Tough Business Picking Major Champs These Days

By Rex HoggardAugust 12, 2010, 4:12 am
2010 PGA Championship

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Some call it parity, but the unfiltered truth is that what’s erupted in golf over the last 12 months borders on competitive anarchy.

First, the hard numbers: Five of the past six majors have been won by first-time Grand Slam champions. The trifecta atop the world’s golf marquee (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood) has combined for just two PGA Tour titles this year and in an ode to recent form the last competitive cards signed by those three added up to 77-78-WD respectively at Firestone.

In short, Nos. 1 (Woods), 2 (Mickelson) and 3 (Westwood) are either on a couch, or should be.

Perhaps not since 1997 when Woods made history with his maiden Masters title have the prognosticators been so utterly powerless in predicting a champion.

Even the experts in the United Kingdom betting houses flirted with the idea that Woods, along with Mickelson, should be an 8-to-1 co-favorite when play gets underway here at Whistling Straits for the 92nd PGA Championship. But then again, Woods played the final 18 at Firestone like an 18-handicap and the line was reset on Woods to a meek 16-to-1 behind Lefty.

Gone are the days when round pegs went into round holes on Sunday. All that seemed to end, at least metaphorically, at this championship last year when little-known Y.E. Yang did the unthinkable and ran down Woods on Sunday at a major.

“The days of no-names getting in contention on Sunday afternoon and backing up, it doesn’t really happen anymore,” Graeme McDowell said.

McDowell should know, he had only one gear at Pebble Beach, stormed past Dustin Johnson and never gave any mind to Ernie Els (No. 6 in the world) on his way to his first major championship.

The what, in practical terms, is simple enough. On Thursday at Whistling Straits 156 players will tee it up and no fewer than 100 have realistic title dreams. The why, however, is a little more cloudy.

Without question Woods no longer holds the mental edge over the field like he used to. He may still be No. 1, but he no longer takes the tee with a 1-up edge based on pure moxie.

Whether all that changed on Nov. 27 or the subsequent chapters is impossible to tell, but what is real among the frat brothers is that Superman no longer seems bulletproof. Not after going eight starts without a victory, the second-longest title drought to start a season. Or after 18 over par at Firestone, a course he’s owned in the past.

“I’ll be honest the feeling in the locker room is slightly different,” Paul Casey said. “Guys feel that this is very much, with the way (Woods) played the past week, this is wide open, and that’s not a feeling that a lot of guys have had before.”

There’s little doubt Woods will rediscover his mojo, but the rank-and-file – more so than those atop the ranking – seem intent on making the most of the lull in the storm.

And Woods is not the only alpha male misfiring when it matters.

Mickelson has had at least a half dozen chances to overtake Woods atop the world ranking with no crown to show for it. Sunday’s unsightly 78 at Firestone may have been the most high-profile miscue, but since his Masters victory Lefty has just three top 10s and has finished T-48, T-46 in his last two starts.

Westwood, on the DL for at least four more weeks with a calf injury, has been the most consistent player on the planet yet has just a single victory this year (St. Jude Classic) and was unable to keep pace with little-known Louis Oosthuizen at the Open Championship.

Even Els has not been as commanding as he was when he won twice earlier this year in Florida.

Yet what the headliners seem to have lost in cache’ those playing from the pack have used that void to fuel a collective confidence boost that has been years in the making.

“A top-50 tennis player in the world takes on Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, they have absolutely no chance,” McDowell said. “The No. 50 player in the world could beat Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or Steve Stricker or Lee Westwood any given day.”

Try 110th. That was Yang’s ranking when he won last year’s PGA. Or 54th, Oosthuizen at St. Andrews, or even McDowell’s relatively lofty spot in the world (36th) when he outlasted all at Pebble Beach.

Picking a winner on the PGA Tour has become hazardous duty, with a Ouija board and tarot cards every bit as helpful as a media guide and performance charts. The days of penciling Woods or Mickelson into an office pool have gone the way of three-shot par 5s and square grooves.

“This could very well be a Shaun Micheel type year,” said one longtime Tour observer on Wednesday at Whistling Straits. “A player that the public might consider a fluke but that we know is a very good player.”

Oh yeah, Micheel. Now he wouldn’t be a bad pick.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.

Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.


Playing with the pros

Tiger, DJ and Faxon

Article: Video, images from Tiger, DJ's round with Trump

Article: After DJ and Tiger, Trump plays golf with Jack

Rory faces criticism

Article: Rory: Round with Trump about respect for presidency

Article: Rory: Round with Trump not a 'political statement'


President at the Presidents Cup


Video: President Trump makes the rounds at Liberty National

Article: President Trump presents trophy to U.S. team

Article: Stricker: 'Great thrill' to get trophy from Trump


Purported round of 73 with Lindsey Graham

Article: Senator tweets Trump shot 73 in windy, wet conditions

Article: Graham offers details on Trump's round of 73


Cart on the green


Article: Trump appears to drive cart on Bedminster green


Presence and protests at U.S. Women's Open


Article: Trump makes presidential history at Women's Open

Article: Trump supporters, protesters clash near Women's Open

Article: UltraViolet takes protest inside Trump National


Photo gallery: President Trump at the U.S. Women's Open


Trump golf properties

Vandalism

Article: Environmental group vandalizes Trump golf course

Article: Man accused of vandalizing four Trump courses

Finances


Article: Two Trump courses in Scotland losing millions

Article: Eric Trump denies Russia helped fund golf courses

Article: Trump company ordered to pay $5.77M in dues dispute

Reportedly fake TIME covers


Article: Trump clubs display fake Time magazine cover


Trump apologizes for voter-fraud story

Report: Trump's voter fraud claim tied to Langer

Langer: Trump 'apologized' for story mix-up


Pros comment on the president

Article: Players defend Trump at Senior PGA Championship

Article: Trump congratulates Daly; Daly congratulates Trump

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 12:30 pm

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.

Getty Images

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?