Stat attack!: PGA Championship preview

By John AntoniniAugust 5, 2014, 3:24 pm

If the number of quality players in top form coming into the PGA Championship is an indication of how the year’s final Grand Slam event will play out, get ready for one of the best majors in quite some time. Then again, for sheer dramatics, any close competition would make the PGA a more compelling event than the U.S. or British Opens, which were won in routs by Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy, respectively. Seven golfers, led by McIlroy (above) who won both events, finished in the top 10 in both the British and last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Four of them have already won majors, and only Marc Leishman would not be someone you’d ordinarily consider a major contender.

Players with top 10s in the British Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

 Player British Bridgestone 2013 PGA
 Rory McIlroy Won Won T-8
 Sergio Garcia T-2 2 T-61
 Rickie Fowler T-2 T-8 T-19
 Marc Leishman T-5 3 T-12
 Adam Scott T-5 T-8 T-5
 Charl Schwartzel T-7 T-4 MC
 Graeme McDowell T-9 T-8 T-12

Notice that five of the seven were top-20 finishers in the 2013 PGA at Oak Hill, including Leishman, who you shouldn’t sleep on this week. The Aussie is having an outstanding year. Without a top-10 rank in any major statistic, the 30-year-old is 14th on Tour in scoring average and eighth in all-around rank. He has six top-10 finishes this season.

Marc Leishman’s best finishes in 2013-14

 Tourament Finish Note
 Farmers Insurance T-2 Scott Stallings birdied last hole to win
 WGC-Bridgestone 3 Opened with 64, finished three back of McIlroy
 Byron Nelson T-3 Finished four back of Brendon Todd
 Sony Open 5 T-2 after 36 holes, stumbled on weekend
 British Open T-5 Sunday 65 matched day’s best score
 Quicken Loans T-8 36-hole co-leader before 73-74 weekend

Leishman also led the Masters early in the second round with three straight birdies to start the day, but he finished with a 79 Friday that included six bogeys and two doubles to miss the cut. He did not play the U.S. Open, but that’s hardly a prerequisite for a PGA Championship victory. Since 2002, four PGA champions did not play in that year’s U.S. Open. Three of them – Keegan Bradley in 2011, Shaun Micheel in 2003 and Rich Beem in 2002 – did not play in any of the year’s majors prior to winning.

If Leishman is the sleeper, McIlroy is the solid favorite. Having already won the British and the Bridgestone, Rory is looking to join Tiger Woods as the only players to pull off the summer Triple Crown. He could also join Woods and Padraig Harrington as the only players since 1999 to win the British and the PGA in the same year.

Summer slammers: Players who won two of the three big summer events in the same year

 Year Player British Bridgestone PGA
 2014 Rory McIlroy Won Won  TBD
 2008  Padraig Harrington Won T-20 Won
 2007 Tiger Woods T-12 Won Won
 2006 Tiger Woods Won Won Won
 2005 Tiger Woods Won Won T-4
 2000 Tiger Woods Won Won Won
 1999 Tiger Woods T-7 Won Won

Looking at the statistical leaders the previous two times the PGA was held at Valhalla doesn’t really give a clear indication of what to expect this week. When Mark Brooks won in 1996 he didn’t finish in the top 20 in any stat other than putting average, where he was No. 1. In 2000, Tiger Woods didn’t putt all that well, but dominated from tee to green.

Statistics of PGA Championship winners at Valhalla in 1996 and 2000

 Year Winner Distance Accuracy GIR Putting avg.
 2000 Tiger Woods 305.0 (1) 80.4% (T-12) 83.3% (1) 1.70 (29)
 1996 Mark Brooks 283.4 (T-21) 73.2 (T-43) 69.4 (T-30) 1.52 (1)

Brooks and Woods both excelled on the back nine and on the par-5 holes. Tiger led the field in par-5 scoring in 2000 and Brooks was T-12 when he won. Brooks led the field in back-nine scoring in 1996 and Woods was second in 2000. Lo and behold, in 2014 McIlroy is a solid ninth on Tour in par-5 scoring and in back-nine scoring he’s numero uno.

PGA Tour leaders in back-nine scoring average in 2013-14

 Player Back-nine average
 Rory McIlroy 34.57
 Sergio Garcia 34.62
 Jerry Kelly 34.81
 Graeme McDowell 34.94
 Matt Kuchar 35.97

With McIlroy, Fowler, Garcia and the others from our first list playing so well this summer, it’s easy to forget a second tier of contenders that includes Jim Furyk (fourth in the British, second in Canadian Open and T-15 at Akron), Keegan Bradley (three straight top-20 finishes) and Matt Kuchar (fourth in Canada, T-12 at Akron). There will be enough stars at the tops off their games that the likelihood of not seeing Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson at their best shouldn’t be a concern.

Let’s consider the veteran trio. Even if Tiger does play, he probably won’t contend. Els is having a down year, with no top-10 finishes in a stroke-play event on the PGA Tour this year. He too, is likely not a contender. Mickelson, as usual, is a riddle. Lefty doesn’t have a top-10 finish on Tour in any type of event this year, but he has been in the top 20 eight times. Seven times he came within two strokes of finishing in the top 10. With a combined 15 fewer strokes he would have eight top 10s and the talk about his down year would turn into talk about why he’s a PGA favorite. Of note, he did finish T-8 at Valhalla in 1996 and T-9 in 2000.

Phil Mickelson’s top-20 finishes in 2013-14

 Tournament Finish Strokes out of top 10 Finish with two less strokes
 CIMB Classic T-19 4 T-14
 WGC-HSBC Champions 14 2 T-8
 AT&T Pebble T-19 2 T-10
 WGC-Cadillac T-16 2 T-9
 Shell Houston T-12 1 T-6
 Wells Fargo T-11 1 T-6
 FedEx St. Jude T-11 1 T-3
 WGC-Bridgestone T-15 2 T-8

Leishman, McIlroy and Mickelson. Call them your sleeper, your favorite and your enigma. One of them quite possibly will also be the 2014 PGA Champion.

One final thought: Other than Woods in 1999-2000 and 2006-2007 no player has won back-to-back PGA Championships since Denny Shute in the 1930s. That seems to count out reigning champ Jason Dufner. But Nick Price, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan all won two in three years. That’s the kind of company McIlroy, who won in 2012 at Kiawah Island, will keep if he wins this week.

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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

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Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”