Blasting into the week ahead, from Tiger Woods’ return to the regular stage to Lorena Ochoa’s goodbye as a tour regular ...
Quail Hollow Championship
How about if we pick up where we left off at the Masters?
With Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Anthony Kim and Lee Westwood in the field, the cast that created so much weekend drama at Augusta National is back together at Quail Hollow.
The focus on Woods promises to be about more than golf yet again. This marks the first time he’ll tee it up in a regular PGA Tour event since news of his marital infidelities rocked the golf world. He’ll meet the media again Wednesday a little after noon Eastern time. The traditional golf media outlets will be joined this week by news crews from CNN, CBS, NBC and ABC. The entertainment news media, however, won’t be there. Inside Edition and Extra were among gossip-style programs that were denied credentials after missing April 2 deadlines for applying to cover the event.
Bunker shot: Nobody’s watching Woods more closely than his fellow Tour pros. At Doral, Graeme McDowell said what most players are thinking. He said players would be looking for signs of vulnerability when Woods returned. They would be looking to see if Woods appeared to have lost any of the intangible gifts that have made him so dominant his entire career. He said if Woods doesn’t win quickly, players would begin to believe his “force field” has weakened. McDowell, though, also said he expects Woods will quickly assert himself. What ought to worry Woods’ peers is how terribly rusty Woods looked in his return at the Masters, specifically at the start of the final round, and yet still managed to threaten with a Sunday push. He looked just a couple dabs of polish from regaining his winning form.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Tiger Woods. Contender – Phil Mickelson. Darkhorse – Jason Dufner.
- Course: Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte. N.C. Par 72, 7,447 yards. (Designed by George Cobb in 1961, modified by Arnold Palmer in 1986 and redesigned by Tom Fazio in 1997 and ’03).
- Purse: $6.5 million (winner’s share, $1,170,000).
- TV times: Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m. (ET); Saturday-Sunday, CBS, 3-6 p.m. (ET)
- Last year: Sean O’Hair (11-under, 277) came from three shots back starting the final round to win, finishing a shot ahead of Lucas Glover and Bubba Watson.
Tres Marias Championship
Lorena Ochoa’s farewell as a full-time player is this week’s big story.
Ochoa, who announced her retirement Friday, won’t return to the LPGA again until she plays in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in November. The love that Mexico will pour out on its favorite daughter will be palpable. The perfect ending would be an Ochoa victory, and it wouldn’t constitute a fairy-tale finish, but definitely a feel-good finish. Ochoa is still the No. 1 ranked player in women’s golf and a favorite this week. She’s the defending champ.
Bunker shot: The week’s subplot is nearly as compelling as the main storyline. Who wants to step up as Ochoa’s successor? It’s the question even LPGA pros are asking. The favorites to assume the No. 1 ranking are all foreign born. South Korea’s Jiyai Shin, Taiwan’s Yani Tseng and Norway’s Suzann Pettersen were challenging even before Ochoa announced her retirement. Japan’s Ai Miyazato has shown strong signs she’s game and willing. Among Americans, the curiosity centers on Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie. Kerr, 32, is the most decorated American with a chance, and she fiercely desires the crown, but Wie, 20, is the great American hope with all that potential working for her. Paula Creamer, out mending a thumb injury, will be looking to work herself into the conversation with her return expected in June and Angela Stanford has the tools. There’s a statement waiting to be made this week.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Lorena Ochoa. Contender – Suzann Pettersen. Darkhorse – Vicky Hurst.
- Course: Tres Marias Country Club, Morelia, Mexico. Par 73, 6,539 yards (Designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 2004).
- Purse: $1.3 million (winner’s share, $195,000).
- TV times: No TV.
- Last year: Lorena Ochoa (25-under 267) finished a shot ahead of Suzann Pettersen.
Open de Espana
No Spaniard’s won the national event since Sergio Garcia in 2002.
There’s no shortage of Spanish contenders for the title with Miguel Angel Jimenez, Alvaro Quiros, Pablo Martin, Pablo Larrazabal, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Rafael Cabrera-Bello in the field.
Bunker shot: With European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie playing, there will be bids to win his favor. For the first time since 1995, a European captain will have more than two picks to fill out his team. Montgomerie will have three. If the teams were decided today, here’s who is in, based on points: Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Ross McGowan, Martin Kaymer, Simon Dyson, Paul Casey and Oliver Wilson. Here’s who would be out and in need of the captain’s favor: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Luke Donald, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Graeme McDowell, Ross Fisher, Francesco Molinari, Edoardo Molinari and Alvaro Quiros. The tougher the choices, the better Montgomerie’s team will look. And this looks like a formidable opponent for the Americans come early October at Celtic Manor.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Francesco Molinari. Contender – Alvaro Quiros. Darkhorse – Rafael Cabrera-Bello.
- Course: Real Club de Golf de Sevilla, Sevilla, Spain. Par 72, 7,140 yards (Designed by Jose Maria Olazabal and opened in 1991).
- Purse: $2 million euros, about $2.66 million (winner’s share 330,330 euros, about $443,000)
- TV times: Golf Channel, Thursday-Friday, 9:30-12:30 a.m. (ET); Saturday-Sunday, 8:30-11:30 a.m. (ET).
- Last year: Thomas Levet (18-under 270) finished two shots better than Fabrizio Zanotti.
Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic
Looking for their best form, Champions Tour pros have just two events before the major championship season begins.
The Senior PGA Championship is the first of their five majors and will be played May 27-30 at Colorado Golf Club.
Bunker shot: When Tiger Woods doesn’t play your event on the PGA Tour, it’s disappointing. It’s compounded on the Champions Tour when the top draw doesn’t just pass on your event but plays in a competing event in the United States. That’s what’s happening this week with Fred Couples playing at Quail Hollow on the PGA Tour.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Bernhard Langer. Contender – Jay Haas. Darkhorse – Mike Reid.
- Course: Fallen Oak Golf Club, Saucier, Miss. Par 72, 7,054 yards, (Designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 2006).
- Purse: $1.6 million (winner’s share, $240,000).
- TV times: Friday, Golf Channel, 6:30-8:30 p.m. (ET); Saturday, Golf Channel, 6:30-9:30 p.m. (ET); Sunday, Golf Channel, 7-9:30 p.m. (ET).
- Last year: This is the inaugural event.
Stadion Athens Classic at UGA
Australian Ewan Porter rocketed from dead last on the Nationwide Tour money list ($0 in earnings) to No. 6 with his victory at the South Georgia Classic last week. His first cut made this year was a victory. A quarter into the season, he’ll be working to remain in the top 25 in money and earn a promotion to the PGA Tour next year.
This marks the fifth straight year the Nationwide Tour stops in Athens, Ga., but its first at the University of Georgia Golf Course.
Bunker shot: If you like rooting for the working class man, Matt Peterson’s your guy. He’s moonlighting big time. He’s got three jobs this week, including trying to win the tournament. Peterson is the head professional at the UGA Golf Course. He’s also the assistant tournament director. His third job is as a player. He played his way into the field through a local PGA qualifier.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Chris Kirk. Contender – Bobby Gates. Darkhorse – Miguel Angel Carballo.
- Course: University of Georgia Golf Course, Athens, Ga. Par 71, 7,240 yards (Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., opened in 1968).
- Purse: $550,000 (winner’s share, $99,000).
- TV times: No TV.
- Last year: Patrick Sheehan (14-under 274) birdied the first playoff hole to defeat Michael Sim at the Athens Regional Foundation Classic.