Martin Kaymer’s 2011 campaign kicked off in scintillating form at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship over the weekend. Kaymer’s record-breaking 24 under-par total annihilated one of the strongest fields we are likely to see all year on the European Tour.
The German’s epic stroke average of 66 for the week saw him him hit over 64% of fairways (9th in field), 86.1% of GIR (1st), and amass just 27.5 putts per round (7th). Rory McIlroy put in a good performance to finish second on 16 under-par, a full eight shots behind Kaymer. Graeme McDowell tied-3rd along with Retief Goosen, who is currently enjoying a resurgence in form following a final round 64.
Perhaps more significant, however, is the fact Kaymer has leapfrogged Tiger Woods to number two in the world golf rankings. The fact that there are now six Europeans in the world top ten confirms that the paradigm-shifting events of 2010 have continued into the early part of this year.
US PGA Tour
Jhonattan Vegas claimed his first Tour victory at the Bob Hope Classic in a playoff against Bill Haas and Gary Woodland after the three men tied on 27 under-par. Despite the Hope being one of the lesser tournaments on tour – and dwarfed by the money and world ranking points on offer in Abu Dhabi – Vegas snatched victory from fellow rookie Woodland in gripping fashion after Haas went out at the first play-off hole.
A pulled tee shot on the second extra hole resulted in Vegas having to take a penalty drop from the water hazard. His third shot, however, was clutch and set up a ten-foot par putt which he duly converted to crush Woodland’s hopes.
Vegas’ victory is remarkable in more ways than one. Vegas hails from Venezuela where golf has been all but outlawed by socialist leader Hugo Chavez. Labelled a ‘bourgeois’ sport and seen only as a pursuit for the landed classes, Vegas’ victory will hopefully redefine how the sport is viewed in south America.
Harrington rules infringement prompts worldwide discussion
Padraig Harrington’s disqualification from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship has sparked discussion throughout the golfing community about the role of so called ‘armchair vigilantes’. As it stands, if viewers see what they believe to be a rules infraction by any player during television coverage, they can contact the Tour and have the supposed breach investigated by one of the many referees.
In the opening tournament of the US PGA Tour’s season Camillo Villegas also fell foul of an eagle-eyed viewer at home who noticed the Columbian had committed a violation. Both men, however, had signed their cards unaware that any foul play had taken place.
The result was that both men were disqualified when they returned to the course the following morning. Fellow professionals such as Ian Poulter displayed outrage – via Twitter – at the fact that someone thousands of miles away can influence the outcome of an event. Others have been quick to defend the rights of viewers saying that upholding the strict – arguably archaic – rules serves to enhance the game’s integrity.
The game’s governing bodies have recently announced that they will look into the rule but without clarifying what they intend to do. A common held view is that instead of disqualification players should be assessed a penalty based on the severity of the offence and then allowed to continue. Others are more adamant, demanding that viewers have no role in affecting what is, essentially, someone’s livelihood.
My two cents is that viewers should be entitled to alert referees if they suspect a rule has been broken – irrespective of whether the player carried it out with intent or not. There have been too many instances in world sport recently where the judgement of officials has come into question. If we have the opportunity in golf to take a positive step to rectifying this then it must be taken.
Tiger Woods returns
World number three Tiger Woods returns for the first time in 2011 at Torrey Pines golf club in San Diego this week. Woods has won there seven times; the last being perhaps his most famous victory: the 2008 U.S. Open.
With expectations high given his track record at Torrey Pines, Woods will be open to intense scrutiny as the world looks to see whether he can reclaim form on a former hunting ground. Indeed, this opening tournament could have a profound affect on his year for another struggling finish, that sees him finish middle of the pack, could confirm the thoughts of many who say that Woods will never be the golfer he once was.
Ollie and Love III announced as captains
European Tour stalwart Jose Maria Olazabal was recently named as the captain for the European Ryder Cup side to face America in 2012.
Olazabal will lead his men to battle against the U.S. captain Davis Love III. Both men were part of Brookline-gate and although Ollie admits that it is now all water under the bridge, memories of that fateful day in 1999 should encourage the reserved Spaniard to emulate the feat of Colin Montgomerie at Celtic Manor.