Watch for Some Unusual Suspects This Week
It's news when Tiger changes shirts. Bigger news than you might imagine. Els, for his part, has fallen into the zone. Yes that zone. The one we all dream about. And he has stayed there. Mickelson melted at Torrey Pines Sunday when Woods torched him in the final round of the Buick Invitational.
Couples, meanwhile, has quietly made three cuts in a row. He tees it up Thursday in the Nissan Open at Riviera Country Club, a place he finished 19th or better--including winning twice--during a nine-year period beginning in 1989. And the word from the left coast is he's starting to take this stuff seriously again.
'He's tired of finishing 40th every week,' said Harmon, who is working with Couples now and will continue to do so this year. 'He still thinks he can win. He's totally committed.'
Couples is 43 and hasn't won since The Memorial in 1998. But he loves Riviera and has had more success there than the incomparable Woods, who hasn't finished first in six tries on that golf course.
Speaking of Woods and Harmon: They may not be back together officially and full time. But they spent time on Harmon's range in Las Vegas prior to Woods' victory last week. And Harmon is still listed on Woods' website along with caddie Steve Williams when you click the 'Team Tiger' icon. So if Woods and Harmon have split, they're doing a pretty good job hiding it.
Clarke, meanwhile, has done a pretty good job hiding his massive talent ever since dusting Woods, 4 and 3, in the finals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship three years ago. The big Ulsterman from Northern Ireland's volatile County Tyrone has dropped to No. 26 in the world rankings and off of most people's short lists of best players never to have won a major.
You'll never guess whose range Clarke showed up on recently - if you said Butch Harmon, give yourself high marks for reading comprehension. Like Couples, Clarke has gotten serious about a return to form. He recently signed a three-year deal with TaylorMade and sacked his longtime caddie, Billy Foster, for J.P. Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald used to carry the bag of another Irishman, Ryder Cup hero Paul McGinley.
'Darren's a hard guy to work for,' said his agent, Chubby Chandler, explaining that Foster had begun to fear telling Clarke things he didn't want to hear. One of the worst things that can develop is a reluctance on the part of a caddie to warn his player when he's about to use the wrong club or play the wrong shot.
Clarke's stubbornness is a close relative to his determination. And that's why Harmon likes working with him. 'The commitment is back with Darren, too,' Harmon said. 'He went all last year trying different things. He's in better shape now and more committed to being the best player he can be.'
So watch Tiger Woods this week at Riviera. See if he continues to wear those Nike muscle shirts that he now orders in 'large' rather than 'extra large,' the better to show off his guns. See if Woods finally breaks through at the tournament where he played his first PGA Tour event as a 16-year-old.
But don't be surprised if Couples and Clarke both wind up on the first page of the leaderboard by Sunday. Couples finished 13th last week in San Diego. Clarke was disqualified when he signed an incorrect scorecard. But he was playing well and carded an ace in his first round.
These two guys are too good to stay under radar too long.
Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish
NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.
Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.
The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.
Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.
The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.
Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him
It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.
Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.
The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:
The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.
For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.
Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter
After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.
But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.
Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":
Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.
Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.
Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.
The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.
“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.
In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.
“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”
Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.
“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.