Blasting into the week ahead as the PGA Tour migrates to the Lone Star State, and LPGA and Champions tours move to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail ...
Valero Texas Open
The Texas Swing opens with Zach Johnson vying to join Arnold Palmer in the record books.
Johnson is seeking his third consecutive Valero Texas Open title. Since this tournament’s inception in 1922, Palmer’s the only player to win it three years in a row.
Justin Leonard’s also trying to make some history, but he’s aiming to overtake Palmer as the only player to win this event four times. Leonard won it in 2000, ’01 and ’07.
The tournament’s being played on a new venue, the TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Oaks Course, a Greg Norman design with Sergio Garcia as the player consultant. That explains Garcia’s appearance this week, his second at the event, his only other coming seven years ago.
Bunker Shot: Ernie Els is making a refreshing appearance. It’s refreshing because he’s a superstar taking his game to new territory at age 40. This marks the first time Els will tee it up in the Texas Open. Els needs to refresh the confidence he built winning the CA Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. As high as he was in that run, Els was almost as low at the Masters, where his tie for 18th was deceiving. He beat himself up profusely for failing to take his best game to Augusta National, where he struggled with a third-round 75 to shoot himself out of the championship. Els seems to be battling a Masters’ hangover in his two starts since. He squandered a chance at the European Tour’s Ballantine’s Championship with a 74 on Saturday and missed the cut last week at The Players. With the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach five weeks away, Els has a great opportunity. He finished second the last time the U.S. Open was played at Pebble Beach and the guy who beat him there by 15 shots (Tiger Woods) isn’t certain to play next month with a neck injury. It’s an open door for Els.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Bo Van Pelt. Contender – Ernie Els. Darkorse – David Duval.
- Course: TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Oaks Course in San Antonio, Texas. Par 72, 7,522 yards (Designed by Greg Norman with Sergio Garcia as player consultant, opened this year).
- Purse: $6.1 million (winner’s share, $1,098,000).
- TV times: Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, CBS, 3-6 p.m.
- Last year: Zach Johnson shot 60 in the third round at LaCantera Golf Club but needed a playoff to beat James Driscoll, who came from eight back in the final round to force extra holes.
Bell Micro LPGA Classic
Life without Lorena Ochoa officially begins this week.
In the tour’s first event since Ochoa’s retirement took effect, the fight to succeed her as the LPGA’s next dominant player begins in earnest. All the tour’s big names will be there. Jiyai Shin, who overtook Ochoa as No. 1 last week, joins No. 2 Ai Miyazato, No. 3 Yani Tseng, No. 4 Suzann Pettersen and every player in the top 10 of this week’s Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. Ochoa’s name was removed from the rankings as she moves into inactive status.
Bunker shot: Morgan Pressel turned tables on the Asians last week. For a decade now, players from the Far East have crossed the American border and claimed LPGA victories. Pressel teed it up on the Japan LPGA Tour last week and left with the Salonpas Cup as champion. She was the only American in the event. Pressel jumped eight spots in the world rankings to No. 17 with her third professional title. Pressel isn’t a power player, but Miyazato’s showing you don’t have to overpower the competition to make a run at No. 1. Pressel appears poised to move her name in that mix.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Suzann Pettersen. Contender – Yani Tseng. Darkhorse – Brittany Lang.
- Course: Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s Magnolia Grove (The Crossings course), Mobile, Ala. Par 72, 6,532 yards (Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and opened in 1992).
- Purse: $1.3 million (winner’s share, $195,000)
- TV times: Golf Channel, Thursday, 6:30-8:30 p.m.; Friday, noon-2 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 4-6 p.m.
- Last year: Was not played last season.
Iberdrola Open Cala Millor Mallorca
Jose Maria Olazabal, sidelined while battling rheumatism, makes a cameo this week.
Olazabal will play the pro-am on Wednesday. The last of the Spaniard’s 23 European Tour victories came here in 2005. The two-time Masters champ is sure to get an enthusiastic reception on his native soil. Olazabal was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last year.
Bunker shot: The Iberdrola Open is the last warmup before the BMW Championship next week in Wentworth. Paul Casey is scheduled to return to defend his title at Wentworth. Ernie Els, Rory McIrloy, Padraig Harrington and Martin Kaymer are committed to one of the strongest fields of the year in Europe. Ryder Cup jockeying begins in earnest with players stepping up bids to make what’s looking to be a powerhouse European squad. The Euros will be favored when the matches are played at Celtic Manor in Wales in October.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Soren Hansen. Contender – Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Darkhorse – Chris Wood.
- Course: Pula Golf Club, Son Servera, Mallorca, Spain. Par 70, 6,808 yards (Designed by Jose Maria Olazabal).
- Purse: 800,000 euros (winner’s share, 133,330 euros)
- TV times: Golf Channel, Thursday-Friday, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 8:30-11:30 a.m.
- Last year: Inaugural year.
Bernhard Langer gets a chance to make up ground on Fred Couples in the Charles Schwab Cup race.
Langer’s in the field with Couples taking time off after a six-week stretch bouncing back and forth from the Champions Tour to the PGA Tour. Couples leads the Charles Schwab Cup points race with 1,015 points. Langer’s second with 818. There’s 225 points available to this week’s winner.
Ken Green’s comeback continues. He made a strong impression in his return at the Liberty Mutual Legends and will be looking to build on that this week.
Bunker shot: Fred Funk didn’t like saying goodbye at The Players Championship with a final-round 78 on Sunday. Look for the short hitter to come back big on this big course. Funk’s five-year exemption as winner of The Players expired, but he’s motivated to play his way back there. The winner of the Constellation Energy Senior Players in October gets an invite. That will be played in Funk’s old stomping grounds at the TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm in Maryland.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Bernhard Langer. Contender – Tom Pernice. Darkhorse – Denis Watson.
- Course: Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Ross Bridge, Hoover, Ala. Par 72, 7,473 yards (Designed by Roger Rulewich and opened in 2005).
- Purse: $1.7 million (winner’s share, $225,000).
- TV times: Golf Channel, Friday, 6:30-8:30 p.m.; Saturday, 6:30-9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 7-9:30 p.m.
- Last year: Keith Fergus won the rain-shortened event last year, shooting a pair of 6-under-par 66s to finish three shots ahead of Gene Jones.
BMW Charity Pro-Am
A cast of celebrities will help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the event.
Actors Kurt Russel, Luke Wilson and Thomas Gibson are among celebrities scheduled to play.
Bunker shot: NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice makes his second Nationwide Tour start. He won’t, however, be competing among the celebrity/amateur attractions. He’ll compete in his second Nationwide Tour event as a pro. Rice has ambitions for a pro golf career. He opened with an 83 and 76 in his debut at the Fresh Express Classic last month.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Kevin Chappell. Contender – Tag Ridings. Darkhorse – D.J. Brigman.
- Course: Thornblade Club, Greer, S.C.; Brights Creek Golf Club, Mill Spring, N.C.; The Carolina Country Club, Spartanburg, S.C.
- Purse: $600,000 (winner’s share, $108,000).
- TV times: Golf Channel, Thursday-Friday, 1-3 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 1-4 p.m.
- Last year: Australia’s Michael Sim defeated Argentina’s Fabian Gomez at the first hole of their playoff.