Perez prevails as desert bites back

Updated: January 25, 2009

Back when I was in the fifth grade or so, an enterprising educator taught my class the spelling distinction between "dessert" and "desert" by explaining it thusly: There's an extra "s" in "dessert" because you always want more of it.

I'm not sure how many PGA Tour pros are smarter than a fifth grader, but you can excuse many of them for wanting more of the desert -- with one "s" -- after four rounds of the birdie-fest otherwise known as the Bob Hope Classic.

No matter how you spell it, this desert turned out to be bittersweet, indeed.

The Weekly 18 begins with a look into the unpredictable events of the final round and how they led to Pat Perez finally getting his just desert -- er, dessert.

The audacity of hope
Pat Perez's iron shot to within 4 feet for eagle to clinch his first career victory at the final hole of the Bob Hope Classic may go down as one of the better clutch swings we'll witness all season and yet it might not be among the most memorable things to happen this week.

Pat Perez

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Pat Perez won for the first time in 198 career starts.

It may be clichéd to refer to this week's Bob Hope Classic as a Tale of Two Tournaments, but I'm not sure there's any better way to describe one of the strangest events we've seen in years.

Through four rounds of the 90-hole tourney, some of the tour's all-time scoring records seemed destined to be broken. The tournament leader was 33-under-par, players were moving backwards by shooting 67 and it really felt like the 10-year anniversary of David Duval's final-round 59 had the potential to be duplicated.

And then the winds came sweeping across the desert.

Before I get into the utter craziness that was the final round, let's look at some of the statistical anomalies after four days at the Hope:

• A group that included Duval, Steve Elkington and Harrison Frazar all finished at 14-under through four rounds ... and missed the cut.

• On Moving Day (if we can still refer to Saturday of a five-round event by that term), Jesper Parnevik shot an 11-under 61 ... and missed the cut.

• Only three players failed to shoot below par through the opening 72 holes. Brad Faxon, Peter Tomasulo and Troy Kelly each finished with scores of 2-over 290 ... which was 35 shots off the pace after Saturday's play.

Just when the tour's first event of '09 in the lower 48 was starting to resemble a nine-hole hit-and-giggle at Jim Bob's Pitch 'N' Putt, the wind kicked up, gusting to 40 mph during the final round. It was almost as if the golf gods were saying, "OK, now that the amateurs have gone home, let's have a little fun." Some of the more inscrutable numbers from the final day:

• The host Palmer Private course played to a 70.35 scoring average ... more than a stroke and a half higher than the second-highest total at that venue during the week.

• Bill Haas shot five consecutive rounds of 4 under par or better (68-68-67-67-67) ... and finished in a share of 25th place.

• John Merrick had the opportunity to become the 10th player in PGA Tour history to come back from a deficit of 8 strokes or more on the final day, taking a share of the lead down the stretch ... but played the final four holes in 1-over to finish solo second.

And then there's the case of Steve Stricker -- the highest-ranked player in the field -- whose inability to close out the 72-hole lead due to a final-round 77 was so eye-popping that it spawned a few of the more ridiculous stats of the early season:

• After making only one bogey through the opening 78 holes, he carded a triple and a quad within a four-hole span ... and still finished the week with just one bogey!

• He posted an average of 8.5 birdies per round during the first four days ... and made only two Sunday.

• He set a PGA Tour record with the lowest back-to-back 36-hole total in history (61 in Round 3; 62 in Round 4) ... then ballooned to a total that was 15 strokes higher the next day.

• The Sunday morning differential between him and Stephen Ames, who was in a share of 45th place, was 15 strokes ... but Stricker only beat him by a single stroke.

None of these quirks or coincidences should tarnish Perez's first career victory, of course. Maybe it was only fitting. After all, one of the PGA Tour's wild guys prevailed in one of its wildest tournaments we've seen in a long time.

Three up

2Ryo Ishikawa. Loyal readers of the W18 have already been keyed in to the exploits of the most promising Japanese import since Nintendo. The rest of you will find out soon enough.

It was announced this week that the teen sensation has received a special invitation to compete in this year's Masters -- and not as part of Augusta National's policy that allows young people through the gates free of charge. At 17 years, 6 months and 23 days when the opening round begins April 9, Ishikawa will become the second-youngest player to compete in the tournament, bested only by amateur Tommy Jacobs in 1952.

Though Ryo (pronounced RO) has yet to play in a professional event in the U.S., he'll have plenty of opportunities before reaching Magnolia Lane in three months. In the past week alone, he also received sponsors' exemptions to compete in the Northern Trust Open, the Transitions Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Add in the fact that Ishikawa, ranked 63rd in the world, is also currently qualified for the WGC-Accenture Match Play event in February (if he can creep into the top 50, he would also qualify for the field at the WGC-CA Championship at Doral) and we should be seeing an awful lot of the kid in coming months.

How good is he? Well, only time will tell, but last year Ishikawa finished fifth on the Japan Golf Tour final money list, winning a pair of titles on that circuit. Even more amazingly, those weren't his first two victories; he claimed the 2007 Munsingwear Open KSB Cup at the age of 15 years, 8 months.

While the Japan-based tour may not have a history of producing world-class golfers, it can at least boast a higher proficiency in the nickname department. (Let's face it: Referring to fan favorites Phil Mickelson and John Daly as "Lefty" and "Long John" isn't exactly going to win any creativity contests.) That goes for Ishikawa, too, who is called "Hanikami Oji" in his homeland; roughly translated, it means "Bashful Prince."

The prince won't be the only potential contender to the throne at the Masters. Anthony Kim? Hunter Mahan? Those guys are old news, already in their mid-20s. Instead, Ishikawa will be joined by fellow teens Rory McIlroy and Danny Lee, forming a triumvirate that could serve as the future of golf leading into the next three decades and beyond.

3 Webb Simpson. One of only two 2008 college grads currently on the PGA Tour (along with Derek Fathauer), the Wake Forest product is already building on a strong amateur and early pro career.

Last year, Simpson made the cut in three of six PGA Tour appearances and chipped in a pair of runner-up results in eight starts on the Nationwide circuit, but apparently those were only a sign of things to come. In his first two tourneys as a rookie, the Q-school grad finished T-9 at the Sony Open and T-5 at the Bob Hope Classic, posting a high score of 70 in his nine rounds so far with a scoring average of 67.2.

"I set my goals really high," Simpson, a four-time All-America selection, said recently. "I don't want to limit myself. I'm just trying to get better and learn each day."

The most appealing prospect for Simpson may be the fact that he has yet to finish in the top 10 for any driving, ball-striking or putting statistics during the first two weeks of the season. If he improves just a little in just one of those categories, expect a huge season for the rook.

Alvaro Quiros and Briny Baird

Getty Images

Could it be the hat? Alvaro Quiros, left, won this week on the European Tour while former wide-brimmed hat wearer Briny Baird fell short on the PGA Tour.

4 Wide-brimmed hats. Count Briny Baird among the best players on the PGA Tour without a career victory -- and I think I may know why.

For years, Baird wore a Greg Norman-style hat and appeared to be closing in on that elusive title. He has now forsaken such headwear and can't seem to come any closer, the latest attempt being a T-42 finish at the Bob Hope after opening with a promising pair of 63s.

Meanwhile, Alvaro Quiros was sporting one of those broad-brimmed bad boys at the European Tour's Qatar Masters and parlayed that decision into a three-stroke victory.

Coincidence? Perhaps, but the big-hitting Quiros did receive plenty of aid from the golf gods this week. On Friday, he pulled his second shot on the par-5 final hole into some rocks, but saw the ball carom back into the fairway and from there got up-and-down for birdie. The next day, he hit a drive on No. 9 into a tree -- literally. Quiros was granted relief and later saved par.

Not to bury the lede, but the victory vaults the 26-year-old Spaniard from 74th in the Official World Golf Ranking into the top 30, all but guaranteeing him a spot in this year's Masters field.

Somewhere, Greg Norman is smiling.

Three down

5 Adam Scott. Hey, that run of his couldn't have lasted forever, right? I mean, first he spent a week frolicking in Maui with Kate Hudson, then he followed by finishing with a share of second place at the Sony Open.

If good things really do happen in threes, I would have half-expected Scott to win the Powerball lottery during a brief layover to refuel the private jet en route to his next event. Instead, neither of those things happened. Scott flew commercial, and the Aussie's clubs were lost somewhere between Hawaii and Qatar -- a distance of only, oh, 8,674 miles, give or take.

Though the clubs were retrieved, Scott played like a man who was still trying to get reacquainted with them after a few days of alone time. Seeking the career hat trick in Qatar -- he won in each of his previous two appearances -- the Aussie shot 73-70 to make the cut by a stroke before following with a strong 70-67 on the weekend for a backdoor T-21 result.

Hmmm ... maybe being Adam Scott isn't so bad after all.

6Boo Weekley and Brandt Snedeker. The Americans' first trip to Qatar was a quick one, as each missed the cut and was done with the excursion by Friday afternoon.

Weekley's 74-73 included eight holes of bogey or worse, but even more upsetting for those Boo-Birds out there is the fact that he once again reiterated a desire to call it quits from the game sooner rather than later.

"I'm just here to play the game so I can get what I want to get out of it and then I'm done," Weekley said Wednesday before the tournament. "I love the competition. I love the fact of being able to go out and play and compete as good as I do, but at the same time, I hate it. I just hate it, you know what I mean? I hate to know that I've got to get up every morning and grind over something that don't mean a hill of beans."

Snedeker finished two strokes better, but the real news is that he decided to follow in the footsteps of Weekley, Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas by declaring his status as an affiliate member of the European Tour prior to the event. He will need to play 11 more tourneys in order to qualify for the inaugural Race to Dubai this autumn.

7 Daniel Chopra. A few weeks ago during a conference call in advance of his first stint as host of the Bob Hope Classic, I asked Arnold Palmer to name the young players on tour who have impressed him as of late. He rattled off a list of names, both young and old, that sounded like a recitation of a who's who in the game today -- Tiger Woods, Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, Adam Scott, Trevor Immelman, Anthony Kim and Steve Stricker -- before ultimately landing on one guy who isn't considered a superstar.

"I've watched Daniel Chopra," Palmer said, "who has won a couple events and certainly looks outstanding to me as an upcoming golfer."

It's hardly a coincidence that Arnie picked the man who's an Orlando resident via Sweden and India. Chopra plays out of Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge and has often spoken about the positive influence The King has had on his career.

Chopra hasn't exactly emulated Palmer in the early part of the season, though. After winning last year's season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship, then undergoing major swing changes that resulted in no other top-10 finishes in 26 more starts, Chopra defended his title by finishing T-27 in the 33-man field at Kapalua, then missed the cut at the Sony Open and was one of only eight players to finish his four rounds over 3-under-par or worse at the Hope this week.

Wish I could say there's a light at the end of the tunnel for Chopra, because he really is a better player than he has shown since last year's victory, but 12-plus months without a top-10 result is too much of a trend to ignore.

Three wishes

8 I wish we could find out the identity of Deep Throat in the European Ryder Cup captain scandal. And yes, "scandal" is the right word for the situation on the other side of the pond.

Just a few weeks ago, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sandy Lyle were considered the odds-on favorites to land the role. But a heated meeting of the search committee led to the emergence of Colin Montgomerie as a leading candidate.

In itself, such news may not be considered overly scandalous, but it appears someone may have leaked this information to the betting parlors, tipping them off as to Monty's newfound candidacy -- which immediately lowered his odds from that of a 50-1 long shot to even-money favorite. If you want to take the conspiracy theory one step further, consider the fact that it's not out of the realm of possibility that someone in attendance at the committee meeting sensed the growing sentiment for Monty, then placed a large wager on the man who will likely be the next captain.

As far as conspiracy theories go, there could definitely be some validity behind this one. In fact, European Tour officials are taking this so seriously that they've already launched an investigation into how and why the oddsmakers knew such inside information so quickly.

We'll find out who Europe's next captain will be on Wednesday, but just to ensure there was even more intrigue in the final days before the decision, Olazabal recently revamped his stance on the position, saying through his agent that he would take the captaincy if offered, rather than preferring to try to play his way onto the team in 2010. As mentioned last week, I still wouldn't be surprised if there was a dual announcement -- much like when Ian Woosnam and Nick Faldo were named consecutive captains four years ago -- in which Monty was given the job for '10 and Ollie was immediately placed in the role for two years later.

9 I wish, just once, that I could hit the ball like Gary Woodland. That's right -- Gary Woodland.

Just as hip NBA fans would prefer to soar to the rim like Trevor Ariza than his more popular teammate Kobe Bryant based on dunking prowess alone, if I could transport my body into someone else's for one whack at a tee shot, I just might take Woodland over any of his more accomplished peers.

So far, the PGA Tour rookie's numbers are dizzying. No, I'm not talking about tournament results -- he missed the cut in each of his first two career starts -- but his swing stats. The average PGA Tour pro owns a swing speed of 112 mph; Woodland was recently clocked by Golf Channel at 124 mph. The average ball speed is 165 mph; Woodland comes in at 184 mph. Think about that: After impact, this kid's ball is traveling faster than a souped-up Ducati at top speed.

How do those numbers translate into results? It's all in the carry. The average tour player flies his ball 268 yards in the air. Woodland routinely clears three bills.

Now, I'll admit that I'm not sure where these stats stack up against the usual suspects in the distance debate -- i.e., Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes -- but it certainly puts Woodland in the conversation.

And in your conversation at the 19th hole about one player whose swing you'd like to emulate just once, let the other guys take Tiger, Phil or the Big Easy. Tell 'em you're going with Woodland.

10 I wish for nothing but undiminished success to those vendors who are peddling their wares at this week's upcoming PGA Show in Orlando, Fla. In my heart, though, I can't help but wonder: If the big-time manufacturers are struggling in the current economic downturn, how are the little guys supposed to survive?

It's been a few years since I last attended the show, but it's a veritable cornucopia of everything golf. Think of it as a pro shop meets flea market with salesmen tucked into every nook and cranny of the convention center, hoping the next person who passes by will prove to be a fruitful business partner. Never before have I seen more similarly purposed products being proffered in the same place; from swing trainers to golf tees to head covers, there are probably two dozen potential profiteers for every one of those items that a casual golfer would actually need.

Though I haven't heard official booth numbers for this year's edition, I can imagine the current economic climate would discourage all but those mom-and-pop vendors who have the utmost confidence in their products.

Perhaps it will force them to sell in more creative ways, perhaps it will keep them from selling at all. Whatever the case, here's guessing there will be fewer smiles than usual when the show concludes this weekend.

Fact or fiction

More birdies equates to more excitement.

It's a notion that permeated the rhetoric of dissatisfied fans regarding the U.S. Open in the early part of this decade and transcended to the Masters in recent years: "If I wanted to watch golfers struggle," these folks contend, "I would videotape myself."

Believe me, I understand the theory behind rooting for birdies to win holes as opposed to pars -- especially at Augusta National, where cheers have given way to groans on the hallowed grounds. But anyone who thinks the above statement is a fact needed only witness another five rounds of the annual Bob Hope birdie-fest -- OK, maybe just the first four -- to know this statement was unjustified and misappropriated.

Don't get me wrong; in its current state, the Hope provides a much-needed early-season confidence boost to those still attempting to shake off the cobwebs. There are rumors that the tourney could undergo some major changes next season or even be erased from the schedule altogether, which would be a shame for those who treat it as spring training.

When he was a tour regular, Joey Sindelar used to tell me that after a long winter in Horseheads, N.Y., he enjoyed playing the Hope because it guaranteed four tee times, no matter how poorly he was playing. Plenty of other players used the event in similar fashion this week.

Of course, you wouldn't know about the rust just from checking out the leaderboard. Pat Perez won the tournament at 33 under par and 52 others were 20 under or better, meaning a scoring average of at least 68 for the five days. As much of a roller coaster as it turned out to be, I don't think anyone would confuse the uncommonly low numbers in the desert for the most exciting tournament of the year.

Instead, there obviously needs to be a better balance of tough conditions with the opportunity to score well. Personally, I've always been a fan of the R&A's Open Championship setups, in which courses are tough but fair, with weather conditions being the overall determining factor of scoring. In fact, you could even make the same case about the Hope, which played easy under benign conditions and stiffened when the wind blew.

There were hundreds of birdies posted in the desert this week, which is fun every once in a while. But the Bob Hope Classic once again proved that more red numbers don't necessarily mean more drama and excitement. In other words, the next time you speak of how majors should allow for many more birdies, bite your tongue and consider this past week's event. As for me, I consider the above statement to be FICTION.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for He can be reached at


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Road to Augusta

Perhaps I should rename this section "Road from Augusta" for this week only.

While most golfers head to Augusta for the sport's most anticipated event, here's a tale of one who had to leave the city to reach his Holy Grail. You know Ken Whisenhunt as the head coach of the Super Bowl-bound Arizona Cardinals, but he is also an Augusta, Ga., native who used to volunteer as a scoreboard operator during Masters week.

Oh, and he's got a little game, too. Whisenhunt is listed as a plus-0.9 handicap who owns a personal-best score of 74 at Augusta National, where his many rounds also include a memorable one with Arnold Palmer.

The relationship with Whisenhunt has left Palmer conflicted about whom to root for, but the Latrobe, Pa., native is still backing his hometown team.

"I don't want to see my guy lose," Palmer said during the Hope, "but I'll play golf with him and he'll win there."

Teeing it up with Arnie may not even be the coach's claim to fame on the course. He once eagled the treacherous par-4 11th hole, of which Ben Hogan famously said, "If you ever see me on this green in two, you'll know I missed my second."

Hmmm ... with a win on Super Bowl Sunday, here's guessing Whisenhunt could trade a photo op with the Lombardi Trophy in exchange for a few minutes in the winner's green jacket come April.

On the hot seat
Alice Cooper's golf game has come a long way from the days when he would wear a fake mustache to a random public course so the hard-rocker wouldn't be outed. Now he rarely goes a day without hitting the links -- no disguise necessary.

I spoke with Cooper via telephone prior to the Bob Hope Classic, where he was once again competing in the pro-am part of the competition.

No more Mr. Nice Guy? Could've fooled me ...

Q: I ran into you at Kapalua a couple of years ago, right after the pro-am. You were coming out of the elevator and I asked, "Hey, how'd you do today?" You shook your head and said, "Eh, 71." You know how demoralizing that is for the rest of us?
A: I think if I shot 71 and shook my head and pretended to be nonchalant about it, I was kidding, because I was probably elated. Any time I can shoot under par, that's one of those days that I celebrate.

Q: We've all heard about how athletes want to be musicians and musicians want to be athletes ...
A: Well, I think there's some connection between music and golf. Almost all of the musicians I know were one-time addicts of some sort -- either alcohol or something else -- and they end up playing golf because it's so addictive. It has that addictive quality to it. I mean, you go out there and hit 20 bad shots just to hit one good one. It's the only game in the world where a guy in a rock band would be up 'til 3 a.m. partying and still get up at 6 to play golf. It's true, isn't it?

Q: Absolutely. Are there are a lot of other rockers who play golf?
A: Yeah, more and more guys are starting to play because when you're touring to so many different cities and you're sitting somewhere in Wichita on a Friday morning and there's nothing to do, believe me -- golf is like a godsend. You know, it's something to really look forward to that day. You're going to play a show that night, but what are you going to do the rest of the day?

Q: Is that how you got into the sport?
A: Well, I got into it because I was battling alcoholism. When I came out of the hospital, I quit drinking and I immediately took up golf because I knew I really had to be busy all day and not sitting around, thinking about drinking.

Q: If you could go back in time, would you trade your career in music for a life on the PGA Tour?
A: You know what? I wouldn't. The only reason I say that is because as great as golf is, it's not as creative as writing lyrics and music and doing it on stage. There's so much more creativity and so much more art to it. Now, I look at what Tiger does as art. And I look at some of these guys, when I see how they can control that ball, they're artists at what they do. But I honestly think that I'm a musician first and a golfer second.

Q: I'm sure you've heard John Daly sing and play guitar before, maybe some other guys on Tour, too. Anyone out there who you think could actually make the transition from golf to music?
A: It's probably easier for a golfer to be a musician than a musician to be a golfer. I mean, there are only, what, 150 guys in the world that ever make a living at golf? So look at the percentages of that against musicians. I know a lot of guys who are pretty good guitar players and can sing and can play drums that are great golfers, but I don't know of very many musicians who could get out there and make money in the golf world.

Q: Not too long ago, Golf Digest released a list of their top entertainers in golf. Do you know exactly where you ranked?
A: I think I was No. 10 or 11. [He was 11th.]

Q: I figured you might have an idea. Is that something that is a source of pride for you?
A: Yeah, well, I probably play more than anybody. I play six days a week and shoot consistently right around 77 or 78, you know, 5 or 6 handicap. Every once in a while, I make a lot of putts and I'll shoot an even-par round or something.

Q: Who are some of your favorite PGA Tour pros to tee it up with?
A: I've never met a pro that I didn't like. It's interesting: The guys get out here and they're professionals, but they can have fun, too. Some of the guys that you would think are not funny -- like Justin Leonard or Davis Love -- are actually very funny guys. ... Rocco [Mediate] is a good friend of mine, Aaron Baddeley, I play a lot with [Sergio] Garcia. We amateurs can watch their games and just be in awe of what they do. I mean, those guys can get up and down from everywhere, they hit the ball so well. It's not the same game we play.

Q: If you could trade any part of your game for any part of one of their games, what would it be?
A: Well, a long time ago Johnny Miller took my swing and made it a very simple swing. I very rarely miss a fairway. I hit the ball very, very straight. The best part of my game is probably the fact that we're never looking for my ball. It's usually right down the middle [laughs].

Q: So would you rather have the ability to hit it 50 yards longer or the ability to make more 10-footers?
A: You know what? I would much rather make putts, only because of the fact that length doesn't really mean anything. What's the difference if you're hitting a 4-iron or a 5-iron? If you can hit it, you can hit it. Putting, though, is such a precise art. Some of these guys just amaze me at how good they are at reading putts. I don't think anybody gives credit to Tiger for what a great reader of putts that he is. That's maybe his greatest strength.

Q: Speaking of qualities, is there something physical, something tangible that you can take from being a musician that makes you a better golfer?
A: Well, yeah. Honestly, I think rhythm. I get a song in my head and I try to get a song that's a mid-tempo song that I'm going to keep in my head. You don't want anything fast; you don't want anything slow. You want a mid-tempo song that you keep in your head and that will definitely affect the rhythm of your swing.

Q: Interesting. Give me a good mid-tempo song that I should have in my head the next time I tee it up.
A: I always get something like a commercial. I get some really horrible, stupid commercial in my head [laughs]. Pick any Burt Bacharach song, then you'll have a great rhythm.

Q: Come on, man! You're one of the kings of rock and you're going to give me Burt Bacharach?
A: Well, the last thing I'm going to do is get a Sex Pistols song in my head [laughs]. Find something that is real mid-tempo. A nice Beatles song that's right in the middle of the road.

Q: OK, I can handle the Beatles. That's a little better.
A: The Beatles and Burt Bacharach are very similar when you look at how many hits they wrote!

Q: I've always wanted to ask you this, even though you might get mad at me: A lot of guys, when they leave a putt short, might say, "Nice putt, Alice." Do you take offense to that?
A: That one, and "Hit the ball, Alice." I always wonder if I've heard "Hit the ball, Alice" or "We're not worthy" more.

Shameless plug
The FBR Open bills itself as "The Greatest Show on Grass," and while the folks at Augusta National -- not to mention those from the USGA, R&A and PGA of America -- may take offense to such a claim, no other tournament can boast a greater annual attendance than this week's festivities at TPC Scottsdale.

Stephen Dunn/Getty

No one can party like the folks in Phoenix, either. The maelstrom within the madness is, of course, the 16th hole -- "The Coliseum" -- which for the first time will be fully enclosed on all sides, holding up to 20,000 fans at once.

Here's where the shameless plug comes in. I've never attended the FBR, but I'm happy to say I'll be on-site this week, providing a live blog (just like those from past major championships) and an all-new video blog from the Sweet 16 scene during the opening two rounds. From Phil Mickelson getting serenaded with the Arizona State University fight song to others being berated for missing the green, there's never a dull moment.

"That can be a very scary hole," Joe Durant once told USA Today. "Walking to the tee is kind of like seeing a police car in your rearview mirror and you don't know if they're after you or not. If you're lucky and the police car roars by, you can take a deep breath. That hole is nervous excitement."

He won't be the only one feeling some butterflies, as nearly every player who has competed in the FBR has at one time uttered some variance to the phrase "There is nothing else like it in golf." Sounds like the perfect forum for the live blog, which will (hopefully) inject analysis, on-scene reporting, user interaction and maybe even a touch of humor, if the mood strikes, into the events on Thursday and Friday.

(And for those of you on-site at the venue, also check out the "Shot at Glory" competition Wednesday afternoon, when celebs George Lopez, Luke Wilson, Josh Duhamel and others will join, uh, certain members of the media in a one-shot, closest-to-the-pin contest.)

You can find the live blog here starting Thursday morning. To send an e-mail to the blog at any point during the week, the address is:

The list
When Leif Olson made his PGA Tour debut at last week's Sony Open -- shooting 74-73 to miss the cut -- he made a little history, too. The Duke University product became the third-ever Leif to sprout on golf's family tree, joining Leif Hederstram and Leif Westerberg as the only Leifs (Leives?) to compete in PGA Tour events.

Good stuff, sure, but it wasn't enough for Olson to crack this week's edition of The List, which ranks the top five names currently in the game.

5. Taco Remkes. If we could install only a few Taco Bell or Del Taco franchises in the U.K., this Euro Tour rookie would be sponsored for life.

4. Birdie Kim. Upon winning the 2005 U.S. Women's Open, Kim was asked why she didn't adopt "Eagle" as a first name. "Sounds like a boy," she said.

3. SSP Chowrasia. Land ho! This guy sounds more like a cargo vessel than a pro golfer, but he stayed afloat in winning last year's Indian Masters.

2. Jacobus Philippus Van Zyl. Just call him Jaco, but this dude's formal name sounds like something out of the Roman Empire.

1. Tiger Woods. Yep, another title for the guy who already owns too many of 'em. Seriously, though, doesn't he still sound like a character straight out of a Dan Jenkins novel?

And the winner is …

The Sports Illustrated cover jinx? Ha! That's nothing compared with the Curse of the W18.

In the first column of the season, I picked Vijay Singh to win the Mercedes-Benz Championship based on the premise that he had never finished worse than T-12 in nine career starts at Kapalua. One day later, it was announced that Singh would need knee surgery after the tourney, where he struggled to a T-27 result.

The next week, I was tempted to select eventual co-runner-up David Toms -- and wrote as much in this section -- but eschewed him for Davis Love III instead. The bad news? Love shot 72-70 to miss the cut. The good news? At least he didn't hurt himself.

Needing some good mojo, I went chalk last week. Anthony Kim wasn't only a smart pick at the Bob Hope; he was a popular pick and the odds-on favorite to win ... until he withdrew before the tourney with a sore shoulder. Excuse me if I sound bitter, but is there any doubt the injury occurred due to over-swiping the credit card after receiving all those appearance fees to play in international events?

(Full disclosure: I also picked Sergio Garcia at the Qatar Masters and he finished T-7, so it wasn't a total disaster.)

Since going chalk had the same effect as nails on a blackboard, I'll reverse theories for the FBR Open. I wouldn't be surprised to see a rookie break through -- there are so many who are playing well right now -- and my dark horse special could be Scott Piercy, playing on a sponsor's exemption. Nor would it shock me to see another big banger like defending champ J.B. Holmes, meaning Bubba Watson is a possibility or maybe Robert Garrigus -- if the alternate can squeeze into the field.

Instead, I'll take a guy who -- like Bob Hope winner Pat Perez -- is among the most talented players without a win. And like Perez, he currently makes his home in Scottsdale. My choice is Mathew Goggin, who's never made the cut at the FBR and finished just T-19 this past week, but desperate times call for desperate measures, so it's worth taking a flier on a long shot.

From the inbox
This week's e-mail comes from Huntingdon Valley, Pa., resident Mark Mazza, who is still questioning the validity of El Nino's flat stick:

I agree that Sergio Garcia is a great ball-striker and has a great short game. But even if his putting statistics improved, he is not a "clutch putter" except in the Ryder Cup. If you had to make an 8-foot putt at a critical point in a major, how many other PGA Tour players would you choose to take that putt over Sergio? I find it interesting that there are players who have great tee-to-green statistics but it seems like the difference between them and the guys who win consistently is always about putting.

Well, first of all, it's no secret that Garcia has struggled with the putter in the past, but his work with short-game guru Stan Utley has paid off in the past year. And his 107th rank in putting average last season actually wasn't all that horrible. Clutch putting? No, that has never been Sergio's forte, but how many current players can be given such a label? Tiger Woods skews the numbers, as always, and Padraig Harrington has proven that to be his specialty. Go back a few years and you can throw Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson on that list, too, but there aren't many others. Let's just say Garcia isn't exactly in the minority when it comes to grouping those who have the ability to make major-winning putts more often than not.

All of which leads me to the last part of this e-mail. Save for the four aforementioned players, how many others would you place in the category of "guys who win consistently"? Geoff Ogilvy and Zach Johnson, the first two champs this season, each now own five career PGA Tour titles; that's two fewer than Garcia, who also has 11 international victories to his credit.

Moral of the story: It's easy to blast Garcia for not winning consistently and not being a clutch putter, but let's remember that such foibles are representative of about 99 percent of players on tour. I guess the only difference between them and Sergio is that none of those guys are ranked No. 2 in the world.

As always, to be included in future editions of the W18, hit me at

Stat of the week


That was the winning margin for Catriona Matthew, who shot 69-69 to take the inaugural HSBC LPGA Brazil Cup over runner-up Kristy McPherson.

But the number had much greater significance for Matthew. The 39-year-old longtime pro is also five months pregnant with her second child, a baby girl.

"When you've played well, you don't feel tired," she said. "Maybe tomorrow I will feel it a bit."

Matthew will reportedly play one more tournament before taking a leave of absence from the tour.

And since I'm on the whole circle-of-life topic (and had nowhere else to include this info in the column), it's worth mentioning here in "Stat of the Week" that Gary Player shot rounds of 70-71-71 at the Champions Tour's Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, breaking his age of 73 each day -- something he accomplished only twice in 17 total rounds last season.

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