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The Month Ahead - May

By: Tony Dear


With three majors, a Presidents Cup, two World Golf Championships, a Solheim Cup, a Walker Cup and a FedEx Cup series still to come many golfers might argue that 2013 is really just beginning. But this week actually marks the halfway point of the regular PGA Tour season.

It seems only yesterday that Dustin Johnson won a rain-shortened Hyundai Championship to kick the year off and become the first player since Tiger Woods to win at least once in each of his first six years on Tour. Since then, we've seen six players (Russell Henley, John Merrick, Michael Thompson, Scott Brown, Kevin Streelman, and Billy Horschel) win for the first time in the Big Leagues. We've seen Phil Mickelson come within a crane fly's shin bone of shooting a 59 in Phoenix, where he would go wire-to-wire and claim his 41st Tour victory. We've seen Brandt Snedeker confirm he really is all that, rising to No. 4 in the world before losing a little ground due to a rib injury. We've seen Martin Laird climb out of a big, dark hole to shoot a where-on-Earth-did-that-come-from 63 and win in San Antonio, and Graeme McDowell win in America for the first time since the 2010 U.S. Open.

We watched with total incredulity as officials handed a 14-year-old boy from China a one-stroke penalty for time-wasting at the Masters, then quietly admitted they might actually have been right after learning how long Guan Tianlang had taken over some shots. We saw Tiger Woods's pitch to the 15th green in the second round hit the flagstick and rebound back into the water, then watched him drop another ball in what appeared to be the right spot but which, he admitted later on TV having already signed his scorecard, was actually two paces from the right spot.

The following morning we woke to the news Woods had been assessed a two-stroke penalty for dropping his ball incorrectly, but had survived disqualification under Rule 33-7 which, right or wrong, and together with the Guan incident, took several layers of gloss off the first three days of the tournament (the governing bodies issued a joint 1,902-word statement this morning addressing the Woods Rule incident and explaining that, contrary to what many had suggested, Decision 33-7/4.5 - ". . . if the Committee is satisfied that the competitor could not reasonably have known or discovered the facts resulting in his breach of the Rules, it would be justified under Rule 33-7 in waiving the disqualification . . ." had not been invoked, but rather 34-3/1 which authorizes a committee to correct an incorrect decision before the competition has closed and waive the disqualification penalty, had actually been applied).

We then sat through what was looking like the dullest Sunday afternoon at the Masters in living memory before Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera saved the last hour, each birdieing the 72nd hole then trading epic blows in the playoff, which Scott won with another brilliant birdie on the second extra hole. Scott won the major that had eluded his countrymen for 76 years, and the major he and the rest of the world had believed he was ready for 10 years previously.

But while Scott provided the feel-good, and most notable, story of the first half of the 2013 PGA Tour season, the player of the last few months has to be Woods, who finished T4 at Augusta despite his misfortune at the 15th hole and subsequent brush with the Rules, and who won three of his first five events.

Woods is sitting out the Wells Fargo Championship this week because, as his agent Mark Steinberg stated, he likes to takes three weeks off following the Masters (only three times since 1997 has he played within three weeks of the first major, and two of those were for the Wells Fargo) - would that we all could take three weeks off following four (okay six/seven) days' of hard work.

Some members of the gallery, and tournament director Kym Hougham, will undoubtedly miss the world No. 1, but really, what do you remember most about last year's tournament - that Woods got cut from the weekend after rounds of 71 and 73 or that Rickie Fowler won his maiden PGA Tour event in a playoff against D.A. Points and Rory McIlroy?

Despite Woods's absence, there will be 15 major champions and plenty of big names for the Charlotte crowd to cheer on, including Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Lee Westwood, the defending champion, Masters runner-up Cabrera, reigning U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, and the 2010 winner, Rory McIlroy, whose form thus far in 2013 has been so patchy he's barely been mentioned in the run-up to this week's event - indeed, not a single member of the 12-strong panel at www.pgatour.com picked him as the winner.

The Irishman's talent really has no limit though, and you'll remember people wrote him off last summer when he missed four big cuts - Players Championship, Memorial, U.S. Open and BMW PGA in Europe - in the space of a few short weeks before storming back late in the season to win the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island and two FedEx Cup playoff events. If he is up for it this week, don't be surprised if McIlroy pulls another final-round 62 out the bag like he did three years ago, and leaves North Carolina shaking his head, saying, "I told you so" again.

Next week, the Tour heads to TPC Sawgrass for perhaps the biggest non-major tournament of the year - The Players, where Woods will resurface and Matt Kuchar seeks to defend the title he won by two shots last year. This will be the 40th playing of the Players, and the 32nd time it has been played on Pete Dye's infamous Stadium Course, which continues to provoke as much angst as it does praise every year.

The course and the tournament have benefited greatly from the March-to-May schedule shift that occurred in 2007, but it's highly unlikely PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem will see the tournament he loves so well gain major status in his lifetime, if indeed it becomes one at all - which is doubtful - because four's plenty.

Following the Players the HP Byron Nelson Classic returns to the TPC Four Seasons in Irving, Texas. where last year Jason Dufner claimed his second career victory just four weeks after winning his first in New Orleans. Tianlang, still five months shy of his 15th birthday, will be in the field, seeking to become the PGA Tour's youngest winner by nearly five years. That can't possibly happen, of course, but the 125-pounder will be such an old hand at this PGA Tour stuff by then it will almost feel strange if he doesn't make it three cuts out of three (Masters, Zurich Classic) at the very least.

Then it's on to Colonial in Fort Worth, where Dufner came so close to making it three wins in five tournaments last year, just losing out to Zach Johnson by a shot after struggling to a 74 in the final round.

May will be an interesting month in Europe not just because Luke Donald will be going for his third straight win at the BMW PGA, which returns to Wentworth's West Course for the 30th straight year. But also because the European Tour visits Bulgaria for the first time with the Volvo Match Play Championship, being staged at the amazing Gary Player-designed Thracian Cliffs course that overlooks the Black Sea about 300 miles east of Sofia.

The over-50s play their first major of the year - the Senior PGA Championship - at Bellerive GC in St. Louis, Mo., with England's Roger Chapman looking to defend.

And May could be the month we finally get an announcement from the governing bodies regarding the anchored putting stroke, which has been debated since November when golf's rulers gave the world three months to comment on a proposed ban. The USGA's Mike Davis says the process has been "great," but clearly those opposing the ban have been more vociferous than he and R&A Secretary Peter Dawson were anticipating.

On April 26th, PGA Tour player Joe Ogilvie tweeted that apparently the announcement would come on May 21. If that's the case, enjoy the next three weeks before this unbelievably tedious story takes center stage once again.

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.