Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Kaymer gets the title, Poulter gets the headlines, they're both probably quite happy with that arrangement.

It was a tight finish to the Abu Dhabi Championship at the weekend with about as stellar a final group as one could wish for. Early leader Ian Poulter, future world No 1 (TM), Rory Mc and the rising power of Germany Martin Kaymer making one of the best final three balls the European tour has had in a long time. It turned into a bit of a two man show as Poulter and Kaymer kept one foot in front of Rory. Kaymer had started the day one shot clear of the English man and it stayed pretty much that way for most of the day, Poulter never quite able to make the most of his opportunities to push Kaymer further.

The field was as good as you get on the European Tour, and it marks a step up in the calibre of tournament that Kaymer has won so far. Only 25, this Kaymers fifth win on tour yet he rarely gets a mention amongst Europeans leading lights - this weeks rankings should change that. Though not completely. For despite the fact that the lanky German has now catapulted himself to number 6 in the world, the headlines on Monday hailed the fact that Ian Poulter had edged his way into the top ten for the first time in his career - just scraping past McIlory into 10th. A tad unfair on Kaymer.

One thing that has come of Poulters great leap forward (or toe dip to be more accurate) is that for the first time in literally oodles of years, make that the first time ever since the rankings were formally introduced, there are three Englishman in the top ten in the world. Ten years ago, Lee Westwood was the only one in the top 100. Europeans now outnumber Americans in the upper echelons too. Maybe, just maybe this is the year that the strength in European Golf translates into Major wins. Rory Mc at St Andrews, that's my tip - even if that randy man is back for it...

A word for another young Irishman, Shane Lowry, a cracking final round from him has gotten him into the top 100 and a fair few quid in his pocket too, two things he didn't get from his Irish Open win last year. Why enter as an amateur, it only hurts if you win...

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Poulter and Bland - not two words you hear together very often - top the strong field at Abu Dhabi

Ian subtly takes the opportunity to sniff his pits - they were as fresh as any in Abu Dhabi but that wasn't saying much...
An awful lot has been made of the fact that an awful lot of the top golfers in the world have decided to rock up at this weeks Abu Dhabi Golf Tournament. 8 of the top 14 have elected to tee up there this week, making it one of the strongest fields you're likely to find on the European tour outside of the Majors and World Golf Championships. An indication of a shift in the pulling power of the PGA tour? An indication of the impact of Tigers absence? Not really, more of a display of just how many of the top Golfers in the world now hail from outside the US, with the top Europeans turning out in force for this event, as well as top Aussie Geoff Ogilvy. The comparison with the PGA Tours Bob Hope Classic is what makes for the headlines - topping the ranks there is Mike Weir at a lowly 39. Ouch. But considering Tiger and Phil are on hiatus for differing reasons it's not quite the horror story that some might be painting it - the European Tour will not be holding on to the big boys throughout the season, not when the pickings across the pond become so much richer.

Then it'll become all the more stark the difference in the respective fields once Rory Mc makes his planned shift to the US tour comes into play. The roles will be very much reversed...

But hey, there's a first round to be talked about and it's been a PGA Tour regular who's made the early running. Ian Poulter and his funky trousers got off to a flier as he got around in an unblemished 65 blows - the final one being a monstrous 70 foot putt for birdie on the last. Richard Horne picked up where he left off in last weeks Joburg Open, an eagle on the second helping him to a share of the lead along with Poulter and the unfortunately named Richard Bland...

One behind and lurking ominously is the illustrious duo Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard hasn't hit a ball in competition since November so he has hit the ground running with his 66.

Not a bad start but not a fantastic one either for Chubby Chandlers chubbier charges - Lee Westwood is on 3 under and Darren Clarke is 2 under after a pretty up and down first trip round the Abu Dhabi Golf club.

Rather more off the pace are two of the higher ranked players, Ogilvy and Casey. Geoff never got started as he plodded his way to an even par 72. Casey did at least pick things up after a 7 on the par five 8th hole to get back to level par.

One of my favourite pieces of commentary from the recent tournament for all last years winners on the PGA Tour came when looking at a list of the recent US Open winners and remarking how well the course was suiting the likes of Cabrera and Glover - they got to Michael Campbell before exclaiming "Where the hell is he now?" - the answer? 459 in the world and rock bottom of the leader board in Abu Dhabi on 83 for the day...

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Two down, the question now is - Can Schwartzel do what Tiger couldn't and go undefeated for the season?

So, the second tournament on the European Tour this season concludes much as the first did. With the redoubtable Charles Schwartzel lifting the trophy. The Tour makes a pretty favourable start for the season for Schwartzel, a lot of European players have found their home tournaments taken off the schedule - even Englishmen will only have the one chance to play on home soil this season (though it's only a wee run up the road to Scotland for them I guess) whereas young Charlie has had the cheering crowds for both the South African and now the Joburg Open. It'd be unfair to make out he wasn't a richly deserving winner of both however. This title is his fifth on Tour now and he looks to be the latest star ready to emerge from the homeland of Player, Els, Goosen and er, what's his face - looks like he wears mascara... Trevor Immelman (he's a major winner too remember!).

Lass Season he put in some strong performances in these early stages too, always featuring in the weaker fields, but tended to get lost in the shadow of the leading lights when they showed up to play. He stands the chance to become the first player since Seve in '86 to win three on the trot - though the field at Abu Dhabi next time out will be a little stronger. Westwood, Casey, Ogilvy, Stenson, McIlroy, Poulter, Garcia and Kaymer will all be rocking up to spoils Schwartzels party so he will have his work cut out.

This fortnight's play however should be enough to get him where he needs to be to make his Masters debut. Much quoted this week was how low the scorign has been these past two weeks, Schwartzel is 52 under par for his last 11 rounds. Remarkable scoring. Some of the putting I saw him produce over the weekend was nothing short of brilliant. Could this be his year to make his mark in the golfing world? Early days to call that yet...

The fields he has vanquished this last fortnight have been shorn of the big guns, mainly journeymen and some young South African comptriots, with the notable exception of Darren Clarke. The big man had announced his intention to get an early win under his belt and put up a decent fist in his attempt this week. Four behind Schwartzel at the start of the day, Clarkes early part of the round failed to make up the ground required. In the end it was a cracking eagle on the last which allowed him to record a 68 and claim joint second along side the low shooter of the day, homeboy Keith Horne, after his 64.

It is the sort of performance Clarke needed though. He needs to get some strong results in early if he hopes to get himself back into the Majors. Ranked 110th coming into the Joburg Open but still blessed with the talent to be much higher he'll need a few more like this to get where he wants to be. Its a positve start to the year though, hopefully he can keep the momentum going.

And worth a mention, young Englishman Danny Willett finished in a creditable tie for fourth with another South African James Kamte. Fantastic to see a young black player from South Africa doing well - lets hope it inspires more.