Bunker Shots Mojo and Magic


Blasting into the week ahead, from Australia to Mexico and beyond ...

Woods looks for his mojo Down Under

Here we go again.

Tiger Woods has gone two stroke-play events without winning, and you know what that means. It’s time again to wonder what’s wrong with him.

Whatever it is – he’s human, perhaps – it’s nothing his first trip to Australia since 1998 shouldn’t cure.

Woods arrived in Melbourne Monday morning with security preparations equivalent to a head of state, just as he did in China last week for the WGC-HSBC Champions. Woods was photographed by Australian AP getting off his private jet. Three media helicopters were reported to have followed his transport into the city.

Watch the JBWere Masters on the Golf Channel:

Weds & Thurs LIVE at 10 p.m. (ET) and Fri & Sat LIVE at 10:30 p.m. (ET)

Woods leads the field at the JBWere Masters at Kingston Heath, where he’s the only player among the top 10 in the world rankings. He and No. 12 Geoff Ogilvy are the only players among the top 50 in the world in the 144-player field. If he doesn’t beat that field, speculation he’s lost his mojo will ratchet up.

Woods, according to news reports, is receiving a $3 million appearance fee this week. Stuart Appleby, Aaron Baddeley, Michael Campbell, Craig Parry, Rod Pampling, Adam Scott and Michael Sim are among the biggest names there.

Stance: In the last three months, Woods has blown his first final-round lead in a major, finished second to Phil Mickelson at the Tour Championship and watched Mickelson beat him in the final round of the HSBC Champions. The fact that this has come in a year in which Woods failed to win a major is, of course, fuel for folks who see his powers shrinking.

Takeaway: Lest we forget, Woods went more than eight months without playing a tournament after reconstructive knee surgery when he started this season at the end of February at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. He’s managed to win six of his 18 starts this season with 15 top-10 finishes.

Bunker shot: Woods isn’t slumping, but Mickelson is suddenly soaring and that’s what all the fuss over the state of Woods’ game should really be about this fall. Mickelson’s work with Butch Harmon is making a difference in his full swing. His recent work with Dave Stockton is making a difference with his putter. It’s a formidable combination that makes Mickelson as dangerous as he’s ever been. Mickelson has never looked more prepared to challenge Woods, who’s had a response every time he’s been challenged in his career. If Mickelson can keep this up, he might be favored over Woods going into the Masters next spring. Mickelson, who turns 40 next June, has the ability to make it a lot tougher for Woods in Woods’ push to surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 professional major championship titles.

Look who’s on the bubble at Disney

It’s all about the top 125 this week at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic.

What really catches your attention is how many PGA Tour winners are on and around the bubble at Disney World.

David Duval’s spot on the bubble at No. 125 adds to the intrigue. Duval, a 13-time PGA Tour winner who turned 38 on Monday, has used up his top-25 and top-50 career money exemptions. He’s signed up for the final stage of Q-School should he fall out of the top 125 this week. Rich Beem is 124th, Chris Riley 126th, Jeff Maggert 127th and Tim Herron 128th. The players ranked Nos. 124-128 have combined to win 24 PGA Tour events and two majors.

Duval won at Disney in ’97, when he was just coming into his prime. It was his second PGA Tour victory.

Stance: The focus may be on the money list, but the Disney event has a history of rewarding world-class ball strikers as its winners. Davis Love III is the defending champion. He arrives having posted 15 consecutive rounds in the 60s in the event, more than any other player, including Woods, who won this event twice. Lucas Glover, Joe Durant, Stephen Ames and Love won the last four events here. They’re all marvelous ball strikers.

Takeaway: Erik Compton, pursuing a PGA Tour card after two heart transplants, got the final sponsor’s exemption to the final PGA Tour event of the year. He turns 30 the day before the tournament begins. He easily made it through the first stage of Q-School last month and is the most inspiring story in golf.

Bunker shot: After his near victory at the U.S. Open this summer, Duval’s story is more compelling than ever. Though he is no longer the best player in the world, he remains one of the most fascinating characters in the game. With his marriage, his devotion to a growing family, Duval is a different man who wishes he weren’t such a different player from his days as the world’s No. 1. That’s what makes his story so compelling. He has spoken more than once about wanting to win for his wife and family. Seeing his children race onto a green to hug him in a trophy presentation would rank among golf’s great images.

Ochoa vs. Shin in Ochoa’s backyard

You would think you would have an advantage playing on your home course in an event with your name on it, but golf is different.

The LPGA’s top player has had some difficulty balancing the demands in her homeland against her need to focus on her game.

That helps make the Lorena Ochoa Invitational worth watching with Thursday’s start at Guadalajara Country Club.

In the inaugural event a year ago, Ochoa tied for 14th, nine shots behind the winner, Angela Stanford. It equaled the second worst finish for Ochoa in a non-major last year. Ochoa figures to have a lot on her mind again. Her wedding to AeroMexico CEO Andres Conesa is planned for next month.

There’s a $1.1 million purse up for grabs for the smallish 36-player field. The top 16 players in the world rankings will be there, including Jiyai Shin, Yani Tseng, Paula Creamer, defending champ Stanford, Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, Karrie Webb and Michelle Wie. Count Se Ri Pak, Morgan Pressel and Natalie Gulbis in the mix, too.

Stance: It’s a big week in the competition for Rolex Player of the Year with Shin holding a small four-point lead on Ochoa. Shin’s bidding to become the first South Korean to win the award. Ochoa’s bidding to win the award for a fourth consecutive year. Thirty points go to this week’s winner with next week’s LPGA Tour Championship the season’s final event.

Takeway: No American has won the Player of the Year award since Beth Daniel in 1994, but Kerr can move alone atop the points list with a victory this week should Shin not finish among the top 10 and Ochoa not finish among the top six.

Bunker shot: With South Korea’s rise to dominance on tour, it’s just a matter of time before a player from that nation wins the LPGA Player of the Year award.  When it happens, it will serve as an exclamation point on the nation’s rise to dominance in women’s golf. Shin’s the best South Korean who seems destined to be the world’s best player.

Race to Dubai nears finish line

European Tour members get one last chance to jockey for position in the Race to Dubai.

Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy lead the field at the UBS Hong Kong Open this week. Westwood’s No. 1 and McIlroy No. 2 in the Race to Dubai standings. The top 60 in the standings earn spots at the Dubai World Championship next week, where a total purse of $15 million will be at stake, with $1.25 million going to the tournament winner and $1.5 million to the Race to Dubai overall winner.

Despite all the early season speculation about what Americans might choose to participate in the Race to Dubai, Anthony Kim is the only American among the top 60 in points (35th) and he said last week he won’t be playing next week. Ben Curtis is 75th and with a good week in Hong Kong could play himself into Dubai.

Takeaway: The fall has been filled with good golf and that should continue next week at Dubai. McIlroy, Westwood, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Geoff Ogilvy, Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen, Ian Poulter, Camilo Villegas, Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Adam Scott have all secured spots at the Dubai World Championship.

Bunker shot: Rickie Fowler and Jamie Lovemark have been the best storylines in American golf this fall. Golf can use a jolt of fresh, young faces in its winner’s circles and McIlroy, 20, is poised to further separate himself in that regard on the European Tour’s side. If he manages to wrestle the top spot from Lee Westwood in the Race to Dubai standings this week, he’ll be the big story going to Dubai next week. If he wins the big prize at Dubai, he’ll create significant momentum as the game’s most promising young star going into next season, whether he ends up playing the PGA Tour full time or not. He’s bidding to become the youngest winner of the European Tour’s Order of Merit since Seve Ballesteros won it at 19 in 1976.