Bunker Shots Are birdies galore enough at the Bob Hope Classic


Blasting into the week ahead, from the PGA Tour's challenge holding off Europe's Middle East swing to another week in Hawaii.

'Cancel My Reservation' was one of the more than 60 movies Bob Hope made in his lifetime.
Of all his films, that title might best describe what is becoming the theme of the golf tournament that bears his name.

Hope was such a giant star in his time, but his tournament is mostly starless this week in LaQuinta, Calif.

Mike Weir is the highest ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking scheduled to play when action begins Wednesday. He’s No. 37.

Even Anthony Kim, who can call this a hometown event as a LaQuinta High graduate, is passing this week to play the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. Ouch. There’s appearance money to be collected at Abu Dhabi, where such advantages show in the strength of that event’s field. Abu Dhabi’s the tournament to watch this week with five of the top 10 in the world competing and eight of the top 14.

Stance: The Bob Hope Classic’s days feel numbered with the PGA Tour looking for a new title sponsor with Chrysler out. It marks the first time since 1984 the tournament will be staged without a title sponsor. Arnold Palmer couldn’t revive interest returning in a temporary role as host of the 50th anniversary last year. Phil Mickelson, a West Coast guy who has more than met requirements playing there over the years, is avoiding the event for a third straight season. Kim’s decision to skip a tournament in his backyard might be remembered as the last nail in the coffin if this event doesn’t survive. The celebrity format with amateur partners obviously isn’t as popular with players anymore. The decision to bring in Yogi Berra as host was curious. He’s a beloved Yankee Hall of Famer, but he’s 84 years old and. The event could use some radically fresh, vibrant ideas to hold off the growing popularity of the European Tour’s Middle East swing. Justin Timberlake’s fall series event in Las Vegas would love to move among golf’s main events.  

Takeaway: David Duval makes his first PGA Tour start of the season this week on a sponsor’s exemption after failing to keep his fully exempt status last season. The Hope is where he shot 59 in the final round in 1999 to win. If there’s still some magic in him, this might be the place to find it, though it’s an upset if he actually contends there. Duval has missed the cut at the Bob Hope the last two seasons and said his terrific run at the U.S. Open last year might be due to the fact that he’s better suited now for tough setups than birdie fests. Duval shot three 68s and a 70 at the Hope and still missed the cut last year.

Bunker shot: If you like birdie fests, you haven’t tired of the Bob Hope Classic. If you’re waiting for the Tour’s next 59, or maybe its first 58, this is still an event for you. Pat Perez won at 33-under last year. Joe Durant’s 36-under total in ’01 remains the lowest score in PGA Tour history. It’s five rounds and 90 holes of attack-style golf.

Abu Dhabi Championship

Five of the top-10 players in the world rankings are scheduled to play the European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates beginning Thursday.

Geoff Ogilvy, winner of the PGA Tour’s season opening SBS Championship, is in the field. So is Lee Westwood, winner of the inaugural Race to Dubai last season. Paul Casey’s back as defending champion looking to prove he’s recovered from the rib injury that derailed his impressive start last season.

Expect some Ryder Cup buzz with European captain Colin Montgomerie making his first start of 2010.

Stance: South African Charl Schwartzel was entered with a chance to become the first player since Seve Ballesteros (1986) to win three consecutive European Tour events, but Schwartzel announced Monday that he was withdrawing to rest. He’ll try to win his third consecutive start when he tees it up at the Qatar Masters next week.

Takeaway: There are appealing storylines with Sergio Garcia, Camilo Villegas, Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter among international stars making their 2010 debuts this week. Garcia and Villegas are looking to rebound from drop offs last season with McIlroy and Poulter looking to build on momentum gained last season.

Bunker shot: Westwood opens the 2010 season as the highest ranked international player in the world at No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking, but is he even Europe’s best player? Northern Ireland’s Padraig Harrington looks eager to add to his three major championship triumphs before Westwood reaches his first. Though Westwood seems like he’s been around forever, he’s only 36, which is a golfer’s prime. He climbed to No. 4 in the world a decade ago, but he fell into such a demoralizing slump he tumbled to No. 246 before fighting his way back. The Englishman held off McIlroy to win the Race to Dubai last season. Optimism that Westwood might be ready for a major championship breakthrough can be found in his record. He has three third-place finishes in majors over the last two years. He was third at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in ‘08, and he tied for third in both the British Open at Turnberry and the PGA Championship at Hazeltine last year.

Mitsubishi Electric Championship

Fred Couples makes his highly anticipated debut in an official Champions Tour event Friday at the Hualalai Resort in Hawaii. So does U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin.

If you’re looking for big names to watch, there will be more of them there than at the Bob Hope Classic.

Tom Watson, Gary Player, Bernhard Langer, Curtis Strange, Ben Crenshaw and Nick Price are among those in the 36-player field.

Stance: With Jack Nicklaus teaming with Watson to win the Wendy’s Champions Skins Game last weekend, the Champions Tour season got off to a special start. It was fitting that a Palmer (Ryan, that is) won the same weekend in Hawaii on the PGA Tour.

Takeaway: Bernhard Langer is back as defending champion with Loren Roberts looking to make a strong start on a bid to win back-to-back Charles Schwab Cup titles. If Roberts pulls that off at year’s end, he’ll have claimed the season points title three of the last four years.

Bunker shot: The Champions Tour will never rival the PGA Tour’s popularity, but there’s a real chance to elevate interest with Couples in the mix. He’s still a major draw who can win headlines and highlights the Champions Tour wouldn’t otherwise get should he become a force on the senior circuit. The big question is whether his back will hold up as he looks to play both the Champions Tour and PGA Tour this year before dedicating himself more heavily to the Champions Tour next year.