2013 Majors – a Look at the US Masters

Well the regular season is well and truly underway and already the proverbial knives are out and being sharpened for Messrs McIlroy and Woods after their poor season debuts. Without much early tour form to base this on, these are my picks for the Golf Majors this year……….hopefully I will be able to tell ye all “I told you so” towards the end of the season with my chosen golfers picking up the Green Jacket, US Open Trophy, The Claret Jug and the Wannamaker Trophy. First up is the Masters at Augusta.

THE MASTERS TOURNAMENT, Augusta National, Thursday 11th – Sunday 14th April

the masters

If there is one golfer that will be motivated to win the Masters and get the Augusta golfing monkey off his back, it is Rory McIlroy. With the memories of the Back 9 collapse of 2011 still fresh in his mind I’m sure he will be chomping at the bit to claim his first Green Jacket, some of my fellow tweeps (collective noun for people that tweet!!) have been adding the hashtag #GreenJacketComingHome in recent times so there is definitely an expectation that Rors may well become the first Irish golfer to claim the Masters and, by virtue of this win, complete an Irish Grand Slam of sorts in the Majors. I would personally love to see the current World No.1 win at Augusta but I’m not sure he will have enough form behind him, and maybe enough confidence in his new clubs by then, to conquer the layout at Augusta National this time around. The ditching of his new Nike putter after only 1 round in Abu Dhabi can’t point to him being happy with this club or his putting for that matter, a bad putter does not win at Augusta but that does not mean Rory is a bad putter but I just do not think it is his time yet at Augusta.

rory augusta

My picks for Augusta, as they have been in recent years, are Luke Donald and Phil Mickelson. No earth shattering choices there I hear you say, well you are right they are not controversial or unexpected but these guys are always there or thereabouts when the final round nears the final 9 holes on Masters Sunday. Phil is quite simply an Augusta expert and few courses have been designed that suit a professional golfer better, he loves to hit a cut off the tee (right-to-left shape for a leftie) and that suits probably 16 holes at Augusta. His golf at the Ryder Cup at Medinah last September in particular was more like the Phil of a few years back and he is also at his best when playing his attacking style of golf, it is great to watch and always entertaining – I’m sure we all remember THAT SHOT on the par-5 13th Hole in the Final Round which led him to victory in 2010, Nick Faldo calling it “the shot of his life” which says it all. Another Augusta top-5 awaits for Phil and few are better in contention on the Back 9 on Sunday at the Masters.

phil mickelson

Luuuuuke is one of the most consistent performers in world golf at the moment and his Masters performances recently have resulted in him getting close but without the cigar so far. He does not make him score on the par-5s  like many potential Masters champions do as he tends to plot his way around the course but I’m sure plenty of us remember Zach Johnson laying up on every par-5 and claiming the Masters back in 2007 on what was one of the longest versions of the Augusta National layout, Luke could well fit the same billing here. Donald has one of the best wedge games in golf and is also lethal around the greens too, and that is what you need around those undulating greens during the Masters. He will be in contention again and if his putter finally works like it should in the final round and particular during the Back 9 on Sunday then I fully expect Donald to live up to expectations and land his first Major title.

luke augusta

That’s my “two cents” on the Masters, might be worth a small few quid/euro/dollars on good auld Tom Watson for first round leader presuming that he will be teeing it up of course which I’m sure he will to keep an eye on potential Ryder Cuppers. I would welcome any comments, feedback and the like and I’m sure everybody has their opinion on who will claim the First Major of 2013.

Another “Major” Golf Tournament on during Masters week is, of course, the Social Media Open (www.facebook.com/SocialMediaOpen, www.twitter.com/SMOpen) which runs from Wednesday 10th to Sunday 14th April at some of the finest courses in Ireland – Mount Juliet, Castlemartyr, Adare & Old Head. Based on the trash talk and banter at present it is likely to be hotly contested. Main contenders, mainly due to their unashamed self-promotion, include Ross & David Starkey; Maurice Ryan & John Kelly; James English & Kieran Aherne and Kevin Connolly & his playing partner Ryan. Other teams, who have remained quiet(ish) compared to other more outspoken competitors include Tony Regazolli & Tom Kennedy, Allan Farrelly & Glen Holmes and John Deasy & AN Other.  There are 3 teams who all entered together from Dublin, spearheaded by Fergus McGrath and Denis Murphy, who could be dark horses while a few local Cork teams cannot be discounted especially due to the unfamiliarity of most of the other teams with the “People’s Republic” and, most importantly, pints of Murphy’s,  Kinsale Lager and the White Lady Night Club on a Saturday night!

white lady     old head4

It promises to be a great week’s golf but I think the Masters Tournament could be slightly more straightforward to predict than the Social Media Open, only time will tell.

Tom Watson takes the Call to Captain Team USA

I have said it a few times that when I grow up I want to be like Tom Watson, and especially play half as well as he does when I’m in my 60s. That. at the moment, is neither here nor there!

A true gentleman of the game, Tom Watson, will resume Ryder Cup Captaincy duty 21 years on from the Belfry in 1993 when he last held the mantle of US Team Captain. This was also the last time America won on European soil so maybe the PGA of America are hoping with Watson’s appointment it may well help them right that statistic at Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2014.

tom watson

This is a fairly unusual departure from PGA of America as Tom will become the first Captain since Jack Nicklaus in 1987 to captain Team USA twice. Some see this as a desperate attempt from the US Ryder Cup officials to get the Ryder Cup back while others see it as an inspired choice, bringing one of the game’s true greats back into the Ryder Cup fold. The final result in Gleneagles of course will be the only proof as to whether their choice was the correct one or not. I have no doubt Watson will be a fantastic captain for the American team, in terms of the humility with which he operates and how he will uphold the traditions of the game of golf, but he will, of course, be ultimately judged on the whether he takes the Ryder Cup back with him on the flight leaving Scotland on Monday 29th September 2014. It seems when you are a losing Captain you are immediately branded a bad Captain while a winning Captain is a great Captain, very fine margins especially when 1 point has separated the teams on numerous occasions over the past 20 years but that is how Ryder Cup captains are so often judged.

tom watson2

Some critics may point to Watson’s age, 63 now and 65 by the time the 2014 Ryder Cup is played, as being a drawback based on his supposed lack of connection with the current Tour Players but Tom is very active on tour still and could, and probably should, have won the 2010 Open Championship had it not be for a cruel bounce with his approach shot to the 72nd Green that Sunday afternoon, subsequent bogey and play-off to Stewart Cink. Others point to his poor relationship with Tiger Woods (he just can’t stay out of the headlines even when the stories are not about him!) but Watson was quick to pour cold water on the rumours of a rift between them stating Tiger would be his first choice as a Wild Card should be not make the team. Having Woods in the team hasn’t exactly been great for the US, their only victory with him as part of Team USA being in 1999 at Brookline (his missed their 2008 win due to injury) so I don’t think the Europeans would mind if he made the team or was picked….got a little off topic there for a sentence or so!

Tom Watson is extremely well respected and is a good fit as Captain for the American team. I do not think the other candidates really fitted the bill – Fred Couples seems better suited to the more relaxed role of US President’s Cup Captain; Larry Nelson should have been made Captain long before this so really his time had passed and he is not as active anymore on any Tour; David Toms probably has at least 1 more Ryder Cup in him so who’s left?? Bring back Zinger (would be a popular Captain again) or go for somebody with less Ryder Cup experience? The fact is most recent US Ryder Cup teams have a core of the experienced regulars – Tiger, Phil, Jim Furyk and maybe Steve Stricker but their team changes so much from one Match to another with the 2 year gap that a lot of rookies only end up playing 1 Ryder Cup hence there are not that many experienced captaincy candidates when it comes down to it. I think Bubba, Webb and Keegan may be around for a while yet but players like JJ Henry, Vaughn Taylor, Boo Weekley, Anthony Kim and Kenny Perry are examples of guys who had decent Ryder Cup debuts and haven’t played much, or at all, since. When you look at some of the European Ryder Cup Captain possibles it is a much more experienced bunch – Clarke, McGinley, Monty (again?), Bjorn, Lawrie (the Scottish link or maybe too soon?) and even Jimenez (surely a Captain for the future, France 2018?).tom watson3

I think it will be a fantastic Ryder Cup in Scotland, some say it is Tom Watson’s spiritual golfing home although some folk at Ballybunion Golf Club may disagree, and whoever Europe pick as Captain they will have it all to do to beat Team USA with the 5-time Open Champion at the helm. It is a good appointment whatever happens, Tom Watson will ensure his teams plays with heart and passion and also with the integrity that he has played the game for well into his 60s and, at times, to a much better standard than some of his younger counterparts even to this day. It will be interesting who he will pick as his Assistant Captains as he obviously know the elder statesmen on Tour better, will he picking up to phone to Jack & Arnie for one magnificent last hurrah at the top of the golfing world?? Now that would be something!

tom jack arnie

Mental note, must check flights and hotel accommodation for September 2014 around Gleneagles!!!