2013 - WEEK 21: May 20 - May 26
Has anybody ever won back-to-back major tour events with double-digit victory margins? Perhaps, but as of Sunday evening I’m not aware of anyone dredging up whom or when it might have been. Until now, of course, as Charl Schwartzel completed part two of his overseas demolition job by winning the European Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Championship (née the South African PGA, and still co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Tour) by a resounding 12 shots over touted Swedish rookie Kristoffer Broberg. Second and third-round 64s separated the 2011 Masters champion from the field, allowing a rain-interrupted closing 69 to set the final eye-popping margin of victory. Just seven days earlier, Schwartzel ran away with the Asian Tour’s Thailand Golf Championship by a remarkable 11 shots – and that was a field which included Lee Westwood, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Nicolas Colsaerts and Hunter Mahan, among others. Nick Faldo’s ancient line about being “So hot he should be wearing asbestos pants” comes to mind here, and with three of the E Tour’s first six 2013 events being played in South Africa, one might well expect a big start to the new year for Schwartzel………Another former Masters champion enjoyed a big (if less-covered) weekend as Angel Cabrera claimed his first triumph worldwide since winning the 2009 Green Jacket, closing with a 64 to win his native Argentine Open for a third time. Cabrera entered play ranked 301st in the world (his lowest point since initially ascending to international prominence) and given the Open’s relatively light field, likely won’t receive a massive bump from the victory. He might, however, receive a massive boost in confidence which, at age 43, might be just enough to help him make one more run towards the top in 2013.
European Tour - Alfred Dunhill Championship - Charl Schwartzel (264)
Asian Tour - Iskandar Johor Open - Sergio Garcia (198)
Sunshine Tour - See European Tour (Above)
OneAsia - See Australasian Tour (Below)
Australasian Tour - Australian PGA Championship - Daniel Popovic (272)
LatinoAmerica - Open de Argentina - Angel Cabrera (270)
European Tour - Nelson Mandela Championship - Scott Jamieson (123)*
Asian Tour - Thailand Golf Championship - Charl Schwartzel (263)
Australasian Tour - Emirates Australian Open - Peter Senior (284)
LatinoAmerica - Olivos Golf Classic - Ariel Canete (275)
LET - Omega Dubai Ladies Masters - Shanshan Feng (267)
European Sr Tour - MCB Tour Championship - David Frost (205)
* Rain-shortened to 36 holes, par 130
I can recall attending the 1998 U.S. Senior Open, an event won by Hale Irwin but which was for me more memorable for an indelible lesson I learned about Jack Nicklaus. Jack was playing on an arthritis-plagued hip which would eventually require replacement, and was visibly in pain from Wednesday's practice round onward. On a Riviera Country Club layout playing U.S. Open tough due to some frightening Kikuyu rough, he hobbled around on Thursday and Friday, somehow reaching the halfway point only six shots behind frontrunning Raymond Floyd. It seemed unlikely he could make a sustained weekend run given the injury, and indeed a Saturday 79 ended Jack's hopes with a vengeance. I can recall thinking that he would likely withdraw at that point, there now being little purpose to putting himself through another day's pain. Instead, Jack came out and carded a flawless 67 - the tournament's low round - and demonstrated comprehensively why he was such a uniquely great champion.
This story comes to mind because this past Wednesday night, I looked forward to watching round one of the Australian Open, partially because it was being played at the Lakes Golf Club (a facility stunningly renovated by Mike Clayton) but also because 63-year-old Tom Watson was playing - and how many more times will get to see Watson compete against the under-50s? Unfortunately, Watson arrived Down Under with a touch of the flu and, wearing a windbreaker when most others were in shirtsleeves, struggled to an opening 78. Once again, I thought, withdrawal seemed a reasonable option. But instead, Watson chose to give a clinic on his own brand of competitive greatness by coming out in tough, windy conditions on Friday and firing a cool little 68 - which happened to tie with three other men for the low round of the day. And while it is clearly re-stating the obvious......we're talking about a 63-year-old man here.
And one other memorable tidbit: The field included nearly 30 men who have recorded major tour victories worldwide - but at the start of play, Watson had more career PGA Tour and Major championship wins then the entire rest of the field combined!
It's been quite a career.
UPDATE: For those who might have considered Watson's Friday 68 a fluke..... After another disappointing 78 on Saturday, he closed with a 69 on Sunday - nothing eye-popping at a glance, until one realizes that with conditions once again very cold and windy, he was the only player in the field to break 70! More late-career ammunition for those who consider Watson the greatest bad weather player the game has ever seen.
It must be noted, however, that it was great week for seniors overall in Australia, as 53-year-old Peter Senior actually won the title, closing with a fine 72 to claim his national open (by one over Brendan Jones) for the second time - some 23 years after his maiden victory.
The final PGA Tour Q School ended on Monday in Palm Springs, and while there are plenty of familiar faces among the 26 players earning their cards, few people likely wagered on Korea's Dong-hwan Lee being the medalist. A 25-year-old whose only previous U.S. starts were MCs at the 2008 Puerto Rico Open and this year's U.S. Open, Lee is a veteran of the Japan Tour, where he has won twice (in 2007 and 2011) and finished 6th in earnings in 2007. European Ryder Cup veterans Ross Fisher ansd Robert Karlsson clearly carry the biggest résumés among the qualifiers, though perhaps more notable is another Korean, Si Woo Kim, who at age 17 became the youngest-ever Q School graduate. Kim won't be eligible to enjoy full member status until he turns 18 next June, but he is eligible to play via sponsor/foreign exemptions or Monday qualifiers prior to that point. Perhaps the predicted rise of Korean male golfers (a good decade behind the ascendence of its female stars) is finally upon us...
1 Dong-hwan Lee -25 407
T2 Ross Fisher -24 408
T2 Steve LeBrun -24 408
T4 Richard H. Lee -23 409
T4 Billy Horschel -23 409
T4 Kris Blanks -23 409
T7 Erik Compton -22 410
T7 Brad Fritsch -22 410
T7 Jin Park -22 410
T10 Fabian Gomez -21 411
T10 Michael Letzig -21 411
T10 Jeff Gove -21 411
T10 Steven Bowditch -21 411
T14 Matt Jones -20 412
T14 Robert Karlsson -20 412
T14 Eric Meierdierks -20 412
T17 Scott Langley -19 413
T17 Aaron Watkins -19 413
T17 Derek Ernst -19 413
T20 Si Woo Kim -18 414
T20 Tag Ridings -18 414
T22 Donald Constable -17 415
T22 Bobby Gates -17 415
T22 Patrick Reed -17 415
T22 Henrik Norlander -17 415
T22 Chez Reavie -17 415
Hiroyuki Fujita won the Japan Tour’s season-ending Golf Nippon Series JT Cup on Sunday, a notable accomplishment for several reasons. To begin with, the 43-year-old veteran claimed the event for the third consecutive year, and the victory was his 15th career J Tour title – both impressive (and uncommon) milestones. But the victory was also Fujita’s fourth of the year (following April’s Tsuruya Open, May’s Diamond Cup and September’s ANA Open) and clinched his first J Tour money title. Fujita was Japan’s top-ranked player in 2010’s season-ending OWR, so his success has not exactly a new thing. But in a nation focused largely on young stars Ryo Ishikawa and Yuta Ikeda, or veterans Toru Taniguchi and Shingo Katayama, Fujita’s rise to the top has not, it seems, gotten all of its just do.
2012 Japan Tour Order of Merit
1 Hiroyuki Fujita ￥173,154,307
2 Toru Taniguchi ￥101,467,268
3 Brendan Jones ￥90,688,284
4 Yuta Ikeda ￥88,948,069
5 Yoshinori Fujimoto ￥87,049,274
6 Jung-Gon Hwang ￥84,348,350
7 Ryo Ishikawa ￥76,881,934
8 Hyung-Sung Kim ￥76,660,630
9 Kyung-Tae Kim ￥73,832,149
10 Kyoung-Hoon Lee ￥73,411,694
Martin Kaymer’s form was cited here last week as being on upswing, and the former World Number One illustrated that point Sunday by closing with a 69 to claim the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City, South Africa. With a select 18-man field, the event is not co-sanctioned by the European Tour, but with South African stars Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen hot on his heels, Kaymer’s confidence figures to be boosted substantially by the victory …………….While the Nedbank was not co-sanctioned by the European Tour, next week’s inaugural Nelson Mandela Championship is, officially kicking off the E Tour’s 2013 campaign. With a purse of only €1,000,000, this will be the lightest of the six (!) E Tour events being played in South Africa between now and the end of February (schedule below). Particularly noteworthy about this one, however, is its venue, the Royal Durban Golf Club – which should not be confused with the vastly more famous Durban Country Club, which lays along the coastal road just over a mile to the north (and will host the E Tour’s Volvo Golf Champions in January). Royal Durban, on the other hand, not only lays slightly inland but is actually built within the Greyville Racetrack – and dates rather impressively to 1892. The present layout (visible here) was built by Golden Age South African designer Robert Grimsdell in 1932 and has twice hosted the South African Open (1970 and ’85). It is widely rated among Africa’s stronger (and most unique) classic designs but has, alas, always been overshadowed by its much higher-profile neighbor (course tour here).
2013 EUROPEAN TOUR SCHEDULE (Dec-Feb)
12/6 – 12/9 The Nelson Mandela Championship - Durban, South Africa
12/13 – 12/16 Alfred Dunhill Championship - Malelane, South Africa
1/10 – 1/13 Volvo Golf Champions - Durban, South Africa
1/17 – 1/20 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship - Abu Dhabi, UAE
1/23 – 126 Commercialbank Qatar Masters - Doha, Qatar
1/31 – 2/3 Omega Dubai Desert Classic – Dubai, UAE
2/7 – 2/10 Joburg Open - Johannesburg, South Africa
2/14 – 2/17 Africa Open - East London, South Africa
2/20 – 2/24 WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship - Marana, Arizona, USA
2/28 – 3/3 Tshwane Open - Centurion, South Africa
Japan Tour - Golf Nippon Series JT Cup - Hiroyuki Fujita (262)
Asian Tour - King's Cup - Arnond Vongvanij (266)
Sunshine Tour - Nedbank Golf Challenge - Martin Kaymer (280)
Australasian Tour - NSW PGA Championship - Matthew Stieger (273)
LatinoAmerica - Colombia Coffee Classic - Sebastian Fernandez (275)
LET - Hero Indian Open - Pornagong Phatlum (203)
…A year makes? Not really. Below are both this week’s top 10 in the OWR and the top 10 from exactly one year ago, and a quick glance indicates that five players from last year’s elite group remain. As one might reasonably assume that a healthy Dustin Johnson (currently 19th) would have held his spot, and that an unscandalized Tiger Woods would have been a mainstay of last year’s top 10, that essentially means that seven of the game’s 10 best remain consistent from a year ago.
November 25, 2012
1 Rory McIlroy 13.61
2 Luke Donald 9.28
3 Tiger Woods 8.89
4 Justin Rose 6.66
5 Adam Scott 6.50
6 Lee Westwood 6.39
7 Louis Oosthuizen 6.35
8 Jason Dufner 5.74
9 Webb Simpson 5.61
10 Brandt Snedeker 5.56
November 27, 2011
1 Luke Donald 10.22
2 Rory McIlroy 7.48
3 Lee Westwood 7.35
4 Martin Kaymer 6.91
5 Dustin Johnson 5.69
6 Steve Stricker 5.69
7 Adam Scott 6.60
8 Jason Day 5.41
9 Webb Simpson 5.18
10 Nick Watney 4.97
The big losers? Two of the game’s elite young players, Martin Kaymer and Jason Day. Kaymer’s run to the World Number One spot seems like ancient history, but he ascended to the top spot in February of 2011, following a runner-up finish at the WGC Match Play. He would close the year at #4 (buoyed by a late-season win at the WGC HSBC Championship) before beginning a downward spiral in 2012 – though recent top 10s at this year’s WGC HSBC and the South African Open might signal the beginnings of a return to form. He currently stands 32nd worldwide. Day, on the other hand, cracked the top 10 for the first time with a runner-up finish at the 2011 U.S. Open, and remained a fixture there through the spring of this year. He has since fallen to 35th, which is somewhat surprising given that he has logged four PGA Tour top 10s during this period.
The two additional departures? Steve Stricker (to 14th) and Nick Watney (16th), neither of whom have gone very far.
But the big story within these numbers is......Rory McIlroy, of course. McIlroy’s jump from 2nd to 1st might not automatically suggest vastly improved play, particularly given Luke Donald’s decline of nearly one full average ranking point earned per event. But how much better was McIlroy? His average earned skyrocketed more than six full points per event – which speaks volumes regarding a campaign which included five victories (led by the PGA Championship) and 16 top 10s in 24 starts worldwide.
Not so noticed this weekend was the victory of Australian amateur Jake Higginbottom at the Australasian Tour’s BMW New Zealand Open. The 19-year-old closed with a fine 67 to edge Jason Norris and England’s Peter Wilson by one, and in the process joined 18-year-old Oliver Goss as the second amateur to claim an Australasian title within the last month. When considering the disproportionally high number of world class players produced Down Under, one his hesitant to take shots at any aspect of Australian golf. Still, these two amateur victories cannot help but speak to the lean fields which inhabit most Australasian events outside of Australia’s Big Three (the Open, the PGA and the Masters). But admirably, the tour soldiers on…
Just when it appeared that Justin Rose would capture the E Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship by carding an epic final round 62 in Dubai, along came World Number One Rory McIlroy to birdie the final five holes, and in the process seal his fifth 2012 victory worldwide. The win padded McIlroy’s lead in the OWR significantly (his adjusted points average is now almost four and a half more than #2 Luke Donald) and lest anyone doubt the validity of the ranking, here is his ledger of worldwide results since August’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational:
T5 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational (PGA Tour)
Won PGA Championship (PGA Tour)
T24 The Barclays (PGA Tour)
Won Deutsche Bank Championship (PGA Tour)
Won BMW Championship (PGA Tour)
T10 Tour Championship by Coca-Cola (PGA Tour)
2 BMW Masters (E Tour)
3 Barclays Singapore Open (E Tour/Asia)
MC UBS Hong Kong Open (E Tour/Asia)
Won DP World Tour Championship (E Tour)
That’s a cool four wins and eight top-10 finishes in 10 starts, nearly all against very strong international fields . For the record, McIlroy ascended to the World Number One spot (for the third time) following his runaway victory at the PGA Championship, and has only extended his lead since. So as we close 2012, Rory McIlroy is clearly the best golfer in the world. And it’s not even close.