The Other Winners

There was so much attention last week on the popular win of newcomer, Jhonattan Vegas, at the Bob Hope Classic, a couple other guys got short shrift. Some quick thoughts on Abu Dhabi and Kona.

Eight Stroke Guarantee

As everyone in the world predicted on Saturday, Martin Kaymer was able to stretch his 5-shot lead to victory on Sunday. He won going away by eight shots, shooting a 6-under, 66 on the final day. Rory McIlroy, his nearest competitor at the beginning of the round, could only manage a 3-under, 69. Also of note was Retief Goosen who thundered up the leaderboard with an 8-under, 64 for a T3.

What’s notable about this win is that the consensus among the other players was that this was not an easy golf course. Lee Westwood, who finished a surprising T64, and Ian Poulter, who equally surprising, missed the cut, exchanged tweets to the effect that they didn’t know what world Kaymer was playing in because the golf course was hard!

Graeme McDowell continues to impress with his consistency. He finished T3 with Goosen. Win a US Open and it can do wonders for your sense of yourself; not always (Michael Campbell), but it seems to be playing out that way here.

Francesco Molinari also seems to have it going now after having won the WGC in Shanghai, beating a very sharp Lee Westwood in the process. He finished T8 while his brother, Edoardo, missed the cut by one shot, along with Ian Poulter, Louis Oosthuizen and the aforementioned, Michael Campbell.

From a mastery point of view, what’s interesting about all of this was, not only the universally-held inevitability of Kaymer’s win after his performance in the first three rounds, but also the predictions of his coming greatness. With his win, he overtook Tiger Woods in the World Rankings, bumping him down to third. Now within shouting distance of No. 1, Lee Westwood, and the possessor of a powerful golf swing and a great putting stroke, everybody seems to be holding their breath for his ascension to the exalted throne of No. 1.

But not so fast. Just a mere month and a half ago, Westwood, watching from the back of the bus this week, was being lauded for giving a “golfing masterclass” in his “peerless,” 8-shot win in Sun City, a scintillating validation of his new crown.

So it will be interesting to watch Kaymer’s progress in sliding inch-by-inch slowly up to the high end of the highwire…and how long he’ll stay there. Never forgetting, of course, that Tiger has been tucked away working on his new swing transformation and he may have something to say about all of this…beginning this weekend.

You Gotta Be Really Good

One of my favorite stories from my Monday Qualifying days comes up every time somebody asks me what kind of scores it took to be successful on Monday.

One year in Naples, Florida, they had us on a very nice Tom Fazio course. Since it was February, it was a full field of 144 guys playing for the four spots.

Morris Hatalsky, a former PGA Tour player who didn’t make enough career money to be exempt, was in the field. Playing in the morning times, he shot an impressive 66 along with one other guy. The low round was a single 65. So, satisfied with his handiwork, he went back to the hotel to kill time.

When he got back to the course hours later, there were still a handful of groups on the course and the 65, and two 66’s from the morning were still the low rounds. The Tour always grouped the players by their records or reputations, so the last groups would have the best players in them. As each group came in, everyone huddled around the scoring table to see if Morris would make it in.

Finally, it was down to the last three guys on the course…and they shot 62, 63, 64. They all got in together with the morning 65 and Morris was down the road with a 66 and a sobering introduction to Monday qualifying. (But the cream always rises to the top. Hatalsky is still out there playing years later, is 30th on the Champions Tour career money list amassing $7.7 million in the process. And I don’t even remember who the other three qualifiers were that day.)

So this weekend in Kona, Tom Lehman had a similar experience in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. He shot 66, 66, and 64 on the last day…and lost. John Cook notched his sixth Champions Tour win shooting 66, 64, 64.

Now it was on a resort course (don’t want to make it too hard for the tourists) designed by Jack Nicklaus (known for his ample fairways but demanding shots to the greens). But as I said over the weekend, it measured over 7,000 yards and I didn’t see any holes that the Tour staff would move up because they were too long. Still, in the back of their minds, I think more people are going to ask what’s wrong with the course rather than giving Cook and Lehman full credit for their accomplishments.

So as a fun experiment in mastery, on the next three-day weekend, everyone with doubts about the quality of these scores, move up to the red tees on your course and see what you get after three rounds. It could be a hollow triumph…or a sobering moment.

Assuming, of course, that you get by the waves of self-consciousness over playing the ladies’ tees. And no fair organizing a red-tee tournament to make it any easier.

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