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The Month Ahead - August

By: Tony Dear


After an amazing display of "Bubba Golf" at the Masters, a typically grueling but compelling U.S. Open at Olympic, a never-turn-away Open Championship at Royal Lytham, and three big-ish wins for Tiger Woods, it would be perfectly reasonable for golf fans to take a breath and wonder how this season could get any more exciting.

But this is 2012, with year-round golf on TV. It would be wrong to suggest we've only just started, but there really is an awful lot still to come.

In eight weeks' time, the U.S. and Europe will square off at the Ryder Cup in Chicago, and the week before the PGA Tour culminates with the Tour Championship in Atlanta. September will therefore be a month to remember, but August won't be without incident either.

The month starts with the third World Golf Championships event of the year, the WGC Bridgestone Invitational on the South Course at Firestone CC where Woods will not only be going for a fourth big-ish win of the season, but an incredible eighth victory and 11th top-five finish in the event.

The world No. 2 had a miserable time of it in Akron in both 2010 and '11, ending up at T78 and T37 on a course he could seemingly play with one closed eye and his hands tied behind his back. But he will tee it up Thursday obviously very close to finding his top gear, whatever that looks like nowadays. The year has been an odd one for a player who won 14 major championships in 11 years, claimed 71 PGA Tour titles between the middle of 1996 and end of 2011, and missed just seven halfway cuts during that time. Besides the three wins in 2012, Woods has missed two cuts, tied for 40th at both the Masters and Players Championship, and was unable to finish strongly in the U.S. Open and Open Championship after heading into the weekend looking the likely winner.

To win at Firestone, Woods will need to overcome a quality field made up of tournament winners from around the world, the top 50 in the world rankings, and Presidents Cup players from 2011. Part of the International team at Royal Melbourne last year was Adam Scott, who won the Bridgestone Invitational 12 months ago after opening with an 8-under 62 and shooting 66-65 on the weekend to beat joint runners-up Luke Donald and Rickie Fowler by four.

The Australian returns to Firestone 10 days after his unfortunate finish at Lytham, where he bogeyed the final four holes on Sunday to lose by a stroke to Ernie Els. Given the quality of his Butch Harmon-taught swing and supreme ball-striking, plus his level-headed demeanor, it's easy to see Scott rebounding quickly from his Lytham disaster. But the 32-year-old, eight-time PGA Tour winner has never had to get over anything quite as catastrophic - on the golf course anyway, so it will be fascinating to see how he fares.

Other players to watch at Firestone will be the 2010 champion Hunter Mahan, who has gone off the boil slightly after a splendid first four months of the season when he won the WGC Accenture Matchplay and Houston Open. The Californian's victory two years ago came on the heels of a T17 in Canada, a T37 at the Open Championship, and four missed cuts prior to that, so he knows something about sharp upturns in form.

And how about Els? The South African's love for the game and competing against the best in the world seemed to have disappeared midway through this season, and he himself said he might never win another major. Now everything has changed, of course. Having seemingly come to terms with his son Ben's autism, and with a newfound confidence on the greens courtesy of "visual skills trainer" Sherylle Calder, the 43-year-old is very much back in the game and will be looking to win the Masters and PGA Championships to complete a career Grand Slam before he retires to the backyard braai.

He can cross one of them off the list the week after Bridgestone with a win in the 94th PGA Championship, which will be played on the same Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C., where the U.S. beat Europe in one of the most pulsating and contentious of Ryder Cups.

Pete Dye's remarkable seaside course will ensure great drama among the dunes, though it will surely be impossible to duplicate the tension of the final afternoon in 1991 when Bernhard Langer needed to win the 18th hole in the final singles match to beat Hale Irwin, force a tie and retain the Cup for Europe (the German famously missed his equalizing putt in the "War by the Shore").

Last week the PGA of America stated there will be no bunkers on the course and that all the sandy areas will be played as "through the green." That means players will be able to ground their clubs in the sand and avoid what happened to Dustin Johnson in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits two years ago. After making what he thought was a five on the 72nd hole to get into a playoff with Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer, the South Carolinian was assessed a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in what appeared to be a sandy waste area, but was actually a hazard.

Having become so attuned to not grounding their clubs, it's likely defending champion Keegan Bradley and the other 155 players in the field will still hover the sole of their sand wedge above the sand at Kiawah. But whatever they do, it's nice to know they will be spared the devastation Johnson must have felt.

A win for Johnson at Kiawah would not only help erase the nightmare of 2010 but give the galleries something to shout about as the six-time PGA Tour winner was not only born in South Carolina (Columbia), he still lives there (Myrtle Beach).

The PGA Championship, the final major of the season, is referred to as "Glory's Last Shot," which is nice and catchy certainly, but rather a blatant misnomer now that a month after the Wanamaker Trophy and winner's check (approximately $1.5 million) are awarded the winner of the FedEx Cup earns $10 million. Indeed, Bill Haas, the current holder, can justifiably claim his win at last year's Tour Championship and subsequent $11.4 million payday merited just a little glory.

The FedEx Cup still has its detractors, many of them in fact, but no one can deny the playoffs give fans more opportunities to see the best players in the world in action. After the final event of the regular season, the Wyndham Championship in the third week of August, the top 125 on the points list will assemble for the first playoff event - the Barclays - at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y., where Johnson will be defending the title he won last year at Plainfield CC in Edison, N.J., where the event was reduced to 54 holes after Hurricane Irene came storming through.

On the final day of the month the second playoff tournament, the Deutsche Bank Championship, gets underway at TPC Boston with a field of 100; by then, 25 players will have been cut after the Barclays.

In Europe, after the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship, the pursuit of Ryder Cup points will continue at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles in Scotland and the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre in Switzerland.

Both the U.S. and European teams for Medinah CC are looking formidable right now, though European captain Jose Maria Olazabal will probably be hoping for big things in August from Kaymer, Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington, while U.S. captain Davis Love might be keeping his eyes on Johnson, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk.

The year 2012 has already had its share of memorable moments. But plenty more are in the cards for August.

Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it extremely difficult for him to focus on Politics, his chosen major. After leaving Liverpool, he worked as a golf instructor at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a 'player.' He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. He is a multi-award winning journalist, and edits his own website at www.bellinghamgolfer.com.