Bay Hill: Winners and losers
American expert Michael Arkush hails Martin Laird's comeback at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
With the marquee names faltering again, the performances at Bay Hill of Martin Laird, Steve Marino and the exciting Spencer Levin made Arnie’s tournament one to cherish.
Martin Laird: Laird was well on his way to being one of the week’s big losers until he rallied on the back nine to post his second US PGA Tour win. The two-putt on 18 was not easy, though he made it look that way.
Steve Marino: Granted, he squandered his chance to collect his first US Tour victory with the bogey at 15 and the double at 17. Yet he somehow found a way to hit one of the best shots of the week – the approach at the treacherous 18th – which gave him a chance to get in a play-off if Laird were to falter. Marino is too good for the winless drought to last much longer.
David Toms: Can you believe it’s been five years since Toms won a tournament? A lot of that is due to injuries. But if he’s healthy again, the former PGA champion is still young enough at 44 to win again. Nobody owns a purer putting stroke. Even when he misses, they look like they should have gone in.
Spencer Levin: Dear golf gods: let Levin win and soon. If this year so far has been about the emergence of new, interesting characters on tour, nobody is more interesting – and perhaps volatile – than the passionate Levin. He also possesses a wonderful short game.
Sergio Garcia: First, the good news. Sergio’s ball striking looks as sharp as ever. There were many who claimed that, even during Tiger’s prime – we have seen his prime, haven’t we? – Sergio, from tee to green, was more consistent. Now the bad news. He still misses too many short putts, including an unthinkable gag from 18 inches on Saturday. If he could putt, he might have won the thing.
Sam Saunders: Did anyone have more pressure on him at Bay Hill than Saunders, the King’s grandson? Given the circumstances, he performed magnificently with a tie for 30th. The kid has game.
Tiger Woods: Forget about the 68 he recorded on Friday that made everybody – at least the Golf Channel – think Woods was about to make a serious run at the championship. Woods can’t put two good rounds together, let alone four. He’ll still be the favourite to win the green jacket, of course, but at this point, it would be a major surprise.
Phil Mickelson: Lefty has one last chance – in this week’s Houston event – to avoid going a full year without a victory. More importantly, he needs to sharpen his game to make a credible attempt at defending his crown at Augusta. Lost in the endless questions about Woods has been the mediocrity of Mickelson. Have we seen the last of him as an elite player?
Matteo Manassero: Only 17 years old, how can he be classified a loser on this stage? Easy - he missed the cut when a solid performance would have possibly booked his ticket to the Masters. No matter. With his talent, he will be a fixture at Augusta, and at all the big events.
Dustin Johnson: A season filled with so much promise continues to be one of major disappointment for the long-hitting Johnson. While he’s racked up three top-10s, only one of them has been since late January. In his other five appearances, he has failed to even crack the top 25. So much for being the Augusta favourite.
Graeme McDowell: Dear Graeme: missing the cut at Arnie’s event is definitely not the way to prepare for Augusta National. McDowell, in fact, has looked very erratic in his cameo appearances this year on the US Tour. Can he turn it around in time to win his second Major next week? Yes, but he’s hardly the elite player he seemed in the latter stages of 2010.
Jhonattan Vegas: We were ready to anoint him as the US Tour’s newest star back in January when he won the Bob Hope Classic in a play-off against Gary Woodland and finished third at Torrey Pines. Vegas, however, hasn’t posted a top-20 since February and has broken 70 only twice in his last 10 rounds. Consider the coronation ceremony on hold. He shot 80-75 at Bay Hill to miss the cut.