun had officially sounded. 

The centerpiece of Day 2 is a round of golf for which our original group of eight grows to about twenty. Of the twenty, maybe seven keep score.  (I do play real golf too but no one ever shotguns a Budweiser during the club championship so those stories aren’t quite as flavorful).  Our round was enhanced by an iPod in the cart playing the Stones, Tom Petty, The Allman Brothers, etc. This needs to become a regular part of the game. Think about it.  You’re outside and you’re drinking beers with friends.  Under what other circumstances would you not have music playing in that situation?  Then again, when the playlist switched to hip-hop and I made a double, I wanted to annihilate the speakers with my sand wedge.

In hindsight, they all
looked like Phoebe Cates.
After golf we returned to the Back Deck for a few post-round cocktails.  At this point, we were generally sedated enough that the topics of conversation stayed on non-controversial subjects like high school sports memories, girls from our youth and fights. (Ironically, it’s safer to talk about fights than politics with these people). After a few hours, we piled into a van and headed into town to see what we could milk out of our third wind. This year the only thing that got me into the van was my pure undying respect for tradition. 

It had been exactly eighteen days since I had gone to St. Michaels, Maryland, stuffed myself full of fried seafood, chased it with a bunch of beers and a few Irish Car Bombs and then woken-up the next day feeling like John Hurt at the dinner table in Alien and now I was back.  Did I learn my lesson?  Well this year I skipped the fried food and had a big old grilled fish taco, chased it with a bunch of beers and then went back to the Carpenter Street Saloon and ordered-up a round of Car Bombs.  I don’t know what it is that draws me to those things.  Maybe it’s that they’re a shot swimming in delicious Guinness.  Maybe it’s the name (I doubt I would be as inclined to order a round of “Iranian Car Bombs”). Ultimately, I think it’s that they are a test of manhood as if we are saying to ourselves, “Selves, if we can stomach this foul concoction at this point in the night, we are men….with suspect judgment.”

"I told him not to get the fish taco."
After the Car Bombs, we returned to the Back Deck where we had clearly reached Level 5 of Larry Miller’s Five Levels of Drinking.  “One of your friends stands-up and announces, ‘WE’RE DRIVING TO FLORIDA’….and then passes out.” (If you like to push the limits of indulgence on occasion, this routine is worth eight minutes of your time - The Five Levels of Drinking). At that point there was nothing but love in the room.  We actually spent about five minutes in a huddle pumping each other up like we were getting ready to go fight a dragon. Eventually, people started wandering off to the bathroom and didn’t come back until there were just two of us riding-out a night we didn’t want to end. And then it was just me, sitting on a plastic Adirondack chair waiting for the sun to come up because it seemed like the right thing to do. 

I woke-up the next morning on the floor of the living room.  Not sure how I got there but sleeping on the floor does have its benefits because the aching in your back and shoulders draws some attention away from the spike in your forehead and the fish taco and Irish Car Bomb leg wrestling in your stomach.  The ninety minute ride home and the next twenty-four hours are always rough but by Monday morning the recap emails start flying and you find yourself laughing out loud at your desk and looking forward to next year . . . and Googling wrestling moves so you don’t end up on the wrong end of a Back Deck pile driver at the 9th annual.                 

Monday, August 15, 2011

The PGA Championship Update

 Welcome to what golf was like pre-Tiger when major winners were as random as Gary Oldman roles (quite a run in the early 90’s of Lee Harvey Oswald, Dracula, Beethoven and Drexl Spivey before he climbed on board the Batman and Harry Potter money trains).  It kind of reminds me of 1991 when Ian Woosnam won the first of what we thought would be multiple majors at Augusta, Payne Stewart won the U.S. Open, Ian-Baker Finch won an overdue British Open and John Daly broke onto the scene by bombing drives all over Crooked Stick and winning the PGA.  No one won more than two tournaments that year and the multiple winners included golf icons like Billy Andrade, Andrew Magee and Tom Purtzer – all solid but unspectacular players.  It was like life before TiVo.  It was fine but only because we had no idea of what we were missing.  Watching a 5’3” Welsh guy pump his fist after making a putt to win the Masters wasn’t quite pushing us to the edge of our seats.       

"We've lost Woosy on
Camera 2, Camera 3
can you see him?"
By now you know the stats.  The last seven majors have been won by first timers along with ten of the last eleven as golf has morphed from NBA style top heavy dominance to NFL parity.  Yesterday we had the equivalent of the Jacksonville Jaguars taking down the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game.  (Note: if it had been the Masters, it would have been a Super Bowl analogy and Dufner would have been the Seahawks).  You couldn’t call it Lions versus Bengals because Bradley has a win and Dufner is a solid player who has five top 10’s this year and finished 11th in the FedEx Cup Standings in 2009.  (He had, however, missed his last four cuts coming into the PGA leading me to wonder if he had gone to see Sean Foley for a few tips back in May). 

So we got the exciting finish yesterday but we didn’t get some combination of Steelers, Packers, Patriots, Saints or Colts.  (And now I am compelled to ride this out and link all recent major winners to Super Bowl winners:
I still don't get it.

Packers - McIlroy (young and explosive – poised to win a few more)
Saints - Schwartzel (smart, solid all around game)
Steelers - Mickelson (always a factor)
Oostuhizen – Giants (we’re still trying to figure out how he won one)
Colts – Clarke (overdue, failed to live up to expectations)
Patriots – Tiger (window is closing fast) 

….and this is losing steam in a hurry so let’s get back to the golf.      

This is what we get when the top three players in the world (Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Steve Stricker) are notorious for coming-up short in the majors.  At least Westwood has finished 2nd or 3rd six times in the last four years.  Donald has finished 3rd twice but not since 2005 (7 shots back at the Masters) and 2006 (6 shots back at the PGA).  Steve Stricker’s record is worse.  He hasn’t had a top 5 in a major since the 1999 U.S. Open where he finished 6 shots out of first.  He was the one yesterday in the best position to put some heat on the inexperienced leaders and he started with a birdie but then bogeyed the second hole and then pull hooked his tee shot on the 4th into the water at which point everyone watching said “ahhh so that’s why he’s never won a major.”  He would ultimately drop from 5th to a tie for 12th.  I hate to use a word like choke with a good dude like Stricker, but he actually did it twice if you count his second round 74 when everyone else who made it to the weekend in the top 10 shot 69 or better.  He may have to settle for the being the best player in John Deere Classic history.   

"I never doubted you
So the top three can’t bring home a major and there are about a hundred players in the field who can show-up out of almost nowhere and win.  You can debate whether parity is good for the NFL but I’m pretty sure it’s not doing golf any favors right now.  If the Buffalo Bills exceed all expectations and make it to the Super Bowl this year, at least Roger Goodell knows that (a) there will be thousands of happy Bills fans (until the end of the game) and, (b) fans of every other team are going to watch the game because the event is bigger than the teams.  Tim Finchem doesn’t have that luxury because (a) Jason Dufner’s only fans are people with the last name “Dufner” and, (b) not every fan of golf is going to tune into a major regardless of the players in contention.  In other words, not every fan is in a fantasy golf league and had the foresight to pick-up Keegan Bradley two weeks ago like I did.  Cha-Ching!  (I will cut the self congratulatory chatter there but man that was fun to watch except for the gutter ball he rolled on 15.  In the humble words of Rex Ryan on Hard Knocks, “Man I love being right.”  I think he was talking about choosing the German Chocolate Cake over the Baked Alaska when he said that).    

Many think Rory McIlroy is the player with the talent to pull golf out of this funk and I would agree that he may have the highest ceiling but all he has done since winning the U.S. Open is play above average golf and alternate between ill-advised quotes and apologies.  He finished tied for 64th this week on a course that appeared to set-up well for his game.  It’s not helping his cause that the only top 10 he’s had since Congressional was when the temperatures were in the 80’s at the Bridgestone.  At least he’s true to his word and we now have some concrete wagering information.  I put the over/under on majors for Rory at 3 and ½. 

"I can't imagine
life without you."
If there is another Tiger out there, we haven't met him yet.  After winning his first Masters, Tiger had four top 10’s in his next ten majors and never finished below 29th.  He then won five of his next six with his only miss being a 5th at the 2000 Masters.  There isn’t a player out there now with that kind of game so we’re going to have to be patient and wait for the next dominant player ….and the next great invention to get us closer to watching TV to our full potential.     


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The PGA Championship Preview

"See you in 2012."
Luke Donald is the #1 player in the world and a popular pick to win the PGA Championship despite the fact that he’s never finished higher than 3rd in a major and has not won a stroke play event on the PGA Tour since the 2006 Honda Classic.  (People make too big a deal about winning the Accenture Match Play where you only have to beat six players as opposed to a stroke play event where you have to beat 155).  Only three of the current top ten players have won a major and they have combined to win a measly total of six (Mickelson - 4, McIlroy - 1, Kaymer -1).  Five years ago at this time, seven of the top ten had won a major and they had combined to win twenty-four  (Tiger - 11, Mickelson - 3, Singh – 3, Els – 3, Goosen – 2, Furyk -1, Ogilvy – 1).  Even if you take Tiger out of the equation, the top ten in 2006 includes six major winners with a combined thirteen major titles.  When you consider that all of those players from 2006 (except maybe Ogilvy) are on the downside of their careers, it is clear that we are in a changing of the guard period in golf.  (It is also clear that when a 40 year old like Jim Furyk pockets $10M, his game will suffer the following year and you should avoid him like two day old sushi).  The question is who will be the next Mickelson, Singh, Els and Goosen?  If you can answer that, you’ve got a good shot at picking this week’s winner. 
This year we’ve had a slew of players who took turns bringing their “A” game, particularly on Sundays.  Time and again a top 20 player took the lead on the back nine on Sunday against a great field and simply refused to let anyone else catch him like Adam Scott did last weekend?   Rory McIlroy did it for the whole U.S. Open but he also birdied the first hole on Sunday to remove any doubt.  Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes to win the Masters.  Phil Mickelson did it at Houston (Phil is our carryover guy from the old guard to the new guard), Steve Stricker at the Memorial, Nick Watney at the AT&T, Bubba Watson at the Farmers and Luke Donald at the Accenture (I’ll give him some credit for beating Kuchar and Kaymer in the final four).  Some of those tournaments ended close but the players who won all took the lead and held it so that’s eight guys who have demonstrated this year that, if they bring their “A” game against the best, they’re going to win. 
Now throw in Dustin Johnson (2nd at the British and 3rd at the last PGA), Jason Day (2nd at the Masters and the U.S. Open), Rickie Fowler (5th at the British and 2nd at Bridgestone), Lee Westwood (2nd in the world rankings), Martin Kaymer (3rd in the world rankings) and Matt Kuchar (11th in the world rankings).  That’s fourteen guys who could win multiple majors over the next three years making them favorites to win this weekend.  
First, we need to eliminate the seven guys in Rob Bolton’s’s rankings (Donald, Westwood, Day, McIlroy, Scott, Stricker and D. Johnson) because he basically picks the same players every week with little or no creativity.  His go to move is to pick players who have been playing well leading-up to the event but when you’re picking guys at the top of the world rankings, that’s kind of a worthless analysis as they’re all playing pretty well.  Also consider that Adam Scott’s last five PGA Tour finishes before his win were T25, T3, Cut, T65, Cut so Bolton didn’t have him in his Top 10. 
His outside the box picks this week are Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson and David Toms.  He’s presumably picking Toms because he won at Atlanta Athletic Club (“AAC”) ten years ago which means little more than, about this time ten years ago, David Toms played some really good golf.  In support of his Johnson pick, he writes, “[p]otential destiny awaits, given that David Toms famously laid up on the 72nd hole here in 2001 and ZJ won the 2007 Masters laying up on all of the par 5s.”  Huh?  Why not pick David Horsey because a guy named David won at AAC in 2001?  Makes just as much sense.  Webb Simpson’s unique swing tends to get a little too unique under regular tournament pressure so I don’t envision him holding the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday. 
That leaves seven of my fourteen favorites and I’m dropping Kaymer and Schwartzel because I don’t see Kaymer going back-to-back and Schwartzel is not a “two majors in one season” player.  So along with my five "A" players, I'm adding five more and I’m going with:
"Everything is going
to be OK America."
1.  Nick Watney - It’s his time.  He is the best American golfer right now and “we” are due considering “we’ve” been shutout since the 2010 Masters.  Two wins against strong fields this year have me less concerned about the constant deer in the headlights look.  I think that’s just how he looks.  I wonder how big his eyes would get if he ever stared into some headlights.      
2.  Matt Kuchar - He’s going to win a major at some point and now would be a good time because I think his big goofy smile might be infectious enough to make everyone forget about the economy for five minutes.   
3.  Fredrik Jacobson - Every time the camera cuts to him lately he’s draining a 15-20 foot putt and the announcers are talking about what a great ping pong player he is – both critical ingredients for a major championship run.         
4.  Phil Mickelson - Not a very shrewd pick last week but he fit the Top Gun theme.  This week I actually think he’s going to be a factor which is “pretty arrogant, considering the company he’s in.”  Okay I’ll stop.              
5.  Tiger Woods - Took ten weeks off and then tied for 37th on a tough course against the best field in golf.  I would love to see him win, roll his eyes and say “well it wasn’t the BEST WEEK OF MY LIFE but it’s good to be back.”   
6. Rickie Fowler - After gagging away the 4th round of the AT&T, he’s been solid on Sunday at the British Open and the Bridgestone.  I think he’s figuring it out and is top 10 material this week.  If he’s somehow in the final group with Tiger on Sunday, CBS will have you believing they are the only two on the course.  
7. Bubba Watson - Bubba hasn’t contended in a major this year but his good weeks tend to come out of nowhere so I like his chances on a 7,467 yard par 70 course with two 500+ yard par 4’s and a 260 yard par 3.  By the way, on Sunday at Firestone, he hit a driver and a 4 iron onto the 16th green.  The 16th hole is 667 yards long.  That’s obscene.      
8. Sergio Garcia - This does not mean I like him but I am confident he is going to win a major at some point so we might as well get it over with.  
"Relax Levin.  We've
got this under control."
9. Spencer Levin - AAC does not look like a course for a grinder but I had to make room for my boy.  If he’s in contention on Sunday, he’s going to rip through more butts than Robert De Niro in Casino. 
10.  David Hutsell - He’s the teaching pro at the club down the road from my house playing in his second consecutive PGA Championship.  He’s been on fire lately so don’t be surprised if he’s one of the club pros on the leaderboard early.  The only issue is that he’s playing with Spencer Levin for the first two days so maintaining concentration is going to be key.
So there you have it.  50% process of elimination, 40% analysis and 20% gut call (because I gave 110% on these picks).  All I ask is that we have one major this year where the last putt of the tournament actually matters and it’s either hit by one of my picks ....or a guy who was hosing off golf carts last Sunday.