How will Sunday at the Augusta National pan out?

Going into Sunday there are still plenty of guys in The Masters field who will believe they are in with a shout.

Bubba Watson Masters win

Who will succeed Bubba, and receive the green jacket from him tonight?

It seems unlikely that anyone will muster a round of any better than 66 under the weight of the pressure that comes with the territory of being in the dog-fight for the green jacket on a Sunday.

It is also unlikely that all of the top three will buckle, and you would have to expect at least one of them to get round in level par given the form they’ve shown so far this week.

By that logic then, the lowest the winning total will be, come later tonight, is six under par, and more likely at least seven under par.

The combination of someone a few shots back pulling a Sunday 66 out of the bag, and the potential winning total being around the seven under mark, would suggest that anyone who is starting the day any worse off than two under will not mount any serious challenge.

Two under then, appears to be the score which all players need as a minimum requirement going into this evening’s action if they are to have a realistic chance of winning within the regulation 72 holes of play.

This means then that Angel Cabrera, Brandt Snedeker, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Matt Kuchar, Tim Clark, Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Bernhard Langer and Rickie Fowler are the only players worth any serious consideration.

The following are only hunches, but it’ll be interesting to see how they pan out…

I personally can’t see Langer, Furyk or Stricker challenging at the last and neither can I see Tim Clark, who starts the day at three under, maintaining a serious challenge throughout. I will therefore discard them from consideration.

I have a feeling that Woods, Westwood, and Fowler all still have a good score in them. I’m going for Woods to shoot 68, Westwood a round of 70, and Fowler a 69.

I think Matt Kuchar will tickle along nicely, and that he will muster a useful 70, to see him finish on six under for the tournament.

Of the rest of the non-leaders I think Marc Leishman’s challenge will fall by the way-side with a battling 74, but I think that fellow Aussies Jason Day and Adam Scott will go under par. I think Scott will shoot 70 and Day a 69.

Now then, the leaders… It’s a tough call really, but I can’t quite see Angel Cabrera pull another round out of the bag. I wouldn’t be surprised if he came home one over for the day and six under for the tournament.

As for Snedeker, I think he will go under par. I think the shaggy-haired Nashville native will score a tidy 70, and will win the tournament by a single shot, bagging his first green jacket and a first major title of his career.

Given his early season form, and his form throughout 2012 there is no one out there who deserves to win The Masters more, and I think Brandt will do just that. I do though expect this evening to take both him, all other competitors, the patrons at Augusta and us, the viewers, through the full ringer of emotions.

If the scores go the way I’ve predicted, the leaderboard will look a little like this come midnight tonight (it is Sunday at the Augusta National though so forgive me if they wind up being horrifically inaccurate!):

1. Snedeker -9

T2. Scott -8

T2. Day -8

4. Woods -7

T5. Cabrera -6

T5. Kuchar -6

7. Fowler -5

T8. Westwood -4

T8. Clark -4

T8. Olesen-4

T11. Leishman -3

T.11 Furyk -3

T.11 Haas -3

The Ryder Cup 2012: How the teams match up…

Europe may be the holders going into golf’s bi-annual fun-fair but home advantage tends to prove a huge factor amidst the most dramatic atmosphere that the sport is capable of serving up.

So then, who will prove triumphant at the Medinah Country Club this week?

Ryder Cup 2010Team Europe will be looking to hold onto their crown but the USA will offer a greater challenge this time around

The US are looking as strong as they have done in years with the likes of Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler and Nick Watney having not even made the cut and Europe too can boast about their chances with three of the world’s top fou ranked players hailing from the continent.

It seems then that things will be very tight in Chicago so in order to try and assess the two sides’ respective chances I have produced a guide to the teams and a run down of their world rankings, form and Ryder Cup records.

Rory McIlroy:

Europe’s top dog is Northern Ireland’s super-talent who has bagged his second major title this year at the PGA as well as a second placed finish in the FedEx Cup series.

World Ranking: 1

Form: 10/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 2 points.

Luke Donald:

‘Luuuuuuuuuuuukkkkkkeeeeee’ as he is affectionately known has had a fantastic couple of years but the past few months haven’t quite hit the heights of the 18 months preceding them. However, a third placed finish at the Tour Championships at the weekend will have provided a timely boost to his confidence.

World Ranking: 3

Form: 7/10

Record: 3 appearances; 11 matches, 8 1/2 points.

Lee Westwood:

Westwood has been one of Europe’s most consitent performers over the past decade and he has tremendous Ryder Cup experience, however, he has really struggled for form in recent months in spite of his world ranking.

World Ranking: 4

Form: 5/10

Record: 7 appearances; 33 matches, 19 points.

Justin Rose:

He is in the form of his life and he is as ready as anybody in Team Europe to face-off against the formidable looking Team USA.

World Ranking: 5

Form: 9/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 3 points.

Martin Kaymer:

He has struggled over the past couple of years since having reached the top of the world rankings but he just about achieved automatic selection to the team and will be hoping to find his best form once again.

World Ranking: 32

Form: 6/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 2 1/2 points

Graeme McDowell:

He was the hero for Team Europe at Celtic Manor in 2010 and he will be chomping at the bit to return to golf’s premiere team event. He is a man built for matchplay in terms of his attitude and demeanour and he will undoubtedly play a huge part in proceedings.

World Ranking: 18

Form: 7/10

Record: 2 appearances; 8 matches, 5 points.

Sergio Garcia:

Having returned to the top table of European golf Sergio Garcia is set to thrill in Ryder Cup golf once again and he has as much to prove as anybody at Medinah.

World Ranking: 19

Form: 7/10

Record: 5 appearances; 24 matches, 16 points

Francesco Molinari:

Molinari lined up alongside his brother Edoardo in Team Europe for the 2010 Ryder Cup but this time he is going it alone and is hoping to end on the winning side once again.

World Ranking: 31

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearance; 3 matches, 1/2 a point.

Peter Hanson:

He is one of the European Tour’s most consistent forces and he also shot into the consciousness of global golf fans with a valiant shot at winning the Masters earlier this season having led going into the final round.

World Ranking: 25

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearance; 3 matches, 1 point.

Paul Lawrie:

Lawrie’s return to the forefront of the global game has been as stunning as it has been unlikely but the ultimate reward for his efforts is his place in Team Europe in a competition he loves playing in.

World Ranking: 28

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearce; 5 matches, 3 1/2 points.

Ian Poulter:

Poulter might not have been at his best this year and may not be the best player in Team Europe on paper but he remains one of the most confident and flamboyant characters in the game and he has a fantastic Ryder Cup record and will expect to be as involved and as successful as anybody in the team.

World Ranking: 26

Form: 7/10

Record: 3 appearances; 11 matches, 8 points.

Nicolas Colsaerts:

Colsaerts has had a really good couple of years off the back of several disappointing campaigns and his rise in fortunes has resulted in a wildcard pick for Team Europe, which will surely rank as his proudest achievement to date.

World Ranking: 35

Form: 7/10

Record: Rookie

Team USA:

Tiger Woods:

He’s back. He might not have won a major since his fall from grace but he has come very close on a couple of occasions this year and his PGA Tour form has been stunning throughout 2012. The Ryder Cup hasn’t been his happiest hunting ground in the past but I wouldn’t be surprised if he bags a few crucial points for his team this time around.

World Ranking: 2

Form: 9/10

Record: 6 appearances; 29 matches, 14 points.

Phil Mickleson: 

‘Lefty’ has been painfully inconsistent over the past couple of seasons but he is still capable of the sublime and he performed strongly throughout the FedEx cup series.

World Ranking: 16

Form: 7/10

Record: 8 appearances; 34 macthes, 14 points.

Bubba Watson:

Having landed his first major title at Augusta people have started to take Bubba a little more seriously and as unconventional as he is he deserves no less than to be regarded as one of world golf’s finest players.

World Ranking: 7

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 1 point.

Webb Simpson:

Having landed his maiden major title many would have expected Simpson to have cemented his place amongst the world’s best players but the past few months since this success have been tough for Simpson as he has struggled to produce his best on a regular basis.

World Ranking: 8

Form: 6/10

Record: Rookie

Jason Dufner:

Jason Dufner has proven over the past two seasons that he can be a regular challenger in major events and now he will be hoping to prove his match-playing talents also.

World Ranking: 9

Form: 7/10

Record: Rookie

Matt Kuchar:

Kuchar is one of world golf’s most solid competitors and possesses very few weaknesses. He could play a huge part if chosen to play alongside one of Team USA’s more flamboyant players.

World Ranking: 15

Form: 6/10

Record:

Keegan Bradley:

Bradley’s stunning victory in the PGA Championship last year, his maiden major tournament appearance, was one of the more extraordinary moments in golf’s rich history and he has proven himself not to be a one hit wonder with a year of consistently competing well on the PGA Tour and by establishing himself in the world’s top 20.

World Ranking: 14

Form: 7/10

Record: Rookie

Zach Johnson:

Johnson has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance over the past couple of years and he has re-established himself as a regular contender in the majors and will be hoping to take this form into the USA’s fight to steal the Ryder Cup from Europe’s grasp.

World Ranking: 17

Form: 7/10

Record: 2 appearances; 7 matches, 2 1/2 points.

Brandt Snedeker:

Has there been anyone who has enjoyed as good a year as Snedeker in 2012? Well, if there is they are few and far between as Snedeker has won the Farmer’s Insurance Open, tied for third at the Open and then won the FedEx Cup in style after triumphing in the Tour Championships as the weekend and bagging himself a double jackpot of over $11 million.

Just to top it off he has been selected as a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup and there will be no player higher on confidence than him going into his rookie appearance in the famous competition.

World Ranking: 10

Form: 10/10

Record: Rookie

Steve Stricker:

It is great testament to Stricker that he has managed to maintain such a high world ranking in what has seemed like a fairly quiet year for the veteran. Even when his long game is letting him down his putting remains immaculate and that could again prove to be a huge asset to Team USA.

World Ranking: 12

Form: 7/10

Record:

Dustin Johnson:

The Medinah Club is theoretically a big-hitter’s paradise and Johnson certainly fits the bill. He may not have achieved automatic qualification but his length of the tee made him impossible to ignore in terms of Davis Love III’s captain’s picks.

World Ranking: 13

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 1 point.

Jim Furyk:

Furyk hasn’t played anywhere near as consistently well in recent times as he has become renowned for throughout a great career but he has enormous experience both as a PGA Tour player and as a Ryder Cup competitor and that is exactly why he was chosen in spite of failing to make the team by way of automatic selection.

World Ranking: 23

Form: 6/10

Record: 7 appearances; 27 matches, 10 points.

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.

The British Open Day Three: Dazzler leads, but the young Americans are prowling

The third day at a major tends to be all about surges through the field. Today only a handful of players managed this whilst the rest of the field dropped steadily back. It is entirely possible that we are set for one of the rare occasions where the leading score after round one is lower than the overall winning score. Going into the final round Darren Clarke is the outright leader on five-under par, the very same score posted by Thomas Bjorn and Tom Lewis on day one. With today’s foul weather forecast set for something of a repeat performance tomorrow, scoring patterns are again likely to be sliding even further backwards.

Another beautiful British summer...

Bucking today’s scoring trends were the likes of Americans Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler. The pair of them carded odds-defying rounds of 68 pushing them up the leader board and right into contention. As a result of these rounds Johnson will go into day four playing alongside Clarke in the final group and just one off of the lead and Fowler has moved from level par to two-under.

Tomorrow provides the chance for these two young pretenders to really put a stamp on world golf and what better way to do so than by bagging a major title. Johnson has already won four PGA Tour titles, an impressive feat for one so young, but will forever regret the golden opportunities which have passed him by in major golf already. Two years ago he went into the final round of the US Open at Pebble Beach in links-style conditions only to collapse to a round in the eighties and fail to even come close in the final reckoning. He followed this up at last year’s PGA Championship by going down the final hole as leader only to lose it on a club-grounding technicality.

Johnson's bitterest pill at Whistling Straights last year

The latter of these sour major experiences for Johnson must have been excruciating. He was notified en-route to the green that he was being investigated on grounds of having floored his club before firing in his approach shot. He then had his worst fears confirmed by tournament officials in the scoring hut after completing the round. His angst at this slightest little error in judgement and seeming pettiness of golf ruling was clear for all to see as the cameras gaze was placed firmly upon him when signing off his card. Few could admit to not feeling for him in this most agonising situation.

In contrast Fowler’s regrets in his budding career aren’t quite as significant. However, he is yet to have won a single professional title and people won’t stop reminding him of this until he does. He has been in contention on several occasions o the PGA already but he really does need to land a title in order to put off his doubters. Making his first tournament victory a major would surely see him heralded as the US’ most threatening young prospect and endear himself to portions of the public who are yet to have taken to him.

Fowler in 'Sunday Orange', one hopes he has this in waterproof style

Both of these young Americans have demonstrated great maturity and a real flair for links golf. Dustin Johnson’s foundation is his monstrous driving, which has unsurprisingly been on fire here so far this week. He has slowly climbed his way up the leader board and has holed several pressure puts at key moments as well as landing a magnificent hole-in-one on day one. Some might argue that Johnson has benefited from playing at times when the weather has been fairer, the same can certainly not be said of Fowler. He has in fact probably had the worst of the weather throughout as was demonstrated by playing partner Rory McIlroy’s inability to keep pace with the form man throughout the three rounds which they have played together. Where McIlroy has missed his chances to stay in touch, Rickie has taken them and he fully deserves to be considered one of the favourites going into tomorrow.

Clarke leads the pack and has plenty to smile about

As well as the youthful stars of the US there are also major European hopes heading into day four and they all seem to be names you perhaps wouldn’t have anticipated going in. First round leader Bjorn is still there or there abouts, Miguel Angel Jimenez is only three shots back in his bid to become the eldest Open champion of all time, and Darren Clarke has maintained his lead and is set to follow the rest of these boys out tomorrow. Is it possible that the old-guard of the European Tour can fend off a last day challenge from the PGA’s finest young prospects? An intriguing battle lies in wait.