Nick Faldo made a curious remark last weekend at Congressional.
“It’s too much,” he said during the CBS broadcast as he watched the tournament leader’s score drift closer and closer to even par.
The final-round scoring average at the Quicken Loans National was 73.720, nearly 1 ½ strokes higher than during the other three rounds, but players faced a triple whammy of toughness on Sunday: a sun-baked, dried-out course; thick, gnarly rough; and a major-championship venue. Of course scores were going to be higher.
Justin Rose finished at 4-under 280 and won in a playoff. It was the highest winning score in relation to par on the PGA Tour since Patrick Reed – coincidentally, the 54-hole leader at Congressional – won at Doral with a 4-under total.
So far, seven regular-season tournaments (nine, if you include both majors) have featured a winner who was single digits under par. Not surprisingly, many of those events were played on some of the Tour’s best courses – places like Torrey Pines and PGA National, Doral and Innisbrook, Colonial and Congressional. You know, tracks that present championship tests, where players arrive expecting nothing less.
On the other hand, 15 tournaments this season have had a winning score of at least 15 under par. Five of those were more than 20 under. Track meets.
Tough conditions often don’t translate to compelling television – save for those who enjoy schadenfreude – and that may, in fact, have been Faldo’s main gripe.
But too much? No way.
These occasional grind-fests are a nice change of pace to the week-in, week-out birdie binges that so often come down to which player is putting the best. Congressional demanded strong play throughout the entire bag, especially with the long clubs. Sorry, Sir Nick, but major-caliber tests needn’t be reserved solely for majors.
Now, the holiday edition of the #AskLav mailbag:
World Rankings and Reed's comment aside, who are your current top 5 players in the world? #AskLav— Denis (@gc_denis) June 30, 2014
This man’s top 5:
1. Adam Scott
3. Rory McIlroy
Look, it’s hard to find fault in what the OWGR has produced at the top of the world order. Scott has won four times since the 2013 Masters and Stenson has six top-7 finishes in his last seven starts. Despite his maddening inconsistency, Rory still belongs at the No. 3 spot. Before his MC at the Irish Open, he hadn’t finished outside the top 25 in a worldwide event since October (!). Kaymer has to be on everyone’s top-5 list based on what he’s done in the past two months, while, for me, it’s a coin flip between Bubba and Kooch for the No. 5 spot. Not listed: Patrick Reed, though it’s undeniable that he can play like a top-5 player, occasionally.
The record is held by Lorena Ochoa, who earned more than $4.36 million in 2007 – incredibly, that was over $2.5 million more than No. 2 Suzann Pettersen. Don’t remember 2007? That was the year Ochoa won eight times, including the season-ending ADT Championship, a prize worth $1 million. Stacy Lewis has already won three times this season, and she has $1.881 million in earnings with three more majors to play. More than that, though, this is the first year of the Race to the CME Globe, which will award $1 million to the season-long champion. The CME Group Tour Championship will also have a $500,000 first-place prize. Not even halfway to Lorena’s record total, however, Stacy will need to be even more dominant in the second half of the season. Don’t put it past her.
Well, believe it or not, it does require some research – recent performances, trends, track records, horses for courses, calculated risks for Groups 3 and 4, etc. Other times, it’s one or two hunches per year that really pay off. (After all, how else could Gary Williams justify taking Shawn Stefani last week in Group 4, after he had finished inside the top 40 only once in his last seven events?) After finishing second among Golf Channel experts a year ago, I’m not taking my $1.1 million lead lightly, though. There is a lot of golf left to be played.
It’s worth noting that each of the past four Open champions have played the week before at the Scottish Open, though each with varying degrees of success. Phil Mickelson went back-to-back, of course, but before him Ernie Els finished 32nd, Darren Clarke finished 66th and Louis Oosthuizen missed the cut. Those players would probably tell you that it’s crucial to play there, not just to get in some last-minute reps but also to get used to the time change, the conditions, the weather, the style of golf, everything. To be sure, playing the Scottish Open – this year it’s at Royal Aberdeen – is a far more productive way to spend the week before than playing, say, the John Deere. In recent years, at least, it’s been a winning formula.
Earlier this week on Twitter, I threw out that my pick for the Open was Henrik Stenson. The dude has six top-7s in his last seven starts, and few guys strike it as purely. After sending that tweet, Golf Channel colleague Ryan Burr replied that he was going further “outside the box” … and instead took the No. 10 player in the world, Jordan Spieth. Some sleeper!
Anyway, here are a few of my guys to keep an eye on: Memorial winner Hideki Matsuyama will be dangerous, because, uh, he just does everything well; Brandt Snedeker has finished T-11 and T-3 in his last two Opens, and he’s finally back to playing the type of golf that we expect (21st or better in each of his last three starts); and, finally, going even deeper thanks to @MajorAlsPicks: Mikko Ilonen, who recently won the Irish Open, captured the British Amateur at Hoylake in 2000 and also finished 16th when the Open was last held there in ’06.
On a boldness scale? About a 2. The kid – he turns 21 this month – is the 10th-ranked player in the world. Nothing he does surprises me anymore. Whether it will actually happen is another matter entirely. The competition is so much deeper now, and you’re talking about only a five-event window. That said, what excites me about Spieth and the upcoming Open is that he’s always been a terrific links player and a guy who thrives in the wind. He can rely on his creativity and his smarts at a major that doesn’t demand perfection on and around the greens. I’d look for him to force his way into contention at Hoylake, which is good, because he probably needs another in-the-hunt major experience before he’s ready to actually take one home.
As cool as it would be … um … no. His close call in 2009 not only crushed our major spirit but his as well. His final Open next year at St. Andrews will be yet another can’t-miss moment in an arena that has given us so many.