• Clubbing Down

To Dove Mountain, for operation golf season launch

Will Tidey February 19, 2013
The Nike boys will be in focus at the World Match Play © Getty Images
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Dove Mountain, the Arizona golf resort that sounds like the lavish lair of a Bond villain, is the gold-flecked tee box from where all golf blogs should make their opening drive. No self-respecting golf writer starts their season at the Farmers Insurance Open. Or the Northern Trust Open. Or, worst of all, the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

The golf season never really stops, but this is where it really starts - at the WGC Match Play in February, with 64 of the top 68 players in the world competing in club-to-club combat across five gruelling (can golf ever be gruelling?) days in the desert. The action this week will stir casual golf fans from the hibernation they've been in since Europe slapped the USA down in the Ryder Cup and will culminate with everyone picking their Masters winner.

Everything about the first WGC event of the year is big-time. The four brackets are named after Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Gary Player. The winner takes home a cool $1.4 million and the exquisite mantle-piece-completing Walter Hagen Cup. The Nike brothers, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, will be there.

"Rors" will be making his first PGA Tour start of the season and looking to go one better than his runners-up finish in 2012. The spaniel-haired prodigy arrives as world no. 1, with the golf world in his pocket and naturally among the favourites, but he'll need to improve on the wayward driving he displayed at the Abu Dhabi Championship in January to get a run going. All eyes will be on how those new Nike clubs perform on their second airing. McIlroy gets his quest going against Shane Lowry.

Tiger joined McIlroy in missing the cut in Dubai, but won the Farmers the next week and is back up to second in the golf world rankings. Woods' form on the golf course and his improved public perception off it saw him spend Sunday on the course with none other than president Barack Obama, that most famous of left-handed hackers.

"The last tournament you played was fun to watch," Obama reportedly told him. "It's good to see you playing well again." Thanks for the insight there 'Bama.

Woods is a three-time WGC Match Play champion. PGA Tour number-crunchers tell us he's the winningest player in the tournament's history, with 33 victories from 44 matches, and also the man to have appeared in the most finals (four). They also tell us he hasn't been past the second round since winning in 2008 and then there's his Ryder Cup match play form to consider. His opening match is against Charles Howell III, with a potential Ryder reunion with Francesco Molinari on the cards for round two (points to prove for both parties there).

Defending champion Hunter Mahan starts against Italian youngster Matteo Manassero, with 2011 winner Luke Donald facing Marcel Siem of Germany and 2010 winner Ian Poulter - currently consumed by the plight of his beloved Arsenal - facing Scotland's Stephen Gallacher, who has already won this year on the European Tour. Poulter's mood heading into that one will likely hinge on Arsenal's fate against Bayern Munich on Tuesday.

Other ties to watch include the all-Irish affair between Graeme "G-Mac" McDowell and Padraig "Paddy" Harrington and the intriguing coming together of England's Chris Wood and big-hitting Bubba Watson.

Grip it and rip it

The belly putter debate rages on and this blog has the stomach for the battle. Ernie Els loves them (presumably they make being the Big Easy even easier) and he can't see a good reason why they'd be banned. Robert Garrigus recently screamed "leave us alone" to the purists. Keegan Bradley is another in the ever-growing pro-belly putter camp.

I'm completely against them. Controlling the free stroke of the putter is part of the game as it is intended to torture us, and using a belly putter goes completely against that. We don't like clubs with too many grooves because they make things too easy. Surely belly-putter-gate is exactly the same argument?

Here's what my golfing hero Tom Watson - a man of unfailingly wise words - had to say in December last year.

"I thought Ernie Els said it perfectly when he won last year's Open Championship. He was asked why he went to the long putter and he said, 'He was cheating like the rest of them'."

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and US Golf Association are currently reviewing whether "anchoring" a club to the body should be legal. If they decide against belly putters a new rule would come in for the 2016 season. Watch this space if that happens - law suits could be forthcoming.

Watch out for the Harlem Shake

The huge publicity achieved by James Hahn's 'Gang-hahn Style' celebration will surely have a domino effect this season. Agents all over the world will be urging their jobbing Tour player clients to follow suit and it's only a matter of time before the 'Harlem Shake' meets a chip-in from a bunker.

We've scoured YouTube but sadly there is no footage of Bobby Jones doing the Charleston.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Will has covered Tour events. majors and Ryder Cups and interviewed the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Rory McIlroy. He once inhaled the cigar smoke of the coolest man in golf, Miguel Angel Jimenez, while watching sports cars tear around Brands Hatch. As a left-handed hacker he's been humiliated at esteemed venues including Carnoustie, Wentworth, Kiawah Island and Pinehurst No. 2.