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.

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Luke Donald: My British Sports Star of the Year

With many bookmakers offering odds as long as 66/1 on Luke Donald to win the Sports Personality of The Year (SPOTY) award on the 22nd of December it seems that the rest of the nation won’t agree with me on this one, but I believe that Luke Donald has been the star of our fair isle’s sporting year.

Perhaps the reason why Donald isn’t homing in on one of British sport’s top honours is much the same as the reason he has emerged as the man to beat in his sport; he is just too damn consistent.

Within the realms of golf, consistency is the ingredient which has enabled some of the sport’s most decorated players to achieve the heights that they have, but, when it comes down to a sporting honour voted for by the public it isn’t exactly the sort of thing that endears you to those that are forking out 25 pence for their phone calls.

If Donald doesn’t make it into the top three at the SPOTY event at it’s new home in Salford (which it seems he probably won’t) then it would be a travesty in my eyes. His progressively-natured achievements over the course of this year are truly magnificent feats even if they don’t quite capture the imagination of the general public. He is without a doubt one of (and in my opinion THE) shining light(s) in British sport this year, and deserves greater recognition for an outstanding year of development.

Maybe it is because I am a huge golf fan (and a distinctly average player to boot) but I find his rise from ‘nice guy on Tour’ to world beater truly inspiring. His multiple tournament wins over the course of the year haven’t exactly been ‘major’ headline grabbers (no pun intended), but he has nonetheless overcome huge fields of the world’s very best players on each and every occasion and with it has earned an enormous amount of respect from his peers. No one in the world of golf would deny that he has been the best player in the world this year and that is an enormous achievement in a sport which has been dominated for so long by the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickleson.

It is in fact probably down to Tiger and ‘Lefty’ that players such as himself have emerged as the fore-runners driving the sport forward. I don’t mean to say that because they have slumped it is making players like Donald, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy look better, but rather they have noted the opportunity to assert their own authority on the world of golf and have used it as great inspiration. Donald has been the main beneficiary of this opportunity to date and has just served to prove that consistency and dedication can be prime attributes fit for the world’s best in a major sporting discipline.

The astounding rate at which he has churned out top ten finishes this season is testament to his ability to match and more often than not surpass some of the more flamboyant and explosive players on tour with his own brand of relentless accuracy and practically unrivalled attention to detail. He has turned sensible golf into an art form and with it has come a great confidence in his own abilities and almost inevitably a dramatic increase in success.

This increased success has today seen him become the first person ever to top both the US and European Money lists over the year. This is an astonishing achievement given the commitment it requires to constantly travel from location to location, out performing all comers in the generally more lucrative and high profile PGA Tour events, as well as switching codes and producing equally as impressive displays on the European Tour which can often require an entirely different style of golf.

His relentless form this year has seen him win personal awards as well as tournament victories and an enormous amount of money. He has been awarded the Vardon Trophy and the Byron Nelson award for achieving the lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour this year, he also won the PGA Tour player of the year voted for by his peers and he has surged to the top of the world rankings where he has now stayed for around six months.

Many have tried to belittle Donald’s achievements by mocking his world ranking with regards his lack of a victory in any of golf’s four majors. But how can anyone argue against his right to be deemed the best player in the world at the moment when he has accumulated such a staggering amount of high tournament finishes in addition to five victories over the past year? I think anyone who does try to do so is ludicrous. With the incentive of Tiger Woods’ slump and the potential to establish themselves as the best player on the planet, many of the younger PGA Tour regulars fancied a shot at the number one ranking and no one has manged to match up to Luke. He has continuously delivered and has put the new breed of young, big-hitting Americans in their place (Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson) en-route to the most brilliant of years.

Hats off Mr.Donald, what a success story you have become. I dearly hope you can now take this form into one of the majors and shut the mouths of all your critics once and for all.

Place your bets: The Masters

This coming weekend plays host to one of sports greatest events, and one of it’s most competitive betting markets. The Masters is golf’s first Major of the year and is a fond favourite of those with an eye for a punt, and an eye for arguably one of the most vivid and enchanting venues in global sport.

Picture-Perfect

This Thursday begins one of those special sporting events that sparks interest and appreciation from the corners of disenchantment. Golf is a sport loved far and wide, but the lengthy schedules and perceived elitism involved in the sport have always attracted scepticism and mockery. Perhaps it could be argued that such attitudes have detracted from others getting involved in any way with the sport having never given it a real shot.

However, The Masters is just that bit more special than any old golf tournament. The course itself the Augusta National, Georgia, is a work of art. The beauty of the venue is beyond compare in the sporting realm and it provides that little glint of magic that sets it apart from the crowd.

Not only is the course achingly beautiful but it plays like a wicked, teasing, taunting mistress. In part it offers opportunity for low scoring and in others the margins for error are excruciatingly tight. This set-up makes for constant subtle and not so subtle twists and turns, thus there is always an element of unpredictability. Sometimes such unpredictability amongst a large field of competitors lessens the desire for a punt, but betting figures would suggest otherwise. With 99 competitors in the field, The Masters offers some fantastic odds in the outright winners market, the seed of temptation is there for all to see.

After all, how many of the world’s leading sports events could boast best odds of 25-1 on the World Number One triumphing? Not too many I would wager, but those are indeed the available odds with Betfair for the brilliant Martin Kaymer.

World Numbers 1 and 2 have been paired together for the opener at Augusta

Other names of interest to the betting public might include Lee Westwood, World Number Two and last year’s runner-up, who will desperately seek to get the monkey off his back by winning his first major (Best Odds 18/1). Red-hot young Americans with attributes seemingly built for Augusta Nick Watney and Dustin Johnson, can be backed at best odds of 18/1 and 32/1 respectively.

My European tips are big-hitting duo Paul Casey (40/1) and Ross Fisher a long-shot at a lengthy 200/1, and my tips from foreign-shores are Americans Watney (18/1), Johnson (32/1), and Matt Kuchar (34/1), and South African veteran Retief Goosen (90/1) .

Watney focused on 'Major' breakthrough

The majority of this select group have challenged seriously in Majors gone-by, with Goosen already a major winner. I feel the time is right at Augusta for a fresh-face to dazzle the golfing world with a performance of real class and flashes of sheer inspiration, as were finely demonstrated by reigning champion Phil Mickelson in the closing round last year. I think the man for this job could well be Nick Watney, a quirky character off the course whom would prove a very popular champion amongst the American spectators and in the locker room too.

Mickelson seeks to put the jacket on himself this time

The tempting length of odds for players within the world’s top thirty or so makes for some potential big-money wins for low-liability gambles. Thus, an already stunning sporting spectacle has the ability to take on increased importance and value of the monetary kind. Who knows what the outcome will be on Sunday night when the tournament reaches it’s conclusion but my advice would be: Don’t break the bank, but maybe have just a little punt on some generous odds.