Mercedes Championships Preview

The PGA Tour kicks off the 2005 season at the Mercedes Championships.

It’s been a long few weeks since the Target World Challenge when the big dogs last teed it up. The Mercedes Championships should soothe the nervous twitches some of us have after this break as the event kicks off the PGA Tour season in Hawaii at the Plantation Course at Kapalua, Maui.

Qualification for the event can only come by winning an official PGA Tour event the previous year. With Vijay Singh dominating the tour win column last year, the Mercedes field is limited to just 32 players out of a possible 48 tournament winners; however, only 31 will be in attendance as Phil Mickelson has once again decided to skip the season-opener.

Who Will Rule in 2005?

Golf World has dubbed Ernie Els as the man to beat in 2005, but with so much talent on the PGA tour, it’s anyone’s year.

Tiger and ErnieThe days of Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player going shot for shot against each other are likely to be remembered as some of the greatest in the history of golf. Now, with the PGA tour set to kick off next week at the Mercedes Championship, it looks as though golf is about to enter another memorable era. The names Player, Nicklaus, and Palmer may very easily be replaced by Woods, Singh, and Mickelson. With all the strong performances in 2004, it is very difficult to point to one player and identify them as the definite favorite. The editors at GolfWorld have dubbed Ernie Els as the man to beat in 2005. The editors point to Els’ great performances but disappointing finishes in last year’s majors as motivation to break through in 2005. His only question mark: whether his globe trotting travel schedule will manage to catch up to him.

Hal Sutton and Post Ryder Cup Blues

In the wake of the 2004 Ryder Cup, captain Hal Sutton admits to losing interest in the 2005 PGA season.

Hal SuttonAfter leading the United States Ryder Cup team into a trouncing by the Europeans, captain Hal Sutton admits to having lost some desire to compete on the PGA tour in 2005. The last event Sutton competed in was the Chrysler Championship in October where he failed to make the cut. At the time, Sutton expressed a desire to leave the turmoil of the Ryder Cup behind him and get back to playing golf. However, he recently said, “It’s tough to get back. I’ll be honest with you I’ve lost a little desire.” Sutton is not the first Ryder Cup captain to experience such feelings. Of the five captains that preceded Sutton, only Tom Watson was able to finish in the top 150 on the PGA tour’s money list.

Sutton’s two years of time consuming captaincy in the years preceding the Ryder Cup certainly contributed to his diminished focus. However, Sutton also dealt with a nagging injury in his left palm which required surgery earlier this month. There are also off course distractions tugging at Sutton such as his burgeoning golf course design business and charity work with the Hal Sutton Foundation which just approved plans to build a children’s hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana. While playing golf used to be Sutton’s number one priority, he now says: “One thing I learned by not playing as much this year as I normally do is that I can live with that… But right now, I’m content with the things I’m working on.”

PGA Notes: Mickelson Skips Mercedes, etc.

Mickelson to skip Mercedes, Baker-Finch to give it another go, and Faldo and Price weigh in and slip out, respectively. has a few interesting stories. The summaries follow:

Phil Mickelson has decdied to skip the Mercedes Championships in Kapalua. He’ll start his 2005 season closer to home, at the Buick Invitational near San Diego. Phil was not eligible to play in 2004 and skipped it in 2003.

Nick Price slipped to the 51st spot in the Official World Golf Rankings. He’d been in the top 50 for 17 consecutive years, dating back to 1987. Greg Norman held onto a top 50 spot for 15 years, and the longest active streak belongs to Davis Love III at 14 years. Love is currently ranked 7th.

Ian Baker-Finch may play some PGA Tour events to see how he’s doing. My guess? Not so hot.

Nick Faldo says the PGA Tour doesn’t need to have a policy against steroids. Why? “It’s been clean forever, probably because we’ve proven there’s nothing out there we can take to enhance our performance. So there’s no point looking. Golf has a very good reputation and, fortunately, nothing in the wings is going to dent it.”

Tiger’s 2000 Season Still the Best

Tiger and Vijay may have both won nine times in a season, but Tiger’s 2000 campaign continues to set the standard for greatness.

Tiger and VijayVijay Singh became the PGA tour’s first ten million dollar man in 2004, setting a new record for winnings in a season and becoming only the fourth player since 1960 to win at least eight tournaments in a year. Few can dispute the fact that his 2004 season was great, but it still pales in comparison with Tiger Woods’ 2000 season.

Singh himself said in a story on, “Tiger won three majors in 2000. You can’t beat three majors. It’s so much more difficult to win major events than normal tournaments. I’m just going to try to enjoy my own good season.”

Ricky Tiki Tantrum

Ricky Barnes, jazzed up on the pressure of a match Down Under, gets confused on which round orb he’s supposed to be hitting: the golf ball, or the globe. His confusion costs him an undisclosed but “substantial” amount of money.

ricky_barnes.jpgFormer University of Arizona star and 2002 US Amateur champion Ricky Barnes decided that, when the going gets tough, the best course of action is to lay down on the course and throw a tantrum. Since that would be only slightly more over the top, Ricky opted for the ever-popular “Bruce Banner” school of golf.

During last week’s Australian Masters at Huntingdale Golf Club, Melbourne, Ricky entered the final round three shots off the lead. After watching a tee shot fly a little too far off-target, Ricky decided to actually hit a fairway by smashing his club into the ground. On the 17th, with a repeat performance off the tee, Ricky decided that golf was too difficult a sport, and took up a new sport: Hit the Earth with Golf Clubs.

We’ll let you know if it catches on.

Host with the Most: Tiger On Target

Woods donated the $1.25 million he won to his foundation. Vijay Singh finished 11 shots behind.

Tiger in ActionTiger Woods is the host with the most, and has captured victory in his own tournament, the Tiger Target World Challenge. Missing only two fairways and one green en-route to a closing 5-under 66, Woods capped off his year with his second win in a row. Woods’ play was marvelous, and he knew it, saying “Every shot I wanted to hit, I hit.”

Padraig Harringon shot a 31 on the front at Sherwood Country Club to get into contention, but faltered on the last three. He bogeyed 16, birdied 17, and then bogeyed 18 after an errant drive. He earned $750,000 for finishing second.

Colin Montgomery, starting the day with a two-stroke lead and having never won a stroke-play tournament in the US, bogeyed the first hole and shot 71 to finish at 13-under 271 with his playing partner, Jay Haas.

Qualifying School Joy and Agony

The Men’s Qualifying School is over, and 35 players move on with their PGA Tour cards, 51 get exemptions on the Nationwide Tour, and the rest… they just go home.

oneal_qschool.jpgIt happens every year – over 150 golfers get together for six rounds of golf, fighting for a chance. A chance to become a PGA rookie, a chance to rekindle your career, or a chance to join your Dad on the Tour.

For 35 players this year, their dreams were answered when they earned their Tour Cards at the PGA’s Qualifying School at PGA West. Leading the pack of players was Ben Davis, the Brit who won with a six-round 415 and ending one shot better than fellow Tour player Rob Rashell.

Bill Haas, son of Jay Haas, was looking to join his dad on the Tour and looking to convert more than one of the eight birdie opportunities he had on the back nine at the Stadium course. He did neither with a final-round 71, missing his card by two strokes.

Joy, agony and Tim O’Neal.

Harrington, Howell to Hong Kong

Padraig Harrington and David Howell headline the players at this week’s Omega Hong Kong Open.

After two successful 2004 seasons, Padraig Harrington and David Howell turn to the Omega Hong Kong Open close out their 2004 golf seasons.

Harrington looks to defend his 2003 victory in Hong Kong and make a start at building the foundation for a season better than last year’s second-place European Tour season. After deciding to play on the PGA Tour in 2005, Harrington hopes to defend his first career title with a win in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Ryder Cup star David Howell will be joining Padraig in Hong Kong. Howell is coming off an excellent showing at the Ryder Cup, but will be joined at the event by fellow Ryder Cup teammates Harrington and Miguel Angel Jimenez, as well as the likes of Nick Faldo and Jose Maria Olazabal.

The Omega Hong Kong Open starts Thursday at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling, Hong Kong.