Stat attack!: PGA Championship preview

By John AntoniniAugust 5, 2014, 3:24 pm

If the number of quality players in top form coming into the PGA Championship is an indication of how the year’s final Grand Slam event will play out, get ready for one of the best majors in quite some time. Then again, for sheer dramatics, any close competition would make the PGA a more compelling event than the U.S. or British Opens, which were won in routs by Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy, respectively. Seven golfers, led by McIlroy (above) who won both events, finished in the top 10 in both the British and last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Four of them have already won majors, and only Marc Leishman would not be someone you’d ordinarily consider a major contender.

Players with top 10s in the British Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

 Player British Bridgestone 2013 PGA
 Rory McIlroy Won Won T-8
 Sergio Garcia T-2 2 T-61
 Rickie Fowler T-2 T-8 T-19
 Marc Leishman T-5 3 T-12
 Adam Scott T-5 T-8 T-5
 Charl Schwartzel T-7 T-4 MC
 Graeme McDowell T-9 T-8 T-12

Notice that five of the seven were top-20 finishers in the 2013 PGA at Oak Hill, including Leishman, who you shouldn’t sleep on this week. The Aussie is having an outstanding year. Without a top-10 rank in any major statistic, the 30-year-old is 14th on Tour in scoring average and eighth in all-around rank. He has six top-10 finishes this season.

Marc Leishman’s best finishes in 2013-14

 Tourament Finish Note
 Farmers Insurance T-2 Scott Stallings birdied last hole to win
 WGC-Bridgestone 3 Opened with 64, finished three back of McIlroy
 Byron Nelson T-3 Finished four back of Brendon Todd
 Sony Open 5 T-2 after 36 holes, stumbled on weekend
 British Open T-5 Sunday 65 matched day’s best score
 Quicken Loans T-8 36-hole co-leader before 73-74 weekend

Leishman also led the Masters early in the second round with three straight birdies to start the day, but he finished with a 79 Friday that included six bogeys and two doubles to miss the cut. He did not play the U.S. Open, but that’s hardly a prerequisite for a PGA Championship victory. Since 2002, four PGA champions did not play in that year’s U.S. Open. Three of them – Keegan Bradley in 2011, Shaun Micheel in 2003 and Rich Beem in 2002 – did not play in any of the year’s majors prior to winning.

If Leishman is the sleeper, McIlroy is the solid favorite. Having already won the British and the Bridgestone, Rory is looking to join Tiger Woods as the only players to pull off the summer Triple Crown. He could also join Woods and Padraig Harrington as the only players since 1999 to win the British and the PGA in the same year.

Summer slammers: Players who won two of the three big summer events in the same year

 Year Player British Bridgestone PGA
 2014 Rory McIlroy Won Won  TBD
 2008  Padraig Harrington Won T-20 Won
 2007 Tiger Woods T-12 Won Won
 2006 Tiger Woods Won Won Won
 2005 Tiger Woods Won Won T-4
 2000 Tiger Woods Won Won Won
 1999 Tiger Woods T-7 Won Won

Looking at the statistical leaders the previous two times the PGA was held at Valhalla doesn’t really give a clear indication of what to expect this week. When Mark Brooks won in 1996 he didn’t finish in the top 20 in any stat other than putting average, where he was No. 1. In 2000, Tiger Woods didn’t putt all that well, but dominated from tee to green.

Statistics of PGA Championship winners at Valhalla in 1996 and 2000

 Year Winner Distance Accuracy GIR Putting avg.
 2000 Tiger Woods 305.0 (1) 80.4% (T-12) 83.3% (1) 1.70 (29)
 1996 Mark Brooks 283.4 (T-21) 73.2 (T-43) 69.4 (T-30) 1.52 (1)

Brooks and Woods both excelled on the back nine and on the par-5 holes. Tiger led the field in par-5 scoring in 2000 and Brooks was T-12 when he won. Brooks led the field in back-nine scoring in 1996 and Woods was second in 2000. Lo and behold, in 2014 McIlroy is a solid ninth on Tour in par-5 scoring and in back-nine scoring he’s numero uno.

PGA Tour leaders in back-nine scoring average in 2013-14

 Player Back-nine average
 Rory McIlroy 34.57
 Sergio Garcia 34.62
 Jerry Kelly 34.81
 Graeme McDowell 34.94
 Matt Kuchar 35.97

With McIlroy, Fowler, Garcia and the others from our first list playing so well this summer, it’s easy to forget a second tier of contenders that includes Jim Furyk (fourth in the British, second in Canadian Open and T-15 at Akron), Keegan Bradley (three straight top-20 finishes) and Matt Kuchar (fourth in Canada, T-12 at Akron). There will be enough stars at the tops off their games that the likelihood of not seeing Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson at their best shouldn’t be a concern.

Let’s consider the veteran trio. Even if Tiger does play, he probably won’t contend. Els is having a down year, with no top-10 finishes in a stroke-play event on the PGA Tour this year. He too, is likely not a contender. Mickelson, as usual, is a riddle. Lefty doesn’t have a top-10 finish on Tour in any type of event this year, but he has been in the top 20 eight times. Seven times he came within two strokes of finishing in the top 10. With a combined 15 fewer strokes he would have eight top 10s and the talk about his down year would turn into talk about why he’s a PGA favorite. Of note, he did finish T-8 at Valhalla in 1996 and T-9 in 2000.

Phil Mickelson’s top-20 finishes in 2013-14

 Tournament Finish Strokes out of top 10 Finish with two less strokes
 CIMB Classic T-19 4 T-14
 WGC-HSBC Champions 14 2 T-8
 AT&T Pebble T-19 2 T-10
 WGC-Cadillac T-16 2 T-9
 Shell Houston T-12 1 T-6
 Wells Fargo T-11 1 T-6
 FedEx St. Jude T-11 1 T-3
 WGC-Bridgestone T-15 2 T-8

Leishman, McIlroy and Mickelson. Call them your sleeper, your favorite and your enigma. One of them quite possibly will also be the 2014 PGA Champion.

One final thought: Other than Woods in 1999-2000 and 2006-2007 no player has won back-to-back PGA Championships since Denny Shute in the 1930s. That seems to count out reigning champ Jason Dufner. But Nick Price, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan all won two in three years. That’s the kind of company McIlroy, who won in 2012 at Kiawah Island, will keep if he wins this week.

If you haven't already done so, please follow me on Twitter at @johnantoninigc

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.) 

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Teenager Im wins season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.