Well, what happened last week? We had tight finishes in Qatar and California, and even Miguel Angel Jimenez popped up to win in Hawaii of all places. It sets us up for a few days ahead that could prove to be among the most memorable of this year.
Over in Qatar, it was South Africa’s Branden Grace who triumphed in the second leg of the European Tour’s Desert/Gulf/Middle East (take your pick) Swing. The 26-year-old finished one shot ahead of Scotland’s Marc Warren, with a stunning eagle on the 16th edging the Pretorian over the finishing line of what was a thrilling final round.
Grace has long been one of the most underrated players in the game, having an impressive talent for winning. A sixth victory on the Tour in three seasons places him in the upper echelons of players under 30, and while he has yet to show a prolonged consistency throughout a year, this may be the sign that he is moving up to the next level.
The annual birdie-fest that was once referred to as the Bob Hope now goes under the moniker of the ‘Humana Challenge’, and an amazingly bunched leaderboard did give the impression that almost everyone on the PGA Tour was in contention.
However, it was Bill Haas who held on to win for the second time in this event. The 32-year-old has put together an extremely lucrative career – the FedEx Cup in 2011 being the obvious highlight – but he has yet to translate that form on the regular Tour into strong performances in the major championships.
Startlingly, Haas’ best finish in a major is tied-12th at the 2011 PGA Championship. With six victories on the PGA Tour under his belt, the North Carolinian has all of the attributes to contend in one of the big four, and perhaps his time is coming. Who knows, maybe he’ll follow in the footsteps of great-uncle Bob Goalby and triumph down Magnolia Lane.
Last April, Miguel Angel Jimenez won on his senior debut in Georgia, and he made it two victories from three events on Sunday. The charismatic Spaniard continues to perform admirably on the European Tour, but the 51-year-old made the long trip to Hawaii for the opening event of the 2015 Champion Tour season.
Producing a stunning back-nine of 30, the four-time Ryder Cup player ousted clubhouse leader Mark O’Meara to win the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. With the likes of Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer also finishing inside the top ten, this event illustrated once again the increasing standard of play on the Champions Tour. It is very good.
This Week – Waste Management Phoenix Open, Omega Dubai Desert Classic, Coates Golf Championship, Panama Claro Championship.
Action packed few days ahead across the globe, with most attention naturally focussing on the Phoenix Open and the season debut of Tiger Woods. Returning to the unique and atmospheric event for the first time in 14 years, the 14-time major champion will be looking to kick-start a career that undoubtedly stalled in 2014.
However, with injuries and ailments having subsided, we should expect to see a more impressive season from Woods this year. Just how impressive remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to see if further improvement to his golf swing is evident, with changes done with Chris Como now fully in motion.
With more than half a million fans expected through the gate during the week to watch Tiger and company, the Phoenix Open is not to be missed this year.
Rory McIlroy, the man who succeeded Tiger as the leading player in the world, makes his second start of the season at the Dubai Desert Classic. The site of his first professional win six years ago, the four-time major champion will be favourite to lift the title for a second time, but he will have to overcome a strong field that includes Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer.
Now 26 years old, the Dubai Desert Classic remains an appetizing draw for fans and players alike.
McIlroy’s success last year dominated headlines, but the LPGA Tour also enjoyed a resurgent 2014. With consistently exciting finishes, great stories, and well-known and popular names winning regularly, the LPGA enters 2015 in its healthiest state for years.
The Coates Golf Championship opens its season. Park, Lewis, Wie, Thompson and the remarkable Lydia Ko are all in the field. Don’t miss it.
And finally, down in Panama, the Web.Com Tour kicks off its 2015 season. For a number of players, this event will be the first step of a potential journey to the PGA Tour. Try to keep an eye on what is happening on the Web.Com Tour. You may just spot the game’s next big star.