By Pete Pappas
GolfWRX Staff Writer
I never imagined these words would be uttered from my lips; let alone believing I’d have the thoughts to begin with. So forgive me.
But golf is starting to take on a sort of superhero-like meaning to me. And it’s become the most exciting sport on the planet to watch as well.
Just take a gander at this week’s World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, the second WGC of the 2012 PGA Tour season. Showcasing Florida’s TPC Blue Monster, I dare say it approaches a DC Comics “Hall of Justice” type of gathering.
But instead of a congregation of “Super Friends” in deranged costumes and wacky tights, you have a field of PGA Tour superheroes consisting of 49 international players from 16 different countries, including 16 major championship winners. And every player from the Official World Golf Rankings Top 50 will be at Doral for only the third time since 2005.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Bubba Watson’s drive off the tee! If you have a favorite player, he’s probably in the field. And every winner from each of the nine PGA Tour events this year will be present.
OK, so who’s the villain? Why the course itself, of course. The Blue Monster might not be quite as fabled as the Lock Ness Monster, but it’s definitely far more harrowing, even wicked to the players. Particularly No. 18, the signature hole; considered by many to be the toughest hole on the PGA Tour.
“If the winds come into you, though, you’ll see all sorts of numbers, “ said Paul Casey, the No. 26-ranked player in the world. “You never know what’s going to happen on that hole.”
No. 18 is a threatening par 4, 467 yard gauntlet, with a “monstrous” water hazard running up the entire left side (some might recall that Sir Nick Faldo baptized his tee shot in 1995), and a glutinous sprawl of palm trees sitting in deep, wiry Bermuda rough on the right side (flyers and knucklers from these parts).
Players fortunate to be lying unscathed in the fairway should wait to count their blessings though. On approach they will fire into a severely sloped green, with wayward shots finding miscreant water (still) on the left, and an ungenerous host of bunkers on the right.
“Tough tee shot, tough second shot, take your four and run, said the No. 15-ranked player in the world, Graeme McDowell.
Yeah, good luck with that. It’s right out of Dante’s Inferno, the PGA Tour’s version of the “Ninth Circle of Hell” (Treachery).
Never Tell Me The Odds
RORY MCILROY (6/1). Can lighting strike twice? McIlroy is the frontrunner to be the first back-to-back winner, and multiple-winner on the PGA Tour this season. Yes he’s the world’s No. 1 ranked player. Yes his ability is extraordinary. But he’s also won on the PGA Tour a total of (drum-roll) three times.
McIlroy is still only an “idea”. He’s a player in gestation. His potential not yet realized in any outward form. And it wasn’t so long ago McIlroy was being called the new Sergio Garcia: emphatically talented, prodigiously whiny, and extremely immature (recall McIlroy lamenting the British Open weather in 2011).
I’m not saying McIlroy is overrated, or that he won’t prosper for many years. He has abundant and uncommon talent, no question. And he is currently playing better than anyone on tour.
But I am saying the young Irishman has the same number of major wins as guys named Vic Ghezzi, Mungo Park, and Dow Finsterwald. Let McIlroy win a few more times before he’s crowned greatest player in the game today.
TIGER WOODS (7/1). Tiger has clawed his way back to No. 16 in the World Golf Rankings. He’s a six-time WGC winner, including one victory at Doral. And he’s never finished outside the top 10 at the WGC-Cadillac Championships.
However what might be most important, is what Tiger’s final-round 62 last week at The Honda Classic meant. It was the best final round of his career.
No one’s asking “What’s wrong with Woods?” anymore. A charging Tiger with birdie-eagle finish on No. 17 and No. 18 at the Honda put everyone on notice that he’s still very dangerous. And it’s no longer a matter of process (Tiger often referring to his comeback many times as a process), but a matter of time.
And don’t think Tiger didn’t hear what McIloy said when asked about a Woods-McIlroy rivalry? “I think it’s more the media that build up the rivalries more than anyone else.” McIlroy said. “In golf, you can have a rival if you want, but at the end of the day, your biggest rival is the golf course. You have to beat that,” he said.
We saw what happened last week when reporter Alex Miceli made Tiger mad. You mess with the Tiger; you get the teeth (something like that). A Woods-McIlroy final grouping on Sunday is very possible. And very intriguing.
PHIL MICKELSON (12/1). His days are numbered. He’s too old. Diminishing skills. He’s playing with a debilitating injury.
You remember those yahoos don’t you? Heck, you might have even been one of the howling naysayers. It’s ok, you weren’t alone.
Well after winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and nearly winning the Northern Trust Open after forcing a playoff with a flabbergasting putt on No. 18, you now know that his days aren’t numbers, right?
And with Tiger joining Mickelson in the field for the first time since Pebble, “Lefty” gets an opportunity to wax Woods. Again.
LEE WESTWOOD (14/1). Westwood has to be the PGA Tour’s version of Rodney Dangerfield. How else do you explain going out Sunday at Honda, shooting a final round 63, and barely getting mentioned on Monday?
Yes it was the Rory-Tiger Show last week. But we’re talking about a final round 63. We’re talking about the No. 3 player in the world. We’re talking about his best final round score in America. And no one made a peep in the mainstream media. No one said a word about it.
So I’m putting Westwood in the top four on principle alone. Westwood’s two fourth-place finishes in two PGA Tour events entered this year (WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and Honda) also signals his readiness to take on the TPC Blue Monster.
Of course he could always just bounce his tee shot down a spectator’s sweater again (like he did on the par 5, No. 13 at Northern Trust) to get noticed. But it’d probably be easier if he just wins the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
The Super Sleepers
LUKE DONALD (25/1). Last year’s “Donald Double” (finishing on top of the money list on both the PGA and European Tours) was unprecedented. And the PGA Tour’s reigning Player of the Year finished inside the top 10 a staggering 20 times in 26 events entered last year
But Donald, who spent 40 weeks at No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings before losing his spot to McIlroy last week, really hasn’t been in the mix yet in 2012 (T-33 at WGC-Accenture, T-56 at Northern Trust).
A T-6 finish last year at TPC Blue Monster bodes well for Donald. However he’ll need to find his touch around the greens that made him the world’s best golfer in 2011 (fifth best on tour last year in sand saves, compared to No. 168 this year; and No. 41 last year in GIR, but outside the top 150 this year).
MATT KUCHAR (30/1). In 2010 Kuchar finished T-3 at TPC Blue Monster. In 2011 he finished T-5. Kuchar likes Doral, no two ways about it.
And his T-5 finish this year at WGC-Accenture showed he’s currently in a good place with his game. Don’t be surprised to see the World No. 14 pick up his fourth career win on the PGA Tour this week.
HUNTER MAHAN (30/1). Mahan defeated McIlroy two-and-one at WGC-Accenture two weeks ago, jumping up to No. 10 in the world with his victory. And a win Sunday at Doral gives him the opportunity to become only the third player to win three or more WGC events (Woods and Geoff Ogilvy).
Mahan’s ball striking has been sharp in 2012. He’s No. 21 in GIR. But at T-87 in driving distance, he’ll be at a marked disadvantage from the rest of the field on the long fairways of TPC Blue Monster.
Boulevard of Broken Dreams
DUSTIN JOHNSON (25/1). I hate to put Johnson in this group, but given his talent and near misses, he remains one of the biggest disappointments on tour. To his credit he did finish well (T-5 at Pebble, and T-4 at Northern Trust), and has three top 10 finishes this year.
But he just seems to have a knack for taking holes off, and falters when it matters most. He had the 54-hole lead last year here at the TPC Blue Monster, but I haven’t seen anything this year to suggest he’ll avoid breaking down at some point and contend at Doral.
NICK WATNEY (25/1). I probably shouldn’t put Watney in this group; clearly he’s the defending champion, and has a runner-up finish here to boot. He played well knocking out Woods at the WGC-Accenture, before being eliminated by Westwood the following round.
Like Donald, he’s been somewhat slow to start the season, at least by Watney’s own standards. He’s grabbed one top 10 finish in his five events played in 2012. But every tournament he’s had trouble scoring (he’s ranked 114th in scoring with a 71.33 average). And I don’t see him turning it on at Doral.
McIlroy, Donald, Westwood
With the top 24 players being grouped by their place in the Official World Golf Rankings, this is unquestionably the spotlight pairing. No. 1 McIlroy, No. 2 Donald, and No. 3 Westwood also are the last three men to hold the No. 1 ranking in the world. When the sun falls over Doral on Sunday evening, any of them could be No 1.
And don’t discount the little feud between McIlroy and Westwood that kindled late last year when McIlroy fired mutual agent Chubby Chandler. When Westwood learned about the dismissal, he publicly tweeted “bizarre decision” to McIlroy. That of course led the mercurial McIlroy to “unfollow” Westwood on twitter.
Woods, Sergio Garcia, Watney
Woods is third in scoring average on tour, and fifth in driving accuracy. Watney is No. 131 in driving distance at 283.6 yards, and No. 18 in GIR at 70.14 percent. Sergio Garcia looks to build on the momentum he gained at Northern Trust, when he shot seven-under on Sunday, jumping 45 spots up the leader board.
Mickelson, Mahan, Adam Scott
Mickelson is the PGA Tour Player of the Month. Mahan is ranked No. 10 in the world, and No. 10 in scoring average. Adam Scott is ranked No. 11 in the world.
Alvaro Quiros, Kyle Stanley, Gary Woodland
Big bombers in this group; and that gives them a distinct advantage at Doral. Quiros averages 315.9 yards on the European Tour. Stanley, winner of the 2012 Waste Management Phoenix Open, is second on PGA Tour in driving distance averaging 307.6 yards (behind only Bubba Watson). And Woodland is ranked No. 23 in driving distance at 298.9 yards.
Justin Rose, Bubba Watson, Mark Wilson,
Rose was in contention one shot back of McIlroy last week at Honda until he put one in the drink at No. 15. Wilson is already a winner this year at the WGC-Accenture, and has played well all season with two top 10 finishes. And there’s talk Bubba might incorporate a “Lebron James’ chalk toss” into his pre-shot routine. “You’re welcome!”
Thursday 2 – 6 p.m. EST, Golf Channel.
Friday 2 – 6 p.m. EST, Golf Channel.
Saturday 12 – 2 p.m. EST, Golf Channel; 2 – 6 p.m. EST, NBC.
Sunday 1 – 3 p.m. EST, Golf Channel; 3 – 7 p.m. EST, NBC.
SiriusXM Satellite Radio
Thursday – Saturday, 12 – 6 p.m. EST.
Sunday, 1 – 7 p.m. EST.
Odds provided by Las Vegas PGA Tour Golf Betting Odds.