Breakfast Ball, 3/3: Russell Survives, Rory Chokes, Tiger Leaves and Paula Validates.

March 3, 2014 in Breakfast Ball

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Tip of the cap to Russ Henley.

A strong weekend of golf all around, wouldn’t you say?

What we expected to be a runaway at Honda turned into a grindfest down the stretch and a four-person playoff. But before the leaders even stepped foot into the infamous Bear Trap, the storyline of the day was already written with another top player walking off of PGA National.

Because this is golf, we start with Tiger. After putting together arguably his best 18-hole round of the year on Saturday, in which the world No. 1 shot a 5-under par 65 and navigated the PGA National Champion course greens in just 23 putts, including 11 one-putt greens, things turned sour quickly for Woods.

On a day that hindsight snarkily points out a 67 from Tiger was all that he needed to join the playoff, Woods was 5-over through six holes and an afterthought for the television coverage until his back flared up again.

Woods was noticeably tight and bothered by his back from the first tee. Leaning sideways from the hip to stretch out his back and looking uncomfortable for the better part of the day, Tiger walked off the course on the 13th hole. Playing partner Luke Guthrie was predictably asked to talk about his playing partner, to the tune of his entire eight-question postround flash interview.

Q.  Can you tell us what happened on 13, what Tiger said to you?
LUKE GUTHRIE:  Obviously he kind of noticed that he wasn’t feeling the greatest there. I noticed he was starting to kind of gingerly tee up the ball and pick up the ball out of the hole and stuff. He just came over and said that, I can’t go anymore, it was a pleasure playing with you and I just said, take it easy, feel better. Pretty unofficial, uneventful.

Q.  During the entire round, did it seem like he was laboring? 
LUKE GUTHRIE:  He made a couple uncharacteristic shots; the drive on 3 kind of was the first one. I didn’t know if he wasn’t feeling the greatest and kind of seemed like he might have been protecting, came up and out of it.  I don’t know, I didn’t think much of it until, I forget maybe the first hole,11, I noticed he was bending down gingerly.

It would later come to light that the episode was similar to what happened to him at The Barclays last season. In other words, back spasms. Woods released a short statement on his way to the parking lot, saying:

“It’s my lower back with spasms. It started this morning warming up. (Regarding Doral), it’s too early to tell. I need treatment every day until Thursday to try to calm it down. We’ll see how it is. It’s the same feeling I had as Barclays.”

Woods is the defending champion at the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral, this weekend’s tournament. We’ll surely be kept up-to-date on the Twitter machine with what will transpire.

Getty Images

Back to the tournament-proper, though, where a snoozer turned into a white-knuckle playoff. Holding a two-shot lead for the majority of the day even as he faltered, Rory McIlroy looked like he couldn’t do anything but win until he snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory on the 16th hole.

Still 10-under par at the time and in control of a two-stroke lead as he approached the fairway bunker of the 434-yard par-4, McIlroy chunked his approach shot out to the right and couldn’t cover the five yards he needed to stay dry. A missed bogey putt from 22-feet put McIlroy in a tie for the lead at 8-under. Another bogey on the par-3 17th and McIlroy needed a birdie on the gettable par-5 18th to sneak into a playoff.

His playing partner, Russell Henley, scrapped alongside McIlroy all day long, doing enough to just stick around. Tied for the lead at the par-3 15th, Henley dunked his tee ball and walked off the green with a double bogey, two behind McIlroy and all but dead. However, McIlroy played the next two holes 3-over and Henley kept scrapping out pars, eventually finding himself with a one-shot advantage over his playing partner with a birdieable par-5 ahead that could result in his second victory on Tour.

Before Henley could hit his third shot from 40 yards left of the green, McIlroy butter-cut a 5-wood 238 yards over water to within 13 feet for eagle and a Houdini-like escape with the trophy. Going from up-and-down for a win to possibly needing to get up-and-down to tie McIlroy should he make his eagle putt, Henley chunked his pitch halfway to the hole. A long birdie putt wouldn’t go and Henley found himself helpless watching McIlroy attempt to steal back his tournament.

McIlroy burned the right edge, though, tapped in for birdie and Henley made his par, joining Russell Knox and Ryan Palmer in a four-way tie at 8-under par through 72 holes and earning a trip back to the 18th tee for a sudden-death playoff.

USA Today Images

From there, Henley alone reached the putting surface in two. McIlroy was unable to duplicate his exceptional shot from the fairway, flying the green and nestling into a unfortunate lie in the bunker that didn’t allow him to get the spin on the shot he wanted. Knox had a 22-foot birdie putt that went begging, as  did Palmer with a 10-footer for 4. McIlroy’s birdie chip ran up the blade and came up eight feet short and Henley, cool as you’d like, brushed his eagle putt to within three feet, gave that hat tip you saw above and buried the birdie putt for the win.

The win gave Henley his second title in two years on the PGA Tour, joining the aforementioned McIlroy, Patrick Reed and Harris English as the only four players on the PGA Tour to have won multiple times before turning 25 years old. The $1 million payday also got Henley to No. 46 in the world rankings, punching his ticket for this week’s WGC Cadillac Championship down the road at Doral.

Henley will see McIlroy again next week, as well as his third-round playing partner Lee Westwood and the rest of the top-50 in the world golf rankings.

More on the WGC to come later this week, as well as the new Doral, the Donald and the return of Victor Dubuisson.

You’ve read enough, so for the video of the day you have to see the putt Paula Creamer made to win the HSBC Women’s Champions event in Singapore. If you’d like some more, here’s the accompanying story from GolfDigest.com’s Local Knowledge blog.


Breakfast Ball, 2/28: Rory Goes Low.

February 28, 2014 in Breakfast Ball

RGL

How many times in the last 24 hours have you heard, “What a difference a year makes!” Enough to drive you insane? Me too.

Rory McIlroy shot a blemish-free, 7-under par 63 on Thursday to take hold of the first-round lead at the Honda Classic. If it’s possible at 25 years old, McIlroy looked like his old self, driving the ball long and beautifully, hitting precise iron shots and putting as if Dave Stockton was in his ear.

That little tidbit of information about the actual hardest three-hole stretch on PGA National? 10, 11 and 12; Rory played those holes in 3-under par. NBD, but KBD. He played the Bear Trap in 1-under and birdied 18 with a sand save to wrap up his round. A back-nine 30 at PGA National will go a long way towards winning a tournament.

So, uh, what a difference a year makes, huh?

As for some of the other big names in the field, their results gave way to a collective “ehhh.” Tiger Woods mixed and matched his game around the course, getting the speed wrong on the greens and missing wedge shots with a high dispersion en route to a 1-over par 71.

Adam Scott shot a rusty 2-under. Rusty in the sense that, at times, his game was on point, but at other times he made out-of-it swings that cost him. Case in point, back-to-back bogeys on 14 and 15. 14 was a 3-putt and 15 was the microcosm of his day: first ball in the water to the par-3 and then sticks his fourth to a foot for a kick-in bogey. Complacency followed by brilliance.

Phil Mickelson played solidly with the exception of the par-3 7th when a bad tee ball came back and bit him. It took Phil three to get on the putting surface and he couldn’t make the 12-footer to save his bogey. An even-par 70 was not the worst score of the day, but not what the Lefty needed to get into contention.

Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia were unimpressive as well, shooting opening-round 73 and 72, respectively. And while admittedly, PGA National isn’t the easiest course to start your Augusta prep on, the scores were out there.

The most impressive round of the day came not from Rory or Russell Henley, who was one off the lead after carding a 64 on Thursday; that feat belongs to Zach Johnson, your local Olive Garden waiter.

ZJ’s day got off to a slippery start (pun intended). Starting on the back nine, Johnson parred 10 then made your run-of-the-mill quadruple bogey 8 on 11. Drive in the fairway, two in the water. Deep breath, regroup. Drop three, splash. (At this point, I wish I could find the video. After taking the first drop carefully and utilizing lift, clean and place, ZJ caught a ball from his caddie, dropped it and swung all in one motion. We all can relate to that. If you have a video of it or a Vine or whatever, send it to me I’ll put it up). Four in, five out, six on the back of the green and missed the putt for 7. Snowman. Dog balls. Eight.

So, 4-8 to start, what do you do after that? Birdie four of the next seven to make the turn at even par. Easy peasy. Three birdies on his back nine and he’s four back of the solo leader heading into Friday.

A few notable scores from the first day of the Honda include, of course Russ Henley who we already mentioned, but also former champion Rory Sabbatini put up a 65, as did Jamie Donaldson, William McGirt and Brendon de Jonge. A good start for sure, but no guarantees. Camilo Villegas led the tournament a year ago after the first round, but ended up missing the cut with a day two 77.

Not much else to get to today with the golf world staring down at South Florida, so let’s call it a day, shall we? 

First, you need some reading material. Rex Hoggard did an outstanding job with his series on Jarrod Lyle. Hoggard was granted all-access with the Lyles as Jarrod fought leukemia for the second time in 12 years. It’s a six-part series, so you better get started soon. But here’s the intro to whet your appetite:

Jarrod Lyle, two-time cancer survivor, doting father and PGA Tour player, is the emotional sum of many parts. An anomaly in the land of Tour conformity and stoicism, the strapping Australian is an imposing figure on the golf course but embraces his emotions with surprising ease despite the fact he can’t produce tears.

Lyle’s two bouts with leukemia, plus chemotherapy treatments that rid his body of the disease, robbed him of the ability to cry, but not the capacity to feel.

For two weeks last November, Lyle allowed GolfChannel.com unfettered access as he made his emotional return to competitive golf at the Australian Masters in Melbourne, about an hour from where he grew up.

From his meetings with his straight-shooting doctor to the life-changing moment in 2012 when he was declared cancer free for the second time in nearly a dozen years, Lyle’s is a story of tragedy and triumph.

For the next six days GolfChannel.com will chronicle Lyle’s dogged fight not only to survive but to play the Tour again. It’s the story of the game’s ultimate fighter.

Good stuff.

The video of the day was a submission from my little brother, Nick. Fits the mold of the last two days. Rory’s leading the Honda. Wayne Rooney, who just signed a deal to make more money than God, is playing a little footgolf. My guy JP Fitzgerald steals the show.

Have a good weekend. Try to get some golf in if you can.


Breakfast Ball, 2/27: Balls In the Air, Burning Bridges and FootGolf.

February 27, 2014 in Breakfast Ball

USA Today Sports

You know we’re creeping up on the Masters when you get out of bed in the morning and the PGA Tour already has a handful of players on the course. The Florida Swing is underway and balls are in the air in Palm Beach Gardens. They’ve been in the air since 6:45 a.m., actually, but soggy conditions won’t be the reason players will be grumbling coming off of PGA National.

Lift, clean and place is in effect for the first round of the tournament and don’t be surprised if we see it Friday, Saturday and maybe even Sunday with afternoon showers moving in through cut day. Weather can play a big role in this event with so much water on the course and storms moving in bringing some strong winds.

A lot is made of this week’s host venue for its difficulty. The PGA National Champion course was the toughest course on Tour last year, not including the major championships. A major reason for that lofty status: a three-hole stretch on the back nine.

No, we’re not talking about the Bear Trap. 10, 11 and 12 was the third-hardest thee-hole stretch on the Tour last year, again, not including major championship venues, playing to an average of 0.767 over par. Getting through that stretch while incurring as little damage as possible is paramount — as Zach Johnson and Ryo Ishikawa can attest; both made quadruple bogey 8s on the 11th already today.

Players get a bit of a breather on 13 and 14 before starting the Bear Trap, 15, 16 and 17, which has consistently been on of the toughest stretches of golf over the past seven years. From 2007-2013, the Bear Trap has been the fourth most difficult three-hole stretch in the game, majors included. But if you were to take out Augusta National’s Amen Corner, it would be the second most difficult stretch only behind Quail Hallow.

So, now that you have some statistical analysis, get ready for some carnage down the stretch this weekend.

One man trying to avoid said carnage and get his game on the right path heading to Augusta is none other than world No. 1 Tiger Woods. Everywhere Tiger goes, he’s the story. Even places where he’s not, he becomes the story. Case in point: Giles Morgan, HSBC’s global head of sponsorship, speaking before the bank’s LPGA Women’s Champions event in Singapore saying that top players (Tiger) shouldn’t chase funny money around in the silly season, they should earn it from his tournament. From the French AP:

World number one Woods has caused controversy by skipping the last two editions of the $8.5 million tournament, the richest seen in Asia, in favour of exhibition appearances in the region.

“I do think the tours — and I think the tours are working on this — should make sure that there is respect to the tournaments,” Morgan said in an interview in Singapore.

“As opposed to playing in meaningless… money-making opportunities around the World Golf Championships (WGC).”

He added: “It’s up to the tours to enforce the criteria to their membership. And we’ve expressed our position to the tours, which is that we know they can’t enforce their players to play and that’s fine, we understand that.

“But we do think that players need to be respectful of… these major events (which) are really at the top and the pinnacle and the lifeblood of the sport.

“If you’ve got sponsors investing that level of money, the players should respect the calendar.”

Pro tip: want a sure-fire way to make sure Tiger Woods never plays in your event again? Tell him he has to.

We know the whole independent contractor thing and while it’s nice to think that no one is bigger than the sport they play, Tiger Woods is the closest any modern athlete comes to it. The interesting piece of this puzzle is what Morgan said following the above quotes:

“The World Golf Championship is an enormous event and we pay a major prize fund for that and we are absolutely not in the business of paying appearance fees on top of that,” said Morgan.

He does know that we know HSBC is the title sponsor in Abu Dhabi, right? You know, the tournament that is absolutely in the business of paying appearance fees. Sure, the Abu Dhabi event only has a $2.7 million purse, just more than a fourth of the $8.5 World Golf Championship event, but wouldn’t it stand to reason that given Woods’ appearance fee, Rory McIlroy’s, Phil Mickelson’s, Sergio Garcia’s, Martin Kaymer’s, Luke Donald’s and Matteo Manassero’s that HSBC is shelling out just about the same amount of money for each tournament?

Anyway, if you want to bait the Tiger into coming to your tournament, you don’t admonish him and try to make his superiors force him into it. That’s one sure-fire way of Tiger taking his clubs and balls and going somewhere else in Asia for a couple mill to play an 18-hole exhibition.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Reddit Golf.

Last thing today: FootGolf. Basically, a soccer-golf hybrid that employs the same rules as traditional golf with the incorporation of a soccer ball in lieu of clubs and tees and golf balls. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued. Dominated the soccer scene for years with the Westside Crew. No team played faster, harder or stronger.

Not only is this idea the kind of initiative the folks at Hack Golf should get behind fully because of the possibility of getting people to the course and increasing revenue, but because it’s also something that by proxy could bring more people into the game. Here’s your read for today from the Sacramento Business Journal, but it could apply to locale around the country or even world.

A professional league is expected to launch next year, and there are talks with a TV network about televising the U.S. professional tour.

“We’re getting an amazing positive response,” Woods said. “The vast majority are soccer players. That’s why we’re so excited.”

Those soccer players have all the skills right out of the gate and they’re excited to play, he said. In addition, those players stick around afterward for food and drinks, and they become familiar with the golf course, potentially priming themselves for an interest in traditional golf down the road.

“It’s a fascinating example in business of looking outside your normal walls” and using existing facilities to generate new revenue and a new customer base, he said.

Haggin Oaks primarily attracts men in their 50s, 60s and 70s for traditional golf. FootGolf draws men and women in their 20s and 30s as well as kids.

Woods estimates that the course will average 30 players a day within three weeks. Even if that number never increased past 30 a day, Haggin Oaks would generate an additional $100,000 a year in revenue, not counting sales of food and drinks, he said.

How about getting one of these courses in Cincinnati, AFGL? And how about a golf-ball themed soccer ball? Something like this.

Along that same vein, here’s some guys from Real Madrid showing how good professional soccer players would be at FootGolf. 


2014 Honda Classic Fantasy Picks

February 26, 2014 in Golf

PGA National’s closing stretch, the Bear Trap.

Fantasy golf is hard; information overload is easy. Once you have you’ve done your research and hitched your wagon to a certain player on a given week, depending upon what format of fantasy golf you play, *your guy* could be no longer available, running low on starts or too expensive. You need options. You’ll find get them here. Here’s who we love, like and need to show us something this week.

The PGA Tour swings through Florida before a quick stop in Texas ahead of the first major championship of the year. With so many Tour pros making their homes in and around Palm Beach Gardens, a strong field has become the norm around PGA National.

Need a one-and-done guy, check out who we love. Need some fillers in your Yahoo! lineup, round it out with who we like and if you’re looking for a couple dark horses or flyers on the cheap for your salary league, see who we want to show us something this week.

HondaLove

HondaLike

HondaShow


Breakfast Ball, 2/26: The Florida Swing, Steve Elkington’s Tweet and Caddyshack.

February 26, 2014 in Breakfast Ball

Getty Images via Golfweek.com

Thursday’s first round at the Honda Classic will mark the fourth “official start” to the PGA Tour season. We’ve already had the actual start of the season at the Frys.com Open in October, the 2014 kick-off at Kapalua and the “Tiger Played Torrey” West Coast Swing kick off. Now, with Tiger in the field again and joined by Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and some of their buddies, we have yet another unofficial official start to the season.

For whatever reason, the Honda Classic has bulked up considerably in recent years (more on that tomorrow) and now plays host to the most prestigious field of the season to this point — and yes, that includes last week’s WGC. Even while last week’s Match Play Championship garnered over 150 more world ranking points for its winner, this week has Tiger, Adam and Phil: star-power that a truly epic Accenture Match Play couldn’t, well, match.

So, while Honda wins 1-up over last week’s tournament, the real reason we’re getting these stellar fields down in South Florida is because the time is nigh to gear up for the first major championship of the season. We have Honda this week, the Cadillac Championship next week, Copperhead, Bay Hill, the Valero and the Shell then boom, we’re daydreaming down Magnolia Lane.

Get excited. Only 42 days until Augusta.

Now quell that excitement and let’s have a serious conversation about Steve Elkington on Twitter. Yesterday morning, presumably watching NFL Combine coverage on ESPN, the 1995 PGA Champion composed (too elegant of a word?) and disseminated this now-deleted tweet:

You know Michael Sam. You probably know Steve Elkington, too. The question becomes, “should we care what an aging professional golfer has to say about a gay football player?” And the answer, in practically every situation, is no. Plain and simple.

There have been thoughtful reactions to how Elkington’s tweet reflects upon the golfing public, exasperated #smh posts and comparisons to your “dumb uncle on Twitter” courtesy of Deadspin who went through the archives to pull out some of Elkington’s greatest hits.

Where should we fall on this issue, then?

I vote somewhere between Ryan Ballengee’s plea for Elkington to stay off Twitter and Luke Kerr-Dineen’s throw-your-hands up, what’re-you-gonna-do approach. Does this reflect poorly on golf and golf fans? Maybe. The PGA Tour surely thinks so, reprimanding Elkington and allegedly asking him to delete the tweet. As a society in the social media age, however, I think we’re becoming apathetic to this whole thing.

We realize more with each passing day that people say — and tweet — stupid shit. Should that negatively impact a whole community of people? Probably not. On the flip side, a homophobic thought made public by a professional golfer could negatively impact another faction of people who not incorrectly associate that personification of exclusion with golf. And that’s a problem worth noting.

To Ballengee’s point, golf has been on the wrong side of history more than a time or two, but in the Kerr-Dineen’s line-of-thinking, not only has the game evolved, but so have those who participate in it. It wasn’t right for Elkington to stereotype Sam in that light in the same way it wouldn’t be right to lump all golfers as homophobic idiots with the equivalent of a 12-year-old boy’s sense of humor.

This is the Twitter Age: direct access to anyone’s thoughts without a filter. People will stay stupid shit, other people will react and in two days we’re on to the next inflammatory statement. That’s life in 2014. We have gay professional football players and ex golfers who think all gay men are sissy boys. And like most things in life, it’s not right, but it’s the facts.

/steps down off soapbox.

vdubsmagicenI don’t know about you, but ever since Sunday evening this Victor Dubuisson fella has been fascinating to me. Not just because he played a couple of drop-your-jaw shots out of the desert, but because of the shroud of mystery he willingly cloaks himself in. Dropped out of school in 8th grade to concentrate on golf, doesn’t get along with the French Federation of Golf so much so that he’s considered taking up citizenship in Monaco and so private that even after admitting to loving movies, he refused to say what his favorite was.

From Global Golf Post’s Lewine Mair comes a story about the man before he made headlines in Arizona.

The Frenchman was No. 1 on the European Ryder Cup points list entering the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, but those who know him best recognise there is a problem. Off the course, he is in a world of his own and a bit of a loose cannon.

If, for instance, he agrees on a time for a next-day photo shoot or a sponsor’s function, it is more than likely that he will not turn up. Those concerned are not remotely surprised when it happens. They just shrug their shoulders and say,”That’s Victor for you.”

In fairness, GolfWeek also did a profile on the Dubuisson ahead of the Match Play and James Corrigan of The Telegraph filed this after Sunday’s heroics. Some light reading for you. Interesting dude.

Finally, more than just the golf community mourned the loss of Harold Ramis on Monday. The actor/director/writer had hands in movies such as Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Animal House and most importantly for our purposes, Caddyshack.

For the video of the day, how about a look inside the filming of the best golf movie ever conceived. Set aside a half hour for this. It’s worth it.