Monday, April 28, 2008

The 19th Hole: A Great Weekend of Golf

No Tiger? No Lorena? That sounds like the recipe for an awful weekend of professional golf. It sounds like there would be little reason to check out golf, what, with the NFL Draft on television. (I watched a lot of it. Why did my team, the Green Bay Packers, pick two QBs? Bromm gets hurt too much, and Matt Flynn? Really? I digress.) It turned out, though, that this was a great weekend for the sport.

First, the Byron Nelson Championship turned out a great playoff duel between two of the young guns in the game. Adam Scott clinched a spot in a playoff with former US Amateur champion Ryan Moore with a birdie putt on the 72nd hole at TPC Las Colinas. The two proceeded to keep the fun going for three holes before Scott sunk a 48 foot birdie putt on their second crack at 18 to win the event. Scott, the highest ranked player in the Nelson field, proved his ranking and his meddle by coming through under difficult conditions.

Then, the LPGA Tour had a clear field for Sunday’s finale of the Stanford International Pro-Am in Miami. The amateur championship was decided on Saturday at the brutal setup of the Turnberry Resort. Players were complaining about the difficulty of the pin placements and the course causing lengthy rounds, some edging over 6 hours. With this being the first LPGA Tour pro-am since one at Doral in 2001, the ladies were not particularly accustomed to the patience required in the format in a competitive setting.

Still, despite the tough course and the long hours, the second and third best players on the LPGA Tour were destined to be in a sudden death playoff with one another. Paula Creamer and hall of famer Annika Sorenstam – two of the three winners on the Tour not named Lorena Ochoa – had to settle their playoff in extra holes. When Creamer could not manage to get her par putt to the hole at the 18th in the first hole of the playoff, Sorenstam quickly and shockingly took her second event of the season and the 71st event of her career. The win serves notice that Sorenstam is the Tour’s second best player and sets up the question of when Annika can beat Lorena Ochoa head to head.

A feel good story happened much earlier in the day just about a world away from the States. In the European Tour’s BMW Asian Open in Shanghai, Darren Clarke managed to birdie the 72nd hole from 30 feet to capture his first victory since the passing of his wife, Heather, two years ago. The win may serve as a turning point in Clarke’s career and could help navigate him to an appearance in this September’s Ryder Cup.

The Champions Tour also produced a fun story this week. The often unnoticed over 50 circuit drew some attention this weekend for the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. The tournament revamped its format this year after some reduced interest and led to some great team golf. It was over before it began, though, as the team of Tom Watson and ESPN golf analyst Andy North opened with 59 and held on through the week to finish ahead of the pack by a single shot.

All in all, a golf fan had a whole lot of great stories from the weekend. It is nice to see that there can be great golf played when the best players in the world are not in action. While that may not translate into massive television ratings, or a lot of chatter for the sport in the mainstream sports conversations, it is good for the game. It is good because what happened raises important questions that may help guide the rest of the season.

Things to think about include whether or not the victory will propel Adam Scott to larger greatness this season – as in a major championship. Annika is yet to win without Ochoa in the field, but she has won 2 of 3 events with Lorena aucente. It may only be a matter of time before Ochoa gets bested by Sorenstam. Either that, or Annika is going to win ten events herself just on the basis of Ochoa not playing every event.

Other stories are out there from the above paragraphs. It goes to show why golf is great. With so many players and distinctive qualities among them, there are times when they get to shine under the spotlight. Or, rather, when they get out from under the shadows of the giants who dominate the game.

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