Posted on: February 27, 2012 6:18 pm
By Shane Bacon
The ratings for the Accenture Match Play finals between Hunter Mahan and Rory McIlroy were the highest non-Tiger final since the tournament started in 1999. The numbers could have been for a few reasons (no real sports competitor with the rainout at Daytona and the NBA being on All-Star weekend), but what if it was simply because we've found the next Tiger Woods?
Now I'm not one of those guys that sits here and searches for that person. Rory McIlroy will never be 100 percent of Tiger Woods. Tiger changed the game of golf forever, and his ability to transcend sports was exactly why he was such a big deal. But eventually someone was going to come along to be the successor of Woods. A talent that wins early, wins by a lot, and does so in the big events.
Sure, McIlroy has fallen on his face as many times on the big stage as he has won (see 2011 Masters and the Accenture), but that many people coming to watch Rory play means that something is up, and it's a great thing for the game of golf.
If Rory can bring that many views to something like the Accenture, playing against Mahan, imagine what would happen if he found himself going head-to-head with a HUGE name in golf on the biggest stage? If Rory was to face Tiger, or Phil, or Lee or Luke in the final round of the Masters, we'd really see what the McIlroy movement would do.
For more golf news, rumors and analysis, follow Shane Bacon and Eye On Golf on Twitter.
Posted on: February 26, 2012 11:19 pm
By Shane Bacon
Hunter Mahan -- Obviously. Mahan played some incredibly inspired golf, beating some big names in the game and stepping up to Rory McIlory, who was playing for something much bigger than just the Marana trophy. Also, with his recent Presidents Cup success, Mahan has shown he’s a match play titan, and is music to Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III’s ears.
Ping Golf -- They had three of the top four finishers rocking their new equipment, and the talk of the week was Mahan’s new Nome putter that seemed to help Hunter knock in just about any big putt he needed to make.
Mark Wilson -- This guy needs to be known more than he is, and this week showed that no matter how short he hits it off the tee, his iron play and short game are second to none. Wilson has won three PGA Tour events in just over 13 months. People need to start acknowledging him as an A-class player in golf.
Sang-Moon Bae -- Look at the list of players Bae knocked off before losing to Rory Mcilroy; Ian Poulter, Charl Schwartzel, and John Senden. Sure, the last wasn’t the biggest name possible, but Bae made McIlroy sweat, and showed that he’s a name we must remember when major championship week rolls around.
Rory McIlroy -- Yes, he made it to the finals, and yes, he nearly became the top dog in golf, but if McIlroy wants to be The Man, he must close these types of tournaments out. He has played some incredible golf over the last few months, but winning is everything, and his game in the finals seemed shaky at best.
Tiger Woods -- Anytime Tiger isn’t in the hunt he’s considered a loser, but boy did he look lost this week with his golf swing. When the season started I thought Woods was close with his game. Now? I’m not so sure even he could be convinced he’s ready to win a PGA Tour tournament.
Luke Donald -- You’re the number one ranked golfer in the world, and no matter who you’re playing, you can’t lose in the first round of a tournament you’re defending. Donald showed that while the rankings say he’s the best, his game might not agree.
Rickie Fowler -- Another week, another disappointment. I think Fowler is a good player, but it seems his name rings louder than his game. Fowler lost in the first round to a veteran that admitted after his match that he’d spent the last week away from golf. Not the best endorsement for Fowler’s time to win PGA Tour events.For more golf news, rumors and analysis, follow Shane Bacon and Eye On Golf on Twitter.
Posted on: February 26, 2012 2:53 pm
By Steve Elling
MARANA, Ariz. -- For a putter carrying the same name as a town in Alaska, Hunter Mahan has been anything but freezing cold.
Mahan switched this week from a Ping Anser putter, an iconic, legendary club with an offset clubhead, to a more contemporary putter.
All he's done is scrape a tournament-best 28 birdies into the hole in his five matches en route to the Accenture Match Play final on Sunday at Dove Mountain.
Mahan is using a Nome, more of a mallet-headed club, with far less of an offset clubhead. He said he had tests run with a laser device and learned, to his shock, that with his old stick, he was aiming off-line, and not at the hole.
"Pretty amazing, everything was aiming left," he said.
It's been an amazing performance since. Now we'll see if he didn’t use all the magic before facing world No. 2 Rory McIlroy in the final.
Posted on: February 26, 2012 12:26 pm
A lot of the game of golf revolves around where your ball ends up. It could be in a bunker, a cactus, a divot or in the hole.
For Lee Westwood in his semifinals match against Rory McIlroy, one of his drives was very, very unplayable. On the 13th hole, Westwood missed his tee shot left, only to find it in the sweater of a fan watching the action.
The photo to your right, taken by the AP’s Doug Ferguson, shows just what kind of shot Westwood faced when he walked up to his ball.
Westwood’s caddied joked to the lady, “Would you mind walking 250 yards further” before getting a drop and making a par which lost him to the hole to McIlroy, but one fan will always have the memory of how the heck a golf ball ended up in her sweater.
Posted on: February 25, 2012 8:09 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2012 11:09 pm
By Steve Elling
MARANA, Ariz. -- Rest assured, America, Hunter Mahan has heard you.
Plenty of folks recall how much trouble the popular Yank had in the final match of the 2010 Ryder Cup, where his short-game shortcomings all but decided the clinching point for the European team.
He remembers it, too, with great clarity. It's something he's been trying to rectify for quite some time.
"Four years ago, I made my first Ryder Cup team, and I couldn't chip it from me to you," Mahan said Saturday.
After as many years of trying to remedy the situation, Mahan's finally got his wedge play and short game where it needs to be, which surely is a major reason why he's advanced to the semifinals Sunday in the Accenture Match Play Championship.
"Sometimes you can putt instead of chipping, which I did a lot," he said, laughing. "Sometimes I would be, 'All right, what can we do here? We have to get creative,' just because I didn't feel good about my chipping."
That mercifully began to change in the second half of 2011. Once a player with a terrific short game, it had seriously eroded, though not for a lack of trying to patch it up.
"I kind of remember how it happened," he said. "I saw a guy, because I was curious, 'Boy, I was a good chipper and all of a sudden I kind of lost it.' I remember I went and saw somebody and it didn't work out."
That's just the start of the story.
"At the end of the day, it made it worse," he said. "I saw people, but people can give you all the advice in the world and you have to trust it, believe it and you have to do it over and over and over again until it clicks. If you put the work in, it will. It's not rocket science."
Dustin Johnson has heard some of the same complaints about his short game.
"It's not like people say, it's not like D.J. is going to be a bad [chipper] or he just can't get good at it, I don't believe that. Anybody that's good at chipping or driving or iron play, there's usually a reason for it, it's not just luck. You just have to find those reasons why and work on it and try to do better."
Mahan said he finally turned the corner last year, though it was very gradual.
"I would be inconsistent one day, the next day would be good, and the next day not so good," he said. "Then I put it together back to back. I put some work in in January and I felt like the first tournament at Torrey Pines it was great. I kind of hit the corner, probably mid-January, is when I started feeling it when I practiced, I could do it like every day.
Mahan has been a fixture in the world top 25 for a couple of years, despite his admittedly shaky short-game issues over the majority of that period. How the heck did he pull that off?
Now he's doing all of it better, not to mention faster.
Posted on: February 25, 2012 7:46 pm
By Steve Elling
MARANA, Ariz. -- As his past American teammates in international cup competitions can attest, Matt Kuchar can apply the verbal tourniquet as well as any player in golf. Even Phil Mickelson, a master of the craft, has openly expressed his admiration for Kuchar's needlework.
Kuchar's quick wit, displayed in a very public fashion, created a lively bit of discourse for a few moments after he was pummeled by Hunter Mahan, 6 and 5, in the quarterfinals of the Accenture Match Play Championship on Saturday.
Broadcast analyst Nick Faldo had expressed on the air Friday night that he felt long putters gave players an advantage, and after Kuchar raked the ball all over Dove Mountain in his loss, three-putting from everywhere, he said he wanted to whack "Faldo in the neck."
Of course, minus the context, some wondered whether he was serious. Kuchar immediately sought out the six-time major winner to explain himself.
It was a joke that misfired about as badly as his putting stroke. He was trying to suggest that, given the way he putted Saturday with his long model, it was reason enough not to ban the long sticks.
"I think I have a chilly sense of humor," Kuchar explained later. "It was meant to be funny. Nick’s a big boy [physically]. I don’t want any piece of him. I thought it might be funny.
"It was funny in my mind. I don’t know if it was funny in anybody else’s mind."
Posted on: February 25, 2012 8:22 am
Edited on: February 25, 2012 11:08 pm
By Steve Elling
MARANA, Ariz. -- They are perhaps the three most pointedly honest guys manning the television towers these days, and for the second straight year, they were placed in a semi-circle and the leashes were removed.
When Johnny Miller, Brandel Chamblee and Nick Faldo get a whiff of blood in their nostrils, it makes for a darned good fireside chat, and that's exactly what transpired at times during the Golf Channel's occasional State of the Game program, staged on the network's Accenture Match Play set on Friday night.
As was the case last year, Tiger Woods was a huge talking point, beginning with Miller's recent magazine proclamation that he thought Woods would win 30-40 more events in his career and make it to 18 major victories, which would tie the record held by Jack Nicklaus.
Boy, did Miller back down quickly from that rosy proclamation. Woods was eliminated in the second round at the Accenture ths week as his putting woes continue to mount.
“That was a best-case scenario," Miller said. "I thought after watching him in Australia at the Presidents Cup, and also seeing him perform the way he did at Sherwood and watching him putt pretty good in both places -– and he hit it unbelievably good, very graceful. I was thinking, wow, this second career could be really good. He could win 30 or 40 tournaments, and he could win two, three or four majors.
“The bottom line is, I don’t think he’s going even tie his record, a best-case scenario. So it’s a tough road to hoe. And like you say, he’s lost his mojo or psyche or power. He had power over everybody and he’s lost that.”
“It’s called a golf swing, not a golf anchor," Faldo said. "The amateurs, for the enjoyment of the game, let them do whatever they like. But for professionals, I think we should start looking at all our rules, or quite a few on the equipment, like the size of the driver face.”
Wow, so Sir Nick wants to back down the horsepower and go for bifurcation -- two sets of rules -- too? Interesting. Suicidal for the game, but interesting.
“I am all for two sets of rules for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is eliminating the long putter in the professional ranks and allows –- to Nick’s point -– to provide a forum which allows you to actually control the motion of the putter without nerves or feel or touch actually affecting the motion," Chamblee said. "So they could make the game simultaneously more interesting at the professional level, more interesting for us to call it and more fun for the recreational golfer if they would do this.”
Chamblee threw caution to the desert wind. If not into a cholla.
"So they could make the game simultaneously more interesting at the professional level, more interesting for us to call it and more fun for the recreational golfer if they would do this," he said. "The average golfer hits the ball 195 yards; they need bigger heads; they need spring effect; they need long putters. You want to grow the game? Let them have fun and do it."
The group was hardly singing praises for the new PGA Tour proposal, seemingly a done deal to be green-lighted next month by the tour Policy Board, to blow up Q-school in its current form, have a wraparound season starting in the fall, and meld the Nationwide Tour and Q-school into a joint qualifying process.
"Frankly I think it's quite sad," Chamblee said. "Every year there's one or two examples of a guy coming out of school or making it through Q-school and having a huge effect. Case in point, Y.E. Yang was the last guy to get his tour card in 2008 and won a PGA Championship in 2009."
Frankly, while the proposal has some merits, the move is being made mostly for financial reasons. Which makes everybody shudder to a degree. It could slow the number of international players coming to the States, because no established player will want to spend a year as a veritable intern/apprentice on the Nationwide Tour first.
"He won the Japanese money list last year, that's millions of dollars last year and won his national championship in Korea. Is he going to forego all that to come over here and play the Nationwide Tour? He is a big part of golf, now; and a big part of this tournament, now. You're talking about eliminating an opportunity for players that don't even have a vote on the issue.
"I understand what the PGA Tour is trying to do, acquiesce to the demands of a sponsor, but personally I think it's short-sighted."
Amen and hallelujah, brother Brandel.
They also tossed a few observations around about the LPGA, including some less-than-flattering aspersions about the work ethic of the American players, who have definitely lost their grip on the top rung of the LPGA ladder. At last season's Solheim Cup, the players on the U.S. team had amassed, what, three victories between them over 2011?
South Florida's Lexi Thompson, the latest teen prodigy, might help in that regard. She already has a couple of wins.
"The last United States lady to be player of the year was Beth Daniel, 1994," Chamblee said. "They are getting out-worked by Lorena Ochoa, Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, they are getting out-worked."
We tend to agree, but I'm not on the panel. So, continue ...
"If Lexi Thompson can avoid pitfalls, she has all of the talent to be just as good, if not better, than Beth Daniel was, which is saying a lot because that’s a talented woman,” Chamblee said.
Posted on: February 24, 2012 7:46 pm
Edited on: February 24, 2012 7:47 pm
By Steve Elling
Now the tournament favorite, McIlroy will face largely unheralded rookie Sang-moon Bae on Saturday in the fourth round of the Accenture Match Play Championship, and while Bae is a new face on the PGA Tour, he's been around for a while.
In fact, McIlroy played alongside the powerful South Korean at the 2009 Korean Open in the final round, in the final group, and watched as Bae blew past him with a 4-under 67 to win. McIlroy shot 72 and finished T3 after starting the final day tied for the lead.
Bae, now 25, was one back of the leaders after three rounds, and took control of the tournament when he made three birdies in a row starting on the 11th. Bae earned his PGA Tour card last fall by finishing T8 at Qualifying School after three solid years on the Japan Tour, including topping the money list last year.
McIlroy, 22, is seeing to become the youngest winner at both the Accenture tournament and a World Golf Championships event. He dispatched Miguel Angel Jimenez on Friday, 3 and 1. Bae outlasted John Senden, 1 up, despite the fact that he had never before played in a match-play event.
"It's match play, so I only try to focus on my game, that's it," Bae said.
With a win, McIlroy can supplant Luke Donald as No. 1 in the world. He had little trouble with Jimenez, his former Ryder Cup teammate. McIlroy knocked five approach shots within seven feet of the flag on the front nine and jumped to an early 3-up lead.