LPGA winners outshining male counterparts in '14

By Jason SobelApril 28, 2014, 2:31 pm

Let’s call this A Tale of Two Tours, which is sort of like A Tale of Two Cities, except without the peasantry and the revolution is only a metaphorical one.

So far this year, the LPGA has been everything it’s needed to be – fun, exciting, dramatic and relevant. The last three tournaments, in order, have featured teenage sensation Lexi Thompson topping Michelle Wie in a major; then Wie, the tour’s most recognizable star, winning on home turf; followed by another teenager, Lydia Ko, prevailing for a mind-numbing third time just days after her 17th birthday.

The way things are going, we should all start consulting commissioner Michael Whan for Powerball numbers.

Meanwhile, the PGA Tour has been a tedious hodgepodge of snoozer Sundays, save for the rare hole-out by a Matt. (Kuchar in regulation at Harbour Town; Jones in a playoff in Houston.) The champions’ list is confoundingly eclectic, with few winners this side of Bubba Watson drawing more than just the most diehard fans to the television screen.

It’s like the golf gods are playing Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the, uh … less rich.

It’s like one tour’s season has been scripted in Hollywood, while the other’s was scripted by Ed Wood, king of the low-budget films.

It’s like we all have selective memories.

No, that last one doesn’t necessarily fit the theme, but that’s because this theme – to an extent – is misguided.

Based on the collective objection that this year’s PGA Tour winners are largely unknowns and journeymen, I crunched some numbers to see how they compare with last year’s list to this point.

What I found will probably surprise you.

(For the sake of keeping things uniform, I didn’t include the six winners during last year’s portion of the 2013-14 schedule, instead just matching up the first 18 of the last two calendar years, from the Hyundai Tournament of Champions through this past week’s Zurich Classic.)

This year’s champions have held an average position of 83.5 on the Official World Golf Ranking at the time of their victories. None of them were ranked inside the top five when they won and six (Scott Stallings, Kevin Stadler, Russell Henley, John Senden, Steven Bowditch and Seung-yul Noh) were ranked outside the top 100.

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? It does to me.

And yet …

Last year’s champions to this point had an average world ranking of 99.4, with eight of them (Henley, Brian Gay, John Merrick, Michael Thompson, Scott Brown, Kevin Streelman, D.A. Points and Martin Laird) ranked outside the top 100 at the time of their wins.

Based on the numbers alone, this year’s winners have been less eclectic and more calculable than those of last year.

Of course, then there’s the Tiger Factor.

By this point a year ago, Tiger Woods had already claimed three titles – the Farmers Insurance Open, WGC-Cadillac Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational. His smiling face gleaming in the reflection of a trophy on a Sunday evening (or Monday afternoon, as was the case in two of those wins) can obviously do wonders for public perception on the state of the PGA Tour.

Looking at it another way, though, last year’s champions’ list was even more unpredictable. Take out Tiger, who was ranked second when he won each of those three tournaments between January and April, and the average world ranking of the other 15 winners increases to 118.9.

Not that world ranking should serve as the be-all, end-all for this debate. Compare them based on previous wins and you’ll find that this year’s 18 champions (which includes two apiece from Watson, Patrick Reed and Jimmy Walker) had won a combined total of 36 titles prior to their most recent one.

Last year’s number looked decidedly different. Those winners had previously won 294 career PGA Tour titles, if we correctly include Woods, who owned 74, 75 and 76 wins, respectively, before each his three titles. Again, as always, he skews the stats. Remove him from this list and last year’s other first 15 champions had a combined 69 career wins, largely buoyed by the 40 from Phil Mickelson prior to his victory in Phoenix.

What does it all mean? Well, a few things.

First and foremost, having a couple of Hall of Fame members combine for a win each month during the year’s first quarter can do wonders for soothing whatever perceived ailments are affecting the Tour. A victory by a guy ranked 176th is deemed more palatable when it’s preceded or followed by one from a household name. (And that’s not to invalidate the importance of a win from Noh, a 22-year-old up-and-comer, whose roots in the burgeoning golf hotbed of Asia should be viewed in Ponte Vedra Beach headquarters as an unmitigated success.)

Second and perhaps just as important, is that these numbers should help quash the notion that the PGA Tour is undergoing some type of never-before-seen transitional phase that’s led to a half-dozen first-time winners already. Sure, we can argue that fields are deeper and it’s more difficult to win than ever before and anything can happen on the proverbial Any Given Sunday, but we can’t portray this as a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon zipping through the atmosphere like Halley’s Comet.

The level of excitement on the LPGA in recent months has unquestionably surpassed that of its gender counterpart. The tournament finales have featured more drama and the winners’ list reads like a “Who’s Who” rather than a “Who’s He?”

The disparity is evident, but that doesn’t mean times have changed on the PGA Tour and we’re venturing into an unfamiliar frontier where randomness is the new norm. It doesn’t mean this tale of two tours has to end in Dickensian fashion, either.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.