Expert Picks: Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 25, 2012, 2:30 pm

This is a double week for fantasy players! experts offer up their fantasy choices below for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and their selections for the Farmers Insurance Open can be seen here. Each week a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel consists of: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin;'s Rob Bolton; 'Morning Drive' hosts Gary Williams and Erik Kuselias; and Golf Talk Central contributor Ryan Ballengee.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Martin Kaymer: On Wednesday a media official only half-jokingly welcomed the German to the 'Martin Kaymer Golf Championship.' The guy owns Abu Dhabi.

Group 2: Francesco Molinari: It seems like one of the Molinaris are always in the hunt in Europe and according to the schedule it's Francesco's turn.

Group 3: Tom Lewis: Young Tom is a star-in-waiting and this would be a solid week for him to take his next step.

Group 4: Pablo Martin: Three starts in Abu Dhabi and he's only made one cut, but he seems like he's due.

Gary Williams

Group 1: Martin Kaymer: 3 wins in the last 4 years here, a runner-up finish the other year, top-11 finishes in 4 of his last 4 worldwide starts...need I say more?

Group 2: Pablo Larrazabal: Earned his 2nd career European Tour win last year and also finished 11th in Abu Dhabi. While many are looking at Alvaro Quiros, I am paying attention to this Spaniard.

Group 3: Tom Lewis: If Bud Cauley is the hot young talent on the PGA Tour in 2012, it can easily be argued that Lewis plays that role on the European Tour this year. Can definitely make a big splash if he plays well here.

Group 4: Chris Wood: This young man who made his name through a couple top-5 finishes in the Open Championship still seeks his first career European Tour win. Has a pair of top-25 finishes in two appearances in Abu Dhabi.

Erik Kuselias

Group 1: Martin Kaymer: I know that Tiger Woods is in the field, but when you have someone who has gone 1st-2nd-1st-1st in the last four years, how can you not pick the guy?

Group 2: Alexander Noren: I am very bullish on Noren to make the Ryder Cup team this year. Does not have a great record at Abu Dhabi but he is motivated this year and someone worth taking a chance on.

Group 3: Branden Grace: Lack of experience means nothing to me when you are winning. Grace is playing against a very strong field but I think he is up to the challenge.

Group 4: Gareth Maybin: Finished T-5 here in 2011 for his best finish on the European Tour last year. This is his first start of 2012 and Abu Dhabi has some good vibes for Maybin.

Win McMurry

Group 1: Martin Kaymer: He dominates this event. Three wins since 2008, including a complete decimation of the field last year.

Group 2: Francesco Molinari: Strong history here with top-10s in two of the last three starts.

Group 3: Rafael Cabrera-Bello: The Spaniard finished 7th last year by turning it on over the weekend. Plus, I really like saying his name.

Group 4: Chris Wood: The 24-year-old Englishman has a pair of top-25 finishes in his first two appearances in this event.

Ryan Ballengee

Group 1: Martin Kaymer: Three wins in Abu Dhabi in the last four years. Seems like a no-brainer.

Group 2: Padraig Harrington: Taking a bit of a leap of faith, but Harrington plays well in Abu Dhabi.

Group 3: Branden Grace: The winning streak has to stop sometime, but Grace now has a modest chance to get to Augusta National.

Group 4: Chris Wood: He has top-25 finishes here in each of the last two seasons.

Jay Coffin

Group 1: Luke Donald: Tempted to take TW, but will stick with the consistency.

Group 2: Matteo Manassero: Hope the youngster makes waves in a stud field.

Group 3: Branden Grace: Hottest player in the world is in Group 3. Good enough for me.

Group 4: Chris Wood: This guy has underachieved in his career. Hoping for lightning in a bottle.

Randall Mell

Group 1: Martin Kaymer: The man's high score in his last 10 rounds at Abu Dhabi is a 67. His stock fade is perfect there.

Group 2: Francesco Molinari: Two top-10s in his last three starts at Abu Dhabi. The kid's got game.

Group 3: Rafael Cabrera-Bello: Young Spaniard finished seventh at Abu Dhabi last year.

Group 4: Chris Wood: Former European Tour Rookie of the Year should be ready for a move up in class. Twice, he finished runner-up a year ago.

Rob Bolton

Group 1: Rory McIlroy: Top-fives in seven of his last eight starts, including two victories.

Group 2: Nicolas Colsaerts: Cracked radius in his right elbow has since healed. Finished one stroke outside of the playoff at the Volvo Golf Champions earlier this month.

Group 3: Branden Grace: Gunning to become the first to win three straight events on the European Tour since Seve Ballesteros in 1986.

Group 4: Anders Hansen: Seems like a mistake to slot No. 38 in the world in this group, but I won't second-guess.

You can watch complete coverage of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship live Wednesday on Golf Channel from 10PM-3:30AM ET and Thursday-Sunday on from 4-8AM ET.

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”