Blasting into the week ahead, from the return of Hunter Mahan and Michelle Wie to “bubble boy” mania.
Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open
Hunter Mahan has wiped away the tears and now the moving on begins in earnest.
In his first appearance since the American Ryder Cup loss thrust him into the final, cruel spotlight in Wales, Mahan looks to shake the sour memory and start making new ones again. It’s critical to building on the bright, promising outlook he brought to the Ryder Cup. He arrived in Wales riding the crest of his best PGA Tour season with two victories this year.
Playing the pivotal anchor match with the Ryder Cup on the line, Mahan lost to Graeme McDowell. In time, the end of Europe’s Ryder Cup victory should be remembered more for McDowell’s clutch birdie at the 16th hole than Mahan’s chunked chip at the 17th. With Mahan 2 down with two holes to play, his last ballooned tee shot and failed chip were more Hail Mary shots than anything else. McDowell all but clinched the Ryder Cup when he rolled in that pressure-packed 15-foot birdie a hole earlier. Still, Mahan’s perspective on how it all ended is ultimately more important in how he moves on that what anyone else thinks. He beats the memory or it beats him.
“I played with Hunter in the first two matches,” Zach Johnson said. “He carried me most of the first match and portions of the second. He probably played as well or better than anybody on our team. The end, it’s unfortunate, but I think it’s going to make Hunter a better player. There’s no doubt in my mind, which is kind of scary, because he’s already really good.
“Hunter took it hard, but that’s because every fiber and piece of him went into the Ryder Cup. As anyone on that team will say, we didn’t lose the Ryder Cup because of that match. That is the furthest thing from the truth. We had a lot of opportunities.”
Bunker shot: It feels like this could be Rickie Fowler’s week. This event has a history of crowning first-time winners with the last six champions claiming their first PGA Tour titles. Plus, it’s a home game for Fowler, who moved to Las Vegas upon turning pro. Fowler’s showing an ability to close hard, though he’s still looking to close down a pro title. Fowler made birdies at three of his final seven holes Sunday at the Frys.com Open, but it was only good enough for a fourth-place finish after Rocco Mediate’s remarkable hole out for eagle at the 71st hole all but clinched the title. Fowler birdied his last four holes at the Ryder Cup to steal a half point from Edoardo Molinari.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Rickie Fowler. Contender – Anthony Kim. Dark horse – Kevin Streelman.
Course: TPC Summerlin, Las Vegas, Nev. Par 71, 7,223 yards.
Purse: $4.3 million (winner’s share, $756,000).
TV times: Golf Channel – Thursday-Sunday, 5-8 p.m.
Last year: Martin Laird won in a playoff with a birdie at the third extra hole, outlasting George McNeill and Chad Campbell.
Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia
The battle for No. 1 is renewed in the women’s game.
Ai Miyazato is atop the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings for the ninth consecutive week, the longest streak since Lorena Ochoa stepped away from the game in April. Miyazato’s been atop the rankings 11 weeks overall, one week more than Jiyai Shin as the most weeks at No. 1 since Ochoa’s retirement.
Cristie Kerr will be looking to reassert American rule over the rankings by taking back the No. 1 spot on foreign soil. Kerr’s been atop the rankings for four weeks this year.
Bunker shot: The last time we saw Michelle Wie, everything in her game appeared to be coming together for the hottest run of her LPGA career. She won the CN Canadian Women’s Open in late August and finished second at the P&G NW Arkansas Championship in her next start, but then her summer ended. She returned to Stanford to resume her studies. The big question is whether the layoff and long trip to Malaysia cools her down. Wie also plans to play next week’s LPGA Hana Bank Championship in South Korea and then it’s back to school again. It’s possible this week’s winner could be squeezing birdies in between homework assignments.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Yani Tseng. Contender – Michelle Wie. Dark horse – Mika Miyazato.
Course: Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Par 71, 6,192 yards.
Purse: $1.8 million (winner’s share, $270,000). It’s a 54-hole event with a limited field (60 players) and no cut.
TV times: Golf Channel – Friday-Sunday, noon - 2 p.m.
Last year: Inaugural event.
Administaff Small Business Classic
Steve Lowery makes his debut on the Champions Tour this week.
Lowery, who turned 50 last week, is a three-time PGA Tour winner who doesn’t have to think back very far to remember what it takes to win. His last title came at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 2008.
Bunker shot: Watch out for Fred Couples. It’s another homecoming for him. Almost three months after he returned to his Seattle roots for the U.S. Senior Open, Couples makes a return to Houston, where he played collegiately. Couples claimed the last of his 15 PGA Tour titles at the Shell Houston Open in 2003.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Fred Couples. Contender – Bernhard Langer. Dark horse – Steve Lowery.
Course: The Woodlands Country Club, the Woodlands, Texas. Par 72, 7,018 yards.
Purse: $1.7 million (winner’s share, $255,000).
TV times: Golf Channel – Friday-Sunday, 8:30 -10:30 p.m.
Last year: John Cook won, finishing two shots ahead of Jay Haas and Bob Tway.
Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open
Nationwide Tour pros’ quest to win PGA Tour cards is winding down to the final two events.
The top 60 on the money list after this week’s inaugural event at PGA Tour headquarters advance to the season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship next week at Daniel Island in Charleston, S.C. That means there is a pair of “bubble boys” this week. Patrick Sheehan sits on one bubble at No. 60 on the money list. The top 60 in money at season’s end earn fully exempt Nationwide Tour status next year. Chris Nallen sits on another bubble at No. 25 on the money list. The top 25 money winners after the Nationwide Tour Championship concludes win PGA Tour cards.
Bunker shot: Jason Gore, who won last week’s Miccosukee Championship for his Nationwide Tour record seventh career title, has more work to do to make it back to the PGA Tour, where he won the 84 Lumber Classic five years ago. Gore jumped from 124th on the Tour’s money list to 39th winning in Miami last week. He’s still $43,842 away from cracking the coveted top 25 in money.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Jamie Lovemark. Contender – Chris Kirk. Dark horse – Colt Knost.
Course: TPC Sawgrass Dye’s Valley Course, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Par 72, 6,864 yards.
Purse: $600,000 (winner’s share, $108,000).
TV times: Golf Channel – No TV.
Last year: Inaugural event.