The stars come out for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Most stops on the PGA Tour are relatively buttoned-down. Other than a few notable exceptions — say, the coed keg party that is No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale — there is a routine etiquette expected, if not required, at each stop on the PGA Tour schedule.
GOLF CHANNEL’S BRANDEL CHAMBLEE GIVES HIS TAKE:Retief Goosen is the man who wormed his way into the Big Four of the early millennium, making it the Big Five, and who has two U.S. Opens to his credit. But at this point in his career, with his spotty ballstriking, he is unlikely to play well at the U.S. Open and the PGA. His high right-to-left ball flight and great putting are the reasons he plays so well at the Masters and the Open Championship. At 41 years old, he had his best season since 2004 in terms of consistency and is one of the most overlooked and underrated players on the planet. It will be interesting to watch what he does in 2011.
GOLF CHANNEL’S BRANDEL CHAMBLEE GIVES HIS TAKE:Matt Kuchar improved incrementally from 2007 to 2009, and then in 2010, he took a decisive step, doing what was predicted of him 13 years ago and what no one thought he would do six years ago. He played with a consistency that was nothing short of brilliant. He won the PGA Tour money title, had the lowest scoring average and won his third career tournament title. Top 10s in two of the last three majors only whetted his appetite. Look for that success to continue as Matt attempts to build on a dream year.
GOLF CHANNEL’S BRANDEL CHAMBLEE GIVES HIS TAKE: Luke Donald led the world money list in 2010 and broke a four-year winless drought with a victory at the Madrid Masters. In addition, he finished in the top three five times on the PGA Tour, mostly on the strength of a phenomenal short game. His elegant swing belies inconsistent ballstriking, but on fairways where the ball sets up like at Riviera or Congressional, he will be a threat.
GOLF CHANNEL’S BRANDEL CHAMBLEE GIVES HIS TAKE:Ian Poulter has been called an incomplete golfer because of his perceived inadequacies from tee to green. In the U.S., he was 181st in greens in regulation, but that separates him from the leader in GIRs by just seven greens a week, and Poulter more than makes up for this deficiency with brilliant putting. He was first on Tour from 15-20 feet in 2010, and he has the ability to handle the big moment. His prodigious skills, colorful personality, quick wit and bold predictions make him indispensable in the world of golf.
GOLF CHANNEL’S BRANDEL CHAMBLEE GIVES HIS TAKE:Molinari was soundly beaten by Tiger Woods 4&3 at the Ryder Cup when Tiger played the last seven holes 7-under par. That experience, however, helped Francesco in the WGC HSBC Championship as he battled the newly crowned No. 1, Lee Westwood, all four days and won. Known for his control, he is one of the straightest drivers in the world, and his iron play may lack the height of the power players but is otherwise superior to most. He will threaten on the toughest courses.
Mark Wilson captured his second PGA Tour title in less than a month.
With apologies to John Wayne, if they were to make a movie about Mark Wilson’s golf career, they’d call it “The Searcher.” Wilson has spent much of his journeyman career on a quest for a viable golf swing, tinkering here and adjusting there in an endless pursuit of a workable combination.
For now, the quest is over; Wilson has found his Holy Grail. It may come crashing down tomorrow, but for now, he’s the hottest golfer on the planet, having won two of his three PGA Tour starts this season and surging to No. 1 in FedExCup points and No. 51 in the World Golf Ranking.
Wilson’s latest triumph came in the weather-delayed Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he held off Jason Dufner in a playoff for his fourth career win and second in less than a month.
Wilson saved a shout-out for renowned mental game mentor Bob Rotella for helping him find what he’s been looking for. Rotella had given Wilson a revised philosophical outlook some years back, and it had always stuck with Wilson. Now, it’s paying off in spades.
“Obviously I’ve always been a searcher in terms of my technique and my golf swing, try something new here or there, it might work for a little bit, and even switching during the rounds,” he said. “When I saw Dr. Rotella, I said, okay, do I spend a few months and just try to engrain a new habit in the swing, trying to get my club a little more on plane, certain little things I’d like to change, or do I just go with it and trust it and try to just do the same thing every day? And he says, the sooner you decide to just trust what you’ve got, the quicker you're going to become a better player. And I skated right through Q-school and then I won three months later at the Honda, my first win in 2007.
“And that was the mentality that I’ve taken ever since. I stray from that every once in a while, but for some reason at the end of last year, which was one of my worst years in recent history, it just popped back into my head, hey, I’ve got to just trust what I’m doing and just play my own game — not put my swing on camera every afternoon after the rounds and try to make it perfect, because I looked around and I see everyone has got a different swing. And even some of the best swings on Tour, if they can’t dial in the yardage, it’s not going to help them. So just focus more on myself, and that's what Bob really helped me with.”
A self-described Cheesehead, Wilson could hardly celebrate the Packers’ win as he tried to sleep on a tenuous two-stroke lead with six holes to play. “I was a little more nervous today than I was expecting,” Wilson said. “I didn’t sleep great last night. It was probably the excitement with the Super Bowl and the uncertainty of today.”
Two Gloves, One Tough Loss
Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey probably won’t sleep well for a while. After losing the third-round lead, the Nationwide Tour grad and budding folk hero saw his hopes drown at 17, a drivable par 4 where he found the water twice. “I guess I’ve just got to deal with it,” Gainey said. “You’ve got to win with class and you’ve got to lose with class, so I'm trying to deal with that right now.”
Gainey, whose distinctive persona includes two dark gloves and one funky, jerky swing, still posted his best finish since the 2008 Children’s Miracle Network Classic, where he finished second.
Another Missed Opportunity
Phil Mickelson spent much of 2010 missing out on chances to supplant Tiger Woods as the World’s No. 1 golfer. With the No. 1 window closed for now, Lefty still missed out on a chance to pass Woods in the rankings. A solo third or better would have nudged Mickelson into the No. 3 spot in the World Rankings ahead of Woods, but Lefty could only manage a T29 after opening 67-65.
GOLF CHANNEL’S BRANDEL CHAMBLEE GIVES HIS TAKE:Hunter Mahan has one of the most envied golf swings in the game, and it serves him well. He is one of the best from tee to green and seems comfortable moving the ball around, and that’s why he will have a long career on the Tour. But his success will be limited until he finds a way to become better around and on the greens. He’s susceptible to inconsistency, like missing four cuts in a row as he did last season, a year in which he won twice but only had three top-10 finishes. His favorite event besides the Travelers is the Masters, where he has finished eighth and 10th the last two years.
GOLF CHANNEL’S BRANDEL CHAMBLEE GIVES HIS TAKE: Rickie Fowler did not disappoint in his rookie year, being named head of his class. The putt he made on the 18th hole for a halve in his singles match at the Ryder Cup, and the poise it took to hit it, validated Corey Pavin’s captain’s pick and illustrated why he is one of the most exciting players to watch on Tour. Still, when a player of his length and wedge play is 110th in par-5 birdies, it says he is making mistakes in course management. A more experienced Fowler will win in 2011, likely early, and could capture a major.
The party doesn't stop on No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale.
Of all the legendary holes on the PGA Tour schedule — the island green, No. 17, at TPC Sawgrass and the final hole of Amen Corner, No. 13 Azalea, at Augusta National are the first that come to my mind — there is absolutely (or is it Absolut-ly?) nothing like No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale, where drinks mix, coeds mingle and the crowd is rowdier than anywhere else on Tour.