Europeans and Their Chances at the Masters
My Masters Picks
I have to start this weeks column with the Masters Tournament, one of my favorite weeks of the year. Having attending Mercer University in Macon, Ga., I have a special affinity with the Peach State and its most famous sporting event. Indeed, I was lucky enough to be a patron of the tournament through-out my university years and a couple beyond, but ironically since joining the GOLF CHANNEL Ive not been able to make the pilgrimage. However, I am looking forward to joining Vince Cellini in the studio for our late night 'Live From the Masters' specials. On Thursday youll see my interview with Englishman David Howell, which was shot at Doral ahead of the WGC-CA Championship. To me, Howell is a British favorite at Augusta. He has a solid short game and says himself that Augusta represents his best chance at a major title. With two top 20 finishes in as many appearances at the tournament, hes certainly shown he can perform on the demanding lay-out. During our interview, among other things, he talks about playing with Tiger on Saturday in 2005, during his first appearance in the event.
As for other European hopefuls, Justin Rose is certainly keen to put his back problems behind him, excuse the pun. I watched him for all 18 holes at the Tavistock Cup last Tuesday, and his outward 29, although a touch lucky at times, was extremely impressive. The only worry from Roses point of view is being out of the competitive game for such a long time; his last outing was the Accenture Match Play at the end of February. Hell have his old caddie in Mick Doran on the bag; the pair captured two wins in 2002 before Doran moved to work for Lee Westwood and then Howell. Dorans first steady employer was Costantino Rocca, giving him a front row seat when the Italian was paired with Tiger Woods for the final round of his win for the ages in 1997.
Paul Casey is also one to watch. The Englishman didnt qualify for the tournament last year, so coach Peter Kostis made him watch video of the tournament to inspire a return to Georgia this season. The motivation worked and now Casey is one of my European favorites. His length and scoring ability is second to none; its just a case of putting it all together at the right time.
Henrik Stenson is also a hot favorite. My only worry with him is whether hes had enough experience in the big-time to come through and take the title at a place like Augusta. Realistically, only since his run through the desert swing of 2006 has the big hitting Swede been put on the world map.
And finally, a quick shot in the dark: Jose Maria Olazabal. He wasnt a favorite in 1999; hes not a favorite this year by any means, but he finished tied for third last season, he knows Augusta terribly well, has two green jackets and when the tournament begins, maybe hell turn back the clock and surprise us all.
But theyll all be playing for second, my true Masters tip . Tiger, of course.
Pablo Martin has, for sometime now, been on the GOLF CHANNEL radar. My colleague, Steve Burkowski, who covers the amateur and collegiate games has been singing the young Spaniards praises ever since he stepped onto the scene in the United States a couple of years ago. A student and golfer at Oklahoma State University, Martin is now surely the best amateur golfer on the planet. Somewhat surprisingly, following his victory at the Estoril Open de Portugal on Sunday, he has decided to remain an amateur; although Burkowski told us on our 'UK Golf Central' show on Monday that Martin told him hes planning to forego his senior year in preference to a switch into the professional ranks. Raphael Jacquelin finished second to Martin at Oitavos Golfe. The Frenchman has, in my opinion, one of the smoothest swings on the tour and hopefully he will use this finish to build on his solitary European Tour victory.
Ross McGowan was a front runner for most of the week, but fell away with a final-round 76. I had the pleasure of playing quite a bit of amateur golf with Ross; we were both members at Walton Heath in Surrey for a while before McGowan turned professional and turned his attention to his original home club of Banstead Downs. At 24, McGowan, who only turned pro late last year, was somewhat of a late convert to the professional ranks but with a huge amount of experience as an amateur, including four years at the University of Tennessee. He certainly did his time, as they say. McGowan has a Challenge Tour card this year but relied on sponsors' exemptions to play at Madeira and Oitavos last week.
A Truly Impressel Performance
The first major championship of the year is done and dusted. Congratulations to Morgan Pressel, who I think has developed as a player and a person exponentially since turning professional 15 months ago. Bitter disappointment for Suzann Petterssen, whose double bogey at the 16th cost her dearly. The Norwegian has now had the chance to win for two weeks running but hasnt managed to come through with a trophy. My hope is that Petterssen will learn from these two second places and capture a victory or two before the end the season. Shes battled injuries in her career but now seems to be fit and healthy. The Europeans will certainly need her to be at her most productive for the Solheim Cup in September. Dont forget Catriona Matthew. I think Im right in saying the Kraft Nabisco was not aired in the United Kingdom and so Matthew didnt receive all the camera-time from the American CBS broadcast she possibly deserved. Had her 6-foot par putt on the last dropped we could have been talking about a British major winner. This was only Matthewss second tournament back since the birth of her daughter, so a truly marvelous achievement for the Scotswoman.
On a personal note, may I take this opportunity to wish Renton Laidlaw a very speedy recovery. Renton has been in extremely poor health since suffering a heart attack during an operation for prostate cancer a couple of weeks ago. Hes currently at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. I, like many of you, always enjoy Renton and Warren in the mornings during our European Tour coverage. His style is unique, his knowledge of European golf second to none. Although Rentons family appreciates your well wishes tremendously, they have asked for cards and flowers not to be sent to the hospital at this time.
Tom Abbott will host GOLF CHANNELs live coverage of the Ginn Open beginning at 9 p.m. BST on Thursday 12th April. GOLF CHANNEL can be found on Sky Digital 423.
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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener
South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.
Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.
Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.
Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.
Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.
Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder
He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):
12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson
Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.
11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson
At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.
11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker
Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.
1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas
Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.
Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone
HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.
It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.
Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.
It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.
''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''
The reward now?
''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''
He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.
During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.
''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''
Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.
''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''
During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.
''Bones, don't ever do that again.''
It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.
Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.
And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.
It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.
''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''
Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.
And not the Masters.
He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.
''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''
There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.
Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.
''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''
He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.
''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.
He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.
''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''
Except for that first week in April.
The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't
The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.
All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.
By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.
Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.
As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:
This is unreal,hiding in kitchen beachside missile attack from North Korea. Alarm went out all over Hawaii, and it’s no test...— Jesper Parnevik (@JesperParnevik) January 13, 2018
In a basement under hotel. Barely any service. Can you send confirmed message over radio or tv https://t.co/qHLeQSecnd— JJ Spaun (@JJSpaun) January 13, 2018
Under mattresses in the bathtub with my wife, baby and in laws. Please lord let this bomb threat not be real.— John Peterson (@JohnPetersonFW) January 13, 2018
While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:
Yeah, you heard that right.
“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”
Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.
Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.
Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.
As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.
Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.
Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.
With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.
First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.
“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”
Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.
We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.
The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.
These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.
Here's two more just for good measure.
Focus on a different face every time and this 15 second clip turns into 10 minutes of pure entertainment pic.twitter.com/JJeVV5eaVh— Laces Out (@LacesOutShow) January 15, 2018
Farts ... will they ever not be funny?
Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.
Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.
Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"
Yeah Tommy, we all got that.
Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.
But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.
We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.
Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.
PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.
Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.