Aussies represent golf's hottest country
CARLSBAD, Calif. -- And so the Wet Coast, uh, West Coast swing finally came to an end on Sunday.
As the skies rained in California, some of the tour's top players reigned.
David Toms' convincing victory over Chris DiMarco in the finals of the Accenture Match Play Championship signified the seventh different winner this season in the stronger-field events ... and the seventh top-20 player to grab a title.
Two of those champions are from Down Under, which is where the Weekly 18 begins.
For the fourth straight year, the Match Play final included two Americans.
Of course, that doesn't mean other countries weren't well-represented at La Costa; England's Ian Poulter reached the semifinals, as did South Africa's Retief Goosen, and a large group of Australians made plenty of noise.
In all, there were 10 Aussies in the field. Six of them won their opening-round matches and three made it to the Elite Eight. That trio includes Robert Allenby, who finally looks like he's back from an early-season slump; Nick O'Hern, who impressively beat Charles Howell, Tiger Woods and Luke Donald; and Adam Scott, who is the brightest young star in the game.
"I think it just shows the strength of Australian golf at the moment," Scott said. "And I think everyone back home should probably take notice a little bit more of that because the guys back home give us a pretty hard time about golf in Australia and the tour. But I think we're probably the strongest golfing nation in the world."
Those are strong words, but Scott may not be entirely accurate ... yet. After all, the U.S. has Woods, Phil Mickelson, and seven other top-20 players in the World Ranking; Australia (with Scott and Stuart Appleby) is tied with Spain (Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez) and South Africa (Ernie Els and Retief Goosen) for second place in that category, with two players each.
Expect the Match Play to receive a facelift sometime in the next few years, both in format and location. As for the latter, players were openly critical of La Costa throughout the week, some calling it the worst course on tour. The format seems to have runs its course, too. There are only a few 36-hole Sunday matches that would generate much interest from the general public and the Woods/Vijay Singh, Woods/Mickelson, Singh/Mickelson final pairings just don't seem to be happening. Look for a revision to spice up this event in two or three years.
DiMarco was the only U.S. player to have a winning record in last year's Ryder Cup, so it's appropriate that he won the Bobby Jones bracket, otherwise known as the American bracket. The field of 16 featured 12 Americans, all of whom are hopefuls for the '06 Ryder Cup squad, including captain Tom Lehman.
There was a passing of the torch at the Match Play -- and no, it wasn't Woods passing the title of Best Match Play Competitor to O'Hern or Toms. We're speaking of the race to become the No. 3 American golfer, after Woods and Mickelson. While some consideration could be given to Toms and DiMarco, we think Stewart Cink's third-round win over Davis Love III gives him this honor. Cink has certainly been more effective over the past 12 months, winning two events compared to zero for Love.
O'Hern made a nice run at the Match Play, defeating Howell, Woods and Donald on his way to the quarterfinals, but how does he rank among the world's top lefties? Well, Mickelson is pretty obviously No. 1 in that category and Mike Weir is next, but O'Hern could be giving Steve Flesch a run for his money. Though Flesch is more well-known to American fans, he was 44th in the world entering the Match Play, compared with O'Hern's rank of 32. The other lefty in the field -- a guy we like a lot -- was Richard Green, who's ranked 52nd in the world.
Perhaps the most impressive performance of the week didn't even occur on the course. Shingo Katayama's practice routine includes a series of lefty swings (with a lefty club) that would make Mickelson or Weir proud. Using a fairway wood, Katayama consistently launched the ball far and straight on the driving range.
Allenby is fast becoming one of the more outspoken players on tour, whether talking about a course or his own game. Consider this recent gem: "(La Costa) is probably the worst course we play on tour. I hate it. I've never seen it in good condition. You could move (the tournament) but I don't think that's going to happen, because I think the main sponsor likes it here." And this one, from the Nissan: "I haven't been hitting the ball very well. My short game has been terrible. My putting has been horrendous, and I have been driving the ball pretty bad. And I've been hitting my irons pretty average, too."
You may recall Goosen's first shot in the PGA Tour's second event of the season -- and his second, for that matter. That's because each drive on the first tee of the Sony Open went out of bounds, resulting in Goosen taking a quintuple-bogey 9 for the hole. On Saturday, in his semifinal match against DiMarco, Goosen again saw his driver go awry, hooking his tee shot on the eighth hole. The result? His caddie had to climb a tree in an effort to find the ball, but never did ... and Goosen wound up conceding the hole.
This one comes to us from ESPN's crack research team: For his second-place finish at the Nissan Open, Campbell played 37 holes in 93 hours, the better part of five days. In Friday's second and third rounds of the Match Play, Campbell played 43 holes (defeating Jimenez in 24 holes and losing to Goosen in 19 holes) in 9½ hours. That's roughly 17,326 yards (based on hole lengths and specific holes he played) or the equivalent of 9.8 miles.
There was a familiar face on the practice green at La Costa while the semifinal matches were in progress on Saturday. It was that of Alex Cejka, who was eliminated in the first round by Garcia. While players are welcome to use the facilities for any event after they are eliminated or have missed the cut, they almost never do. But it seems Cejka, who was clad in jeans while hitting some short putts, had some business to take care of in the area after losing his match and was getting in some practice before getting a flight out of town.
With most eyes in the golf world affixed squarely upon the action at La Costa, somehow Michelle Wie's run at her first LPGA title barely made headlines. In case you missed it, Wie shot three consecutive rounds of 70 to finish in a second-place tie with Cristie Kerr, two strokes behind champion Jennifer Rosales. Yes, Wie was playing on her home island of Oahu; and no, Annika Sorenstam wasn't in the field, but second place is second place and this is a huge accomplishment for the 15-year-old high school sophomore. Can she win on tour this year? That remains to be seen, but she does have at least seven more shots at it.
Sure, it's a lesser-field event and an annual birdie-fest, but David Duval's opening round in Tucson shouldn't be taken lightly. Duval shot a 3-under 69, making five birdies and only two bogeys on Thursday. It was Duval's first sub-70 round on tour in 15 rounds, dating back to October's Michelin Championship. He did, however, miss the cut for the fourth time in five starts (he withdrew at the Buick Invitational) with a second-round 75.
Brett Wetterich started on the back nine on Saturday in Tucson and came out firing. Wetterich made seven birdies and a par in his first eight holes, but bogeyed the ninth to make the turn at 29. Things didn't get any better on his back nine, as he made two double-bogeys to finish with a respectable 66.
Fun fact we learned this week while watching the Chrysler Classic: Lucas Glover doesn't wear a glove. Oh well, so much for that marketing opportunity. The second-year tour pro is one of only a handful of players who eschews a glove for all shots.
Peter O'Malley made headlines this week on two sides of the globe. On Friday, when fellow Australian O'Hern defeated Woods, it conjured memories of O'Malley's win against Tiger in the first round of 2002 Match Play -- the last time Woods was beaten in an individual match. As if being a footnote in the O'Hern/Woods match stories wasn't enough, O'Malley -- now the 147th-ranked player in the world -- won the New Zealand PGA Championship this weekend. O'Malley won on the fourth playoff hole against 21-year-old Steven Bowditch, who also won the Nationwide/Australasian Tour's Jacob's Creek Open Championship a week ago.
Fans of the movie Tin Cup (um, that is if there are fans of Tin Cup out there) will be happy to see a familiar name near the top of the European Challenge Tour's money list: McEvoy. OK, so it's spelled differently from Roy McAvoy, the embattled golfer played by Kevin Costner, but 25-year-old Englishman Richard McEvoy is making headlines of his own these days. McEvoy won the Panama Open earlier this year and with top-40 finishes in each of his first four events on the Challenge Tour -- the European equivalent of the Nationwide Tour -- he ranked fourth on the money list entering this week.
"I told him I love playing with him, a lot more than I like playing against him."
-- Mickelson, on what he told Toms after their third-round match
"Losing stinks, but at least I chose the quarterfinals to lose instead of the first round."
-- Cink on the Match Play
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com