Balls in the Air: Crowne Plaza Invitational (and the European PGA)
By Stephanie Wei under Balls in the Air

After a very long hiatus, welcome (back) to this special edition of Balls in the Air, where I size up my Fantasy Golf picks of the week, featuring guys to watch (or not), and interesting story lines and tidbits from behind the scenes.

The usual poker-faced Dufner reacts with extra gusto on the 72nd hole in Dallas

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been OVER A YEAR since I last did a “Balls in the Air” post. I started to neglect Fantasy Golf, and when you’re on tour every week, there’s more work (obviously) than sitting at in my apartment behind my computer.

By the way, I started to get the shakes yesterday (Wednesday). It’s the first time this season that I’ve missed TWO CONSECUTIVE Tour stops. I’m sure everyone out there is missing me oh-so-dearly! Don’t worry, I’m fine, I hear the first few days of the shakes are bad, but if I can get through Friday, I’ll be OK.

Plus, the forecast calls for 100 degrees with 25mph winds on Thursday in Forth Worth. Which, I imagine, feels like you’re blow-drying your hair (with the “high” and “hot” options), except it’s a full-body hairdryer.

Because of these conditions, the greens shouldn’t be as firm as usual, but driving accuracy is still the highest premium at the tree-lined course. Obviously it’s an advantage to hit a lot of fairways any week, but there are lots of doglegs that you need to set yourself up in the right spots, not to mention you’re hitting into small targets. It’s an old-school golf course, which just about every guy on Tour enjoys (and wishes there were more stops played on traditional tracks). The long-hitters will reel back and probably stick with their 3-irons and 3/5-woods off the tee, with the driver making two or three appearances throughout the round. Veterans (old guys) have had a lot of success here.

Here’s my Fantasy Golf line-up:

Group A: Zach Johnson has obviously had success at this bunter’s paradise, winning here in 2010. He’s never finished outside of the top ten at Colonial. Matt Kuchar just won The Players and he’s always a good guy you can count on for FG (naturally I’ve started him at all the wrong times). His scrambling and putting stats rank on the high side, which have been important at Colonial in the past few years.

Group B: Rickie Fowler is playing too well to rule out. He tweeted last week that he tied Tiger’s course record 62 at Medalist. The defending champ, David Toms, is usually a good bet, not to mention he might be peaking just in time — his finishes in his last three starts: 45 (Zurich Classic), 15 (Quail Hollow), 10 (Players Championship). I probably should have Hunter Mahan in there, but I opted to roll the dice and go with some dark horses. Instead I picked John Rollins because…I can’t remember why anymore, which makes me think I should pull a last-minute switcheroo. Finally, Brian Davis has been playing sneaky well and his game seems to suit Colonial.

Group C: I’m not really high on picking guys who won the week before, but I can’t resist picking the Duf. The dude is on a roll. And he’s back on Twitter. I had Charlie Wi (“Cousin Charlie) on the bench, but for some reason, I decided to switch him out for Colt Knost. Well, I just pulled Colt and put Charlie back on the bench (sorry about the moment of disloyalty, ‘cos). Colt is a good dark horse, though. He’s from Texas, and if he’s hitting it straight off the tee, the course should suit him well. Think Hilton Head.

OK, I think this is my final line-up for Thursday — oh wait, I forgot to check who’s in the morning/afternoon wave..:


Random note: Kevin Na has taken the waggle or the hitch out of his pre-shot routine. He’s debuting his new, faster-playing version today, which should be interesting. Usually you can’t change these things overnight and feel comfortable with it in competition, but he’s gotta start somewhere, right? Good on him for keeping his word and really working on playing faster. I’m definitely very intrigued…and wonder if he’ll regress to the waggle mid-way through the round. Word on the range is he’s not exactly hitting it on a string.


Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, there’s the European Tour’s version of the Players Championship, with the big three — Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood — playing starring roles. I enjoyed Paul Mahoney’s primer for the event, especially this part:

Donald seems to be enjoying a friendly rivalry with McIlroy. They even tweet congratulations when one leapfrogs the other to the No. 1 spot. But the more brash-talking Westwood plays down any rivalry, and he was in a cheeky mood at Wentworth.

Would he rather win by 10 shots on Sunday or beat Donald in a playoff.

“I’d rather win by 10, obviously,” Westwood said.

How about beating Rory and Luke in a playoff, albatross at the last?

“I really don’t care,” he said. “Go for the hat-trick on daft questions.”

Westwood was enjoying the banter but not taking the bait. A lot of people would like to see a rivalry between you three …

“You weren’t happy with the rivalry last year?” Westwood interrupted. “It was No. 1 and No. 2. You’re very greedy. As a player you turn up trying to win the golf tournament. You’re not worried about what everybody else does. To be perfectly honest and perfectly ruthless, I would rather I play brilliant this week and everybody else played crap.”

That drew a big laugh, and then he offered a review of his so-called rivals’ strengths.

The British bookmakers have Donald as the favorite, then Westy, and finally Rory. I like Luke for the week, too.

Speaking of the world No. 2, the European Tour held their Awards banquet on Tuesday evening and Luke was presented with several honors, including “European Tour honorary life member.” He even gets a special card — very official! — which he posted on Twitter:

Is that real gold?

Alright, balls in the air! Who are your favorites this week?

(Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images)