U.S. Open is wide open without a dominant player

By Doug FergusonJune 10, 2011, 6:15 pm

Four players have taken their turns at No. 1, the highest number between U.S. Opens in the 25-year history of the world ranking. Four players won their first major in the last 12 months. Four others captured their first World Golf Championship.

And it’s largely because of a man who’s not even playing.

The presence Tiger Woods brings to golf is felt even more strongly in his absence.

Woods will not be at Congressional, missing the U.S. Open for the first time in 17 years because of lingering injuries to his left leg. Some could argue he has been missing for the last year as he has tried to mend his personal life, his health and his golf swing. He has gone 18 months without winning, paving the way for a new generation of stars to emerge.

Graeme McDowell started it off by winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and he peeled back a massive layer of Woods’ mystique at the end of the year by overcoming a four-shot deficit in the final round and beating him in a playoff at the Chevron World Challenge.

Louis Oosthuizen (British Open), Martin Kaymer (PGA Championship) and Charl Schwartzel (Masters) – all of them in their 20s – won the next three majors. Lee Westwood ended Woods’ five-year stay atop the world ranking, and Kaymer and Luke Donald since have gone to No. 1 in the world over the last four months.

None of that seemed possible when Woods was on top of his game, dominating to such a degree that he won nearly 30 percent of his tournaments and made it look as though no one else had a chance.

Are players getting better? Or were they always this good and no one noticed as long as Woods was winning so often? Maybe it takes Woods being gone to realize just how good he was.

“Some of the younger players came along when Tiger was on a tear, and they were in his shadow,” Mark O’Meara said. “He was bigger than life. But now that Tiger is somewhat removed from the game, they’ve been able to shine.”

With the absence of Woods – and to a lesser extent, Phil Mickelson, who has only one win in the last year – the new landscape in golf features parity not seen in some 20 years. When the 111th edition of the U.S. Open begins outside the nation’s capital in Bethesda, Md., no one will stand out as a clear favorite.

“Tiger has been the dominant player in this generation, really since the mid-90s,” Stewart Cink said. “Eventually, he won’t be anymore. Maybe that’s already happening – we don’t know. He won so many tournaments, maybe there were just less available to win.”

That sounds like Colin Montgomerie’s theory from years ago on why it was so hard to win majors. Montgomerie reasoned that Woods was winning two a year, leaving only two majors for everyone else.

Now, they’re all up for grabs.

Ten players have won the last 10 majors. Only two of those players, Mickelson and Angel Cabrera, had won before. The last time Woods had to skip a major, because of season-ending knee surgery in 2008, there was debate whether an asterisk would be placed next to the winner’s name because Woods wasn’t in the field.

There will be no talk of an asterisk at Congressional.

Even if Woods were around, this U.S. Open lives up to its name – open.

The U.S. Open is known as the toughest test in golf, and the challenges come from all over. The fairways are narrow, the rough tends to be thick, the greens as firm as any all year. Par tends to be a good score at the U.S. Open, and par can sometimes feel like a birdie.

McDowell won at Pebble Beach last year at even-par 284. Four of the last six U.S. Opens have been won at even par or worse.

“I know I’m going to have to prepare myself for the feeling that I am playing badly, even when I’m not,” former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy wrote in a column for Golf World magazine. “I have to convince myself that par golf – or even 1 or 2 over – is good. It’s just so different from any other week on Tour.”

Even the golf course is different from the last U.S. Open at Congressional in 1997, won by Ernie Els.

The closing hole was a par 3, which proved to be anticlimactic. The championship effectively was decided on the 17th, when Montgomerie stood forever over a 5-foot par putt before missing it, and Tom Lehman in the last group pulled a 7-iron into the water. Rees Jones again has tweaked the course, and the 17th hole from 1997 is now the 523-yard 18th hole.

The old No. 18 has been flipped around, and now is a daunting par-3 10th.

Players champion K.J. Choi, Anthony Kim and Woods have won at Congressional in the three years it hosted the AT&T National. That might not mean anything with the course set up as a major.

The best bet might be someone from outside the United States.

For one thing, out of all the majors, Americans have had the least success in their national open over the last 10 years – just four wins, with two of those by Woods. International players have won the last four majors, and another victory would mark the longest drought in the majors for an American since The Masters began in 1934.

And perhaps even more troublesome for American players – they have been shut out of the top three in the Masters, British Open and U.S. Open dating to last year.

American golf is not as bad as it might seem at the moment. Finishing off majors is a different story. A year ago, Dustin Johnson had a three-shot lead going into the last round and shot 82, the highest score in the U.S. Open by a 54-hole leader in nearly 100 years. Nick Watney had a three-shot lead at the PGA Championship last year and shot 80.

That’s not exclusive to Americans, though. Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland had a four-shot lead going into the final round at the Masters this year, and the 22-year-old closed with an 80.

“I don’t know how Dustin and Nick were feeling whenever they were going into the last round leading, but it’s a new experience,” McIlroy said. “They’re major championships, and you want to really try and get your first one out of the way and kick on.”

McIlroy’s mistake eventually allowed Schwartzel to win. Johnson’s blunders gave way to McDowell, while Watney’s blowup in the PGA Championship ultimately set the stage for Kaymer to win in a playoff over Bubba Watson (only after Johnson was penalized for a bunker he didn’t know he was in). All of them are young, all were new to major championship experience.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.