1. Inbee parks her show on Long Island
Women's professional golf has five major championships, but the most important one is the U.S. Women's Open. This event has been held every year since 1946, when Patty Berg beat Betty Jameson 5 and 4 in the finals at the Spokane Country Club. In 2012, the championship had a $3.25 million purse, the largest in women's golf, a distinction it shares with the Evian Masters, which only became a major this year.
After winning her fifth event in 2013 on Sunday at the NW Arkansas Championship, Inbee Park is the favorite to win the Women's Open that begins on Thursday at the Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. With her second consecutive playoff win, the 24-year-old South Korean earned her seventh victory in her past 23 starts. Another win this week would give her the first three majors of the year. She's already taken the Kraft Nabisco and the LPGA Championship.
How long can Park maintain this dominance? Last year, Yani Tseng fully emerged as perhaps the most formidable presence in the women's game since Annika Sorenstam. She won 15 tournaments in five years, including five majors. But she hasn't won an event since the Kia Classic in March of 2012.
Park is a great, clutch putter and finisher, but there is nothing that truly sets her apart from most of the other women on tour. Yet at Sebonack, a fancy new course situated on the east end of Long Island between the timeless Shinnecock and National Golf Links, she will have an opportunity to win her first Women's Open and further cement her hold on the sport. It will take a proven champion to beat her.
2. A young-looking old man
I'm sure that I wasn't the only person surprised to see Ernie Els hoisting his second Claret Jug last July at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. For most of that Sunday afternoon, the Open Championship was in the grasp of Adam Scott. Then Scott imploded over the final holes and the South African was left holding his fourth major championship trophy. Still, few probably left Lytham believing that the 42-year-old Hall of Famer was on his way to a second prime.
This win was seen by many as a nice coda on a great career. But after a wire-to-wire victory at the BMW International Open in Munich, the 66-time world winner should be considered a serious threat to defend his Open title when the tournament begins on July 18 at Muirfield in Scotland. "I'm a very young 43-year-old. There's not a younger 43-year-old, I promise," Els said jokingly after his win in Munich.
With his second-place finish at the U.S. Open, the 43-year-old Phil Mickelson and Els are demonstrating that age is little more than an indication of experience and wisdom that is very useful in the game's biggest events.
3. A journeyman's hope
Ken Duke finally won on the PGA Tour at the Travelers after 19 years and 187 starts on the PGA Tour. Duke, a 44-year-old Hope, Ark., native, has played on tours around the world. As recent as 2011, the Henderson State grad was playing on the Web.com Tour, where he won the season-ending Tour Championship to earn a place on the regular Tour.
Last year, he had six top-10s on tour. Duke is the oldest first-time winner on the PGA Tour since a 47-year-old Ed Dougherty won the '95 Deposit Guaranty Classic. When Duke was in his early 40s on the Web.com Tour, it must have been difficult for him to imagine that in a few years he would be a tour winner. Now he will be in the field at the Masters for only the second time. If Duke doesn't do another noteworthy thing in his career, he's given hope with his win at Hartford to some 40-year-old journeyman still chasing the dream to win on the PGA Tour.
4. Bubba's aim
Bubba Watson isn't the kind of player who brings a lot of pressure on himself through the proclamation of grand goals. Even after winning the Masters in '12, his primary objective is still to finish in the top 25 in every tournament that he enters.
At the Travelers, which he won in 2010, the 34-year-old former Georgia Bulldog finished fourth, only his third top 10 of the year. Watson, who hasn't won on tour since his Masters win, had a share of the lead going into the final round, but a triple-bogey at the par 3 16th cost him a chance to get into the playoff with Ken Duke and Chris Stroud.
Watson scolded his caddie, Ted Scott, for making the wrong club selection at the par 3 16th. Television microphones picked up the exchange between the two good friends, who differed over whether Bubba should hit an 8-iron or a 9-iron. Scott later told PGATour.com that it was "totally" his fault and that he had "got in the way of the painter" on that club selection.
Watson has said that he wants to win 10 times on tour. With four victories already, he should easily reach that number by the time he turns 40. But could he be aiming too low? He's got the talent to win 20 times on tour. He has a very stable home life, a trustworthy caddie and a solid management team. His swashbuckling style doesn't depend on swing gurus and mental coaches.
And as he showed us all in the playoff at the Masters, few players in the game can pull off his array of shot-making. There is enough genius in his imagination for him to become a Hall of Famer. But first he's got to believe that he can do it.
5. Rose blossoms
A week after winning the U.S. Open at Merion, Justin Rose finished in a tie for 13th at the Travelers. That's a very respectable showing for a man who spent the days immediately after the U.S. Open filling numerous media requests and going on "The Late Show with David Letterman."
The 32-year-old Englishman has joined Excel Sports Management, the agency led by Mark Steinberg, Tiger Woods' longtime agent. He had been with 4Sports, a London-based firm, for the past six years. Since breaking away from IMG in 2011 to run the New York-based agency, Steinberg has built a roster that includes Tiger, Matt Kuchar, Gary Woodland, Patrick Cantlay and now Rose, whose profile in the U.S. is certain to grow in the future.
If his play at the Travelers is any indication of his resolve to stay hungry and focused on winning golf tournaments, then there is a good chance that he won't have any falloff with his game as he approaches the Open Championship. It was at Birkdale in 1998 that he first came to the world's attention, where as a 17-year-old amateur he finished in a tie for fourth in his first Open Championship.