Harder Beating the Best or Beating the Rest
Woods now has won 15 times against the best players in the world.
Darren Clarke is next with two WGC victories, the 2000 Accenture Match Play Championship and the 2003 NEC Invitational at Firestone, both times beating the worlds No. 1 player.
Ernie Els, a three-time major champion, has one world title (Ireland in 2004).
Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh have combined for none.
Never mind the world ranking. Maybe his world titles are the true reflection of the gap between Woods and his alleged competition.
I dont know how to answer that one, Woods said Sunday. All I know is that I just love playing against the best players in the world. Thats the fun part because we dont get to do it that often.
But there is a case to be made that beating the best isnt necessarily harder than beating the rest in a full-field event.
Clearly, the Match Play Championship is the toughest of the WGCs to win, and its a testament to his ability (physical and mental) that Woods has won three times and reached the final another. Only three other players have been to the finals twice.
But in the first three WGCs he won at Firestone, Woods never had to beat more than 40 players in 72 holes of stroke play. He had to beat only 60 players in his first American Express title at Valderrama.
In his TOUR career, Woods has won 20 times against limited fields with guaranteed money.
Playing a full field, whether thats 120 players at invitationals like Bay Hill or 156 players in the summer, means more chances that someone will have a career week.
Bob May was one of those guys at Valhalla in 2000 when he lost to Woods in a three-hole playoff at the PGA Championship. Bob Burns was one of those guys at Disney in 2002 when he shot 65 to win. Steve Flesch went birdie-for-birdie with Woods in the final round of Disney two years earlier, and both were beaten by a 62 from Duffy Waldorf.
Theres a lot of truth to the PGA TOUR's slogan, These guys are good.
If youve got 60 guys at Bridgestone, get by 10 or 12 of them and the scores tend to look different, Fred Couples said Tuesday. Thats sugarcoating it a little bit.
In most tournaments, only half the field is going to play well, leading to the 70 or so players who make the cut. Apply that math to the WGCs, and there are only 30 or 40 guys to worry about. The average margin between first and worst in the WGC events (stroke play) is 32.4 strokes. The average margin at regular TOUR events last year was 24.6.
The WGCs are not the only tournaments where the number of players who can win is less than what it seems.
The U.S. Open last year had 29 players who had to go through two stages of qualifying. Those are called dreamers. The 97-man field at the Masters last year had 10 players on the Champions Tour and five amateurs. The PGA Championship has 20 club pros.
The pressure, the history and the golf course are what makes them tough.
But there is no getting around the fact that WGCs use the world ranking (top 50) as the core criteria, and while there forever will be debate on whether Shingo Katayama or Soren Hansen belong in the top 50, there can be no argument that Mickelson, Els, Singh, Padraig Harrington, Steve Stricker and Sergio Garcia are pushovers.
When its only 64 guys, it certainly seems easier to win the event, Couples said. But when its the top 64 guys, its harder. Tiger wins them, and its no surprise.
Firestone has always been a course that appeals to Woods, and his record supports that. He has won six times in 10 appearances and has never finished worse than fifth.
But consider the CA Championship, previously the American Express. Before it moved to Doral, where Woods had won the previous two years as a full PGA TOUR event, he won that world title on courses in Atlanta, San Francisco, Spain, Ireland and London. No other PGA TOUR player has won a tournament six times on six courses.
Its hard to find a tournament Woods plays that doesnt have the best fields on the strongest courses.
It was only three years ago when he played 21 times on the PGA TOUR. Since then, he has dropped the Byron Nelson Championship, where the winning score has been under 270 in 12 of the last 13 tournaments; Disney, where he once shot 263 and tied for third; and Pebble Beach, which along with bumpy greens and six-hour rounds also has a 180-man field, including just about everyone from Q-school.
The weakest field he has beaten over the last two years'based on points awarded in the world ranking'was the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston in 2006, the year before it became a playoff event.
His schedule now is more predictable than ever. Of the PGA TOUR events he played last year, he has won all of them at least once except the AT&T National, which was held for the first time.
Its not surprising then that Woods has won 24 tournaments on the PGA TOUR (multiple times at 15 of them). Singh has won 23 different PGA TOUR events and Mickelson has won at 19 tournaments.
But for Woods, everywhere he plays, everything he does, is geared toward the majors.
Ultimately, thats where the greatest players are measured.
Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.
According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.
Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.
Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.
Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.
And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.
Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.
Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:
The Monday morning headline will be …
REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.
RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.
MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.
JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.
Who or what will be the biggest surprise?
HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.
LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.
BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.
COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.
Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?
HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.
LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.
BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.
COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.
What will be the winning score?
HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.
LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.
BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.
COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.
Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty
Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.
Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.
This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):
While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:
Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.
McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.
Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.
“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”
McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.
“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”
He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.