Blasting into the week ahead, from Cajun country to a giant slayer’s Jeju Island home.
Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Just three of the top 30 players in the world will tee it up when play begins Thursday at the TPC at Louisiana, but there is plenty of story power, if not star power.
No. 3 Steve Stricker and No. 6 Ian Poulter are the highest ranked players in the field, but there are compelling stories to be told if Sergio Garcia, David Duval and John Daly can get themselves in contention. Should any of them win, it promises to make fascinating reading.
Bunker Shot: Love him or loathe him, Garcia is among the most charismatic players in the game. The sport’s better when he’s on leaderboards. That’s the problem. He isn’t finding his way onto them this year. In 2008, when Tiger Woods failed to record enough starts to qualify for the Vardon Trophy, Garcia claimed the award with the lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour. Through his first six stroke-play starts this season, he’s 158th in scoring (71.43). He’s 136th in greens in regulation and 129th in putting average. He’s looking for his first top-10 finish in stroke play since the Dubai World Championship last November.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Steve Stricker. Contender – Charles Howell III. Darkhorse – Bubba Watson.
Course: TPC Louisiana in New Orleans, par 72, 7,341 yards (Pete Dye design, player consultants Jerry Kelly and Steve Elkington).
Purse: $6.4 million (winner’s share, $1,152,000).
TV times: Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, CBS, 3-6 p.m.
Last year: Jerry Kelly (14-under 274) finished a shot better than Charles Howell III, Rory Sabbatini and Charlie Wi.
Y.E. Yang is the story on the European Tour this week.
Fresh off his victory last week at the Volvo China Open, Yang heads home to play at Jeju Island, his South Korean home, where he’ll always be remembered as the guy who beat Tiger Woods in a major. The momentum and home cooking make Yang the man to beat, but there are strong challengers with Ernie Els, Anthony Kim and Henrik Stenson in the field. Kim is also a European Tour member who ranks 10th in Race to Dubai points.
Bunker Shot: Ernie Els, for so long the world traveler, makes his first appearance of the year outside the United States this week. After winning back-to-back events in Florida, Els seemed to have found the joy in his game again. That’s what made his struggles at the Masters so disturbing. It wasn’t so much the way the course beat him up, but the way he beat himself up afterward. He was dejected over how Augusta National had broken his heart yet again. Will the depression linger over his game? This week will be telling as to what kind of summer may await Els.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Anthony Kim. Contender – Y.E. Yang. Darkhorse – Peter Hedblom.
Course: Pinx Golf Club in Jeju Island. Par 72, 7,345 yards (Designed by Ted Robinson)
Purse: 2,205,000 euros, about $2.9 million (winner’s share, 366,660 euros, about $494,000).
TV times: Thursday-Sunday, Golf Channel, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Last year: Thongchai Jaidee (4-under 284) defeated Gonzalo Fdez-Castano and Sung-hoo Kang in a playoff.
Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf
The Fred Couples show rolls into Savannah, Ga., this week.
Couples makes his first appearance as a “legend” and will team with Jay Haas in the 54-hole best-ball team event. Corey Pavin, Paul Azinger and Hal Sutton also are making their debuts. Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman are back as defending champs.
Bunker shot: Ken Green makes his return to competition after that devastating crash in his RV took so much away from him last summer. He lost his lower right leg in the accident and will play with a prosthetic leg with Mike Reid as his partner. Whether the duo gets in contention or not, it promises to be heart-tugging action. Green lost his girlfriend, his brother and his dog in the crash. Green’s also motivated by the fact that the Champions Tour turned down his request for a medical extension. He’s dependent on sponsor invites to play this Tour.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Fred Couples/Jay Haas. Contender: Bernhard Langer/Tom Lehman. Darkhorse – Denis Watson/Eduardo Romero.
Course: The Club at Westin Savannah Harbor in Savannah, Ga. Par 72, 7,087 yards (Designed by Robert Cupp and Sam Snead).
Purse: $2.7 million (winner’s share, TBD).
TV times: Friday, Golf Channel, 12:30-2:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 1-3 p.m.
Last year: Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman won in a playoff, defeating Jeff Sluman and Craig Stadler when Langer holed a 45-foot birdie at the first playoff hole.
South Georgia Classic
This week’s event marks the quarter mark of the season, the seventh of 28 events.
Bobby Gates is the Nationwide Tour’s leading money winner with $161,960. At 7,781 yards, Kinderlou Forest is the longest layout on the Tour, about 300 yards longer than any other course.
Bunker shot: Who leads the money list is a big deal on this tour but so is the guy who holds down the 25th spot with the top 25 earning PGA Tour cards at season’s end. Brian Vranesh holds that final spot this week, but there’s plenty of movement in and out of the top 25 every week. David Hearn leaped from 54th on the money list last week to 10th this week with his runner-up finish to Kevin Chappell at the Fresh Express Classic. For every player who moves into the top 25, somebody’s feeling the pressure of moving out.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Jamie Lovemark. Contender – Chris Kirk. Darkhorse – Marco Dawson.
Course: Kinderlou Forest Golf Club in Valdosta, Ga. Par 72, 7,781 yards (Designed by Davis Love III).
Purse: $625,000 (winner’s share, $112,500).
TV times: Friday-Sunday, Golf Channel, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday, 7-9:30 p.m.
Last year: Garth Mulroy won at 13-under 275, finishing a shot ahead of Chris Tidland.