Hal Sutton Press Conference - The Players Championship
Q. This is always referred to as the 5th major. Obviously, it's your PLAYERS Championship. Can you just speak to the importance of this event and why winning it is so special?
HAL SUTTON: Well, I think it is on one of the most challenging golf courses that we play on a regular basis. You know, most of the majors move around, except Augusta, to different venues. And I certainly think that it is one of most challenging places that we play. I guess the best field every year. It's one like no other tournament. I think every other tournament could take a lesson from this tournament in the way that they run tournaments. I think the players take a great deal of pride in the fact that it's our tournament. It's just a special place to be. I mean, I don't get the -- everybody talks about they get charged up driving down Magnolia Lane. I get charged up driving down PGA TOUR Headquarters and knowing that we are embarking on a TPC week.
Q. You mentioned it being a difficult venue. Why? Norman was so low seven years ago, and the last two or three years, this has been one of the highest scoring averages of the season. Why?
HAL SUTTON: I think this course is no different than any other course. If you get calm conditions and the golf course is in perfect shape, you're going to be able to shoot some low scores. But if the golf course gets firm and fast, it gets pretty tough. You all could see last year when it landed on 17, could hit a pretty good shot and still be in the water, you know. This golf course really plays tough when it gets that way. Nobody's heart stops beating fast. I don't mind telling you, you get to 17, you don't know what you're going to finish until you get through 17. 18 is the same way. You get scared of 18 and play away from it, you might miss in the water on the tee shot, but if you try to go to the green, the water is going to play on the second shot way over to the right. I think the last two holes here are unbelievable holes. In fact, I think there are no other holes in golf like the last two holes. I think it sets itself apart completely in that regard.
Q. May I ask you a two-part question, please. First of all do you come here with a different philosophy as defending champion, and how are you playing, striking the ball and putting?
HAL SUTTON: I don't change my -- the way I want to approach the game this week just because I am a defending champion. You know, somebody is going to win this golf tournament; it's going to be the guy that hits it in the fairway the most and hits it on the green and makes the most putts. That's going to be my strategy going into the week. The last two tournaments I played, I played a lot better than I had been playing. I played good on the West Coast, I just didn't make any putts. You know, there's a lot of excuses for why: Where we play a lot of golf tournaments, where we play multiple golf courses and different sets of greens every day, and I don't mind telling you all seaside poa annua is not my favorite. It's like putting on a gravel pit. So, you know, I was happy to get to Florida where we are playing one set of greens each week, and they were pretty nice, by comparison.
Q. And are you putting well coming here now, do you feel?
HAL SUTTON: Yeah, I feel like I'm putting the ball well.
Q. All of the rain that we had on Monday, is that going to have an effect on Thursday? Is it drying out?
HAL SUTTON: Well, you know, days like yesterday and today I'm sure will dry it out a great deal, but I think we are still going to have pretty soft conditions. I think the conditions will be softer than they were last year.
Q. And what will that do to the playability of the course?
HAL SUTTON: Could do a couple of things. One thing, it's going to make it play longer than it did last year. But No. 2, you are probably going to hit some precise iron shots because the greens are going to hold really nicely. So, I mean, if the wind doesn't blow, we are going to be in a scoring situation, where the scores might go lower.
Q. Thomas Bjorn was talking a little bit yesterday about those intimidation -- the intimidation issue with Woods and whatnot. You came in here around 365 days ago and talked about that and went out and beat him straight up. What are your thoughts on that? Do you agree with some of the things he said? Is there less of a, I guess, mental fear factor, if that's the right way of putting it, than there was a year ago?
HAL SUTTON: Do I agree with some of the things that Thomas said? I didn't see what he said, basically. Are you talking about a couple of weeks ago what he said?
Q. At Dubai where he said the intimidation is gone; he needs to learn how to lose was the gist of it.
HAL SUTTON: Well, Tiger doesn't need to learn how to do a lot of things. I hate to -- I always sound like I'm defending Tiger, and I'm going to step out on a limb here and say a few things. You know -- I have to be careful how I say this. Tiger raised the bar by winning nine tournaments. He raised a bar that he probably can't even reproduce. But the problem is that that's where y'all's expectations lie. I mean, let's be real. Let's talk about what's possible and what's not possible, you know. I see Tiger being frustrated right now because people are saying that he's 'not doing this and Tiger's not doing that.' Tiger is not playing that bad. He's trying to defend himself, yet he's being backed into a corner, and I see frustration coming out in Tiger. I see all of that because I've been there, not nearly to the degree that Tiger has had. But be careful how you all handle this, because you might make him hate the game before it's over with. And we need Tiger in the game. I'm being nice about this, but the truth is he's in a frustrating spot because if he does not fulfill your expectations, then it's tough to write good things. He's failing you, in other words. So, you all be careful with that.
Q. Ask you about another player, Vijay has played pretty good this year, has not won, but he's coming off of some good tournaments in this Florida swing. He won twice in Asia, and this is an event that since he practices so much out here, that a lot of people have expected him to do a little better and actually win. Do you think that he might be on the verge of breaking through here?
HAL SUTTON: Vijay is on the verge of breaking through every week, you know. Vijay is a great player. He's always playing well, and he's capable of winning any time that he tees it up. So, you know I'm sure that he will definitely be a force this week, especially with it playing a little bit longer. I mean, Vijay hits it a long ways. Vijay is a very comparable player. Certainly capable of winning here.
Q. And can you comment about the -- I don't know how often you have played with him in past years, but last year was an abnormal year for him in putting. He was 99 or 100, and now he's in the top 5 on TOUR in putting. Do you think that was the last piece of the puzzle for him to be really consistent was to improve his putting the way he has?
HAL SUTTON: Vijay?
HAL SUTTON: I didn't know he was in the top 5 in putting. I'm like anybody else. You know, when I go home, I watch the telecast sometimes, and everybody talks about how he is not a very good putter, and he's in the top 5? That just goes to show you how misleading some things you read and hear are. (Laughs). Good for Vijay. That's great. I'm glad. Certainly if he's in the top 5 of putting, he's making a lot of putts, and that makes him even more of a favorite.
Q. In this era of let's say the disposable caddy, you and Freddie have obviously been together a long, long time. How would you describe your relationship? And also, there was some information last year that you guys were not together anymore, and obviously that was not right. What happened there, if you can just go over it?
HAL SUTTON: Freddie has been with me for a long time, but it's been off and on. I've used other caddies in the 22 years or whatever it has been. Last year for three tournaments, I used somebody else. Freddie had a couple of things that he needed to take care of at home, and I felt like I wanted to try something different there for a few weeks, just to put some spice in the game, I guess. But he's back on the bag and everything is okay.
Q. You talked about making sure that we don't write, or perhaps back Tiger in a corner to where he starts to not like the game of golf, and you can speak to some of the experiences of expectations on you. Did you get to a point where you didn't like the game of golf very much?
HAL SUTTON: I did. I did, because I found myself forgetting my own expectations and what I wanted, and trying to buy into what was written, you know. You know, Tiger did something nobody else has done in modern times. He won nine tournaments in one year. You know, I had a conversation with a writer -- I don't mention any names or anything else -- where he said if he wins the Masters and four other tournaments, everything will be okay. I said, 'Listen to what you just said. Listen to what you just said. How many people do that?' 'Oh, but we are talking about Tiger.' But we are talking about a human being. We are talking about the same game that's been played for one hundred years. Let's be realistic and honest about this. That in itself is a major feat. That might not be -- you know, he might have a great year and not do that, too. I mean, depends on who you are comparing him to when you talk about great years. His last year, a realistic comparison; I don't think it is. I mean, I said last year that I felt like this was going to be a pivotal year, because I felt like, that Tiger had raised the bar so high that not even himself could live up to those expectations and the challenge of him trying to do it and meet everybody else's expectations, because that's what they expect out of him then will be insurmountable. I only say this because I like Tiger and I think Tiger is great for the game and I see frustration on his face.
Q. Just to follow up about your feelings about not liking the game for a while, how much do you enjoy the game now?
HAL SUTTON: I enjoy the game a lot now. Sometimes when you've had a lot of struggles in what you do, you appreciate being able to get back a lot more than you would have. I just feel like I had a taste of it at one point and lost it and didn't know if I would ever get it back. And to be able to play at a level that when you go out there, you feel like you've earned everybody's respect and they look at you as a worthy competitor, that's exciting, to be able to get back to that point.
Q. This is a Ryder Cup year, obviously. How much would you like to some day coach and be the captain of the Ryder Cup team?
HAL SUTTON: I would like to do that. I think that is a real compliment to one's career to be asked to do that. More importantly, I would like to play on this next one. It's exciting to be part of the Ryder Cup, no matter what capacity you are a part of it. It's exciting to be there, to see it, to feel the tension and the, you know, it's one of those places where you really have to embrace your fears, you know, and you are forced to do it. So I think that's fun. That's exciting.
Q. I've known you since your amateur days, so forgive me for this, okay. But since your resurgence and the Ryder Cup and various things like this -- or shall I say so-called resurgence, I don't think you ever went away. But anyway, I listened to some of the questions that are asked of you and the way you are answering things, and I get the feel that people are putting you in the role of like the elder statesman of golf, and you still have got a whole heck of a lot to play here. Are you enjoying this role and the way that people are approaching you now, please?
HAL SUTTON: I feel like the older statesman when we had our meeting in here last night. I looked around to see if there were many people that were much older than me, and there wasn't. They talked if you play out here after 17 years and talked about our retirement plan, and I looked around to see how many of us were around here 17 years and there were not many of us. So the reality is, it is tough to make a career of 17 years on the PGA TOUR. I think we have got the greatest game in the world. I think we have got some great leaders in the PGA TOUR. I'm just really happy to be able to still be part of what's going on, on the PGA TOUR. I think, you know, in a time when every other sport is spiraling in a downward motion, the PGA TOUR is taking off, sprouting its wings and really taking off, and I think the world is embracing golf right now like it never has. And to be part of it is exciting.
Q. How would you like the opportunity to actually sit down with Tiger and talk about the problems of handling other people's expectations, or are you at the end of the day a fellow competitor hoping to take advantage of his frustration?
HAL SUTTON: No. I don't want to take advantage of anybody's frustrations like that. I want Tiger to be able to be the best that he can be. That's going to drive the game. If I want to take advantage of Tiger's frustrations, I would not even say that publicly where he might read it in the paper, you know. I mean, I feel for Tiger in that regard. I see him when he hits a bad shot right now because he has not won a golf tournament. I watched this last weekend; I didn't play, you know. I was curious as to what would happen, just like you all were. I could see that when he hit the ball in the water on 16 on Saturday, I saw frustration in his face, it's like, 'Dag'gum it, it's slipping away from me a little bit.' Well, that's not the way that Tiger did the things that he did. He didn't panic over things. When you panic over things like that, it's because you're not -- you have forgotten about your own expectations and the job at hand. You are worried about what everybody else is putting on you. The minute he walks off the golf course, Jimmy Roberts comes up to him and he's talking to him about why he has not won. That's all everybody talks about. I mean, the truth is that I played out here 20 years, and I won 13 times. I mean, you don't win a lot. The people that win the most don't win a lot. They lose a lot more than they win. I mean, I just, you know -- I don't know why I take the trouble to even explain that. (Laughter.) Truth of the matter is that, you know -- and this is by no means a slam -- we understand golf as players a whole lot better than y'all understand it as writers and reporters. So when we say something like that, it's not that we are trying to slam the fact that you don't understand it. We're trying to give you some wisdom because we do understand it, you know.
Q. You talk a lot about expectations so far of making the Ryder Cup team. What are your expectations for the year, other than hopefully qualifying for The Belfry?
HAL SUTTON: I always want to win. That's why we tee it up every time. I mean, you know my frustrations are at whatever point in a tournament you realize it's probably not going to be possible for you to win the tournament. Then you go into the mode of cutting your losses, you know, and trying to have a high finish. But winning is the name of the game out here. That's what we are all trying to do.
Q. Following up, it's almost become -- you still talk about Tiger raising the bar. It's almost come to the point now where you have to have a multiple-win season for it to be looked at as a successful winning season. Is that our fault or is that how the players look at it?
HAL SUTTON: It's not the media's fault at all. I think it's just how good the players are out here right now. I marvel at how good players are now. I mean, you know, we talk about this before. Players are more athletic than they ever have been. They are in better shape, more fit. You know, they do all of the things that enhance their playing ability. They don't drink. They don't smoke. They don't do a lot of the things -- they think golf, eat golf, breathe golf. They just do the right things to be better players, and that equates into lower scores on the golf course and that equates into more multiple winners. That's what makes the PGA TOUR exciting right now.
Q. Can you comment a little bit on the ShotLink? And also, how do you think some of the issues between the caddies and players and the TOUR will wind up being resolved?
HAL SUTTON: I don't know. I really don't know. I've made a few statements lately that got bent out of shape about that, and the truth of the matter is -- and I'm going to reiterate this fact, is that the whole world is headed to the Internet. The PGA TOUR is trying to get on the Internet and build a platform that there's a lot of things that can spring off of it, and ShotLink is that platform. I will reiterate this; that the PGA TOUR has never paid anybody. We have no precedence where we have paid anybody for anything other than performance. I think that's the way it needs to stay.
Q. From the players' meeting, I don't know if it was discussed or not, do you see them having some kind of agreement in place this season or any time in the near future?
HAL SUTTON: Who are you talking about? The caddies and the TOUR? Caddies don't work for the Tour. The caddies work for the individual player. The agreement will fall between Freddie and I, not Freddie and the PGA TOUR. Freddie works for me, not the Tour. That's one of the things that I don't want to see happen. I don't want our caddies to go work for the PGA TOUR. I want them to remain my employee and have no other allegiance at all. This is one of the things that bothers me a little bit. Freddie's allegiance is going to be to me, because the Tour is not going to pay him near as much as I can pay him. But that's not always the case with guys if we are going to pay them 75 dollars a day. I think that the process is set up in the most effective way right now. The Tour doesn't get into paying people. I mean, if you believe in the Ronald Reagan trickle-down effect -- I'm going to go through this one more time. If you believe in that and we have -- we have a better product because of ShotLink, and we sell our product for more money and that goes into the prize money, we're all eating from the same piece of pie. If we make that pie go from this size to this size (indicating larger) we have a better chance of having more of it, don't we? And all of the caddies work on commission, so they get more, too.
Q. In that role that we talked about, you being an elder statesman, you had a chance to be in contention in tournaments with Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Given the changes in equipment and agronomy and things like that, would great players of any era be great if they were magically transported to another time? Would Jack and Arnie and Ben Hogan be great now or would Tiger be great with Persimmon 40 years ago?
HAL SUTTON: That's a great question. Truth is that yes, they would, because what makes a great player is what's inside, his will to win, his heart. Jack Nicklaus would be a great player today against the great players of today if he had the same equipment and the youth that you are talking about. Yes, he would be. And yes, Arnold Palmer would be; and yes, Tiger would have been then, too. We are not comparing apples to apples here. We are trying to put it in an apples-to-apples situation here. All of the guys you mentioned here, they have heart, and they have the will to win. You know, we could look back in time at some of the -- you know, Jack Nicklaus only had one little slump in his career, and it was only a small one, but the truth was that he was frustrated when he was there. He was trying to do everything that he could to get out of it, and that's what made him the champion that he was. He was not complacent about mediocrity. He wanted to be the best that he could be. That's where all great players are at.
Full Coverage of the Players Championship
McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status
For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.
The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.
McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.
"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."
By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.
But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.
Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.
Vogel Monday qualifies for eighth time this season
The PGA Tour's regular season ended with another tally for the Monday King.
While Monday qualifiers are a notoriously difficult puzzle to solve, with dozens of decorated professionals vying for no more than four spots in a given tournament field, T.J. Vogel has turned them into his personal playground this season. That trend continued this week when he earned a spot into the season-ending Wyndham Championship, shooting a 5-under 66 and surviving a 4-for-3 playoff for the final spots.
It marks Vogel's eighth successful Monday qualification this season, extending the unofficial record he set when he earned start No. 7 last month at The Greenbrier. Patrick Reed earned the nickname "Mr. Monday" when he successfully qualified six different times during the 2012 season before securing full-time status.
There have been 24 different Monday qualifiers throughout the season, with Vogel impressively turning 19 qualifier starts into eight tournament appearances.
Vogel started the year with only conditional Web.com Tour status, and explained at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May that he devised his summer schedule based on his belief that it's easier to Monday qualify for a PGA Tour event than a Web.com tournament.
"The courses that the PGA Tour sets the qualifiers up, they're more difficult and sometimes they're not a full field whereas the Web, since there's no pre-qualifier, you have two full fields for six spots each and the courses aren't as tough," Vogel said. "So I feel like if you take a look at the numbers, a lot of the Web qualifiers you have to shoot 8-under."
Vogel has made three cuts in his previous seven starts this year, topping out with a T-16 finish at the Valspar Championship in March. The 27-year-old also played the weekend at the Nelson and the Wells Fargo Championship, missing the cut at The Greenbrier in addition to the RSM Classic, Honda Classic and FedEx St. Jude Classic.
While Vogel won't have another Monday qualifier opportunity until October, he has a chance to secure some 2019 status this week in Greensboro. His 51 non-member FedExCup points would currently slot him 205th in the season-long race, 13 points behind Rod Pampling at No. 200. If Vogel earns enough points to reach the equivalent of No. 200 after this week, he'd clinch a spot in the upcoming Web.com Tour Finals where he would have a chance to compete for a full PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season.
Woods adds BMW Championship to playoff schedule
Tiger Woods is adding a trip to Philadelphia to his growing playoff itinerary.
Having already committed to both The Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies Championship, Woods' agent confirmed to GolfChannel.com that the 14-time major champ will also make an appearance next month at the BMW Championship. It will mark Woods' first start in the third leg of the FedExCup playoffs since 2013 when he tied for 11th at Conway Farms Golf Club outside of Chicago.
This year the Sept. 6-9 event is shifting to Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., which is hosting the BMW for the first time. The course previously hosted the Quicken Loans National in both 2010 and 2011. Woods won the BMW en route to FedExCup titles in both 2007 and 2009 when it was held at Cog Hill in Illinois.
Woods was already in good position to make the 70-man BMW field, but his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship vaulted him from 49th to 20th in the season-long points race and assured that he'll make it to Aronimink regardless of his performance in the first two postseason events.
Woods' commitment also means a packed schedule will only get busier leading into the Ryder Cup, where he is expected to be added as a captain's pick. Woods' appearance at the BMW will cap a run of five events in six weeks, and should he tee it up in Paris it could be his seventh start in a nine-week stretch if he also qualifies for the 30-player Tour Championship.
Handing out major grades: From A+ to F
The Masters is 237 days away, which means these definitive major grades will hang on players like a scarlet letter for nearly eight months.
OK, maybe not.
Brooks Koepka, obviously, gets an A+. He won two majors, and became just the fourth player to take the U.S. Open and PGA in the same season, and did all of this while overcoming a career-threatening wrist injury at the beginning of the year. Very impressive.
Patrick Reed and Francesco Molinari – you passed with flying colors, too. Reed showed that he can access his best stuff in an event other than the Ryder Cup, while Molinari’s three-month heater culminated with him surviving a wild final day at Carnoustie to hoist the claret jug. Welcome to the major club, gents.
As for everybody else? Hey, you’ve now got plenty of time to recover, reassess and round into form in hopes of improved marks in ’19.
Why: Sure, a few shots from his major season will linger for years – his too-cute pitch shot on Carnoustie’s 11th hole and his sliced drive on Bellerive’s 17th immediately come to mind – but let’s not forget how far we’ve come: Two years ago, Woods could barely walk because of debilitating back pain; at this time last year, he’d just exited a treatment facility for overusing his pain/sleep medications, following an embarrassing DUI arrest. Now, he’s top 30 in the world, with a pair of top-6s in the majors and undoubtedly the most stirring final round of the year, in any event, with his career-best Sunday 64 at the PGA. If you still think that Tiger doesn’t have what it takes to win another major, you’ve lost touch with reality.
Why: He was one of only two players (Webb Simpson) who finished top 20 in all four majors, and he’ll probably look back at 2018 as a year in which he easily could have bagged a second title. At the U.S. Open he was only one shot off the lead after 54 holes but stumbled on the final day. A month later, he tied for second at The Open, but only after a weekend rally once he made the cut on the number. Across all four majors he had the best cumulative score to par of any player (12 under). This was a what-could-have-been year.
Why: His 65-67 finish at the Masters left him one shot back of Reed, but it felt like the final obstacle had been cleared. Nothing was stopping Fowler now – he proved he could go low when it counted. Except then he imploded with an 84 in the third round of the U.S. Open and shot over par in both weekend rounds at The Open, before again getting into the mix at the PGA. Alas, battling an oblique strain, he regressed each round after an opening 65 and tied for 12th. Maybe next year …
Why: Give him credit: He played better in the majors than he did the rest of the season. He shot an electric 64 on the final day at the Masters (though he’ll rue his tee shot on the 72nd hole) and grabbed a share of the 54-hole lead at The Open, despite not having his best stuff. That he shot a birdieless 76 on the final day was more a product of his form this year than succumbing to major pressure. Like Kopeka, he’s figured out how to perform when the lights are the brightest.
Why: With the completeness of his game, it’s a little surprising that he hasn’t given himself better chances to break through. But he’s still only 23, and the chances will come in bunches before long. His fourth-place showings at the Masters and the PGA are steps in the right direction.
Why: Asked Sunday how he’ll remember the major season, McIlroy replied bluntly: “Probably won’t. I don’t think there was anything all that memorable about it.” Of course, we’ll remember plenty, such as when he played his way into the final group at Augusta, only to fade over the course of the day, thus squandering another shot at capturing the career Grand Slam. And we’ll remember his tie for second at Carnoustie, where he eagled the 14th hole but then, with a chance to apply pressure on Molinari, couldn’t hit a wedge within 20 feet on the 18th green. He’s fallen into bad habits with that majestic swing, but there are holes in McIlroy’s game that need filling – holes that some of the other top players don’t have. And until he refines his wedge play and putting, that majorless drought (now four years and counting) will continue.
Why: No one has been better than Thomas over the past two seasons, but he’s likely frustrated by his major performance in 2018 – three top-25s, but only one realistic chance to win. Four shots off the lead heading into Sunday at the PGA, he had erased his deficit midway through the front nine but made critical mistakes on Nos. 14 and 16 to dash his hopes of defending his title. Of all the big-name players, he’s probably the best bet for a major rebound in 2019.
Why: This has been a resurgent season for Day, with a pair of wins, but he didn’t bring it in the year’s biggest events. It’ll look good on paper, with three top-20s, but the only time he had a chance to win was the PGA, and he was one of the few to back up on the final day, carding a 1-over 71 when he sat just four shots off the lead.
Why: The floodgates were supposed to open after the 2016 U.S. Open, and it just hasn’t happened. Yet. He top-tenned at the Masters but was a non-factor, then jumped out to a four-shot lead halfway through the U.S. Open. He couldn’t make a putt during a Saturday 77, then got worked on the final day, head to head, against Koepka. He backed it up with a missed cut at The Open (where he blamed a lack of focus) and finished outside the top 25 at the PGA at a soft, straightforward course that suited plenty of other bombers. He can – and should – fare better.
Why: His series of lowlights at the U.S. Open – where he bizarrely whacked a moving ball on the green and then staunchly defended his actions – underscored that his window is all but closed at the majors. His major results since getting demoralized by Henrik Stenson at the 2016 Open: T33-T22-MC-MC-T36-T48-T24-MC. ’Nuff said.
Why: No doubt, marriage and fatherhood are massive adjustments for everyone, but he’s missed the cut in his last five majors (and didn’t break par in any major round this year), plummeted down the world rankings (to 25th!) and put European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn in a difficult position of deciding whether to burn a pick on the slumping Spaniard. Memories of that breakthrough Masters victory are already drifting further and further away.