A down year for Tiger leads to parity in golf
In the years when he wasn’t winning a major or three, Woods compensated by winning at least five times on the PGA Tour against some of the strongest fields on some of the toughest courses. He won 31 times and six majors in the previous five years.
The only time during that stretch that Woods did not win PGA Tour player of the year was in 2008, when he made it through only half the year until his knee gave out. Padraig Harrington captured the last two majors to win the award, although Woods still earned some consideration. He won four times in six starts, including a U.S. Open.
The FedEx Cup playoffs get under way this week at The Barclays, and Woods is at No. 112 in the standings, sandwiched between Bob Estes and Cameron Beckman.
Dominance has given way to parity.
Five players have multiple victories this year – Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan – yet none of them has more than two wins, and none of them won a major.
Why has no one filled the void?
“That’s how good Tiger Wood is – that’s what I make of it,” Adam Scott said Tuesday.
Els has been leading the FedEx Cup standings since winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. He begins the playoffs with only a 149-point lead over Stricker. A year ago, Woods had a 1,276-point lead over Stricker going into The Barclays.
“This is just an observation,” Zach Johnson said Tuesday. “But I watched Greensboro for about six holes on Sunday and they showed the standings. I knew Ernie had been on top forever, but he still is. The other years it seemed like it was so volatile that even I was at No. 1 for like a week. Now it’s all bunched up.”
Golf is bunched up at the moment, at least on the PGA Tour.
“No one has separated themselves,” Mahan said. “Tiger hasn’t won five times. You’ve got a bunch of guys who have won twice.”
In its first three years, the FedEx Cup has provided four great tournaments after the majors were over, and the list of winners backs that up – three wins for Woods; two apiece for Mickelson, Stricker, Vijay Singh and Camilo Villegas; and Heath Slocum as the outsider, but only after beating Woods, Stricker, Harrington and Els on the last hole. Even so, it had little bearing on anything except a bank account.
This year – thanks to Woods – it’s a little different.
The four playoff events over the next five weeks most likely will decide who was the best player on the PGA Tour this year. Not only is there no clear-cut favorite for player of the year, it’s hard to determine the front-runner.
“Ernie?” pondered Mahan, but only after taking several seconds of thought. “He’s leading the points race, right? And he won twice. And he was right up there in two majors.”
Actually, only one major.
Els had a share of the lead Sunday in the U.S. Open until he started dropping shots along the Pacific cliffs and never got them back. He wound up third, then missed the cut in the British Open and fizzled at the PGA Championship.
Winning the FedEx Cup might be all it takes for Els to be voted player of the year. Then again, it’s mathematically possible for him to do that without winning another tournament. Can a guy get voted best player with only two wins and no majors?
“If Phil wins, it’s got to be over,” Mahan said, continuing to work this out while speaking to no one in particular.
The defining shot of this goofy season was the 6-iron Mickelson hit through the pines on the 13th at Augusta National when he won the Masters. He is the only major champion in the FedEx Cup because the other three – Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer – were not PGA Tour members.
For the eighth time over the last three months, Mickelson will have yet another chance to replace Woods atop the world ranking. It should have happened by now, as poorly as Woods has performed. Trouble is, Mickelson hasn’t been much better. Lefty has not finished in the top 10 in the four tournaments he has played since the U.S. Open.
Mahan won in Phoenix, got engaged to a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, then won his first World Golf Championship title at Firestone. He would get consideration with a victory or two in the next month, plus the $10 million prize for the FedEx Cup.
The same holds true for Stricker, Furyk and Rose. Someone needs to separate themselves from the pack.
“I guess there’s a lot of people in the mix,” Dustin Johnson said. “But whoever has a good playoffs will probably be the top candidate.”
That might include Johnson, himself. Two playoff wins, a FedEx Cup, a victory earlier this year at Pebble Beach, sympathy for the bunker ruling at Whistling Straits. Why not?
“If I could win a couple of playoff events and the FedEx Cup, I’d be happy,” Scott said. “Even if you didn’t vote for me.”
Given the way this season has gone, the four playoff events could go to players who had not won anything all year.
Even someone like Woods.
Cut and not so dry: Shinnecock back with a new look
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - The last time the USGA was here at Shinnecock Hills, it nearly had a train wreck on its hands. The last day of the 2004 U.S. Open was so dry and the turf so firm that play was stopped in the morning just to get some water on the greens.
The lessons learned from that debacle are now on display three weeks before Shinnecock gets another U.S. Open. And this time, the USGA is prepared with all sorts of high-tech devices – firmness meters, moisture monitors, drone technology to measure turf temperatures - to make sure the playing surfaces remain healthy.
Players, meanwhile, will face a golf course that is 548 yards longer than a dozen years ago, topping out now at 7,445 yards for the par-70 layout. Ten new tees have assured that the course will keep up with technology and distance. They’ll also require players to contend with the bunkering and fairway contours that designer William Flynn built when he renovated Shinnecock Hills in 1930.
And those greens will not only have more consistent turf cover, they’ll also be a lot larger – like 30 percent bigger. What were mere circles averaging 5,500 square feet are now about 7,200 square feet. That will mean more hole locations, more variety to the setup, and more rollouts into surrounding low-mow areas. Slight misses that ended up in nearby rough will now be down in hollows many more yards away.
The course now has an open, windswept look to it – what longtime green chairman Charles Stevenson calls “a maritime grassland.” You don’t get to be green chairman of a prominent club for 37 years without learning how to deal with politics, and he’s been a master while implementing a long-term plan to bring the course back to its original scale and angles. In some cases that required moving tees back to recapture the threat posed by cross-bunkers and steep falloffs. Two of the bigger extensions come on the layout’s two par-5s, which got longer by an average of 60 yards. The downwind, downhill par-4 14th hole got stretched 73 yards and now plays 519.
“We want players to hit driver,” says USGA executive director Mike Davis.
The also want to place an emphasis upon strategy and position, which is why, after the club had expanded its fairways the last few years, the USGA decided last September to bring them back in somewhat.
The decision followed analysis of the driving statistics from the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where wide fairways proved very hospitable to play. Players who made the cut averaged hitting 77 percent of fairways and driving it 308 yards off the tee. There was little fear of the rough there. “We didn’t get the wind and the dry conditions we anticipated,” says Davis.
Moving ahead to Shinnecock Hills, he and the setup staff wanted to balance the need for architectural variety with a traditional emphasis upon accuracy. So they narrowed the fairways at Shinnecock Hills last September by seven acres. They are still much wider than in the U.S. Opens played here in 1986, 1995 and 2004, when the average width of the landing areas was 26.6 yards. “Now they are 41.6 yards across on average,” said Davis. So they are much wider than in previous U.S. Opens and make better use of the existing contours and bring lateral bunkers into play.
This time around, with more consistent, healthier turf cover and greens that have plenty of nutrients and moisture, the USGA should be able to avoid the disastrous drying out of the putting surfaces that threatened that final day in 2004. The players will also face a golf course that is more consistent than ever with its intended width, design, variety and challenge. That should make for a more interesting golf course and, by turn, more interesting viewing.
Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys Documentary Series Continues Tonight at 8 p.m. ET on Golf Channel
Monday’s third installment in the four-part series focuses on the Big 12 Championships and NCAA Regional Championships
Reigning NCAA National Champion Oklahoma Sooners and Top-Ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys Prepare for Showdown Friday at the 2018 NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships
ORLANDO, Fla., May 21, 2018 – Tonight’s third episode of the critically-acclaimed documentary series Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys (8 p.m. ET) wraps up the conclusion of the 2017-18 regular season and turns to post-season play for the top-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys and reigning NCAA National Champions Oklahoma Sooners.
Drivenwill take viewers behind the scenes with the conclusion of regular season play; the Big 12 Conference Championship, where Oklahoma captured their first conference championship since 2006; and the NCAA Regional Championships, where Oklahoma State and Oklahoma – both No. 1 seeds in their respective regionals – were both victorious and punched tickets to the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships.
The episode also will set up the showdown starting Friday at the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships, where Oklahoma State will attempt to dethrone Oklahoma as national champions, all taking place at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., Oklahoma State’s home course. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will be paired together for the first two rounds of individual stroke play Friday and Saturday.
Driven’s fourth and final episode will air on NBC on Saturday, June 16 at 5 p.m. ET, recapping all of the action at the NCAA Golf National Championships and the two programs’ 2017-18 golf seasons.
Golf Channel is airing back-to-back weeks of live tournament coverage of the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships. Golf Channel’s coverage begins today (4-8 p.m. ET) to crown the individual national champion and track the teams attempting to qualify for the eight-team match play championship. Golf Channel’s coverage on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 22-23 will include all three rounds of team match play, ultimately crowning a team national champion. Next week (May 28-30), the same programming schedule will take place for the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships.
Mann's impact on LPGA felt on and off course
Just a few short hours after winning the U.S. Women’s Open in 1965, Carol Mann was surprised at the turn of emotion within her.
She called her friend and mentor, Marlene Hagge, and asked if they could meet for a glass of wine at the Atlantic City hotel where players were staying.
Hagge was one of the LPGA’s 13 founders.
“I’ll never forget Carol saying, `I don’t mean to sound funny, because winning the U.S. Women’s Open was wonderful, but is that all there is?’” Hagge told GolfChannel.com Monday after hearing news of Mann’s death.
It was one of the many defining moments in Mann’s rich life, because it revealed her relentless search for meaning, within the game, and beyond it.
Mann, an LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer, died at her home in Woodlands, Texas. She was 77.
“Carol was a very good friend, and a really sincere and good person,” Hagge said. “She was intelligent and insightful, the kind of person who always wanted to know the `why’ of things. She wasn’t content to be told this is the way something is. She had to know why.”
Mann’s search for meaning in the sport took her outside the ropes. She was a towering presence, at 6 feet 3, but her stature was more than physical. She won 38 LPGA titles, two of them major championships, but her mark on the game extended to her leadership skills.
From 1973 to ’76, Mann was president of the LPGA, leading the tour in challenging times.
“Carol was a significant player in the growth of the LPGA,” LPGA Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “She was involved when some big changes came to the tour. She was a talented woman beyond her golf.”
Mann oversaw the hiring of the tour’s first commissioner, Ray Volpe, a former NFL marketing executive. Their moves helped steer the tour out of the financial problems that threatened it.
“Carol was willing to do something nobody else wanted to do and nobody else had the brains to do,” Hagge said. “She loved the LPGA, and she wanted to make it a better place.”
At the cost of her own career.
Juggling the tour presidency with a playing career wasn’t easy.
“My golf seemed so secondary while I was president in 1975,” Mann once told author Liz Kahn for the book, “The LPGA: The Unauthorized Version.”
That was a pivotal year in tour history, with the LPGA struggling with an ongoing lawsuit, a legal battle Jane Blalock won when the courts ruled the tour violated antitrust laws by suspending her. With the tour appealing its legal defeats, a protracted battle threatened to cripple LPGA finances.
It was also the year Mann led the hiring of Volpe.
“I could barely get to the course in time to tee off,” Mann told Kahn. “There was so much other activity. I burned myself out a bit.”
Still, Mann somehow managed to win four times in ’75, but she wouldn’t again in the years that followed.
“I had launched a ship, and then I had to let it go, which was not easy,” she said of leaving her tour president’s role. “I was depressed thinking that no one on tour would say thank you to me for what I had done. Some would, others never would, and 10 years later players wouldn’t give a damn.”
Mann’s reign as a player and a leader aren’t fully appreciated today.
“A lot of players in the ‘60s haven’t been fully appreciated,” Rankin said.
Mann won 10 LPGA titles in 1968, the same year Kathy Whitworth won 10. Mann won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average that year. She won eight times in ’69 and was the tour’s leading money winner.
“Those were the toughest times to win,” Hagge said. “You had Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright, who is the best player I ever saw, and I saw them all. You had so many great players you had to beat in that era.”
Mann’s good humor came out when she was asked about her height.
“I’m 5-foot-15,” she liked to say.
After retiring from the tour at 40, Mann stayed active in golf, working as a TV analyst for NBC, ABC and ESPN. She found meaning in her Christian faith, and she was active supporting female athletes. She was president of the Women’s Sports Foundation for five years. She wrote a guest column for the Houston Post. She devoted herself to the World Golf Hall of Fame, taught at Woodlands Country Club and became the first woman to own and operate a course design and management firm.
“I’ve walked on the moon,” Mann once said. “I enjoy being a person, and getting old and dying are fine. I never think how people will remember Carol Mann. The mark I made is an intimate satisfaction.”
Nelson win moves Wise to 12th in Ryder Cup race
Aaron Wise received plenty of perks with his title Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but the victory also brought with it a healthy bump in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings.
The 21-year-old notched his maiden win at Trinity Forest in impressive fashion, holding off Marc Leishman in near-darkness. After starting the week at No. 46 in the points race for Paris, Wise is now all the way up to 12th with the top eight players after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically for the team.
Jimmy Walker moved from 18th to 15th with a top-10 finish in Dallas, while an idle Tiger Woods dropped one position to No. 32.
Here's a look at the updated standings, as the top 11 names remained in order this week:
1. Patrick Reed
2. Justin Thomas
3. Dustin Johnson
4. Jordan Spieth
5. Bubba Watson
6. Rickie Fowler
7. Brooks Koepka
8. Phil Mickelson
9. Webb Simpson
10. Matt Kuchar
11. Brian Harman
12. Aaron Wise
It was also a quiet week on the European side of the race, where the top four from both the European Points and World Points list in August will join a roster rounded out by four selections from captain Thomas Bjorn.
Here's a look at the latest European standings:
1. Tyrrell Hatton
2. Justin Rose
3. Jon Rahm
4. Ross Fisher
5. Matthew Fitzpatrick
1. Rory McIlroy
2. Tommy Fleetwood
3. Sergio Garcia
4. Alex Noren
5. Ian Poulter