Who inherits Sergio's 'Best Without a Major' title?

By Justin RayApril 19, 2017, 2:00 pm

Before his breakthrough victory at Augusta National, Sergio Garcia had played in 73 major championships without a win. The 73 major starts before an initial victory is the most in the history of the men’s game.

For the better part of his career, Garcia had been pegged with the dreaded title of ‘best player without a major.’ The label was difficult to dispute – Sergio racked up 22 top-10  finishes in majors before his first victory (also a record in the history of men’s professional golf).

Garcia was closing in on the record for most top-10 finishes in majors without a win all-time. That title still belongs to Ed Dudley, who had 24 top 10s in majors between 1925 and 1944, but never won.

The game has seen six straight first-time major winners: Jason Day, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker and Garcia. It’s the longest such run of first-timers since a stretch of nine straight from 2010 to 2012. In turn, the list of ‘best players without a major’ has been flipped on its head, with Garcia’s green Sunday being the biggest elephant to stroll out of the room for good two weeks ago in Georgia.

So with Sergio gone, who now is the best player to have never won a major championship?

In an attempt to answer one of golf’s favorite questions, I tried to come up with a formula that integrated career success and major championship performance in a way that properly evaluated how close a player has been to winning a major for the first time. The elements of the formula – slightly modified from the original method I came up with years ago - are:

• Career wins worth 50 or more world ranking points

• Career wins worth less than 50 world ranking points

• Top-10 percentage in major championships

• Career PGA Tour top-10 percentage

• Career European Tour top-10 percentage

• “Major points,” a point system that gives more weight to better finishing positions in majors

The most foreign concept, and an element worth further explanation, is “major points.” For every second-place finish, a player receives nine points. For a T-2 finish, a player receives 8.5. Solo third place would get eight points. This ladder-like trend continues down through a tie for 10th place. The purpose of this is, for example, to give a player more credit for finishing third than eighth.

The complete math, for the sake of full disclosure, looks like this:

(2+ (PGA Tour Top-10 Pct)) + (1 + (European Tour Top-10 Pct)) + Worldwide Wins of 50+ OWGR points + (Worldwide Wins of Less than 50 OWGR Points x 0.6) + ((Top-10 Pct in Majors x 100) x 0.25)) + (Major Points x 0.1) = Almost Index

There were two other elements to limit the number of eligible players for this study. First, the player had to be currently inside the top-100 of the Official World Golf Ranking. Second, the player had to be under the age of 50.

So who tops the Almost Index as we head to Erin Hills? Three notable players to finish just outside the top five are Branden Grace (18 Almost Index points), Rickie Fowler (19.03) and Brandt Snedeker (20.03). On to the top five…


5. Matt Kuchar

Best major finish: T-3 at 2012 Masters

Almost Index points: 21.39

Perpetual top-10 machine Kuchar has racked up six wins in his career worth 50 or more OWGR points, tied with Rickie Fowler for most among players in this analysis. Kuchar’s tie for fourth at Augusta National last weekend was his eighth career top-ten in a major championship, all of which have come since the beginning of 2010. If Kuchar is going to break through and win any major, the Masters would be the most logical location: since 2012, Kuchar is a combined 10 under in the Masters, fourth-best of any player in that span.


4. Paul Casey

Best major finish: T-3 at 2010 Open Championship

Almost Index points: 21.55

A prolific winner in Europe, it’s still difficult to grasp that Casey has only one win on the PGA Tour. Casey has ascended as high as third in the world ranking in his career, aided by several high finishes in majors, but no victories. Casey’s most logical major breakthrough also might be at Augusta National: Paul is the only player to finish sixth or better in the Masters each of the last three years.


3. Hideki Matsuyama

Best major finish: T-4 at 2016 PGA Championship

Almost Index points: 22.02

The young Matsuyama’s placement on this list may cause the most raised eyebrows, but consider this: Hideki has four wins already in his career worth 50 or more OWGR points. That’s more than Grace, Brooks Koepka, Alex Noren, Tyrrell Hatton, Ryan Moore and Jon Rahm combined. Add on nine other wins around the world, and at least one top-10 finish in his career in all four majors, and you get to No. 3 on this list. Hideki is already the most prolific winner from Japan in the history of the PGA Tour. It’s tough to imagine him not also becoming the country’s first major champion.


2. Luke Donald

Best major finish: T-3 (2 instances)

Almost Index points: 22.76

At 96th in the world, Donald is a long way from his halcyon days as the No. 1 player on the planet. But consider all Donald has achieved, short of that flagship major title: 16 wins around the world, five top-five finishes in majors, and 77 top-10s in his PGA Tour career. Luke spent 220 weeks inside the world  top 10 between 2006 and 2013. During that span, he landed in the top 10 eight times in majors, the best finish coming at the 2006 PGA (tie for third). Donald has missed the Masters each of the last two years, and is without a top-10 in any of his last 13 major starts.


1. Lee Westwood

Best major finish: Runner-up (3 instances)

Almost Index points: 45.97

Only seven players in the history of the European Tour have claimed more victories than Lee Westwood. He’s risen to No. 1 in the world, been a Ryder Cup stalwart, and is eighth all-time in top-10 finishes in Europe. Westwood was the first player in European Tour history to reach €30 million in earnings, and is unquestionably one of the best international players of his generation.

But it doesn’t get more “almost” than Lee Westwood in majors.

Dating to the 1860 Open at Prestwick, there have been exactly 500 different players to finish first, second or third at least one time in a men’s professional major championship. Westwood is one of those men: he has finished third or better nine different times in his career.  Dating back 157 years, that is the most second- and third-place finishes in majors by any player to never win.

Westwood has 18 top-ten finishes in the majors since 1997. During that span, only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Garcia and Jim Furyk have more. Those five players have combined to win 25 major championships.

And consider all the opportunities Westwood had entering Sundays in majors: since 2008, Lee has been in the top 10 after 54 holes in a major 15 times. There isn’t a single player in the sport with more such instances during that stretch.

Westwood hasn’t been the polarizing spectacle of Sergio, or experienced the memorable Sunday heartbreak that Johnson did, but it’s tough to imagine a more potential popular major champion than Lee would be should he break through.

Until then, he’s unquestionably the most accomplished player in golf today without a major.

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Wie's goal to reach goals: Just. Stay. Healthy.

By Randall MellJanuary 23, 2018, 3:30 pm

Michelle Wie’s player bio should come with medical charts.

Her caddie would be well served if he could read X-rays as well as he reads greens.

Remarkably, Wie will begin her 13th full season as a pro when she tees it up Thursday in the LPGA’s season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic.

Wie is only 28, but on some days, she must feel like she’s going on 40.

It isn’t the years, it’s the mileage. Her body has too often been like an exotic sports car, a sleek and powerful machine capable of thrilling rides ... when it isn’t sitting it in the shop for weeks for repairs. There’s been one breakdown after another, spoiling her rides.

That’s why one burning desire trumps all others for Wie as she begins this new year.

“Being healthy, staying healthy, it’s my No. 1 priority,” Wie told GolfChannel.com. “I hired private physios at the end of last year, to work on my body. I’ve been working with my doctors in New York, and they’ve been doing a great job of getting me to a place where I’m pain free.

“For the most part, I’m feeling pretty good and pretty healthy. I’ve got little aches and pains from hitting so many balls over the years, but I’m really excited about starting this year. I feel really driven this year. I just want to be healthy so I can build some momentum and be able to play at 100 percent.”



Wie would love to see what she can do in an injury-free, illness-free year after all the promising work she put into rebuilding her game last year. She seemed on the brink of something special again.

“We worked last week, and Michelle looked really, really good,” said David Leadbetter, her swing coach. “It’s quite impressive the way she’s hitting the ball. She is hitting it long and feeling good about her game. So, the main goal really is to see if she can go injury free.”

After winning twice in 2014, including the U.S. Women’s Open, Wie battled through a troublesome finger injury in the second half of that year. Hip, knee and ankle injuries followed the next year. She didn’t just lose all her good momentum. She lost the swing she grooved.

Wie rebuilt it all last year, turning her draw into a dependable fade that allowed her to play more aggressively again. She loved being able to go hard at the ball again, without fearing where it might go. The confidence from that filtered into every part of her game. She started hitting more drivers again.

And Wie found yet another eccentric but effective putting method, abandoning her table-top putting stance for a rotating trio of grips (conventional, left-hand low and claw). She would use them all in a single round. It was weird science, but it worked as she moved to a more classic, upright stance.

“It’s not pretty, but it’s working,” Stacy Lewis said after playing with Wie at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last summer.

Wie said she’s going back and forth between conventional and left-hand low now.

“I can’t promise I’ll stay the same way all year,” Wie said. “But even with different grips, I stayed with the same putting philosophy all year. I want to keep doing that.”

Leadbetter calls Wie a rebel in her approach to the game. She’s a power player, but she carried a 9-wood and 11-wood last year. She says the 11-wood will be back in her bag this week. Her unorthodox ways go beyond technique, strategy and equipment. She’ll be sporting pink hair come Thursday.

“She has never been orthodox,” Leadbetter said. “She doesn’t like to conform. She’s always liked to buck the system in some way.”

Wie looked as if she were poised to make a run at her fifth career title last season. She logged six finishes of fourth place or better the first half of the year. She contended at the ANA Inspiration, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

And then a neck spasm knocked her out of the U.S. Women’s Open.

And then emergency appendectomy surgery knocked her out for six weeks at summer’s end. It kept her from playing the year’s final major, the Evian Championship.

“I can’t list all the injuries Michelle has had in her career,” Leadbetter said. “I don’t think there is one joint or bone in her body that hasn’t had some sort of injury or issue.”

Over the last three seasons alone, Wie has played through bursitis in her left hip, a bone spur in her left foot and inflammation in her left knee. She has battled neck spasms and back spasms. There have been platelet rich plasma injections to aid healing, and there have been too many cortisone injections for her liking.

There also have been ongoing issues in both wrists.

In fact, Wie, who broke two bones in her left wrist early in her career, is dealing with arthritic issues in both wrists of late. She underwent collagen injections this off season to try to be more pain free.

“I’ve had to pull back the last couple years, restrict the number of balls I hit, not practice as much as I would like, but I was able to put in a lot of work this offseason,” Wie said. “I’m excited about this year, but I’ve been smart about things.”

Leadbetter says he has been focusing on injury prevention when working with Wie. He worries about the stress that all the torque she creates can have on her body, with her powerful coil and the way she sometimes likes to hold off shots with her finish. His work, sometimes, is pulling her back from the tinkering she loves to do.

“Everything we do with her swing now is to help prevent injury,” he said.

Leadbetter relishes seeing what’s possible in 2018 if there are no setbacks.

“Michelle would be the first to admit she hasn’t reached anywhere near her potential,” Leadbetter said. “We all know what she is capable of. We’ve had fleeting glimpses. Now, it’s a matter of, ‘OK, let’s see if we can really fulfill the potential she’s had from a very young age.’

“She’s really enthusiastic about this year. She can’t wait to get back in the mix.”

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How Rahm can overtake DJ for OWGR No. 1 this week

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 2:50 pm

Editor's note: Information and text provided by Golf Channel's Official World Golf Ranking expert, Alan Robison.

Despite having fewer worldwide wins, fewer top-5 finishes, fewer top-25 finishes and more missed cuts over the past two years, Jon Rahm is poised to overtake Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win in this week’s Farmers Insurance Open. 

The Rise of Rahm is meteoric, but how is this possible? After all, Rahm has five worldwide wins vs. eight for Johnson in the same span? 

We’ll start with the raw numbers over the 104-week cycle of the Official World Golf Ranking. These numbers include a win for Rahm in this week’s Farmers (the only way he could get to No. 1; DJ is not playing):


  Dustin Johnson Jon Rahm
Events   46 40
Wins  8 (1 major, 3 WGCs) 5 (3 PGA Tour, 2 Euro)
Top 5 finishes   20 16
Top 10 finishes  26 19
Top 25 finishes  37 26
MC or 0 OWGR Pts earned  4 7

Johnson leads Rahm in every possible category, so you may be wondering, again, how is Rahm replacing DJ possible? 

To understand this, you would need to understand the Official World Golf Ranking, which is all about the power of math, a recency bias and the divisor.

The ranking system can feel a bit overwhelming, so here are a couple of topline bullet points:

  • The ranking is a 104-week period (two years) that evaluates a player’s performance.
  • Events are given a certain weight and bigger events have a higher point total.
  • Majors are worth 100 points to the winner. The Players champ is given 80 points. From there, you will see events weighted in the 70s for most WGCs, down to 24 for PGA Tour events opposite WGCs and majors.
  • The number assigned to an event has to do with the quality of field – the more top 10/20/50/100 players that are in a field, the higher the weighting.

Next, you can look at how recent the event was to determine its true value to a player. Dustin Johnson’s 2016 U.S. Open victory was given 100 points, but now he’s only receiving 23.9 percent of its original weight. Conversely, Rahm’s win at the CareerBuilder Challenge was only worth 40 points, but because it happened on Sunday, he’s receiving the full allotment of points.

Why is DJ getting 23.9 percent of his U.S. Open total? Doesn’t that seem arbitrary? Actually, the OWGR has an intricate formula to determine the value of events. Any event a player has started in the previous 13 weeks is given full value. For the remaining 91 weeks, events drop off at a rate of 1.09 percent until they eventually fall off. Here’s an example:

  • Event 25 weeks ago: 86.96 percent of value
  • Event 50 weeks ago: 59.78 percent of value
  • Event 75 weeks ago: 32.61 percent of value
  • Event 100 weeks ago: 5.43 percent of value

With a win at Farmers, Rahm would have three victories and a runner-up finish inside the last 13 weeks.  That would total to 175.60, given full-point value. After this week, DJ would only have three events in the last 13 weeks and those finishes are T9-win-T14, for a total of 67.32.

Rahm is taking advantage of the full value for three of his five professional wins.

There is still one more important piece of the formula and that’s the divisor.

The OWGR has determined that each player must have a minimum number of events and a maximum number of events, in order to protect players.

For instance, when Rahm won the Farmers a year ago he received 54 points. It was his 13th event and if 13 had been his divisor he would have had an OWGR total of 4.15, immediately placing him inside the top 20. Instead, to be more fair, it’s divided by the minimum number of 40 events played, giving him 1.35, which was around 110th (Rahm, though, had received enough points in his other 12 events that his win moved him to 46th in the OWGR at the time).

The maximum number is as important as the minimum. Many players compete in up to 60 events over the course of two years. Instead of hurting them by counting every event, the OWGR only counts the 52 most recent events in the 104-week cycle.

Why is the divisor so important? Because math. If a player wins a major (100 points) and has the minimum divisor, that major is worth 2.5 points (100/40). A player winning that same major who has the max divisor (52 events) only gains 1.92 points.

In the case of Rahm and Johnson, it’s Rahm who is taking advantage of his divisor in attaining maximum value for his play. Here’s a table of what it would look like after this week (again calculating for a Rahm win) to help explain:


  Dustin Johnson Jon Rahm
Total points earned:  960.82 557.26
OWGR valued points 493.08 433.39
OWGR divisor/events 46 40
Projected OWGR after Farmers 10.72 10.83

What’s amazing about these numbers is that Rahm is still maintaining 77.78 percent of his original value on the points that he’s earned. As we said earlier, three wins are 100 percent. His Irish Open win is 81.82 percent, while even his 2017 Farmers victory is still earning 56.5 percent of its original value.

On the other side, DJ is only maintaining 51.3 percent of his total points earned.

And there you have it. The math favors Rahm, who is still on the outset of his career. Eventually, it will hurt him. But, for now – and right now – Rahm has an opportunity to take all of these numbers and turn them into the world’s No. 1 ranking.

To do that, the scenario is quite simple: Win this week.

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Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


FALLING

Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x