Blasting into the week ahead, from the fifth major to Europe’s hopes for another native son champion ...
The Players Championship
Youth no longer feels like it’s being wasted on the young on the PGA Tour.
Maybe that’s the upside to Tiger Woods’ troubles. There’s been room for the young‘uns to grow this year without Woods there beat the confidence out of them before it has a chance to take root.
Rory McIlroy (21), Ryo Ishikawa (18), Anthony Kim (24), Camilo Villegas (27), Dustin Johnson (25), Hunter Mahan (27), Martin Kaymer (25) and Alvaro Quiros (27) are all twentysomethings injecting young blood and hope into a game that can feel too middle-aged if not downright old. They’re all on the board with victories in the first four months of the season. McIlroy (PGA Tour), Ishikawa (Japan Tour) and Quiros (European Tour) gave us a triple jolt of youthful triumph on Sunday.
Nobody under 30 currently holds a major championship title, but we could see somebody in their 20s holding the next best thing come Sunday, the trophy of the Tour’s “fifth major.” All those players mentioned above are in this week’s event, except for Ishikawa, who qualified off the world rankings but did not commit.
Bunker shot: Tiger Woods can get up and down from almost anywhere on the planet, but he isn’t as skilled trying to get up and down from Hell. That’s what they call the terrain Pete Dye creates around the greens at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. It’s as good a reason as any why Woods has been unable to put his stamp on this venue like he has so many other stops he plays regularly on the PGA Tour. Well, that and the narrow landing strips that Dye calls fairways, and all the water, and all the other trouble that wayward tee shots can find. Woods won The Players in 2001, but this makes for a lousy place for him to try to right what’s wrong with his game after missing the cut at Quail Hollow. Woods has never missed back-to-back cuts in his career, but given the disrepair of his game last week, the possibility’s there.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Luke Donald. Contender – Hunter Mahan. Darkhorse – Tim Clark.
- Course: TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Par 72, 7,220 yards (Designed by Pete Dye and opened in 1980).
- Purse: $9.5 million (winner’s share, $1.71 million).
- TV times: Golf Channel, Thursday-Friday, 1-7 p.m. (replay, 9 p.m.-midnight); NBC, Saturday-Sunday, 2-7 p.m.
- Last year: Henrik Stenson (12-under 276) posted the only bogey-free final round, shooting 66 to finish four shots ahead of runner-up Ian Poulter.
BMW Italian Open
Italy’s Edoardo Molinari passed on The Players Championship to stay home for his country’s big golf event.
Molinari is the highest ranked player in the field at No. 36 in the world but looking for his first European Tour title. His younger brother, Francesco, who is No. 41 in the world, will represent the family’s interests at The Players. The European Tour’s going for back-to-back victories for native sons. Spaniard Alvaro Quiros won the Open de Espana on Sunday.
Bunker shot: Italy’s Matteo Manassero, who just turned 17 two weeks ago, has the firepower to take the youthful winner’s theme to another level. He’s making his professional debut this week. He's the second youngest player in the history of the European Tour. Only Seve Ballesteros was younger making his debut. Manassero is the youngest winner in British Amateur history and impressed Tom Watson playing alongside him at the British Open last summer. While Watson missed out on becoming the oldest winner of that major, Manassero was the youngest winner to claim the Silver Medal as low amateur. He followed up winning low amateur honors at the Masters last month after becoming the youngest player ever to make the cut. He’s trouble for future American Ryder Cup captains.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Miguel Angel Jimenez. Contender – Edoardo Molinari. Darkhorse – Matteo Manassero.
- Course: World Park Golf and Country Club, Turin, Italy. Par 72, 7,282 yards (Designed by Robert Trent Jones and opened in 1971).
- Purse: 1,300,000 euros, about $1.7 million (winner’s share, 216,660 euros, about $286,000)
- TV times: Golf Channel, Thursday-Friday, 9:30-11 a.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 8-11 a.m.
- Last year: Argentina’s Daniel Vancsik (17 under 267) finished six shots ahead of John Daly.