Golf Capital – Watson wins again, Thompson looks for redemption in California

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, thoughts and notes. Bubba Watson completed an impressive Match Play triumph in Austin for his second career WGC win in what was his 11th PGA Tour crown. Elsewhere Brice Garnett won the secondary PGA Tour event for the weekend as the Missouri native won by four strokes in the Dominican Republic. In California Eun-Hee Ji won her second LPGA event in six months after a two-stroke victory in the KIA Classic. It’s major time in the coming weeks but before Georgia California is the focus with the first women’s major of 2018, the ANA Inspiration, taking place at Rancho Mirage this week.

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Opening drive

Two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson picked up his second win in five weeks when he blitzed Kevin Kisner in the WGC Match Play final 7&6 in Austin. Watson won in Los Angeles and the Floridian is now well and truly in Masters calculation after the Volvik embarrassment that was most of 2017.

 

It wasn’t quite the level of excitement of the prior week at Bay Hill but the match-play event had some big scalps with players like world number one Dustin Johnson and world number three Jon Rahm not making it out of their groups plus some exciting knockout matches.

 

A career-best start of a nine-under 63 helped Brice Garnett immensely in his quest for a first PGA Tour win as the Dominican Republic debuted at the top level as a host nation of a tournament. The weather in the eastern Caribbean nation certainly made things hard for Garnett and co but one tour rookie had a tough start at this level. Last week we noted Tony Romo, of NFL Dallas Cowboys fame, got in on a sponsor exemption. Unlike NBA All-Star Steph Curry in a Web.com event last year Romo couldn’t beat anyone and ended up six shots adrift of the second-last player after rounds of 77 and 82 missing the cut.

 

The PGA Tour event this week the Houston Open will see a host of players roll the dice to try to qualify for the Masters but also sees a surprising amount of big names the week before the first men’s major of the year. With Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth amongst the names taking part at the Golf Club of Houston.

 

South Korea’s Eun-Hee Ji posted consecutive rounds of 67 to grab her fourth LPGA Tour victory with Americans Cristie Kerr and Lizette Salas finishing in a tie for second. A week out from a major a few of the big names were well off the pace with the like of Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn finishing outside the top 30 which makes for an interesting opening women’s major of 2018.

 

Player performance notes

Players I’m interested to see how they go with notes related to capital investment if that’s your thing. After the controversy of 2017 the ANA Inspiration which saw So-Yeon Ryu prevail over Lexi Thompson in a playoff the South Korean returns having also placed T3 in the US Open later in 2017. The Rancho Mirage venue, located in the Coachella Valley, has hosted the tournament since it commenced and was elevated to major status in 1983.

 

Under 20: Inbee Park. A winner of this event five years and T3 last year Park won under a fortnight ago in Arizona so is showing form early in the year.

 

Under 20: Lexi Thompson. The 23 year-old has won twice since the shambles last year here but also lost out in another playoff (now owns a concerning 0-3 record in extra holes) but the Florida resident is still suited  by the course having won her only major here in 2014.

 

20 to 50: Jessica Korda. Korda’s T11 here last year was the American’s best result in a major since 2014. Korda’s recent win coupled with the story of her jaw surgery means she is in a much healthier position to perform better.

 

20 to 50: Brittany Lincicome. Lincicome has a great record at the Dinah Shore Tournament course at Mission Hills having won twice (2009 and 2015.) The American was also T10 last weekend and won to open the year in the Bahamas. Elsewhere Charley Hull and defending champion Ryu are top hopes.

 

Greens in regulation

Garnett, 35, may have thought a chance to push on at the top level had passed him by since qualifying the Fed Ex Cup playoffs in 2014 but he showed on the weekend in the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship he could be in the mix in higher level PGA Tour events.

 

With the WGC event on and PGA regulars missing judging the win is hard but after an opening round of 63 Garnett didn’t drop away as second-tier players might but instead closed out the tournament in the final round in the Caribbean on a windswept, rainy Sunday after a blip on Saturday. Garnett slid in the third round but such was his margin after three late bogeys he still led by three heading into Sunday. Garnett’s victory gets him into the PGA Championship later this year and secures him a tour card until 2020

 

Tap in

The anticipation for Augusta has been building for some time. Before the start of the year the jury was still out on Tiger Woods return, Bubba Watson was a non-factor ranked outside the top 100 plus major winners Jason Day and Rory McIlroy didn’t win in 2017 at all. Now the later three of that quartet have all won thus far in 2018 and Woods almost did so.

 

This is before we consider the prospects of world number four Jordan Spieth and second-ranked Justin Thomas, both the winners of the most recent majors – the Open and PGA championship, respectively.

 

Who else am I missing? One player has finished in the top six in the last three years at Augusta. England’s Paul Casey who was also the sole person to see off Woods recently.

 

With more thoughts to come next week a final note as we pivot back to the rankings world number three Jon Rahm and top-ranked Dustin Johnson are chasing their first and second majors respectively.

 

And I haven’t even mentioned Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren or Patrick Cantlay. Confused? Don’t worry. Strap in and enjoy this fortnight of golf majors.

 

Image via Austin-American Statesman

Golf Capital – Rory roars in Florida, TV ratings boost continues with Tiger in the mix

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, thoughts and notes. Tiger Woods contended again as Rory McIlroy won for the first time since September 2016 plus Inbee Park triumphed for the 29th time in her professional career. This week sees a double dose of PGA Tour action with match-play in Texas and the nation of the Dominican Republic hosts its first top level event.

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Opening drive

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy surged home with a best of the day 65, which featured five birdies on the last six holes, to claim the Arnold Palmer Invitational by three strokes. Tiger Woods contended until very late on the back nine as overnight leader Henrik Stenson posted a pedestrian 71 whilst Bryson DeChambeau held second from overnight to finished second. This is promising for the world number 61 as he looks towards the first major of the season having finished T21 at his only previous Masters outing in 2016 when he was the low amateur.

 

Despite the presence of a WGC event on the calendar this week several players are letting the event ride before next month’s Masters with Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler amongst those bypassing this event.

 

Seven-time major winner Inbee Park closed with a 67 to post a five-stroke victory at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix. The South Korean last won in March of 2017 when she prevailed by a stroke over Ariya Jutanugarn who also finished T2 in this tournament at the Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort and Spa course. This week the LPGA is heading to California for the Kia Classic, last year won by Mirim Lee.

 

Player performance notes

Players I’m interested to see how they go with notes related to capital investment if that’s your thing. From Florida to Texas the WGC Match Play takes place at the Austin Country Club. 64 players are split into 16 four-player groups of round robin match-play before the winner of each group progresses to the knockout phase. Four picks, but not one from each side of the bracket.

 

Under 20: Jon Rahm. The Spaniard has a 6-1 record in WGC events of this format and the world number three has already won in 2018.

 

50 to 100: Rafa Cabrera-Bello. In the same quarter of the draw as Rahm his countryman has won his only Ryder Cup single match but also owns a 70% overall record in match play.

 

50 to 100: Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy’s round of 65 aside Chappell registered an equal best on Sunday at the Arnold Palmer with his final round 67 to finish seventh. The Californian is incredibly consistent having not finished further back than 31st in his last eight starts.

 

100 to 200: Patton Kizzire. In a tough group with world number two Justin Thomas the two-time winner since September has been dazzled playing with Tiger Woods recently but in a format where he has limited external expectations he could be suited.

 

Greens in regulation

Now up to 105 in the rankings Tigers Woods with a 12-T2-T5 has performed very well in his comeback, far better than I’d expected. As is not hard to predict his impact of TV viewership has been exponential. The Arnold Palmer Invitational climax tied the ratings in the USA of two majors from 2017 (the USA Open and PGA Championship.) It’s worth remembering this is also below the viewing figures in the USA which the Valspar produced under a fortnight ago. Woods’ first appearance at the Masters since 2015 will be highly anticipated by TV executives in the USA and abroad.

 

Tap in

Having been involved with the second-tier Web.com tour the Dominican Republic steps up to the big time with the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship the venue as the nation becomes the latest to host top level golf, albeit on the same weekend as a WGC event. The Caribbean country’s biggest drawcard at the tournament will be former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo who enters on a sponsor’s exemption. Similar to when current basketball All-Star and NBA champion Steph Curry played on the second-tier last year this will bring some attention to a largely insignificant event in the context of the week’s tournaments on offer.

Image via stuff.co.nz

Golf Capital – Casey denies Tiger, Masters ever closer

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, thoughts and notes… Tiger nearly won! Okay I’ll calm down, Paul Casey broke his own-drought (the Englishman last won in September 2014) edging Woods in the Valspar Championship and there was a second European Tour victory for fellow Brit Matt Wallace who triumphed in the Indian Open.

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Opening drive

The now world number 149 Tiger Woods drained a birdie putt on the 17th at Palm Harbor’s Copperhead Course as he attempted an improbable (at least a month ago) win for the first time since August 2013. Woods missed out of the chance to force a playoff with Paul Casey but the Cheltenham-born golfer held on after posting an equal best of the day 65 in the final round. Woods went 70-68-67 and looked ominous sitting one stroke behind Canada’s Corey Connors with 18 holes to go but it was Casey, who started the day five shots back of the leader, who set the standard which couldn’t be matched.

 

Woods, who thrives in Florida (his place of residence like many pro golfers), has seen his club-head speed return recording the fastest swing of any player on the PGA Tour this year at a shade over 207 kilometres per hour at Tampa on the weekend and coupled with deft iron play highlighted by his recent high proximity to hole statistics a win now seems a case of ‘when’ and not ‘if.’ Woods, who is favourite this weekend, recorded the best proximity to hole figures at the Honda Classic.

 

Winner Casey recently lost a friend so was quit emotional after the victory. The 13-time winner on the European Tour has only previous triumphed once in the USA but the result is notable as Casey has recorded top six finishes at the last three editions of the Masters

 

In Delhi, Matt Wallace prevailed at the first extra hole seeing off countryman Andrew ‘Beef Johnston after they both finished at 11 under. Wallace, who was joint overnight leader with local hero Shubhankar Sharma shot a final round 68 but Johnston’s 66 forced extra time. However, Johnston electing to lay up on 18 (the first playoff hole) paved the way for Wallace to claim his second win since May last year in Portugal.

 

Player performance notes

Players I’m interested to see how they go with notes related to capital investment if that’s your thing. Staying in Florida the USA PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational takes place at Bay Hill. Ranked 656 at the end of 2017 Woods almost got home last weekend but I still need him to show me he can string multiple weekends together in contention and backing up across multiple weeks will be a significant challenge. This will be his fifth full-field tournament of 2018 and he has missed one cut in that period.

 

Under 20. Jason Day. The Australian’s T2 at Pebble Beach followed his win at the Farmers Insurance and he won here two years ago before Marc Leishman prevailed in 2017.

 

20 to 50: Tyrell Hatton. Third a fortnight ago England’s Hatton has played this venue once before for a T4 here last year

 

20 to 50: Adam Scott. World number 56 Scott is another quality player looking to snap a long-term winless run and he enters this event having finished T13 at the Honda Classic before a T16 at Valspar, the latter result included a third round 66.

 

20 to 50: Henrik Stenson. Before a missed cut last year the Swede had a four-year run when he finished at least eighth in this tournament but he is yet to win here

 

20 to 50: Kevin Chappell. The American has two top ten finishes this year so isn’t exactly blasting away with form but he’s finished second here to years ago to when Jason Day prevailed plus he’s also finished second at another big tournament in Florida when second at The Players in 2016, an event also won by Day.

 

Greens in regulation

This week the LPGA tour heads back to the USA with the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix Arizona. Anna Nordqvist is the defending champion at the, here we go, Wildfire Golf Club at JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Resort and Spa (branding – ???) after firing a super low 25 under. The Australasian PGA Tour returns in about six weeks with the PNG Golf Open in Port Moresby from April 26 and start planning your holiday now – the Fijian International is on from August 2-5 in Sigatoka.

 

Tap in

The European Tour takes a few weeks off from a sole event with the WGC Match Play event in Austin Texas next week before the Masters and a return with the Open de Espana from April 12. However in the period around the Indian Open the talk on the ET wasn’t just about the coal mine size bunkers. The ET announced Saudi Arabia would come on board as a future venue host. The yet to be named tournament will be staged at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club from January 31- February 3 next year and has attracted controversy due to various policies held by the local Kingdom and it’s leaders. The move should not be a surprise given most nations in that region host a tournament. Whilst they may not all play nicely politically it is hard to pot players for attending the events. As much as I am an advocate of human rights it seems rough to ask individual athletes (who may be suited by the venue) to not play their when other aspects of industry, politics and other areas of life still have relationships with the country. The athletes can perhaps use their platforms to make a protest whilst they are there and discuss the issues but asking them simply not to go to the venue as the only solution is too simplistic.

 

Image via http://www.vnews.online.com

Golf Capital – Drought-breakers and a week of Mexican fun

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, thoughts and notes from a week of significant drought-breaking wins and more thrilling golf entertainment. Five-time major winner Phil Mickelson beat Justin Thomas in a playoff, Michelle Wie won as another Korda almost claimed the victory in Singapore and Daniel Nisbet won the New Zealand Open.

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Opening drive

The drought-breaking weekend of golf commenced when Caboolture’s Daniel Nisebet overhauled Terry Pilkadiras in the New Zealand Open for only his second professional triumph. Nisbet at 27 under won at Arrowtown to go with his 2016 triumph in Hong Kong on the PGA Tour of China. Pilkadaris, who is yet to win on the Australasian PGA Tour, will very much see this as an opportunity lost.

 

A four-year winless run was ended when Michelle Wie’s final round final round 65 saw the American edge ahead after a monster putt on 18 and eventually see off four players a  shot back including overnight leader Nelly Korda in Singapore. Wie’s last win was the 2014 US Women’s Open. Korda went into the final round at the HSBC Women’s World Championships looking to complete a unique family double with sister Jessica having won the week prior but Wie’ final round 65 left Korda, plus Brooke Henderson, Danielle Kang and Jenny Shin in a tie for second. Wie’s clutch putt from off the green on the last hole gave her the decisive lead before she watched Kang miss a chance to force a playoff in the following pairings.

 

Having last triumphed in 2013 at the Open Phil Mickelson finally registered professional win 49 when he prevailed over Justin Thomas in the first playoff hole in the WGC event in Mexico. Thomas had a great hole out on the 72nd hole for eagle to force the playoff before 47-year old Mickelson won the first extra hole. The PGA Tour resumes in Florida this week with the Valspar Championship.

 

Pretoria’s Tshwane Open was won by 10-tine tour pro winner George Coetezee who entered the tournament as one of the favoured players. This weekend the European Tour heads to India and is played at a diabolical venue designed by the legendary Gary Player. Recent ET winner Eddie Pepperell said the course was ‘designed by satan.’ Last year local SSP Chawrasia claimed victory.

 

Player performance notes

Players I’m interested to see how they go with notes related to capital investment if that’s your thing. Shifting to the US PGA Tour the Valspar Championship, won last year by Adam Hadwin, takes place in Florida. Tiger Woods plays the Cooperhead course in Palm Harbour for the first time

 

Under 20. Justin Rose. World number five Rose was T8 in his last event in the USA and he has a solid record at this event with two top 10 finishes including an eighth in 2014 plus two other top 20 events. The Englishman won four starts ago in Indonesia.

 

20 to 50: Tony Finau. The American was second in his last start in the states (the Genesis Open) and his fifth place finish here last year shows he likes the course. He hasn’t won since 2016 so it would snap a streak similar to other recent golf victories.

 

20 to 50: Adam Hadwin. Canadian Hadwin’s last victory was here and he’s finished T6 and T9 in his last two starts so has roared back into form before his title defence.

 

20 to 50: Henrik Stenson. The Swede has an impressive recent record of 7-11-4 in this tournament and won as recently as August last year.

 

50 to 100: Branden Grace. A winner in November in South Africa Grace finished with a 68 in Mexico to end up T30 but he has won in nearby South Carolina.

 

Greens in regulation

Another drought was also snaped when England’s Meg McLaren triumphed in the NSW Women’s Open. The event finished off a period of high profile events which kicked off in early February with the joint event with the Victorian Open and was highlighted by Jin Young Ko’s Australian Open triumph. McLaren’s victory in the Women’s Open was her first on the Ladies European Tour and came after the Wellingborough native finished at ten under. Sarah Kemp (T5) was the best placed Australian behind 23-year-old McLaren.

 

Tap in

It’s not a tap in it’s a hole-in-one but Ross Fisher’s 1 during the WGC Mexico Championships was a great shot – it’s even better with the local Mexican commentary on it! Enjoy

 

Image via golf.com

Trials and tribulations – a reflection on Darije Kalezić’s time at the Phoenix

@hamishneal

“Speculated Wellington Phoenix coach Darije Kalezić has managed four teams in four years in three countries (England, Holland and Saudi Arabia” I noted back in May.

“It doesn’t exactly scream stability”

And henceforth the Swiss-born coach won’t end the season in charge of the Kiwi-based A-League franchise. As March started with the club announcing his departure.

Setting aside Kalezić’s next few weeks (it looks like he’s holding on for a payout) his reign at the Phoenix will be recorded as one of failure. And up there in the top few of poor A-League coaching tenures – think Tony Walmsley at the Mariners or Jim Magilton at the Victory.

I’d hoped Kalezić’s record coaching with, and against, A-League players in Holland plus the network he could utilise to bring in high quality imports would work in his favour. But realistically his lack of knowledge of the A-League coupled with the loss of key players in the off-season was always going to be a huge barrier to overcome.

I predicted, with a great deal of sadness, the Nix would finish last and this looks likely.

There was an array of situations this season which highlight why the 48-year-old probably wasn’t right for the role and why he’s been moved on four times now in five years as a coach.

Without trying to overthink a trial game Thursday’s announcement had me casting my mind back to when the Phoenix lost to the Central Coast in September and the two particular incidents from the match at Lisarow, just north of Gosford, which puzzled me:

-Towards the end of the game trialist Tinashe Marowa (who has since returned to New Zealand Premiership side Tasman United) was told to sit back down as he went to get up and join his teammates to warm up. That can’t be good for moral and makes no sense.

-Goalkeeping coach Fernando vaz Alves spent a period of the loss screaming at shot-stopper Lewis Italiano. At one stage Italiano (who has lost his job twice this season to other keepers) had to make a play whilst the former FFA Centre of Excellence mentor was yelling at him. Distracted Italiano fumbled and the resulting mess near the edge of the area ended up in a free kick to Paul Okon’s side. My feeling was it’s a trial why not wait until the interval or the end of the game to query whatever it was that went wrong. And certainly don’t do it when the player is well in play?

They are mere slivers of time in the season but I think they displayed how abrupt Kalezić (and his coaching staff) dealt with players.

As the season proper got rolling Kalezić’s stubbornness saw other odd scenarios.

-On New Year’s Eve chasing what would have been a winning goal in a match which ultimately finished 0-0 dynamic teenager Sarpreet Singh came on very late in the game (the fourth minute of time added one) but only after a defensive substitution when Dylan Fox entered the fray six minutes earlier. Waiting so long to make the attacking replacement, even it had come in the 88th minute, was strange in a game which needed a spark.

-Adam Parkhouse, who must be one of the best A-League players when you consider wage to output, was shifted to play on the right during the campaign at one stage. Parkhouse has often been a makeshift player but forcing the left-footed speedster to play an inverted winger role made life tough on him and forced teammates to adapt their play for the umpteenth time this season.

I’m not sure who should be the next coach. I would like Des Buckingham to be given the opportunity but I sense the time has come for Auckland City boss Ramon Tribulietx (if he can have his pro license sorted by the start of next season)

Whoever the coach, they must realise the challenge they are taking on. Ernie Merrick has done tremendous things with the Newcastle Jets since leaving the New Zealand capital, but his departure was partly due to the limitations of the role. The next coach must be cognisant of the restraints the position comes with.

Connection with the city, culture and player development in New Zealand is also key but producing on match day is fundamental.

Finally, and this is only small, but it says a lot about Kalezic’s time at the club. I don’t recall him once coming over to speak to the fans at the away games I attended. Ernie did. Ricki Herbert did. Darije didn’t. Senior players such as the club stalwart Andrew Durante (who appears set to retire at the end of the season) understood the value of this connection which I think the former Roda JC mentor never did. The All Whites defender has also passed on the values of the club to the young players.

Sarpreet Singh showed the value of the fans earlier this year in Newcastle after a rare win in high-fiving my eldest tama.

A fleeting moment of joy in a stagnant season.

The lesson from Kalezić’s time at the club is culture and understanding plus style breeds winning. The Phoenix have the club culture. The new coach must bring the understanding and style.

#COYN

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