GOLF CHANNEL’S BRANDEL CHAMBLEE GIVES HIS TAKE: Graeme McDowell is aware of the pitfalls of success and has said that being the reigning U.S. Open champion doesn’t guarantee a 65 every time he tees it up. These words are evidence that he will continue his whirlwind ride through the upper echelon of the golf world. The reason he has become one of the most exciting and clutch players to watch is, quite simply, because he is the best iron player on the planet. In Europe, he hit 75 percent of the greens, and in the U.S., he led in proximity to the hole from the fairway and the rough. His final-round 62 at the 2011 Hyundai is a harbinger of things to come.
"Boom Boom" Freddie Couples is in contention at the Northern Trust Open.
Boom Boom, Now Cue the Black Eyed Peas’ PGA remix of “Boom Boom, Now” — Fred Couples is tied for second — at 9-under 204 through 54 holes, one shot behind leader Aaron Baddeley — heading into the final round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.
GOLF CHANNEL’S BRANDEL CHAMBLEE GIVES HIS TAKE: For the first time in seven years, Phil failed to win multiple tournaments in 2010, and in August we found out that he had psoriatic arthritis, a condition that could cut his Hall of Fame career short. Phil, in typical sanguine fashion, said the prognosis was good, but this affliction is very often tricky to treat and for most is a lifelong problem. The diagnosis raises questions, not only about 2011, but also for the rest of Phil’s career. Still, if one had never seen or heard of Phil Mickelson and saw only the 28 minutes that he played holes 13-15 on Saturday at Augusta (eagle-eagle-birdie) they would know he was one of the greatest, most charismatic players of all time. If healthy, he could finally be the No. 1 player in the world at year’s end.
GOLF CHANNEL’S BRANDEL CHAMBLEE GIVES HIS TAKE: Paul Casey’s No. 3 world ranking at one point during 2009 had some onlookers scoffing because of his dearth of success in the game’s biggest events and his inability to post a good number on major championship Sundays. His ranking had fallen to eighth in the world at the end of 2010. But rankings aside, Casey has become a much-improved player in the last year and is poised for his biggest year ever in 2011. His effortless length, a one-way miss (to the right) that widens the fairway and allows him to play without fear, his high ball flight and massively improved putting make him a threat in any event.
GOLF CHANNEL’S BRANDEL CHAMBLEE GIVES HIS TAKE: Rory McIlroy, whether he is closing with a 62 to win at Wachovia or opening with the lowest score in the 150-year history of the Open Championship (63), is a player not to be missed. The first player since Tiger Woods to win on the PGA Tour prior to his 21st birthday, McIlroy has already recorded three top-three finishes in only eight majors as a professional. He possesses the swing and the face of the future of this game. McIlroy is a member of the 300/60 club — meaning he averages over 300 yards off the tee while hitting 60 percent of the fairways. That club is so exclusive that its members number fewer than five worldwide. Rarer, still, is a young man of McIlroy’s talent and maturity.
GOLF CHANNEL’S BRANDEL CHAMBLEE GIVES HIS TAKE: Jim Furyk is not a great driver of the ball; he is not a great iron player, nor is he a great putter; but he is a great player and an example of how statistics can be very misleading. All that matters is the score, and Jim has been safely inside the top seven in scoring average every year but one in the last eight years. Coming off his Player of the Year performance, his confidence should spur him on to another stellar season.
Put me in line behind everyone who has already excoriated Tiger Woods for expectorating on the green at the Dubai Desert Classic. Even given all we know about Tiger, this was a new low. Cursing and club-throwing are bad enough, but depositing a slimy, congestion-enhanced loogie on a putting surface with other players on the course behind you is clearly out of bounds. It's not just golf course etiquette; it's common sense. To put it in language Tiger might understand — you don't s*** where you eat, and you don't spit where you putt.
GOLF CHANNEL’S BRANDEL CHAMBLEE GIVES HIS TAKE: Dustin Johnson has finished in the top 10 in three of the last five majors, and in 2011 will very likely pick up right where he left off in 2010. The reason is an asteroid storm of talent that leaves viewers agape. At 26 years old, he has the highest upside and potential of any player under 30 in the world. I can’t wait to watch what he does this year and for the rest of his career.
Conventional wisdom has long held that playing the Pebble Beach Pro-Am with Bill Murray is a recipe for failure. Murray’s on-course shtick is simply too distracting to the task at hand. It’s like trying to sit at your desk and get work done while a carload of circus clowns unloads in your office.
But where others find distraction, D.A. Points found inspiration. Points, this year’s newest Cinderella boy, captured his first PGA Tour win, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, with childhood idol Murray as his pro-am partner.
“Yeah, everybody all week kept saying, well, you got the short end of the stick playing with Murray. He’s so crazy,” Points said after a final-round 67 gave him a two-shot win over hard-charging Hunter Mahan. “I never, ever felt that way and I kept thinking, you know, why does everybody get so worked up thinking he's this big distraction?
“I tried to embrace it. I was expecting him to be, you know, more of a distraction than he was, and maybe he toned it down, maybe he didn't, I didn't know, but he just seemed to have fun and he taught me to go ahead and have a little more fun and in turn, it distracted me from trying so hard. It kept me more loose and having a good time with Bill.”
Adding to the good time was the duo’s win in the pro-am, Murray’s first win at the regular Pebble Tour stop (he did win the Champions Tour pro-am with Scott Simpson). Add champion golfer to Murray’s resume, although it’s not his first taste of golf success.
“I've won all kind of things, nothing that I could cash in at a pawn shop but I've won a couple of Pro-Am kind of things,” Murray said. “We were the low girls at the Boys & Girls Club tournament on Monday. I got pro shop credit, you know what I’m saying. I’ll get a vest that's marked down or something.”
Early in the week, Murray happened to be on the tee with the Tour’s resident practice machine, Vijay Singh, who helped Murray play some of the best golf of his life this week.
“In the course of the round Monday, I played a few good holes early, and then really lost my swing and it was ugly,” Murray said. “Big, flying mud and everything, it was terrible. And I thought I would go back and start hitting some balls and there was Vijay Singh on the range. I’ve known Vijay a long time and I’m friendly with him. And I would never go like, ‘Hey, you big Fijian, help me out here.’
“But he saw me sort of struggling and he came over and he said one thing, and I did it, and then about three minutes later he says another thing, and I did it, and then about four minutes later, he said another thing and I did it, and I never hit the ball that well in my entire life. And I just thought, holy cow, I don’t know how you can play this long and get something that late that can work. That’s basically why I’m up here today drinking wine and looking for another glass.”
Within Spitting Distance
Tiger’s getting closer, but he still has work to do. Woods entered the final round of the European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic one shot off the lead, but he hacked his way to a final-round 75, at one point hocking a loogie on the 14th green that led to a fine from the Euro Tour and cries of derision from the broadcast team. Still, his T20 represents progress.
“Yeah, there were quite a few positives this week,” Woods said tersely after the round. “Also a couple glaring examples of what I need to work on, which is good, and I’ll go to work next week."
Woods blamed the windy conditions for derailing his first shot at a victory of any kind in more than a year.
“It’s just like anything, all of my old feels are out the window when the wind blows, so that’s the thing when you’re making change,” he said. “I went through this with Butch and I went through this with Hank. It’s fine when the wind is not blowing, but when I have to hit shots and the wind blows, the change of feels and the new swing patterns, they get exposed.”
Alvaro Quiros has long been a breakthrough star in waiting, with his mammoth length off the tee and movie star appearance. Quiros took a step toward legitimate stardom with his win in Dubai by a shot following his third straight 68.
The Spaniard feels he’s ready to make his mark in the big events.
“In my case, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be in a good position to fight for a Top-10 in the Majors, if I make my job properly,” he said. “This is my target; to improve in the Majors, because as you can see, my numbers in the Majors are really bad. I think I made two cuts in eight Majors. So I can’t expect to win a major doing two cuts in eight. So, we will see.”
GOLF CHANNEL’S BRANDEL CHAMBLEE GIVES HIS TAKE:Steve Stricker has averaged better than eight top 10s a year the last five seasons, but in 2009-10 Steve finally learned to drive the ball straight. For years it was a weakness he couldn’t fix, and it’s why he hasn’t had a top-5 finish in a major in over a decade. This newfound accuracy is a big part of the reason he has won five times in the last two seasons and why, even in a year in which he turns 44, he has his best chance ever of finally becoming a major champion.