(1) – The Pre Bomb and Gouge Era Revisited
Brian Gay’s win on Sunday at the Humana took us back to a refreshing time and place in the game; a time when a player wasn’t required to deliver 130 miles per hour of clubhead speed with driver to stay competitive, and a place where holes that stretch 500+ yards are still considered par5′s instead of par4′s. Indeed, Gay’s 4th career win on Tour last Sunday was helped considerably by Scott Stallings’ inability to manage his game coming down the stretch and Charles Howell III’s lack of confidence on the putting greens, but we can’t overlook the fact that Gay’s final round score of 9-under 63 came with an average driving distance of only 279 yards last week. His ability to keep the ball in play (tied for 2nd in driving accuracy @ 81.48 percent), finding the heart of the greens (tied for 4th at 83.33 percent) and a final round void of a single bogey to go along with 9 birdies… all of those things remind us how the game used to be played many moons ago, a time when accuracy mattered just as much as distance.
Streeter Lecka / Getty
(2) – Charles Not in Charge, Yet…
It’s tough getting a read on Charles Howell III. He never struggles retaining his card each season, earning more than enough money to keep his playing privileges on Tour. He’s always had a very efficient golf swing that has more than enough power, and he can definitely get on a streak and post some low numbers from time to time. But his real nemesis was revealed once again last Sunday, as his putting and scrambling deficiencies on the weekends continue to keep him out of the winner’s circle. It’s hard to believe that in his 11 years and 366 career starts on Tour, Howell has managed to win only twice, with his last victory going all the way back to 2007. But despite coming up short in the playoff with Gay on Sunday, Charles is off to a really good start this season with back-t0-back weeks finishing inside the top-5. And although his short game work in the off season is still a work-in-progress, he seems pretty anxious about improving his play around/on the greens and trying to capture his 3rd win this season. “I’m thrilled with the start of the season… I would have taken that for a Christmas present wrapped up nicely and had it,” he said. “I hope it does continue on. I like the work that I’m doing, I’ve made more of a commitment to work on my short game. It’s up to me to stick to the plan that I’ve laid out throughout the whole year, as opposed to having a couple good weeks and then focusing a little bit more on something else. But, yeah, I surely hope it continues on.” Sunday marked the 14th time in his career that Howell has finished runner-up.
Matthew Lewis / Getty
(3) – 2013′s First Official Flop
I guess they weren’t paying attention to the sports headlines last week, Tiger and Rory. Because had they read the script, they would’ve needed an extra day for the 18-hole playoff to determine which one of them would win the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi. Instead, Nike’s Dynamic Duo ended up writing their own scripts, one of which included an ending that would’ve made even Quentin Tarantino wince in utter disgust.
Woods, who pretty much all but assured himself the weekend off with his sporadic playing through the first 27 holes, finally found a little mojo on the back nine Friday afternoon. His four birdies coming in got him safely inside the weekend cutline, but there was an issue that needed to be addressed before signing his scorecard, an issue that occurred earlier in the round on the front nine. European Tour official Andy McFee confronted Woods about his decision to take free relief from an embedded ball right of the fairway on the par4 5th, a decision that Woods felt he was entitled since his ball had plugged into an area of vegetation right of the fairway. Except Woods wasn’t entitled free relief, per the rules. McFee explained the rules breach, stating that the vegetation with the sand base underneath didn’t constitute a closely mown area, and further informing Tiger that his incorrect procedure would assess him a 2-stroke penalty. As it turned out, instead of being safely inside the cut and playing the weekend, the penalty assessment put him one stroke over and heading back to the states.
As for the newly knighted Nike convert, McIlroy seemed completely at odds with his new Nike equipment. In fact, he became so disenchanted with his new Nike Method putter after Thursday’s round that he left it back at the hotel Friday morning, opting to go back to his old Titleist Scotty Cameron putter he’d used prior to signing the lucrative $200 million deal with Nike earlier in the week. Unfortunately for Rory, putting was the least bit of his worries, as he struggled to find his golf swing either of the two days and wasn’t anywhere near playing well enough to move into the weekend.
While it’s indeed much too early in the season to be pondering any notions that maybe McIlroy made an error in judgement switching equipment at this stage of his career, some are wondering aloud that McIlroy might’ve rushed into the Nike stable full steam ahead, with little regard to the equipment adjustments that can completely change a player’s confidence with his game. Nick Faldo, who himself isn’t a stranger when it comes to switching equipment companies in the middle of a promising career, is one of those who seems to be wondering the loudest. “As professional golfers we get a millisecond of feedback from impact. And if you get that lovely feedback and the ball goes where you want it, that’s a tick in the confidence box,” Faldo said. “But if you think ‘oh, that felt different’ and the ball doesn’t go where you want it to go, it starts to eat away at your confidence.” But besides the risks assumed with changing equipment, Faldo seemed just as surprised that McIlroy, who is clearly the top player in the world and arguably the Tiger of his generation of players, would play second fiddle to anyone as it pertains to brand identity. “I’m surprised he’s going to Nike. Tiger has made that his brand and to join someone else’s brand really surprises me, as I thought he would stick to his own thing. Rory could easily start ‘The Rory Brand’ and build his own identity,” he said. “He’s that popular, he doesn’t need to be a Nike guy, or adidas guy or whatever. When you’re 23 and world No 1 – what a great time to build ‘The Rory Brand’ – a true brand, not somebody else’s.”
Whatever the case, McIlroy’s debut with Nike last week was certainly not what he was expecting. But whether his start to 2013 was equipment related or simply the buildup of rust from a few weeks off during the holidays, obviously it’s much too early to tell. As I said in the latter part of last week, we’ll have a better take on these questions come March and April, as we move closer to the first major of the season.
(4) Phil Mickelson, You Greedy Bastard…
It’s taken me over an hour to edit what I originally wrote about this non-story regarding Phil Mickelson and the comment he made earlier this week about paying too much in taxes. In my attempt to not piss off some of my liberal friends, I decided to delete the whole damn thing. It’s not worth arguing my point with them, because no matter how much I justify why I feel the way I do, I’ll still be looked at as someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the plight of the underprivileged in my country back home, which I can assure you is not the least bit true. So I’ll keep it short and to the point.
(1) Mickelson expressed concern about being taxed at an enormous rate of 60%
(2) Mickelson expressed those concerns (he felt) off-the-record, but has been around long enough to know that they would be in the headlines the next day.
(3) Mickelson issued an apology to those who felt insulted because of his concerns. (that story HERE)
(4) Tiger Woods, who many have considered to be unfriendly with Mickelson, actually attempted to defend Mickelson’s comments. (that story HERE)
(5) If there’s anyone who in their right mind feels as though the government should be entitled to take 60% of anyone’s salary, click HERE.
(5) This Week’s Event at Torrey Pines
If the final round of this week’s Farmers Insurance Open offers us even half of the drama and excitement that we experienced last year, it’ll be something we’ll definitely want to tune in for. Most of us recall Kyle Stanley’s incredibly humbling stumble on the final hole that Sunday that led to the heartbreaking playoff loss to Brandt Snedeker, only to bounce back with his first Tour win in his very next start the following week. But unlike last year, this year’s field looks to be even stronger, with both Mickelson and Tiger headlining a very good field this week, easily the strongest field thus far in the season.
The marquee pairing on the South course is Nick Watney, Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler, teeing off Thursday at 10:30 a.m. local time.
The marquee pairing on the North course is Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, and defending champ Brandt Snedeker, teeing off Thursday at 9:30 a.m. local time.
PS – Phil Mickelson will be holding a special press conference prior to Thursday’s round, talking about his new sponsorship deal he just signed with H & R Block.
Thanks for your time, as always.
May you hit your tee balls long and straight,
but hide your winnings, cause the tax man waits.