A few notes during The Players
And now the Players, considered by some a fifth major. All the big guns are there: Koepka, Thomas, DJ, Spieth, Fowler, Rose, McIlroy. And Cameron Champ, the longest driver on tour, who was in last place after the first round and withdrew during the second with a sore back. Back problems at 23! So for those of you looking for more yardage with the driver, take notice: Go for the extra swing speed, but take care of the body. Champ averages close to 350/drive, but has paid the consequences. He won at Sanderson Farms this season in only his ninth PGA event, but he’s done poorly since. Still, this demonstrates the depth of this Tour. Virtually anyone who tees it up at a PGA event, can win, though difficult to do with all the talent that’s out there. There are guys who’ve been on tour for ten years who would give their left you-know-what for a win. If Champ never wins again, and reverts to selling shoes, he will always be known as a PGA Tour winner (which has worked well for Brandel Chamblee). I do predict, however, that Champ, whose African American grandfather introduced him to the game, will win again. Keep an eye on him.
Another to watch carefully is Francesco Molinari. He’s short, stocky, self assured, built for golf: a fireplug who knows who he is and what he is here for, with a swing that “looks like it’ll go on forever,” said commentator Paul Azinger. His performance on the final day of the Arnold Palmer Invitational was magnificent, coming from five shots behind to win it at 12 under. His 64 on the last day on a very tough course was not unlike Mr. Palmer’s charges in his heyday. The last day of the 1960 U.S. Open comes to mind when Palmer came from seven shots behind to win. Molinari kept it out of the punishing rough at Bay Hills, hitting most greens in regulation, and sinking putts like the ball had onboard radar. His 43-foot breaking birdie putt on the final hole was a work of art that essentially put the 37 year old Italian out of reach of the young bombers behind him. Matthew Fitzpatrick, the 24 year old Englishman, a five time winner on the European Tour, had hoped his 54 hole lead would hold up for his first win on the PGA Tour, but he was just average that final day. And his playing partner, four time Major winner, Rory McIlroy, rattled by slow play, but driving it some 347 yards on average, was unable to capitalize with birdies even on the par fives. His approach shots were not close enough for decent birdie tries. He walked away again, close to a win but no cigar. Others, too, Baddeley, Cabrero Bello, Matt Wallace (who scored two eagles in that last round!), contended but ultimately faded down the stretch. Nine of the top 10, I believe were Europeans. Let’s see, when’s the next Ryder Cup. I suspect they’re already licking their chops like hyenas at a midday snack (no offense intended, boys).
Dan Jenkins, RIP
Legendary sportswriter Dan Jenkins has passed at 90. He had an opportunity early in his career, given his smooth swing, to receive personal lessons from Ben Hogan, but ultimately turned The Hawk down for a profession to which he felt more suited. We’ve all benefited via the power, precision, and wit of his pen. Jenkins was voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012. Rest in peace, Dan Jenkins.
The Masters is only about a month away so it’s not too early to wonder about possible winners. Rory is showing strength with top six finishes in his few events this season but is having trouble closing it out for the win. He is tied for first in The Players after two rounds so we’ll see, but he hasn’t won for about a year. I once thought the four time Major winner with 14 PGA wins before reaching 30, would break Jack’s record, but now I’m not so sure. Other players to consider are DJ, whose game looks rock solid, Molinari, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood, who is putting like a champion lately, JT, who is always a threat, Koepka, also always a threat, Jordan Spieth, who is still looking to regain his former game, and, of course, Tiger Woods. Does golf’s Great One have another major win in him? He still has that amazing will to win. And his tee to green game is solid. But it’s putting that will determine his fate. Augusta National presents a formidable challenge on and around the greens. Other possible contenders include Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, and Ricky who has already won this season. My preliminary pick: Rors. It’s about time to complete his career Grand Slam. Who’s your choice?