Hunter Mahan’s fateful putt rolled just past the cup on the 17th hole at the Ryder Cup three weeks ago like the signifying bell concluding a brutal, boxing brawl. The bitter loss indicated the unofficial finale to the PGA Tour season as the valiant efforts of the Americans evaporated into the brisk Wales air.
But prepare for another competitive bout among the world’s best as they travel to TPC Summerlin, an oasis secluded in the Nevada desert, for the Justin Timberlake Shriners Open.
Make no mistake, TPC Summerlin is a ball-striker’s sanctuary. Last year’s winner, Martin Laird, finished T3 in Greens in Regulation and put on a clinic with 23 birdies over the four days. Just over 7, 200 yards, this golf course demands accuracy off the tee and precision into the predominantly large, two-tiered greens.
From Rickie Fowler, the most impressive young player currently on tour, to Hunter Mahan, who is searching for his third victory this season, there’s no shortage of flare or ferocity in this bunch. But who knows if the parity that has defined 2010 will continue to be as unfettered and capricious at this week’s event.
Hunter Mahan endures a ton of criticism, whether for his inconsistent short game or for missing what would’ve sealed an American victory at the Ryder Cup. But is there really that much to get down on him about?
Along with Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Ernie Els and Steve Stricker—five of the best players in the game right now and three potential hall-of-famer’s—Mahan won twice this season, first at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and then at WGC-Bridgestone. His swing is as mechanically sound as it gets (check out the video). He’s reliable off the tee (No. 3 ranking in total driving), fires at flags at will and when his putter gets hot, everyone else might as well give up.
Also, if Mahan is in the middle of the pack after the second round, don’t be surprised if he surges up the leaderboard with a weekend of unbelievably low scores. At his win in Phoenix, he shot a pair of 65’s on the weekend and then went 66-64 at Firestone.
When Rickie Fowler tees off in the desert this week, he will be brimming with more confidence and momentum than Michael Jordan with 10 seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter.
He’s not as tall as Jesus Shuttlesworth, but the kid’s got serious game. Fowler, just 21-years-old, earned his sixth top 10 finish last week at the Frys.com Open (solo 4th) after shooting four consecutive rounds in the 60’s.
If you have trouble spotting him, just look for the gangly kid in outrageous, almost obnoxious, vibrant colors hitting greens with the consistency of Ali knocking out "chumps." Fowler’s secret weapon this week: greens in regulation.
Also, in his first single’s match on the final day of the Ryder Cup, Fowler played his final two holes flawlessly, draining two birdies to keep the hope alive for the Americans.
In undeniably his best season yet, Kevin Na can contend this week, but there’s a big IF attached to his potential. IF he can maintain his sensational touch on and around the greens, he’ll likely be a factor come Sunday. But more importantly, IF he can control his nerves, considering he is known for his capricious and rather volatile nature, Na may be the underdog story.
This season he has made 22 cuts in 25 events, finished in the top 25 nine times and earned four top 10’s, most notably a T3 at the BMW Championship. It’s no secret that Na excels with the flatstick, which is why this week will be about giving himself viable opportunities to go on a birdie rampage through accuracy off the tee and into greens.
In the September issue of Golf Digest, Kevin Na was ranked No.1 as the player PGA Tour pro’s would most like to see lose his lead Sunday at a major championship. Telling much?
Nick Watney is by far one of the most underrated players on tour. Sure, he choked on Sunday at this year’s PGA Championship (shot 81 and finished T18), but even Michael Phelps has lost a race.
Two of Watney’s seven top 10’s this season came on the most prominent stages in golf—the major championships (T7’s at the British Open and Masters). TPC Summerlin fits Watney’s game; he’s got pinpoint accuracy into greens, ranked No.25 in GIR on Tour, and when it comes to making birdies (ranked No.6 in Birdie Average), Watney is as consistent as a Pete Sampras' serve in volley.
When you hole out four times in four days, it's either luck or ludicrous.
Whatever it is, it was working for Rocco Mediate last week as he soared to victory at the Frys.com Open for his first win since 2002.
The truth is, Mediate’s year has been mediocre at best. He’s made just 10 cuts in 25 attempts and finished in the top 25 just five times. But Mediate will be running on the adrenaline from his win last week. Pair that momentum with his world class ball-striking, and he may have the ingredients to stun the golf world again with back-to-back victories.
If he can minimize his mistakes and put himself in position to convert some birdies, he could have a legitimate chance.
Before 20-somethings like Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler were the youthful talk of the golf town, there was Anthony Kim.
He was the most talented and probably most pompous, young player on tour and was predicted to storm out of the gates in 2010. That’s just what he did.
Kim began the 2010 season red-hot with four top 10’s, including a T3 at the Masters and a victory at the Shell Houston Open in his first eight events. But a thumb injury kept him sidelined and out of competition from May to August.
His return was abysmal; a T76, four straight missed cuts and he barely showed signs of life at the BMW Championship with a T48 finish. Now, after more than a month of serious preparation, Anthony Kim has the golden opportunity to shine. Though Kim’s game is somewhat of a question mark, he’s always been long off the tee and an aggressive wedge player, which will pay off at a shorter course like TPC Summerlin.
Martin Laird reminds me of the San Francisco Giants outfielder Cody Ross because, well, since when did he become such a great player?
Prior to his victory at this exact event last season, Laird, like Ross, was a nobody who has suddenly sprung onto the scene. Laird earned over $1.5 million this season alone and finished in the top 10 three separate times, nearly winning the Barclay’s in a playoff against Matt Kuchar.
Whether or not there’s any rhyme or reason in Laird’s season of success, it's inconsequential because he’s a legitimate contender this week. Not only is this a course he’s won on, but with his gargantuan length off the tee (averaging 296 yards in driving distance), he can take advantage of the short par-4’s and reach the long par-5’s in just two swings. In addition to pummeling the ball, Laird’s success last year at this event was undoubtedly due to his reliable iron play, which earned him a T3 in Greens in Regulation.
Every sport has their Rory Sabbatini. Perhaps it’s Rasheed Wallace in the NBA, Phillip Rivers in the NFL and Barry Bonds in the MLB. This is the guy you just don’t trust because he’s emotional to the point of annoyance, talks trash incessantly and is blatantly disrespectful to fans, his competition and the overall honor of the sport.
And the worst part about it is that you can’t deny how talented he is.
Sabbatini may continue to be one of the least liked golfers in the world, but it’s not hurting his game. Just like his personality, he’s an aggressive player who refuses the conservative route and instead leaves nothing in the bag.
2010 has not been his most luminous season, but Sabbatini still earned three top 10’s—most notably a T5 at the Barclays. Averaging 3.88 birdies per round (No.14 on tour), Sabbatini can be a birdie machine, and it may be his edge this week if he can turn it on.
With his long, blond, untamed hair, Charley Hoffman might look a little more comfortable in a Quicksilver shirt, board shorts and a pair of vans headed in the direction of the X-games instead of strolling across the fairway in a collared shirt and golf shoes.
But just because Hoffman doesn’t look like a typical golfer doesn’t mean he isn’t playing better than the majority of the guys on tour.
After five top 10’s this season and a spectacular victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship late in the season, Hoffman was vaulted into a brand new realm of possibility—he could become the Fed-Ex Cup Champion. At the Tour Championship, Hoffman shot four rounds of par or better to finish solo sixth, denying him the victory but successfully proving to the golf world that he was no anomaly.
Don’t underestimate Hoffman this week; he’s a reliable putter (No.12 in putting average) and is incredibly deep off the tee (No.16 in Driving Distance). If Hoffman can straighten out his iron play and hone his accuracy, he will be contending for the win come Sunday.
Meet Donald Roland Trahan, also known as D.J., a golfer who has totally flown under the radar all season, but boasts the stats, record and confidence to come out on top in the desert this week.
Since the Bob Hope Classic in January, Trahan has been performing exceptionally on tour. He earned seven top 10 finishes and is coming off a remarkable T3 two weeks ago at the Viking Classic.
Here’s why you want to put your money on him: Trahan clobbers it off the tee (averages 300 yards), is a wizard with his irons (ranked No.5 in greens in regulation), and if he can find his rhythm with the putter, may prove unstoppable. Oh and by the way, he was runner-up in 2007 and earned a T7 last year at this event.
TPC Summerlin clearly meshes with Trahan’s vision and game. Trahan has as good of a shot as anyone else to breakthrough for his first victory of the season.