Golf’s landscape looks so much different heading into the final major championship of the year.
Tiger Woods, always the man to beat in any major, arrives at the PGA Championship as just another contender. It’s one thing for him to still be looking for a victory in a major, quite another for the world’s No. 1 player to have not won any tournament at all this late in the season.
Then again, Woods didn’t get started until the Masters in April. And he still is trying to piece together a personal life in turmoil from his extramarital affairs that were uncovered nine months ago.
“Just be patient, keep working, keep going,” Woods said on the eve of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, his final chance to win before the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. “I’ve been through periods like this before. If you look at my career, I’ve never been one of those guys that just plays awful and then all of a sudden, just plays well. You’ll start seeing trends.”
There are plenty of trends in golf, some of them related to the state of his game.
Without Woods winning his usual share of tournaments, others have taken advantage of the void. And if there is one trend that stands out in American golf this year, it’s the preponderance of international players winning on the PGA Tour.
It started with Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland closing with a record 62 to win the Quail Hollow Championship on one of the more demanding courses on the PGA Tour. That began a stretch of foreign-born players winning 11 of 15 events on tour. The only American winners were Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson and Matt Bettencourt.
“When you have one player dominating and winning consistently, there’s very few people who are gaining confidence. If anything, it’s going to work in the opposite way,” Padraig Harrington said. “Nobody is quite dominating at the moment. That leaves two things. One, players aren’t scared. And two, there’s more of them to win.”
Two of those international players won majors for the first time – Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland in the U.S. Open, during a final round at Pebble Beach when Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els were in prime position; and Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa at St. Andrews, where he won the British Open by seven shots.
Even more alarming for the Americans?
None finished among the top three in consecutive majors, which had not happened in 98 years.
For British agent Chubby Chandler, whose stable includes Oosthuizen, Els and Lee Westwood, it reminds him of a 10-year stretch from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s when international players won half the majors.
“I think European Tour players will win something like five out of the next eight majors. We’re that strong now,” Chandler said on the day after Oosthuizen’s victory at St. Andrews. “I’ve got a sense what happened in the ’80s is about to happen again. Only then, it was about five players. And there will be 25 from our tour going to Whistling Straits for the PGA Championship thinking they can win it.”
The 92nd PGA Championship gets under way Thursday in the heartland of America, on a links-styled course that Pete Dye built along the bluffs of Lake Michigan. Whistling Straits last hosted the PGA Championship in 2004, when Vijay Singh won in a playoff.
The 156-man field is getting more international by the year. There are 76 players from overseas, compared with only 47 international players who were part of the field 10 years ago.
The defending PGA champion is Y.E. Yang of South Korea, who became the first Asian male to win a major last year at Hazeltine when he rallied from two shots behind to beat Woods in the final round.
One other trend: Five of the last six major champions had never won a Grand Slam event before, the exception being Mickelson at the Masters. It’s the longest such stretch since there were six first-time major winners from the 2002 PGA through to the 2004 U.S. Open.
“Golf is very strong in depth at the moment,” said Westwood, the 37-year-old from England who has established himself as the best to have never won a major. “Players are better coached nowadays. They’re not afraid to win and they get into position more regularly than maybe they used to. Obviously, Tiger has not won as many as you would have thought he would have won recently, so that creates room for other people to win majors.”
That golf has become deeper and stronger globally is not much of a surprise. It has been building toward that for the better part of the last decade, especially since the advent of the World Golf Championships in 1999 that not only brought together the world’s best more often, it gave international players another avenue to reach the PGA Tour.
These days, the only thing American about the PGA Tour is the headquarters in Florida.
“We come over here and get more comfortable with the players and the golf courses,” McDowell said. “I just think we have a lot of top players right now who are playing out here more often, and it’s obviously pure mathematics.”
Harrington wonders if the PGA Tour has become so international that it hurts the development of young Americans. Whereas international players learn to win against weaker fields in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia, young Americans immediately face the best.
“A good season over here for a young player, he might get in contention three or four times, might win once,” Harrington said. “Whereas a good season for a young player in Europe, he gets in contention 12 times and wins twice. And those 12 times he’s in contention, he’s going to learn from those. And that will help him grow as a player.
“There’s no doubt – this is a tough thing to say – that the strength of the U.S. tour doesn’t help grow young players.”
Harrington, a three-time major champion, still believes an exception player will rise no matter where he plays. The classic example is Woods, who reached No. 1 in the world within nine months of turning pro, and has twice stayed at No. 1 for five-year spans.
He just doesn’t look like that kind of player now.
Woods remains ultra private about his personal life, refusing to confirm he is in the process of a divorce, although he did concede that parcels of time and focus he once devoted to practice has been taken away by problems he never faced before.
“I’ve had more things going on once I’m at a tournament site than I have in the past, and for different reasons,” he said.
Woods remains stuck on 14 career majors, four short of the record held by Jack Nicklaus. His last major seems so long ago, that Monday at Torrey Pines when he beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open in his final event before reconstructive knee surgery. If he fails to win at Whistling Straits, it will be the third time in his career that 10 majors have elapsed without him winning one.
Winning anything at the moment would satisfy Woods.
Heading to PGA world dominating not Woods
Golf’s landscape looks so much different heading into the final major championship of the year.
High school seniors win U.S. Amateur Four-Ball
TEQUESTA, Fla. - The 18-year-old Hammer, from Houston, is set to play at Texas next fall. Barber, from Stuart, Fla., also is 18. He's headed to LSU.
''Growing up watching U.S. Opens and U.S. Amateurs on TV, I just knew being a USGA champion is something that I desperately wanted,'' said Hammer, who qualified for a U.S. Open three years ago at 15. ''And to finally do it, it feels incredible. It feels as good, if not better, than I thought it would. And especially being able to do it with Garrett. It's really cool to share this moment.''
Hammer and Cole won the par-4 eighth with a birdie to take a 2-up lead. They took the par-4 10th with a par, won the par-5 13th with an eagle - Barber hit a 4-iron from 235 yards to 3 feet - and halved the next two holes to end the match.
''Cole didn't want me to hit 4-iron,'' Barber said. ''He didn't think I could get it there. I was like, 'I got it.' So I hit it hard, hit pretty much a perfect shot. It was a crazy shot.''
The 32-year-old Dull is from Winter Park, Fla., and the 42-year-old Brooke from Altamonte Springs, Fla.
''Cole Hammer is a special player,'' Brooke said. ''Obviously, he's going to Texas (and) I'm not saying he is Jordan Spieth, but there are certain things that he does.''
In the morning semifinals, Hammer and Barber beat Idaho high school teammates Carson Barry and Sam Tidd, 5 and 4, and Brooke and Dull topped former Seattle University teammates Kyle Cornett and Patrick Sato, 4 and 3.
Watch: Pumped up Beef deadlifts 485 lbs.
Andrew "Beef" Johnston has been playing some solid golf on the European Tour this season, and he is clearly pumped up for one of the biggest weeks of the year at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
Judging from the video below, Beef will have no problems lifting the trophy on Sunday as he reportedly deadlifted 220 kg ... (Googles kilogram to pounds converter, enters numbers) ... that's 485 lbs!
Arizona captures NCAA DI Women's Championship
STILLWATER, Okla. – Turns out this match-play format provides fireworks. Almost always.
In the four years since the women’s NCAA Championship has switched from the stale, 72-hole stroke-play format the championship matches have been pure magic.
This year, for the third time in the past four years, the final outcome came down to the last match and Arizona took home its third title with a 3-2 victory over Alabama on Wednesday when junior Haley Moore defeated senior Lakareber Abe on the 19th hole.
The Wildcats also won NCAA titles in 1996 and 2000, the latter when current Arizona coach Laura Ianello was on the team as a player.
“Arizona is my home, it is where I went to school and [the championship] needs to be back home,” Ianello said. “So I am so proud to be the coach to bring it back.”
Two days ago, Arizona was in the midst of an epic collapse. The Wildcats were safely in the third position after 54 holes of stroke play and needed only to be inside the top eight after 72 holes to advance to the match-play portion of the event.
But they played the worst round of the day and were on the outside looking in with one hole remaining when junior Bianca Pagdanganan made eagle on the par-5 18th hole. That propelled the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor that they ultimately won.
On the first day of match play, Arizona continued to ride the wave of momentum by defeating Pac-12 rivals UCLA, the top seed, and Stanford, a match-play stalwart the past three years.
Next up for Arizona was Alabama, the top-ranked team in the country and the second seed this week after stroke play.
“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a hell of a ride,” Ianello said, attempting to take pressure off her team, which, on paper, looked like an underdog.
But you know the saying, anything can happen in match play, and often does.
Alabama coach Mic Potter put out his three first-team All-Americans in the first three spots hoping to jump out to an early lead. Junior Lauren Stephenson played poorly in the opening match and lost, 4 and 3, to freshman Yu-Sang Hou.
Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight dispatched Wildcats Gigi Stoll and Pagdanganan easily in the second and third matches.
Arizona’s Sandra Nordaas beat Angelica Moresco, 1 up, in the fourth match meaning the fifth and final match, which was all square after 16 holes, was going to decide the NCAA title.
Lakareber lost the 17th hole when her approach shot sailed well short and right of the green in thick, gnarly rough. She attempted to advance the ball but could not and headed to the final hole 1 down.
With seemingly every golf fan in Stillwater on site, including several men’s teams here to participate in next week’s championship, Abe hit a laser second shot into the par-5 18th hole setting up a 12-foot look for eagle. Moore missed her birdie putt and Abe won the hole to set up extra holes to decide the championship.
In the extra frame, Moore was left of the green in two shots and Abe was short in the greenside bunker. Moore chipped to 4 feet and Abe’s bunker shot was 6 feet away. Abe missed, Moore made and Arizona walked away with the hardware.
“It means so much, it’s actually like a dream,” Moore said. “I’m just so happy for my team right now.”
Potter has been a head coach for 35 years – at both Furman and Alabama – and finally was able to collect his first NCAA Championship in 2012. Being so close to a second one will sting for quite a while but he will be able to live with the outcome for one simple reason.
“They fought their hearts out all year,” Potter said. “I just want to congratulate them for the way they battled, not only today, but in match play. Everyone gave their best on every shot - that’s all we can ask.”
Arizona def. Alabama, 3-2
Yu-Sang Hou (AZ) def. Lauren Stephenson (AL), 4 and 3
Kristen Gillman (AL) def. Gigi Stoll (AZ), 4 and 3
Cheyenne Knight (AL) def. Bianca Pagdanganan, 4 and 2
Sandra Nordaas (AZ) def. Angelica Moresco (AL), 1 up
Haley Moore (AZ) def. Lakareber Abe (AL), 19th hole
Elway to play in U.S. Senior Open qualifier
Tony Romo is not the only ex-QB teeing it up against the pros.
Denver Broncos general manager and Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway will try to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open next week, according to the Denver Post.
And why not? The qualifier and the senior major will be held in Colorado Springs at the Broadmoor. Elway is scheduled to tee off May 28 at 12:10 p.m. ET. The top two finishers will earn a spot in the U.S. Senior Open, June 27 to July 1.