Perez prevails as desert bites back
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Pat Perez won for the first time in 198 career starts.
2Ryo Ishikawa. Loyal readers of the W18 have already been keyed in to the exploits of the most promising Japanese import since Nintendo. The rest of you will find out soon enough.It was announced this week that the teen sensation has received a special invitation to compete in this year's Masters -- and not as part of Augusta National's policy that allows young people through the gates free of charge. At 17 years, 6 months and 23 days when the opening round begins April 9, Ishikawa will become the second-youngest player to compete in the tournament, bested only by amateur Tommy Jacobs in 1952. Though Ryo (pronounced RO) has yet to play in a professional event in the U.S., he'll have plenty of opportunities before reaching Magnolia Lane in three months. In the past week alone, he also received sponsors' exemptions to compete in the Northern Trust Open, the Transitions Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Add in the fact that Ishikawa, ranked 63rd in the world, is also currently qualified for the WGC-Accenture Match Play event in February (if he can creep into the top 50, he would also qualify for the field at the WGC-CA Championship at Doral) and we should be seeing an awful lot of the kid in coming months. How good is he? Well, only time will tell, but last year Ishikawa finished fifth on the Japan Golf Tour final money list, winning a pair of titles on that circuit. Even more amazingly, those weren't his first two victories; he claimed the 2007 Munsingwear Open KSB Cup at the age of 15 years, 8 months. While the Japan-based tour may not have a history of producing world-class golfers, it can at least boast a higher proficiency in the nickname department. (Let's face it: Referring to fan favorites Phil Mickelson and John Daly as "Lefty" and "Long John" isn't exactly going to win any creativity contests.) That goes for Ishikawa, too, who is called "Hanikami Oji" in his homeland; roughly translated, it means "Bashful Prince." The prince won't be the only potential contender to the throne at the Masters. Anthony Kim? Hunter Mahan? Those guys are old news, already in their mid-20s. Instead, Ishikawa will be joined by fellow teens Rory McIlroy and Danny Lee, forming a triumvirate that could serve as the future of golf leading into the next three decades and beyond.
Could it be the hat? Alvaro Quiros, left, won this week on the European Tour while former wide-brimmed hat wearer Briny Baird fell short on the PGA Tour.
4 Wide-brimmed hats. Count Briny Baird among the best players on the PGA Tour without a career victory -- and I think I may know why.For years, Baird wore a Greg Norman-style hat and appeared to be closing in on that elusive title. He has now forsaken such headwear and can't seem to come any closer, the latest attempt being a T-42 finish at the Bob Hope after opening with a promising pair of 63s. Meanwhile, Alvaro Quiros was sporting one of those broad-brimmed bad boys at the European Tour's Qatar Masters and parlayed that decision into a three-stroke victory. Coincidence? Perhaps, but the big-hitting Quiros did receive plenty of aid from the golf gods this week. On Friday, he pulled his second shot on the par-5 final hole into some rocks, but saw the ball carom back into the fairway and from there got up-and-down for birdie. The next day, he hit a drive on No. 9 into a tree -- literally. Quiros was granted relief and later saved par. Not to bury the lede, but the victory vaults the 26-year-old Spaniard from 74th in the Official World Golf Ranking into the top 30, all but guaranteeing him a spot in this year's Masters field. Somewhere, Greg Norman is smiling.
5 Adam Scott. Hey, that run of his couldn't have lasted forever, right? I mean, first he spent a week frolicking in Maui with Kate Hudson, then he followed by finishing with a share of second place at the Sony Open.If good things really do happen in threes, I would have half-expected Scott to win the Powerball lottery during a brief layover to refuel the private jet en route to his next event. Instead, neither of those things happened. Scott flew commercial, and the Aussie's clubs were lost somewhere between Hawaii and Qatar -- a distance of only, oh, 8,674 miles, give or take. Though the clubs were retrieved, Scott played like a man who was still trying to get reacquainted with them after a few days of alone time. Seeking the career hat trick in Qatar -- he won in each of his previous two appearances -- the Aussie shot 73-70 to make the cut by a stroke before following with a strong 70-67 on the weekend for a backdoor T-21 result. Hmmm ... maybe being Adam Scott isn't so bad after all. Camilo Villegas by declaring his status as an affiliate member of the European Tour prior to the event. He will need to play 11 more tourneys in order to qualify for the inaugural Race to Dubai this autumn.
7 Daniel Chopra. A few weeks ago during a conference call in advance of his first stint as host of the Bob Hope Classic, I asked Arnold Palmer to name the young players on tour who have impressed him as of late. He rattled off a list of names, both young and old, that sounded like a recitation of a who's who in the game today -- Tiger Woods, Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, Adam Scott, Trevor Immelman, Anthony Kim and Steve Stricker -- before ultimately landing on one guy who isn't considered a superstar."I've watched Daniel Chopra," Palmer said, "who has won a couple events and certainly looks outstanding to me as an upcoming golfer." It's hardly a coincidence that Arnie picked the man who's an Orlando resident via Sweden and India. Chopra plays out of Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge and has often spoken about the positive influence The King has had on his career. Chopra hasn't exactly emulated Palmer in the early part of the season, though. After winning last year's season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship, then undergoing major swing changes that resulted in no other top-10 finishes in 26 more starts, Chopra defended his title by finishing T-27 in the 33-man field at Kapalua, then missed the cut at the Sony Open and was one of only eight players to finish his four rounds over 3-under-par or worse at the Hope this week. Wish I could say there's a light at the end of the tunnel for Chopra, because he really is a better player than he has shown since last year's victory, but 12-plus months without a top-10 result is too much of a trend to ignore.
8 I wish we could find out the identity of Deep Throat in the European Ryder Cup captain scandal. And yes, "scandal" is the right word for the situation on the other side of the pond.Just a few weeks ago, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sandy Lyle were considered the odds-on favorites to land the role. But a heated meeting of the search committee led to the emergence of Colin Montgomerie as a leading candidate. In itself, such news may not be considered overly scandalous, but it appears someone may have leaked this information to the betting parlors, tipping them off as to Monty's newfound candidacy -- which immediately lowered his odds from that of a 50-1 long shot to even-money favorite. If you want to take the conspiracy theory one step further, consider the fact that it's not out of the realm of possibility that someone in attendance at the committee meeting sensed the growing sentiment for Monty, then placed a large wager on the man who will likely be the next captain. As far as conspiracy theories go, there could definitely be some validity behind this one. In fact, European Tour officials are taking this so seriously that they've already launched an investigation into how and why the oddsmakers knew such inside information so quickly. We'll find out who Europe's next captain will be on Wednesday, but just to ensure there was even more intrigue in the final days before the decision, Olazabal recently revamped his stance on the position, saying through his agent that he would take the captaincy if offered, rather than preferring to try to play his way onto the team in 2010. As mentioned last week, I still wouldn't be surprised if there was a dual announcement -- much like when Ian Woosnam and Nick Faldo were named consecutive captains four years ago -- in which Monty was given the job for '10 and Ollie was immediately placed in the role for two years later.
9 I wish, just once, that I could hit the ball like Gary Woodland. That's right -- Gary Woodland.Just as hip NBA fans would prefer to soar to the rim like Trevor Ariza than his more popular teammate Kobe Bryant based on dunking prowess alone, if I could transport my body into someone else's for one whack at a tee shot, I just might take Woodland over any of his more accomplished peers. So far, the PGA Tour rookie's numbers are dizzying. No, I'm not talking about tournament results -- he missed the cut in each of his first two career starts -- but his swing stats. The average PGA Tour pro owns a swing speed of 112 mph; Woodland was recently clocked by Golf Channel at 124 mph. The average ball speed is 165 mph; Woodland comes in at 184 mph. Think about that: After impact, this kid's ball is traveling faster than a souped-up Ducati at top speed. How do those numbers translate into results? It's all in the carry. The average tour player flies his ball 268 yards in the air. Woodland routinely clears three bills. Now, I'll admit that I'm not sure where these stats stack up against the usual suspects in the distance debate -- i.e., Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes -- but it certainly puts Woodland in the conversation. And in your conversation at the 19th hole about one player whose swing you'd like to emulate just once, let the other guys take Tiger, Phil or the Big Easy. Tell 'em you're going with Woodland.
10 I wish for nothing but undiminished success to those vendors who are peddling their wares at this week's upcoming PGA Show in Orlando, Fla. In my heart, though, I can't help but wonder: If the big-time manufacturers are struggling in the current economic downturn, how are the little guys supposed to survive?It's been a few years since I last attended the show, but it's a veritable cornucopia of everything golf. Think of it as a pro shop meets flea market with salesmen tucked into every nook and cranny of the convention center, hoping the next person who passes by will prove to be a fruitful business partner. Never before have I seen more similarly purposed products being proffered in the same place; from swing trainers to golf tees to head covers, there are probably two dozen potential profiteers for every one of those items that a casual golfer would actually need. Though I haven't heard official booth numbers for this year's edition, I can imagine the current economic climate would discourage all but those mom-and-pop vendors who have the utmost confidence in their products. Perhaps it will force them to sell in more creative ways, perhaps it will keep them from selling at all. Whatever the case, here's guessing there will be fewer smiles than usual when the show concludes this weekend.
More birdies equates to more excitement.It's a notion that permeated the rhetoric of dissatisfied fans regarding the U.S. Open in the early part of this decade and transcended to the Masters in recent years: "If I wanted to watch golfers struggle," these folks contend, "I would videotape myself." Believe me, I understand the theory behind rooting for birdies to win holes as opposed to pars -- especially at Augusta National, where cheers have given way to groans on the hallowed grounds. But anyone who thinks the above statement is a fact needed only witness another five rounds of the annual Bob Hope birdie-fest -- OK, maybe just the first four -- to know this statement was unjustified and misappropriated. Don't get me wrong; in its current state, the Hope provides a much-needed early-season confidence boost to those still attempting to shake off the cobwebs. There are rumors that the tourney could undergo some major changes next season or even be erased from the schedule altogether, which would be a shame for those who treat it as spring training. When he was a tour regular, Joey Sindelar used to tell me that after a long winter in Horseheads, N.Y., he enjoyed playing the Hope because it guaranteed four tee times, no matter how poorly he was playing. Plenty of other players used the event in similar fashion this week. Of course, you wouldn't know about the rust just from checking out the leaderboard. Pat Perez won the tournament at 33 under par and 52 others were 20 under or better, meaning a scoring average of at least 68 for the five days. As much of a roller coaster as it turned out to be, I don't think anyone would confuse the uncommonly low numbers in the desert for the most exciting tournament of the year. Instead, there obviously needs to be a better balance of tough conditions with the opportunity to score well. Personally, I've always been a fan of the R&A's Open Championship setups, in which courses are tough but fair, with weather conditions being the overall determining factor of scoring. In fact, you could even make the same case about the Hope, which played easy under benign conditions and stiffened when the wind blew. There were hundreds of birdies posted in the desert this week, which is fun every once in a while. But the Bob Hope Classic once again proved that more red numbers don't necessarily mean more drama and excitement. In other words, the next time you speak of how majors should allow for many more birdies, bite your tongue and consider this past week's event. As for me, I consider the above statement to be FICTION.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.
A: I think if I shot 71 and shook my head and pretended to be nonchalant about it, I was kidding, because I was probably elated. Any time I can shoot under par, that's one of those days that I celebrate. Q: We've all heard about how athletes want to be musicians and musicians want to be athletes ...
A: Well, I think there's some connection between music and golf. Almost all of the musicians I know were one-time addicts of some sort -- either alcohol or something else -- and they end up playing golf because it's so addictive. It has that addictive quality to it. I mean, you go out there and hit 20 bad shots just to hit one good one. It's the only game in the world where a guy in a rock band would be up 'til 3 a.m. partying and still get up at 6 to play golf. It's true, isn't it? Q: Absolutely. Are there are a lot of other rockers who play golf?
A: Yeah, more and more guys are starting to play because when you're touring to so many different cities and you're sitting somewhere in Wichita on a Friday morning and there's nothing to do, believe me -- golf is like a godsend. You know, it's something to really look forward to that day. You're going to play a show that night, but what are you going to do the rest of the day? Q: Is that how you got into the sport?
A: Well, I got into it because I was battling alcoholism. When I came out of the hospital, I quit drinking and I immediately took up golf because I knew I really had to be busy all day and not sitting around, thinking about drinking. Q: If you could go back in time, would you trade your career in music for a life on the PGA Tour?
A: You know what? I wouldn't. The only reason I say that is because as great as golf is, it's not as creative as writing lyrics and music and doing it on stage. There's so much more creativity and so much more art to it. Now, I look at what Tiger does as art. And I look at some of these guys, when I see how they can control that ball, they're artists at what they do. But I honestly think that I'm a musician first and a golfer second. Q: I'm sure you've heard John Daly sing and play guitar before, maybe some other guys on Tour, too. Anyone out there who you think could actually make the transition from golf to music?
A: It's probably easier for a golfer to be a musician than a musician to be a golfer. I mean, there are only, what, 150 guys in the world that ever make a living at golf? So look at the percentages of that against musicians. I know a lot of guys who are pretty good guitar players and can sing and can play drums that are great golfers, but I don't know of very many musicians who could get out there and make money in the golf world. Q: Not too long ago, Golf Digest released a list of their top entertainers in golf. Do you know exactly where you ranked?
A: I think I was No. 10 or 11. [He was 11th.] Q: I figured you might have an idea. Is that something that is a source of pride for you?
A: Yeah, well, I probably play more than anybody. I play six days a week and shoot consistently right around 77 or 78, you know, 5 or 6 handicap. Every once in a while, I make a lot of putts and I'll shoot an even-par round or something. Q: Who are some of your favorite PGA Tour pros to tee it up with?
A: I've never met a pro that I didn't like. It's interesting: The guys get out here and they're professionals, but they can have fun, too. Some of the guys that you would think are not funny -- like Justin Leonard or Davis Love -- are actually very funny guys. ... Rocco [Mediate] is a good friend of mine, Aaron Baddeley, I play a lot with [Sergio] Garcia. We amateurs can watch their games and just be in awe of what they do. I mean, those guys can get up and down from everywhere, they hit the ball so well. It's not the same game we play. Q: If you could trade any part of your game for any part of one of their games, what would it be?
A: Well, a long time ago Johnny Miller took my swing and made it a very simple swing. I very rarely miss a fairway. I hit the ball very, very straight. The best part of my game is probably the fact that we're never looking for my ball. It's usually right down the middle [laughs]. Q: So would you rather have the ability to hit it 50 yards longer or the ability to make more 10-footers?
A: You know what? I would much rather make putts, only because of the fact that length doesn't really mean anything. What's the difference if you're hitting a 4-iron or a 5-iron? If you can hit it, you can hit it. Putting, though, is such a precise art. Some of these guys just amaze me at how good they are at reading putts. I don't think anybody gives credit to Tiger for what a great reader of putts that he is. That's maybe his greatest strength. Q: Speaking of qualities, is there something physical, something tangible that you can take from being a musician that makes you a better golfer?
A: Well, yeah. Honestly, I think rhythm. I get a song in my head and I try to get a song that's a mid-tempo song that I'm going to keep in my head. You don't want anything fast; you don't want anything slow. You want a mid-tempo song that you keep in your head and that will definitely affect the rhythm of your swing. Q: Interesting. Give me a good mid-tempo song that I should have in my head the next time I tee it up.
A: I always get something like a commercial. I get some really horrible, stupid commercial in my head [laughs]. Pick any Burt Bacharach song, then you'll have a great rhythm. Q: Come on, man! You're one of the kings of rock and you're going to give me Burt Bacharach?
A: Well, the last thing I'm going to do is get a Sex Pistols song in my head [laughs]. Find something that is real mid-tempo. A nice Beatles song that's right in the middle of the road. Q: OK, I can handle the Beatles. That's a little better.
A: The Beatles and Burt Bacharach are very similar when you look at how many hits they wrote! Q: I've always wanted to ask you this, even though you might get mad at me: A lot of guys, when they leave a putt short, might say, "Nice putt, Alice." Do you take offense to that?
A: That one, and "Hit the ball, Alice." I always wonder if I've heard "Hit the ball, Alice" or "We're not worthy" more.
FIVEThat was the winning margin for Catriona Matthew, who shot 69-69 to take the inaugural HSBC LPGA Brazil Cup over runner-up Kristy McPherson. But the number had much greater significance for Matthew. The 39-year-old longtime pro is also five months pregnant with her second child, a baby girl. "When you've played well, you don't feel tired," she said. "Maybe tomorrow I will feel it a bit." Matthew will reportedly play one more tournament before taking a leave of absence from the tour. And since I'm on the whole circle-of-life topic (and had nowhere else to include this info in the column), it's worth mentioning here in "Stat of the Week" that Gary Player shot rounds of 70-71-71 at the Champions Tour's Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, breaking his age of 73 each day -- something he accomplished only twice in 17 total rounds last season. Want more stats? Try the Golf Stats Blog.