Kudos to Rory McIlroy last week at the European Tour finale in Dubai, as he completed an amazing season with his fifth worldwide victory while surpassing Tiger Woods’ record for combined earnings in one year. I thought Rory was spent after missing the cut in his tournament prior and that his thoughts were on a nice vacation with girlfriend and tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. McIlroy now has a whopping 17 Top-10 finishes in his past 26 European Tour events dating to his 2011 U.S. Open victory (majors and WGC events count as Euro events as well).
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I liked Paul Lawrie last week, and he finished 14th. I did hit on four Top 5 props: “yes” on Luke Donald (+175) and Louis Oosthuizen (+200) and “no” on Lee Westwood (-310) and Ian Poulter (-350). Donald finished third, just missing being the top Englishman at 21/10 – Justin Rose finished second. Overall, a solid ending to the Euro season.
This week will be my final event preview of the year (barring some star-studded event overseas I don’t know about), the World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif. It doesn’t count toward any PGA Tour FedEx Cup points or on the money list – it’s a true silly season event. But because it’s Tiger Woods’ tournament – he is the host and it benefits his foundation – it draws some of the best players in the world, and it does count toward world ranking points.
Before I get to that, I do want to run down a few newsy items that happened in the past week or so since this will be my final golf story of 2012:
--The big one was announced Wednesday when the belly putter was banned. But because golf makes changes slowly, it won’t take place until 2016. But if you are asking for a belly putter for Christmas, you can still get one. The actual long putter itself is fine, you just can’t anchor it against your body. Three of the past five major winners, Ernie Els, Webb Simpson, and Keegan Bradley, use that method. Should a player forget and do it in a tournament, it’s a two-stroke penalty (lose the hole in match play).
--As suggested by Donald and a few others before last week’s Dubai event, the European Tour will indeed add a FedEx Cup-style playoff to the end of its season to add a little drama that was missing this year. The Euro’s version also will cover the final four events of the year. It requires players to compete in at least two of the first three season-ending events before Dubai. If a player competes in all three, he receives a 20 percent bonus in points. McIlroy skipped one this year, for example. The four European Tour events will be played next year at the same time the PGA Tour is beginning its new 2013-14 wraparound season.
--Tiger won’t be joining the European Tour, while former world No. 1 Martin Kaymer will join the PGA Tour. To become a “member” of the Euro Tour, one must only play in 13 events, and the four majors and WGC events count as mentioned above. So really Tiger only had to play four other events (the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup also count as one) to have dual membership, but he will not. Kaymer, the former PGA Championship winner, will officially be a rookie on the PGA Tour in 2013 even though he has two Tour wins overall and 10 European victories. Other notable PGA Tour newbies in 2013 will be European Ryder Cup players Nicolas Colsaerts and Peter Hanson and young Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa. The 2013 PGA Tour season begins as usual with the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii on the first weekend of January.
As for the World Challenge, it’s an 18-man field and includes every member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team other than Phil Mickelson as well as Euro Ryder Cup players Graeme McDowell and Poulter. The rest of the field: Hunter Mahan, Nick Watney, Bo Van Pelt, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day. All 18 players are ranked in the Top 30 in the world. The tournament no longer has Chevron as a title sponsor, instead it’s the World Challenge presented by Northwestern Mutual.
Golf Odds: World Challenge Favorites
Tiger is the overwhelming 11/4 favorite at Bovada. This will be Woods’ 24th event of the year, which is the most he has played since 2005. Woods said before the season he would start playing more and he has kept his word. Tiger’s first win post-scandal came here last year when he shot a final-round 69, with birdies on his final two holes, to beat Zach Johnson by a shot. Tiger also won in 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2007. Woods last played in Malaysia in late October and finished T4.
Jason Dufner and Dustin Johnson are 12/1. Dufner was last seen finishing runner-up in the WGC-HSBC Champions. Johnson also played in the HSBC, finishing T39. Neither played this tournament a year ago.
Jim Furyk, Poulter and Van Pelt round out the favorites, with each at 14/1. Furyk won here in 2009, beating McDowell by a shot. Furyk was T6 last year. Poulter has been playing well in Europe – last week’s result aside – and recently won that HSBC event. Van Pelt has finished in the Top 10 in his past three events, including the CIMB Classic in Malaysia where Tiger played. Van Pelt was T10 in the 2011 World Challenge.
Golf Odds: World Challenge Picks
This will be the final time you most likely see Tiger until late January, so you know he would like to take some momentum into 2013. It certainly worked last year, with Woods winning three times in 2012 (he would still call it a disappointment with no majors). I think he does win.
But if you are going to roll the dice on a longer shot, definitely take McDowell at 25/1. He staged a huge comeback and eventually beat Woods in a playoff in 2010 at the World Challenge, his last win in the USA. He was runner-up to Furyk by a shot the year before. McDowell didn’t play last year in this tournament and is overdue a victory as he hasn’t won in Europe since 2010, either.
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