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Rubenstein: Picking winners is a fool’s game

Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Justin Rose


Here comes what I am sure will be a futile attempt to inject some reason into a week that appears to be all about Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods , all the time. I realize that I'm part of this, given that I wrote about McIlroy's affiliation with Nike , which was announced on Monday.

But there's more to golf than McIlroy and Woods, the first and second-ranked players in the world. You'd think they're the only two players with a chance to win the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship that starts Thursday, based on the unceasing chatter about their now both being with Nike and that they're playing the first two rounds together.

Sure, one or the other could run away with the tournament. Maybe they'll finish in a playoff and go at it for the victory. Then again, maybe neither will contend. That might be surprising, but maybe not. This is golf. Let's take a look what Gary Player said this week about picking winners in tournaments. Player, 77, knows a thing or two about golf. He's won nine majors, including each of the Grand Slam events: the Masters, U.S. and British Opens, and the PGA Championship.

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Player was speaking at this week's Humana Challenge in La Quinta, Calif., the PGA Tour event on offer. He recently announced a three-year partnership with Humana Inc. He's a spokesperson for the health care company. Player is super-fit. He can still do 1,000 pushups a day. Wherever Player is, he loves to talk about fitness and health. He walks the walk and he talks the talk and he said he shoots, on average, six shots better than his age.

Player was asked who he likes for the Masters in April. He referred immediately to McIlroy and Woods, which was no surprise. It's very likely they'll be the two favourites come the Masters. But at the same time, Player added a caveat.

"But to pick a player, you're talking about four days of a man's career," Player said. "He's only got to have a really hot putter that week, and he's the winner."

Russell Henley showed that last week in winning the Sony Open in Honolulu. He had 33 one-putt greens. Every putt he hit seemed to fall. The man with the hot putter won. Again. What else is new?

Player said it's "almost impossible" to pick a winner. And there you have it, a voice of reason in the nearly absurd art and science of picking a winner of a tournament. You'd think the task would be the easiest when it comes to majors, where the elite golfers are supposed to rise to the occasion.

Let's see. Woods has played 16 Masters and won four. McIlroy has played only four Masters and has yet to win a green jacket. Jack Nicklaus played the Masters on 42 occasions and won six times. Each has lost far more than he's won, and in McIlroy's case he has yet to win the Masters. He could win a bunch. We shall see.

Then there are the regular tournaments. Nicklaus, Woods, and McIlroy have won plenty of those, and McIlroy is just starting. But does this mean either Woods or McIlroy will win in Abu Dhabi? Obviously not. Consider what happened a year ago.

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English golfer Robert Rock went into the last round tied with Woods and a shot ahead of McIlroy. Everybody was all over the final round. Wouldn't it come down to Woods and McIlroy alone? Hmmm. Rock and Woods played together. Rock won, McIlroy finished a shot behind, and Woods another shot back. Rock, now 35, said it was a great experience playing with Woods.

Could Rock win again? Yes. So could any of Jason Dufner, Padraig Harrington, Justin Rose, or, well, any of many players in the excellent field. It's golf. It's a tournament. Anybody can look like a fool trying to pick a winner.

But let me provide the name of one golfer I expect you will hear more of, a Scotsman who has been making great progress recently. I'm referring to Scott Jamieson, who was first, tied third, and was then second in his last three European Tour events. Jamieson, a 29-year-old Glaswegian with a sweet swing and a friendly demeanour, leads the European Tour's Race to Dubai.

Jamieson took a five-shot lead into the final round of last week's Volvo Golf Champions in Durban, South Africa. Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open Championship winner, caught him and won by a shot. He had finished when Jamieson came to the final hole, a driveable par-four on the classic Durban Country Club. He needed to eagle the hole to tie Oosthuizen, but pulled his drive. He faced about a 30-yard pitch shot for the tie.

The shot looked good all the way, but it finished an inch right of the hole, perfect speed and nearly perfect line. Jamieson didn't win, but he showed again that he is a player to watch. He's ranked 72nd in the world, and would like nothing better than to get into the top 50 and qualify for his first Masters.

Maybe Jamieson will make it into the final group Sunday in Abu Dhabi. You never know. Maybe he'll have a hot putter. Or maybe not. Will McIlroy win? Woods? Rock? Rose? Dufner?

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Don't ask, because I don't know. Nobody does. Golf is more than the "onliest" game, as Tom Kite once called it. It's also a most unpredictable game. It always has been. It always will be.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein


Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round's on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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