Stat attack!: WGC-HSBC Champions preview

By John AntoniniNovember 4, 2014, 7:33 pm

With the WGC-HSBC Champions event taking place in China this week, there’s no better time to take a look the best traveling golfer on the pro tour. More then 20 countries are represented in the field at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, and although Americans have won five of the last seven WGC events, it’s an international star and an international tour that takes center stage this week. 

This is the fifth event of the 2014-15 PGA Tour season. More importantly it is the second event in the Final Series on the European Tour, as that circuit counts down toward its 2013-14 season finale in Dubai later this month. Eleven of the 12 players on Europe’s Ryder Cup team are present in China – all except Rory McIlroy, who’s taking time off to prepare for a lawsuit against his former management company – but one player is worth eyeing more than any other. Sergio Garcia (shown), now third on the Official World Golf Ranking, just might be the world’s best traveling golfer.

Garcia has four runner-up finishes in his last eight PGA Tour starts, and all have come in different parts of the world – Connecticut, England, Ohio* and Malaysia. In the last 12 months he has played in 10 different countries, with wins in Thailand and Qatar and runner-ups in four. For his career, he has five official victories in Asia, one less than Australian Adam Scott as the best total among players in this week’s field. (*-Granted Connecticut and Ohio aren’t that far apart, but try telling someone from New England that his climate is the same as that of the Great Lakes region.)

Sergio Garcia travels in the last 12 months (since the 2013 HSBC Champions)

 Country Events Best finish
 United States 13 2 WGC-Bridgestone, T-2 Travelers
 England 2 T-2 British Open
 China 1 4 WGC-HSBC Champions
 South Africa 1 T-2 Nedbank
 Thailand 1 Won Thailand Golf Championship
 Abu Dhabi 1 T-19 Abu Dhabi Championship
 Qatar 1 Won Commercialbank Qatar Masters
 Spain 1 T-38 Spanish Open
 Germany 1 T-12 BMW International Open
 Malaysia 1 T-2 CIMB Classic

Career wins in Asia for the top players in the WGC-HSBC Champions field

 Player World
2 6 2002 Qatar Masters, 2005 Johnnie Walker Classic (China), 2005 Singapore Open, 2006 Singapore Open, 2008 Qatar Masters, 2010 Singapore Open 
3 5 2002 Korean Open, 2008 HSBC Champions (China), 2012 Iskandar Johor Open (Malaysia), 2013 Thailand Golf Championship, 2014 Qatar Masters
5 2 2006 Qatar Masters, 2007 Dubai Desert Classic
6 1 2002 Chunichi Crowns (Japan)
12 0  
13 4 2008 Abu Dhabi, 2010 Abu Dhabi, 2011 Abu Dhabi, 2011 HSBC Champions (China)
14 0  
17 1 2008 Ballantine’s Championship (South Korea)

Missing from the résumé

As good as Garcia has played around the world, there are a few things missing from his record. The 34-year-old Spaniard notably has not won a major championship, and because his HSBC Champions win came before the tournament came under the World Golf Championships umbrella, he also does not have a WGC victory. He’s one of two players in the world’s top 10 who have not won either type of championship.

Highest-ranked players without a major or a WGC victory

 Player World rank Best major Best WGC
 Sergio Garcia 3 2, four times 2, 2014 Bridgestone
 Rickie Fowler 10 2, two times T-2, 2011 Bridgestone
 Billy Horschel 12 T-4, 2013 U.S. T-17, 2014 Match Play
 Jordan Spieth 14 2, 2014 Masters T-5, 2014 Match Play
 Jimmy Walker 18 T-7, 2014 PGA T-17, 2014 Match Play
 Victor Dubuisson 19 T-7, 2014 PGA T-2, 2014 Match Play

International accounting

Garcia’s runner-up finish at the CIMB Classic pushed him past the $33 million mark in PGA Tour earnings for his career. He’s ninth on the Tour's the all-time money list, and he has made more money than any other European-born player. He’s the third-ranked international player, trailing Vijay Singh and Ernie Els.

Most PGA Tour earnings by an international player

 Player Rank Career earnings
 Vijay Singh  3 $68,591,424
 Ernie Els 5 47,744,740
 Sergio Garcia 9 38,295,986
 Adam Scott 10 37,297,653
 Luke Donald 14 32,242,519
 K.J. Choi 17 30,039,243
 Justin Rose 18 29,204,533
 Retief Goosen 19 28,976,691
 Stuart Appleby 20 28,844,685

Watch out for Poulter

Garcia has played the HSBC four times, making a return to the tournament with a fourth-place finish in 2013 after an absence of four years. He is one of just three past champions in this week’s field - with Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer – as Dustin Johnson, last year’s winner, is still on a leave of absence from professional golf. Two-time winner Phil Mickelson chose not to play, and as of Tuesday afternoon, 2010 champ Francesco Molinari was still on the alternate list. 

Poulter represents Garcia’s greatest challenge. The Englishman won in 2012 and was runner-up in 2013, having posted identical 21-under scores each year. He’s the only player to score 20-under or less two times in the HSBC Champions event.

Poulter is one of seven players who have won multiple WGC events. Tiger Woods (18) and Geoff Ogilvy (3) are the only players with more WGC titles than Poulter, who is tied with Darren Clarke, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Hunter Mahan at two wins. 

Poulter has seven top-five finishes in WGC events, one fewer than Garcia. Tiger Woods is the only player with more than 10 top-five finishes, his 25 easily outdistances runner-up Ernie Els, who has nine.

Lowest 72-hole scores in the HSBC Champions: 2005-2013

 Total Year Player Scores Finish
 -24 2013 Dustin Johnson 69-63-66-66—264 Won
 -21 2013 Ian Poulter 71-67-63-66—267 2
 -21 2012 Ian Poulter 69-68-65-65—267 Won
 -20 2013 Graeme McDowell 69-69-64-66—268 3
 -20 2011 Martin Kaymer 69-68-68-63—268 Won
 -20 2005 David Howell 65-67-68-68—268 Won

The most top-five finishes in World Golf Championships history

 Player Top-fives Wins
 Tiger Woods 25 18
 Ernie Els 9 2
 Phil Mickelson 8 2
 Rory McIlroy 8 1
 Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia 8 0
 Ian Poulter 7 2
 Justin Rose, Stewart Cink, Vijay Singh 7 1
 Retief Goosen 7 0

One final thought: Scott and Watson are among those players making their season debuts this week. Scott has had better luck in his career in season openers than Watson. Although neither player has ever won his first PGA Tour start of the season, Scott does have six top-10 finishes with a runner-up at the 2007 Tournament of Champions. Watson has only finished in the top 10 of his season debut two times in his career.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

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.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

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.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”

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Rory looking for that carefree inner-child

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eleven years later, Rory McIlroy cringes at the photo: the yellow sweater with the deep V-neck, the chubby cheeks and the messy mop that curled under his cap.

“You live and you learn,” he said Wednesday, offering a wry smile.

The last time McIlroy played at a Carnoustie Open, in 2007, he earned the Silver Medal as the low amateur. He tied for 42nd, but the final result had mattered little. Grateful just to have a spot in the field, courtesy of his European Amateur title, he bounced along the fairways, soaking up every moment, and lingered behind the 18th green as one of his local heroes, Padraig Harrington, battled one of his favorite players, Sergio Garcia. Waiting for the trophy presentation, he passed the time playing with Padraig’s young son, Paddy. On Wednesday, McIlroy spotted Paddy, now 15, walking around Carnoustie with his three-time-major-winning father.

“He’s massive now – he towers over me,” he said. “It’s so funny thinking back on that day.”

But it’s also instructive. If there’s a lesson to be learned from ’07, it’s how carefree McIlroy approached and played that week. He was reminded again of that untroubled attitude while playing a practice round here with 23-year-old Jon Rahm, who stepped onto each tee, unsheathed his driver and bombed away with little regard for the wind or the bounce or the fescue. McIlroy smiled, because he remembers a time, not too long ago, that he’d attack a course with similar reckless abandon.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I just think, as you get older, you get a little more cautious in life,” said McIlroy, 29. “I think it’s only natural. There’s something nice about being young and being oblivious to some stuff. The more I can get into that mindset, the better I’ll play golf.”

And so on the eve of this Open, as he approaches the four-year anniversary of his last major title, McIlroy finds himself searching for a way to channel that happy-go-lucky 18-year-old who was about to take the world by storm, to tap into the easygoing excellence that once defined his dominance.

It’s been a year since he first hinted at what he’s been missing. Last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale was the final event of his long run with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. The chief reason for the split, he said, had nothing to do with some of the questionable on-course decisions, but rather a desire to take ownership of him game, to be freed up alongside one of his best friends, Harry Diamond.

That partnership has produced only one victory so far, and over the past few months, McIlroy has at times looked unsettled between the ropes. It’s difficult to compute, how someone with seemingly so much – a résumé with four majors, a robust bank account, a beautiful wife – can also appear disinterested and unmotivated.

“I think sometimes I need to get back to that attitude where I play carefree and just happy to be here,” he said. “A golf tournament is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I feel like I can 100 percent be myself and express myself. Sometimes the pressure that’s put on the top guys to perform at such a level every week, it starts to weigh on you a little bit. The more I can be like that kid, the better.”

It’s a decidedly different landscape from when the erstwhile Boy Wonder last won a major, in summer 2014. Jordan Spieth had won just a single Tour event, not three majors. Dustin Johnson wasn’t world No. 1 but merely a tantalizing tease, a long-hitting, fast-living physical freak who was just beginning a six-month break to address "personal challenges." Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka hadn’t even started playing in the States.  

McIlroy’s greatest asset, both then and now, was his driving – he put on clinics at Congressional and Kiawah, Hoylake and Valhalla. He was a mainstay at or near the top of the strokes gained: tee to green rankings, but over the past few years, because of better technology, fitness and coaching, the gap between him and the rest of the field has shrunk.

“I think at this stage players have caught up,” Harrington said. “There’s many players who drive the ball comparable and have certainly eaten into that advantage. Rory is well on pace to get into double digits with majors, but it has got harder. There’s no doubt there’s more players out there who are capable of having a big week and a big game for a major. It makes it tough.”

It’s not as though McIlroy hasn’t had opportunities to add to his major haul; they’ve just been less frequent and against stronger competition. In the 13 majors since he last won, he’s either finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in 11 of them. This year, he played in the final group at the Masters, and was on the verge of completing the career Grand Slam, before a soul-crushing 74 on the last day. His U.S. Open bid was over after nine holes, after an opening 80 and a missed cut during which he declined to speak to reporters after both frustrating rounds.

“I’m trying,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying my best every time I tee it up, and it just hasn’t happened.”

A year after saying that majors are the only events that will define the rest of his career, he recently shrugged off the doom and gloom surrounding his Grand Slam drought: “It doesn’t keep me up at night, thinking, If I never won another major, I can’t live with myself.”

Eleven years ago, McIlroy never would have troubled himself with such trivial questions about his legacy. But perhaps a return to Carnoustie, to where his major career started, is just what he needs to unlock his greatness once again.


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Own history, grow the game with Open memorabilia auction

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 1:00 pm

Get a piece of history and help grow the game, that's what The Open is offering with its memorabilia auction.

The official Open Memorabilia site features unique Open assets from famous venues and Champion Golfers of the Year. All net proceeds received by The R&A from this project will be invested to support the game for future generations, including encouraging women’s, junior and family golf, on the promotion and progression of the sport in emerging golf nations and on coaching and development.

Items for auction include limited edition prints of Champion Golfers of the Year, signed championship pin flags and limited edition historical program covers. Memorable scorecard reproductions and caddie bibs are also available to bid for on the website, with all items featuring branded, serialized holograms for authenticity.

Click here to own your piece of history and to get more information on the auction.