Friday, November 18, 2011

Cristie Kerr, seeking elusive win, is fourth

Like misplaced car keys, sunglasses or the television remote, Cristie Kerr knows her best golf is there somewhere.

But, darned if she has been able to find it.

Every LPGA season since 2003 has produced at least one victory for the 34-year-old veteran with 14 career titles. During that stretch Kerr has reigned as the most consistent American in women's golf, reaching world No. 1 last season.

Then along came 2011.

With only 54 holes of golf left on this season's schedule, Kerr remains winless, although she is No. 3 in the world ranking. She is frustrated and impatient, not to mention sick with a stomach virus.

"Something I got from Mexico," she said, having arrived straight from last week's tour stop in Guadalajara. "I woke up Tuesday and felt kind of tired and started getting some abdominal pains and the other stuff I'm not going to mention."

The good news, however, is she is 4-under par and on the leaderboard after one round of the season-ending Titleholders at Grand Cypress Resort and Golf Club.

After a six-birdie, two-bogey 68, Kerr is two shots back of leader Na Yeon Choi, one behind Morgan Pressel and Karrie Webb, and tied for fourth with Maria Hjorth.

"I didn't expect much from myself today," she said. "Maybe that's what it takes.

"It's felt like a bit of bad luck [this year]. That's the way it goes sometimes."

Kerr's frustration is fueled by a year of close calls but no celebration finishes. Eleven events into the season she had collected seven top-four finishes, including a consecutive string of three seconds followed by two straight third-places. A little luck and she could have out-Yanied Yani Tseng.

"Cristie had that unbelievable stretch in the middle of the year, what, four or five seconds in a row," Pressel said. "To think she didn't come out of that stretch with a victory is certainly surprising."

Even more shocking to Kerr was a bout of tendinitis in her right wrist that flared up before final-day singles competition in the Solheim Cup in September. It forced her to withdraw and concede a match and point that became valuable in Europe's narrow victory over the U.S. team.

Her play has been spotty since.

"I've never had to deal with trying to pay attention to an injury like that," she said.

Add in the stomach virus that kept her awake much of the night before Thursday's opening round, and there wasn't a lot of reason to expect the best.

"It's kind of the way the year has gone," she said. "But maybe somebody will smile on me this week."

Somebody certainly will leave Sunday night sporting a major grin -- not to mention the $500,000 winner's check -- to take into the offseason. By the look of the first-day leaderboard, they will have earned it.

Seven of the top 12 players after the first day are ranked among the world's top 30, including No. 4 Choi. The 24-year-old South Korean has five career LPGA wins, including one this year. There's also Webb, already a Hall of Fame member, with two wins this season, at No. 15 and Pressel at 14.

"I mean this is the last tournament on the LPGA Tour," said Choi, who makes her American base in Orlando. "I really want to finish well this tournament and achieve my goals for 2011. It's not only to win. I want to feel satisfied Sunday after I've played."

Likewise, Pressel is hoping to end the year on a high note. Despite seven top-10 finishes that helped her rank 12th on the money list, she, like Kerr, is winless in 2011. After becoming the youngest player to win an LPGA major, taking the 2007 Kraft Nabisco before her 19th birthday, Pressel's projected success has stalled.

"I felt good out there today,'' she said. "I didn't feel like I was pressing too hard. I have a bad habit that I've gotten into -- when things start to go well I start to press and almost become afraid of the hole. I was able to stay patient, stay with my game throughout the entire round. Hopefully, I can continue to do that for three days."

Or the rest of the season.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Supreme Court set to open crucial term

The Supreme Court on Monday opens one of its most anticipated terms, in which the justices could strike down President Obama's healthcare law, empower local police to arrest illegal immigrants, and declare an end to affirmative action in colleges and universities.

The cases coming before the court "address some of the central issues facing the country," said former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger. The clashes over healthcare and immigration "are not mere lawyers' issues, but fundamental questions about how the country is governed."

"By June of 2012, this may prove to be among the most momentous terms in recent decades," said Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel for the Constitutional Accountability Center in Washington.

The justices will decide over the next few months whether to hear the cases. If they do, rulings will be handed down by late June, just as the presidential campaign moves into high gear.

Most legal scholars predict the justices will not steer clear of the controversies. "The fact that the issues are politically charged and it is an election year won't cause them a moment of hesitation," said Harvard Law School professor Richard Lazarus.

The court has five Republican appointees and four Democratic, and in major cases that divide along ideological lines, the conservative wing prevails most of the time.

The major issues:

Immigration: Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer wants the court to rule that states and their police can question and arrest illegal immigrants. Lower-court judges blocked Arizona's law from taking effect, saying the federal government has exclusive control over immigration.

Last week, though, a judge in Alabama cleared parts of a similar state law to go into effect there. This legal split means the high court will probably move soon to resolve the state-versus-federal dispute over who can enforce immigration laws.

A ruling upholding the Arizona immigration law would encourage more states and cities to adopt measures that crack down on illegal residents.

Affirmative action: In September, two white students turned down for admission by the University of Texas appealed to the high court, arguing that officials wrongly used race to favor minority applicants at the expense of whites and Asian Americans. Their appeal urges the court to outlaw the use of race as an admissions factor in public universities, just as the court, in a 5-4 decision, barred public schools from assigning students based on race to achieve classroom diversity.

Healthcare: Republican officials from 26 states are urging the justices to rule that the Democratic-controlled Congress overstepped its power by regulating the health insurance market. They want the court to void the requirement that all Americans must have health coverage by 2014 or pay a tax penalty.

The healthcare case could be a defining moment for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Beginning his seventh year as the court's leader, Roberts comes from a conservative tradition that believes in limits on the powers of the federal government and a limited role for judges in deciding highly political questions. Those two principles are in conflict in the healthcare case.

On the one hand, a high court ruling upholding the insurance mandate would suggest the federal government could tell Americans what products they must buy. Could Congress require Americans to buy American-built cars or to pay a tax for not joining a health club? Florida Atty. Gen. Pam Bondi, a Republican, said last week that striking down Washington's requirement to buy health insurance would "define the boundaries of Congress' power" and "defend Americans' rights and freedoms."

But a decision to throw out the law would be the court's most dramatic veto of major national legislation since justices struck down President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first New Deal measures in 1935. Since then, generations of law students have been taught that in matters of economics and business, Congress makes the law and the court stands aside.

If the court were to void the individual mandate, it would put healthcare reformers in a box. They could go back to Congress and seek a fix, but Republican lawmakers are not likely to vote for more taxes to make up for the loss of revenue from those who do not want to buy insurance.

From the other side, outraged Democrats and liberal activists would brand it conservative judicial activism if a narrow right-leaning majority were to throw out a national healthcare overhaul that was championed by the president and passed by the House and Senate.

Political activists on the left have not forgiven the Roberts court for its 5-4 ruling last year that struck down the long-standing bans on corporations and unions spending freely on election campaigns. A ruling against the healthcare law could make "judicial activism" a political rallying cry for the left, just as it has been on the right for a generation.

Healthcare experts are also watching a major Medicaid case from California to be heard by the high court on Monday. It will decide whether courts can stop states from slashing their payments to doctors, hospitals and pharmacists who serve low-income patients.

The right to privacy is on the court's docket in November. New tracking technology, including GPS, allows police to follow a car for weeks or months. The government argues that since no one has a right to privacy when traveling on a public street, authorities can secretly attach a GPS device to a car and monitor its movements — all without obtaining a search warrant.

Dellinger, who represents the defendant in the case, said it "may be the most important privacy case in decades because it is the court's opportunity to address technology like we have never seen before."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

New Consumer Protection Agency Faces Opposition

There's a new cop on the money beat: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and it opens its doors Thursday. It was created by the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, signed by the president one year ago.

The bureau will look out for the financial best interests of American consumers. And while it's popular with the public, it remains controversial.

The idea behind the consumer bureau was simple: If there's an agency to protect consumers from buying an exploding toaster, there should be one that protects them from signing up for an exploding mortgage.

"I think what we saw in the financial crisis is we didn't have anybody looking out for American families," says Michael Barr, a law professor at the University of Michigan. Before that he worked in the Treasury Department and was involved in drafting the legislation that created the consumer bureau.

"We had a whole set of practices that were wrong, that hurt American families and that in the end blew up our financial system and devastated our economy," he says. "And that's why we need a consumer bureau to set a level playing field with clear standards — fair rules of the road."

Political Challenges

But this brand new bureau faces many challenges. For starters, it doesn't have a director. Earlier this week, President Obama nominated Richard Cordray for the job. That same day, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took to the Senate floor with a message for the president.

"I would remind him that Senate Republicans still aren't interested in approving anyone to the position until the president agrees to make this massive new government bureaucracy more accountable and transparent to the American people," McConnell said.

The House is scheduled to vote Thursday on a GOP-backed bill that would restructure the consumer bureau to a form favored by the financial services industry. Among the changes, it would replace the director with a board of directors.

In short, the political fight over this bureau is far from over, even if most people now agree a consumer protection agency should exist in some form.

"Do I worry? You bet I worry," says Elizabeth Warren, a special adviser to the treasury secretary who is credited with coming up with the idea of a consumer bureau.

"There are clearly people who want to rip the arms and legs off of this agency before it has a chance to help one single family in America," she says. "I know that. I get it. They've made it pretty clear."

Warren has been building the bureau from the ground up for the past year. In that time it's grown from five employees to more than 400.

Today, the bureau receives authority under 16 different consumer laws. It gains oversight over more than 100 of the nation's largest banks when it comes to the consumer products they offer.

What Happens Next?

But until it has a director the bureau won't be able to start writing rules for non-bank financial institutions like payday lenders. Warren says the bureau is operating under one central vision.

"We want prices to be clear. We want risks to be clear. We want to make it easy to compare two or three mortgages to each other. Two or three credit cards to each other," she says.

For months now, the consumer bureau has been hard at work on the mortgage disclosure forms. Earlier this year, it posted two simplified mortgage forms in draft form on its website and asked the public to weigh in on which one was easier to understand. Warren says the agency received more than 13,000 responses.

The financial services industry says it backs the changes.

"How can you be against simplified disclosures?" asks Scott Talbott, chief lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable. "I mean it benefits the consumer, it benefits the industry, it benefits the entire transaction. It's all good, and the industry supports what the CFPB is doing."

In fact, so far, Talbott says the industry has been pleased with the direction the bureau is heading.

"We may not always agree with them," he says. "Where we don't, we feel so far we have been able to have good dialogue with them. But at the same time we haven't really hit the road yet. We're about to turn the keys and start it up today. And it will be out on the road for a test drive."

And that's what the industry is worried about — what comes next. "This is an entire new entity to come to grips with," says Jaret Seiberg, a policy analyst at MF Global's Washington Research Group. "And there's a tremendous amount of fear out there because this is a very powerful agency."

The fear is that the bureau will someday write rules that make it harder for banks to do business and make money. And that could actually limit credit available to consumers.

"There's no foregone conclusion. The agency doesn't have to fulfill the nightmares that the banks have, but until we start to see concrete actions, those nightmares are still going to keep bankers up at night," he says.

As for consumers, they probably won't notice a change immediately. But if in the future they go to get a mortgage and the forms are easier to understand, they can probably thank the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Great course, great city struggles for great field

Location isn't always everything when it comes to attracting a strong field.

It's as much about the calendar.

The AT&T National gets under way Thursday, and it appears to have everything in its favor. For the second straight year, it is being played at Aronimink Golf Club, a course so highly regarded that there is reason to hope for a major. It is located about 20 miles outside of Philadelphia, one of America's top sports town with an affinity for golf.

About all that's missing are some of the top players.

For the first time since this tournament began at Congressional in 2007, it doesn't have a single player from among the top 10 in the world ranking. Part of that is because Tiger Woods — the former host whose foundation still benefits from the charity dollars — is no longer in the top 10 or even playing at the moment.

But there are other reasons, most of which have to do with the time of the year.

The Fourth of July weekend was a big hit outside Chicago when the old Western Open was played. It was the biggest event between the U.S. Open and the British Open, and a tournament that most PGA Tour players entered. Then again, that was when PGA Tour players ruled the world ranking. Now it has a distinctive European flavor, not only at the top but throughout the top 50.

Most of them are either playing the French Open this week, or taking a week off before the Scottish Open, the final tune-up before the third major of the year. Bubba Watson decided to go to France, too, which was only strange in that he said he planned to return home before going back to the British Open.

The highest-ranked player at Aronimink is Nick Watney at No. 15. The other three from the top 20 are past champion K.J. Choi, Hunter Mahan and Jim Furyk, with Adam Scott at No. 21 also in the field.

That leads to another question: What constitutes a strong field?

The ultimate measure is the world ranking, and the AT&T National (along with the French Open) will be assigned points once the tournament starts on Thursday. This tournament has nine of the top 50 in the world. Considering that it's a PGA Tour event, the AT&T National at least can boast 27 of the top 50 from the FedEx Cup standings.

And of the 25 players who have won tour events this year, 11 of them are at Aronimink.

Then again, is a ranking more important than appeal when it comes to selling tickets? Is it more attractive to have a player from the top 50 in the world, such as Ben Crane or Brandt Snedeker, or a three-time major champion like Vijay Singh? Anthony Kim is barely on any list the way he's been playing, but his appeal is likely greater than someone like John Rollins.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said he looks at fields differently from the public, and he used star power as an example.

"Somebody asked me the other day, 'How much does a player who finishes 125th on the money list earn outside of official money?' It depends on who the player is," Finchem said. "If Freddie Couples was 125th, it would be a very different thing than a lot of other players. So those things move the needle in terms of your interest among the media, enthusiasm of the television announcers, how the fans are going to react to it, how tickets are sold.

"All those things are affected by a range of players, not just the players who happen to be in the top 20 or top 30 or top 50 in the world ranking. So we look at it different ways."

The AT&T National has a short history of strong winners — Choi and Kim when it was at Congressional, Justin Rose last year at Aronimink, giving him two wins in three starts.

Among those outside the top 50 is one who is sure to attract a decent crowd. That would be Sean O'Hair, who makes his home in the Philadelphia and joined Aronimink a few years ago. He was getting plenty of club and hometown support during the pro-am, despite his gaffe at the Red Sox-Phillies game Tuesday night, when he threw out the first pitch and was just a little bit off target.

"I think I hit the camera guy right in the head," O'Hair said. "The worst thing about it, I didn't even ask how he was doing. I was so nervous. But it was fun to be there. I wish I would have thrown a little bit better pitch, but it's not what I do for a living."

O'Hair is trying to get his golf game back together, as is Jim Furyk, who is slipping into a deep slump in the year after he won the FedEx Cup and its $10 million prize. Furyk, who grew up closer to the other side of Pennsylvania, has only two top 10s this year, and both those were a tie for ninth. He has missed the cut in his last three starts, the first time that's happened since the end of the 2004 season when he was recovering from a wrist injury.

Furyk has been around long enough to understand that ranking and form can go in cycles. Even though there are only nine Americans among the top 20 in the world, he is not pessimistic about the future.

"I think if you look at the under 30s, you look at Hunter Mahan, you look at Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler ... I'll take those four," he said. "You pick four players under 30 from any other region, I'll take my four, and I'll be quite happy with where my money goes."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Can Phil Mickelson Overtake Tiger As World’s Top-Earning Athlete?

Phil Mickelson faces a monumental hurdle at Congressional Country Club this week in Bethesda, MD.

But if he climbs that mountain, he’ll also close the financial gap on his long-time rival Tiger Woods. And in the process, further elevate his historical status within the game of golf.

Make no mistake, Lefty isn’t hurting for money. Forbes recent rankings of the world’s wealthiest athletes pegs Mr. Mickelson as the 5th wealthiest athlete, earning $46.5 million between May 2010 and May 2011. He trails Kobe and LeBron (2nd and 3rd on the list, respectively) by less than $7 M, and he only trails tennis great Roger Federer by $500,000.

But Tiger currently tops the list at $75 M.

As a golf enthusiast, I’ve watched with keen interest as Phil has tried to eclipse Tiger in the world golf rankings over the better part of the last decade. And though Phil now holds a greater world ranking (Phil is 5th while Tiger is 15th), it’s more because of Tiger’s “undoings” than Phil’s “doings”.

What’s interesting from a historical perspective is to see how the financial gap has changed just over the last several years between 2 of the world’s wealthiest athletes and most successful corporate pitchmen.

Using data from Sports Illustrated’s “Fortunate 50″ from 2008-2010, we see these trends:

- In 2008, Tiger earned $128 M versus Phil’s $62 M.

- In 2009, Tiger earned $100 M versus Phil’s $53 M.

- In 2010, Tiger earned $90.5 M versus Phil’s $62 M.

So relative to 2008 and 2009, Phil is gaining ground…though both men have taken hits over the last 2 years for a multitude of reasons.

In Tiger’s case, his injuries have hampered his on-course abilities and thus have made him a less stable investment. But more importantly, his off-course transgressions likely will torpedo his long-term endorsement opportunities utterly. He’s already seen his endorsement take fall from $105 M in 2008 to approximately $70 M in 2011. If not for Nike or Electronic Arts, he likely would no longer sit atop this list.

In Phil’s case, despite his victory at the 2010 Masters for his 4th major championship, his play continues to be too erratic and inconsistent. Though he certainly scores high on the likability scale given his on-course demeanor, Arnold Palmer-like go-for-broke style, perception of being a family man, and the public’s sympathy given that his wife’s and mother’s recent battles with breast cancer.

And in both of their cases, there is no question that the downtown in the economy lessened corporate willingness to invest so heavily in celebrity endorsers. Again, for Phil’s endorsements to slide from $52 M to $42 M in the year after his 3rd Masters suggests that macroeconomic variables were at play beyond his control.

But what is in his control, at least partly, is whether he can shed the label of unlucky loser at America’s golf championship.

Mr. Mickelson has famously finished 2nd a record number 5 times in the U.S. Open with 9 top 10 finishes. Somewhat astounding when you consider that Lefty isn’t the straightest guy off the tee on U.S. Open layouts where the rough can be taller than your children.

His ability to keep coming back and playing competitively in this tournament is both commendable and surprising all in the same breath, but with his 41st birthday coming Thursday during the opening round of the tournament there may not be many more opportunities to achieve glory on a tour that is becoming increasingly deep with young talent from both sides of the pond.

More than closing the financial gap on his long-time rival Woods, a U.S. Open victory would have the short-term impact of renewing the relevance of the Mickelson brand. His current sponsors would be more likely to extend his current deals while new sponsors may line up as well. It would be too good of a story for them not to. A story of the “hard-luck best man” showing the determination and resilience to finally capture his nation’s golf championship.

And the long-term impact would be to further make a case that he belongs in the discussion of the top golfers to have ever played the sport. As it stands now, only 17 men in the history of golf have won more majors than Phil. But a 5th major would throw him in a class with Byron Nelson and the recently departed Seve Ballesteros while shrinking the afore-mentioned list to 12.

In short, a Phil Mickelson U.S. Open victory at Congressional would boost his endorsement earnings in the next year by $5-15 M above and beyond what they would be if he comes up short again. And in the process, push him ever closer to becoming the wealthiest athlete in the world as Tiger’s wealth will likely continue to dip given his recent form.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hand of a Legend art series to feature golf greats

Artist Jack Kimmich of JHK and Company is introducing the first in a series of limited-edition, life-cast bronze hand sculptures of golf's living legends teeing up a golf ball, beginning with World Golf Hall of Fame member Jack Nicklaus.

Licensed by the PGA TOUR and the World Golf Hall of Fame, this unique series of bronze art will be produced from a casting of the actual hand of one of golf's legendary figures. Each piece will be made in the United States in museum-quality art bronze employing the "lost wax" process -- used by artists for more than 2,000 years to hand-craft high-quality bronze art pieces. The casting will be presented on a base of black granite to complete the truly exquisite work of fine art.

A new edition featuring a Hall of Fame member will be introduced periodically, and a casting of each of the legends will be placed on permanent display in the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum in St. Augustine, Fla. Only 1,500 pieces of this first edition in the series of collectibles will be cast.

The castings of the Jack Nicklaus edition and each future edition will be sequentially numbered with the year of issue and signature of the legend engraved into the bronze sculpture itself. A Certificate of Authenticity, signed by Kimmich, with the name of the original purchaser and the raised corporate seal of JHK and Company, will accompany each piece. Patrons of Hand of a Legend will be notified each year in advance of the public offering of each new edition, to provide them the opportunity to reserve the same edition number each year -- completing the list of items of authenticity necessary to make the Hand of a Legend series a truly compelling offering for collectors of golf memorabilia.

"This is such a unique piece of golf history and to be able to create a fine art piece such as this while supporting the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation and the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum is particularly gratifying," Kimmich said.

Patrons acquiring this unique art piece/golf collectible recognizing Nicklaus will also be helping two very worthy institutions -- the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting the health, safety and well-being of children, and the World Golf Hall of Fame, which preserves the history and legacies of golf's greats.

"Jack and his team have done a beautiful job with this piece," Nicklaus said. "The fine details and craftsmanship are outstanding, and it's very obvious that they have poured a great deal of time and themselves into this project. I am honored and humbled that the artist and the World Golf Hall of Fame chose me to launch this series. I am even more honored that they have dedicated proceeds to the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation. It's ironic that the true hand in this project is the helping hand they are providing young boys and girls, as well as their families, who are in need of pediatric health-care services."

"This is a unique product that we are honored to feature in the World Golf Hall of Fame," said Jack Peter, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the World Golf Hall of Fame. "This piece of art will enhance the experience for our guests in the Museum, as well as continue our mission of celebrating the legacies of the game's greatest players."

Hand of a Legend castings will be announced as available on a first-come, first-served basis, and the opportunity to own this "piece of history" is truly limited by the small number of castings to be made. The pieces are now available for ordering at $2,035 each, including shipping within the continental U.S. Go to to learn more about purchasing Hand of a Legend.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tiger Woods Down to Number 7 in New Golf World Rankings

Tiger Woods drops slightly further down the golf World Rankings as Lee Westwood's victory in South Korea keeps him at No.1

Europe’s grip on golf’s World Rankings appears to be as high as ever in the new list which was produced on 1st May 2011. Tiger Wood’s continued absence from tournaments means he is failing to keep hold of many of the points he has picked up in previous years.

The New Order at the Top of the Rankings

Lee Westwood has been the golfer to capitalise on the fall of Tiger Woods the most over the past few months. He has backed up his number one sport with two victories in the past few weeks, the first at the Indonesian Masters and more recently at the Ballantine’s Championship in South Korea. After losing the position to German Martin Kaymer earlier in the year, he has reclaimed the spot with some excellent performances in Asia.

Westwood and Kaymer aren’t the only Europeans vying for a place at the head of the rankings though. Luke Donald won the WGC Accenture Match Play in February and is on the heels of Westwood. He was runner up on the PGA Tour in America only last week, losing in a playoff to Brandt Snedeker at the Heritage Championship. A victory there would have seen him usurp Westwood at the top.

21-year-old Rory McIlroy is another European who has overtaken Tiger Woods. He has jumped up to a career high of sixth on the rankings, level with Woods on points average score but ahead of him on total points. The system as in most sports seems rather complicated. Best left to those in charge to work it all out. His good showing in the first three rounds at Augusta may have helped him in this. His fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell is his next target in the list.

We have been very used to seeing the rankings list full to the brim with Americans at the top, with Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk all in contention for World No.1. However, Mickelson is taking some well-earned time off from the game, only participating in bigger tournaments. When he and Tiger Woods come back properly to the Tour there may once again be a changing of the guard.

Three Americans to watch out for are Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson and Nick Watney. They are 10, 11 and 15 in the list respectively and all have a promising year ahead of them. Bubba Watson claimed the Zurich Classic in New Orleans and is at his career high in the top 10. Kuchar has been very consistent over the last year and he may be working his way slowly be surely into striking distance of the Europeans. As for Watney, his ability to shoot extremely low scores when others are struggling puts him into contention anywhere he plays.

Tiger Woods showed us big glimpses of what he was still capable of at The Masters at Augusta and so we should continue to look out for his presence in the rankings. He is the star attraction wherever he plays and it may not be long before his is challenging the Europeans at the top of the game once again.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Young golfers continue to shine in the Malaysian Open tournament

The Maybank Malaysian Open again lived up to its reputation as a launching pad for the young guns to rock the world of golf with the crowning of Italian prodigy Matteo Manassero against an unprecedented field of three current Major winners.

Last year saw Noh Seung-yul of South Korea making history as the youngest winner at 19-years-old but that was eclipsed by Manassero playing a superb game of patience on the greens.

Manassero, who turns 18 today, eventually claimed the handsome winner’s cheque of US$416,660 with a one-stroke win over Gregory Bourdy of France.

All champs: (clockwise) Viajy, Westwood, Seung-YUl and Manassero.
Seung-yul went on to become the youngest winner of the Asian Tour Order of Merit last year and earned a place in the Majors but he is not the only one to go on to achieve bigger things.

Current world No. 2 Lee Westwood and Fijian golf star Vijay Singh were among those won the Malaysian Open and went on to become marquee names in the sport.

Manassero’s second European Tour title should meant more as not just a perfect present birthday gift but also the fact that it earned him an automatic entry to the Majors.

Teen champion: Italian Matteo Manassero, who turns 18 today, became the youngest Malaysian Open champion on Sunday.
The teenager has jumped to the top 35 in the world rankings following his triumph at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club and he put his win down to his ability to keep a cool head despite coming under pressure from other players and the uncertain weather.

“All the players were doing well. It was not easy to concentrate and stay calm. Fortunately, I managed to do so,” said Manassero.

“It’s a great achievement for myself and gets me into the Majors. I just missed Augusta but playing the other three will be fantastic.

“I am really proud of that and the next target will be winning another tournament and keeping the momentum going. It’s going well and we’ll see what happens.”

The Malaysian Open this year will also be remembered for the one where crowd favourite and another talented youngster Rory McIlroy almost achieved a stunning comeback win after his astonishing collapse while leading the field on the final day of the Masters prior to arriving here.
McIlroy put up a brave fight on the back nine to give himself a shot at victory but a bogey on the last put paid to his hopes of forcing Manassero into a playoff.

The Northern Ireland golfer, who settled for third spot, tipped his hat to Manassero.
“Matteo is fantastic. He is a great talent. To get two wins on the European Tour before your 18th birthday is pretty special. He deserves it,” said McIlroy.

The 50th edition of the Malaysian Open not only attracted the strongest field but also thousands of fans, who packed the greens from the first round. Among the drawcards were South African Charl Schwartzel and German Martin Kaymer, the current Masters winner and world No. 1 respectively.

The marquee players at the Open this year lived up to their reputation as they continued to contend until the 72nd hole, unlike previous years when they tend to miss the cut.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Donald hones his killer instinct at the right time

Luke Donald, the assassin. It's an image which is hard to accept, no matter how coolly the Englishman pulls the trigger on the fairways nowadays.

After all, the 33-year-old is a national stereotype; America's idea of exactly how an Englishman should be. Quiet, modest, dignified... placid, even. He is definitely not Ian Poulter. Indeed, imagining Donald tweeting the same declaration as his countryman yesterday, is to imagine Peter Bowles with a nose-stud.

"I'm looking for the Ryder Cup Poulter to come out this week and show his face," wrote Poulter. "He never compromised. He wants it. Time to deliver."

Each to their own. With four English representatives in the world's top 16 a cross-section of characters is inevitable. Donald prefers a less bullish approach, slipping on to this property calmly yesterday, not with any grand statements of intent but instead with a smile and a nod. But do not doubt his conviction.

Donald is here to win and many wise judges believe he has the most obvious chance of all the Europeans who have splattered the summit of world golf in blue and gold. His victory at the World Match Play in Tucson in February screamed of a competitor nearing the peak of his form.

Five weeks on, has he reached it? Well, last week he shot a 62 around The Bear's Club, a course record on the testing Chicago track, which had been prepared to ape Augusta's lightning greens. A three-week break has evidently left him feeling fresh and focused. If his performance coach has anything to do with it, his concentration will hit new levels. And then help him hit his life target.

Dave Alred is better known as the long-time guru to Jonny Wilkinson. He strives to give his clients a "mindset for performance". He does this by employing metaphors. It is here where Donald becomes Carlos the Jackal. "With Luke I suppose an 'assassin' is the simplest, most tangible metaphor," says Alred. "Where you're ready, it's one shot, one opportunity and you need to hit right between the eyes because you don't get a second chance. It's about making sure all the technical work done with Pat Goss reproduces itself when he is under the cosh and he is becoming increasingly more successful in doing that."

Alred's alliance with Donald has been extensively covered and it surely isn't a coincidence that since the pair began working, 15 months ago, Donald has risen from world No 30 into the top five.

But there's plainly more in it than just Alred. In the midst of making the irresistible Wilkinson connection and of linking, say, a 10-footer for a green jacket with a drop goal for a World Cup, there is a danger of overlooking the influence of Goss, the coach with whom Donald has been working since he enrolled in his Chicago college in 1997. Goss is the head coach at Northwestern State University and the young scholarship student instantly knew he had found his man. "I felt my swing improved immediately," said Donald. "And he became a friend."

The cynics would say friendship can be a negative factor in the merciless environs of the professional range and would probably also question why Donald is still working with his college coach. It is not the done thing in the paid ranks. The first whiff of success and the original mentor is usually ditched for the celebrated mentor. A Butch Harmon, a Sean Foley, or the like. Even Goss sees the abnormality of their relationship.

"I don't know if Luke gets any flak – what are you doing working with your old college coach?" so he told the Vancouver Sun. "I'm sure there's some of that perception out there. One of my favourite jokes is, 'If he let go of his brother [Christian] as his caddie, where does that put the coach?' One thing I'll say about Luke is, I don't think he likes change."

The pupil sees it slightly differently. "I don't like to change things that are working," said Donald, who brought Goss on his reconnaissance mission here last week. "You know he's a good teacher when you've been struggling for a few weeks and then he gives you a tip, something very small. Suddenly, you're getting it."

Yet the ascent has been gradual. Donald credits Goss with making his short game one of the sharpest in golf. In fact, in Goss's eyes it is the sharpest. "We can make a good case that Luke's the best short-game player in the world," Goss said. "If not, he's close. Bunker play, putting, getting up and down... within 30 yards of the green, he is the best."

Donald will probably need to be if he is to break the barren British run at Augusta, which now extends to 15 years. His lack of length is plainly a huge disadvantage around this 7,435-yard layout. But he has been given extra hope – if he needed any – by the likelihood of fast, firm conditions as well as by the fact that his career win in Tucson came on a 7,600-yard monster, which is the longest on the PGA Tour.

"The way I see it is I can make birdies here and compete," said Donald, who finished third on his Masters debut in 2005. "I think five or 10 years ago it was all about the short game at Augusta but now there's definitely more weight on the long game.

"Obviously it helps to hit it far here now. But I still think it's very, very tricky around the greens and if you can putt and chip well, you're going to be there near the end. It's all about the execution." Said like a true assassin.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Webb Climbs up to Eighth in the World, Kerr Is Third

The results of the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup over the weekend led to some shuffling of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.

Yani Tseng and Jiyai Shin are still one-two on the points list. Tseng’s points-per-event average stands at 11.23, while Shin is a distant second at 9.46. Meanwhile, several other players have repositioned themselves behind them.

Cristie Kerr’s solo fourth-place finish in Phoenix boosted her into third place in the rankings, moving her past Na Yeon Choi and Suzann Pettersen. Ai Miyazato, who didn’t play this past week, remains sixth, followed by I.K. Kim. Karrie Webb’s second consecutive win moved her up two spots into eighth place while Brittany Lincicome, who finished one shot behind Webb on Sunday, shot up five places to 18th. Paula Creamer, who shared second place with Lincicome, jumped three spots into ninth place, while Inbee Park completes the top 10. Michelle Wie fell three spots to 11th place.

The Rolex Rankings are based on player performance over a two-year period. Players from all of the world’s major women’s tours are ranked according to their own efforts and the strength of the field in each tournament. Places in some tournament fields are allocated based on the rankings.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Excellent Field for This Week's Toshiba Classic

The field for the 2011 Toshiba Classic will boast¬ 23 former major champions and 16 players who own Champions Tour major titles. A total of nine members of the World Golf Hall of Fame will tee it up at Newport Beach Country Club for this week's tournament, which starts Friday.

Defending champion Fred Couples will return to Newport Beach, Calif., and defend the title he won with the second-best 54-hole score in the tournament's history. Couples will attempt to join Hale Irwin as the only golfers to win two Toshiba Classic titles.

Last year, Couples posted an impressive 18-under-par 195 in his third Champions Tour start to win by four shots. Last year Couples won four events, set the Champions Tour's new scoring average record (67.96), finished second to 2008 Toshiba Classic champion Bernhard Langer on the Champions Tour's 2010 money list and Charles Schwab Cup points standings, and was named Champions Tour Rookie of the Year.

Langer will be back. The German is in top form after winning the ACE Group Classic last month in record fashion. Also entered is John Cook, the Corona del Mar, Calif., resident and winner of the first event on the 2011 Champions Tour, the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai; Mark O'Meara, who grew up in Mission Viejo and owns two major championships; along with legends Tom Watson (eight majors and that memorable near-miss in the 2009 British Open) and 71-year-old Lee Trevino (six majors). Watson carded a final-round 62 last year and Trevino will be playing his only Champions Tour event of 2011.

First-time Toshiba Classic participants include former British Open champions Mark Calcavecchia and Ian Baker-Finch ¬- who is making his Champions Tour debut. Other "rookies" are Champions Tour major winner Michael Allen, Keith Clearwater, Bill Glasson, J.L. Lewis, Steve Lowery, Frankie Minoza, Lee Rinker and Rod Spittle.

Current Charles Schwab Cup leader Tom Lehman, who acquainted himself well in his Toshiba Classic debut last year by finishing T3, is entered along with Fred Funk, 2010 Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin, Tom Kite, Nick Price, Fuzzy Zoeller, Craig Stadler and Loren Roberts. All but Funk and Roberts (a two-time Charles Schwab Cup champion) own PGA Tour major championships.

The 65-year-old Irwin, the overall event money leader ($780,091 in 14 appearances), has the most victories in Champions Tour history (45) and is one of 10 former champions in the field. He joins Couples, Langer (2008), Jay Haas (2007), Brad Bryant (2006), Mark "Beerman" Johnson (2005), Tom Purtzer (2004), Allen Doyle (2000), Bob Murphy (1997) and Jim Colbert (1996).

Pavin, Lehman, Watson, Trevino, Kite, Ben Crenshaw, Curtis Strange, Hal Sutton and Dave Stockton all captained Ryder Cup squads. Stockton will compete in his 19th consecutive Toshiba Classic and is the only player in event history to play in every event. His best finish is a T2 in 1995 at Mesa Verde Country Club.

Members of the World Golf Hall of Fame entered include Watson, Irwin, Kite, Langer, Trevino, Crenshaw, Price, Curtis Strange and Larry Nelson.

Cook, Lehman (Allianz Championship) and Langer have claimed the three 2011 Champions Tour events to date. Langer now has 14th Champions Tour titles in 71 career starts, moving him to 15th on the career victory ladder.

"When you look at the names we have in our field this year, all you can do is marvel in wonder at how much history you're seeing on these fairways and greens," said Toshiba Classic executive director Jeff Purser. "A great amount of the game's history over the last 40 years is represented in this event, but what shouldn't be forgotten are these players continue to impress and amaze on a weekly basis and Newport Beach Country Club has always been a great template for them. This event not only raises millions of dollars for charity, but it continues to raise the bar of golf on the Champions Tour and the players in our field are the reason for that."

The $1.7 million Toshiba Classic, the only Southern California event on the over-50 circuit, awards a $255,000 winner's check and will be televised on Golf Channel Friday, March 11, from 3:30-5:30 p.m. PT, Saturday, March 12, from 3:30-6:30 p.m. PT, and Sunday, March 13, from 4-6:30 p.m. PT.

Daily tickets for the Toshiba Classic are $20 if purchased in advance or $25 at the gate. Season patron badges, providing admission to the grounds and clubhouse for practice rounds and the tournament, are $100. Daily patron tickets, providing access to the grounds and the clubhouse on a single day, are $40. All tickets can be obtained at, while tickets and corporate packages are available by calling 949/660-1001.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Westwood, Woods among Match-Play top seeds

England's Lee Westwood will make his first US start as world number one against Sweden's Henrik Stenson when the $1.4 million World Golf Championships Match-Play Championship begins Wednesday.

And third-ranked Tiger Woods, a three-time Match-Play champion who is also a top seed in his quarter of the 64-man bracket, will open against Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, a two-time British Open runner-up who won at Qatar two weeks ago.

German world number two Martin Kaymer and reigning Masters champion Phil Mickelson are also top seeds in pairings that follow world rankings except for 2007 Match-Play winner Stenson, in from 65th after Japan's 64th-ranked Toru Taniguchi withdrew due to a neck injury.

Mickelson opens against Australian Brendan Jones while 2010 PGA Championship winner Kaymer's first match will be against South Korean Noh Seung-yul.

"I just try and worry about my own game and if I play well, I know I can beat who I'm playing," Australian veteran Robert Allenby said. "It's when you start worrying about your opponent or everyone else you come undone."

Woods, still seeking his first victory since the sex scandal that erupted 16 months ago, faces a tough draw in order to end his drought this week.

Woods, a 14-time major champion, won the event in 2003, 2004 and 2008, but none of those was contested on the current Dove Mountain course.

Irishman Padraig Harrington, a three-time major champion, and Australian Geoff Ogilvy, who won the event in 2006 and 2009, meet in a first-round feature matchup with Woods, if he advances, facing the winner in the second round.

England's Paul Casey, the WGC Match-Play runner-up the past two years and a second seed this year, plus South African stars Ernie Els and Tim Clark and Colombia's Camilo Villegas, third last year, are among possible quarter-final foes for Woods.

In 10 starts at the event, Westwood has never reached the third round, but he will be expected to break that barrier, in part because Stenson's only top-10 effort since 2009 in a PGA-sanctioned event was his share of third at last year's British Open.

Westwood's potential second-round foes are Americans Anthony Kim and Nick Watney with South African Retief Goosen, Italy's Francesco Molinari and South Korean K.J. Choi among his possible third-round rivals.

US second seed Steve Stricker, who opens against Italian teen Matteo Manassero, or English third seed Luke Donald could await Westwood in the quarter-finals.

Japan's Ryo Ishikawa and Italy's Edoardo Molinari are also in that portion of the bracket.

Mickelson could face rising US star Rickie Fowler in round two and either reigning British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa or US veteran Matt Kuchar in round three of a difficult draw to the last four.

His quarter-bracket also features second-seeded reigning US Open champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland and English third seed Ian Poulter, the defending champion. Poulter and McDowell could meet in round three.

The quarter also features South Korean Yang Yong-Eun, the first Asian man to win a major title, plus England's Ross Fisher and his first-round foe Allenby.

"Match play is one of those games," Allenby said. "You could shoot 7-under and lose. You could shoot 1-over and win. It just depends on your partner. But it is just one hole at a time.

"If you're on your game, you should win, but Match Play is very funny. It's a very fickle game so anything can happen. It plays with your mind, Match Play does, and probably at the end of the week it's the one with the toughest mind will win."

That could well be Kaymer, although he faces a tough draw as well with England's Justin Rose or American Zach Johnson in round two and Swede Robert Karlsson or American Hunter Mahan potentially lurking in round three.

Second seed Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, US third seed Jim Furyk and Australian Adam Scott are also in Kaymer's quarter of the draw.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Westwood, Kaymer, Woods and Mickelson top seeds for Match Play

Count in Phil Mickelson for the Match Play Championship.

Mickelson, who skipped the World Golf Championship event in Arizona a year ago, said last November he might sit out again depending on a family vacation. But after he finished his final round at Pebble Beach on Sunday, Mickelson told The Associated Press, "I'll be there."

Lee Westwood, who took over at No. 1 in the world three months ago, will be the top seed when the Match Play Championship begins Feb. 23 on Dove Mountain just north of Tucson.

PGA champion Martin Kaymer will be the No. 2 seed, followed by Tiger Woods and Mickelson.

The 64-man field was determined Sunday night by the latest world ranking, and the only player to crack the top 64 was Anders Hansen. His tie for second in the Dubai Desert Classic moved him from No. 70 to No. 52.

Henrik Stenson, who won the Match Play in 2007 the first year it moved to Arizona, fell from No. 62 to No. 65 after missing the cut in Dubai. He would be first alternate, depending on a fellow European.

Francesco Molinari had planned to skip the Match Play because his wife was expecting. She gave birth to their first child, a son, last week. Asked if he had decided to play, Molinari replied to the AP on Twitter, "not yet no, 60 (per cent) yes 40 (per cent) no right now."

Players have until Friday to decide to play, and the pairings will be released a week from Sunday. After that, alternates could replace someone in the field until all matches tee off.

If Molinari decides to play, Westwood would play Toru Taniguchi of Japan in the first round. Taniguchi reached the semifinals of the Match Play when it was held in Australia in 2001, losing to eventual winner Steve Stricker in the semifinals.

Kaymer would face Seung-yul Noh, while Woods would play longtime friend Thomas Bjorn and Mickelson would get Brendan Jones.

Other matches that could be intriguing if Molinari plays would be Sean O'Hair against Hunter Mahan, two pupils of swing coach Sean Foley; defending champion Ian Poulter against Stewart Cink; and Geoff Ogilvy against Padraig Harrington.

The format for the Accenture Match Play Championship has changed this year from a 36-hole championship match on Sunday to 18-hole semifinals Sunday morning and an 18-hole championship that afternoon.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Wilson wins Phoenix Open in playoff

On Sunday, Mark Wilson's beloved Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl.

On Monday, Wilson got his second win already in 2011.

Wilson birdied the second playoff hole on Monday to defeat Jason Dufner and win the Phoenix Open. He captured the Sony Open in Hawaii last month and now Wilson is on top of the golf world.

"I am ecstatic," Wilson said in a television interview. "I guess my schedule got even better. I guess I'm in all the majors now and the match play thing.

"It's crazy. I'm just riding the train as long as I can. This is the best golf I've ever played in my life."

Wilson finished off a two-under 69 on Monday to join Dufner at 18-under 266. Dufner, who had a final-round 66, and Wilson were part of a large handful of golfers who came back on Monday after frost delays set the tournament back.

After pars at the first playoff hole, Wilson hit a great seven-iron seven feet short of the flag at the par-four 10th at the TPC Scottsdale. Dufner found the rough and could do no better than 60 feet.

Dufner's birdie try came up six feet short opening the door for Wilson. He poured his putt right into the heart of the cup and is now atop the money list and FedExCup standings.

"I have a good attitude right now," Wilson said on television. "I hit bad drives on 18 and in the playoff. I don't get down on myself. I'm looking forward to next week."

For Dufner, this was his best chance at that elusive first PGA Tour win.

"It's a little disappointing, but I didn't really give myself good chances," Dufner said in a televised interview. "All in all, a good week and a good start to 2011. I've been close a couple of times. I'm kind of tired of being close, so hopefully we can get one done this year some time."

Vijay Singh finished off his five-under 66 in the darkness Sunday to get in at 16-under 268. According to reports, Singh left the course thinking he'd never get into a playoff with Wilson at 18-under par and still with six holes to complete.

Singh tied for third place with Martin Laird, who fired a six-under 65.

Nick Watney (68), J.B. Holmes (67) and Gary Woodland (66) shared fifth at minus-15.

It was a painful Monday for Tommy Gainey, who was near the top of the leaderboard throughout much of the tournament. He drove into the water at the 17th, hit it back into the water and he left with a triple-bogey seven.

Gainey finished with a three-over 74 and tied for eighth place with Brandt Snedeker, Webb Simpson, Chris Couch and former PGA Champion Y.E. Yang at 14- under 270.

Wilson and Dufner were tied for the lead at 18-under par with Gainey one behind when Gainey imploded on 17.

Wilson hit into a fairway bunker at 18, but his drive flirted with water. He hit a spectacular seven-iron to 14 feet to give himself a chance at the win in regulation.

His putt stayed above ground and it was off to 18 for the playoff.

Wilson hit into a right bunker this time off the tee, but Dufner wasn't in the fairway either. Wilson's approach landed almost 60 feet from the stick, while Dufner had 20 feet for birdie from the fringe.

Wilson lagged to five feet and Dufner's putt narrowly missed. He tapped in for par, then Wilson ran home his par putt to head to the 10th, where he finally won the tournament.

"I was trying to beat Tommy the last few holes," admitted Wilson. "I hit a bad drive on 18, but got away with it. I've had that putt before. I got it to drop."

Phil Mickelson never got anything going late and tied for 29th at minus-10.

NOTES: Dufner birdied 16 and 17 to put the heat on Wilson...It took until the Arnold Palmer Invitational last year for Ernie Els to become the first multiple winner on tour...Wilson pocketed $1,098,000 for the victory...Next week is the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which Dustin Johnson has won the last two years.