Sunday, April 24, 2005
With Daly, expect the unexpected
By Jason Sobel ESPN.com
Since we're in the midst of draft mania, let's speak of the top two picks at the Shell Houston Open in a way only Mel Kiper Jr. could love:
Vijay Singh is a proven winner. How much experience does this guy have? He's in the Hall of Fame already!
Win or lose, Daly's always exciting to watch.
John Daly is a natural talent. What the 5-foot-11, 220-pound (ha!) player out of Arkansas lacks in his 40 time, he more than makes up for with great strength. Huge upside. And backside.
So what happened when these two players got together at the top of the leaderboard? Nothing but fun, as we report in this version of the Weekly 18.
Whether you're a fan of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Singh or just golf in general, we can all agree on one thing: When Daly is in contention at an event, the fun factor automatically rises.
Perhaps it's best explained by Long John's unflinching attitude towards the game, the way he treats the golf course as his own personal playground.
Or maybe we just like to see the ball go really, really far. Chicks dig the long ball? Actually, we all do.
Here's one more theory: Maybe we enjoy watching Daly so much because we never know when he's going to strike. It's the element of surprise that makes him such an exciting player.
Daly entered the Shell Houston Open with missed cuts in his previous two starts. He hadn't recorded a top 10 all season, hadn't broken par since the third week of February. And yet there he was, challenging Singh in a playoff on Sunday.
His pattern of unpredictability on the course goes way back. Daly won the '91 PGA Championship without ever before having seriously contended for a title. He took the British in '95, his only top 10 finish that year. More recently, he won last season's Buick Invitational after a pair of uninspired finishes to begin the year. And he was runner-up at the Buick Open (also to Singh) after not having made a cut in over a month.
Such is the fascination of John Daly. You always have to keep an eye on him ... because you never know when he's going to be at his best.
Stats all, folks
Unlike most other sports, stats don't often tell the story in golf. But if you're looking for a reason why Singh was able to snag his second title of the season, the numbers don't lie. He drove the ball far (fifth in driving distance) and straight (T-8 in driving accuracy). He hit most greens in regulation (T-9) and putted well (T-8 putts per round). Sure sounds like a winning combination.
The list of players who top Singh on the World Ranking can be summed up in two all-too-familiar words: Tiger Woods. By comparison, Gavin Coles, who entered the Shell Houston Open as the 388th-ranked player in the world, directly trailed someone named Leif Westerberg. And -- trust us -- Leif watching isn't nearly as exciting in Coles' native Australia as, say, autumn in New England. At 5-foot-4, Coles falls short of, well, most people, but it's inherently important to look at others he looks up to on the list. Players like Sebastin Fernandez. And Desvonde Botes. And the eminently unrecognizable Rolf Muntz. In fact, Coles isn't even the top-ranked Coles in the world; that honor belongs to one Robert Coles, who inhabits the 317th spot. The point is that Coles -- Gavin, not Robert -- had no business dueling with the world's second-ranked player throughout the week, and yet he hung in there before finally finishing T-7. It was his first top 10 in his second PGA Tour season (he also played in 2003), a pretty good story for a guy who earned his card by $2,432 off the Nationwide Tour last year.
The odd couple
One of the more interesting pairings we'll see all year occurred Saturday in Houston, as short-hitting Coles played with long bomber Daly. How drastic was the difference off the tee? On one hole, Daly outdrove his playing partner by a whopping 139 yards.
It was good to see Darren Clarke back in the mix just one week after losing the MCI Heritage on the final hole. You never know what kind of impact a tough loss like that can have on a player, but Clarke is a pretty resilient type who simply plowed through for a share of third place in Houston. An added bonus: He passed Jack Nicklaus on the PGA Tour career earnings list.
We're not saying we didn't warn you (even though we did), but Matt Davidson's struggles in his rookie season on tour were pretty predictable. The 24-year-old graduated from Furman University less than 12 months ago and made it through Q School on his first attempt, having only competed in a few Tarheel Tour events prior to making it to golf's equivalent of The Show. He played his first two rounds on tour alongside Michelle Wie at the Sony Open, but we haven't heard much from Davidson since ... and with good reason. In 13 rounds so far this season, he has yet to break 70. The New Jersey native has also failed to see the weekend in each of his six events. Here's hoping things turn around -- and quickly -- for Davidson.
Hey, rook (Part 2)
One man's misfortunes are another man's riches. Or men's, in this case. As Davidson struggles through his rookie season, other first-timers are starting to make a name for themselves. Surprisingly, 10 rookies made it to the weekend in Houston, led by Greg Owen with a T-4 finish and Brian Davis at T-7.
Back off track
The event in Houston was far less fun without 2003 champ Fred Couples in the field. A former player at the University of Houston -- and the only Cougar to win the tournament -- Couples withdrew before the start of the event because of lingering back problems that have bothered him for years. In fact, his injury flared up two weeks ago at The Masters, but Couples valiantly fought through it, making the cut for the 21st consecutive time at the major.
Not so keen
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. And Hank Kuehne is certainly among the mightiest on tour. The leader in driving distance a year ago, Kuehne's game has fallen well short of expectations so far this year. After shooting 79-72 in Houston to miss the cut, he has now failed to see the weekend 10 times in his 12 starts this season. This week must have been especially disappointing for the Texas native, who finished T-2 at the event two years ago.
One note on MCI Heritage winner Peter Lonard, who earned his first PGA Tour victory in the same week he switched from using a long putter to a standard version. After using the long putter for five years, the Aussie moved to a Bettinardi BHB-3 and won with it. Reminds us of Singh, who made a similar switch last year prior to going on an impressive run.
All's new in New Orleans
With a new course and a new title sponsor, it'll be tough to predict much at this week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans, but we'll give you this much: Expect the unexpected. Unlike a major venue, where most players will steal a few practice rounds at an unfamiliar course in the months preceding an event, most players in the field will have never seen the TPC of Louisiana before teeing it up this week. Don't be surprised to see an overlooked player or rookie come out on top, although David Toms is always a solid choice in his home state.
Good to see Notah Begay back on a leaderboard ... even if it was on the Grey Goose Gateway Tour. Begay finished T-9 at the mini-tour's event in Mesa, Ariz., one week after picking up a T-47. Now on a Major Medical Extension on the PGA Tour as a result of a recurring back injury, Begay is working his way back into playing shape on the smaller tour. The four-time PGA Tour winner will bring his game back to the big leagues in coming weeks at the Wachovia, Byron Nelson and Colonial.
The stellar field at the Johnnie Walker Classic made the Shell Houston Open look like a mini-tour event, and the tournament in China ably lived up to its billing. Adam Scott defeated Retief Goosen by three strokes, with Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie, Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia all finishing in the top 10. It should be considered a wildly successful week for the European Tour, which lost many of its top players to full-time U.S.-based schedules and has featured some unfamiliar names in its winner's circles.
Don't be surprised to see Scott's name atop the leaderboard at next year's Johnnie Walker, too. The event moves from China to Perth, Australia, in 2006, where it should be right up the young Aussie's alley. Winning this year's tournament assures him of a trip home as the defending champ, something that was surely on Scott's mind after the win.
Goosen and the gander
Goosen made headlines this week, saying he thought females like Wie should have to qualify for men's professional events. "I think in general the players feel it's not the right thing," Goosen said. "If they qualify for the tournament, they go through qualifying school ... then it's fine. But just to keep giving invites away is probably not the right thing." While he should certainly be held accountable for his opinions, it is a shame that only Goosen's name was attached to the story. In fact, many other touring pros feel the same way about the situation, but only Goosen's feelings became international news.
Eighteen and life
The Corona Morelia Championship is a new event on the LPGA schedule and it's a pretty good bet that players won't be saddened to leave the 18th hole at Tres Marias Golf Club behind them. Scores of 10, 11 and 12 were made at the par-5 hole in Sunday's final round. Perhaps the difference in Carin Koch's victory? She made birdie on 18.
Wind and Hale
It's one thing when wind plays tricks with the games of mere mortals on the Champions Tour, but quite another when it shuts down another title run of Hale Irwin, the leading money-winner on tour. Still, that's exactly what happened this week, as Ireland's Des Smyth was the only player to break par in Sunday's final round of the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf en route to his second win of the season. As for Irwin? He plodded his way to a 36th-place finish.
Quote of the week
"I hope he doesn't make it."
--Austin Daly, 6-year-old son of John Daly, interjecting his thoughts as dad spoke on television of Vijay Singh's chances down the stretch on Sunday.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com