Simpson’s maiden triumph sends major message out to the likes of Lee

Webb Simpson’s wonderful final round fightback at the Olmypic Club on Sunday night not only boosted American hopes of a new era of golfing superiority ahead of this year’s Ryder Cup but also sent out a further warning to some of the more elderly members of golf’s elite.

Simpson US Open 2012

Webb Simpson has now capped an impressive past 18 months with a major tournament victory

This latest major trophy victory continued the run of what is now fifteen consecutive different winners of golf’s major competitions and provided further evidence that there are plenty of players on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour  now who are capable of winning and competing in majors.

This run of different major winners highlights just how competitive the top end of golf is at present and though that may provide great excitement and joy for golf fans all over the world it must surely worry the likes of Lee Westwood who managed yet another top 10 finish in a major at the Olympic Club this past weekend but again failed to capitalise on a promising position going into the final day of the tournament.

Having now competed in a total of 57 majors, Westwood  certainly has a great wealth of experience on his side when approaching the

Westwood US Open

Lee Westwood has now competed in 57 majors without success despite several flirtations with glory

showpiece events of the golfing calendar but this week  he showed great heart and great talent in San Fransisco but fell just short once again.

As always it has not been a question of whether Lee Westwood has the ability or the talent to win a major competition this past weekend but rather a case of whether he can land enough putts or get on lady luck’s good side on enough occasions to finally get the major tournament monkey off of his back.

There are certainly some real positives for ‘Westie’ to take out of another four days of being in genuine contention to win a major and it must be of some consolation to him that he once again competed strongly in one of golf’s toughest tests on a golf course so tough that Webb Simpson’s winning score for the competition was just 1 over par. However, moments like

Westwood lost ball US Open

Lee Westwood searches in vain for his lost ball up in the canopy of the trees on the 5th hole at the Olympic Club

when he smashed his tee shot into the trees on the fifth only to never see the ball again as it got stuck in the canopy must surely damage his self-confidence, which up until now he has maintained so adamantly and so stubbornly throughout his career. This drive on the 5th hole when his score stood at 2 over par, just one shot back from the eventual winning score, was yet another ‘what if’ moment for Lee in a career which has been full to the brim with such near misses and frustrations.

However, as much as many golf fans would love to see Westwood win a major after years and years of near misses it would be hard to argue that Webb Simpson wasn’t deserving of his triumph.

Having stuck in there throughout the first three days of the competition and having reached a tournament score of three over par thru three rounds, Simpson remained confident that a hard-earned under par round would put him in the mix having started the final round 4 shots back from Jim Furyk’s tournament lead and ultimately it did so and more.

If he had been asked honestly at the beginning of the final day’s play if he thought a round of 70 would win him the tournament outright he would have been forgiven for saying that it wouldn’t quite be enough but Simpson demonstrated tremendous self belief and did exactly what he needed to in order to win the tournament.

He got round in a couple of shots under par and posted a testing clubhouse lead, which added significant pressure to the final couple of holes of front-runners Graeme McDowell’s and Jim Furyk’s rounds, and on Furyk in particular the pressure told. A wayward drive on 16 cost Furyk his lead of the championship and handed the initiative to Simpson, who of course had no time left for mistakes having safely navigated his way into the clubhouse.

McDowell and Furyk

McDowell and Furyk both fought valiantly over the four days at Olympic Club but to little avail

In a way it was no surprise that Simpson managed to win his first major this past weekend in spite of him having to face-off with the likes of former US Open winners McDowell and Furyk and Lee Westwood who has competed at the business end of such tournaments on numerous occasions, as Webb Simpson has had a fine past year and a half and very much comes under the category of ‘bright, young things’ in American golf.

It wasn’t that long ago after all that Simpson went into the last PGA Tour event of last year locked in a straight shoot-out with world number one Luke Donald for the right to end the year at the top of the money list. He may have lost out in this first major face-off of his PGA Tour career but he will have learnt from this disappointment and the two ‘big’ tournament victories and the wealth of top 10 finishes he had achieved to put himself in the position where he could have topped the money list will have given him an enormous boost so early in his career.

So, as much as it would have been lovely to be sitting here reflecting on a third straight Northern Irish victory of the US Open or upon Westwood’s first ever major tournament success after more than a decade of close calls, it is important that Webb Simpson’s victory is not forgotten amidst British disappointment and that he is rightly congratulated for his success as he deserved to win the tournament having produced two wonderful rounds of golf over the weekend.

Simpson’s victory was the product of experience, form and self belief and it sends out a harsh reminder to the likes of Westwood and indeed someone like Tiger Woods that there are now a lot of very talented and mentally capable golfers coming to the fore (no pun intended), and indeed it sends out a reminder to the European team that the US will have a team full of quality and full of success stories come the Ryder Cup later this year.

Advertisements

The Masters 2012: Who can produce their Sunday Best?

With just a day to go at ‘The National’ the Green Jacket is still well up for grabs as ‘Moving Day’ in Augusta more than lived up to it’s infamous billing.

Peter Hanson and ‘Big Phil” came storming through the field after starting the day three back on just 2 under, Louis Oosthuizen played beautifully en route to fine round in the sixties and Hunter Mahan and Matt Kuchar were amongst those that came out of anonymity on the first couple of days to find a decent launch-pad for Sunday glory. The likes of Bubba Watson and Henrik Stenson too played themselves right into the thick of things with further examples of why they are two of the best players to watch in world golf.

On the other hand though, the likes of Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy shared a totally miserable day in what most would have expected to be the best pairing to watch on the course. Others who endured a miserable day included Justin Rose who at one point had looked like being the story of the day when he shot himself up into the top three but coming home he made error after error and ended back on level for his round and for the tournament. Golden Oldie, Freddie Couples, too had a miserable day out there playing himself out of contention after starting the third round right on top of the leader board and another notable failure on ‘Moving Day’ was World Number One Luke Donald who had a shocker leaving himself way, way adrift at 7 over par for the tournament.

Many of the field made significant moves on Saturday whether it was up or down the leader board, so many in fact that it would be take a lifetime to mention them all but I have taken a look at the board going into the final round and picked out a few of who I think will be the main contenders.

Peter Hanson:

World Number 25 going into the Masters and with a best finish at Augusta of tied 64th who would have thought that the Swede would lead going into the final round?

Peter Hanson Masters

Well, if you did, and you wagered a couple of quid on him then hats off to you as I imagine his odds were pretty decent. It says something about the surprise nature of his challenge that I hadn’t even registered his pre-tournament odds but he is at the top and after shooting a superb round of 65 is amongst the favourites now to win.

If you’re capable of shooting a 65 on ‘Moving Day’ at Augusta then you’re capable of winning The Masters, all Hanson has to do is keep calm and carry on.

Score: -9     Position: 1st     Likelihood of winning The Masters: 8/10

Phil Mickelson:

‘Lefty’ had yet another day to remember on Saturday and like Hanson came out of nowhere, he was three back at the start of the day on 2 under and stormed his way round in just 66 blows seeing him shoot through to 8 under for the tournament.

Mickelson Masters 2012

Other than the one shot difference in their rounds and the one shot difference between their overall scores for the tournament, one of very few differences between Phil’s round and Hanson’s round was that no one was surprised by Mickelson.

He has such an aura around him when he starts to pick up a couple of shots around Augusta and arguably only Woods can rival him for his ability to build momentum over the weekend in Georgia. Phil has put himself in position and now all he needs to do is convert.

Score: -8     Position: 2nd     Likelihood of winning The Masters: 9/10

Louis Oosthuizen:

Saturday was further evidence of why Louis Oosthuizen is already a major winner and why he could go on to win a few more.

Oosthuizen Masters 2012

His beautifully balanced swing was used to it’s full effect right the way through his third round and a score in the sixties has seen him going into Sunday as one of the standout favourites. If he shoots a similar score on Sunday then I can’t see many going with him.

Score: -7     Position: 3rd     Likelihood of winning The Masters: 8/10

Bubba Watson:

You could watch mad-cap Bubba play all day long couldn’t you?

Bubba Watson Masters 2012

The man with arguably the most rubber-like wrists and digits on tour once again lit up Augusta with one of the quirkiest ‘solid’ rounds of 70 you’re ever likely to see. This useful Saturday score has thrust him to 6 under for the tournament and with the way he plays it could easily end in ecstasy or in misery for Bubba come midnight-ish on Sunday. Whether he charges right into contention or whether he bombs it is sure to be a great round to watch and I have a sneaking suspicion that he could be the man to come from behind and push the current leaders right to their limits.

Score: -6     Position: 4th     Likelihood of winning The Masters: 6/10

Lee Westwood:

Saturday may well have been one of Lee Westwood’s most frustrating days at Augusta.

Westwood Masters 2012

He may not have played himself right out of contention but boy did he try. For every birdie and every moment of positivity there was a slack chip shot and shocking short range miss with the short stick. He may not have managed to build any momentum but he did manage to get himself round and leave himself in OK shape going into Sunday. Those who have watched a fair amount of Westwood throughout his career both in majors and outside of majors know that he is more capable than most of going really low and it is simply a case of whether he can get some putts to drop.

Score: -4     Position: Tied 6th     Likelihood of winning The Masters: 4/10

Hunter Mahan: 

One of the best rounds of Saturday was Hunter Mahan’s sweet 68.

Hunter Mahan Masters 2012

This round saw the in-form American rise from mid-leader board mediocrity and up into the glare of a Sunday evening charge for the Green Jacket. His metronomic putting and recent tournament successes will hold him in very good stead as he tries to make up the five shot deficit between him and Hanson who leads the way and I think he is one of the most likely to break from the chasing pack  and  to post a decent clubhouse lead at some stage on Sunday.

Score: -4     Position: Tied 6th     Likelihood of winning the Masters: 4/10

Others to keep an eye on…

Matt Kuchar: 5th (-5). He has the steadiness of swing and of mind to put himself in contention but I think he’ll slump a little on Sunday.

Padraig Harrington: Tied 6th (-4). A wonderful back nine in round three has put the three-time major winner in amongst the chasing pack but I don’t think he’ll make a serious charge.

Henrik Stenson: Tied 6th (-4). Another entertaining round from Stenson saw him bag his best score of the tournament so far and he is one of those players that can rip a course to shreds when he is bang in form. For a player of his considerable talents he has been struggling along for far too long now and it would be great if he could get himself in the mix.

Ian Poulter and Nick Watney: Tied 11th (-2). Both Watney and Poulter are capable of scoring a hat full of birdies when they find their best form and if either of them can steer clear of any concentration lapses then I think they could post something like a 67 which could put them up there in the top few places when the heat is on tomorrow. For me, Poulter in particular is one of the players stuck seven or eight back who could get round in a low score and post a challenging clubhouse lead.

Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy: Out of the running… This may well be the case, but both men are capable of going very low on Sunday. They were poor on ‘Moving Day’, McIlroy in particular, but just keep an eye on two of the most talented players in the field as they play without the shackles of being in contention. It could be very fun to watch indeed.

The Open 2011 Day Two: Best of British Bow out as Darren Clarke surges to the top

Royal St. George’s today played host to a demise of the British golfing empire. Perhaps this is only a brief setback to the current trend of British domination in the sport, but it was a very disappointing day nonetheless for the British hopes.

Not only did the vast majority of home hopes fail to make a charge up the leader board, they actually fell back. Not only did they fall back, they collapsed in a heap.

Concerns mount as to Westwood and Donald's lack of a major victory

Hopes were high amongst British golf fans that world numbers one and two, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, would come to the fore this week and land their first major. Having started the day at a score of one-over par they both failed to make the cut.

Sadly these two were not the only Brits that failed to meet the mark. Major winners Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington also fell below the cut mark, McDowell in particular spiralled out of control on day two. Having started the day at two-under and well in the hunt, G-Mac fell apart ending the day at five-over for the tournament. Another British hope to slip away was Ian Poulter who fell apart whilst failing to back-up an impressive opening round of 69.

Whilst two Irishmen fell by the wayside one went charging to the top. Darren Clarke produced what was one of only a few sub-70 rounds on what was a surprisingly lean day of scoring. He today made it back-to-back rounds of 68 and took the joint lead with Lucas Glover who put together a steady 70. Both men will return tomorrow in the last group out and will be hoping the worst of the conditions have come and gone by the time they step up to the tee. Clarke is in pole position not only for the overall tournament but in terms of British hopes. If he delivers his first career major in his forties come Sunday evening then perhaps the disappointing displays of fellow Brits will be somewhat forgotten.

Clarke finds some magic with the putter to birdie the 18th

Having started the day with major British hopes positioned ominously on the leader board after indifferent opening rounds today was a definite reality check. However, in addition to Clarke there are some remaining British hopes.

Pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy remains decently placed four back at level-par and would perhaps be on terms with the leaders had his putting reached the standards it did at the US Open. Aside from the lack of chance conversion there does appear to be another worry surrounding his game this week and that is a seeming insistence to not alter his game. Links golf requires a very defined style of play and McIlroy today missed out too many times by playing the sorts of shot we would attempt any other week. In order to drive up the leader board tomorrow I believe he needs to alter his game a little. Wholesale changes are far from necessary, but it does seem that he should be aiming to feed the balls up to the green a little more rather than sending in high bombs at the flags. More often than not he missed out today when taking on these audacious efforts, but some impressive scrambling saw his way to level-par for the tournament.

McIlroy looks to handle the pressure of being a major winner and make a move on Saturday

The top of the leader board is a crowded place going into round three and the likes of McIlroy are still well in touch at four back. The weather this weekend is set to be pretty horrendous by all accounts and this should make for some very interesting scoring. If anybody manages to handle the wild winds and sheets of rain then they will have a fair chance of prospering, even if they are coming into round three at about one or two over par.

Schwartzel smiles away as he moves into contention with one of the rounds of the day

The ones to watch in round three could be Masters champion Charl Schwartzel who impressed with a 67 today and Simon Dyson (my punt for the week) who flattered to deceive today after bagging birdies at the first three holes today. Dyson ended up slipping back from the outright lead to a frustrating level par for the tournament but he is quick around the course and knows full-well how to handle links conditions. Others to keep an eye on are the ever-entertaining Sergio Garcia placed well at level-par and young Tom Lewis who backed up his miracle 65 with a battling 74. The young amateur may have relinquished his status at the top of the standings but his is still in the red and has nothing to lose. It seems unlikely that he could go on to win but stranger things have happened.

Moving day is here and Sandwich must be braced for excitement amongst the predicted awful weather conditions.