Golf’s landscape looks so much different heading into the final major championship of the year.
Tiger Woods, always the man to beat in any major, arrives at the PGA Championship as just another contender. It’s one thing for him to still be looking for a victory in a major, quite another for the world’s No. 1 player to have not won any tournament at all this late in the season.
Then again, Woods didn’t get started until the Masters in April. And he still is trying to piece together a personal life in turmoil from his extramarital affairs that were uncovered nine months ago.
“Just be patient, keep working, keep going,” Woods said on the eve of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, his final chance to win before the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. “I’ve been through periods like this before. If you look at my career, I’ve never been one of those guys that just plays awful and then all of a sudden, just plays well. You’ll start seeing trends.”
There are plenty of trends in golf, some of them related to the state of his game.
Without Woods winning his usual share of tournaments, others have taken advantage of the void. And if there is one trend that stands out in American golf this year, it’s the preponderance of international players winning on the PGA Tour.
It started with Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland closing with a record 62 to win the Quail Hollow Championship on one of the more demanding courses on the PGA Tour. That began a stretch of foreign-born players winning 11 of 15 events on tour. The only American winners were Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson and Matt Bettencourt.
“When you have one player dominating and winning consistently, there’s very few people who are gaining confidence. If anything, it’s going to work in the opposite way,” Padraig Harrington said. “Nobody is quite dominating at the moment. That leaves two things. One, players aren’t scared. And two, there’s more of them to win.”
Two of those international players won majors for the first time – Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland in the U.S. Open, during a final round at Pebble Beach when Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els were in prime position; and Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa at St. Andrews, where he won the British Open by seven shots.
Even more alarming for the Americans?
None finished among the top three in consecutive majors, which had not happened in 98 years.
For British agent Chubby Chandler, whose stable includes Oosthuizen, Els and Lee Westwood, it reminds him of a 10-year stretch from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s when international players won half the majors.
“I think European Tour players will win something like five out of the next eight majors. We’re that strong now,” Chandler said on the day after Oosthuizen’s victory at St. Andrews. “I’ve got a sense what happened in the ’80s is about to happen again. Only then, it was about five players. And there will be 25 from our tour going to Whistling Straits for the PGA Championship thinking they can win it.”
The 92nd PGA Championship gets under way Thursday in the heartland of America, on a links-styled course that Pete Dye built along the bluffs of Lake Michigan. Whistling Straits last hosted the PGA Championship in 2004, when Vijay Singh won in a playoff.
The 156-man field is getting more international by the year. There are 76 players from overseas, compared with only 47 international players who were part of the field 10 years ago.
The defending PGA champion is Y.E. Yang of South Korea, who became the first Asian male to win a major last year at Hazeltine when he rallied from two shots behind to beat Woods in the final round.
One other trend: Five of the last six major champions had never won a Grand Slam event before, the exception being Mickelson at the Masters. It’s the longest such stretch since there were six first-time major winners from the 2002 PGA through to the 2004 U.S. Open.
“Golf is very strong in depth at the moment,” said Westwood, the 37-year-old from England who has established himself as the best to have never won a major. “Players are better coached nowadays. They’re not afraid to win and they get into position more regularly than maybe they used to. Obviously, Tiger has not won as many as you would have thought he would have won recently, so that creates room for other people to win majors.”
That golf has become deeper and stronger globally is not much of a surprise. It has been building toward that for the better part of the last decade, especially since the advent of the World Golf Championships in 1999 that not only brought together the world’s best more often, it gave international players another avenue to reach the PGA Tour.
These days, the only thing American about the PGA Tour is the headquarters in Florida.
“We come over here and get more comfortable with the players and the golf courses,” McDowell said. “I just think we have a lot of top players right now who are playing out here more often, and it’s obviously pure mathematics.”
Harrington wonders if the PGA Tour has become so international that it hurts the development of young Americans. Whereas international players learn to win against weaker fields in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia, young Americans immediately face the best.
“A good season over here for a young player, he might get in contention three or four times, might win once,” Harrington said. “Whereas a good season for a young player in Europe, he gets in contention 12 times and wins twice. And those 12 times he’s in contention, he’s going to learn from those. And that will help him grow as a player.
“There’s no doubt – this is a tough thing to say – that the strength of the U.S. tour doesn’t help grow young players.”
Harrington, a three-time major champion, still believes an exception player will rise no matter where he plays. The classic example is Woods, who reached No. 1 in the world within nine months of turning pro, and has twice stayed at No. 1 for five-year spans.
He just doesn’t look like that kind of player now.
Woods remains ultra private about his personal life, refusing to confirm he is in the process of a divorce, although he did concede that parcels of time and focus he once devoted to practice has been taken away by problems he never faced before.
“I’ve had more things going on once I’m at a tournament site than I have in the past, and for different reasons,” he said.
Woods remains stuck on 14 career majors, four short of the record held by Jack Nicklaus. His last major seems so long ago, that Monday at Torrey Pines when he beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open in his final event before reconstructive knee surgery. If he fails to win at Whistling Straits, it will be the third time in his career that 10 majors have elapsed without him winning one.
Winning anything at the moment would satisfy Woods.
Heading to PGA world dominating not Woods
Golf’s landscape looks so much different heading into the final major championship of the year.
Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational
Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.
The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.
Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.
Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.
The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.
Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump
Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.
Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.
None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.
Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.
An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.
Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.
Playing with the pros
Tiger, DJ and Faxon
President at the Presidents Cup
Purported round of 73 with Lindsey Graham
Cart on the green
Presence and protests at U.S. Women's Open
Trump golf properties
Reportedly fake TIME covers
Trump apologizes for voter-fraud story
Pros comment on the president
Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017
GolfChannel.com is counting down the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. Check out the list below, including future release dates. And click here for the full collection of articles.
No. 1: Dec. 18