Stat attack!: Valspar Championship preview

By John AntoniniMarch 11, 2014, 5:16 pm

For Luke Donald, the Valspar Championship can’t come at a better time. The former weorld No. 1 has dropped to 25th in the world ranking and is currently outside qualification for the European Ryder Cup team. Although he hasn’t missed any cuts since the PGA Championship, he has only one top-10 finish worldwide in 2014. This week the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook, where he won in 2012, provides him a great opportunity to boost his rankings. Overall, eight Europeans in the top 50 in the world ranking are outside Ryder Cup qualification. With majors and other big events looming, it’s time to start the process of getting on the team. Like Donald, Justin Rose and Jonas Blixt are in the field this week.

Top 50 Europeans currently outside Ryder Cup qualification

 Player World rank Ryder Cup rank/Euro points Ryder Cup rank/World points
 Justin Rose 7 12 10
 Graeme
 McDowell
15 27 11
 Luke Donald 25 15 13
 Lee Westwood 36 34 32
 Miguel Angel
 Jimenez
40 13 16
 Gonzalo F'dez-
 Castano
42 7 12
 Jonas Blixt 49 40 41
 Francesco
 Molinari
50 11 17

The automatic qualifiers for the European team is made up of the top four players on the European Tour points list (currently Victor Dubuisson, Jamie Donaldson, Thomas Bjorn and Ian Poulter) and the next five top finishers in the world ranking points list (Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Stephen Gallacher and Joost Luiten). Of the players in this week’s field, Donald stands the best chance of gaining ground. He’s finished in the top-10 three times since he put Tampa back on his schedule, and in 2012 he made birdie on the first hole of a playoff to beat Robert Garrigus, Jim Furyk and Sang-moon Bae.

Luke Donald at the Valspar Championship

 Year Place Scores
 2013 T-4 70-72-67-69—278
 2012 Won 67-68-70-66—271
 2010 T-6 71-68-67-71—277
 2003 T-58 76-69-72-73—290
 2002 T-22 72-67-72-70—281

Donald has played only one round over par at the Copperhead Course since 2010. Of players with at least eight rounds, only Jim Furyk has a better percentage of rounds at par or better at Tampa in that span. It’s worth mentioning that the par-71 Copperhead course played to an average of 72.222 in 2013, although it played to a subpar scoring average in 2012 and 2011.

Percentage of rounds at par or better at Tampa since 2010 (minimum eight rounds)

 Player Rds. at par or better Total rounds Percentage
 Jim Furyk 15 16 .938%
 Luke Donald 11 12 .917
 Gary Woodland 9 10 .900
 Justin Leonard 14 16 .875
 Kevin Streelman 7 8 .875
 Bubba Watson 7 8 .875

Donald and Justin Rose are among three players in the field who have never missed the cut in five or more starts at Tampa. Ten players this week have made five or more starts at Tampa and have missed no more than one cut with at least one top-five finish.

Top performers at the Valspar Championship

 Player Starts Cuts made Best finish
 Jonathan Byrd 10 10 T-4, 2006
 Luke Donald 5 5 Won, 2012
 Ken Duke 6 5 T-5, 2012
 Jim Furyk 6 5 Won 2010
 Justin Leonard 9 8 T-4, 2013
 Justin Rose 7 7 T-5, 2011
 Webb Simpson 5 4 2, 2011
 Vijay Singh 8 7 Won 2004
 Brandt Snedeker 6 5 4, 2011
 Charlie Wi 7 6 T-4, 2009

When Kevin Streelman won the Honda Classic in 2013, he was third in strokes gained-putting, and T-11 in fairways hit and greens in regulation. He was seven strokes back of leader Shawn Stefani after two rounds and shot 65-67 on the weekend to win by two. He was T-31 after two rounds. That’s the third-best comeback after two rounds for a PGA Tour winner since 2012.

Best 36-hole comebacks on the PGA Tour 2012-2014

 Player Tournament Place after two rounds
 Bubba Watson 2014 Northern Trust T-40
 Ken Duke 2013 Travelers T-32
 Kevin Streelman 2013 Tampa Bay T-31
 Tommy Gainey 2012 McGladrey T-30
 Webb Simpson 2012 U.S. Open T-29
 Jimmy Walker 2013-14 Frys.com  T-28

The third-round 65 was out of the ordinary for Streelman, who is T-152 on Tour in third-round scoring in 2014 and was T-72 a year ago. He was in the 60s in the third round six times in 2013 after making 18 cuts. In addition, his weekend total of 132 at Tampa matched the best mark in tournament history.

Fewest strokes, last 36 holes at Tampa

 Score Player Year Finish
 132 Kevin Streelman 2013 Won
 132 Robert Garrigus 2012 T-2
 132 Nick Watney 2010 4
 132 Mark Calcavecchia 2007 Won
 132 Vijay Singh 2004 Won
 132 John Huston 2000 Won

The last six winners of the Valspar Championship have finished in the top 10 in strokes gained-putting for the week. Of that group, only Donald in 2011 would finish in the top 25 in strokes gained for that season. The improvement on the greens during Tampa week, especially for 2008 winner Sean O’Hair and 2011 winner Gary Woodland, is notable. 

Strokes gained putting for Tampa winner 2008-2013

 Year Player Strokes gained Tampa (rank) Strokes gained season (rank)
 2013 Kevin Streelman +1.819 (3) +.251 (51)
 2012 Luke Donald +2.598 (1) +.797 (3)
 2011 Gary Woodland +2.011 (3) -.170 (142)
 2010 Jim Furyk +1.736 (2) +.404 (26)
 2009 Retief Goosen +1.410 (5) +.461 (26)
 2008 Sean O’Hair +1.465 (6) -.221 (148)

One final thought: Three players in the field this week finished in the top 25 in strokes gained-putting at Tampa in each of the last two years, but have been outside the top 25 in that stat on Tour since 2012. They are K.J Choi, Stewart Cink and Jerry Kelly. Choi is one of two players who has won this event twice, and Cink was T-2 in 2008 and T-3 in 2005. Kelly’s best finish at Tampa was a T-13 in 2010.

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

Getty Images

Teenager Im wins Web.com 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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 Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.