THE GOLF GUIDE

El Niño in Singapore; Don Juan Rahm; Fleetwood not Mac; and Tiger Watch: 2018. It’s your weekly golf report

John Rahm could be a force this year. PGATour.com

El Niño in Singapore

There were quite a few tournaments going on this weekend in the world of golf, with Spain prevailing in two of them. First was the newly acquired Callaway golfer, Sergio Garcia. In his first tournament of 2018 (and playing the newly minted Callaway Rogue driver), Sergio produced a win at the Singapore Open. Now, before you go off and put all your money on the fiery Spaniard; the Singapore Open is an Asian Tour event. That’s not to say the win means nothing, but most of the big players were playing elsewhere in the world. That being said, it’s still a great start for the defending Masters champion. He played well in tough scoring conditions; and despite his past issues, putted well. To be hoisting any world trophy is a good thing.

Don Juan Rahm

The more impressive win this weekend was the young Spaniard John Rahm’s win at the CareerBuilder Challenge. The tournament format was a touch different than most, with it being a Pro-Am style event. The event was played on three different courses, with the cut coming on Saturday instead of the normal Friday cut. Rahm opened up with a career-best 62 on the La Quinta course (notably the easiest of the three.) This situated him very well to enter Sunday’s final round at the Stadium Course only two shots off the lead, and in the penultimate group. He shot a closing round 67 to gain the lead at 22-under. Andrew Landry started Sunday with the lead, but came to the last hole needing birdie to force a playoff with Rahm. Landry converted birdie on the 72nd hole, but Rahm prevailed on the fourth playoff hole as Landry failed to convert his 11-foot birdie putt. With his second career win on the PGA Tour, Rahm vaulted himself up to #2 on the OWGR, passing the likes of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. He will go into the coming tournament, The Farmers Insurance Open, as the defending champ; and will have a chance to take over as No. 1 in the world with a win. Many in the golfing world (including the very knowledgeable Joel Blank), are predicting a very big year for Rahm. He is playing well to start and looks poised for a big season. He will definitely be a favorite at each tournament he enters. 

Fleetwood keeps his “Dreams” alive

The other big tournament this past week was on the other side of the planet in Abu Dhabi. This European Tour event is a popular one with players. Quite a few big names teed it up, including Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, and Rory McIlroy. However, the one to lift the trophy at the end of the week was Tommy Fleetwood. He’s an Englishman, with a few credentials in the States; but a staple on the European Tour and reigning Race to Dubai champion. He entered the back nine on Sunday a full five shots behind the leader. That’s when he decided to turn on the afterburners. A closing-nine 30 saw Fleetwood successfully defend his title. The other positive to come out of Abu Dhabi was the performance of Rory McIlroy. He entered Sunday contending for the lead, but a wayward day off the tee box en route to a final round 70 landed him at 18-under for a T3 finish. The poor Sunday aside, Rory showed flashes of his brilliance all week. In his first event back from a long layoff (due to injury and self-admitted poor play), he shined brightly with plenty of great golf shots. Rory will garner a lot of attention this year as he is a perennial favorite at every tournament.

Tiger Watch: 2018

It’s officially upon us ladies and gentlemen. The week has arrived where we will get to see a fully healthy Tiger Woods back in action. What should we expect from Tiger? Will he win again? Let’s start with the expectations. I don’t think anyone inside the ropes expects Tiger to compete for a win (except maybe Tiger.) However, his performance is important. Not only to the fans at the Farmers, but also for the golfing world as a whole. Tiger has always stood by his statement that he would not tee it up in a tournament if he didn’t feel like he had a chance to win. There’s no reason to expect he has wavered in that stance. Meaning, as long as he is playing well, we will get to see more Tiger playing golf. Like I’ve said before, that is better for everyone. However, let’s temper our expectations a bit right out of the gate. He hasn’t played in a sanctioned PGA Tour event since the Farmers Insurance Open this time last year. He failed to make the cut at that tournament and later withdrew (citing injury) from his next outing. I think it’s safe to say that Tiger is the healthiest he has been since 2013 when he won five times. He was swinging well and athletically in the Bahamas at the Hero World Challenge (his own tournament), where he finished ninth in a field of eighteen. It’s probably smart not to expect him to contend. Torrey Pines is a big course that requires length and precision. His short game is still in question, and has looked “hurky-jerky” at times. That could prove to be his undoing this week. Needless to say, Tiger knows his way around Torrey Pines very well, having won there an amazing eight times as a professional. I expect him to make the cut, and land somewhere in the top 40. However, you can guarantee that if he is anywhere near the first page of the leaderboard, it will be a circus of “what-ifs” the entire weekend. He will have to contend with the defending champ (and most recent winner) John Rahm, as well as Phil Mickelson, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler. Come Monday, we will all know a little more about his game, and so will he. The difference this year, he will be evaluating his play without the aid of a swing coach for the first time in his career. Tiger knows plenty about his golf swing, but sometimes analyzing yourself is tough. Trust me, I occasionally evaluate my swing only to be shocked I put the ball anywhere near the green. Self-instruction aside, this weekend will be a good measuring stick for Tiger. I know I’m rooting for him to play well, and hopefully reclaim some of that Tiger magic.

 

 

 

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The clock is ticking. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

If he is indeed to become an ex-Astro George Springer can officially sign with his new team starting at four PM Houston time this Sunday. Michael Brantley the same. All free agents can sign contracts starting Sunday afternoon. If the die isn't cast that Springer is leaving, it certainly feels like his renewing vows with the Astros would be an upset.

The Astros will make Springer a 18.9 million dollar qualifying offer for 2021. He will of course reject that because contract offers of at least five years and over 100 million dollars likely await. Should Springer move on the Astros would then get a compensatory draft pick. Brantley won't get anything in close range of Springer's haul-to-be but still should at least get multiyear offers. The Astros should make the qualifying offer to Brantley (if they don't they forfeit any compensation for his departure). If they don't out of fear that he'd accept the one-year deal, the Astros would look lame. I don't think it comes to that. Losing Springer would be a huge blow on multiple levels, but if somehow they were to keep Brantley while getting back Yordan Alvarez at even 80 percent of his rookie performance level the Astros' lineup would look to be in decent shape.

With MLB's economic outlook shaky for 2021, it's unreasonable to say Jim Crane and his partners should give Springer whatever he wants. A six or seven year megadollar contract for a 31-year-old player with some durability questions on his resume is an iffy proposition. At the same time, the Astros have been quite profitable in recent years (before 2020), and Crane said over the summer the Astros were positioned to be "aggressive, whatever the market looks like." 13 million Josh Reddick dollars are off the books for 2021, 10 mil of Roberto Osuna is gone. After next year more than 57 mil of Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke clear.

MLB's postseason awards will be doled out over the next couple weeks but for the first time in years the Astros don't have a credible candidate for any of the big ones (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year). The Astros do have three American League Gold Glove finalists. I think Carlos Correa wins the shortstop honor. Correa had a weak regular season at the plate but his defense was stellar, plus the two guys who divvied up the last four AL SS Gold Gloves (Francisco Lindor and Andrelton Simmons) had down seasons and aren't finalists. Quick: name the teams of fellow finalists J.P. Crawford and Niko Goodrum. Hard to see either winning over Correa. Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker were also named top three at their positions. For the first time the finalist selections were driven entirely by stats and analytics.

Big week for the Rockets

With the Rockets settling on Stephen Silas as their new Head Coach, that hire coupled with the in house promotion of Rafael Stone to General Manager makes it appear as though owner Tilman Fertitta is doing more things on the cheap. The NBA economic environment is challenging and huge portions of the rest of Fertitta's portfolio are submerged in a COVID-driven bloodbath. Silas has paid his dues for a good while and most recently worked under the outstanding Rick Carlisle in Dallas. He has earned a lead chair opportunity. But with no prior head coaching experience and no bidding war for his services, Silas signs on at a much lower rate than, say, Jeff Van Gundy would have commanded. Former head coaches (and former Rockets' player rivals of the 90s) Jeff Hornacek and Nate McMillan would make for two strong Silas assistants. From their playing days if you combined Hornacek's offense and McMillan's defense into one player you'd have one of the top 20 or so greatest guards in NBA history.

Silas and Stone take the reins at a challenging time for the Rockets with their messy salary cap sheet, reduced draft capital, and one of the oldest core player groups in the league. Polite public statements aside, it's part of why Daryl Morey left. Maybe Mike D'Antoni too though that seemed more about feeling disrespected by the lack of a contract extension before this past season. D'Antoni may have overplayed his hand since he did not get fill any of the coaching vacancies elsewhere in the NBA. Only Oklahoma City remains open, and D'Antoni has gotten no run there.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. It seems sadly appropriate that the first meaningful positive in the Texans' 2020 season came in form of a COVID test result.

2. If we all commit to getting through it together, I think we can get by without a Texans' game this weekend. Remember, it's their open week, not a bye!

3. One hit wonder goodbye songs: Bronze-Terry Jacks "Seasons in the Sun" Silver-Norman Greenbaum "Spirit In The Sky" Gold-Steam "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye"

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