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Drew’s Morning Dish — Mon., June 17

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Drew’s Morning Dish — Mon., June 17

Posted on 17 June 2013 by Drew Forrester

The 113th U.S. Open is in the books and history will show Justin Rose as the winner.

He did win the tournament.

But, the golf course the tournament was contested on was the real winner of the last four days.  Only 6800 yards and located on a measly 111 acres, Merion was up to the task of challenging the best golfers in the world.  Yes, it required the USGA to stick the pins in some questionable positions on a handful of occasions over the four days, but when you have 360 yard par-four holes, you can’t stick the flags right in the middle of the green or 10-under par will be the typical score.  The par-3 third hole was made into a bit of a joke by the USGA, who decided Sunday was the right day to make it a 274-yard hole into the prevailing wind.

That said, when you’re trying to identify the best golfer in the country, it doesn’t hurt to throw a bit of unfair in there to see how everyone handles the friction of questionable pins, fast greens and a pace of play that bordered on silly.

All told — Merion wasn’t an ideal place for spectators, sponsors and, at times, even the players, but tee-to-green the course was among the most memorable spots for a U.S. Open over the last twenty years.

Here’s a quick analysis of the winners and losers from the 2013 U.S. Open:

Winner:  Justin Rose — finally broke through to win a major title and get that proverbial “monkey off his back”.  Like most major championships, this event at Merion was won by the guy who holed the most putts on the final day.  Produced two glorious shots at the 18th hole on Sunday, a fitting way to end a 17-year English drought in major championship golf.  Has the game to win any of the other three major championships.

Loser:  Hunter Mahan — lost his golf swing in the final hour and went from tied for the lead to taking FOOOORRRRRREEEEVVVVEEEEERRRRRRR to play the final three holes.  Someone needs to show him the “While we’re young” commercials.  Still a player very capable of claiming a major title but until he does it, questions will loom about his ability to finish off winnable events.  Seemed a little “too happy” at the end of the day on Sunday.

Winner:  Phil Mickelson — didn’t win, but acquitted himself well on a day when three putts (#1, #2, #16) that coulda-shoulda-woulda turned out to be the difference between winning and losing.  Two back-nine wedge shots (tee shot at #13, second at #15) were the ones that did him in, particularly the approach at fifteen which was right in his wheel house with a back right pin that favored his left-to-right ball flight.  Dodged the question about Mahan’s slow play potentially distracting him on the final three holes, but it surely couldn’t have helped.  Still, at age 43, proved once again he’s among the world’s best when it comes to playing tough courses in sometimes unreasonable conditions.

Loser:  Luke Donald — spit the bit early, conking a girl in the elbow at the 3rd hole with his tee shot and never really recovering from that unnerving situation.  Played as well as anyone on the back nine, but wasn’t a factor after such a tough start.  Still without a major title and now has to start facing those Lee Westwood-type questions of “when are you going to win one?”

Winner:  Jason Day — has been one of golf’s best performers in major championships over the last three years.  Putting saved him throughout the back nine, but the missed 5-footer and bogey at #18 dropped him to +3 and made the final hole much easier for Justin Rose to stomach.  Has become a much better driver of the golf ball, something that held him back when he first showed up on TOUR five years ago.  He’s going to win a major soon.

Loser:  Rory McIlroy — embarrassed himself by bending his wedge on the 11th hole after a less-than-stellar approach shot.  Angrily threw a club earlier in the round after a poor shot, something the USGA will probably address with him in the form of a nice “reminder letter” that champion golfers aren’t expected to behave like that at U.S. Open events.

Winner: Billy Horschel — anyone who has the nerve to wear those pants in front of 25,000 spectators and a hundred million people watching on TV all over the world is a winner just for that alone.  Did let his well-known temper get to him late in Saturday’s round and on occasion Sunday as well, but anyone who drives the ball that straight and that far is going to be heard from in major events for a long time to come.  Didn’t putt well enough to win, but once he becomes a great putter he’ll be tough to beat.

Loser: Tiger Woods — it’s now five years since his last major title and there’s no relief in sight as long as he continues to putt like a 6-handicap in major tournaments.  No matter what denials he offers to the media, his putting in majors isn’t nearly as solid as in “regular” TOUR events, which is why he’s no longer winning them.  Never looked comfortable with the golf course from the first tee shot on Thursday.  At least he didn’t embarrass himself with junior golf behavior like his Nike-mate, McIlroy, but that’s about the only positive he can take from this week’s event.

 

 

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Day leads at Augusta after 36 holes; Woods falters on back nine

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Day leads at Augusta after 36 holes; Woods falters on back nine

Posted on 13 April 2013 by Drew Forrester

They’re halfway home at Augusta National and it’s anyone’s ballgame.

Just the way it should be.

On a day when the weather changed as often as the leaderboard, those who went out early struggled in a morning drizzle that led to slow greens, while players who drew the afternoon tee-time had to battle freshening winds that made both back-nine par 5′s tough to reach in two.  No one, thankfully, gained much of an advantage based on when they played.

Through 36 holes, Jason Day (-6) is the leader, with 53-year old Fred Couples and first-round leader Marc Leishman both one back at 5-under par.  Nineteen others are at 2-under par or better, including Angel Cabrera (-4), Tiger Woods (-3) and Rory McIlroy (-2).

Woods was tied for the lead at one point, but once again failed to play the back-nine well and made bogey at fifteen and eighteen to offset a front nine 33.  In fairness, Tiger’s round of 71 could have been worse.  He made three par-saving putts on the back nine – at 12, 14 and 16 – and had to coax home a 4-footer at the 15th to save bogey after his 3rd shot collided with the flag stick and caromed into the water in front of the green.  Tiger’s 71 could have easily been 74 had it not been for a solid putting round that was only blemished by a missed 8-footer at 18 that led to a closing bogey-5.

Couples continues to be the most interesting story at Augusta.  The 1992 winner is seemingly always on the weekend leaderboard and Friday’s round of 71 puts him in the final group on Saturday afternoon with Day.  The other important note for Couples: he drew the late-Thursday/early-Friday tee-time, which means he’ll have nearly 24 hours of rest prior to teeing it up on Saturday.  That’s huge for any player, but particularly a 53-year old with a balky back.  Don’t be surprised if Couples is still in the hunt with 18 holes to go.

This could turn out to be Day’s coronation as a world-class player.  He was in the hunt for a green jacket in 2011 until Charl Schwartzel went nuts on the final four holes.  Day was also the runner-up at the Rory McIlroy Invitational, otherwise known as the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional.  He’s one of the Tour’s most talented players when his putter behaves, which it did with great obedience on Friday when he made made four birdies on the inward nine.

Angel Cabrera and Schwartzel are both on the leaderboard and history is on their side, if nothing else.  Both have the experience to win at Augusta and Cabrera, in particular, has a great track record at the Masters.

The traditional saying of “The Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday” doesn’t do justice to the fact that Saturday is always “moving day” in golf.  Take a look at the leaderboard at 2pm today.   Then take a look again at 6pm or so.  It’s likely to tell a different story.

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Tiger starting to quiet the critics again as Augusta looms near

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Tiger starting to quiet the critics again as Augusta looms near

Posted on 25 March 2013 by Drew Forrester

Just one more win, one walk through the Georgia Pines in a few weeks, and Tiger Woods will officially be back.

And golf – at least the golf they play on the PGA Tour – will be fun again.

If Woods can win at Augusta on April 14, he’ll return to his rightful spot as the game’s most dominating player.  I know, I know, he won his 3rd tournament in two months on Monday at Arnold Palmer’s event in Orlando.  They have real players there, admittedly, but winning that event for Woods is akin to you successfully stopping the ice cream truck in front of your house on a lazy, humid summer evening in July.

Some players don’t win eight tournament in a 20-year career on the TOUR.  Tiger has now won Arnie’s event eight times.  How’s that for perspective?

But even a return to the world’s #1 ranking with his win on Monday doesn’t yet qualify Woods as “back”.  That won’t happen until he lifts another major championship trophy, something he hasn’t done since 2008 when he one-legged his way around Torrey Pines and out-gutted Rocco Mediate to win his 3rd U.S. Open.  It doesn’t feel like nearly five years since Tiger captured a major, but the calendar doesn’t lie.

Watching Woods cruise around Doral two weeks ago and then watching his equally impressive performance in Orlando over this past weekend was virtually enough evidence to proclaim he’s back.  But only a major title will do that.

For the sake of golf, let’s all hope Tiger cashes in at Augusta and gets that 15th major title.

Without him competing and winning over the last five years, major championship golf has given us great players with the personalities of an ironing board — guys like Webb Simpson, Stewart Cink and Keegan Bradley to name a few.  Nice players and all, but no one is going to put off cutting the grass to get inside and watch them play the last four holes of any tournament.

Rory McIlroy won a couple of majors while Tiger was re-fueling for his final decade of championship pursuit, but his game is now on hiatus while he plays with new clubs and a new girlfriend.

McIlroy is a nice kid and a terrific player, but international golf doesn’t start and stop with him.

When Woods wins, the world of golf wins.

It’s not all that different in the NBA right now.  When “King James” wins, so does the league.

To see Tiger again twirling the club after a 231 yard five-iron into a par-5 or giving us the fist pump after a 20-footer finds the hole — there’s not much in golf better than that.  But doing it in Orlando on a Monday afternoon is nothing like doing it on the 17th hole at Augusta.  Some guy named Kevin Streelman won last week in Tampa Bay when Tiger by-passed the event and decided to let the rest of the TOUR make some money.  No one like Streelman or Brian Gay is going to beat Woods at Augusta, you can make book on that.

The road to breaking the career title mark (18) of Jack Nicklaus is still far away for Tiger.  He has to win four more to tie.  That’s quite a feat, no matter how great you are and how many you already have in the bank.  But, in any given year, only 20-25 players are truly capable of winning a major title.  Woods, of course, is one of those.  So, he doesn’t have to beat 155 other players at The Masters or the U.S. Open or the British Open or the PGA.  He only needs to beat about two dozen other players.  And he just needs to do that four times in the next forty of those events he enters.

I’d say it’s still 50/50 at best that Woods ties Jack’s mark, but his next best chance comes up in two weeks at Augusta National.

One thing for certain:  No one in the world can make the Masters special by winning except for Tiger.

When he wins, golf wins.

 

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U.S.A. on the verge of bringing the Ryder Cup “back home”

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U.S.A. on the verge of bringing the Ryder Cup “back home”

Posted on 29 September 2012 by Drew Forrester

I’m sure Jose Maria Olazabal will be going to YouTube tonight to make a quick copy of Ben Crenshaw’s speech from the ’99 Ryder Cup in Boston.

His European team is in the exact same position as that ’99 USA squad, trailing 10-6 heading into the Sunday singles matches at this year’s edition of the Ryder Cup at Medinah CC in Chicago.

Until his team picked up two late points on Saturday afternoon, Olazabal wouldn’t have needed the Crenshaw video.  They would have needed a miracle, not a pep talk, had Ian Poulter and Luke Donald not pulled off rock-star putting displays late in their respective better-ball matches.

As it stands now, a 10-6 deficit is going to be difficult to overcome, but, as the European captain will no doubt remind his team, it has been done before.

The U.S. team needs 4.5 points (out of 12) to reclaim the Cup.  Europe needs 8 points to retain the Cup, as the defending titleist needs only to TIE the competition to win.

Here’s the match-by-match breakdown of Sunday’s singles competition.

Luke Donald (Europe) vs. Bubba Watson (USA) — Donald has more Ryder Cup competition than Watson, but the current Masters champ has played well this week at Medinah.  Advantage: Donald 

Ian Poulter (E) vs. Webb Simpson (U) — Poulter has been the best overall performer in the matches thus far, with his 5-birdie barrage at the end of Saturday’s play going down as one of the most electric back nines in Ryder Cup history.  Simpson, the U.S. Open champ this summer, has been solid for Davis Love III as well.  This should be one of the better match-ups of the Singles competition.  Advantage: Poulter

Rory McIlroy (E) vs. Keegan Bradley (U) — McIlroy has not played well at Medinah, particularly with his wedges and short-game clubs.  Bradley, meanwhile, has been the best ball striker on the U.S. team through the first two days.  How will he perform WITHOUT Mickelson at his side is the big question, but a win over McIlroy will prove that he can play well without the aid of a veteran cheerleader.  Advantage: McIlroy

Justin Rose (E) vs. Phil Mickelson (U) — Mickelson looked sharp in three rounds with Bradley and seems to have gained confidence in his new putting grip.  Rose hasn’t been sharp at all, with his unreliable short game hurting him Friday and Saturday.  Advantage:  Mickelson

Paul Lawrie (E) vs. Brandt Snedeker (U) — Lawrie is playing in his first Ryder Cup since 1999.  Snedeker is playing in his first one, ever.  Snedeker was hot and cold partnering with Jim Furyk, but when you’re the best putter on TOUR, like Brandt is, you’re always capable of pouring them in over 18 holes.  Advantage:  Snedeker

Nicolas Colsaerts (E) vs. Dustin Johnson (U) — The bombers get together for what should be a wild match of long drives and plenty of birdies.  Colsaerts was a captain’s pick and has proved a worthy one, as was Dustin Johnson, who teamed up with Matt Kuchar for the first two days of play.  Johnson did not play well in the Saturday afternoon match, but was bailed out by Kuchar’s hot putter.  Advantage:  Colsaerts

Graeme McDowell (E) vs. Zach Johnson (U) — McDowell has battling “the lefts” all week at Medinah and has been one of Europe’s least effective performers.  Johnson, meanwhile, had his own troubles with a faulty driver on Saturday afternoon.  Advantage:  Johnson

Sergio Garcia (E) vs. Jim Furyk (U) — Another match that could go either way, as both players have been hot and cold in the first two days.  Furyk has the experience edge over Garcia, but the Spaniard rises to the occasion in the Ryder Cup, a lot like his captain and the late Seve Ballesteros.  Advantage: Furyk

Peter Hanson (E) vs. Jason Duffner (U) — Hanson came in playing poorly and was used just once by Olazabal.  Dufner has been the second best American player overall, behind only Bradley.  Advantage:  Dufner

Lee Westwood (E) vs. Matt Kuchar (U) — A shaky short game has hurt Westwood in these matches and his putter has been among the coldest on the European team.  Kuchar has been terrific, combining great iron play with a scorching hot putter.  Advantage: Kuchar

Martin Kaymer (E) vs. Steve Stricker (U) — Kaymer, like Hanson, came into these matches on bad form and hasn’t impressed at all, playing just once in the first two days.  Stricker has hit the ball well, but his usually-solid putter hasn’t been up to par at all.  That won’t last for three days.  Advantage: Stricker

Francesco Molinari (E) vs. Tiger Woods (U) — Molinari is capable of playing solid golf but his putter has been erratic at Medinah.  Woods hasn’t played nearly as bad as his 0-3 record would indicate.  After a horrible round driving the ball in the Friday morning matches, Tiger rebounded with rounds of -5 and -6 in the better ball matches (with the typical match play concessions) and single-handedly kept the Saturday afternoon match alive with his great play.  Advantage:  Woods

Summary:  It’s just too much of a hurdle for the Europeans to overcome, although Olazabal was smart in sending out his three best players to start the singles matches.  He’s obviously hoping to get some early points and build some enthusiasm.  Love III countered with his better players (in this competition) early and then built some reserve on the back end with Kuchar, Stricker and Woods.  For Europe to mount a threat, they need strong performances from the guys who have played the worst (Hanson, Kaymer and Lawrie) thus far in the competition.  

 

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