Americans look to snap winless streak in majors

By Associated PressJuly 13, 2011, 5:19 pm

SANDWICH, England - Tiger Woods is back home, nursing a sore leg. The rest of American golf isn’t doing so well, either.

The U.S. is mired in its longest drought of the modern Grand Slam era, having gone five straight majors without a victory.

Phil Mickelson was the last American to capture a title, more than a year ago at the 2010 Masters. Since then, it’s been two golfers from Northern Ireland (Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell), two from South Africa (Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen) and one from Germany (Martin Kaymer).

While players from all over the world describe the U.S. slump as nothing more than cyclical, Nick Watney concedes that it’s getting a bit bothersome.

“You never want to hear you’re inferior,” he said Wednesday.

Coming into the British Open, Europeans hold the top four spots in the world rankings. Steve Stricker is the highest American at No. 5.

With Woods sidelined by an injury, the 22-year-old McIlroy is a solid favorite to follow up his eight-stroke victory at the U.S. Open with another major title at Royal St. George’s. The bookies also like a pair of Englishmen who happen to be 1-2 in the world rankings, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.

The Americans?

Just an afterthought on the eve of the opening round.

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s not such a big deal. In 40 years time, it will look like a blip,” said Padraig Harrington of Ireland, a three-time major winner. “But when you look at the smaller picture, it’s easy to say that Europe has become dominant in golf - until you remember that two of those majors were won by South Africans. They’re a strong country, too. And I think the next few majors might be won by the Australians.”

As in many sports, from basketball to tennis to swimming, the rest of the world has sliced into America’s once-commanding position. Golf is no different, with 24 nations represented at this seaside course in southern England.

Some of them, it would seem, have only tapped into their potential.

“Certainly we all expect that in the next couple of decades, Asia is going to have a very strong presence in the game of golf,” Mickelson said.

But for all the talk about this being more about the rest of the world catching up than the Americans falling off, it’s clear the most recent generation of U.S. golfers has yet to fulfill its potential.

Remember all the fresh young faces on the team that stunned Europe in the 2008 Ryder Cup, 20-somethings such as Anthony Kim and Hunter Mahan and J.B. Holmes? None of them has broken through in a major, and Kim might be the most mystifying of all.

Tapped to be the next great American player, Kim has yet to recapture his swing since thumb surgery and only got into the British Open as an alternate.

Another batch of youngsters has shown potential, led by 27-year-old Dustin Johnson.

He was leading by three strokes going to the final round of last year’s U.S. Open, but an 82 opened the door for McDowell’s win. At the final major of 2010, Johnson missed out on a playoff at the PGA Championship when assessed a two-stroke penalty for not realizing he was in a bunker when he grounded his club. Kaymer went on to beat another American, Bubba Watson.

“We’ve got a lot of great young players coming up,” said Ben Curtis, who won the last British Open played at Royal St. George’s in 2003. “A few of them just need a little bit more experience.”

Only one other time since the Masters began in 1934 have the Americans gone even four straight majors without a win. That was 1994, when the Americans were shut out by Zimbabwe’s Nick Price (British Open, PGA Championship), South Africa’s Ernie Els (U.S. Open) and Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal (Spain).

That year capped another glorious era for golfers beyond America’s shores. Over a five-year span beginning in 1990, non-U.S. golfers won 13 out of 20 majors.

All over the world, there were impressionable youngsters who would mature into today’s champions.

“When you grow up watching guys from your country win majors, it’s reasonable to believe that you can win majors when you grow up,” Harrington said.

These days, the most hyped of the young Americans is 22-year-old Rickie Fowler, who already has played in the Ryder Cup and was the PGA Tour’s rookie of the year in 2010.

But he’s yet to win on Tour and hasn’t finished higher than 14th in a major - a resume that pales alongside McIlroy, who’s about 5 months younger and already has been at the top of the leaderboard in all four majors.

“Everybody is different. Like Rickie Fowler, for example. Is he putting too much pressure on himself? Maybe,” Curtis said. “He’s a great young player, he’s a good kid and you hope one day he’ll get a couple of victories under his belt. Once he wins one, he could win 10.”

McIlroy brushed off any talk about American golf being in decline, even as he seems poised to take over the leading role from a seemingly fading Woods, who hasn’t won a major since capturing his 14th title more than three years ago. The former No. 1 has been plagued by injuries on the course and scandal in his personal life.

“American golf isn’t as bad as everyone is making it out to be,” said McIlroy, who will play with Fowler in the first two rounds of the Open. “These things go in cycles. I think there could be a stage in the next year or couple years where you’re saying, ‘Why hasn’t a European won?”’

The American with the best hope of ending the major-less streak would appear to be 44-year-old Stricker, who won the Memorial last month and is coming off another victory at the John Deere Classic last weekend.

He just hasn’t broken through in a major, despite top-10 finishes in all four of the biggest events.

“Steve Stricker seems to be winning every other week,” said Davis Love III, who will be captain of the U.S. team at next year’s Ryder Cup. “Americans have been winning a lot of big tournaments lately - just not the majors.”

Of course, those are the wins that everyone remembers.

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Players wrapping their heads around FedEx changes

By Rex HoggardSeptember 18, 2018, 8:01 pm

ATLANTA – Even players who have known the details of the PGA Tour’s plan to dramatically change the way it crowns a FedExCup champion were still digesting the details on Tuesday at the Tour Championship.

“I think it’s maybe easier to follow for people at home. Kind of definitely strange and very different to be on 10 under par starting on the first tee,” said Justin Rose, who begins this week’s finale second on the points list.

Next year when a new strokes-based system will decide the season-long race, Rose would begin his week at East Lake 8 under, two strokes behind front-runner Bryson DeChambeau and eight shots ahead of Nos. 26-30 on the points list.

Most players said the new format will be an improvement over the current model, which is based on a complicated points structure. That’s not to say the new plan has been given universal support.


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Under the current format, the 30th-ranked player has a .4 percent chance of winning the cup, while the first player on the points list has a 27 percent chance. Those odds remain virtually identical under next year’s strokes-based format.

“I’m not saying the 30th guy should have the same shot as the fifth guy, but just make the odds a little bit better. Give them a 5 percent chance,” Billy Horschel said. “The strokes could be distributed differently. Maybe put the leader at 6 under [instead of 10 under] and then you go down to even par. Five or six shots back, over four days, you still have a chance.”

There will no doubt be a period of adjustment, but after more than three years of planning, most players were pleased with the general elements of the new plan if not all of the details.

“It's never going to be perfect,” said Justin Thomas, last year’s FedExCup champion and a member of the player advisory council. “No system in any sport is ever going to be perfect, and the Tour has done such a great job of talking to us and trying to get it as good as possible. But it's just hard to understand the fact that you could be starting behind somebody else and still somehow win a golf tournament or an official win.”

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Tour Championship: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 18, 2018, 7:26 pm

The top 30 players in the FedExCup standings are back at East Lake for the Tour Championship. Here's the key info for the 48th and final official event of the 2017-2018 PGA Tour season.

Golf course: East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga., was opened in 1908 and designed by Tom Bendelow. East Lake was redesigned by Donald Ross in 1913, George Cobb in 1959, and Rees Jones in 1995 and 2008. The course will play as a par 70 at 7,362 yards. East Lake first hosted the Tour Championship in 1998. This year marks the 15th consecutive year and 18th overall that it has played host to the season-ending event.

Purse: $8.75 million ($1.575 million to winner)

TV and live streaming schedule (All times Eastern): Thursday, 1-6 p.m. on Golf Channel (live stream); Friday, 1-6 p.m. on Golf Channel (live stream); Saturday, 12:30-2:30 p.m. on Golf Channel (live stream), 2:30-6 p.m. on NBC (live stream); Sunday, 2:30-6 p.m. on NBC (live stream)

Notable tee times (pairings adjusted after each round): Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm, 12:10 p.m.; Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods, 12:30 p.m.; Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele, 12:40 p.m.; Francesco Molinari and Phil Mickelson, 1 p.m.; Justin Thomas and Keegan Bradley, 1:40 p.m.; Tony Finau and Dustin Johnson, 1:50 p.m.; Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Rose, 2 p.m. Click here for full tee times.

Defending champion: Xander Schauffele defeated Justin Thomas by one stroke to earn his second career PGA Tour win and the second win of his rookie season. Schauffele became the first rookie to ever win the Tour Championship and he finished third in the season-long race for the FedExCup while runner-up Thomas joined Vijay Singh in 2008 and Tiger Woods in 2009 as players to win the FedExCup without winning the Tour Championship.

Notables in the field: The field has been cut to the top 30 in FedExCup points. The field includes 23 of the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking, four FedExCup champions (Woods, Horschel, McIlroy, Thomas), five previous winners of this event (Woods, Mickelson, Horschel, McIlroy, Schauffele) and 13 major champions. Click here for FedExCup title scenarios for all 30 players.

Key stats:

• All 30 players in field have mathematical possibility of winning $10 million bonus

• Only two players have won the Tour Championship more than once: Woods (1999, 2007) and Mickelson (2000, 2009)

• In the last 11 years, eight players have won both the Tour Championship and FedExCup in the same year: Woods (2007), Jim Furyk (2010), Bill Haas (2011), Brandt Snedeker (2012), Henrik Stenson (2013), Billy Horschel (2014), Jordan Spieth (2015), and Rory McIlroy (2016)

• The defending champion is Schauffele, who played his way into the top 30 in the BMW Championship for a second consecutive year. No player has ever successfully defended his Tour Championship title

• Players in the field this week will earn a minimum of $395,000 combined ($144,000 for 30th place at East Lake and $175,000 for 30th place in the FedExCup) with the potential for a $11,620,000 payday for winning both the Tour Championship and the FedExCup.

• For the 10th consecutive season, points are reset going into the Tour Championship. That guarantees that if a player in the top five (DeChambeau, Rose, Finau, Johnson, Thomas) wins at East Lake, he will also win the FedExCup

• Seven of the last eight winners of the FedExCup have also won the Tour Championship. Five of the last six FedExCup winners have been a top-five seed coming into the week – the only one not was Rory McIlroy at number six in 2016.

• The FedExCup points leader going into the Tour Championship has gone on to win the FedExCup just three times – all in the competition’s first three seasons: Woods in 2007, Vijay Singh in 2008 and Woods in 2009.

(Stats and information provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit)

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Punch Shot: Hits and misses from FedExCup changes

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 18, 2018, 6:42 pm

GolfChannel.com senior writer Randall Mell and staff writer Will Gray examine the recently announced changes to the FedExCup and Tour Championship, and weigh in on the pros and cons.

GRAY: We've got some more changes for 2019 to digest, both with the FedExCup and how the Tour Championship will be determined. No more points reset, no more scenarios ... but, instead, a staggered start at East Lake with the top seed beginning the tournament at 10 under. What's your biggest takeaway from all of these changes?

MELL: Love it and hate it. I love that there's definitive clarity to the FedExCup finish, that the winner doesn't need a slide rule or calculator to know he's over a putt to win. I love going to a traditional leaderboard to determine who wins the Cup. I hate that the Tour Championship was sacrificed at the altar of the FedExCup. It's no longer a tournament in the traditional sense.

GRAY: Fair points on both sides. This is certainly going to take some getting used to, and it goes against a lot of the underlying principles of individual and team sports. No other league determines its overall champion by offering a head start. But I do think that once play begins, it'll be a lot easier to keep track of everything – especially for the casual fan.

MELL: Yes, that's the great upside. Fans didn't really tune in to the Tour Championship to see who would win the FedExCup. Not really. They tuned in to see the best players in the world playing to win the tournament. Now, it's all about the FedExCup. The Tour fixed that. Still, there's a big problem. The Tour hasn't solved its "playoffs" problem. These still aren't playoffs. Choosing to sell the FedExCup as "The Playoffs" continues to complicate golf's postseason. It's why people who don't like today's news hate hearing a guy is going to start the Tour Championship with a 10-shot lead on some of the field. If fans can get their heads around the fact that the Tour Championship isn't really a tournament anymore, that it's the FedEx Cup "finale," they could embrace it. But they think of it as the Super Bowl finish to the PGA Tour playoffs. It ain't that.



GRAY: It's certainly contrived, but I have no problem with getting a little creative to cap a champion in a way that ensures some drama. My biggest issue in all of this might just be counting this as an official victory. How can a player add this to his resume, and potentially use it as a tally down the road in a Hall of Fame discussion, if his raw 72-hole score isn't the lowest even among the smallest field of the year?

MELL: I agree. I don't see it as a tournament anymore, but a "finale," a finish to the FedExCup series. If they have to credit it as a victory, they ought to give credit for one-and-a-half wins, because it's harder to win the FedExCup than it is to win a PGA Tour tournament. And it isn't like the winner of the finale won't know what he's putting for in the end. There will be more pressure to close out than anything outside a major.

GRAY: And perhaps that's a scenario that the Tour had originally envisioned, especially now that it will all play out before football crowds the sports calendar. But given the significant changes afoot, do you see this as a net positive? It will certainly make for a more streamlined product on the final day of the season.

MELL: Yes, and I was half-kidding about one-and-a-half wins, because closing out is easier if you're spotted a lead, harder if you're trying to catch a guy who was spotted a lead. There will be fans who are offended by the lead players will be given at the Tour Championship, but I like the clarity. I like it better than the confusion we've endured at the end of every FedExCup finish. It's not perfect, for sure, but I think it's a lot better.

GRAY: Well let's look at the bottom of the barrel. If you're the No. 30 seed at East Lake, I think it's easier to pull off an epic comeback under the new rules. Currently Patton Kizzire would need to win AND have Bryson DeChambeau finish almost last, among other things. That's a big element out of his control. But with a staggered start, he could control it all himself with one amazing week at the right time. Plus, keep in mind that only a handful of players will start more than four shots ahead of Nos. 26-30. So I think it's doable and could create some fun storylines. Agree?

MELL: Yes, as controversy and second-guessing always do. The only way to make it fair from start to finish is to use cumulative scoring all the way through, from the first FedExCup "playoff" event through the Tour Championship, but it would make for some boring finishes with runaway victories. There has to be some reset to make the Tour Championship meaningful, if not totally fair.



GRAY: A promising idea, but good luck keeping track of all those moving parts during the third round of the BMW. To me, it still feels like the best way to settle things and still retain a "playoff" element would be a 32-man match-play bracket, or perhaps 36 holes of stroke play before trimming to eight (or 16) for match play. It's the game's ultimate drama! But, alas, I fear that ship has now sailed.

MELL: Match play? Now you're talking playoffs! True playoffs! But that ship's beyond the horizon. Ain't coming back. We know how exciting the start of match play is, but how ponderous a dull finals matchup can be.

GRAY: I suppose the ghosts of Andrew Magee and Kevin Sutherland still linger. But with the top 30 players from the season, would there really be that many possible duds for the final? Oh, well. Let's look at this new $10 million bonus for the top 10 players at the end of the regular season. Incentive for some guys to sprint to the finish line and maybe add the season-ending Wyndham Championship, or simply an example of the rich getting richer?

MELL: The Tour must be counting on that "integrity fee" from legalized gambling being a real gold rush ... I've lost track of what incentive means on Tour. They're playing a game with which I'm not familiar. The rich ain't getting poorer.

GRAY: With the bonus pool doubling to $70 million (including the Wyndham bonus), there will be multiple players banking in excess of $10 million in a single season when it's all said and done. Good luck explaining that to players 20 years ago, let alone 50. But I digress. Let's leave with this ... if you could tweak only one aspect of the new setup, what would it be?

MELL: It's your idea, but it's more than a tweak. It's finding that ship beyond the horizon and bringing it back to port. It's a match-play finish at the Tour Championship. With that, it truly becomes FedEx Cup Playoffs. It's a pipe dream, for the reasons I mentioned above, but it's a true and right and fair path to a playoff champion.

GRAY: Happy to bring you aboard Team Match Play, even though it seems less likely to come to pass. Maybe one year we can stage an alternate match-play event in Atlanta among 32 writers where we all play for $70 instead of $70 million. Until then, get ready to do some extra math next year at East Lake.

MELL: OK, I'll start saving up!

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Only one trophy being handed out at next year's Tour Champ.

By Rex HoggardSeptember 18, 2018, 6:14 pm

ATLANTA – Lost in Tuesday’s announcement that the PGA Tour will dramatically overhaul how the FedExCup champion will be crowned was exactly what this means for the Tour Championship.

The top 30 on the playoff points list will continue to advance to the finale at East Lake with the field handicapped based on their position on that list, with the points leader beginning the week at 10 under par, No. 2 on the list at 8 under, No. 3 at 7 under and so on.

This will essentially make the Tour Championship a FedExCup shootout, a notion commissioner Jay Monahan seemed to confirm when asked if officials still planned to award two trophies on Sunday, the FedExCup and the trophy for winning the Tour Championship.


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“There will be one trophy handed out on Sunday, and that will be the FedExCup trophy,” Monahan said. “But Calamity Jane [a replica of the putter used by Bobby Jones that is awarded the winner at East Lake] is a rich part of this club. We're going to find the right way to perpetuate the Calamity Jane.”

There will also not be a specific purse for the finale – although a player will be compensated for his finish in the FedExCup, with an increase of the total bonus pool to $60 million – and it’s unclear exactly what the role of Coca-Cola and Southern Company, the event’s longtime sponsors, will be starting next year.

“I don't want to put words in their mouth, but when we had the conversation, they immediately supported this idea and this concept, and in fact, are committed to us for a long time to come,” Monahan said.