5 Things: Tour in a post-Masters haze
Not sure if shaving 12 strokes off your performance on one hole from Round 1 to Round 2 is worthy criteria for comeback player of the year, but let the record show that Kevin Na accomplished such a feat at the Valero Texas Open.
Of course, when you require a whopping 16 swings to finish a hole, as he did at the par 4 ninth Thursday, then you’ve opened the door for such easy improvement.
Na made par at the ninth the next day.
Crazy thing is, while Na improved by a massive amount on one hole, he didn’t do so on his entire round from Thursday to Friday. When he made the 16, he shot 80; with a par at No. 9 the next day, he still shot 77. It’s yet another indication that things have been anything but consistent with Na in 2011, which puts him good company.
Certainly, if baseball has the dog days of August, that time of year when a long season has worn on some players and teams, and focus is less than sharp, we are at that point in the pro golf schedule. But it’s only mid-April, you say? Correct, but golf never rests anymore, not with European Tour events stretching into December and the PGA Tour teeing off while the New Year’s Eve confetti is being cleaned up.
The PGA Tour is a marathon, for sure, but there is a sprint mentality early, what with world-class players presented two World Golf Championships, a dynamic Middle East swing, and marquee locales such as Hawaii, Pebble Beach, and Riviera – all before reaching even the quarter pole of the season.
All of it, of course, leads to the massive inhale – the Masters.
The entire Augusta National experience, even for players who’ve been there multiple times, is so overwhelming that what hits you on the ride either East or West on I-20 that Monday after the green jacket has been presented is what could be called the massive exhale.
Valero, Hilton Head, New Orleans. Three tournament weeks for PGA Tour chaps to unwind before strapping in for the Quail Hollow - Players Championship back-to-back pressure cooker and ensuing Texas two-step.
Malaysia, China, South Korea. Three tournament weeks for the European Tour to build up frequent-flier mileage before settling in for a long stretch of tournaments in . . . can you believe, Europe.
So as we put one major behind us and build up for the next one, a glance at the PGA Tour landscape offers a few snapshots of those who truly need the chance to exhale:
1) Forget the 16 . . . . . It’s been a weird year for Na. Having ended his 2010 season in dubious fashion when caught by NBC cameras making a scene after a bad shot at the Tour Championship, he seemingly looked poised for a great stretch of play. But after starting T-20 and then T-5, he missed three straight cuts. What came next was an intriguing tournament, the Northern Trust Open; he very well could have won the tournament but what came out of his third-place finish was an enormous amount or grief for his pace of play. Within a short time, Na has replaced Ben Crane as the posterboy for those who moan about slow play and whether it’s conincidence or not, he has thrown down five consecutive pedestrian tournaments in which he’s broken par five times in 16 rounds. There’s a worrisome combination at work here, because he’s short (188th in driving distance) and crooked (150th in accuracy) and a suspect ball-striker (185th), and that doesn’t seem to be anyway to try and exist on the PGA Tour.
2. No time to hit the panic button . . . . . But what’s with Camilo Villegas? He missed just eight cuts in 63 tournaments in 2008-10 but thus far in nine 2011 starts he has for all intents and purposes missed six cuts – which takes into account a withdrawal, a disqualification, and a first-round loss at the Accenture Match Play Championship. Having ranked inside the top 45 on the money list each of the past five seasons, he presently sits 143rd, and with just 48 birdies in 19 rounds he ranks 190th on tour.
3. Among the perks for winning the Players Championship . . . . . You get symptoms of a curse. Don’t believe it? Well, consider Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson, your 2008 and 2009 winners, respectively. Garcia’s output since the start of the 2009 season has been five measly top 10 finishes in 35 starts and from 10th when he won the Players in 2008 he is now ranked 73rd. As for Stenson, things have gone so poorly this year that he’s made more money for wearing the winning color in the Tavistock Cup ($100,000) than in his five PGA Tour starts ($99,585) combined. The Swede was fifth in the world when he won at Sawgrass, but is currently 93rd. Now comes Tim Clark, the 2010 champion whose problems haven’t been on the course, but simply getting onto the course. Sidelined since January with what was originally called tendinitis, he’s hoping a new diagnosis and therapy will have him ready to defend in a few weeks.
4. And the answer is, Jan. 14 . . . . . That is, if your question was: When was the last time Michael Sim broke 70? Hard to believe, given his immense talent, but the young Aussie opened the season 68-67 at the Sony Open and has failed to dip into the 60s since. His scoring average of 73.55 ranks 189th on tour and in his last five rounds Sim has posted two 78s and two 79s. Having started the season 81st in the world ranking, he is now 135th.
5. Trouble from the start . . . . . It is one way to explain the pedestrian stretch of play by D.J. Trahan, who currently sits 149th on the PGA Tour money list. His nine tournaments thus far have followed a common theme – a slow start. Trahan has broken 70 just once in the first round, a big reason he’s missed the cut five times. Then again, he’s only broken 70 in two second rounds, as his scoring average before the cut (71.29) ranks 105th.