Today is unusual because the finish of the tournaments on all four of the major tours have tightly-packed leaderboards and compelling reasons to watch the finishes.
The European Tour
The BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth offers a classic, 3-way race. At the top we have World No. 2 and Tour aristocrat, Luke Donald and 18-year-old, teen phenom, Matteo Manassero, leading at 5-under par. If Donald should win, he will finally ascend to No. 1 and if the kid should win, it will mark yet another milestone in the beginning of what could be an amazing career.
Yesterday, one of the Euro announcers called Donald’s recent play a “stunning run of form.” And you’d have to agree with him. He missed the cut at Riviera in LA way back in late February but he hasn’t been out of the top 10 in his 9 tournaments since then.
At just 18, Manassero has already won two tournaments, one in each of his first two years on Tour. At 18! And having interviewed him at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, this is a young man beyond his years. He’s bigger and his body is more developed than you would expect in an 18-year-old and his face projects a surprising presence and wisdom. Watching someone that young hit one perfect shot after another is pretty amazing.
But hold on! World No. 1, Lee Westwood, had an average start on Thursday, but he’s come thundering up the leaderboard and sits alone in 3rd just 2 strokes back. And he wants to stay No. 1.
The PGA Tour
Ryan Palmer has a 1-stroke lead over a resurgent Sergio Garcia at the HP Byron Nelson Classic.
Palmer is interesting because he has decided to just play swing robot to his caddie. He realized that he’s never really done well at this tournament, the course doesn’t fit his eye and his decision making has been suspect. So he decided to just surrender to whatever his caddie thought he should do. His caddie gets the yardage, pulls the club, tells him the line and what kind of shot to hit. And then Palmer just follows instructions without thinking about it. He says that it’s taken all kinds of pressure off of him and his swing is a lot freer (the hallmark of good play).
Garcia has been lost in the wilderness for far too long given his talent. He became so frustrated with his play that he took two months off at the end of last year. The measure of his desperation is that that decision took him out of any chance to qualify to play in his beloved Ryder Cup. But here he sits with a chance to win a tournament he won back in 2004.
Sitting in 3rd 2 strokes back of Palmer are Arjun Atwal and Ryuji Imada from Japan. Atwal has won once, used to be Tiger’s regular practice partner at Isleworth, but most important, the Dartboard picked him this week. Come on Dartboard! Imada is another teen prodigy who has blossomed into a solid, 5-year veteran who’s earned $8.0 million. Coincidently, I followed him in an impressive practice round at Phoenix. He was playing with Palmer.
The Champions Tour
Out of nowhere, the Champions Tour Career Money Leader ($25.8 million), 65-year-old, Hale Irwin, is tied with Kiyoshi Murota at 9-under. Murota has been a fixture on the Japan Tour and Senior PGA Tour and his performance so far is in spite of a balky back. Oh, and Tom Watson is just one stroke back and Nick Price, two. Loren Roberts, the Boss of the Moss, and highly successful second-year player, Tom Lehman, are 4 strokes back.
The LPGA Tour
The HSBC Brazil Cup in Rio De Janeiro is a limited-field, 36-hole shootout. Veteran, Heather Bowie-Young leads a tightly-packed field of just 30 top players by 2 strokes. The persistently successful, Suzanne Pettersen, is in a group of three at T2. With Young having shot 6-under in the first round, anyone could win this one.
So, four tours, four compelling reasons to watch. It doesn’t happen all that often. You’ll have to record the Indy 500.