No offense to the current leader of the World Golf Championship at Doral, Charl Schwartzel, but his moment in the spotlight is nothing more than a transient travesty for his confidence.
When players like Schwartzel, who did not meet the minimum number of rounds required to be officially ranked in 2009, hold the lead at a world class golf event like Doral I can’t help but feel like I have seen this story before—he will fall from grace like the one-hit-wonders fall from the music charts.
Though I would love to be proven wrong and witness Schwartzel demolish the field, the plethora of talented professionals competing this week will overshadow him as they climb the leaderboard.
My eyes are particularly set on five players who I predict will keep viewers on their edge of their seats this week at Doral.
Anthony Kim : currently No. 17 at Doral, one-under par
Kim is not a sleeper pick this week, but instead the man you want to put your money on. Whether or not he will win is up in the air, but he is almost guaranteed a top-ten finish after his recent, stellar play. Just in 2010 he has made the cut in all four events he participated in, with one second place at the Honda Classic.
Ranked 33rd in putting average and 35th in driving distance, the stat that impresses me most about Kim: scoring average, where Kim stands in fourth with a 69.06 average. I believe his aggressive play has been misconstrued as remiss, when in fact it has been the catalyst for his rapid ascent among PGA Tour professionals.
Kim will continue to be a threat in every event he enters, but this week at Doral expect him to finish strong.
Paul Casey: currently No. 5 at Doral, three-under par
For the 2010 PGA Tour season, can you name the only player with top-tens in every event he’s played in? Answer: Paul Casey. A second at the Accenture Match Play, 10th at the SBS Championship, and fourth at the Honda Classic has propelled Casey to the forefront of the golf world.
Maybe he doesn’t fist pump after draining a 40-foot putt or flip his eight-iron after a cleanly struck golf shot that lands three-feet from the cup, but Casey is a fierce competitor. He is Mr. Consistency. Just review his stats if you need further persuasion; sixth in GIR (greens in regulation), 13th in scoring average, 15th in birdie average, and currently ranked eighth in the world.
Casey has the length and finesse to score well at TPC Blue Monster at Doral. He is on a streak right now and I don’t anticipate this stretch of dazzling golf will stop any time soon.
Hunter Mahan: currently No. 24 at Doral, Even Par
Though I wish I had the sweet finish of Luke Donald or drove the ball as far as Bubba Watson, I wish I played golf like Hunter Mahan.
His game is simple and yet as far from ordinary as it gets. His powerful swing is complemented by a silky-smooth putting stroke. While some players walk the course emanating apathy (Tim Clark) or dismay (Rory Sabbatini), Mahan radiates with an eagerness to be in the moment and compete at the highest level.
It’s in his club twirl, his focused gaze, and the tangible determination to overcome the obstacles of the golf course. This is my feel good pick. At a course like Doral, which is over 7,000 yards and brimming with strategically placed bunkers and water hazards, Mahan’s long and straight off the tee tactics will pay off. He has already won this year at the Waste Management Open in Phoenix and Doral could be the location for that second ‘W’ of 2010.
Phil Mickelson: currently No. 17 at Doral, one-under par
You can never rule him out. I don’t think that is a mechanical aspect of the swing that your instructor teachers you, or by practicing hitting fades with a seven-iron, or after putting hundreds of three-footers. Mickleson is just pure grit.
He is a fighter and in the last few years the public has watched him endure horrible tragedy, yet still persevere. On the course, he punishes the ball of the tee, currently averaging 295 yards off the tee, and remains the archetype for play around the greens for his magical touch.
The only thing that worries me about Mickleson is exactly what he did at the end of his round yesterday at Doral—he bogeyed holes 17 and 18 after being three-under par. Mickleson has a history of getting a bit too anxious or aggressive at the end of the round; need I mention the US Open where Ogilvy was basically handed the trophy? He needs to control his nerves down the stretch and stay away from the big numbers.
Nonetheless, he will make noise this week at Doral where he has a history of exceptional play.
Vijay Singh: currently No. 2 at Doral, four-under par
I really don’t like this guy, but man can he play golf. I’m still sore about his Annika Sorenstam comments, and have never really understood his standoffish, cold demeanor on the golf course. But I won’t lie: I used to practice his patented towel under the arm exercise when swinging because if Singh is an expert at anything it’s practicing the right things.
I hope people haven’t forgotten that the only other player to hold the No.1 ranking in our Tiger Woods Era was this guy. Singh’s coming off a fourth-place finish at the Honda Classic and has a 69.52 scoring average in 2010—not too shabby.
Though I wish it weren’t the case, I can’t ignore Singh’s potential to go on a streak of birdies and ascend to the top of the leaderboard by Sunday.