Planet Golf — 19 March 2012 by Bob Sherwin
Taking aim at The Masters

Apparently, there are more than the usual number of golfers on the PGA Tour who are out to prove something this season.

The latest one is Luke Donald, 34, the former No. 1 player in the world who returned to the top spot Sunday with his four-player, playoff victory at The Transitions Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla. Donald hit a masterful seven iron out of the rough from 157 yards to within six feet of the cup. He was the only one to birdie, defeating Jim Furyk, Sang-Moon Bae and Robert Garrigus.

With his fifth win in his last 31 starts around the world, Donald took back the No. 1 spot from Rory McIIroy, who grabbed it for the first time two weeks ago. Donald will remain No. 1 until at least the Masters, April 5-8.

“I think people … thought that my last year was maybe a little bit more of a — not a fluke, but I don’t think many people thought I could do that all over again this year,” Donald told the media afterward. “Hopefully, I can prove them wrong.”

World’s No. 1 is nice but winning a major, such as the Masters, is what drives Donald more than rankings. He has said a ‘major’ victory is the one glaring missing element in his resume.

Winning the Masters essentially is what’s driving everyone on the Tour and why so many – at least among the elite golfers – believe Augusta National can be their proving ground.

McIIroy wants to win Masters to show that his colossal final round collapse last year was a aberration.

Four-time winner Tiger Woods wants to win it to restore his tarnished name and get him back of the Jack Track. He’ll be back in action this week after a sore left Achilles tendon sidelined him.

Lee Westwood, the No. 3 player in the world, who at age 38, is running out of chances to win his first major. He was second at the Masters two years ago.

Three-time Masters winner and six-time major winner Phil Mickelson, at age 41, made a statement six weeks ago in winning at Pebble Beach that’s he’s not to be overlooked for a fourth Green Jacket.

Another oldster, Steve Sticker, 44, the highest ranked U.S. player in the world at No. 5, doesn’t want to be overlooked. He has a win and three top 10s this season.

There’s a load of young talent coming through with the intentions of making their marks at Augusta, such as Kyle Stanley, Hunter Mahan, Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney, Bill Haas, Brandt Snedeker and Bubba Watson.

International players such as McIIroy, Westwood, Donald, 2011 Masters winner Charle Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose, Adam Scott and Peter Hanson all want to again deny an American from winning the prestigious championship.

We have three weeks of foreplay until that someone proves himself.

Transition Notes:

    • Garrigus made birdie on the Nos. 17 and 18 to post 13-under with a closing 6-under 64, then had to wait two hours to see if it would be good enough for a playoff. The closing 64 equals his career-low final round on the PGA Tour. It was his second runner-up finish this season. He also was runnerup at the Humana Challenge in January.
    • Ernie Els blew the his chance for a victory – and an automatic invite to his 19th straight Masters – with a bogey-bogey finish to miss the playoff by a stroke. He’ll have to win one of the next two tournaments to return to Augusta.
    • Scott Piercy’s bogey-free 9-under 62 is the lowest final-round score in the history of the Transitions, bettering Joe Durant’s 63 in 2004. His 7-under 29 on the front nine is also a tournament record.
    • Thirteen players finished 10-under or better, the most players to finish double digits under par in the history of the event. The previous record was 10 set in 2011.
    • Charlie Wi had a 13 on the par-5 No. 5 in the final round, the highest score on a hole on the Tour this year. Sergio Garcia had a 12 on the par-3 No. 3 in the final round of last week’s World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship.

Tseng dominates once again

One could argue that the most dominant athlete in any sport – and any gender – is Yani Tseng, who won her 14th LPGA victory – 34th worldwide – by one stroke in the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix.

Tseng won for the fifth time in her last 11 starts. She passed the $8 million mark in career earnings, the fastest player in Tour history to do that – just four years, one month and two days.

She also earned her 22nd point toward the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame. She needs just five more points to qualify, along with 10 years of service. She is just 23 years old with six years of service.

“She’s amazing,” Na Yong Choi said of Tseng. Choi and Ai Miyazato finished second, one shot behind. ““I mean she plays so well. She never I mean she never looks nervous or if there’s pressure on her. So I think she’s she has a lot of confidence right now.

“I don’t know who can stop her right now. I mean she’s so amazing, and she hit it really far. Me and Ai, we tried to like our best, but she’s pretty far away from us.”

Because of thunderstorms in the area, play was suspended three times Sunday. After the final delay, Tseng came out and birdied five of her next six holes on the Wildfire Golf Club course. The tournament finished in near total darkness.

“In my mind I was feeling like we were going to finish tomorrow,” Tseng said, “so we were really lucky to finish today and finish in the dark the last few holes. Because of my eyes, I couldn’t see much of a distance, so I tried to keep telling myself, okay, just finish these few holes, just hit a good shot, good contact, play one shot at a time.”

Roberts breaks near two-year win drought

Loren Roberts went 34 starts and nearly two years without a victory, as he struggled down the stretch but held onto a two-stroke win over Mark Calcavecchia, Tom Kite and Bernhard Langer.

Roberts bogeyed three of his final five holes but pared the 18th to win for the first time since June 27, 2010 at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in Endicott, NY. It was his 13th career Champion tour victory.

Langer took over the lead in the Charles Schwab Cup race from Dan Forsman. Langer now has 387 points, while Forsman is second with 307. Corey Pavin is third with 270 points.

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Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 44th year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 10 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for golf magazines. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, the Members Club of Aldarra near Seattle. He won't win the club championship any time soon with his 14 handicap and default-swing slice but he does have a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle, and spends part of his winters in Marco Island, Fla.

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