Opinion & Analysis – Golf Diamante

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

Opinion & Analysis – Golf Diamante

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at the Masters in 2011 will continue to lull punters and galleries into backing him and tipping him in big events, when previous form would indicate otherwise.

  2. Matt Kuchar has a game I would probably kill for, he has won countless millions on the PGA Tour, including some of the biggest titles: a WGC-Matchplay, The Players, The Honda, The Memorial, The Barclays and The Heritage. Despite all that silverware he has never figured throughout a major championship. Pretty poor for a guy fifteenth in all-time earnings on Tour. Let’s get this in perspective, he is an immense talent, yet there is that constant, nagging feeling he could have been so much more.

  3. Ryo Ishikawa was the best thing to come out of Japan since sliced tofu, until Hideki Matsuyama came along and showed us something better. Ishikawa was a teenage sensation, winning a professional event in Asia at the age of fifteen and shooting a 58 to win another Japan Golf Tour event at the age of nineteen. While Matsuyama has embraced the PGA Tour, Ishikawa, still only 24, struggled to keep his Tour card and for such a phenomenal talent, he has flattered to deceive…so far!

  4. Graham DeLaet had everyone awaiting his ‘arrival’ on Tour. The problem was, it never came. Consistent top ten results and a couple of runners-up positions had everyone anticipating a big 2014 season. But a back injury and extreme facial hair seem to have been more significant than his actual results. So much so that he was by-passed as the next ‘Mike Weir’ when Nick Taylor arrived with a bang by winning the Frys.com Open at the start of the season. Meanwhile DeLaet is still stagnating at number 76 in the OWGR. It still doesn’t stop people from getting excited when his name arrives on the leaderboard, getting it to stay there is another issue.

  5. Jason Dufner might well have won a major, but his play surrounding that title has been almost non-existent. During his ‘golden period’ of 2012–13 ‘Duf’ had three wins, including his PGA Championship. Before that his main concern was just qualifying for the majors. Since then he has lost his hair, his weight and his wife. His golf has also seen a worrying dip south too. His best performance so far this year is T17 at The Honda and he is currently 104th in the FedEx and number 61 in the OWGR, a number which is likely to drop further if results don’t match up to his 2013 form.

There are certainly other contenders, Keegan Bradley is one that springs to mind, as is Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. But the term overrated is such a subjective one. Any one of us would love to be considered an overrated golfer with the talent (and bank accounts) of those above, but with all that talent are we guilty of expecting too much from too many players?

Even the very best don’t win that often.

The surprising thing about this year’s Masters wasn’t the composed manner of Jordan Spieth’s win. Well, OK, much of this year’s Masters WAS about the emergent talent of the new wonder kid. But we did witness a rebirth of, perhaps not the old Tiger, but something akin to what the old Tiger used to do. A new Tiger Woods.

In his own words, his Saturday front nine was close to being “a special round” and considering the many ‘special’ rounds in Tiger’s career, that statement should please the many Tiger supporters waiting for him to make one final push for top spot again.

In contrast to this week’s performance he had only managed to complete 72 holes on the PGA Tour twice since 2013. So to make the top twenty at Augusta, is big. And it was news that was swallowed by Spieth’s own coming of age.

So how did Tiger’s game hold up in one of the most testing environments in golf?

Driving 6/10

Let’s face it Tiger has never driven the ball very well, even when winning his fourteen majors it was rare that he ever brushed shoulders with any notion of accuracy and a high percentage of hit fairways. Two memorable drives this week were his final round drive down the 10th that bounded 330 yards through pine straw before resting behind a large shrub and his duck hook during the third round at the 13th. But even there we were reminded of what Tiger once did when he produced an unlikely birdie.

Irons 7/10

We have all been used to iron after iron piercing the green and setting up birdie, and on the front nine in round three he hit a succession of irons to small targets. He went out in 32, it could easily have been 30.

Short Game 8/10

So much had been said about his woeful short game in his limited starts this year that many might wonder if he would even break 80 round Augusta. Apart from a duffed chip shot on the 8th on Friday, Woods was surprisingly adroit playing from around the greens, saving himself time and time again late on in rounds one and three.

Putting 9/10

Holed a good share of putts, even managing to throw in a couple of eagles too. We didn’t see too many short putts nudging the hole this week; the greens were kind to Tiger and his confidence mirrored it.

Health 9/10

He looked every bit the healthy Tiger. There were no winces from back spasms or evidence of an inadequate warm up routine, even when he went 100% he didn’t dislocate something which will encourage his physio. He did, apparently, dislodge a bone in his hand during the final round, but managed to ‘pop it back it’ again and carry on. Bravo Tiger!

Mental 8/10

There were a few errant shots, which might be expected from such a prolonged lay off. In the last eighteen months he has been as mentally fragile as a rabbit caught in headlights. For someone who has walked on eggshells for as long as he has, his resilience was impressive. In perspective, he came back from an opening 73 to play in the third last pairing on Sunday, alongside the current world number one, Rory McIlroy.

In short Tiger should be looking forward to competing on the PGA Tour for the remaining season. It might not be every week, but if this particular week is to be judged, then he is most certainly back. If it isn’t the old Tiger, it most certainly is a an older, wiser, more realistic Tiger, and that can only be as good for the game as Spieth’s own accession.

Augusta has been kind to Tiger Woods, but there’s a new favorite in town going by the name Bubba. Two wins in three years shows an affection for a new breed of player, one that doesn’t have a mechanical break down before hitting top gear.

Two wins in the last three years suggests that the Master’s crown has already changed hands. Perhaps Bubba is already Augusta’s new golden child.

But does this theory really hold true? Let’s take a look, is it a case of out with the old kitty and in with Bubba golf?

First time – Tiger

Tiger won on his first professional visit to Augusta in 1997 blowing away the cobwebs of the old guard typified by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Tom Kite. Bubba had to wait until his fourth Masters before winning.

Scoring average – Tiger

Despite being in the doldrums for the best part of a decade (he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005), Tiger still holds the key to scoring well at the Masters with an unbeaten 70.86 average score. Bubba trails by almost an entire shot with 71.79. The longevity of which Tiger has competed well at the Masters belies his current woeful form. It is still a successful scoring course – even for a wounded cat.

Rules – Tiger

Tiger doesn’t seem to know the rules, but that’s not an issue at the Masters, because it makes up its own rules. Just like when an illegal drop for some means signing the wrong scorecard and instant disqualification, for others, it means a shift in rules interpretation and a mere two shot penalty. It didn’t help in 2013 though.

Win ratio – Bubba

Bubba has played a total of six Masters Tournaments, he’s won two which means an impressive 33% win ratio, slightly better than Tiger’s nineteen appearances and four wins (21%) – Tiger’s first six Masters produced just one victory.

Left-handedness – Bubba

There’s an argument suggesting left handed golfers fare better at Augusta. Whilst it is a fact that there are more right to left doglegs than left to right, and lefties find it easier to fade the ball, there might be some truth to this argument. However only three lefties have ever won here and it might just as well have more to do with quality of golfer than on which side of the ball they set up. There’s nothing sinister about this argument, but, if ever a course was made for Bubba…

Best shot – Tie

Bubba’s wedge to beat Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 was a classic case of “WTF was that?” it remains one of the few shots that left viewers slack-jawed, agog. Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th in 2005 when the ball teetered on the edge of the hole, toying with us that it might not drop, was the epitome of drama. It was the last time we were thrilled by Tiger Woods at the Masters and what a ride it was!

Patron pleaser – Tiger

No one inspires a golf crowd like Tiger playing well. Even the mild mannered, polite, walking-not-running patrons of Augusta will blow cream soda through their noses if Tiger gets a sniff of victory. Bubba just doesn’t inspire the same kind of thrill; aloofness only works if you are a fourteen time major champion!

Tiger is still the number one draw at the Masters, but there’s a sense that it’ll take just one more Bubba victory to shift the balance. With every passing year, Tiger’s allure dims slightly. Golf’s shifting allegiance is favouring a bunch of other, highly talented golfers including Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy. Throw in a Bubba too and soon, Tiger might just be another seat-filler at the Champion’s Dinner table!

Every year, since 1952, it has become customary for the previous year’s Masters champion to ‘host’ the Champion’s Dinner on the Tuesday before the tournament at the ‘Masters Club’. Recent years have seen some ‘interesting’ menu choices, and we also take a look at what might be on the menu next year.

There have been some ‘culturally’ significant food choices that will have pleased the national tourist boards of some countries more than previous champions.

In 1984 Bernhard Langer got the ball rolling with his homage to fine German dining by serving Wiener schnitzel with spaetzle (a thin, sliced veal coated in breadcrumbs accompanied by small dumplings), followed by a traditional Black Forest gateaux.

Shortly afterwards Sandy Lyle flew the Scottish Saltire by offering up Haggis with neeps and tatties (which I won’t can’t describe here).

Nick Faldo’s tomato soup starter followed by a main course of fish and chips raised few eyebrows in 1997, although Tiger Woods’ first attempt might have been frowned upon by some of the older members of the Masters Club. A 21 year old might well have been all over cheeseburgers, fries and strawberry milkshakes, an 85 year old Byron Nelson might well have passed(out).

Ian Woosnam flew the Welsh flag in 1992 by offering up leek and potato soup followed by a leg of Welsh lamb. Àngel Cabrera did likewise with his ‘Argentine asado’, a lengthy barbecue feast serving chorizo, blood sausage, ribs, beef fillets and mollejas (which are in effect really offal parts of the animal).

Hats off to Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman whose own take on their hunting, outdoorsy culture resulted in elk, wild boar and Arctic char (washed down with a good ol’ Canadian beer) for Weir and some bobotie (curried game pie) and sosaties (spicy meat skewers) accompanied by some fine Cape wines For the South African.

Perhaps the classiest fare was served up by Adam Scott last year. In 2014 he chose wagyu beef, Moreton Bay lobster, artichoke and arugula salad and finished it off with a decadent pavlova. For a player who looks better, dresses better and swings better than most of us, he proved he eats better than most of us do too!

What Masters Club members can expect from Bubba Watson this year is at best unpredictable. It could be waffles (which is how he celebrated his win last year), or it could be something similar to his serving in 2013 when he rolled out the interesting mix of grilled chicken, macaroni cheese, mashed potato and caesar salad.

If Rickie Fowler wins this year what would his menu be? Trolling through his Instagram and Twitter feeds suggest something Mexican (he is from Southern California) or perhaps a seafood feast.

What about many people’s favorite this year, Jordan Spieth? A true Texan, Spieth does not look like he would shirk a weighty, beef feast, perhaps akin to Ben Crenshaw’s Texan Barbecue of 1996. And if Jimmy Walker wins then the food choice is bound to be stellar!

There has not yet been an Irish winner and heading that particular list is Rory McIlroy (no one wants to delve too closely into the food heaven of Padraig). Rory strikes me as someone who loves a healthy breakfast, but pines for a big lunch and is all over his home comforts, nothing is more comforting than a traditional roast dinner.

Hideki Matsuyama might bring some interesting Japanese food to the Champions Dinner. A quick look at previous meals suggest that sushi and sashimi are always popular choices on Tuesday.

However, what would certainly be the most impressive sight, and one most of us ‘normal’ golfers could relate to would be for Jason Day to preside over a carving block of (kangaroo?) steaks whilst dishing out the stubbies from the cooler.

Who do you think will win, and what will their champions dinner be?

The last five years have seen some very different Masters Champions and the manner of their Sunday victory have all varied. We take a look at how they won their titles and what we can expect this year as the Masters Tournament looms large. (more…)

Last year we wrote a blog questioning the finishing ability of Jordan Spieth. In the last five months it seems he has answered that question and then underlined it. His win at the Valspar Championship made him the most successful 21 year old since Tiger Woods.

About this time last year Spieth described himself as a “little mental midget” in his defeat to Ernie Els at the WGC-Accenture Matchplay. It wasn’t the only time Spieth had been getting scared and quickly pocketing another runners-up spot at The Masters shortly afterwards.

Nobody ever doubted that he would find a way to start winning. The big question was when was he going to find the answer and start?

He tried to answer it by expanding his horizons, literally, by heading off down under at the end of last year to compete in the Australian Open against defending champion Rory McIlroy and home favorite Adam Scott. That experience might well be one of the key moments Spieth looks back on (perhaps after a glorious career in thirty years or so).

He quickly followed it up with another dominating performance in Tiger Woods’ all star tournament at the Hero World Challenge beating off plenty of competition in convincing fashion.

As most winners know, winning begets winning and he bagged a second PGA Tour win this week at the Valspar Championships at Innisbrook, beating Sean O’Hair and Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed in a playoff with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Spieth is now up to number six in the OWGR and major season hasn’t even started yet. He joins the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods in recording multiple wins before the age of 22.

“Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

What it all leads up to is form that will make him one of the hottest players entering The Masters in a few weeks. On his debut last year he lead during the final round only to stutter and allow playing partner Bubba Watson to take control and win his second green jacket in three years. With three wins since the season started, it will give him enormous confidence if he finds himself in a similar position this year.

Spieth is turning out or be the Real McCoy, and a very big fish in McIlroy’s pond right now and whatever way you look at it, he’s going to be challenging for the number one spot in world golf sooner rather than later.

In the last twelve years a left hander had won The Masters Tournament six times! Which must make it a course suited to left handers, right?

Three of those victories were won by Phil Mickelson, and way back in 2003 Mike Weir started it off with the very first left-handed win. Meanwhile, Bubba Watson has landed top spot twice in his last three starts at Augusta. It all suggests that there is something about the course that favors a lefty.

A quick examination of the three golfers reveals three completely different golfing personalities; Bubba relies on huge drives and a strong iron game; Mickelson lets fate deal with his driving and irons and puts all his eggs in his short game basket; and Weir was just a solid all rounder, and much shorter off the tee. The one trait they all share was the ability to move the ball both ways.

So, if a lefty is to win this year, looking at the current rankings and probable entry list, it will be up to the same three to come up with the goods again on behalf of the left-handed amongst us.

Weir hasn’t managed more than one top ten since 2010 and Mickelson can boast only a solitary foray there since posting a T6 at The Barclays in 2013. It looks likely that if a lefty is to win in 2015 it becomes a question of will Bubba win, or not?

Five reasons Bubba will win

  1. Form is on his side

    With three victories worldwide last year, he has risen to world number 2 and lies second in the FedEx Cup standings too. In six starts this season, he hasn’t finished outside the top fifteen.

  2. He is not afraid anymore

    When he lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship in 2010 he looked twitchy and nervous. But his hooked wedge to win the Masters in another playoff against Louis Oosthuizen three years ago changed all that. And last year he looked the most composed player in the field.

  3. The course suits a bomber

    Fairways don’t come much wider than at Augusta and no one bombs it quite like Bubba.

  4. The pressure is on Rory McIlroy

    McIlroy comes in on the back of two consecutive major victories and all the eyes will be in the world number one. Meaning there has never been a better time to be world number 2, the defending champion, and in fantastic form in the run up to the first major of the season.

  5. Just look at his current stats

    Bubba is currently 20th in Strokes Gained Putting, and while he isn’t in the top 50 for Greens Hit in Regulation, his scrambling is up there with the best (3rd). Put it all together and it suggests Bubba will be the one to beat again!

Five reasons Bubba won’t win

  1. Winning back-to-back is difficult

    Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus have managed to do so. Bubba hasn’t yet been able to defend any title he has won.

  2. Rory McIlroy is still better

    With his two major wins at the end of last year he proved that he can match up to expectation. His strength is micro-managing his goals, it isn’t soley fixed on catching Tiger’s tally or merely achieving the Grand Slam. First up is equalling Seve Ballesteros’ major haul of 5. He is acutely aware of the power of attainable goal-setting, not the career big picture which tends to sort itself out in the end.

  3. Competition is tougher than ever

    Jordan Spieth proved it is possible to contend on your first visit. Then there is Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker all winners already and seeking their first major. Add in Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and McIlroy and the possible win list is as big as ever.

  4. His putting is still suspect

    While his current stats suggest a successful putting stroke, he hasn’t featured in the top 100 putting stats at year end since 2009, which indicates either a massively improved stroke, or he’s imminently due less success on the greens.

  5. Surely it’s time Lee Westwood won

    Former world number one, winner of 41 professional wins, 17 top tens in majors and no worse than T11 in his last five starts at Augusta, forget Bubba Watson, isn’t it time Lee Westwood won?

I write this as Padraig Harrington finishes up the Honda Classic with a 70 to record his first win on tour since the 2008 PGA Championship and his first top ten since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Strong winds and tough conditions for the first two days meant Harrington was reminded of how he won a second Open Championship in 2008 at a blustery Royal Birkdale.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long

After this triumph, on a sponsor’s invite, at PGA National, perhaps winning another major might not be out of the question. Up until his recent Indonesian Open win (read our previous blog post “The week John Daly and Padraig Harrington won”), he hadn’t looked like winning anything, let alone a major championship in over six years.

Yet last year’s victory on the Asian Tour has prompted a re-evaluation of the Irishman’s future, by both himself and coach Bob Rotella. A re-evaluation that culminated in a rare victory on the PGA Tour.

According to Rotella Padraig is taking more time off, spending less time on the practice range and more in his Range Rover.

His win at the Honda Classic might well be the biggest thing to happen on Tour all year.

Padraig is the original tinkerer, like a golfing Tinkerbell he never seems to keep still for long, constantly flitting from one swing change to another, twitchy even when holing birdie putts. Which is why, for a three time major winner, who entered the prime of his golfing life in the two years from 2008 to 2009, it cannot be comfortable hovering around number 300 in the OWGR.

At 43, he looks as strong and powerful as Vijay Singh ever was in his winning forties. And unlike a similar-aged Phil Mickelson, he still feels he has something left to prove.

And prove he had to, his PGA Tour exemption ran out last year following his winning 2008 season and he decided on reliance of sponsor invites alone to get it back.

Putting aside (although his back nine reminded us just how deadly it used to be), Padraig’s iron play is as good as ever and he doesn’t lack for distance off the tee either, averaging over 290 so far this season. In fact he’s actually started to hit it longer says Rotella.

On the final day at PGA National, something finally sparked for Padraig, who had been treading water and slowly working himself out of contention. Four birdies in a row from the 11th put him top of the leaderboard – with a little assistance from Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter.

The philosophical smirk returned and Padraig officially announced his return to the top flight.

Now that he’s managed to do it once, it remains to be seen if he can sustain it for the rest of the year, perhaps challenge once again and who knows, win another major?

He now knows he’ll be in The Masters Tournamant come April, the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the Open at St Andrews and the PGA Championship in August.

Of anyone in world golf, Padraig recognises the virtue of self belief. He knows that many in the game will view his second Honda Classic victory as a fluke, a flash in the pan, a one off, an historical blip in golfing results – like Tom Watson’s Indian Summer at Turnberry in 2009.

Of anyone Padraig knows the value of perseverance, he’s won on a tough track in Palm Beach and he’ll gain enormous confidence from it. His mental outlook will require him to prove himself further, and who knows, another major may fall into his lap because of it.

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

In a recent much publicized poll carried out by Sports Illustrated, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter tied as the most overrated golfers in the game. Being ‘overrated’, however, is a contentious term, it has much to do with player hype, media coverage and perceived lack of (major) wins in relation to actual, or assumed talent. We delve further to bring you our most overrated.

For those of you interested Fowler and Poulter both polled 24% each in an anonymous player poll on who they thought is the most overrated player in the game. Interestingly, few, if any, golfers have come forward to admit participating in said poll. Certainly Fowler hadn’t according to his tweet on Friday…

@RickieFowlerPGA

@IanJamesPoulter too bad we had to tie at 24%…wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title…I’d vote for you

Fowler finished regulation play in The Players last weekend with three birdies and an eagle in his final four holes to post 12-under. It was a score matched by Sergio Garcia (also overrated?) and Kevin Kisner (underrated?). Fowler win the resulting playoff in similar style, completing his sixth birdie of the week on the 17th, the mast famous par three in golf, to claim the The Players title (and his first unofficial major) and put to bed any further accusations of overratedness.

There are others though that have not.

Anonymous polls are worth about as much as the opinion of those offering the anonymous information, especially considering that Bubba Watson was voted the third most overrated player AND the third most underrated too.

Putting Fowler and Poulter aside, it’s an interesting proposition. Who really are some of the most overrated golfers in the game? We offer some well known talents that, putting it politely, haven’t quite reached the standards expected…

  1. Charl Schwartzel has a distinct lack of success outside his home country of South Africa. While we can all accept American golfers for their absent overseas ambitions, the same cannot be said for those globe-trotting non-Americans. (Accordingly, Poulter is a prime example, 12 European wins, only one on American soil = overrated). Schwartzel also has 12 professional wins, 7 of which were in his home country. He has never won a WGC and hasn’t really competed well enough on Tour or in the majors. However his stunning finish at t