Breakfast Ball 5/15: Speaking on Spieth.

May 15, 2014 in Breakfast Ball

Spieth as a 16-year-old.

With balls in the air at Jordan Spieth’s jumping off point, the HP Byron Nelson, now seems as good of a time as any to address the firestorm that has erupted around the 20-year-old.

A 16-year-old Spieth first emerged onto golf’s collective radar at the HP Byron Nelson in 2010. The high school junior shot a third-round 67 to put himself in a tie for seventh, six shots back of the leader, a then-22-year-old Jason Day. Day and Spieth would both shoot final-round 2-over par 72s with Day claiming — until the Match Play this year — his lone PGA Tour victory.

Following that week in Dallas, Day jumped to No. 79 in the rankings and Spieth debuted at No. 864. Fast forward four years and both are in the top-10 in the world — Day at No. 6 and Spieth at No. 8.

Heralded as two of the game’s brightest young stars, neither has put a signature win on their résumé, but not for a lack of opportunities. For Day, both the 2011 Masters and US Open were realistic chances for him to break through as were those same events two years later in 2013. Instead, a trio of runner-ups and one third are as close as the Aussie has come to major glory.

Spieth, playing many of the major venue courses for the first time in competition, has had similar close calls over the past few months, most notably the Masters and Players Championship where the Texan held leads during the final round. Both times, however, Spieth failed to close. Whether that be a result of his own shortcomings or the fact that he may have simply been outplayed, he chalks up the experiences to just that and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t deserve his time.

“I don’t really care about the criticism,” Speith told Jason Sobel of GolfChannel.com on Tuesday, “because the people criticizing and even the people supporting me, there have only been a few people that have been in the positions that I’ve been in at my age, being able to try and compete the first time at these events and win them.

“I’m disappointed in myself, because I feel like I could have pulled them off. But I could(n’t) care less what anybody really thinks.”

He’s right. And as Sobel wrote, no one not named Woods or McIlroy can hardly begin to understand the positions he’s put himself in or the criticism he draws because of his near misses. The fact that he’s put himself there to win the biggest events in the game have been the Spiethian Catch-22. Missed cuts and demotions to the Web.com Tour are chalked up to being 20-years-old and the growing pains of adapting to life on Tour. Contending in major championships, real and contrived, and failing to win them have put him in the gallows for a public whipping.

“Experience comes from failure,” somebody famous most likely said, so why not give him a couple years to grow into his game, both mentally and physically? The almighty Tiger didn’t win his first major until he was 21; Rory not until 22. Spieth still has three chances this year. A Masters and a Players didn’t go his way, but it’s not like he shit the bed, excuse the expression.

The pertinent and fair thing to do with Jordan Spieth is to wait and see. He’s miles ahead of most of his contemporaries in terms of experience and talent, so why push it? Those two characteristics could allow him to become the next big thing in golf or they could let him down and he could flame out. Time will tell, so let’s allow it to.

Barry Chin / The Boston Globe / Getty Images

As if it’s not ridiculous enough that we’re waiting for Spieth to become the next whoever, we already have the next Jordan Spieth in the field this week. 

17-year-old Scottie Scheffler is a Dallas native who has filled up a junior golf résumé similar to Spieth’s, will play his college golf at Texas and is playing in this week’s Nelson four years after Spieth debuted on the PGA Tour. ESPNDallas.com’s Richard Durrett put a piece together ahead of this week’s tournament that’s worth a read.

The next Jordan Spieth?

Scheffler knows the comparisons to young PGA Tour phenom Jordan Spieth are natural. Both put up impressive junior golf résumés playing out of clubs in Dallas. Like Spieth, Scheffler won three straight state titles, doing so at Class 4A Highland Park. And like Spieth, Scheffler is a U.S. Junior Amateur champion, winning last year (in his final year of eligibility) at Martis Camp Club in California. The Dallas resident is the No. 1 junior golfer in the country.

The Nelson was Spieth’s first PGA Tour event in 2010. It will also be Scheffler’s first foray inside the ropes against some of the best professional golfers in the world.

Just as Spieth did prior to turning professional, Scheffler is headed to the University of Texas to play college golf.

Scheffler tees off at 2 p.m. off the 10th tee with Hudson Swafford and Kevin Kisner.

Final thing today comes from a story you may recall made some waves around the same time as Spieth was playing in the Byron Nelson for the first time in 2010. 

Erica Blasberg, an LPGA golfer, committed suicide in May of 2010. The ensuing few months were something out of a movie. I wrote about the death and gave some details when it first happened, but this week the latest developments of the case were ruled upon by a jury in Nevada. Story via the Las Vegas Sun.

A jury in Nevada cleared a Las Vegas physician Tuesday in a wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuit stemming from the May 2010 suicide of LPGA golfer Erica Blasberg.

Jurors who heard five days of civil trial testimony deliberated less than an hour before finding Dr. Thomas Hess had no liability in the death of a woman who according to testimony harbored deep feelings of unhappiness even as she became a college golf star and a photogenic rising talent on the women’s pro tour.

Hess, who testified earlier Tuesday that he had a “flirty” relationship with Blasberg, wasn’t in the courtroom when the jury finding was read. He has maintained that he and Blasberg were friends, but didn’t have a romantic relationship.

Hess’ attorney, Kim Irene Mandelbaum, declined immediate comment after the jury finding was read in Clark County District Court.

Earlier, Mandelbaum urged the jury of four men and four women to remember that Blasberg’s suicide letter said not to blame anyone.

Blasberg’s parents, Mel and Debra Blasberg, who are divorced and live in Southern California, said they were disappointed in the finding but glad to have aired their concerns in court.

If you’re interested in some more background, I recommend this December 2010 profile from Golf.com’s Alan Shipnuck.

Since Breakfast Balls have been a little spotty over the past week or so, I’m going to pass along a few videos today to make up for it. 

First, to honor the NBA Playoffs reaching its apex and the sadness that comes when the conference finals wrap up and we don’t get Inside the NBA anymore, we need as much Chuck as possible.

And with the World Cup on the mind as well, especially given the awesome Inside US Soccer’s March to Brazil series that just debuted, I’ve concocted an excuse to show US Women’s National Team star Alex Morgan hitting a golf ball at Houston’s TopGolf location and celebrating the nice contact.


Breakfast Ball, 3/4: Could Adam Scott Supplant Tiger at No. 1?

March 4, 2014 in Breakfast Ball

The four reigning major champions at Seminole's Pro-Member. (@justinprose99)

The four reigning major champions at Seminole’s Pro-Member. (@justinprose99)

To see all four major champons in the same field for the first time in 2014 all you needed to do was be a member at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla. or one of the best players on the planet. That’s it.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Member-Pro event down at Seminole, the annual event draws quite the field that aside from defending major champions Phil Mickelson, Jason Dufner, Justin Rose and Adam Scott (right), also lured the likes of Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els, Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Arnold Palmer, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Dustin Johnson, among others.

To understand the aura that surrounds the event Geoff Shackelford elegantly sets the scene:

The Seminole Member-Pro–think Tavistock Cup without the helicopters but with no shortage of Tanqueray and a surprising number of grown men with names that sound like 19th Century book publishers wearing pastel shorts and loafers with no socks–was played Monday at the Donald Ross masterpiece and it marked the first and only gathering of 2013′s four major champs: Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner.

Prior to this week’s WGC Cadillac Championship, no event has featured more than two of the major champions in a field so far in 2013-14, so it was a nice occurrence. As is the case with all of those prestigious clubs down there where PGA Tour players call home, GolfWorld senior writer and Golf Channel contributor Tim Rosaforte is the preeminent source of information for us plebeians.

In the northeast corner of the Seminole locker room is a piece of mahogany with names that date to 1937. Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Jimmy Demaret and Arnold Palmer won this event, as did Bing Crosby, with Gardner Dickinson as his partner. As Lee Westwood said hitting putts before the third round of the Honda, “Everybody wants their name on the board for the Seminole Pro-Member. It’s a Who’s Who.”

The name on the wall is just part of what this is all about. “The tradition, the history, the people there — it’s such a good vibe,” said Graeme McDowell. “The first year I played there, I don’t think could conceive the magnitude of it, when you see Nicklaus, and Palmer and all these legends of the game, plus having the mystique of Hogan kind of just there. There are just so many good people, obviously powerful people, but that’s [secondary]. It’s just such a phenomenal golf course.”

This is not for charity or a corporate sponsor. This is about playing a Donald Ross masterpiece along the Atlantic, and as McDowell alluded, having the Seminole experience.

As for yesterday’s results, Rex Hoggard reports that everyone’s favorite Rory (؟Sabatini؟) won the gross division along with partner Hugh Kenworthy in a scorecard playoff over Roberto Castro and playing partner Russell Ball.

As for the major champs, Mickelson was the low man with a 67, Dufner shot 68 and Rose and AScott put up matching 71s.

Speaking of Adam Scott, the defending Masters champion is teeing it up this week for the second consecutive tournament. However, there’s more at stake this week than the $1.62 million pay day, namely the world rankings’ top spot. GolfChannel.com’s Ryan Lavner explains the math:

Adam Scott likely would move to world No. 1 for the first time in his career if he wins this week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship and Woods finishes outside the top 5-7, according to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robison. An official projection will be released later this week.

Scott would need a minimum of 60 points to pass Woods in the rankings; last week’s Honda Classic awarded 60 points for the winner, and this week’s WGC field is stronger. Last year, Woods earned 74 points for the Doral win, while Justin Rose received 78 in 2012.

If Scott won, he would have 10.16 average points. Woods, currently at 10.04, would need to earn 14 world-ranking points to overtake that number. Last year, a top-6 finish earned 14 points.

Picking a winner at Doral this week is a crapshoot with the new renovations being unveiled for the first time (we’ll get into the changes a bit more tomorrow), but long and straight is always a good bet. Add into the mix that Tiger still isn’t sure whether he can play or not because of that strained back and Woods could find himself back in the pack in the OWGR for the first time since winning Bay Hill last year.

So, does Adam do it this week? It’s definitely hard to say, but he could do it. Scott, like Woods and McIlroy before him, sticks to the script that winning takes care of everything. World rankings are a result of stellar play, so there’s no point to putting too much stock into the number next to your name. Still, I find it hard to believe that it’s not a little bit of an incentive.

Like Woods, Scott is trying to play himself into shape heading into Augusta, but unlike Woods, Scott seems a little more consistent with everything he’s doing.

BarstoolSports.com

Piggybacking off of Tiger possibly losing his top ranking comes the question about his health. Again.

Of course, Tiger gets a rash of criticism for walking off the course with five holes to play, despite being in obvious pain stemming from an injury that has hampered him before. On the bright side, if history holds up, Tiger is done WDing this season. In the past five years, he’s withdrawn four times, which is not uncommon for 38-year-old professional golfers.

People like to call Tiger “an old 38,” “a tired 38,” or my personal favorite, “a hard 38,” but that fact is that golf is not a natural movement. Sure, neither is football, but it takes a special kind of crazy to play that game. Bad backs are the price people pay to play golf.

Will Woods have chronic problems with his back for the rest of his career? That’s impossible to say, but it shouldn’t be surprising if it flares up again. There was a lot of social media chatter yesterday opining on how to best work out for golf and avoid injuries. Yoga got a lot of love, as did core building and cross fit. Tiger’s thing is weight training and that’s a practice known to cause problems. Will he succumb to pressure to back off the weights? Again, impossible to say, but the visual of Tiger doing yoga fascinates me and takes my mind to this place.

Anyway, we should find out tomorrow if he’s actually going to give it a go this week. I find it hard to believe it would be worth the risk on a new golf course that he hasn’t seen. The Masters is just over a month away. We know what he’s aiming towards and how important it is to him, so why press the issue? Bay Hill is in two weeks. Why not rest, rehab and try to regain his top ranking then? You know, because AScott is going to win this week.

I’m having a pretty productive day so far, so we’ll cut it here and move onwards and upwards, as Rory would say.

Find something to read by yourself. In the aftermath of the Oscars, here’s the Best Actor in a Leading Role, Matthew McConaughey, talking about his obsession with golf.


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. 


Breakfast Ball, 2/13: Snowmageddon Strikes Southeast, Famous Courses.

February 13, 2014 in Breakfast Ball

Carnage on Magnolia Lane (via Michael White / @michaelwhitewx)

Snowmageddon hit the Southeast again yesterday tossing the region into virtual girdlock. If you remember last time the snowpocalypse hit, all the way back at the end of January, the city of Atlanta almost nearly shutdown. It was chaos; icy roads, eight snow plows in the entire city, Chipper Jones was saving people on his four-wheeler. People were spending the night in a Publix, moving around toilet paper and using it as a makeshift bed, for crissakes.

Not to go all Jim Cantore on you here — this is a golf blog — but with the effect weather had on the professional ranks last year, this seems like the culmination of Mother Nature’s hard work. Plus, when it snows in places it usually doesn’t, as evidenced by this site’s header, it makes for some pretty awesome golf pictures. For whatever reason, we love pictures of a snow-covered Augusta National (above), so thank goodness for local news guys who know to give the people what they want.

As for some other gems, the site of the 2014 PGA Championship, Valhalla Golf Club, right down the road on I-71 in Louisville, Ky. doesn’t shock the system as much as Augusta, but the pictures are still cool, nonetheless.

Since we’re practically covering the entire 2014 major championship rota, why not close it out with a nice video of Pinehurst under some winter weather?

The question that inevitably comes up after seeing these images is how will the courses look when the Tour pulls into town. For the first time in my life I checked out the Farmer’s Almanac. With the Masters only 55 days away now and winter — especially in the Midwest/Northeast — seemingly never-ending, it would seem like panic time for the green coats.

That might be the case, except for with temps reaching upwards of 70° next week, it shouldn’t be much of a problem to melt that snow and get some lush grass by April 10. As for the FA:

Winter will be colder and drier than normal, but with above-normal snowfall in much of the region. The coldest periods will be in early and late December, early to mid-January, and early February. The snowiest periods will be in early to mid-February and in late February.

April and May will be a bit warmer than normal, with near-normal rainfall.

Getting back into some nicer weather, some news out of Riviera: Lee Westwood and Sean Foley have split up. Details from the Alex Miceli report:

“I just wanted to work on swing positions and stuff like that a bit more,” Westwood said at Riviera. “I didn’t feel like Sean coached like that, so it didn’t really fit what I wanted to do.”

In the early days of the Foley/Westwood relationship, Westwood spent a lot of time on TrackMan to learn about launch angle and spin.

The information caused Westwood to add loft to his driver, a change that lasted as long as the relationship – Westwood has since changed back to the old loft on his driver.

“I have things in the pipeline,” Westwood said about finding a new instructor “Nobody has got any need to apply.”

Tim Rosaforte reported on the split on Morning Drive today after news broke last evening. Rosie talked to both sides and basically said the split was amicable in the sense that Westwood didn’t want to work with Foley anymore. The gist of the reason was the Westwood knows his window of opportunity for winning major championships is closing and to retool his swing would close the timeframe even further.

The reasoning is pragmatic and given the stats — since the Open Championship last year, he has one top-10 in Europe and has a T47 and MC on the PGA Tour so far this year — it just doesn’t seem like it worked out. Sometimes that happens.

While Westy will be trying to get his game in shape to make the European Ryder Cup team this year, more questions concerning the elder nature of the American leadership has come out with perennial Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples wondering aloud and on the record about how in touch with the younger players US captain Tom Watson will be, via The Scotsman:

“I’m a big texter so I’d text them and, if they answered, I’d tease them for 30 minutes. And, after 30 minutes of getting them to tell me stuff via texts, it was very easy to figure, for example, that Spieth was ready to go and he liked Steve Stricker and Steve Stricker liked him,” he said. “If I’d been talking to Spieth, he’s not going to tell me he’s nervous or doesn’t want to play with this or that guy. But, if you text them enough, they are bound to say something useful.”

Couples described Watson as “totally different” to him in terms of approach to a captaincy but is adamant the golfing senior citizen’s appointment is “no gamble” on behalf of the PGA of America.

“Whereas I can’t change and be serious and kinda strict and stern, Tom Watson is more of a serious student of everybody,” he opined. “I think he’s going to think he knows most of the players, but it’s going to be hard because I don’t know how many he really, really knows. But he’s got a few months to go to tournaments and I’m sure he will have a few dinners and meet the guys, get to know them and figure out what to do.”

Tom Watson doesn’t strike me as a big texter. He seems like the type of guy who signs a text with his name at the bottom. As if the textee wouldn’t know who was writing to them unless he signed “-Tom W.” at the bottom.

But like I said yesterday, why not go back to the old guard? Worst case scenario is that the experiment doesn’t work and then it’s back to where they were two years ago.

And how about giving Freddie a look? The Presidents Cups have been borderline boring with how successful Uncle Sam’s boys have been the past few years.

Speaking of Boom Boom, of course he’s in the field this week at Riviera. And speaking of the field this week, it is by far the strongest of 2014 with 433 world ranking points on the line (The WaMo had the second most with 343). 16 of the top 30 and 26 of the top 50 players in the world are in the field, headlined by three-time winner this season Jimmy Walker, last week’s runners-up Dustin Johnson and Jim Renner and some guys making their season debuts: Charl Schwartzel, Joost Luiten and Justin Rose.

Also, worth noting, from the PGA Tour Media Center:

While the field for the following week’s World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship will be finalized at the conclusion of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (top 64 in the Official World Golf Ranking), players can improve their position in the bracket through the Northern Trust Open.

Seeding for the Accenture Match Play Championship will be based off of the updated OWGR following the conclusion of the Northern Trust Open, meaning that while players can’t play their win in, they can
play their way up.

The must-read today comes from GolfDigest.com’s Luke Kerr-Dineen and his experience with Google Glass, something he considers to be the future of golf.

There’s also a remarkable amount of philosophy that has been injected into the device that, almost accidently, makes it perfectly suited for golf. Glass automatically hibernates when it’s inactive for more than 10 seconds, for example, because it’s designed to be there when you need it, and to go away when you don’t. When you prompt it, the video camera, too, will automatically record for ten seconds unless you push a button for longer. Why? Because Google wants you to spontaneously capture what you see in the moment, without delay or ceremony. The same goes for the regular camera, which snaps a picture almost instantaneously the moment you tell it to. 

“It’s not about supplementing reality,” Egbert, the guide, said. “It’s about using technology to engage with the world around you. Think about it, when your head is down and you’re looking at your phone, you’re cutting off the world around you. This allows you to keep engaging with everyone and everything all the time.”

As for a video, I’m always up for Phil Mickelson looking like a buffoon. Hope you are, too.

Bonus: PReed buffoonery.

Breakfast Ball, 1/30: The Rory Strut Returns

January 30, 2014 in Breakfast Ball

AFP

Remember back in 2011 and 2012 when it looked like Rory McIlroy was literally bouncing down the fairways? Well, that familiar strut was back on Thursday morning in Dubai as McIlroy jumped out to a first-round lead following a bogey-free 9-under par 63.

You would be strutting like the cock of the walk too if you were playing like McIlroy. Hitting on all cylinders, the 24-year-old Ulsterman hit 12 of 14 fairways, driving the ball an average of 309 yards per poke. He hit all but three greens in regulation and the ones he missed, he went 2-for-2 in scrambling and made one sand save. A pretty impressive round, to say the least.

And he has a three-shot cushion over his playing partner who also played pretty solidly in defense of his Persian Gulf title. No, not Tiger Woods; Stephen Gallacher. Sneaky long off the tee, the 39-year-old Scot was often the last to hit an approach after bombing drives right around 300 yards all day.

As for Tiger, a 4-under par 68 showed improvement, but also made McIlroy’s round seem all that more impressive. Woods’ driving woes continued as he now believes that his alignment is what’s giving him the trouble. Set up to play his (now-)patented fade, Tiger’s been hitting the dreaded straight ball.

Taking a step back and considering that the apocalypse was nigh after his third-round 79 at the Farmers, the 68 was a definite step back toward normalcy. Woods said he wanted to improve a little bit each day in Dubai and beginning with his Champions Challenge round of 71 on Tuesday, a solid pro-am on Wednesday and now a good start to the tournament on Thursday, he seems to be achieving that short-term goal.

One thing did stand out, however. As it was pointed out on the Twitters, it’s going to be hard for Tiger to be scrambling around and grinding out pars while, even when he’s in the fairway, he’s 50, 60, 70 yards behind McIlroy who is hitting 6-irons to Woods’ 5-woods. Tiger’s good is still really good, but it no longer is enough when players like McIlroy are on as well.

Who knows? Maybe the upward trend will continue and Tiger can go lower and lower. After all, what would be better than seeing a strutting Rory going up against a fist-pumping Tiger?

Man, do I miss that.

TigerFistPump

 

In other top-10 news, Phil Mickelson’s going to give it a go today in Phoenix. Lefty flew in (his arms must be tired) to Scottsdale on Wednesday and went through a practice routine over at Whisper Rock, the club of Martin Kaymer hat fame, and it was good enough for him, via Brian Wacker at PGATour.com.

Phil Mickelson confirmed Wednesday that he will be able to defend his title at this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open after lower back pain forced him to withdraw prior to the third round of last week’s event at Torrey Pines.

“I had a good practice session, though I didn’t go full speed for much of it,” said Mickelson, who arrived at nearby Whisper Rock on Wednesday. “I feel fine. I expect to play and play well.”

Mickelson flew to Dalton, Ga., to see specialist Tom Boers following last week’s withdrawal. His facet joints had locked up according to a press release issued Monday.

The 43-year-old Mickelson also said he expects to play next week in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Speaking of pro-ams, Phil didn’t have to play in the WaMo pro-am Wednesday, which I’m sure the Thunderbirds were happy to oblige in return for Mickelson’s commitment to the tournament. How long before that becomes the norm?

We’ve touched on the Hack Golf initiative a few times in the past two weeks, but in this week’s Golf + Digital e-mag I’ve found my opinion in the writing of Michael Bamberger. His message is simple: golf is a niche sport, embrace it.

bam

For the sabrematricians among us, today’s reading is right up your alley, but not necessarily in terms of unraveling the current crop of players out on Tour. Golf Digest went about ranking PGA Tour players from 1-100 since 1980. It’s not a perfect system by any means given that we’re basically starting the world at 1980, including absolutely nothing from before then, but that’s all they could do given the incorporation of statistics on Tour in 1980.

More to that point, Jack Nicklaus getting to No. 4 on that list basically from his 40s on is impressive. In all, Brett Avery basically gives us an RPI rating of players since 1980. The piece is interesting and the formula is complicated, but if nothing else, the piece will stir some debate. Check it out.

As for your video, we showed you one of the best caddie races of all time on Tuesday, but how about an all-encompassing 16th hole compilation to get you excited for the WaMo.

Hint: put on headphones.

 

Bonus Picture of the Day comes from MIller Coop (@kingofcoop on Twitter). Coop is a producer on Good Morning Augusta and before you scroll down I think you already know where this is going. 71 days out from the start of the Masters and we have snow on Magnolia Lane. Global warming is grand, ain’t it?

Miller Coop (@kingofcoop)

Miller Coop (@kingofcoop)