I can also be found at Rotoworld.com and on Twitter @RyanGolfBlogger.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Hyundai Tournament of Champions - Preview

Even though we are almost a week removed from Christmas morning, the start of the first tournament week of 2013 feels like a huge gift under the tree. The Hyundai Tournament of Champions will feature 30 of the 2012 PGA TOUR winners on the familiar Plantation Course at Kapalua in Hawaii. Here's what you need to know to begin your research.
  • The most unimportant stat in the bag this week is accuracy off the tee. The Plantation Course is one of the longest on TOUR (7411 yards on the 2012 card), and that also means it offers wide and forgiving fairways.
  • With four par 5s and a reachable par 4, it's important that a player take it low. Look at a guy's birdie average and par 5 stats, and also consider a player's ability to hole putts in the 4-10 foot range for both birdie and par. The greens are receptive to steady putting.
  • Local knowledge is important here. There are several different wind patterns on the island. If a course plays with the trade winds for a rookie's practice rounds and then shifts during the tournament, he's flying blind. A common trend is for a guy to get progressively better here over the years. Consider that defending champion Steve Stricker had top 10s in both 2010 and 2011 leading up to his win, also losing in a playoff in 2008.
  • By my quick count, only three of last year's top 10 are back in the field this year.
  • A player's current form is often a huge factor in projecting how they will perform in a tournament. With every player coming off of some sort of a layoff, form is almost out the window. I say almost because Aussies like Stuart Appleby and Geoff Ogilvy have a strong track record in this event (though neither are in the field this week) and that could be because they are coming off summer in Australia while virtually everyone else in the Northern Hemisphere is in the dead of winter.
  • With form out the window, you have to lean on course history and stats.
I'll be back tomorrow with power rankings and we will dive into the fantasy games. Best of luck with your research until then!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2013's Crystal Ball

With golf's preseason almost officially over, I'll take a minute to gaze into my crystal ball for 2013. As reviewed earlier in December, a good many of our predictions for 2012 came to fruition, so we'll see if we can hit on a few more this time around.

In no particular order:
  • I like the firepower of this year's rookie class. Luke Guthrie, Russell Henley, Luke List and Morgan Hoffmann all look like long-time TOUR regulars in the making. Q School has given us several more wet-behind-the-ears college stars in Scott Langley and Derek Ernst, as well as Mr. Monday Qualifier from 2012 Patrick Reed. This feels like a class with a Hunter Mahan or Keegan Bradley in it, as well as some guys that will be staples on TOUR. They will have to learn quickly in a short season with starts precious. Two of these guys will win in 2013.....the most likely are Guthrie and Henley.
  • We saw the beginning of the end of some American stalwarts over the past 12 months, we may just not fully realize it yet. Steve Stricker is expected to play in only a handful of events in 2013, leading me to wonder if he isn't nursing injuries and trying to avoid aggravation and surgery. Phil Mickelson only won once in 2012, and barely earned an automatic spot on the Ryder Cup team. Jim Furyk contended four times, but had several highly-publicized late collapses including a disappointing Ryder Cup. Expect things to continue to deteriorate across the board for this group, with Mickelson only occasionally peeking his head into contention.
  • Expect some veterans with longstanding ties to the belly putter to play a few weaker events they wouldn't normally just to experiment with a different putting style. Especially once they lock up a 2013-2014 card. Those experimental starts for them will hurt some Q School and Web.com Tour grads pining for starts.
  • Expect some veterans to end up in precarious spots due to the lack of a fall series. I'm throwing a name out of a hat here, but a guy like Chad Campbell that took a step back in 2012 could find himself out of a 2013-2014 card with no safety net of the Fall Series. It's a bad year for a guy like Jonathan Byrd to start off on the shelf with an injury. I realize that he would have some medical starts, but no player wants to turn the page on a season with that lingering.
Not so much a prediction, but I want to see how certain players respond in 2013.
  • Is Rickie Fowler really a star? I think so, but I'm not sold. Is he really any better than Bud Cauley? Ryan Moore? If you take away the funny hat, his resume is similar to Moore and Cauley is trending in line with him.
  • How will Hunter Mahan bounce back from missing out on the Ryder Cup? I expect well, but he's still got to go out there and do it.
  • Is Dustin Johnson ready to answer the bell and knock off three wins and a major? Will Keegan continue his rise to elite status?
  • Is Webb Simpson capable of being a force all the time?
  • Have guys like Kyle Stanley and Bill Haas, who disappeared after West Coast wins early in the year returned to form?
  • Are Lucas Glover and Steve Marino back and better than ever?
  • Will Jeff Overton, Brian Davis or Brendon de Jonge ever win?
  • How will the influx of European players play out in America?
  • Is this new Web.com Tour system to the PGA TOUR going to work well? Will we miss Q School as much as I think we will?
I'll dive into the Hyundai Tournament of Champions starting tomorrow with a preview on the event, and follow with a power ranking and some different advice on games in the days leading up to the start. Keep in mind, the event starts on Friday and ends Monday.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Early Presidents Cup Thoughts

Last year at this time I took a stab at who I thought would populate the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup team. As luck would have it, I went nine for 12. Considering there were only four events with points accumulated at that point, it was a pretty nice percentage.

Glancing at the current U.S. Presidents Cup standing that began in September of 2011, there is much more information to make informed predictions on how this year's team will look come September of 2013. The major difference is that there are 10 automatics for the Presidents Cup versus eight for the Ryder Cup. Point values for 2011 and 2012 were one point per dollar, but that doubles for events in 2013.

Here are the current top 20:

1. Tiger Woods
2. Brandt Snedeker
3. Jason Dufner
4. Hunter Mahan
5. Bubba Watson
6. Zach Johnson
7. Phil Mickelson
8. Webb Simpson
9. Keegan Bradley
10. Matt Kuchar
11. Bill Haas
12. Jim Furyk
13. Nick Watney
14. Steve Stricker
15. Dustin Johnson
16. Bo Van Pelt
17. Robert Garrigus
18. Rickie Fowler
19. Kevin Na
20. Ryan Moore

With double points for the entire 2013 season, anything can still happen. Looking at this list, here's what jumps out:
  • Tiger's a lock, and may be the only one.
  • Bill Haas won the FedExCup in 2011, but failed to make the Ryder Cup team in 2012. In fact, he wasn't really even in the conversation. Snedeker looks good now, but is essentially only about $1.2 million in 2013 money from being oustide the top 10. He's looking good, but not a lock.
  • Mickelson feels less than safe.
  • Fortunately for those inside the top 10, I don't seen anyone in the 11-14 range making a big charge. Haas might.
  • Dustin Johnson will be on the Presidents Cup roster, and will do so by playing his way on.
  • BVP, Fowler and Ryan Moore are also worth a close eye.
  • Those outside the top 20 that may factor include Scott Piercy (21) and Bud Cauley (29).
  • There's always the chance a rookie like Luke Guthrie or Russell Henley have huge years and earn a captain's pick, but it's hard to see them starting from near scratch to earn a card.
All that to say, here is my very vanilla prediction at the 2013 U.S. Presidents Cup team:
  1. Tiger Woods
  2. Keegan Bradley
  3. Bubba Watson
  4. Jason Dufner
  5. Dustin Johnson
  6. Brandt Snedeker
  7. Hunter Mahan
  8. Matt Kuchar
  9. Webb Simpson
  10. Bo Van Pelt
Captains Picks: Phil Mickelson and Bud Cauley

Friday, December 21, 2012

Rory or Tiger?

I took a question from a reader regarding Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods on the heels of my Rotoworld Sully’s Snapshot http://www.rotoworld.com/articles/gol/42160/350/preseason-top-125 power ranking. His question was along the lines of which one to take in a season-long salary cap game, given that they each cost the same price. It’s a hypothetical I’ve asked myself as well.
I stand by my ranking of Rory McIlroy as number one and Woods as two, but it’s really close. In fact, in certain formats I would take Woods over McIlroy, but Rory’s earned the top spot in any preseason ranking until he proves himself unworthy. He deserves the benefit of the doubt.
The biggest unknown of the whole debate is how McIlroy handles an equipment change to Nike. For most golfers, there is an adjustment period. We all know McIlroy isn’t “most golfers.” I have to think that McIlroy will do all he can to be ready for the Masters, but last season he played just three events on TOUR before driving down Magnolia Lane.
Prior to the Masters, he was runner-up at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, won The Honda Classic and was third at the second WGC of the year at Doral. He then took almost a month off and tied for 40th at the Masters. He has hinted that he will play a light schedule in 2013, and history shows that he doesn’t play well in his first tournament after a layoff, but plays extremely well when he’s playing the second tournament in a two-week span.
Woods is a known commodity. Barring another injury setback, we know from last year that TW will perform on courses where he has a history of solid play. We know his weakness is keeping his driver in play, fearing a right-to-left draw will turn into a hook he favors a fade that costs him yardage. The only thing we don’t know his how he’ll handle the majors this year.
If you pin me to the wall in terms of majors, I like McIlroy’s chances the best at the Masters and Woods at The Open Championship.
As odd as it sounds, 2013 will come down to confidence for both guys. Is Rory confident in his equipment? Is Tiger confident in his health? Does anything change with Rory’s high-profile relationship with Caroline for good or bad (talk about a possible tailspin)? Is Tiger confident on the weekend at majors this year?
Several other caveats, two of the four courses where Rory won in 2012 are off the rotation in 2013 (Kiawah Island and Crooked Stick). All three of Tiger’s are in play. Tiger also will likely play two or three more events than Rory.
In a season-long salary cap game where the prices are the same, I take Rory without blinking if he’s still playing Titleist. As it stands, it’s murky. Tiger’s your safer pick, but Rory has a higher upside. I’m more tempted to take Tiger, because I don’t like surprises.

Monday, December 17, 2012

2012 - A look back at some predictions

As I prepare to make some predictions for the 2013 PGA TOUR season, I thought it would be fun to go back and look at some comments I made ahead of the 2012 campaign. I had several posts that covered different topics, and below are a few of the ones that stand out……good and bad.
The first is “Who could be this year’s Webb Simpson and Bill Haas.” I’ll let you read the full post http://thegolfaficionado.blogspot.com/2011/12/who-could-be-this-years-webb-simpson.html  if you choose, but I pointed out three guys most likely to have a 2012 like Simpson did in 2011 were Kyle Stanley, Kevin Chappell and Cameron Tringale. The parameters were that it needed to be a young, non-rookie with a solid pedigree. Stanley obviously came the closest, winning and adding a runner-up and at one point leading the Ryder Cup points list, but he lost his momentum and never found it again.
As for the Haas comparison, the parameters were for someone who had been on TOUR a while longer, possibly having a win on their resume but largely would be a surprise should they win the FedExCup. The three I mentioned were Kevin Na, Chris Kirk and Jeff Overton. Each of those three had solid seasons, but none took a step any larger than they already had. I’m not sure Brandt Snedeker would have really qualified for this list, as he was probably too accomplished already.
I had another post entitled “Veterans who may disappoint in 2012.” http://thegolfaficionado.blogspot.com/2011/12/veterans-who-may-disappoint-in-2012.html The five names I included in this list were Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Paul Goydos and Jerry Kelly.
I did pretty well with Furyk, suggesting that he may need a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup, but did over-exaggerate the level of which he make sink, suggesting he would be closer to 50th in the OWGR than 10th. He is currently 27th. By any standard, the way in which he blew some marquee tournaments down the stretch, along with a poor Ryder Cup record, would likely have him label 2012 as a disappointing year.
I didn’t call for a crash-and-burn for Mickelson, only noted that his time at the top is slowing down and his ability to contend regularly is coming to an end. He won just one event in 2012 and barely made the Ryder Cup on his own merit, finishing in the eighth and final automatic spot.
It’s apparent that I whiffed on Els, and I’m glad I did. The sport is better with The Big Easy on top. My basis was that he was outside the top 160 in almost every major statistical category in 2011. What I didn’t factor in, was how well he plays Royal Lytham!
It’s unfortunate that an injury is the reason Paul Goydos proved me right, but he is known for having to make way too much money in very few events.
Jerry Kelly finished outside the top 125 for the first time in who knows how long. I noted that my selection for him as more of a hunch, factoring in age and declining ball-striking stats, and unfortunately it was proven correct. Fortunately for Kelly, he has career money exemptions in his pocket and we’ll see plenty of him in 2013.
I offered up my initial guess for the members of the 2012 Ryder Cup team for the U.S. side back in December http://thegolfaficionado.blogspot.com/2011/12/early-ryder-cup-power-rankings.html. I’m happy to say I had nine of the 12 right. (Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Jim Furyk) I also incorrectly had Hunter Mahan, Lucas Glover and Nick Watney on the team. Brandt Snedeker and Zach Johnson made my 9-man watch list, but Jason Dufner got no respect from me pre-season.
In the coming days I will offer up some similar predictions for the 2013 season. Some will be right and others will look about as smart as predicting Ernie Els to have a down year in 2012!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

2013 Preview on Rotoworld

I want to make everyone aware that I will write preview blurbs for all of the fully exempt PGA TOUR members on Rotoworld.com starting Monday (12/10). In those blurbs I will recap 2012, as well as offer some thoughts about the player's 2013 prospects.

The blurbs will post alphabetically, intentionally skipping those who have qualified for the Tournament of Champions because those will be posted the week of that event.

Also, I'm working on a preview of 2013's top 125 that will publish on Rotoworld sometime in December.

If you have any questions regarding 2013 that I've yet to cover either here or on Rotoworld, feel free to tweet me @RyanGolfBlogger or email me at thegolfaficionado@gmail.com

Saturday, December 8, 2012

2012 Q School Graduate Projections

My projections for the 2012 Q School graduates have been published on Rotoworld. Check them out and let me know what you think http://www.rotoworld.com/articles/gol/42076/345/2012-q-school-graduates.

When checking out the "Reminds me of" for each player, I went a little less scientific than I did in my Web.com Tour projections. Think of it like when the first and second round pairings for the U.S. Open are released and you start racking your brain for why the USGA has paired certain guys together.

Here's an example. I said Robert Karlsson reminded me of Chris DiMarco. The reason behind it was that both have had their share of success on the global stage, from Ryder Cups to contending in majors, yet both have lost PGA TOUR status and had to try and fight their way back.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Thanks to Golfmanna

Special thanks to Golfmanna for naming me as one of five "Twitter Must Follows" for "Fantasy Related" golf topics! http://www.golfmanna.com/pages/article.aspx?id=192

I'm honored to be mentioned in the company as my Rotoworld colleagues Rob Bolton (@RobBoltonGolf) and Johnny Mac (@J_McNamara_Golf), as well my Aussie Twitter mate Mick McGill (@MickSportsNews) and Jeffrey DeVore(@A340Spotter). For those that don't know, my handle is @RyanGolfBlogger.

Check out Golfmanna.com soon for 2013 games, which specialize in one-and-done and major pools.

Q School Wrap Up

The final Q School as we know it wrapped up with an impressive list of 26 players earning their PGA TOUR cards. The medalist was Korean Dong-hwan Lee at 25-under-par. I will have a full report, along with 2013 projections, publish on Rotoworld in the near future. For now, here are a few thoughts from the final class of Q School.
  • While there were 26 who earned their card, Brad Fritsch had already graduated via the Web.com Tour. His tie for seventh improved his reshuffle number to start the year, proving it to be a wise decision to try his hand at PGA West.
  • That means that the minimum of 50 players earned cards via the Web.com and Q School. This is probably a good thing given the challenges that will come with trying to earn starts in 2013.
  • I believe my math is correct in saying that 11-under (T64) was the number for full Web.com Tour status to start the year. It's a little tricky because it is the number closest to 50 (it can be higher or lower than 50) after you take out all the Web.com Tour grads who were also in the field that would impact that number. There is a chance it's 10-under (T73), but the PGA TOUR's Media site does not have a note to clarify that I've seen.
  • I alluded to it above, but this is a strong and diverse graduating class. Robert Karlsson and Ross Fisher are global stars, or close to it. Guys like Richard H. Lee, Billy Horschel and Chez Reavie all boast impressive talent and have shown flashes of being long-time TOUR players. Then here are some budding young stars like Henrik Norlander, Patrick Reed, Derek Ernst and Scott Langley. Why are we eliminating Q School again?

I'll post a link to my Rotoworld article when it publishes. It will be much like the one I did on Web.com Tour grads.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Q School - Round 5

Moving day happened at the final Q School as we know it. Steven Bowditch began the fifth (of six) round in a tie for 10th before firing an 8-under-par 64 and leads by one over Kris Blanks at 23-under. Dong-hwan Lee's 1-under kept him well in control of securing a TOUR card, but is now three back after his night with the lead.

Here are some observations as a sleepless night awaits.
  • Proving it's a marathon and not a sprint, Bowditch began the week with a 1-over 73 before carding four consecutive rounds in the 60s. That 73 put him well outside the top 125 after the first round. Also illustrating that point is Meen Whee Kim. The second and third round leader began the day in a tie for second, but slipped outside the top 25 with his 3-over 75 dropping him to T30. After beginning 68-63-67, he's fumbled with 73-75 in his most recent rounds.
  • Normally slow and steady wins the race, but Danny Ellis has posted no worse than 2-under in each of his five rounds and finds himself T39 at 13-under. That's two off the number needed to advance.
  • With the current PGA TOUR number sitting at 15-under, I don't expect that to move by more than a stroke. The closing two holes at the Stadium Course are brutal without pressure. Imagine standing on an island par 3 (17th) needing a bogey/par finish to earn a card; only to wash your tee shot.
  • There will be other guys trying to go low to earn Web.com full status to start the year. Most will be doing so on the easier Nicklaus Course. One such guy is Stephen Poole. He's been the opposite of Meen Whee Kim. After opening 72-77-72, he's jumped from the depths of the 160s up to T116 with rounds of 67-68. At 4-under, he's currently five back of the number needed for full Web.com status. If I'm him, I'm looking for a 66 and hoping 10-under is good enough.
  • I'm blown away with Kris Blanks. If he can channel this going forward.......
  • I hope Tom Pernice Jr. doesn't impact the number. Maybe I'm missing something, and I hope I am, but a Champions Tour player shouldn't play into the number any more than a Web.com Tour grad should. Maybe he doesn't and I just don't know it. I fully respect his right to go and try and earn a card, but not at the expense of others.
  • Here are some notables within three shots of the PGA TOUR number, but still outside.
    • 1 back - Mark Anderson, Danny Lee
    • 2 back - Oliver Fisher, Kyle Reifers, Alexandre Rocha
    • 3 back - Camilo Villegas, Patrick Reed, Bobby Gates
  • Did I say I can't believe this isn't televised? THIS IS THE REAL BIG BREAK, GOLF CHANNEL.....WAKE UP!
  • I've hit balls at Robbie Biershenk's driving range and I enjoy Chasing the Dream, but really. People will actually catch the dream they are chasing tomorrow. Live. Really, Golf Channel?

Best of luck to all tomorrow! I wish I could watch the tears of joy that go with decades of hard work. I'm okay not seeing a guy who's worked just as hard fall apart late.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Q School - Round 4

After 72 holes we are normally crowning a winner, but at Q School's Final Stage we still have 36 more to contest. Meen Whee Kim will take a break from sleeping on the lead for this first time since Wednesday night, as Dong-hwan Lee fired a 64 to take a two-stroke lead at 19-under over a group that includes Kim.

Many things have come into focus. For instance, we know which players will play with the lead group on the Nicklaus Course on Sunday and the Stadium Course on Monday. We also have a clear picture as to the actual leaderboard, now that all players have played both courses twice. The last such glimpse came on Thursday.

Here's what we think we know:
  • The current PGA TOUR cut line is 12-under. For the first time, the "number" moved just two strokes. Worth mentioning, any player who finishes inside the number who earned a TOUR card via the Web.com Tour will not count against the top 25. Currently, Nicholas Thompson and Andrew Svoboda are inside the top 25. If that were to hold, it would mean the top 27 and ties would earn cards. That would change things as they now sit (T24 is 12-under and T33 is 11-under), but the last few years it has allowed for a few to sneak in including John Huh in 2011.
  • The current Web.com Tour cut line is 7-under.
  • The Nicklaus Course has played easier than the Stadium Course every day, and has been more than a stroke easier in the third and fourth rounds. The means there is some pressure on the lead group to go low on Sunday and hold on during a stressful Monday finish. It also means if a guy in the chasing pack playing the Stadium Course could potentially find a low round on Sunday, they would have a chance to back it up with another low one on the Nicklaus Course on Monday to steal a card. It always seems like one guy does it.
  • The Stadium Course will create some drama on Monday. I noticed that M.W. Kim doubled the 18th to lose the lead on Saturday and Robert Karlsson doubled the 17th.  The 17th hole is a virtual island par 3. Knowing that, I expect the PGA TOUR number to move from 12-under to 15-under on Sunday, but possibly stay there on Monday. Maybe go one deeper to 16-under.
  • It feels like the Web.com Tour number will rise a stroke on Sunday to 8-under, and then probably move one or two more in the final round to 10-under. If that is correct, then a guy who's even par would need a 67/67 finish to earn full Web.com status to start the season.
  • Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano withdrew at 7-over after a snowman today. So did Marcus Fraser and Gary Christian; both at 3-under. I don't know that I would have pulled out at 3-under, because I could see a 66/66 finish being good enough to earn a TOUR card. The Spaniard made the right call. I still can't figure out why Scott Brown is hanging around at 9-over.
Big day tomorrow. The last moving day on the PGA TOUR in 2012.