Tour and News

While McIlroy takes a break, there will be ample game on display on the pro tours

Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

Bubba Watson defends his title this week in Hartford.

One of the dangers of a dominant performance like Rory McIlroy's at the U.S. Open is that it can recast everyone else as a bunch of class B clods. A year ago Cristie Kerr won the Wegmans LPGA Championship by 12 shots for her second victory in three starts, and she hasn't won since, which is only to say that blowouts happen. McIlroy may be that much better than everyone else — this seems to be the general consensus from the Euros — or he may have been the right guy on the right course at the right time, or it may have been a bit of both. We'll have our answer in due time, and there will be ample game on display on the pro tours while the likeable lad from Northern Ireland takes a well-deserved three-week break.

It's also been a year since Bubba Watson broke through with his first victory at the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Connecticut. He's won twice since then, in San Diego and New Orleans, but is coming off a frustrating tie for 63rd place at Congressional. Yani Tseng on the LPGA; John Cook, Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman on the Champions Tour; and Martin Kaymer in Europe and America also have won three times in the last 12 months.

That's a lot of players with a lot of game. All will play this week.

Thompson, 16, hopes to cash in on exemption
The LPGA has a few McIlroys in waiting, if it can just catch a break. Alexis Thompson, 16, is still two years too young to join the tour, but she received a sponsor's exemption for this week's Wegmans LPGA Championship, the second major of the year for the women, at Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y. A win by either Thompson or fellow American Michelle Wie, still as much a Stanford student as a golfer, would go a long way toward reviving the LPGA.

Kerr, who's been dormant this year, Paula Creamer, Ai Miyazato, Suzann Pettersen, Morgan Pressel and Tseng are also in the field as the LPGA enters the heart of its season. Next up after this major is another one: the U.S. Women's Open at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., July 7-10.

TPC River Highlands features long, short of it
You couldn't have asked for two more divergent playing styles than those of banjo-hitting Corey Pavin and long-bomber Bubba Watson, two of the players in a three-man sudden-death playoff at last year's Travelers. (Scott Verplank was the third.) The 6,841-yard, par-70 course plays no favorites. Kenny Perry, who now plays mostly on the Champions Tour, was 48 when won the Travelers just two years ago, tying the course record with a 61 and carding a tournament-record 258 (22 under par). Like Watson, Pavin and Verplank — whose schedule is limited by an arthritic left wrist — Perry returns to Hartford this week.

Ian Poulter will make his first start at TPC River Highlands, and others to keep an eye on include Paul Goydos, Padraig Harrington, Zach Johnson, Spencer Levin, Hunter Mahan and Geoff Ogilvy. The biggest draw might be sponsor's exemption Patrick Cantlay of UCLA, who finished even par to tie for 21st place and win the silver medal for low amateur at the U.S. Open at Congressional.

"Seeing Rory win — he's what, three years older than me," Cantlay said. "That just shows me that I can compete right now pretty quickly."

 

Tom Watson back at En-Joie after Austin Powers-like absence
Thanks to the good people at the Champions Tour, we know that Tom Watson will return to En-Joie Golf Club in Endicott, N.Y., home of this week's Dick's Sporting Goods Open, after a 34-year, 10-month, 16-day hiatus. So he's well rested. When Watson played in the 1976 B.C. Open at En-Joie, gas was 59 cents a gallon.

Others in the field include John Cook; Fred Funk, who has finished runner-up the last two years; Nick Price; defending champion Loren Roberts; and Tom Lehman, a three-time winner already this year.

Kaymer marquee attraction at BMW International Open in Munich
This is the third tournament in the last five weeks in Europe for which BMW has been the title sponsor, which means the courtesy cars there probably have not been terrible. Kaymer and Bernhard Langer will be home favorites amid a strong field that also includes Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen, Miguel-Angel Jimenez, Dustin Johnson, Matteo Manassero and Francesco Molinari.

Henrik Stenson, who suffered a gash to his right index finger when he broke a club in anger at the U.S. Open, also is scheduled to play. Earlier in the week Stenson was seen with his finger heavily bandaged. In 2008, Kaymer was the first German to win the tournament and he dedicated the victory to his dying mother. Kaymer struggled with his driver and tied for 39th place at Congressional.

Staten looks to jump-start underwhelming year
B.J. Staten lost a playoff to Jamie Lovemark at last year's Nationwide Tour Mexico Open presented by Banamex, and has faltered since then, dropping to 55th on the money list in 2011. He could use a big week at El Bosque Golf Club in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico. Lovemark was Player of the Year in 2010 to advance to the PGA Tour but he hasn't had much luck this year, either, fighting back injuries. Lovemark has made two cuts in nine starts and hasn't played since he withdrew from the Shell Houston Open in early April.

While all eyes were on McIlroy at Congressional, Mathew Goggin won the Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open last week for his second W of this season. One more and he'll earn a battlefield promotion back to the PGA Tour, but he's taking this week off. The tour will take a three-week break after the Mexico Open.

Short game
A handful of players on the PGA, Champions and LPGA tours will go into this week with a bit of extra practice after playing in the CVS Charity Classic at Rhode Island C.C. in Barrington, R.I., on Monday and Tuesday. Matt Kuchar (T14 at the U.S. Open) teamed with Zach Johnson to shoot a record 24 under par and win on Kuchar's 33rd birthday. They beat Morgan Pressel and Davis Love III (T11 at the Open) by two. Camilo Villegas/David Toms and Ricky Barnes/J.B. Holmes tied for third place, three back. Paula Creamer/Brandt Snedeker (T11 at the Open); Suzann Pettersen/Brett Quigley; and Juli Inkster/Peter Jacobsen finished further back in the 10-team event, which has raised more than $13 million for charities in Rhode Island and Massachusetts over the last 11 years ... McIlroy honored his commitment to play in an outing in Mashpee, Mass., after winning the Open, with fellow pros Kerr, Anthony Kim, Rocco Mediate and Vijay Singh. According to the Cape Cod Times, the outing was Investor Appreciation Day for Fireman Capital Partners, and it was organized by McIlroy's watch sponsor, Audemars Piguet.

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