Americans try to avoid record drought in majors

By Doug FergusonJune 14, 2011, 9:37 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – What began as an anomaly has turned into a troubling trend for American golf.

Graeme McDowell became the first European in 40 years to win the U.S. Open last summer at Pebble Beach. Perhaps more telling was that this was the first time in more than 100 years that no Americans finished among the top three in their national championship.

And that was just the start.

There were no Americans in the top three in the British Open a month later at St. Andrews. And for the first time in Masters history, international players occupied the first three places at Augusta National.

Is American golf on the ropes?

“Are you asking that because I’m the highest-ranked American?” Steve Stricker said Tuesday.

Stricker, a 44-year-old who didn’t even have a full PGA Tour card five years ago, won the Memorial two weeks ago and climbed to No. 4 in the world, making him the top-ranked American. He still lags well behind a pair of Englishmen, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, and Martin Kaymer of Germany.

But the world ranking tells only part of the story.

Americans have never gone more than four majors without winning one of them, and the U.S. Open at Congressional might be their best chance to avoid a record drought since this configuration of Grand Slam events began in 1934.

“I think this tournament will tell a lot,” Stricker said. “If an American can win here, maybe we can gain back some of that momentum. It seems to be pro-Europe every week, every major. It will be interesting this week to see what happens. I think we are on the ropes a little bit. Everybody sees it. Everybody talks about it.”

Based on recent times, history might not be on the side of the Stars & Stripes outside the nation’s capital.

Over the last 10 years, the U.S. Open is the one major where Americans have had the least amount of success. They have won only four times since 2001, with Tiger Woods capturing two of them. And he’s not even at Congressional this week, out with a bum left leg.

It was only four years ago when it seemed that Europeans couldn’t win a big one. Padraig Harrington preached patience, saying golf runs in cycles and Europe would get its due.

Ernie Els couldn’t agree more.

“Everything happens in cycles, and I can see it happening again now,” he said. “I remember back in the early ’90s, Europe was dominating like they are dominating now in the world rankings. They’ve definitely got the upper hand at the moment, and it will probably change again in the future.”

The trick is figuring who the future is for American golf.

Right behind Stricker in the world ranking is Phil Mickelson, the last American to win a major when he beat Westwood at The Masters last year. Mickelson turns 41 on Thursday, although he still thinks he has several years and more majors ahead of him.

Even so, Mickelson has been spending a lot of time lately trying to groom younger players, mostly for Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup matches, but also to get them sharp for majors.

He played Tuesday with Dustin Johnson, regarded by many as the most talented of the Americans under 30. Joining them were Jeff Overton and Hunter Mahan, whose three wins include a World Golf Championship at Firestone last year.

“I’m actually very encouraged with where our American golfers are, especially the young players,” Mickelson said. “We have a plethora of great players coming up. And I think at the forefront is a guy like Dustin Johnson.”

Johnson very easily could have won two majors last year, and this wouldn’t even be a discussion. He took a three-shot lead into the final round at Pebble Beach until a shot in the bushes and a shot onto the beach left him with an 82. Then came the PGA Championship, where he was not aware he was in a bunker and grounded his club, a two-shot penalty that knocked him out of a playoff.

Kaymer wound up beating Bubba Watson in the playoff.

Johnson is aware of the American drought, but only because he keeps getting asked about it.

“It’s not like we’re not trying or not playing well,” he said. “I think the American guys are playing really good. A lot of things have to go right to win a major. Obviously, the guys that have won the last four majors have played really good golf.”

Mahan knew the Americans had not won a major since Mickelson at the Masters. He was surprised to hear that only two Americans, Watson and Zach Johnson, have been in the top three at the last four majors.

“It’s the fashionable thing now to be European. Everyone is pumping that up,” Mahan said. “I don’t know about that. I think guys like Stricker, Matt Kuchar … I don’t see who’s playing better than those guys.”

Donald would be one of them, for sure. He brings 10 consecutive top 10s into the U.S. Open, which includes wins in the European Tour flagship event at Wentworth and his first WGC title at the Match Play Championship in Arizona. Westwood won consecutive tournaments overseas. Kaymer started his year with an eight-shot win against a strong field in Abu Dhabi that included Mickelson.

Along with the four majors, Europe also owns The Ryder Cup.

“I think the Ryder Cup has created a line there now that wasn’t there before,” Mahan said. “There’s a little bit more friction – maybe not friction, but there’s a little more to it now – and that’s good. The thing we need in golf are rivalries, but good rivalries.”

Perhaps the Americans getting shut out in the majors was inevitable.

Not until the world ranking became more accepted did international players get much access to the three American-based majors. When the ranking made its debut in 1986, only three Europeans played in the Masters that year.

With few exceptions, the PGA Tour attracts the best that each continent has to offer.

“It’s obvious that world golf as a whole has become so much stronger, and that international and European golf has become world class,” Mickelson said. “So although international golf has really taken off, American golf is still in very good shape.”

That might be easier to believe if one of them were holding the trophy on Sunday at Congressional.

 

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Woods' probation for reckless driving ends one month early

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 18, 2018, 9:00 pm

Tiger Woods' year-long probation stemming from last year's DUI arrest has been terminated a month early.

According to Sam Smink of WPTV, Woods, 42, was let off probation early for successfully completing all regular and special conditions of his probation after pleading guilty to reckless driving and entering a diversion program last October.

Under the conditions of the program, Woods was required to pay a $250 fine and court costs, attend a DUI school and undergo a substance abuse evaluation and treatment program. He was also subject to random drug and alcohol testing under the program.

The 14-time major champ was arrested on charges of DUI in May of 2017 after he was found unconscious behind the wheel of his parked Mercedes-Benz in Jupiter, Fla.

Although tests showed Woods was not under the influence of alcohol at the time, he admitted to taking several pain and sleep medications to cope with his fourth back surgery which was performed in April.

Since his arrest, Woods has returned to competition, rising to 21st in the Official World Golf Ranking after a pain-free campaign in 2018.

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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.


Current FedExCup standings

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


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!