Bunker Shots Slumps and Swoons

By Randall MellSeptember 21, 2010, 8:00 pm
Blasting into the week ahead, from the search for meaning beyond Tiger’s swoon to Fred Couples’ “slump' ...


The Tour Championship

PGA Tour (75x100)

Down to the FedEx Cup’s final event, we’re still trying to make sense of this season.

Through 40 events, it’s a year that remains out of focus.

We head to Atlanta this week looking for more than somebody to step up and claim the $10 million FedEx Cup jackpot and possibly PGA Tour Player of the Year honors. We go to East Lake looking for someone to step through the fog and give this season some meaningful definition with a final statement. There are possibilities. Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson could make prominent marks on 2010 with closing victories.

Of course, we may not get a theme that ties this crazy season together at all. This may be destined to be remembered primarily as the Year of Tiger’s Swoon, a year that the Woods’ story towered over, even as he failed to win a single event. It may be destined to be remembered as a year that nobody moved with authority into Tiger’s winless void.

Bunker shot: Win a major, it’s a good year. Win a major while also claiming the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup, PGA Tour Player of the Year honors and the No. 1 world ranking, and all of a sudden it feels like a fabulous year. All of that’s still possible for Mickelson to claim despite the disappointments wedged into his season. Two big weeks in his year could trump everything.

Mell’s picks: Winner – Steve Stricker. Contender – Phil Mickelson. Darkhorse – Adam Scott.

  • Course: East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta, Ga. Par 70, 7,154 yards.
  • Purse: $7.5 million (winner’s share, $1,350,000).
  • TV times: Thursday-Friday – Golf Channel, 1-6 p.m. Saturday – Golf Channel, 10 a.m.-noon; NBC, noon-3:30 p.m. Sunday – Golf Channel, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.; NBC, 1:30-6 p.m.
  • Last year: Phil Mickelson closed with a 65, beating runner up Tiger Woods by three shots. Woods, though, claimed the FedEx Cup.


Champions Tour
SAS Championship

Fred Couples will be looking to snap his “slump” this week.

Couples is enjoying a terrific rookie season on the Champions Tour. He’s finished third or better in seven of his 12 starts. He has won three times, but he’s looking for his first victory in nearly six months.

Bunker shot: With five victories and two major championships, Bernhard Langer is looking like he’s the best player in the over-50 circuit yet again in his third season on Tour. He takes on Couples and all challengers once more this week as he seeks to build on his lead in the Charles Schwab Cup.

Mell’s picks: Winner – Fred Couples. Contender – Tom Pernice Jr. Darkhorse – Olin Browne.

  • Course: Prestonwood Country Club, Cary, N.C. Par 72, 7,137 yards.
  • Purse: $2.1 million (Winner’s share, $315,000).
  • 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: Tom Pernice Jr. won his debut on the Champions Tour, making birdie at the final hole to defeat Nick Price and David Frost by a shot.


WNB Golf Classic

Nationwide Tour

Just six events remain for players to crack the final top-25 money list and earn PGA Tour cards for the 2011 season.

Jamie Lovemark is the leading money winner with $416,669 in earnings, less than $10,000 ahead of Chris Kirk.

Bunker shot: It’s that time of the year. It’s Bubble Boy Season. Brian Smock is this week’s Bubble Boy at No. 25 on the money list, $3,859 ahead of Dicky Pride. But with Nationwide Tour money weighted heavily toward the top finishers, players can make large leaps with victories this week. In fact, players all the way down to No. 92 Josh Broadaway can leap into the top 25 with victories this week, though Broadaway can’t actually do it. He isn’t listed among players in this week’s field.

Mell’s picks: Winner – Hunter Haas. Contender – Martin Piller. Darkhorse – J.J. Killeen.

  • Course: Midland Country Club, Midland/Odessa, Texas. Par 72, 7,354 yards.
  • Purse: $525,000 (Winner’s share, $94,500).
  • TV times: No TV.
  • Last year: Garrett Willis had to rally in the final round with Chad Collins closing with a 62, but Willis did just that, winning by a shot.
Getty Images

Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."

Getty Images

Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.

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Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 1:50 pm

Corey Pavin's season on the PGA Tour Champions nearly came to an end because of a slow-play penalty.

Penalties for pace are often discussed or threatened, but rarely doled out on either the PGA Tour or the over-50 circuit. But that changed Sunday during the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, where Pavin was told by a rules official after completing his round that he would receive a 1-stroke penalty for slow play.

The penalty was on the surface rather harmless, turning an even-par 72 into a 1-over 73 and dropping Pavin into a tie for 15th. But this was the first event of a three-tournament postseason for PGA Tour Champions players, and only the top 54 in points advanced to this week's Invesco QQQ Championship.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

Pavin, who has two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season, barely held on at 53rd place after the penalty was enforced.

Slow-play discussions came up earlier this season surrounding Bernhard Langer at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, but Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins expressed his surprise on the telecast that it was Pavin who got a shot added to his score.

"Of all the things to happen with all the times I have played - I can't even count the number of rounds - I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player," Wadkins said. "All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?"

The subject of the penalty also raised an eyebrow from Stephen Ames, who finished alongside Pavin in 15th place while Langer finished second behind Woody Austin:

Getty Images

Azinger 'lobbied' to captain Ryder Cup team a second time

By Rex HoggardOctober 22, 2018, 1:47 pm

In 2008, Paul Azinger became the first U.S. Ryder Cup captain in nearly a decade to lead a team to victory, doing so at Valhalla with his innovative “pod” system and a player-driven approach to leadership.

In the wake of that victory there were many, including the vast majority of his players, who said Azinger deserved a second chance to captain, but at the time the 12-time PGA Tour winner appeared to be undecided and the PGA of America named Corey Pavin the 2010 captain.

On Monday, Azinger was named NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst starting next year and among many revelations during an extended interview on “Morning Drive” he explained how much he wanted a second chance to captain.

“I wanted to do it again, I lobbied to do it again after we won in ’08, but I think I waited a little too long and they had already made a decision,” Azinger said. “The excuse I got was that there are more captains than there are Ryder Cups and I thought that was fair, but then they asked [Tom] Watson to do it again shortly afterward and I was like, ‘What, huh?’”

Watson was named captain of the 2014 U.S. team, which lost by five points and led to the creation of the Ryder Cup task force, which adopted many of Azinger’s ideas including his use of four-player pods.

It’s even more curious that Azinger was never given a second chance considering that Davis Love III was also named a captain twice, first in 2012 and again in ’16.

“I didn’t do it again, I didn’t carry the flag to Europe in 2010, which is fine, and now I’m never going to get to do it again,” he said.

As for who may be named the next U.S. captain after another loss to the Europeans last month in France Azinger could only speculate. “Looks like Wisconsin [site of the 2020 matches at Whistling Straits] and Steve Stricker are going to be a perfect match,” he said.