Saturday, 9 August 2008

USPGA Episode II - The Runt Strikes Back

The course at Oakland Hills continued to be a tough mistress to all but a few today. It took not a straight hitting connoisseur of the game to tame it's harsh conditions but a good old big biffer, a man who steps up and whacks it a mile. JB Holmes stands astride the leaderboard tonight only one shot under par, indicative of just how hard a tournament this is turning out to be. Holmes is second only to Bubba Watson in the Driving Distance stats, yet down at 203rd in the accuracy stakes, but the Oakland Hills course, which has more than lived up to it's 'monster' moniker, was perhaps always going to throw up a leader who gave it a good old tonk off the tee. Benefiting from more favourable early conditions, JB got in with a 68, and watch as the rest of the field struggled to approach par golf.

Some huge names, some well fancied off recent good form, have fallen by the wayside. Some who needed big showings for Ryder Cup consideration too. None more so than Colin Montgomerie, who has it all to do now to push his way back into the wild card race. 15 over in four rounds last week was bad, but 20 over par in two is pretty much inexcusable at this critical stage of the season. He needs to win one of the three remaining events to even merit consideration right now. Darren Clarke must also be gutted to see some genuine recent progress set back by a 76 for 11 over, three off the cut mark. Vijay Singh after his nervous win last week couldn't keep things together and slips out after a second successive 76; while the focus of yesterdays play, Lee Westwood, a man in a rich vein of form, perhaps let the conditions get to him, recording a miserable 78 to head home early.

You have to feel sorry for John Daly as he misses out on the weekends play by one shot, when one of his natural heirs is topping the leaderboard. Less sympathy may be felt for Hunter Mahan, who had a 79 today to finish tied with Monty on 20 over, 149th 0f 155 players. I doubt we'll be hearing any juicy quotes from Hunter for the foreseeable future on this showing.

Encouraging for the Europeans, was the return to form of Justin Rose, who posted a 67, joint best score of the day with ghost of Open past Ben Curtis. Ben who I hear you cry? This is the man who won the Open in 2003 at Royal St Georges and has done little since apart from a few creditable finishes at the Open recently. He apparently fancies adding to his major tally and is going the right way about it. Incidentally the guy who won the Open in 2004 , Todd Hamilton (again Todd who?) just missed out on 9 over. Rose will be hoping to stay at the top end and perhaps book his place at Valhalla for the Ryder Cup.

Another big driver to keep an eye on this weekend is Angel Cabrera, perhaps getting the feel back after his hard won US Open last year. Paul Azinger will be glad to see David Toms up in 5th on one over, sorting out one of his picks surely, with Snedeker and O'Hair making their case not far behind.

Sergio Garcia is still sitting just three off the lead, despite double bogey on 17 on "easily the hardest golf course I've played". Worse than Carnoustie all those years ago? He walked off crying then... Big Phil Mickelson is four back and will be expected to challenge now; will he cope with the added pressure of being the biggest name out there?

Finally, Paul Goydos (who cruelly lost the TPC championship at Sawgrass to Sergio after visiting the water on the Island green 17th play off hole, due to a gust of wind) made a surge up the leaderboard with a 69, the day after becoming the first golfer ever to be tested for performance enhancing drugs. His clean billing spurred him on to make up 47 places, but looking at his rather rotund stature, I could have told them he hadn't been on the nandrolone.

Let's see if JB's power will be the answer to The Runt tomorrow...

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