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Posts Tagged ‘Phil Mickelson’

This is the week of the Masters, “a tradition like no other”, as CBS’s Jim Nantz would say.  For the first time in 12 years Tiger Woods is not the odds on favorite to bring home the green jacket.  Phil Mickelson holds that distinction having won 4 of the last 7 stagings of this event, including last year, and winner last week of the Shell Houston Open.  So who do I think will win this year’s edition?  In no particular order my top 5 are:

 

1.  Phil Mickelson – Can’t really argue here.  The guy just came off an impressive win, putting together 2 fine rounds to win in Houston.  The defending Master’s champion showed last year how much he owns the course.  He played with reckless abandon and was rewarded in the end.  His 6 iron from behind the trees in 15 is still the stuff of legends and will forever be part of Master’s lore.  My problem with Phil is that while he won last week, his season before last week was quite pedestrian.  Will we get the champion golfer or the guy who has been complaining about his arthritis.

 

2.  Martin Kaymer – Ok so he has never made the cut in the Master’s.  Ok so he has not won since he became number 1.  Ok  so he has not really contended since the Accenture Match Play.  But the guy is the number 1 player in the world for a reason.  He is steady, composed, long, and accurate.  He has the game for the Master’s and definitely the temperament.  His win in the PGA Championship showed that he can handle the pressure of a Sunday major.  Can he do so, while the cheers are murmuring amongst the trees and azaleas in Augusta?  I think so.

 

3.  Bubbba Watson – It is no secret that long hitters do well in Augusta and Bubba definitely fits the bill.  His game has improved by leaps and bounds and has even given him a win this year while contending in others.  His heartbreak in the PGA only steeled and prepared him for pressure in a Sunday back 9.  More importantly, his short game is pretty good and with the undulating greens in the Masters, that can only serve him well.

 

4.  Lee Westwood – This guy is due.  Has contended in Augusta ending up second last year.  He has contended in the other majors as well just  failing to get over the hump.  This former world number  1 has the game to breakthrough but has to contend with a rather bulky putter lately.  Nonetheless, he has the poise and ability to win.  The golfing gods will do well to reward this gifted golfer.  It’s about time.

 

5.  Matt Kuchar – After his impressive debut in Augusta in 1998, he has kinda fallen off the map.  But last year saw the reemergence of Matt Kuchar, winning once, topping the money, winning the Nelson and Vardon trophies as well.  this year he already has 6 top 10s in 8 events and is 3rd in scoring.  Statistically, he is in a good position to win his first major.  It would indeed be a great story for this Georgia native to win in his hometown.

 

Honorable mentions include Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Nick Watney, and sentimental favorite Ernie Els.  For the asians we can only look towards KJ Choi and Ryo Ishikawa.  I hope the latter does well if only for his pledge to Japanese relief efforts.

 

So those are the players to watch out for.  Who will win?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Let’s enjoy this tradition which unfolds tonight.

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The old adage goes that no one remembers who came in second.  True, who came in second to Usain Bolt in the 100m in the Olympics?  Who was second to Armstong in all those editions of the Tour de France?  Heck, who did the Celtics beat in the 1981 NBA Championships?  Only true die-hard fans would know (Boston beat Houston in ’81.)

In golf, the same is true, most of the time.  For this year though, as far as the majors are concerned, i.e. up to the Open at Turnberry, everyone will remember the losers as much as the winners. I might even venture that most will remember the 1st runner-ups more than the actual champions.  Strange but no less true.

After a short birdie putt at 16, Kenny Perry had a two stroke lead on Sunday at the Masters.  17 and 18, while no stroll in the park is not expected to cause 2 bogeys and therefore, people were in full celebration mode to honor, one who would be the oldest champion in the Masters.  Kenny Perry, in recent years defied father time and had his most productive seasons after the age of 40.  He is always seen as an ideal man.  Giving up tournament golf to be with his children during their formative years, he only had his legitimate opportunities to make a mark well past what would be the prime for most golfers.  Arguably, he was, at that point, the best player never to have won a major.  He had 14 wins in the PGA and was always near the top of the money list the last few years.  He was in the verge of seeing his dream come true, a major, at last would define his career.  Then a bogey at 17 after hitting over the green.  That’s fine, one shot lead, one hole to go.  Then the bogey at 18.  No problem, he’ll win in the play-offs.  During the first play-off hole, Angelo Cabrera, the swashbuckling Argentinian, who had only one career PGA tour win, albeit a major (2007 US Open), was in the trees after his tee shot.  He miraculously saved par, while Chad Campbell fell by the wayside.  Perry made a routine par.  In the 2nd playoff hole, the luck finally run out.  Perry bogeyed the 10th after hooking his approach.  The swing that held up for so many holes betrayed him in the end.  Argentina rejoiced, finally slaying the memory of Roberto De Vicenzo’s gaff in the 1968 Masters.  The rest of the world sat in stunned silence, commiserating with the gentleman from Kentucky.

The US Open at Bethpage Black was supposed to follow a pre-destined storyline.  Phil Mickelson just found out his wife had breast cancer.  While in the hospital, his wife, Aimee, agreed to allow Phil his chance at history in New York, the state that has embraced him as its own.  He vowed to take the Silver Cup back to Arizona to sit on a table beside a hospital bed, a reminder that all things are possible.  One can already see the ending of the movie. Through glazed eyes, opening from a deep sleep, after a session of chemotherapy, Aimee would see from the haze a gleaming silver cup sitting by the window, reflecting the sun’s morning rays, as her husband, the man with the golden smile, looked down at her with love.  In almost a whisper, he would then say, as he kissed her, “I did it … for you.”  But alas, fate was there to deal another blow.  Tied for the lead after an eagle at 13, Phil, high-fiving his way around the course, was in a high.  He only needed to hang on and surely he could take out the also-rans who dared challenge him on that day.  Then a bogey at 15 and another at 17.  Costly mistakes that allowed, unknown Lucas Glover, whose claim to fame was a win at the Bob Hope and topping the tour in total driving, to stroll in with a 2-shot win.  The dream ending was denied.  Again, the world sat in stunned silence.

And then there was Turnberry.  Tom Watson has been in the pantheon of golfing greatness for many years.  A holder of 8 majors, 5 of which holding high the Claret Jug, Tom is revered as one of the all-time best.  In tournaments nowadays, however, he is viewed to be a participant, many would still like to see, a nod to greatness of yesteryears, but not really considered as a real threat against the flat-bellies.  Sure, he may post a good round now and again but eventually, like all the other elder golfers, he would fade, reeling from the weight of the modern game, to end his challenge with a whimper.  His spot in the field is a concession granted past champions until they reach the age of 60 then, they are then asked to step aside.  He is 59 and has a year left to putter around the great links.  But harking the echoes of those golden ages, hearing the cheers from ’77 when he battled a Golden Bear under the sun, Tom defied the odds and took a 1 stroke lead into the final day.  Surely, his challenge will fade as soon as he stepped into the first tee.  Sure enough an opening bogey seemed to usher in the inevitable collapse.  If Greg Norman, many years younger, failed in his attempt to defy father time last year, an older Tom Watson will also suffer the same fate.  But Tom, with his graceful swing, unchanged for decades, plugged away.  Defying expectations, he matched the young ‘uns stroke for stroke, hole for hole, until at last there was one left.  With a 1 shot lead on the 18th fairway, he chose an 8 iron for his approach on a hard green, on this blustery day.  Rising majestically into the sun, the ball then landed hard on the surface, close to the flag, but failed to bite.  It bounded forward and eventually rested beyond the green resting against the first cut of rough.  Up and down for the win.  He took his putter out, surveyed the green, practiced his stroke, set up, glanced and let go.  The ball skidded up the bank and rolled past the hole 8 feet away.  Tom Watson, who faced, in his 40’s, a great bout with the yips, had a knee-knocker for the ages.  This was going to be the greatest day in golf history.  A man of 59 would reign supreme again with his 6th Claret Jug.  History will rank Tom Watson with no less a legend than Harry Vardon.  His putt though will deny all this.  Leaving the putt short deflated the man, who would eventually lose to Stuart Cink, he of the 5 tour wins and gangly swing, in the 4-hole playoff.  Accounts said that walking up 18 in the playoffs, sure that Watson had no chance, the gallery gave polite applause to the combatants, much like one would give while listening to eulogies in funerals.  For a third time this year, the world would sit in silence.

The world will not be able to take another heartbreak in the PGA Championship in August.  It is therefore fervently prayed of the golfing gods that a storybook ending be finally allowed.  In any event, 2009 will forever be remembered for the runners up, the also-rans, the ones who could not close the barn doors.  Many will not remember Cabrera, Glover and Cink as winners.  Everyone will remember Perry, Mickelson, and even more Watson as men who tickled our imagination, our belief that in this jaded world, storybook endings can still happen.  Just not this time.  Just not this year.

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Bethpage Black, the site of the 109th US Open will be the venue for yet another classic golfing event.  Last time the US Open was held here Tiger Woods, shooting 3 under par, won by 3 over Phil Mickelson.  Last year, Tiger won in a play-off against Rocco Mediate for his 3rd US Open.  With a length of 7,406 yards, softened a bit by rain, Bethpage would be a great challenge for the field.  In 2002, when rains made the rough even more lush the pros would say that hitting from the rough was like hitting into a bag of water.  That can’t be fun for the wrists.

We of course all remember the drama of last year’s win.  Playing off a broken leg and a torn up knee, Tiger summoned up all the courage one can humanly muster and battled over 91 holes to beat a resolute Rocco Mediate.  His leg was so injured that immediately after he underwent surgery on his leg which laid him out for 8 months.  Playing with a good leg, with 2 wins this year, Tiger is poised to defend his title, a feat last done by Curtis Strange in 1989.

Tiger

Looking at the field, there are many ready to challenge Tiger’s march to victory.  Players I will be looking closely at include:

1.   PhilPhil Mickelson:  The poster boy for golf in New York, he will defintely have the crowd rooting for him.  After Bethpage in 2002, his PGA win in Baltustrol in New Jersey, his collapse in Winged Foot in 2006, Phil has so greatly endeared himself to the New York fans that he will feel like he was at home in Arizona.  With the cancer scare Amy is currently facing, Phil will even have more sympathy behind him.  His tepid showing in Memphis though appears to show that his head is not completely in the game.

2.  geoff Geoff Ogilvy:  Having won twice this year and being a former US Open champion, augurs well for this Australian.  He has the game and temperament for US Open golf.  Being tied for 87th in total driving though may result in ventures in the rough, which this year appers to be even higher than in 2002.  (It was up to the thigh of Andy North in a recent clip.)

3.  Zach Zach Johnson:  The leader of the Fedex Cup as of this date may not be too long, nor overpowering, but he has the “boring” fairways and green game to make a splash this year.  Also a 2-time winner this year, Zach, a former Masters Champion, is enjoying a tremendous year.  The lack of stength though may prove to be too much for him given that the course is a brute.

4.  Ian Ian Poulter:  He of the funky clothes and coiffed hair is ready to finally win a major and have a break through win in the US.  His showing in the Open last year, his Ryder Cup Performance and his near win in the Players shows that he is at the cusp of major success.

5.  Paul Paul Casey:  He won in Houston and then won the European PGA, a European Major.  Paul is finally living up to his full potential.  Carrying a really fluid one-piece swing, he is a model of consistency which should be great for  a US Open layout.

6.  Jim Jim Furyk:  He of the funky swing and a US Open under his belt, has his game in great shape headed into this week.  He finished 2nd to Tiger in the Memorial, true, but he separated himself from the other pretenders, showing that he has game.

7.  Padraig Padraig Harrington:  He won the PGA and the Open and therefore has the mettle to win majors.  His wins though did not have Tiger in the field.  His recent form is not too great but champions are championsn and can rise above.

8.  Henrik Henrik Stenson:  His win at the Players was gorgeous.  Talk about taking command on Sunday.  With Tiger in his rear view mirror he put on his blinkers and ran away with a phenomenal bogey free round.   Aside from that he has shown he would strip to his scivvies to save a shot.

Other notables worth watching would be Steve Stricker, Brian Gay, Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Rory Sabbatini, Kenny Perry (if he has gotten over the trauma at Augusta), Angel Cabrera and David Toms.  They all have the game and the wherewithal to win at Bethpage.  Sergio is not doing too well this year, but after his break up with Shark-daughter, he supposedly has his head on straight and ready to play.  He did well in Bethpage in 2002 though he faded on the last day.  Brian Gay had two tremendous wins this year and is heading into the US Open with a great feeling having won in St. Jude.  Els will always be my sentimental favorite.  I just love his swing.

The European challenge should start with last years order of merit winner Robert Karlson but he withdrew due to an eye problem.  Carrying the European charge aside from those already mentioned will be Rory McIlroy, Ross Fisher Miguel Angel Jimenez, Luke Donald and Oliver Wilson.  I like Fisher’s game.  He is long and lanky and plays within himself.  McIlroy would be one I would root for though.  He is young and may not know enough yet to be intimidated by the task.  See Sergio in ’99 at the PGA.  Rory may well be that guy now.  Donald is not doing too well but he is again a sentimental favorite of mine as I also love his swing.

For Asia, our hopes rest on Jeev Milka Singh, Ryuji Imada, K.J. Choi, and I want to say Angelo Que.  Shingo Katayama is the perpetual Asian placer in majors but he too withdrew.  Surprisingly Thongchai Jaidee is not in the field.  He is really tearing it up in Europe being number 12 in the Race to Dubai.  I know Angelo Que will be hard pressed to even make the cut much less win but being pinoy, we of course will root for our own.

Everyone though will be chasing Tiger Woods this weekend.  I really cannot see him being a non-factor on Sunday.  I defintely can see him win.  You never know with golf though.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Charl Swartzel and Thomas Levet in the final group if the golf gods so ordain.  In any event I anticipate four fun days of competition for the 109th US Open.  Will Tiger take no. 15, will Phil finally win on father’s day, will Padraig add to his Open and PGA, will Sergio break through, will Ian Poulter comb?  These questions will be answered this weekend.  May the best man win.

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