Tiger and Who Else at Augusta

By Kraig KannMarch 10, 2006, 5:00 pm
Tiger Woods has made $2,033,000 on the PGA TOUR in four starts this year. He has two wins. And while you might think this is nothing more than a publicity paper for the Worlds Top Ranked player ' think again.
 
This is about finding out who else, if not Woods, is in the mix heading into the Masters.
 
We havent yet reached The Players Championship so I realize that a Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen or Ernie Els win could shake us up a bit when it comes to handicapping the field for the Masters. But here we are and those three have played a combined total of 18 events and have zero wins.
 
Again, we havent hit the Players Championship yet, but if you would have told me that two months ago, Id have been very, very surprised. So, at this point, something tells me that this years chase group if you will, might not include the usual suspects.
 
Ernie Els
Will this be the year that Ernie breaks through at Augusta?
ERNIE ELS
Nobody wants the Masters more than Ernie Els. Hes dreamed about it since he was a kid. Hes been open about his love for a green jacket since the days in South Africa when he watched Jack Nicklaus win it time after time.
 
Rooting for Els to get one is the easy story. But are you sold on Ernie? In three PGA TOUR start hes 65th in money with $238,036. He does have a win and two second place finishes on the 2006 European Tour calendar. From 2000-05 Els has only one finish worse than T6 at Augusta. How much stock do you put in that, versus his 2006 campaign?
 
VIJAY SINGH
Singh has more majors in him ' no question. But lets be real. Hes been the guy leading the chase group for the last few years. And ever since Tiger reclaimed his top ranking at the 2005 Ford Championship at Doral, Vijay hasnt been as big a topic. Hes been second best, but no guarantee to take Tiger to the wire. From 2000-05 Singhs Masters record includes a win and four other top 7 finishes. Thats tremendous. His worst in that stretch is T18. Vijay is 8th on the money list this year with $1,237,969 in six starts. Vijay is too good not to be counted into the conversation, but he hasnt wowed us yet this year. So do we put him as a lock to be there late on Sunday?
 
PHIL MICKELSON
Phils Masters record is amazing. From 2000-05 he matches Vijay. Phil has a win and four other top 7 finishes. This year hes 15th on the PGA TOUR money list with $761,827 in six starts. Last year at this point, Mickelson had two wins and a runner-up finish at Doral. He then won at the Bellsouth to make it three wins before the Masters (proof that someone can still get us squarely in their corner.) Has Phil been Phil yet this year? No. Should we make him a favorite yet?
 
RETIEF GOOSEN
Goosens played just twice on the PGA TOUR this year after a bit of a long layoff. Retief has made $328,000 in his two PGA TOUR starts or $164,000 per event which isnt bad. Hes played three non-WGC European Tour events since the 2006 schedule began but his win at the South Africa Airways Open happened back in December. Can he win before the Masters? Sure. Hes won the Bellsouth before (2002). But for all his great success he only has six PGA TOUR wins. His Masters record is stronger than most - a 2nd, a T3 last year and two T13s in between. Go ahead and pick the Goose.. but were looking for sure-fire winners not just contenders.
 
So heres the thought that Im having right now with regard to things heading along this Southern Swing ' maybe this is the year we get another Mark OMeara or Jose Maria Olazabal. Or maybe a Mike Weir-like champion.
 
Each man, a proven winner, but not exactly the man you expected among a list of favorites in that particular year to slip on the green jacket.
 
OMeara had actually won twice the year before on the west coast and was still in his prime having won tournaments in 1995, 1996 and 1997 before his major double-dip in 1998.
 
Weir had two wins in 2003 prior to winning the Masters.
 
So, Ill give you a list of names that might just have as much chance to contend with Woods as the likes of Els, Singh and Mickelson. Because ' at this point ' Im not so sure they dont belong on the list of possible contenders along with them.
 
BEST OF THE REST
  • Rory Sabbatini ' The winner at the Nissan Open, hes currently first on the money list. Is anybody more consistent this year? OK, Tiger fans, maybe Woods.
     
  • David Toms ' Already a winner at the Sony Open and Augusta fits him nicely. Three putting like he did at the 18th Sunday at Doral wont work, but hes quite capable of being razor sharp.
     
  • Chad Campbell ' Also a winner this year and a terrific ball-striker. He took down Tiger in the Accenture Match Play Championship. Would you pick Mickelson by a landslide over Campbell right now?
     
  • Geoff Ogilvy - Easy to think that he might be a sleeper. Im not going to go as far as to say that he could win the Masters, but the fact that hes playing well puts him in my mind.
     
  • Davis Love III ' Monday night on Golf Central, Peter Kostis of CBS Sports joined me and said he felt Davis might be the guy to challenge Woods at this years Masters. Is he a psychic? No, but again, he didnt mention Els, Mickelson or Singh.
     
    We could go on, but what about Jim Furyk or Adam Scott? Chris DiMarco hasnt been forgotten. David Howell, or Sergio Garcia? Or Luke Donald or even Tom Lehman?
     
    Did you think Bart Bryant would win last years Tour Championship? Hes in the field for the first time at the Masters.
     
    My point is that I just cant buy into the big boys right now ' unless his name is Tiger Woods. Woods is always the greatest threat to win at Augusta.
     
    Im not saying he will win it. But what I cant do is tell you that anyone else is a lock to make him win it with his best.
     
    Were just a month away. And it seems to me that beyond Tiger, this Masters is a wide open affair, and I dont think Im going out on a limb to make that statement.
     
    By the end of the The Players Championship, things can completely change, but right now, if Woods doesnt bring his Augusta best, we might just have ourselves a Zach Johnson in the winners circle.
     
    Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
  • Getty Images

    Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

    By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

    Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

    That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

    Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

    From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

    Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

    She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

    She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

    “Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

    Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

    With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

    The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

    She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

    The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

    Getty Images

    One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

    Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

    Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

    Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

    Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

    Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

    Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

    Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

    David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

    Getty Images

    DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

    By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

    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.

    Getty Images

    Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

    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:

    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.