Full Monty This Week
And what do you know, Colin was more than accommodating. I was prepared for the worst, but instead got the best of him. And the best of Colin Montgomerie is actually a very pleasant fellow. I for one have certainly had my doubts, and a run-in as well a few years back. But after this, I'm willing to put the past thoughts aside and move forward - just as he says he's trying to do as far as support in the United States is concerned.
'When you've been at the bottom as far as that's concerned, there's no place to go but up,' said a smiling Montgomerie. 'It's been a good couple of weeks.'
And so with fans in his corner, Monty tries again this week to get a win on U.S. soil. 'I'm here to compete and win the Houston Open,' he said. 'This is not a preparation for the Masters. This is my job, to compete. That's why I'm here.'
True, but there are a few other reasons the trip to Houston made sense. Back in the 1980s, Colin played collegiately at Houston Baptist. At the time HBU was a Division I program with the likes of 2000 PGA Club Professional Champion Tim Thelan there as well. Now, the school has no golf team at all.
But Monty likes the area nonethelesss. He also likes the surroundings he sees on the practice putting green this week. Darren Clarke, Jos Maria Olazabal, Thomas Bjrn and Adam Scott are all here, making this a very strong field along the way to Augusta.
This marks the first time since 1991 that the Shell Houston Open has been on the calendar before Augusta. That's not a problem, according to Tournament Director Steve Timms, who told me that it has provided a reason for players to come when perhaps they'd have bypassed the event in prior years.
Normally, the tournament falls a few weeks after The Masters - a time when players are usually ready for rest before a run toward the United States Open. 'We're excited about the field,' Timms said. 'And we know a thing or two about hospitality, too - which doesn't hurt.'
Greg Norman is part of the reason for the excitement Timms feels. He hasn't been here since 1991, but is back remembering just how good the TPC at the Woodlands is. He's taking the opportunity to visit in-laws and hoping allergies don't blow him off course. As Norman put it, 'I usually load up on medicine at night, and then give it a go in the morning.' The fans are hoping a Sunday run is in the cards.
David Duval is here as well. Vijay Singh too. And David Toms and Fred Couples have made the trip. Point being: The Shell Houston Open is a good tournament that deserves support from the players. And so what if it falls a week after the Players Championship. Craig Perks is here. What other proof does one need?!
Perks made the short drive from Lafayette, La., to The Woodlands and will tee it up just before noon local time Thursday with Robert Allenby, who won here two years ago, and Darren Clarke. By the way, Perks' World Ranking is now a stout 64th, which is a far cry from the 203rd position he held last week.
'I'm playing well, so why not ride it?' he said. I agree. But I'm not picking him this week.
I'm picking rookie Texan Chad Campbell. That's right. You think I'm crazy? Have a look at the year's winners and find a trend other than 'unpredictablility.' A three-time winner last year on the Buy.Com Tour, Campbell is ready because he has no reason to believe he shouldn't be. That's the way things are these days.
And just for the record. I'm picking Australian Rod Pampling next week in Atlanta. But first things first. Let's give the Shell Houston Open its due. Should be a great one. And if Chad Campbell can't make me proud, then how 'bout Monty.
Now THAT would get people talking!
DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.
The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.
''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''
In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.
''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''
The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.
''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.
Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member
Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.
Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:
Matt Kuchar— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 17, 2018
"It's been a passion of mine to explore & see the world, and I'll now be joining the European Tour as an Affiliate Member, which is very exciting." pic.twitter.com/7wDbuGXz8j
As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.
Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.
Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early
The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...
Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy
McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.
McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.
Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.
“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.
And that was an offseason event.
“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.
As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.
So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.
“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”
Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson
Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.
His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.
It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.
There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.
There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.
While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.
There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.
Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth
Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.
He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.
Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.
CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats
The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.
How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):
Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)
Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.
Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.
Notables in the field
* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.
* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.
* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.
* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.
* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.
* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.
* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.
* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.
* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.
* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.
* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.
* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.
* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.
* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.
* This is his first start of 2018.
* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.
(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)