Dec 122011

Yesterday, Luke Donald made history by becoming the first person to top both the US and European money lists in the same year. Having secured the US crown back in October, taking victory in the Disney Classic with a final round 64, the Englishman knew the European money list would be decided at this weekend’s Dubai World Championship.

The title for Europe’s top earner had come down to a two-horse race between Donald and US Open champion, Rory McIlroy. The young Northern Irishman had to win the event and hope that Donald finished outside the top 9 to snatch the title.

After day one, McIlroy was within touching distance of the leaders, only 2 shots off the pace, while Donald was a further 6 shots adrift following some erratic driving on the back 9. It was expected McIlroy would get off to a fast start, however Donald’s performance over the closing holes had the golfing world scratching their heads. Had the pressure of trying to become the first player in history to win both money titles, got to Donald?

Things started to change come Friday. Donald, finding the consistency he had enjoyed all year in shooting a solid 68, whilst McIlroy struggled to a 71. On Saturday, Donald dealt the hammer blow to McIlroy’s chances with a magnificent 66, hitting 17 of the 18 greens in regulation and leaving the feat of being the first golfer to top both money lists on either side of the Atlantic, tantalisingly close. Rory could once again only shoot a 71 on Saturday and effectively conceded defeat to Donald in his press conference that evening.

A final round 66 from Donald on Sunday saw him take 3rd place in the Dubai World Championship and win the European Tour’s Race To Dubai. Praise has been pouring in for Donald, lead by his defeated Ryder Cup teammate McIlroy: “He’s had an incredible year… he deserves to be No. 1 in the world and deserved to win both Money Lists.”

As public attention turns to this year’s BBC Sports Personality Of The Year, British golfers will reflect on a vintage year in 2011. Two major champions in McIlroy and Darren Clarke, but the incredible achievements of Donald, dominating on both the European and PGA tours, as well as ending the year as World number one, leaves him in good shape to pick up a final honour in 2011.

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Sep 202011
Paul McGinley Celebrates Victory with the Seve Trophy

Paul McGinley Celebrates Victory with the Seve Trophy

Great Britain and Ireland cruised into a 11.5–6.5 lead over Continental Europe, having dominated the opening matches of the Seve Trophy in Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche, France. On the final day, with GB&I only needing to pick up 2.5 points in the singles to retain the trophy and with Lee Westwood racing into an early 3-hole lead in the opening match, it seemed the writing was on the wall for Continental Europe.

However, as the day developed, it turned out not to be the procession many had predicted. Thomas Bjorn squared the match with Westwood after 11 holes, going on to win 2&1, then Continental Europe won the following 4 matches to level the scores at 11.5 apiece.

In an afternoon reminiscent of the amazing turnaround in Brookline by the US Ryder Cup Team of 1999, an unthinkable European victory seemed a distinct possibility.  Finally, a tightly contested halve from Englishman, David Horsey and Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts, halted Continental Europe’s run of victories. Scott Jamieson then provided a critical point to GB&I by beating Pablo Larrazábal, before a crucial birdie on the 18th from Ian Poulter saw him defeat the young Italian, Matteo Manassero. All this meant that Mark Foster’s narrow victory over Raphaël Jacquelin was enough to retain the Seve Trophy for GB&I for the 6th consecutive occasion.

In a day where 7 of the 10 matches were either halved, or won by only one hole, the Seve Trophy once again provided compulsive viewing and a fitting tribute to the late Seve Ballesteros.

European Golf has a lot to thank Seve for: As a player, he inspired young players to take up the game and captured the hearts of millions with his dramatic, high-risk approach to attaining victory. Seve was the talisman for consecutive European Ryder Cup teams, before going on to captain Team Europe to one of it’s most famous victories in 1997 at Valderrama, Spain.

He established the Seve Trophy to allow European golf to be showcased on a global scale and did so much to expand the brand of European Tour Golf globally. Optimal Analysis were fortunate to have a strong relationship with Seve through the Seve Ballesteros Golf Academy and we feel strongly that the European Tour should formally honour Seve by changing their logo to incorporate an image of this much-missed legend of the game.

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Aug 102011

The fourth and final major of the year begins tomorrow and the 93rd PGA Championship is set-up to be a gripping and fascinating contest. This year’s championship is being held at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Georgia and it is set to be a warm and humid affair, having being dubbed Hot-Lanta by several media organisations already. With numerous high profile players finding good form in the last few weeks, along with the well publicised return of a certain Tiger Woods, you can be sure it will make compulsive viewing.

So who are the main contenders? Adam Scott and his new caddy, Steve Williams of Tiger fame, blew away the field last week but winning back to back on tour is a feat rarely accomplished in the modern era. Tiger showed glimpses of form last week, though struggled to find the fairways off the tee, and with McIlroy, Donald and Westwood shooting 67, 66 and 65 respectively, it is difficult to select a pre-tournament favourite. The pressure is really on Donald and Westwood, who are looking to pick up their first major title and justify their respective world rankings of 1 and 2 to a sceptical American public. Jason Day, the young Australian, has showed impressive form at this year’s majors and a strong finish last week also makes him one to watch.

Team ISM, otherwise known as International Sports Management, the golfing stable of both McIlroy and Westwood, currently hold all the major titles from this year and are looking to complete the slam with this week’s prize, the USPGA’s Wannamaker Trophy. Fellow ISM charger, Charl Schwartzel, started the ball rolling at the Masters, then McIlroy took the U.S. Open in emphatic fashion, before Darren Clarke rolled back the years to capture the Claret Jug in July at Sandwich. Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler ISM MD and former European Tour golfer said “I’ll be delighted if any of our boys collects the trophy, but it would be particularly pleasing if Lee Westwood could finally cross the grand slam line after going so close, so often.”

All the while, the Americans will be hoping for a home victory. Phil Mickelson was the last American to win a major, the 2010 Masters, and since then 6 majors have been and gone with an American claiming top spot. This period symbolises the biggest drought in American major winners in the Open era and the US fans are eagerly waiting for one of the new kids on the block, like Anthony Kim or Rickie Fowler, to take over the reins from Woods and Mickelson.

Check back to the blog next week where we will use Optimal’s Coaching Studio video analysis software to make an in-depth analysis of the PGA champion’s swing. Optimal’s Coaching Studio software forms part of our groundbreaking eAcademy offering, for more information please click here.

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Jul 182011

Open Champion: Darren Clarke (Image courtesy of Reuters)

Darren Clarke held off spirited charges from Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson yesterday to claim the 151st British Open and with it, his first victory in a major.

The 42-year-old Northern Irishman took a one-shot lead into the final day over Johnson, who started sloppily with bogeys at both the 4th and 6th holes. Mickelson, however, set off like a train with birdies at the 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 10th, alongside an eagle at the Par 5 7th. All this, meant Clarke could not afford to sit back and wait for those around him to fall away and responded with some strong golf, rescuing a great opening par at the first and a birdie at the 2nd before bogeying the 4th.

Clarke then matched Mickelson’s eagle on the 7th to take him to 7 under, before Mickelson missed a short par putt 11th and followed this up with further bogeys on the 13th, 15th and 16th as he fell away from contention. However, Johnson came back at Clarke with birdies on the 7th, 10th and 12th but when a layup attempt on the par 5 14th went horrendously wrong, drifting out of bounds to the right, it was as if the title was destined for Clarke.

Clarke, who had his share of luck, twice fortuitously bouncing over hazardous pot bunkers, strung 9 pars together after his eagle at the 7th to leave him with a comfortable lead with two to play. Despite bogeys at the last two holes, he held on for the win and admitted:

“The last couple of holes, I was trying not to make any really stupid mistakes”.

Clarke dedicated the win to his two sons, Tyrone and Conor, who began their day playing a round at Royal Portrush back in Northern Ireland, before watching Dad secure his biggest career victory in the afternoon. Clarke said afterwards, “If it hadn’t come off and I hadn’t won, I could still have said I did my best. I ask my two boys to do their best and that’s what they do, so I think their dad should try do the same.”

Clarke, a man noted for his extravagant celebrations, is meant to be joining Weight Watchers this week and admitted it could well be “a bad week” for him to start as “there’s five points in a pint of Guiness.”

Clarke is next scheduled to be in action at the Irish Open later in July, but urged caution against any high expectations, saying: “I may not be sober… but I will be in Killarney”.
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Jun 152011

Whilst not having the spectacular surroundings of Augusta, or the grand traditions and regalia of the British Open, The US Open often produces the highest drama of golf’s four majors. The tournament hosts, The USGA, do not enjoy a US Open course taking a beating from the field and the tournament often produces much higher winning scores than normally seen on tour. They make the course long, the greens unforgiving and the pin locations treacherous. Last year, Northern Irishman, Graeme McDowell, triumphed at Pebble Beech on even par and in both 2007 and 2006 the winning score was +5.

This year’s venue, The Congressional Country Club in Maryland, looks like it should live up to this challenging tradition. The championship Blue Course plays a colossal 7,574 from the competition tees and is renowned for it’s dangerous water hazards and huge trees guarding the fairways. Indeed, during WWII the course even served as a military training ground due to its varied terrain and gradients.
The USGA have once again picked out some exciting pairings, notable highlights include: Mickelson, McIlroy & Dustin Johnson in one group and the worlds top 3 ranked players, Donald, Westwood & Kaymer, in another. Once again however, the number one draw in golf, Tiger Woods, is missing from the field as he continues to battle achilles and knee injuries.

As always with the US Open, predictions are hard to make and the only certainty is that a whole lot of drama will unfold before late Sunday evening. Who would have predicted the 30-year-old Ulsterman being the last man standing walking to the 18th at Pebble Beach last year? Below is a video of reigning champion McDowell’s swing in super slow-motion for you all to enjoy and envy.

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