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The Last Stop: 2012 Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup

September 19, 2012

After nine months of grueling golf, the PGA Tour season has come down to this: The Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, GA.  So many storylines have been introduced this year and they all seem to be wrapping up at the exact same time, at the exact same tournament. The PGA Tour Regular season wraps up this weekend with someone winning the FedEx Cup, $10 Million dollars.Image

Here’s how the FedEx Cup Playoffs work for those who are unfamiliar with the format.   There are four tournaments in which the field gets progressively smaller after each event.  They start with 125, and then go down to 100, then 70, and then the biggest jump is down to 30 based on a points system.  Points are accumulated throughout the year and the playoffs.  This weekend is the final stop for the players at the Tour Championship.  Now, the top five players in the FedEx Cup standings control their own destiny with wins this weekend.  If they win at East Lake, they win the FedEx Cup.  The top five right now are Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker.   There are so many different scenarios in which guys who are in the 14th spot can win, with loses from the top 5 or second place finishes of what have you, but those seem unlikely, as unlikely as the Bills going to the playoffs this year. There are some dark horses out there who can come close and who have all played extremely solid golf over the past 5 weeks that really anything can happen. 

The obvious story this year has been the comeback of the greatest golfer alive, Tiger Woods.  He has three victories under his belt, and has been “a part of the conversation” in three of the year’s four majors.  Woods seems poised to take the FedEx Cup this year with how well he has been playing but now, at the precipice of becoming the number one golfer in the world again, there is one man who stands in his way, his “frienemy” Rory McIlroy.  McIlroy is the other feel good story of the year and for good reason.  He’s maintained the world number one ranking even though many competitors were nipping at his heels, and after a dismal year last year, he has four victories; one of them being the PGA Championship last month and is currently riding a two tournament win streak.  This weekend also has some huge implications as to who will win Player of the Year honors.  It seems like a toss-up between McIlroy and Woods, both having multiple wins, McIlroy with the Major.  But If Tiger Wins the Tour Championship and the ultimately the FedEx Cup, I think he’ll be the leader to gain the Player of the Year Honors; If not, McIlroy wins it in a landslide.  To the untrained eye, McIlroy seems like the clear-cut favorite to win this weekend, but don’t think that there aren’t others ready to have their name engraved on the FedEx Cup and have their moment of immortality.

Phil Mickleson has made a huge charge up the leaderboard since the Deutsche Bank Championship and finds himself in prime position to take the FedEx Cup.  He played unbelievably at the BMW Championship two weeks ago to almost come back and win, but McIlroy was that much better.  Phil’s attitude and his new and improved short game and putting grip are proving to be the difference maker in his success.  Since winning the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach early in the year, Phil has had an up and down type year.  He was there at The Masters, and then after that didn’t really perform well enough to be in anyone’s mind heading into a Sunday.  But the past few weeks, he’s really turned it on as far as his quality of play and has every right to be in the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Nick Watney has been a quality consistent golfer throughtout the entire year.  Everyone has always been saying that “they are waiting for his breakout moment”, his “major victory.”  And those moments and wins will come in time for the American, but not this weekend.  He showed tenacity and a never say die attitude when he won the Barclay’s (the first round of the Playoffs) and has remained a solid ball striker the past 3 weeks.  I don’t foresee him contending this week for the Tour Championship, but this year should be a great jumping off point for his career.

Brandt Snedeker is in the same category as Watney as far as the “break though moment.”  A lesser known name to the usual television viewer, but on Tour, he’s as fierce a competitor as they come.  He plays fast and his irons are as accurate as a professional dart player hitting bulls eye’s all day.  He won early in the year in amazing fashion, coming back from 8 strokes down on Sunday to beat Kyle Stanley, who got his revenge the very next week in a comeback win of his own.  But Snedeker solidified his place as a grinder in the golf world, and it’s shown over the course of the year and these playoffs.

In my opinion, the winner of the FedEx Cup will come from the Top 5.  It’s hard to bet against the best golfers in the world at this point of the year.  As for my pick to win, I’ve got to go with Tiger Woods.  He’s been playing like his old self the past 5 weeks, and looks as poised and dominant to take the Championship…right before the Ryder Cup. 

Recovery after the British Open? Sure thing says Adam Scott

August 2, 2012

For those of you who watched the epic collapse over the last four holes of the British Open for Adam Scott, your chance to see how he rebounds is upon you.  If you can peel yourself away from the awful NBC coverage of the Olympics, your chance to see Adam Scott perform for the first time since his disaster will come at 2PM on the Golf Channel.  With the PGA Tour stopping in nearby Akron, OH this week for the World Golf Challenge (WGC) Bridgestone Invitational this week, the headlines and scrutiny will surely be placed on one man, and that man happens to not be named Tiger Woods.

Two weeks ago we saw a collapse of almost Jean Van De Velde proportions at the British Open by Aussie golfer Adam Scott.  With a 3 shot lead going into the last four holes, Scott bogeyed the last four, falling short by one stroke to eventual winner, Ernie Els.  Els has been on the side of Adam Scott before, namely the 2004 Masters where he lost on the final hole to first time major champion Phil Mickleson.  Els said that he felt for Scott, because he’s been there before.  He also said he admired him as a person and golfer and said that he would eventually recover from this…in time.  Adam Scott himself even said he took away the positives from his performance and hopes to get back in the winner’s circle soon.  How soon has yet to be determined, and this week at the Bridgestone will be no exception.

The Bridgestone Invitational is played at the Firestone Country Club, and is known for having U.S. Open type rough and greens.  Adam Scott didn’t fare so well at the U.S. Open this year, and his recovery efforts will again be tested this week.  Scott says he feels comfortable and confident on this course layout, and it is the site of his lone win last year.  With veteran caddie Stevie Williams by his side, it should be pretty easy to get back into his winning ways.  Williams has won at Firestone a total of eight times, seven times being with his former boss, Tiger Woods.  So Williams is no stranger to this course, and should be as confident and comfortable as his current boss.  

In my experience, having good memories about a course that I’ve had success at is a big advantage, which Scott has about Firestone.  However, I’m no professional, and I haven’t thrown away my chance to win a professional major over the course of four holes.  Professional golfers are known to have short memories, not letting a past loss affect their current week.  However, I’m willing to bet my job that Adam Scott’s final four holes will haunt his memories for a long time, and eventually start affecting him in a negative way.  He won’t win the Bridgestone this week, nor will he compete at the PGA Championship later this month.  Maybe after this season he’ll be able to exercise the demons of major’s past and come back stronger next year.  But this year is a lost one for the Aussie.

2012 British Open Preview: Tiger’s Year?

July 18, 2012

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We’ve come to the 3rd Major of the 2012 PGA Tour season, the halfway point if you will.  This year’s Open Championship promises to be full of high caliber play, problems with deep bunkers, wind, rain, and whatever else northwest England has to offer.  This year’s championship will be played at The Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s Golf Club in Northwest England.  As with every Open Championship, this course promises to play tougher than the pro’s expected.  Which is why it’ll take everything these professionals have in their bags to pull out a win.  Various shot shapes, accuracy off the tee, and stellar putting to hoist the coveted Claret Jug.

 

Royal Lytham is 205 pot bunkers strewn across a links layout.  Ball placement will be key off the tees this week in order to shoot a good score.  With the winds whipping in from the ocean and dunes, missing the various, yet well placed, bunkers will be the challenge with this course.  Like many other Open Championships played in England and Scotland, the winds are unpredictable and can change in an instant.  Usually the players expect winds to be in the 20-30MPH range and swirling during the course of their rounds, so that’s where keeping the ball low, and electing to either ride the wind or fight the wind will be essential to scoring well.  The greens are large and have extreme slopes and breaks when it comes to putting, and generally if a player tries to go right at a pin, the ball will skip past the hole, off the green and leave a tough pitch shot to save par.  Now, with that said, this week has presented different problems for the players.  There has been little wind, down-pouring rain, and thick rough instead of wispy blades of grass that usually accompany a British Open.  According to various players, this course is set up more like a U.S. Open Championship rather than a British Open.  So, the scoring should be interesting if a player finds himself in the thick rough.   

 

The last time this tournament was played at Royal Lytham & St, Anne’s in 2001, David Duval claimed victory and since then has not been the golfer he once promised to be.  That said, our old friend Tiger Woods hasn’t won a British Open since 2006, and seems poised to once again raise the Claret Jug in victory.  He is much more confident in his swing; he’s playing better golf all around, and says that the British Open is his favorite major.  Tiger also has history at this particular course.  He was low amateur in 1996 before he turned pro, and won that by shooting a Friday round of 66 back then.  Now, he’s a different player now then he was back then, but golfers tend to have great memories of courses they enjoy.  When he won at Turnberry in 2006, he only hit his driver once in four rounds of play, generally using an iron off the tee to keep the ball in play and avoid bunkers.  This course sets up similarly to Turnberry, so I expect Tiger to use more irons and three woods off the tee, shaping the ball to avoid bunkers and rough patches.  He’s my pick to win this week, although don’t count out the Englishmen in the field.  Lee Westwood, who is still looking for his first major, Justin Rose, and the current number 1 in the world, Luke Donald.  Rose has played unbelievably consistent over the past weeks and looks like he will quietly make a run for the Claret Jug.  Luke Donald however has faltered in recent majors, and seems a little out of sorts when it comes to being in big spots in big tournaments. 

 

All will be settled on Sunday afternoon when the winner takes the coveted Claret Jug and places it over his head capturing the 2012 British Open.  Side note, England is 5 hours ahead and the first tee times on Thursday will be at 4:30AM on ESPN.  I will be up watching from beginning to end…and that’s what makes me crazy. 

 

54th Porter Cup: Amateur Golf Tournament Preview

July 17, 2012
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2010 Champ David Chung celebrates victory

There is nothing better to get people excited for the British Open, then the amateur golf tournament known as the Porter Cup at Niagara Falls Country Club in Lewiston, NY.  This tournament is one of the better amateur tournaments in the country and has played host to many current and past PGA Tour Champions.  This year is the 54th annual edition of this amateur tournament and promises to have great play from Thursday until Sunday.

The Porter Cup is known for having hosting some of the world’s best amateur golfers throughout the years.  Some names include the likes of Phil Mickelson, who won in 1991, Tiger Woods, who has a hole in one plaque at the 13th hole, as well as David Duval, Davis Love III and many others who are now permanent fixtures on the PGA Tour.   This tournament usually hosts a top heavy load of Canadian players and local favorites.  This year is no different as out of the 8 players who qualified through the qualifier, 5 are from neighboring Ontario, CA, the other three hail from Buffalo and Rochester.

Now, me being from Grand Island, NY, there were 3 local guys who I played golf with in high school who unfortunately didn’t make the cut.  The last one was John Edwards who in 2008 managed to qualify for the Porter Cup, and was a media staple for the first two days of the tournament.  Unfortunately, that was a rain shortened event in which a cut was implemented for the first time ever, and John missed the cut to play on the weekend.  There are some local favorites this week that will be looked at intently to have a possibility to capture the Cup this year.  One is Chris Covelli.  In the qualifier, which is one 9-hole round played at NFCC, managed to shoot a 69 and finish second behind Daniel Kim from Toronto, Ontario, CA.  Covelli is a 2005 Nichols graduate who has tried to take his golf career to the next level after high school, but lost struggled with his play and lost the passion for the game.  Now, with this qualification, he has a renewed drive to compete and after this year’s Porter Cup, he plans on attempting to qualify for the U.S. Amateur tournament, and possibly going on to the Web.Com Tour with dreams of making it to the PGA.  If he can keep his competitive spirit, he’ll be one of the contenders for sure this week.

Another local favorite is Brian Jurkiewicz, from Hamburg, NY.  He shot at 70 in the qualifier to finish in 6th place.  With great course knowledge and a caddy who is the assistant green’s keeper, you’d think he would have an edge at this year’s tournament.  Jurkiewicz played his High School golf at Canisius High School, and currently attends Saint Bonaventure.  He’s had plenty of amateur and junior amateur exposure at a young age, so tournament play is nothing new to him and he should be a contender.

This is a free event to watch as a spectator, and is located in Lewiston, NY at Niagara Falls Country Club starting July 18th and ending July 21st.  As a side note, you can bring your own adult beverages to the course.

2012 US Open Wrap Up

June 19, 2012

The 2012 US Open concluded on Sunday, fittingly Father’s Day, like it has every year since 1962.  And this year,
 was filled with storylines to keep the golf community abuzz for at least a month, until the British Open kicks off.  First off, who is Webb Simpson and where did he come from to capture his first major victory?  What happened to the top two golfers in the world?  Can a 17 year old high school junior named Beau Hossler win golf’s toughest test, all while waiting to get his braces off this week?  And would Tiger Woods finally silence the critics and win his 15th major?  All these questions would eventually be answered by the end of the weekend.  Let’s recap:

The US Open is referred to as “Golf’s toughest test.”  I read a quote that I couldn’t help but reiterate.  It was said that “Olympic club is harder than the LSATs” and I should know, because I’ve taken the LSATs three times.  However, that is just a testament to how difficult that course plays during US Open week, and how precise a player needs to be to score well.  Last year was a fluke in the way the US Open was played.  Webb Simpson’s score of +1 is how one should win the US Open, Rory McIlroy shot a -15 last year at Congressional Country Club, and the USGA was determined to make sure a score like that would not be shot again, and they succeeded.  With that said this course ate up the best players in the world and made them feel like they were playing their first round of golf ever.  Rory McIlroy played his way out of the championship on Thursday, as did the top ranked golfer in the world, Luke Donald.  This course punishes missed fairways, and missed greens.  When you do hit the green in regulation, you better be delicate with your putt or you’re going to have a longer one coming back for par.  In true US Open fashion, the golf course was the winner this week.

With all that was said about the course, just as much if not more was said about the players.  Random first round leaders coming out of relative obscurity to shoot a -4 first round, to a 17 year old who thought the free dry cleaning service was the coolest part about the US Open experience.  Regardless of what happened at the end of the weekend, the US Open is about the players and how they manage to dance around danger on a course built to demoralize them.   A lot of people had high hopes for Phil Mickleson, but after a first drive on Thursday ended up in a Cypress tree and didn’t come down, his mood and emotional high were shot, and he finished +8 for the tournament.  This year’s Master’s Champion Bubba Watson didn’t survive to play the weekend saying “this course is too tough for me.”  Then there is the main storyline for this tournament, Tiger Woods.  Tiger woods was the 36-hole leader and looked poised and ready to win his 15th Major, and 4th US Open title.  But come Saturday, he was erratic, and unable to gauge the speed of the greens, and faded out of the lead to eventually finish +7.  A lot of writers already gave the tournament to Tiger after his Friday performance, but the pressure to win was ultimately his undoing.   Perhaps the biggest story on the weekend was 17 year old Beau Hossler, who just finished up his junior year of high school in Texas before playing the US Open.  His original goal was to be the low amateur for the tournament, which was feasible with this kid’s game.  He seemed to change his goal once Sunday morning came around and he found himself 4 shots off the lead, but the inexperience and difficult course took the wind out of his sails and his game came unraveled.  But can you really fault the kid for playing at this level at 17 years old?  I can’t, and I think it’s great for the game of golf that someone so young can compete with the world’s best.

This year’s victor was Webb Simpson, a Wake Forest Alum who played golf there on an Arnold Palmer scholarship.  Simpson has been in contention a lot this past season, with his solid play and care free attitude, he has the mental capacity and competitive tenacity to compete for multiple majors.  He is a true southern grown guy who prays to God more than anyone on Tour. It could have been divine intervention that helped Simpson to the winners circle, but I think it was his game through and through.  From tee to green, he had everything going on all cylinders on Sunday.  One of the few people to actually finish his final round under par, and that’s all it took for him to capture his first major.  He’ll continue to perform at an extremely high level, and he should be a shoe in for the Ryder Cup this year. 

Golf has been in a fragile state for the past couple of years due to flip flopping number ones, and no real standout to capture the hearts of golf fans everywhere.  Tiger Woods achieved that feat since he started playing, but since he’s gone 4 years without a major, the game seemed to wane and the interest in it wasn’t as high.  But with the resurgence of Tiger, the young up and coming players, the game of golf has never been more popular in my eyes.  More coverage on TV, even for the lesser known events, and even if Tiger and Phil aren’t playing.  People want to see the good guys win, and compete week in and week out.  The next major is the British Open in July at Royal Lytham  & St. Anne’s a mere 29 days away.  Tiger will be playing in two tournaments prior to the Open this year, the AT&T National at Congressional, and the Greenbrier Classic, and then he’ll take a week off and play in the Open.  Will he be able to capture his third Claret Jug?  Only time will tell, and may the storylines continue on into this year’s major season.

2012 PGA Tour half year review

June 5, 2012

With everything going on in the world of professional Golf these days, I figured it’s time to put my stamp on the BleedBuffalo website. Although the talk may seem more consistent with the Bills, Sabres and FC Buffalo, there is a small contingent of golf fans out there. With that said, the PGA Tour season is nearing its halfway point, that coming with the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco in a week or so, and there has been plenty of action that is worth mentioning so far in this young season.

I’ll begin with the obvious, Mr. Tiger Woods. He has been the subject of criticism, ridicule and bad press since the beginning of the season. He skipped out on his normal starting tournament at Torrey Pines in February to play in Abu Dhabi for the first time in his illustrious career. Why? The appearance fee was quite hefty, and he also wanted to play against the world’s best, which he did and finished, 4th. Then came a whirlwind of ups and down for him, the downs being bad tournament play, the ups, a win at the Bay Hill Invitational, two weeks prior to The Masters. When he won that tournament, many analysts and critics alike, pegged him as the favorite to win his fifth Green Jacket, all based on one tournament result. As we all saw, he tied for 40th at the Masters, his worst finish there as a professional. With poor shots, awful course management and child-like temper tantrums throughout the tournament, those same critics and analysts said he was finished and he’ll never win another major again. And it seemed they were correct in their assumptions, with a missed cut at Quail Hollow and another poor showing at the Players Championship it seemed as though Tiger had lost his way and his drive to compete. Just this past weekend however, we caught another glimpse of what Tiger has left in his aging tank. A glimpse of greatness and final round heroics that we may have seen during his historic run to the “Tiger-Slam” in 2000 was present again this past weekend. A win at Jack’s Memorial tournament at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio seems to have put Tiger back on track. However, don’t be so quick to judge and give him another U.S. Open just yet. Think back to the 2009 season, prior to the knowledge of the “scandal”. He won at Bay Hill, yet didn’t contend at The Masters and he also won the Memorial at Muirfield Village, and had a dismal showing in the U.S. Open. Will history repeat itself? I believe it will. I’m not ready to paint Tiger as the favorite for this year’s U.S. Open quite yet. He’s still got a lot work to do on his mental game, his swing may be finally coming around, but his mental dexterity will be in question with the excessively long rough, tight narrow fairways and grueling competition that is sure to encompass this year’s U.S. Open.

Enough about Tiger, I know you are all sick of hearing about him. So I’ll review the past half year, and give predictions for the U.S. Open and so on. What the heck happened to Rory Mcilroy? He was on top of the golf world as a 23 year old phenom, but since he’s reached that plateau, he has fallen off the face of the planet. My guess, he went and got himself a girlfriend and has been jet-setting around the globe making appearances and what have you. Granted that comes with the territory of being number one in the world, and winning a U.S. Open by 12 shots, just ask Graeme McDowell, the same fall from grace happened with him after he won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, but he came back, will Rory be able to do the same? We will have to see. If he misses his fourth cut in a row, there will be serious questions about his game, his emotional state, and where his priorities lie.

Looking back on who has won this year and who has been on the cusp of victory there are several story lines that start developing for this year’s U.S. Open. Hunter Mahan is a two-time winner on tour this year, along with Jason Duffner. They both have the solid play and relaxed attitude that one needs to compete at a U.S. Open. This year’s Master’s champion Bubba Watson has barely played after winning at Augusta, and that could prove detrimental at a U.S. Open. Luke Donald just won on the European Tour and seems poised to make a run at capturing his first major. Rickie Fowler is a novelty who will never win a major, but he may win again this year on Tour. He’s been close to the top over the past 2 tournaments, and that Oklahoma State Orange Sunday outfit will see the winner’s circle at least once more this year, but it sure won’t be a major. Phil Mickleson won the AT&T Pro/AM at Pebble Beach this year, but since then has fallen off the wagon. He cited mental exhaustion this past week at The Memorial, and I believe the two weeks of rest and relaxation will serve him well at this year’s U.S. Open. But Phil has been the Bridesmaid at 5 U.S. Opens, never getting to be the Bride. Will this year be his year? I don’t believe so either. My sleeper pick to win this year’s U.S. Open, is Matt Kuchar. Matt Kuchar has the game, the mentality and the fan support to capture his first major. He has been extremely consistent this year and is ready to capture that Wannamaker Trophy.

As a side note, for those of you who remember an issue in 2001 with Casey Martin, the golfer who requires a cart to get around based on a birth defect, he has once again qualified for the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club. The same place he lobbied the American’s with Disabilities Act and the PGA Tour to allow him to play, with a cart, in the U.S. Open. I’ll be back after the Open to talk about the results, and predictions for the British Open.


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