Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Spanish Joy in Portugal

"He's not small, he's just far away..." 6'5" Robert Karlsson smacks the big dog in Portugal

I'm playing catch-up after a busy week where the ol' blog bout put on the back burner, hopefully normal service will resume as the Order of Merit gets sorted out. The Portugal Masters was taken this weekend by Alvaro Quiros. It's his second win on the European Tour and was done in crushingly efficient style - 66, 68, 67 and a 68, great scoring, great consistency and a great win by three shots. He was caught briefly by Ross Fisher but pulled away again down the straight to clinch another title to add to his resume ; the South African Dunhill Championship was his maiden win last year. It gave Quiros an incredible boost in the world rankings, shooting him up 202 places in all to 94th in the world. With scoring like that it's richly deserved. And having had a decent time of it in recent weeks, without much to show, he deserved a win.

The man who got closest to him was the last European to win a major before Padraig Harrington turned all Tigerish and started collecting them ten-a-penny, the conqueror of Carnoustie, Paul Lawrie. It gave him just the 111 place boost to 158th in the world, small beans compared to Quiroz but greatly needed.

The big story was the big man vying to capture the final official Order of Merit, Robert Karlsson who's quite big. A final round 71 was good enough to see him take third place and Open up a €297,424 lead over Padraig Harrington in on Europe's money list with only the Volvo Masters at Valderrama to play, which has a first prize €708,330. All these years the European Tour have been missing a trick when they could have been having "The Race to Valderrama", how much better would that have been...

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Seve stable after 12 hours in surgery, let's keep our fingers crossed for the great man.

Seve Ballesteros is in a stable condition after undergoing a 12-hour operation to remove all that was possible of the brain tumour he was this week diagnosed with. That's the news which came today from the Madrid hospital where he underwent the procedure.The statement released pertaining to his condition said he was conscious and stable and recovering in intensive care, and there were no complications.

Things have moved very quickly since he collapsed at the Madrid airport earlier in the week, tests over the weekend uncovered the tumour and after informing his family, Ballesteros confirmed the news in a statement on Sunday. A biopsy on the tumour was scheduled for Tuesday but doctors decided to operate to remove as much of the tumour as possible before treatment.

Further in the statement from La Paz Hospital today: "The patient will spend a post-operative period in the intensive care unit. He is currently conscious and in a stable condition, although he cannot receive visits in the coming days until he recovers from the surgery."

The removed tumour shall now be analyzed, analysis which will require several days before the results are known, and they will determine what course of treatment Ballesteros may need.

Seve retired only last year following arthritic back and knee problems and doctors discovered an irregular heartbeat when he was admitted to hospital in 2007. Despite being unable to drive the ball with any sort of accuracy at all late in his career, Seve was still very high in the putting and chipping stats, he never lost his incredible short game, that magic touch and invention. Reading a few of the articles which related to Seve's retirement, I found a quote of how he was looking forward to life after golf.

"I have a number of good years left and I'd rather spend time now with my three children and my companies and friends."

I really hope that he does get through this and that he has more than a number of good years left to enjoy. For all the amazing moments he supplied the world with, he deserves it.

The Grand Slam Of Golf - Rewarding stellar wins and stale consistency...

Goosen- "I really shouldn't be here..."

Okay, so the PGA Grand Slam of golf. It's supposed to be a two day duel between the four champions of this years Major tournaments, the most elite and exclusive golf event you could imagine. A gathering of the four leading lights in golf this year, those who shone brightest when it matters most. What a fantastic concept it is. The only problem is, you get circumstances such as occurred this year, where the US Open Champion, Tiger Woods, is still nursing that dodgy knee which was creaking and groaning as he took his title. Not only that, but Padraig Harrington, having got the taste of what it's like to be a major winner last year, decided to be a greedy bugger and win two Major tournaments this year. The other dude, the guy who won the Masters, whats-his-face, umm, the guy who looks like he's wearing eyeliner of mascara or something but he's not, he's just got very prominent eyelashes, ummm.. Zimmerman, Pimpleman...

Trevor Immelman, that's it! (Admit it, when you saw the line up you'd completely forgotten he was a major winner, it seems so long ago...) Yeah, he's still alive and will take his place.

So instead of being a gala meeting between the champions of all four tournaments we get "alternates", one to take the place of Woods and as Padraig Harrington is not allowed to hit two balls to double his chances of winning, one to make up the foursome. These are decided by allocation of points according to how players performed in each of the majors. Phil Mickelson, with two top tens and another two top 20 finishes was the first alternate. But he has decided not to take part in the event and so the two back up slots go the the second and third alternates Retief Goosen and Jim Furyk.

Here's what the official website had to say about these two call-up's

"Due to their stellar play in the 2008 major championships, past major champions Retief Goosen and Jim Furyk have received -- and accepted -- invitations to play in the 26th PGA Grand Slam of Golf in October. They will join Open and PGA Champion Padraig Harrington and Masters winner Trevor Immelman in the most elite foursome in golf."

Whoa now, I think if you were to go up to any golf fan who was unaware of the points systems and asked who they thought had played the best golf in the majors this season, they would have never have picked out Goosen certainly, and few would have said Furyk. They apparently have a "stellar" record at the majors this year according to that blurb - They have one top ten between them! That was Furyk who was 5th at the Open; Goosen, the second alternate finished no higher than 14th at the US Open. He was 17th at the Masters, 32nd at the Open and 24th at the USPGA. That's not stellar, that's just stale consistency.

Now in these circumstances, what would seem fair to me would be to employ the system used for the Charity shield here in the UK, a match at the start of each season between the winners of the Premier League and the FA Cup. When, as has often happened recently, one team does the double and wins both, the match is played between the champion and the league runner-up.

SO why couldn't they have applied that principle here, instead of rewarding two players who did little to set the heart racing in any of the Majors this year, why not reward the guys who came so close to winning, the men who finished second. Judge that Harrington qualifies through the Open win first and then award the place to Sergio Garcia who ran him so close at the USPGA and actually did have a stellar season, winning the TPC, the unofficial 5th major in many eyes and bagging a huge haul of seconds. Or Ben Curtis who was also second and 7th at the Open, that's more top tens than the two playing this week combined! Surely that's a fairer reflection of who deserves to be there. And how about Rocco Mediate, who played a huge role in making the US Open one of the most intriguing in recent memory, shouldn't he be taking Tiger's place rather than the guy who finished 14th and then backhandedly accused Tiger of faking injury. It's an indication of how far off winning the tournament Goosen was that he didn't know that knee was creaking like an old barn door.

Considering the fourth place guy gets $120,000 for just two rounds of Golf, it appears to me that there are more deserving men of that money than Goosen and Furyk.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Schwartzel the model of consistency at last - shows he's the "Real" thing at the Madrid Open.

Having turned a few heads in the last few tournaments with some sizzling performances, Charl Schwartzel has taken a step forward this weekend; showing he's capable of producing that form consistently enough over four round to take a great victory this weekend. And his tournament was the very model of consistency, no repeat of the birdie blitz one round and failing to back it up the next. All four rounds in the 60's - 69, 64, 66, 66, to finish on an excellent score of 19 under. All the more impressive is that in his final round, he picked up five birdies yes, but he didn't drop a single shot, which was the difference between him and his closest rivals today. And 19 under, that's got to be one of the lowest scores we've seen on the european Tour this year. It's a pity for Schwartzel that the challenge he faced was not greater.

Once more the field at an event in Mainland Europe was not the most auspicious. Most of the big names were absent, Miguel Angel Jimenez the only real big fish, apart from Jose Maria Olazabal. Nothing much happened for Miguel, today's decent 67 proving too little, too late, finishing way off the pace on 5 under tied for 29th, when a win would have propelled him to third in the Order of Merit standings. Olazabal's main aim would have been to make the weekend, he managed that by a single shot on Friday, and will probably not be too disappointed to finish 65th on 2 over par. This week was about getting back into the "swing of things", if you'll pardon the pun and I'm sure it cheered the home crowd to see Olly back playing when the news of Seve's hospitilisation hit - as the sight of so many Spaniardsup there challenging for places would have.

Of the men who were chasing ol' Charl, Ricardo Gonzalez got closest in the end. He had the same slow start to his round as he did yesterday, parring the first eight, getting to one under for the day with a 2 on the ninth. He didn't get the same reaction on the back nine however, only three birdies for the Argentinian today and a lonely bogey - a full six shots worse than what he got yesterday. Not that two under on the way in is bad, it just demonstrates what a ridiculous spurt of golf he produced yesterday. He earns a creditable second place finish for his efforts.

Pablo Larrazabal put in a good performance again, but seven birdies were not enough for him to haul in Schwartzel, even if he hadn't bogeyed three holes today, he would still have come up short, so comprehensive was Schwartzel's win. 15 under gives Larrazabal third and another wee boost in the rankings. He's another to be watching closely, there's no more passionate or agressive player out there, he's going to be big.

Tying for fourth were two players who hit the rounds of the day, both striking only 64 blows. The manner of their rounds were rather different. Englands Robert Rock took the more conventional route, and playing some sublime golf, looked ready to set a great target for the leaders, hitting three birdies in a row twice in his first nine holes, a sensational start. He did go on to have a third set of three consecutive birdies coming in, but two bogeys took the shine off of his round a little and the target he was settin for Schwartzel. Alvaro Quiros didn't have any bogey's in his final round, and only three birdies dotted his card, but two eagles in four holes at the par 5 fourth and seventh shot him up from 11th to fourth just like Rock. What a silly round to have.

The Aussie blinks in the face of a Latin Onslaught, Plucky Schwartzel still fighting it out...

I was fairly sure yesterday that one of the leading pair at least one would not be able to keep their momentum going throughout the weekend, as they have both failed to do in recent times. Turns out I was right as once more, Marcus Fraser, looking good over the first two days, hit a three over 74 to drop away, eight shots back and now out of contention.Charl Schwartzel, the swashbuckling South African, did rather better, five birdies and an eagle got him a 66. That leaves him leading going into the final round on 14 under.

He can expect to see a challenge however as there were two absolutely huge moves through the field yesterday. The most impressive was arguably from Argentinian Ricardo Gonzalez who had one of the most ridiculous rounds of Golf you could imagine. Coasting serenely with a rack of pars and a single birdie, he was one under for his round stepping onto the tenth tee. Whether he had an energy drink, a mars bar, or perhaps a Popeye style can of spinach, I couldn't tell you: what I can tell you is that he embarked on one of the craziest runs of scoring you'll have seen outside of Tiger Woods on the Xbox. Six birdies and an eagle on the par five 14th, the second half of his card ablaze with red figures and all of a sudden Gonzalez was just one off the lead.

"I was one under after nine and thought to myself 'I need a few more birdies' - but to shoot nine under is unbelievable.The key, I think, was my drive on 10. From there, I felt more confident. My putting was also very good on the last seven or eight holes.Spain is like a second home, and I feel very good here. I'll feel a little bit of pressure in the last round but I'll try to make a good score again and play well.I will just play golf and enjoy it - that's the only thing I can do."

Gonzalez was not the only guy going very low yesterday, Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal also bagged a 62 by way of an eagle on the fourth, bogey on the fifth and then eight birdies in his last twelve holea. Larrazabal has emerged as a real character on the European Tour this year, I don't know if I've seen a golfer who more clearly leaves his heart on his sleeve than wee Pablo, shouting and cursing at himself on bad shots, skipping like a schoolchild after the good.

Two more Spaniards Alvaro Quiros and Carlos Del Moral are hot on the heels of these leaders, and it looks like a question of whether the South African Schwartzel can fend off the marauding pack which has a decidedly Latin flavour...

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Jose just scrapes through; Madrid lead held by Marcus and Charl. Which posh name will prevail...

At a time when one Spanish legend is currently ill in hospital, another is making a welcome comeback from his own health problems. Jose Maria Olazabal, who has not played in a tournament since June when he was attempting to qualify for the Open, just managed to make the cut at the Madrid Open with a 70 and a 72 to get into the weekend by one shot on level par. It's the third comeback Olazabal has had to make, plagued by arthritis throughout his career. He'll be hoping this one will be as successful as the last, when many thought he'd never play again he came back to win a second US Masters title and play in more Ryder Cups.

The news on Ballesteros, the other half of an awesome Ryder Cup pairing with Olazabal, is not so good today, as it has been revealed that he was admitted to hospital following an epileptic fit but he did move out of Intensive care last night. The hospital says he is in a stable condition. Hopefully he shares the the same powers of recovery as his good friend Jose.

The halfway lead is shared by two players who have been blowing very hot and then rather cold these past few weeks Charl Schwartzel and Marcus Fraser. They've bothe been shooting some very low rounds to be in contention in recent tournaments, though neither has kept their challenge going over a whole weekend.

The South African Charl Schwartzel again showed just how dangerous a player he could become, hitting five birdies and holing an excellent long putt for Eagle to record a seven under 64 yesterday. He appears to be capable of incredibly low scoring and if he's there or there abouts on a Sunday it won't be long before he gets his low round to nick a few big tournaments. Definitely one to be looking out for.

He was considering dropping out of the tournament but his some timely advice from his dad ensured he was there to take advantage of the injured golfers luck and hit his 64.

"I was going to withdraw but I spoke to my dad and he told me to tee off and see how I feel. I've had a sore shoulder the last couple of days and I've been sick for a while. I'm taking antibiotics and I don't feel that strong. I really didn't feel good this morning but I got a couple of birdies early on and felt a bit better. Then the sun came out and my shoulder warmed up and improved a lot."

So there it is, the perfect cure for a sore shoulder - Sun and shooting birdies.

Marcus Fraser too has had a few early leads in recent weeks, again he's started hot, with a 67 and 66 to lie nine under alongside Schwartzel with a two shot lead over the rest. He birdied three of his first four yesterday but couldn't keep that outrageous run going to streak out on his own.

Will either of this pair be able to find the consistency that they have lacked to snatch the victory this week?

Friday, 10 October 2008

Seve feelin better, hopefully he'll soon be back to his sort of japery...

Seve Ballesteros has released a statement on his website to reasssure his fans that he is doing well after he briefly lost consciousness on Monday. He's expected to be discharged on Friday.

"I wish to inform that I am feeling very well, I am awaiting the results of the tests that I have been going through. I wish to personally thank all of those who are concerned about my health condition. I want you to know they make me feel very good and I feel greatly supported by all of you."

Nice to hear that the Spanish legend is doing well and is getting the good treatment he deserves. I though this would be a good opportunity to have a look at the great man and found this little clip of him outshining Tiger Woods ball tappin skills recently: the old dog, still full of tricks.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Swede dreams are made of this - BFG Karlsson makes it two in a row...

Big trophy for a big boy.

It was too daunting a task to try to do a round up of each round of the Dunhill Links, with players at any of three courses each of the three days, Kingsbarn, St Andrews or Carnoustie, it all seemed too much to take on to go over each round individually. I've still got a bit of a Ryder Cup hangover and to be truthful a little bit of an actual hangover... Plus not only is the action occurring in three different places at once, there's a bunch of celebrity's hacking it about too - Hugh Grant, Luke Wilson, Samuel L Jackson, even frickin' Dan Quayle was there, it was just too much and too disjointed to try and summarise in my usual fashion.

When I look at the final leaderboard however, it becomes clear this tournament was only about one of the three groups of players - the third of the field who played Kingsbarns the first day, St Andrews day two, and Carnoustie day three. The top seven players all played the courses in this order, as well as 10 of the top 13. It's one of the things about this tournament, the playing conditions can highly favour one set of players. But the end was no less high quality, as the top 72 all headed to St Andrews today to settle proceedings.

There were two stand out rounds today, one from Robert Karlsson, the giant Swede, the other from Ross Fisher, the upcoming young Englishman. Seven birdies and no dropped shots for Karlsson; Five front nine birdies and an eagle on the back, saw Fisher equal him, 65's apiece for them got them to ten under overall. It hauled them into a three way play-off with German Martin Kaymer, who had a 68 today.

Once there, the imperious Karlsson did not mess around, he made birdie on the first play-off hole to take the Dunhill title. He said of it

"I had a good feeling about the first extra hole. I fancied my chances when I got the yardage for the wedge to the green."

Playing the 1st hole, which runs right alongside and shares a fairway with 18, Fisher drove into the Swilcan Burn crossing the fairway to take bogey, Kaymer gave himself a 10 foot chance but missed his birdie putt. That left Karlsson with a four footer for the title which he holed without incident.

It would give him a win in successive tournaments (he has only played the Ryder Cup since winning the Mercedes Benz the week before the team match), his 11th top ten in Europe this season. It was also enough to send him to the top of the Order Of Merit standings, leapfrogging Padraig Harrington who finished in a tie for 13th, which he sounded a little bit embarressed about, feeling his season, though remarkably consistent, doesn't quite match the major bagging Irishmans...

"It's a bonus to be top of the Order of Merit but you do not think about it, you are just trying to do your best. My season does not compare to Padraig's with his two majors. There is not much doubt about who is the best player this year."

But the Order of Merit is about racking up the dough, and that's what the Swede's little run of late has done in spades. There's four events left to decide what will be the last Order of Merit, and it ususally goes down to the wire. Harrington and Westwood will be snapping at Karlsson's considerably large heels.

For me, on a local level, it was good to see Rory McIlroy, again in the thick of it at a big event, and the creditable eight place will be a boost to his ranking and his confidence. He had a fine 67 today, his third round in the 60's and were it not for a costly 78 at Kingsbarns yesterday it could have been so much better. Watch out for him...

Pos Player Country Total Hole Today Rounds Total
1 2 3 4
1KARLSSON, Robert -10F SA-767KB70SA76CN65SA278
2FISHER, Ross -10F SA-764KB76SA73CN65SA278
2KAYMER, Martin -10F SA-465KB72SA73CN68SA278
4SANDELIN, Jarmo -8F SA-266KB72SA72CN70SA280
5LIMA, José-Filipe -7F SA-467KB71SA75CN68SA281
5WALL, Anthony -7F SA-466KB76SA71CN68SA281
5CARLSSON, Magnus A -7F SA-270KB68SA73CN70SA281
8DONALDSON, Jamie -6F SA-570SA70CN75KB67SA282
8McILROY, Rory -6F SA-568SA69CN78KB67SA282
8CASEY, Paul -6F SA-472KB70SA72CN68SA282
8HANSEN, Søren -6F SA-464KB73SA77CN68SA282
8WESTWOOD, Lee -6F SA-468KB70SA76CN68SA282

Friday, 3 October 2008

Wee wonder Woosie wants to wule the Wyder Cup once more; Sandy Lyle, there's always next time... but don't get your hopes up.

Pint-sized Welsh wonder Ian Woosnam, has thrown his wee hat in the ring for the Ryder Cup Captaincy in 2010. Having been universally heralded as a great Captain two years back at the K Club in Ireland, his name has been continually linked with the job in two years time - it's in Wales, he's Welsh, it all fits. He'd been umm-ing and ahh-ing for the past few weeks but he's finally come out and said he wants it.

"I have put my name forward at the moment but it all depends if Jose Maria Olazabal wants the job. If he doesn't want it, I feel I would like the chance to have another go."

It's fair enough that he'd want to be Captain in his own county, and it would be a massively, massively popular decision should they give it to him. I doubt there is a more patriotic nation on the planet than Wales, witness the passion they have for Rugby. That passion would be tapped and available to flood and overwhelm the Americans at the Celtic Manor, as the course surges with waves of support for their wee Woosie.

One thing may stand in the way of this: the committee responsible for choosing the next captain shall be helmed by the Great Dane, Thomas Bjorn. Famously, he was not overly enamoured with the first stages of Woosnam's Captaincy.

Here's what he had to say after Woosnam had the temerity not to pick him, choosing that useless lump Lee Westwood instead (who would go on to take four points out of 5). I'll give you the whole extended whinge in all it's glory. 'dem's some mighty sour grapes.

"I'm shocked and have totally lost respect for Ian Woosnam My relationship with him is completely dead. It looks like he needs to learn how to be a captain. If the choice had been made only on competitive results, I could go along with it. But I'm in front of Lee in all the rankings, I have played better than him in the qualifying phase and then Woosnam bases his decisions on results which are more than five years old. I don't understand the way he is handling the situation. I hadn't heard from him for six months. I have spoken to several of the players who are in the team and they haven't heard a word from Woosnam either. To be captain and not even communicate with your team at all - it doesn't give you much respect. He came into the bar at the hotel and gave me 20 seconds about Lee having won twice at the K Club. In a bar. That kind of sums it up. He can't walk up to me, tell me in 20 seconds and expect me to be happy."

They've made up since then, it hadn't even bothered Woosie at the time.

"Hopefully when this blows over after a while we can have a few beers over it"

I'm sure Bjorn will be the very definition of professional and not let the chance for payback interfere with his voting. He's one of a 13-man panel to make the decision.

One man who will be less than pleased to hear this news, is long-time captaincy hopeful Sandy "When the bloody hell am I gonna get a go" Lyle. Continually overlooked, Woosnam's Scottish contempary was his Vice Captain in Ireland and yet Woosnam doesn't even appear to consider him as a serious rival, seeing it as clearly Olazabal's turn. Another kick for Sandy's ego, what a sad, fragile bruised little thing it must be at this stage. Poor Sandy...

Thursday, 2 October 2008

The Dunhill Links - Not so much a golf tournament, as an opportunity to mock the famous. It helps me deal with the envy...

Here's a look at some of the celebrities/Jammy b******s that have been playing in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Christ, like these guys don't have a cushy enough life. They get to swan up and play in an actual Professional Golf Tournament, just cause they're famous. Some of them aren't even that famous - when the Bon Jovi drummer is getting so much attention then you know the rest of them must be pretty budget names... Well at least the mighty Huey Lewis is there, he really is Hip to be Square. Where the hell is Michael Douglas? And why can't I find a list of the celebrity scores! Now, let the therapeutic mocking commence...

Old School Star Luke Wilson looking a tad nervous, perhaps getting a twitchy bum at teeing it up in front of all those galleries

Samuel L Jackson shows off the Jedi Skills he learnt as Mace Windu, using the force to hold his ball in the air. You can see the concentration it's requiring, but he likes to do it,
for the kids...

But like any Jedi worth his salt, SLJ doesn't use the force for frivolous things like golf, that's why he's in the rough

King of Cool Samuel, has a wee chat with the greatest British false-hope-raiser of all time, Tim Henman. I used to see his dad walking around Oxford all the time, it was like he was stalking me. That's Tim's dad, not SLJ's, who is giving a wave which is camper than I thought were possible from him.

Hugh Grant strikes a pose on the greens at St Andrews, he's an old pro at these pro-ams, as an amateur, he's not a pro, he's an am... um....

"Shickety Brickety, get over you bloody ball, oh crumbs, oh crumbs... "
Huey Lewis unleashes a drive with the Power of Love...

He then has a walk and talk with Bon Jovi Drummer, Tico Torres, who warns the greens may be "Slippery when Wet". That's one for all you Bon Jovi fans out there.

Tico Torres attempts to steal the identity of Miguel Angel Jimenez, unfortunately he's trying to do so with a small child's cigar. Hardly rock'n'roll. But then neither's Bon Jovi really. That's right, I went there.

Dougray "The crap baddie from the just as crappy Mission Impossible 2" Scott.
They'll let any bugger play in this.. He has something stuck between his teeth.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The Race To Dubai. A 13 month slog. No camels involved though.

I'm sure you've all heard by now about the European Tour's response to the Fedex Cup - The Race to Dubai. It's a different format to the Play-off system the Fedex has been trying, much more emphasis being placed on season long performance.This is the set up the new look tour will take.

The top 60 on the European Money list will qualify for the season finale, the Dubai World Championship (No, Dubai has not become a member of the European community, the European Tour is a globe-trotting thing these days, with quite a few Asian tournaments). The winner of this final tournament will pick up £813,800 ($1,666,660).

There will be a further $10m to be divvied up among the top 15. The winner of the race, to include the new event, will take $2m of that cashpot. It will be the end of the Order of Merit,which I had always thought was a great name for the money list, as it takes on the new moniker The Race to Dubai.

The beefy prize fund, though not on the scale of The Fedex Cup, has been enough to pique the interest of some big PGA Tour names. The biggest name to be rumoured is good ol' Big Phil. Vijay Singh, who made his name on the European tour, has also expressed interest. But the stumbling block in the path of their involvement has been the number of events required to be played to qualify for Tour Membership.

Today the requirements have been set - 12 tournaments must be played in order to qualify for membership, it had been rumoured it may be 13 so it's that little bit more manageable.

Thomas Bjorn, was the chairman of the committee setting the membership requirements and gave his take on it.

"With a 13-month season coming up it is reasonable to put the number up by one. It is not a big ask to play 12 events, especially when a lot of those guys [who may want to join the Tour] play four majors and three world golf championship events anyway. It was just time to change."

Questioned if a bigger minimum number to qualify was considered, he stated: "No, 12 was always the preferred number. "

An unexpected little caveat has been tacked on however, at least two of those tournaments must be played in continental Europe. The fields in recent tournaments on mainland Europe have been particularly weak, struggling to attract the bigger European stars, some clashing with big events in the US, others skipped as they chose to take a rest between Majors and the Ryder Cup. The only real interest they could generate was the Ryder Cup race, but that was just a few guys fighting it out and it was two guys who stayed in America who got picked anyhow. Without the Ryder Cup qualifying to at least draw a few names they would have had very sparse fields next year. This little innovation will ensure that some big players, perhaps VERY big if Phil and Vijay do come over, will play at least a few of them, which in turn should boost their chances of drawing big sponsors which in turn should draw stronger fields. Good thinking from Bjorn and co.

I think Phil should definitely go for it, there's plenty of examples of players who have had success playing both Tours, Els and Goosen are both multiple Order of Merit winners who won it while playing half the year in America. And with seven of his regular tournaments contributing to qualification anyhow, as well as the Scottish Open which he plays every year, he just needs to play four more on the European schedule to be in the Race for Dubai. This is true of many American players so it will be interesting to see who picks up the challenge.

Big Phil also has recently bought himself a plane, what better way to get use of it than by popping across the pond to play a spot of Golf. Plus, maybe he will finally include a bit of Links Golf in his schedule and work out how to hit a bump and run and that the flop shot in high winds on hard coastal greens is not a great idea. Then he might just able to challenge at The Open.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Vijay's $10,000,000 arm needs some timely rest; Singh must now learn to count money one-handed...

Vijay Singh has succumbed to injury one tournament too late for Camillo Villegas. Had his injury taken him down before or during Sunday's Tour Championship, Villegas' win would have been enough for him to snatch the 10,000,000 dollar Fedex Cup jackpot from the Fijian's Hands. But despite having tendinitis in his arm Vijay wasn't about to let his grip on the dough slip, even if he was holding it with his tendinitis arm.

Now the money is in the bank he can put his feet up - he is to miss at least two months of action with his arm injury.

It rules him out of the Iskandar Johor Open, which starts on 30 October, in Malaysia and the Champions Tournament in Shanghai the week after. Questioned on this adjustment to his schedule moneybags Veej said

"I'm very disappointed but it's important I follow my doctor's instructions and do what is best for my long-term health"

You have to wonder what the big Fijian would have said had the doctor instructed him to miss last week, would long term health have taken precedence over long term wealth? A second opinion from his accountant would certainly have given him a clean bill to complete. At 45 though, it's a hell of an achievement for Vijay, you can't take it away from him. Besides, Camillo has twenty years on Singh in which to get himself the big Fedex funded pension.

Has there ever been a year where the old adage "Beware the wounded golfer" has proved so apt. Tiger wins the US Open - on one leg, Harrington has little to no practice after hurting his hand -wins the Open. Vijay gets tendinitis and wins the richest prize in golf. Big Phil will be throwing himself down stairs in the hope to get in on the act.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Sergio Garcia, ever the bridesmaid, in talks with Bob Geldof to release novelty song, "I don't like Sundays"...

Sergio had his sunday face on once more...
How many times can it happen to one man. Yet again Sergio Garcia watches another man lift a trophy that could so easily have been his, while he's left to lick his wounds in the corner. For the fourth time in eight tournaments Sergio takes the bridesmaids cheque. It's becoming a real problem for Garcia, who's garnering a real reputation for not being able to seal the deal. The European Open, The USPGA, The Barclays and The Tour Championship all have gone by the wayside, each were close but no cigar for El Nino. He hasn't had the smoke of a winner since the TPC at Sawgrass for all his chances.

The latest in his run of near misses was on Sunday at the Tour Championship. Camillo Villegas hit a 66 to get to 7 under, having been five shots behind Garcia. Sergio's 71 saw him slip back into the Colombian Spider-web and it went to a play-off. You just knew in your water that the perfect symmetry of Lee Westwood's tournament across the water would continue and so it did - Garcia lost the play-off at the first hole. There was to be no quick redemption for either of the under-performing Ryder stars. Garcia was frustrated that yet again he had let a lead slip.

"I just didn't play well enough, I doubted myself too much early on and it cost me. I just didn't commit to my shots the way I should have, and then I paid the price. I lacked a bit of commitment. The freedom that I've been having with every part of my game, it wasn't there early on."

Sergio can take consolation by looking at the career of another Ryder Cup team mate who failed to perform at Valhalla. Padraig Harrington, the man who has inflicted the most damage in consigning Sergio to second at two of the last five Major Championships didn't have the winners touch for a long time. In fact the most remarkable thing about his early career was the number of times he finished second in European Tour events without ever bettering that position. It got ridiculous at one point, he had four second places in five events in late 1999 and he got slated left, right and centre for his inability to take the win. No one's calling him a choker these days.

The lesson is - take your seconds, your wins will come.

Westwood faces a Spanish Inquisition and can't come up with the answers...

The Golden moments of the British Masters, set to Spandau Ballet

You fancied Lee Westwood to push on and take the British Masters yesterday afternoon. After picking up four more shots to par in the morning he looked in good nick. Michael Campbell was the only man of real note to be up with him, the rest were at least three behind, all minnows to the big Fish Westwood. Yet it was from one of these minnows that the challenge arose. Playing in threes after the fog delays, the 10 under col-leaders Westwood and Campbell were joined by the little known Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez Castano, on seven under. If it was going to go down to the wire, who would have guessed it would be the Kiwi who would be out of the game.

Three birdies and two bogeys on the front nine had Westwood onto 11 under at the turn. Birdies at 4 & 5 got Castano to nine under. Campbell remained on 10 under with one birdie one bogey.

The par four 10th hole again had it's tee pushed forward to let the players have a cut at the green in one. Reachable for Westwood with a 5 wood he duly knocked it onto the back fringe of the green. Castano made it too. Campbell, watched as his ball struck the edge of the green only to take a leftward bounce and plop in the water running in front of the green. That meant he got a drop on the edge of the green for three. Cunningly he dropped right into a sprinkler head, apparently legal as the chief ref John Paramore was standing next to him, from which he was allowed one club lengths free relief. This allowed him to move about a metre to the right, and now the edge of the water hazard was no longer in his way and he had a clear putt. Again this was apparently legal yet it seemed to be very much gaining an advantage in the mot devious of fashions. Karma stepped in though, his dropping shenanigans came to nought as he three putted to drop back to nine under. A chip for Westwood from the edge was decent, but he didn't make the putt - Castano made hay as he dropped his birdie effort, one ahead of Campbell now, one behind Westwood.

It seemed Castano was not going to keep it up however as he was way right with his tee shot on the par three 12th, an awful shot, his dab out second had him into some short rough with water still between him and the green. It looked like it would be a miracle if he got it close, but audaciously the Spaniard went and chipped it right in the hole for his par. Post round Lee Westwood admitted that at that moment he had a feeling things were going to go Castano's way.

Again wide right on 13 Castano hit another beautiful pitch to a few feet for his birdie. Suddenly he was level with Westwood on 11 under. The 14th saw Campbell getting in on things again, holing a long one to draw within one once more. Then it was birdies all round on the par five 15th. Campbell went bogey, birdie on 16 and 17, the others taking pars to leave it Westwood, Castano -12, Campbell -11 as they played the last.

Campbell could found short rough with his tee shot, Castano found the fairway bunker, Westwood, taking a 3 wood blasted it up the middle as usual for him. Castano went for it with a long iron and went way, way left. As he got to the green he apologised to the grey haired lady his ball had smacked on the thigh - she would hear nothing of it, made of strong stuff. If it hadn't struck her it would likely have ended up on the 9th green next to the 18th. Campbell took an almighty lash at his second from the rough, needing to make birdie on an 18th which had yielded only five birdies all day. It landed right at the front of the green, two long tiers below the pin on the massive green. Westwood, in prime position hits the heart of the green on the right level. It looks good for him to take the title now.

Campbell can only get his ball up one of the tiers as he under hits his chip. He eventually takes bogey to grab third on his own on ten under. All eyes turn to Castano, in a sticky lie above the green, it's a horrible shot he faces. His short game had been impeccable all day though, and once more his pitching comes to his rescue, getting it to stop four feet from the hole, He makes par. Westwood has a mid-range putt for the win but it's a little hard and a little wide and it's off back up the 18th for Castano and Westwood for the play-off.

It took three repetitions of the 18th hole to separate them. Despite having much shorter clubs in his hand for his approaches, Westwood kept finding the back edge of the green and could only make par. The second go around, Castano had again hit it way left and hit a member of the crowd but was able to produce another sensational up and down to stay in it.

The third play-off hole saw Castano take Westwood's little spot at the back edge of the green and a fine putt ensured his par four. Westwood, now looking as though the long day had caught up with him couldn't make a 10 footer to match him. The title was Gonzalo Fernadez-Castano's. What a name. What a man. A victory for sublime recovery shots over big booming driving.

Westwood has the consolation that his performance has taken him into second on the Order of merit behind Padraig Harrington, though he still has some 228,000 Euro's to make up on the Irish back to back Major winner.

European Tour Order of Merit After British Masters, in Euros

1 Padraig Harrington (Irl) 2,350,556
2 Lee Westwood (Eng)2,122,239
3 Robert Karlsson (Swe) 1,994,436
4 Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa) 1,990,609
5 Henrik Stenson (Swe) 1,773,617
6 Graeme McDowell (NIrl) 1,714,882
7 Vijay Singh (Fij) 1,632,384
8 Ross Fisher (Eng) 1,320,740
9 Oliver Wilson (Eng) 1,227,711
10 Jeev Milkha Singh (Ind) 1,138,015

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Early birds catch a few worms this morning, greedy Lee grabs an eagle too.

The leaders were back out early this morning at the Belfry to finish off their third round before the final round of the British Masters. The likes of Westwood had eight holes left, the defending champion starting with a putt on the 2nd green. He made his par then but continued the great little burst of form he showed in his last few holes last night. On the next hole for him, the Par Five 3rd, he recorded his second eagle of the round. Two birdies on 5&6 followed to take him from 3 under after bogeying 1,2 and 3 yesterday afternoon to 10 under going into the final round.

Kiwi Michael Campbell, who has recently gone away from getting his swing analysed to destruction and is now just relying on his own feel for his swing and is reaping the rewards, had four left to play. Lying 7 under overnight, co-leader Campbell birdied 15, 16 and 17 to join Westwood at ten under after three rounds.

This pair are three clear of Gonzalo Fernandez Castano and Jeev Milka Singh. It's gone from being a very open tournament before the morning started to looking like a shoot-out between Westwood and Campbell, both looking very good today. But as Charl Schwartzel showed yesterday with his amazing front nine 29 it's possible to go very low at the Belfry, so it's not beyond the realms of possibility that someone could post a great target for the leaders to chase.

Due to the delays caused by fog all week, they'll be going round in three's today but it will still be a late finish no matter what happens.

PosNameTo par1234Total
T1CAMPBELL, Michael-10697265
T1WESTWOOD, Lee-10687068
T3FDEZ-CASTAÑO, Gonzalo-7717068
T3SINGH, Jeev Milkha-7697169
T5SCHWARTZEL, Charl-6727266
T5LUNDBERG, Mikael-6677568
T5FISHER, Ross-6716871
T8CARLSSON, Magnus A-5737068
T8CAÑIZARES, Alejandro-5716872
10VAN DE VELDE, Jean-4727466
T11JONZON, Michael-3707172
T11NOREN, Alexander-3726675
T13McILROY, Rory-2727369
T13LARRAZABAL, Pablo-2747169
T13LUCQUIN, Jean-François-2717271
T13BJÖRN, Thomas-2697372
T13PRICE, Phillip-2717172
T13LAWRIE, Paul-2697174

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Round Two to Garcia; Kim spills innocent blood as he goes down swinging wildly

Sergio tried to paint it as if it wasn't a rematch of last sunday's Ryder Cup singles. What a load of bull from the young matador. He was well up for a spot of revenge. Lets take a look at it as though it were matchplay.
3. Kim takes an early hole with a birdie; it will be the last he will see all day. Kim +1
6. He hands a hole back on the sixth with his first bogey. All Square
7. Garcia birdies the par four hole 7 to take the lead Garcia +1
9. Birdie four on the par five doubles that lead Garcia +2
13. Bogey from Garcia, the only blot on his card closes the gap once more Garcia +1
14. Kim drops another shot and another hole Garcia +2
15. Garcia takes it to Dormie 3 as he birdies 15, 3 up, 3 to play Garcia +3
16. Kim can't keep the match alive, he bogeys once more Garcia Wins 4&2
17. Playing on Garcia takes 17 too to rub salt in the wound Garcia +5

Europe take the Ryder Cup!!!

Oops, got a little carried away there. Of course this wasn't a matchplay scenario and all that but it must have been pretty sweet for him. What a way to get over such a painful drubbing and so soon.

Looking at how they performed in strokeplay terms, which is what counts this week, Kim was to over for his round. Those 72 strokes drop him back to joint second on 5 under. Garcia's 67 takes him to 8 under, turning a two shot defecit into a three shot lead over Kim.

Kim couldn't control his driver, the crux of his problems today, constantly having to hit his approach from the rough. He found only 29% of fairways today. That's JB Holmes bad. Kim said of it -

"I'm speechless how bad I hit the driver. It was a struggle out there today. Obviously I hit 4 of 14 fairways, and when you do that on a golf course like this, you're going to make a lot of bogeys."

His wayward shot on the par five ninth hit 48-year-old David Whitfield, splitting open his forehead. A bit of extra drama which he could have done without. Mr Whitfield is okay now and got a signed golfball for his troubles as well as a good story for down the pub. "I survived Anthony Kim's worst".

Phil Mickelson joined Kim in second place with a one under 69. One birdie on his front nine and then two dropped shots and two shots gained on the back cancelled each other out.

Vijay is nine over, tied 25th out of 30 and one day closer to them 10,000,000 big ones...

It's looking good for Garcia to bounce back from his Ryder Cup disappointments in quick time and in style- if he'd avoided making triple bogey on the fifth on day one he could have been six clear by now. Lying third in the putting stats this week too, who said he's a weak putter. But then if anyone can blow it in the final round, it's our Sergio...

Short day's work for Westwood, but an eventful one

It was a strange old day for Lee Westwood today. Starting late, about half four or so in the afternoon, due to the fog delays and players having to complete their second rounds, he got off to a cold start. The putter was especially cold, like it had spent the night in the freezer. He was teeing off on the tenth to begin his round, a tricky par four, but with the tee moved forward it was reachable with a five wood. Westwood could only find the wrong side of the burn (Scottish for a wee stream) and his ball bounced into the water. The resultant bogey was followed with two more on the 11th and 12th. Three over after three, a terrible start for the defending champ. He gave himself a few opportunities to get the momentum back, but his frigid putter just wouldn't warm enough to see any birdies drop.

On the par five 17th his second shot approach was off target, finding the right greenside bunker. Not much was going right. Westwood, as if he knew that he had to take his failing putter out of the equation, went and knocked in his bunker shot for an Eagle and from there he was a new man. The first hole aside, his driving was impeccable and with more booming tee shots finding fairways, he was finding his touch and he saw a long birdie putt just kiss the edge on the next and then a long one on the first, his tenth hole of the day, took a bobble and dropped right in the centre. As the warmth of the day faded with the setting sun, he was the only man on the course not to reach for a jumper to shelter form the cold. He hit another massive drive and a decent approach before the light ended his round, he'll have a fifteen footer for birdie when he gets out in the morning. He'll be feeling that the hooter came much too soon for him. It left him even for the day and he is six under overall with eight holes of the third round left to complete.

The round of the day however was a fantastic surge from unheralded South African Charl Schwartzel. Starting on the tenth as well, he was even par at the start of the third round, by the time he had nine holes under his belt he was seven under. Only two pars, on the par three 12th and the par five 15th, the rest all birdies. An incredible run. It had to end and the front nine was not so giving; double bogey on the 4th and one birdie on the 8th leaving him on 6 under par alongside Westwood.

The overnight lead is held by three men - New Zealander Michael Campbell, who was four under today with four left to play, Swede Mikael Lundberg, 5 under today with seven birdies had four to play and Alejandro Canizares, 2 under today with eight to play. It could be any of twenty men leading by the end of tomorrow however. It's a tightly packed leaderboard and with some great scoring but also some holes where big numbers can quickly be racked up (ask Darren Clarke and Nick Dougherty who both had quadruple bogeys this week). And with the leaders having 26 holes to finish tomorrow, anything could happen. Should be cracking.

Garcia v Kim Round two, ding, ding, Seconds out...

After some tasty golf from Sergio Garcia, he's getting an early opportunity to get some revenge on Anthony Kim for the mauling he received at the American's hands in the Ryder Cup singles. A superb 65 which included five front nine birdies gives El Nino his shot at the young gun, which will be one of the most intriguing Saturday pairings the tournament organisers could have hoped for. It's some much needed added interest, as spoil-sport Vijay Singh removed the excitement of a fight for the $10,000,000 Fedex Cup by sewing up the prize with an event to spare - all he has to do is complete the 72 holes of this Tour Championship and he can't be caught...

Kim had a one under 69, a final hole bogey robbing him of a three shot cushion. He's on 7 under, two shots ahead of the charging Spaniard on five under.

Garcia was at pains to play down the situation.

"It's a totally different event. You're not going to win the tournament tomorrow unless you shoot 52. I played solid today, hit some good shots, some good putts and got it going on the front nine with four birdies in five holes."

Don't believe it, this game should be a spicy Meatball...

Hot on the heels of the leading pair is Phil Mickelson. He had to recover from and inauspicious start to his second round - three bogeys from his first 10 holes. Lefty put in a strong finish however, the final seven holes yielding five birdies for Big Phil. Quite a second wind he got there. He's on 4 under.

Camillo Villegas jockeyed into position with a 66 to take him to three under. Four behind with two rounds to go. All he can do is hope that he can do enough over the weekend to get the win and then pray some accident befalls Vijay. Perhaps he could employ to perform Carl Spackler's cunning plan in Caddyshack...

"If he bothers you, I'll take care of him. What you've got to do is cut the hamstring on the back of his leg right at the bottom. He'll never play golf again, because his weight displacement goes back, all his weight is on his right foot, and he'll push everything off to the right. He'll never come through on anything. He'll quit the game."

Villegas should still look elsewhere for advice on tackling gophers...

Second round cleaned up, some big boys head home.

Darren Clarke had to pick up four shots in six holes this morning to make the cut. As I checked the leaderboard this morning, he had made three birdies on 13, 14 and 17. Unfortunately he couldn't complete a miraculous recovery, par on the 18th left him agonisingly one shot short.

Silver lining -He can head off to be at his son Conor's eighth birthday party tonight. (Great name, Conor)

Nick Dougherty had an absolute disaster to crash to 5 over. One under at the 15th hole, he bogeyed 16 and 17 to miss out. He was still on course to make the cut but made a complete hash of the final hole, a quadruple bogey 8 took him two shots outside the cut mark.

Silver lining - He can head off now to Scotland to prepare for his defence of his Dunhill Links title.

Colin Montgomerie also went out at the halfway stage, his 69 was not enough to repair the damage of his first round 81.

Silver Lining - Monty didn't have to come back this morning as he was finished yesterday. Nice lie in for him...

The delays with the fog that have hit the tournament mean the leaders will probably only get half their third round completed today, 27 holes or so for them tomorrow is likely.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Singh leads at the Belfry... No, not that one

There were aces galore at the second round of the British Masters. Everyone was getting in on the act; Three hole-in-ones on a single day at the same event. A Record for the European Tour. Phillip Archer hit his eagle one at the par-three 7th, while Spaniard Alvaro Quiros nabbed his at the 12th. The third came with a certain Mr Singh also at the 7th. No, not Vijay, he's too busy filling his wallet in America, this was India's Jeev Milkha Singh, a player not quite in the league of Vijay but one of the most improved players on the European Tour.

Jeev Milkha Singh joined Lee Westwood at the top of the leaderboard with his 7th hole ace helping him to six under par but he has completed only 12 holes because of a delayed start due to fog. The "Ace" itself was a peach of a shot, which pitched short of the hole and rolled like a dart straight into the middle of the cup. It's a stated aim of Singh, currently ranked 60th in the world, to make the top 50 by the end of the year, and a good finish here will go a long way towards that goal.

Spain's Alejandro Canizares, Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee (an ex-professional footballer, that's proper football, soccer for my American chums) and Scot Marc Warren all finished their rounds are on five under in a tie for third as things stand. Many players will have to return in the morning to complete their rounds because of that fog.

That includes Darren Clarke who has six holes left in which to pull off a minor miracle to make the cut. He hit an 80 yesterday including a woeful quadruple bogey 8 on hole 6, but if he can pick up four shots in those six holes he would make the cut. With two par fives to play, anything's possible, but maybe I'm being a tad optimistic. Make that very optimistic... The pint of Guinness he was seen enjoying after yesterday's horror round clearly did him some good though, back to back birdies on nine and ten have at least left him that slim chance.

What Clarke will probably be more pleased about was the gesture today of all players turning out in Pink clothing to raise awareness of Breast Cancer. Clarke of course lost his wife Heather two years ago to breast cancer and it's been a great feature of how the golfing fraternity are up for continuing to support Clarke and the cause. It wasn't left at the players wearing pink at the Ryder Cup two years ago, they've kept up their efforts. Great to see.

Colin Montgomerie of course had an even worse round than Darren yesterday, but he'd sorted out his problems today, in with a 69. Nowhere near the cut at 6 over, but it shows what he is capable of still when his head's right. I dare any of you to write him off, even if he is going to drop out of the top 100. I certainly won't be.

Clarke's Northern Irish compatriot Graeme McDowell slipped to three over, just inside the projected cut mark and told how he was really feeling the burn after last week's titanic efforts in Louisville.

"I don't know how to deal with this 'comedown' feeling. Lee has learnt how to deal with things better than I have. Physically I'm probably not all there, but mentally definitely - if last week was 11 out of 10 then I'm five out of 10 this week."

He's every right to be feeling that way, he holed a good years worth of stellar putts last week, that must take it out of you.

Westwood went off like a steam train this morning, birdie coming on all three starting holes but it got a little scrappy after that. Four bogey's and three more birdies left him with a 70 and the clubhouse lead on six under. Still a decent performance, but not enough for Lee.

"I would hope to play better tomorrow. I made a big effort and my scrambling was good. I've worked hard on my short game and when I'm feeling a bit lethargic it can get me out of a bit of trouble."

He certainly has worked on it, he's not just a big biffer and a good putter anymore, the subtle art of chipping has been added to his repertoire. It's probably going to require Jeev to produce a few more aces from up his sleeve to stay with him over the weekend...

Friday's best shots at the British Masters