>The following is a Tour Review I wrote for JT Munson’s local newsletters in the Kansas City and Chicago area. See http://jtmunson.googlepages.com/jtmgolflines for more information about his publications, or contact JT directly at email@example.com.
There was some great golf on display in this past month, including a couple of very closely contested majors and another ho-hum 72:nd green victory by you-know-who.
Arnie usually draws a very high caliber field to his Invitational at Bay Hill, and this year was no different. Sean O’Hair opened up with a 67, 65 and 71 to allow himself to go into Sunday with a five-stroke lead over his playing partner Tiger Woods. The talented youngster seemed out of sorts on Sunday, with three bogeys and one birdie on the first 10 holes. Meanwhile Tiger was two under for the same stretch, and had already gained four shots on O’Hair. After a few twists and turns on the back nine they came to 18 tied for the lead. With light fading quickly Tiger holed a 15-footer for birdie, and the fist-pump was on. O’Hair parred the hole to take second place.
The Houston Open drew unusually good competition, for being held the week before the Masters. The organizers were promoting the course as “Augusta Prep”, having configured the greens and rough to simulate Masters conditions as much as possible. As it turns out, the Wind was the most dominant factor of the week, with play having to be suspended on Thursday and the tournament struggling to catch up the rest of the weekend. Englishman Paul Casey defeated JB Holmes in a playoff, and with the win he rose to #6 in the world rankings.
Then it was time to head for Magnolia Lane, and one of the most anticipated Masters in years. How would Tiger do in his fourth tournament back after major knee surgery? Would two-time winners Ogilvy and Mickelson continue their hot play? Would Harrington win a third straight major (Oddly referred to as the “Paddy Slam”)? Would the roars return to Augusta, with the course as long as ever but this week blessed by warm and dry weather?
Any questions about whether good scores could be had were answered quickly on Thursday. Texan Chad Campbell opened with a new record five straight birdies on his way to a 65, as 19 players shot in the sixties. Friday belonged to Anthony Kim, who recovered from a disappointing 75 in his debut round at Augusta with a 65 of his own, including a record 11 birdies. Windy conditions brought the scores up a bit on Saturday, with five players shooting 68 as the day’s low score. Notable players who missed the cut were Couples, Els, Scott, Cink, Karlsson, Norman, Leonard, Weekley, and Zach Johnson. Tiger ground out rounds of 70, 72, and 70 to be at four under par. After three rounds Kenny Perry and Angel Cabrera were tied for the lead at 11 under.
The roars started early on Sunday, as Phil and Tiger were paired together several groups ahead of the leaders, drawing huge crowds throughout the entire round. Phil lit up the front nine with a 30 that included some very sharp iron play. Tiger wasn’t far behind with an eagle on 8 and a 33. The leaders started steady, and at this point Phil was only one shot behind the lead. Phil’s back nine played out very anti-climactically with a 37 that included a double-bogey on 12 and missed short putts for eagle and birdie on 15 and 17. Tiger birdied 13, 15, and 16, but fell off the leaderboard for good with bogeys on 17 and 18.
As the leaders walked up 17 Kenny Perry were two shots ahead of Cabrera and Campbell for the lead. It seemed the moment got to Perry as Phil and Tiger’s crowds swelled back to follow the leaders, and Perry bogeys the last two holes. With two sets of pars, Campbell and Cabrera put themselves in position for the three-player playoff. Campbell hit a poor iron shot from the fairway as they replayed 18 for the first playoff hole, and he dropped off with a bogey as Perry and Cabrera took their pars to the 10:th hole. Two drives found the fairway, but while Perry’s second was pushed far left of the green Cabrera stuck a sharp iron below the hole. Perry fails to get up and down from his tough lie, and Angel Cabrera comfortably two-putts to win his second major title.
On the LPGA tour Pat Hurst won the MasterCard Classic and Karrie Webb won the highly regarded Phoenix LPGA International before they headed for their first major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills CC in Rancho Mirage, California. Brittany Lincicome shot a 66 in the first round, and handfuls of players broke 70 in the first three rounds. The final pairing on Sunday included Linciome along with Christie Kerr and Kristy McPherson. It was a rollercoaster round for all three of them, but as they stepped onto the 18:th tee McPherson led by one over Kerr and Lincicome. Brittany bombed her drive almost 300 yards, and after her partners laid up on the daring par 5 she struck a hybrid 210 yards over water and onto the green in two. Kerr one-putted for birdie, and McPherson tapped in for par before Brittany Lincicome finished them both off by holing her eagle putt.
Lorena Ochoa was one shot back at the MasterCard and continued to play well but not great and finished T15 in Phoenix and T12 at Kraft. Michelle Wie barely made the cut in both tournaments she played in, finishing T57 in Phoenix and T67 at Kraft after two 71s and two 81s.
The European Tour took a break for the Masters, and many of the top players played in the US around the first major of the year. Dane Soren Kjeldson won the Open de Andalucia in Spain, and Michael Hoey won the Estoril Open de Portugal.
The next month includes the PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass, and the beginning of the revamped Texas Swing with the Texas Open in San Antonio and the Byron Nelson Championship outside Dallas. The LPGA plays the Corona Morelia Championship in Mexico before heading to the North-East with tournaments in Virginia, New Jersey, and New York. The European Tour includes Open tournaments in Spain, Italy, and Ireland before the prestigious European PGA Championship at Wentworth in England.