Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Adios, Summer

Enjoy today and tomorrow, summer lovers. This is most likely the last extended taste of summer that we will see. Most of Oregon will be looking at temperatures above 80 degrees today, and here in the valley it will be closer to 90 degrees. Wednesday looks to be similar with plenty of sunshine. But then we hit a wall. Is it the Autumn wall? It very well could be. Our average temperatures are now on the decline. Portland topped its high average temp at 81 degrees earlier this month. By the end of August, we will only average 78 degrees. And looking at the 7-day forecast, we are aiming below that to close out August.

The extended outlook does not look promising for a return Summer. Here is the 500mb chart for this coming Sunday. This map looks halfway up the atmosphere and gives us a good indication of where storm systems are going, they usually follow the lines. The X's mark vorticity maxes that indicate areas of unstable atmosphere. Notice that big dip in the lines that point in our direction. This means that cooler weather from Canada will sag our direction and usher in clouds and below average temperatures.

Now, I am not calling for that grey, soggy winter weather. I am just pointing out that we have begun the transition out of summer. You will notice cooler mornings and crisper air. It really reminds me of football season. There could be nice, sunny days ahead. But those days won't be as warm. The sun angle is diminishing and thus not as powerful.
I have heard a lot of people complain about how our summer has "sucked". I only assume they think this because we had several cloudy mornings before the sun came out. They are right. Since 2000, Portland averages 13 days of cloudy starts from July 1st through August 5th. But in 2010, we have seen 20 out of 36 days begin cloudy (info courtesy of Rod Hill). We could add more to that total since the 5th of August, but that would already be adding insult to injury. But just because we start 55% of summer days cloudy does not mean that our summer has been a wash. Portland has had only 0.01" of measurable precipitation this month. That is 0.60" below average for August. We finished 0.13" below normal for July. So we have been relatively dry this summer, if you discount the fact that it took us something like six days to set the June rain record, we finished 2.68 ABOVE average in June. Personally, I have enjoyed the summer weather. Where do you fall?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

PGA heartbreak

Did you have a bad weekend? Dustin Johnson did, although he may not admit it. A 26-year old kid, who put himself in perfect position to win his first major after competing quite well in the year's previous majors, went from relief to devastation in five strokes, or was it seven?
A grounded club in a "bunker" cost young PGA sensation Dustin Johnson $1,079,167 and more importantly, a potential first career major. Johnson was no stranger to holding a lead in a major. He lead going into the final round of the US Open at Pebble Beach earlier this summer before going on to shoot an +11. Dustin appeared as though he was not quite ready for the spotlight.
Headed into the final hole on Sunday in Wisconsin, Dustin had birdied the previous two holes to get to -12 and a one-stroke lead on Bubba Watson, who was the leader in the clubhouse. As he teed off from the par-4 18th, his drive which he is known for, leaked right and fell about 10 to 20 rows deep into the gallery. The ball came to a rest in a sandy, matted down, straw-strewn pit. After a few practice swings, Johnson knocks the ball out of the pit and finishes up the hole with bogey and appeared to force a 3-way playoff with Watson and Martin Kaymer. Hold the phone. As Johnson and playing partner Nick Watney walked off the 18th green, they were approached by David Price who is the PGA rules official following the final group. Price asked Johnson if he remembered grounding his club on his second shot. In golf, when the ball lies in a sand trap (or bunker), the golfer is not allowed to place the face of the club in the sand prior to striking it. If the club is grounded, a 2-shot penalty stroke is assessed. Upon replay, it looked as if Johnson had placed the face of the club on the ground at least once before his swing. But was Johnson hitting out of a bunker?
Price says that, "There's no question it was a bunker. There are 1,200 of them out there (on the course)". Dustin tried to recall if he had grounded his club or not, "I don't remember, but I don't think I did". In fact, Price overheard Johnson telling Watney that he didn't even recognize he was in a bunker. And how could you? Johnson walked 10-20 people deep in order to get to his ball. As the fans scattered, trash was visible from the days vendors. There was no doubt that Johnson's ball was laying in sand, but the characteristics of the area it was sitting in did not hold true to that of a bunker. CBS golf analyst David Feherty was even back at the location after the ordeal was over and could not really identify the location of Johnson's shot as being in a bunker.
How could it be a bunker when there are spectators standing in the sand as the player hits out of it?? The PGA supplies a letter to the golfers before each tournament stating special rules and regulations. The first item on the PGA Championship list was that any sandy areas were to be played as bunkers and rules were enforced. Fair enough, but if the PGA is going to enforce those rules, all bunkers should be easily identifiable. The bunker along the 18th fairway that Johnson was in should be just as identifiable as the sand trap along the 4th green. That means keep spectators OUT of the bunkers and keep them properly maintained. That was not the case with Dustin's "Dustbin".
As it turns out, Johnson was shown several replays of his second shot from the gallery and apparently admitted that he grounded his club upon review. He assessed himself a two stroke penalty and signed his score card with a seven on the final hole, not a five. This little fact is critical as well.
Each golfer is required to sign their scorecard and their playing partner's scorecard. Had Johnson ignored the grounded club and signed his scorecard, he would have risked disqualification and not placed at all in the tournament. Nick Watney definitely felt bad for Dustin. "Honestly, I don't think anyone reads the sheet (that the PGA provided with rule stipulations)... I've never seen fans in a bunker with a player", says Watney. No matter the outcome, Dustin Johnson has become a new fan favorite on the PGA tour. Even other golfers are feeling for him. Ian Poulter tweeted, "Gutted for Dustin shocking rule, 900+ bunkers and probably only 100 rakes I don't get it, sorry Dustin you deserved to be in the playoff". Local golfer and Champions Tour stalwart Peter Jacobsen says, "Whistling Straits is an fantastic course but MUST rethink the bunkers out of play. Or manage crowd better. It shouldn't cost anyone a major". It sounds like Peter echos my thoughts. Despite the drama, there was still a champion to be crowned. Bubba Watson and Matrin Kaymer played a fantastic three-hole playoff, with the German Kaymer taking it on the final hole.
Amongst the confusion and fog at Whistling Straits, there are positives to take away from the 2010 PGA Championship. Men's golf is increasingly becoming more competitive. Tiger Woods finished well out of the top-10. At the beginning of the final round, it appeared that we would have a first time major winner and that is what we got. We also have the core of the U.S. Ryder Cup team set. And guess who's in?? Dustin Johnson. Runner-up Bubba Watson also solidified his spot. Bubba is elated to be playing for his country, "I made the Ryder Cup. So that's all I care about". He said this right after losing to Kaymer in the playoff. Watson is one guy I am stoked to have on the Ryder Cup squad for sure. He WANTS to be there. How about Tiger? He needed to have a top-five finish in the PGA in order to automatically qualify. But he finished tied for 28th and will have to rely on captain Corey Pavin's at-large selection. But would Tiger bolster the United States against Europe in Wales come October? Tough question but Tiger is not playing his best golf, and he knows it. I eagerly look forward to the Ryder Cup. It is some of the most intense golf between to fierce rivals. It should be a fun tournament.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Tiger (in)Effect(tive)

Time is winding down on the PGA "regular season". The last Major of the year, The PGA Championship, is this week at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. Before we look ahead, let's jump into the PGA Time Machine.

It was at this same tournament last year in which I attribute the "beginning of the end" of Tiger's reign. After 54 holes, Woods had a lead on the rest of the field at Hazeltine National GC. Who would have ever bet against him? He had never lost a 54-hole lead in a Major. Ever. Y.E. Yang changed all that when he shot the best round of the day to overcome Sunday Tiger. Yang silenced Woods and we really haven't heard him roar since then (at least not on the golf course). Tiger had missed the cut at The British Open and finished sixth at the Masters earlier last year. Before we jump off this time machine, let's take a look at Tiger's last Major win. Anyone remember when it was? Anyone? It was the 2008 U.S. Open in that epic against Rocco on one bad knee.

Now, back in real time, Tiger continues to struggle. Last week at the Bridgestone Invite, Tiger shot his worst round as a professional with a 298 (+18). The Tiger Effect that once made any man in his path wilt is no longer, well, effective. If you told Anthony Kim, that heading into Sunday you'd be paired with Tiger Woods and you would beat him by two strokes, Kim would say, "Sounds like I am winning the thing". Alas, that only meant that Kim finished tied for 76th. Woods isn't hitting the shots that made him untouchable in the past. Others are now beginning to catch up to his abilities. I recall a certain stretch of Sunday's round of The 2010 Masters where Phil Mickelson was on fire. Lefty was knocking down shots out of the trees, making eagles and charging his way to the top of the leader board in a "Tiger-esq" method.

Woods doesn't see, "how this kind of golf can be fun...especially since my handicap is suppose to be zero". Who could blame him?
Should Tiger have ever returned to the Tour after his admittance of betrayal? Some are questioning it, including myself. I have been outspoken on my thoughts about Tiger and his ability to succeed since he has returned.

Now we begin the final Major of the year Thursday. How will Woods bounce back from his worst tournament ever? In his previous worst round, Woods finished 53rd with a 293 (+5) in the 2005 Players Championship. His next tournament, the Masters, he finished first. In fact, most instances where Woods fires a plus-290 one week, he rebounds in his next 72 holes. So if history tells us anything, we can not discount Tiger this week at Whistling Straits. But then again, this isn't the same Tiger is it?