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Archive for the ‘PGA Tour’ Category

It has been said that in sports writing, the smaller the ball the better the prose.  I am not sure that this is true considering that I have hardly read anything of interest in the sport of table tennis.  Nonetheless, golf has been a great repository of sports literature due perhaps to the fact that every tournament, every win is marked by something quite different.  The story lines are just so rich and varied that many a tome can never be confused for a duplicate.

 

During the Tiger years, the story is domination.  For the Mickelson wins it is redemption.  For Rory, the excitement of the future.  For Darren Clarke though, his story just makes one feel good.  Seeing him win and reading a lot of the accounts, one gets that fuzzy feeling inside reserved often only for stories about babies, children, dogs even.  It is that part of the heart where you just feel a deep happiness inside, where a tear forms in your eyes and you are just glad that the universe is in order.  Seldom is this realm reserved for golf where competition is fierce and victory is the ultimate.  Darren Clarke’s win the Open Championship in Royal St. George left me with a cuddly feeling much unlike any other major championship result.

 

I do remember one time though when I felt like this in another golfing event.  That was back in 2006.  The Ryder Cup was being played in the K Club in Ireland, led by the original wee iceman, Ian Woosnam.  While Europe won in commanding fashion, the story line that really struck me was how Darren Clarke, who had just buried his lovely wife, a victim of breast cancer, no earlier than a month before, steeled himself to contribute three crucial points to the cause.  Many would have forgiven him if he was less than stellar or even mediocre for that matter.  His image, walking by his lonesome in the parade of participants, where each one had a significant other hanging from his arm, brought instant tears into my eyes, especially knowing his circumstances just a few weeks prior.  Even more, when he won his singles match and mightily, but unsuccessfully held back tears, as the crowds of his native land embraced him through their cheers. Europe won that day, but everyone only remembers that event as the one as Darren Clarke’s triumph.

 

Golf, especially links golf is a fickle game.  Just when Tiger made it appear that golf is predictable, we’ve had 6 straight first time winners.  Just when the youth movement has appeared to take a hold of the game, a 42 year old man takes the Claret Jug.  Clearly, Darren appears to be in the twilight of his career.  Dropping to 111 in the World Golf Ranking, with no win in the last three years save for a win in a minor tournament last May, Darren was not even considered a possibility entering this week.  It seems he’d fit in more in a picture of the local pub than in the winner’s circle.    Sure Northern Ireland produced 2 major champions in the last 5 majors.  Sure those two champions (McDowell and McIlroy) viewed Darren as their idol growing up.  But Darren has not been a major contender in 10 years, has not even played the last three majors and it seems time and opportunities have raced past him, not that it appeared to bother him.  At the ripe old age of 42, Darren was an afterthought.  Surely Darren Clarke’s chances have passed and he could not be considered as a threat to win this one, in spite having a one shot lead entering the last round.  Sure surprises happen but nothing in Darren’s recent career seem to indicate that he can pull this out.  But in the end Darren himself  saw first hand the fickleness of the game during his last round.  Where his contenders fell into pot bunkers, missed putts from a few feet away, had their balls blown away out of bounds, his shots always seemed to be magically protected.  Twice his ball jumped over bunkers onto waiting greens.  Countless times he had to save par from lengthy distances to keep the momentum going, just as other players crept ever closer.  Just as quickly as Phil rolled in an eagle to tie him at the top, he too rolls in an eagle to just ahead by two.  While the weather and golfing chances of everyone around him rose and fell, Darren remained calm (at least seemingly).  It seemed like he was just taking a stroll on a sunday, cig in his fingers, sun on his face, smile plastered on his mug.  He faced dangers but they never seemed to faze them.  He played along, like many of us in our sunday rounds, just happy to be on the course.  In the end,   the so-called golf gods appeared to have found favor with Darren and he found victory, a victory for the ages.  This win was not achieved by our preset golfing deity, they of the laser focus and the 300 yard drives, but by a golfing buddy, the one we’ll have a pint with in the 19th hole.

 

Say what you will about his career, Darren was always beloved.  Not only for the memory of his loss in 2006 and his triumph in the K Club, but more because of the fact that he was a man we could all relate to.  He was the bloke we drank beer and smoked cigars with.  He was one to share ribald jokes with, slapping backs in the midst of side splitting laughter.  He was not of the flat bellied set but more like the local pro at the muni.  He is relatable, reachable one of us.  Seeing him lift the jug, seemingly in representation of all of us duffers.  He was declared the champion golfer of the year.  Nay, he is our champion golfer of the year… the one who gave us that nice fuzzy feeling inside.

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Rory

The Mac train has reached its first station.

Rory McIlroy, he of the curly hair and boyish demeanor, just won his first, of what is projected to be many, golf major championships, the 2011 US Open. After the debacle of Augusta, where an 80 on the final round cost him the green jacket, after leading by 4 strokes entering the final round, many debated whether the young lad from Northern Ireland has fallen into an abysss from which he cannot be expected to recover. But lo and behold, not only did he win the tournament, he decimated the field steaming home like a runaway locomotive.

Leading all four rounds, Rory built on his lead over the first three rounds, creating records along the way. After a flawless 65, 6-under, first round, he backed up his play with a 66 in the second for a phenomenal 11-under score in the US Open, where par is sacred. Of even greater significance is the fact that he double bogeyed the 18th for his first over par score over the first two rounds. By reaching 13 under he breached the winning score of Tiger Woods in Pebble Beach, where he lapped the field. In fact 13 under has never been reached in the history of the US Open, ever!

Between the second and third, speculation was rife that the lad would fold under the pressure and collapse. History unfortunately was against him. After a phenomenal 63 in last year’s British Open, he skied to an 80 in the second round. In spite of two great rounds after, the talk was he was lacked the killer instinct to close the deal. Thihs view was confirmed in the Master’s earlier this year, where he slept a 4 stroke lead enetering the final round, only to shoot another 80 to drop from 1st to 15th when all was said and done. So, a 6 stroke lead over Korean Y.E. Yang, a former PGA Champion, the man known to stare down Tiger, and out gun him in the final round of a major, can be easily overcome.

But Rory, with knowledge gathered from his previous performances, has matured. After a little shaky start in the thihrd, he settled down and shot a remarkable 68 ending the day at 14 under, a never before heard of score and more importantly, an 8 shot lead entering the fourth.

In spite of this, people still doubted. Prognosticators said that with the softened condition of Congressional, someone could still post a ridiculous number and another 80 may still pull the youngster back to earth. But Rory remained unbowed.With a birdie on 16th, Rory reached the stratosphere at 17 under par. A three putt bogey on 17, his first for the championship, and a great par on 18 gave him a 16 under total 268, numbers so low, they were unthinkable. In the end he won by 8 over Fil-Australian Jason Day leaving no doubt that we are witnessing the start of an era.

Other notes: At 22 years and 46 days, Rory, becomes the second youngest major champion in the modern era, next only to Tiger, who was 21 when he won the 97 Masters. Rory is the youngest US Open champion, beating the old record of Jack Nicklaus… Nirthern Ireland has produced the last two US Open champions, after Greame McDowell won last year… The first thing Rory told his dad, after getting off the greaan was “happy father’s day”… Jason Day just came in second in his second straight major and third straight top tens in majors. He has just shown that he is part of the mix as the next generation of stars… Rory shot all four rounds in the 60s onky the second time its been done … Robert Garrigus, a qualifier, shot all four rounds under par, being the fifth man to do it, ending up at 6 under in a tie for third, with Yang, and Lee Westwood amongst others.

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Integrity

Firstly, check out this video of Brian Davis, calling a penalty on himself to lose the Verizon Heritage to Jim Furyk on the first playoff hole:

http://www.pgatour.com/2010/tournaments/r012/04/18/recap-verizon-round4/index.html#

Think about the situation, Brian Davis battled with a birdie on 18 to catch Jim Furyk and force a playoff at the Verizon Hertitage.  He has not won but has come in 2nd at least 3 other times in the PGA Tour.  He is poised to win his first title and the US$1.026M that goes with in (second place receives US$615,000).  His second shot at the 18th lands in the beach beside the 18th green.  On his backswing he brushes against a reed and moves it no more than an inch.  Not sure he did what he thought he did, he asked a rules official over and called a penalty on himself subject to review.  The super slo-mo technology caught the offensive act, but also revealed that the reed in no case affected the shot.  in any event Davis was assessed 2 strokes and essentially handed the championship to Furyk.

About the situation , Davis was reported to have said, “It was one of those things I thought I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. And I thought we’d check on TV, and indeed there was movement.”

Admiration followed this class act of Brian and he deserves all the respect in the world for this.

This leads me to examine my own experiences in tournament golf.  Just yesterday, I played in a tournament in Villamor.  As with most small tournaments, scoring is really left to the caddies and they total up the scores.  I played quite decently.  In my head I do quick arithmetical calculations of my score and have a fair approximation o0f what I shot.  Putting off the 9th (we played the back 9 first), I was sure that I failed to break 90, though I was close.  I got my card from the caddy and lo and behold he registered an 89.  My companions did not seem to mind the score attributed to me and I could have turned my card over and that would be the end of that.  But something was gnawing inside me.  I knew the tally was wrong.  I then decided to re-examine my entire round and found the erroneous entries.  It turned out I shot a 93, which is correct by my count.  I signed the card and submitted it.

I did not win anything. I don’t know if I would have won anything with the 89.  If I did though it would not have sat well with me.  In my entire golfing career I’ve won two tournaments and in both I can proudly say I earned them.  Had I won in this one it would have felt hollow, had it been based on the 89.

Now, I am not saying I am in the same league as Brian Davis but definitely golf is a game that tests integrity.  It is you against the course.  It is you against yourself.  In the end we only have  our integrity to protect and guide us.  That is what makes golf a gentlemanly sport.

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celeb

Yong-Eun Yang, what a man!!!!

Earlier this year, during the Honda Classic, a relatively unknown former driving range assistant from Jeju Korea, earned his first PGA Tour title, edging ahead by a mere stroke over John Rollins.  He said at the time that his PGA Tour win was his most important triumph as winning on the PGA proves he belongs with the top players in the world.  Earlier today (Manila Time), YE Yang proved not only that he belongs with the top players in the world, he showed that he can slay the top player in the world, Tiger Woods.

Tied after the first nine, Sunday of the PGA Championship, YE Yang and Tiger Woods battled for the year’s last major, in a showdown where both were waiting for the other to blink.  The drivable 14th hole, measuring 301 yards proved to be the venue of high drama.  Yang drove his ball 20 yards away from the hole while Tiger was in the greenside bunker.  Tiger blasted out to 8 feet, with birdie a certainty.  Yang surveyed the green, stood steadily over his ball and clipped it with confidence.  The ball bounced on the surfaced and tracked the hole like a heat seeking missile towards a target.  The ball rolled truthfully and rolled center cut for an eagle 2.  Commenting on history being made, Verne Lundquist gave the following account of the chip, “It’s a good one … it’s a really good one … it’s WONDERFUL!” And indeed it was.  Yang then gave a fist pump and a scream seemingly reserved only for Tiger.  After Tiger birdies, the headed off to 15, with the Korean a stroke ahead.

YE 14

On the really long 15th, measuring all of 642 yards, both were on the fairway.  Yang only hoped to get close enough but Tiger had other plans.  Hitting a driver from the fairway, Yang pushed his shot a little to the right to end up 62 yards form the hole on the first cut.  Tiger then picked out a 5-wood and had plans of hitting the surface from 282 yards away.  He somehow hit the ball heavy and the ball ended up even farther than Yang’s.  No worries for the number 1 player as he then feathered a wedge to within 15 feet from the hole.  Yang was in good position to get even closer but a conservative pitch left him even farther away.  After 2 putts he registered a par.  Tiger had the opportunity to draw level with a makable putt.  Uncharacteristically Tiger though, he missed on the high side.

The 16th is a very difficult hole, what with water defining the entire right side.  After drives left the competitors on the short stuff, Tiger aimed for the flag.  The wind was blowing left to right pushing towards the water.  Tiger, showing a significant degree of indecision, kept throwing up grass into the air trying to get a sense for the direction.  He then decided on how to shape his shot and let ‘er rip.  His ball took off left of the flag, but instead of veering right to the hole with the wind, the ball stayed up and he ended up quite a distance away.  Yang now had a decision to make.  With a one-stroke lead and Tiger not in birdie position, does he play conservatively on this treacherous hole, or does he go for it?  It seems that Yang had more hutzpah than most everyone.  He took aim for the flag, played a fade with a helping wind and his ball barely cleared the water hazzard, ending up in the fringe less than 20 feet from the flag on the short side.  After Tiger lagged his putt close for a tap in Yang had the perfect opportunity to go 2 up.  He missed high.

The 17th proved to be the start of the Tiger death knell.  The par 3 was a brute with the hole resting on a plateau at the back left with heavy rough beyond and on the left side.  Yang took aim first.  His 7 iron traveled on the right line but ended up short in the valley under the level of the hole.  Tiger had a golden chance to take advantage.  He took out a 7 iron as well.  Threw up clumps of grass to find the wind, took aim and swung.  The announcers were clear that the shot was all over the flag. He not only had the right line, he appeared to have the right distance.  Tiger though looked with concern.  He seemingly knew something was amiss.  True enough the ball flew over the flag and landed on the tall grass beyond.  Tiger grimaced and hunched over in frustration.  Yang was on the green, Tiger was in the rough one shot back.  He knew he was running out of holes.  Tiger then chose his wedge and prepared to chip.  Given the lie, he was concerned that the ball would come hot and scoot beyond the level of the hole to where Yang was.  Considering this Tiger chose to nudge the ball forward hoping the ball would come out just right.  It didn’t, the ball did not only come out soft, it stopped well short of the hole.  Yang had all the advantages at this point.  But then there still had to be some drama left.  Yang putted his ball and as any amateur golfer well knows, you do not lift your head almost as soon as you make a putt.  It will end up short.   Yang committed this amateurish mistake.  Even he recognized his mistake with a wry smile after.  The flaw in his technique left him 6 feet from the hole, with a significant break in between.  Tiger then hit his putt and missed for a bogey.  Yang seeing the line Tiger’s putt took knew it was right to left with around 2 to 3 inches of break.  Alas, he left the club a bit open and pushed it for a miss.  Still one up though after his bogey.

Tiger wince

Given what has transpired over the last 5 holes, 18 became the venue of high drama.  The 475 yard par 4 18th was a real challenge.  After more than 70 of the world’s best golfers have played it on that day, the 18th only yielded 2 birdies.  Tiger therefore had his work cut out for him.  But then Tiger is Tiger.  If the impossible was necessary Tiger was there to accommodate.  Remember that 6 iron from the fairway bunker in the Canadian, or that chip on 16th at Augusta, or that birdie on 18th at last year’s US Open to tie for the lead and head to a playoff.  Tiger has a bag-full of past experiences to draw from to pull off another victory.  He has never lost a major where he led after 54 holes (14 out of 14).  He has not lost a tournament where he was leading by 2 strokes at the start of the 4th round (he started 2 strokes up on Yang and Harrington at the start of the last round).  Tiger had what it takes to win and he had one hole to present another moment of Tiger magic.

After driving his ball, Yang found himself in the first cut at the left side of the fairway over 200 yeards away from a pin that was on the left side of the green guarded by a huge bunker.  A tree blocked his view of the green and the wind was all over the place.  He decided on a 3 hybrid.  Hoping for the best, he struck the ball cleanly and it flew high into the air.  Did it have enough juice?  Will is fly through the tree?  Will it get gobbled up by the bunker.  Anything and everything can go wrong with this shot.  But seemingly going against the script followed by many other Tiger victims in the past, Yang’s shot defied the odds and landed a few feet from the hole and rolled a mere 12 feet away.  This was a majestic long iron, reminiscent of Corey Pavin’s five wood in Shinnecock, Nicklaus’s 1 iron to hit the flag stick on the 17th at Pebble Beach, and all the long irons of the fabled Hale Irwin.  This was a champion sticking it into the heart of his remaining challenger.  This was championship golf.  But then Tiger was not done yet.  He was on the right side of the fairway with a great view of the flag.  He needed to draw the ball towards the hole and stick it close to assure himself of a birdie for at least a tie.  Taking dead aim, he again hit the shot with perfection.  Perhaps too perfect.  His five iron from 197 yards had all the hallmarks of a Tiger classic until it flew past the green once again into the rough just a few feet from the surface.  In spite of that, no one has given up on Tiger yet.  Memories of Tom Watson on the 71st in Pebble Beach were being dredged up.  Can he chip in and force Yang to make a 12 footer for a win?  Alas, the magic just was not there today.  His chip bounced almost beside the cup and rested around 10 feet away.  The stage was open for the man from Jeju Island (the land of honeymooners).

Yang had two putts to win the first men’s major championship for an Asian born player.  Sure Tiger is  part Asian but everyone knew he was American first and foremost.  Asians needed a winner from amongst their ranks.  There have been flirtations before.  Mr. Lu in the Open, TC Chen and his two-chip gaffe, Isao Aoki and his record score in the US open, eclipsed only by Jack’s score which happened in the same tournament, KJ Choi in the Masters and others.  YE Yang was hardly the candidate to end the drought for the world’s largest and most populated continent.  Sure he won the HSBS Championship in 2006 holding off a certain Tiger Woods, but this is different, this is a major.  The former driving range assistant who only took up the game 18 years ago as a 19 year old fresh from military service, was in the verge of the biggest victory for all Asian golfers.  He lined up his putt.  Shrugged off the nerves.  Pulled back his putter and put a good stroke on the ball.  The ball rolled perfectly towards the cup and confidently dove in.  YE Yang just won the 91st PGA Championship!!!! He pumped his fist emphatically, in a move, again, only reserved for Tiger and screamed to high heavens.  He then lifted his bag above his head, like a warrior presenting his prey to his adoring followers.  Truly he belongs with the greatest players in the world.  Today he is the greatest player in the world.  After the final tally, Yang won by 3 shots (after Tiger missed his putt for par) shooting a 70 on a treacherous day.  Tiger limped home with a 75, surrendering a 2-shot lead and losing a major for the first time as the 54 hole leader.

Later Yang, 37, said that this may be his last victory (a show of Asian humility?).  What he failed to realize though is that even if he does not win again, his victory will the inspiration for all Asians to finally believe that we have the tools to make it on the big stage.  He underestimates the impact this will have to future generations who now know that the giant Americans, Europeans, Africans, Australians can be slayed and the Asians can win.  Somewhere, in some driving range, perhaps even in the good old Philippines, some lowly buck, working on his swing will view this win as his clarion call to greatness.

Long live YE Yang and Congratulations.

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Pictures from http://www.pga.com and yahoosports

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