Punch Shot: Who is in the current top 5?

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 12, 2014, 12:10 pm

Patrick Reed believes he’s a top-5 player. Or maybe he thinks he can be one. We’re a little confused. But it did get us thinking: Who are the top 5 players in the world – at the moment? We tossed aside the world rankings, focused on the last few months of play, and here are our writers’ current top 5:


1. Patrick Reed. It’s a virtual push to determine the game’s hottest player between Reed and Jimmy Walker, but the nod has to go to Reed, whose second victory of 2014 (last week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship) came against the year’s deepest field. It doesn’t hurt that Reed has not finished outside the top 25 in ’14.

2. Jimmy Walker. A missed cut (Farmers Insurance Open) between his two victories in 2014 (Sony Open and AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am) is his only blemish and he continues to play consistent golf with top-25 showings in his last three starts.

3. Bubba Watson. After a relatively quiet 2013, Watson has rediscovered his form this season. He already has a victory (Northern Trust Open) and two runner-up finishes (WGC-Cadillac Championship and Waste Management Phoenix Open) with Augusta National looming around the corner.

4. Dustin Johnson. Despite a disappointing finish at Doral (T-4), DJ has finished in the top 10 at every stroke-play event this year including runner-up showings at Pebble Beach and the Northern Trust Open.

5. Harris English. He hasn’t missed a cut this year and has been in the hunt at four of his seven events in 2014, including a fourth-place finish at the Sony Open and ninth-place showings in Phoenix and at the Match Play.


1. Dustin Johnson

2. Jason Day

3. Bubba Watson

4. Rory McIlroy

5. Patrick Reed

No one in the game has been better week-in, week-out than DJ, who has finished inside the top 6 in each of his last six stroke-play events on Tour. Not far behind is Day, who has won twice and finished outside the top 25 just once since August. Bubba has two runners-up in his last four starts, while McIlroy has done everything but win so far in 2014. And, yes, rounding out the top 5 is Reed, after recording three wins in his last 14 starts.


Full disclosure: In my initial draft, the ordering was listed as 1. Tiger Woods; 2 (tie). Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott; 4. Phil Mickelson; 5. Sergio Garcia.

Then I was informed that this is supposed to be our opinion of the most torrid players as of late, not the best or most talented. Sorry, fellas. As course designer extraordinaire Donald Trump would say: You’re fired. (And yes, it pained me to even type that sentence.) So, here are the hottest players, in descending order so as not to ruin the surprise:

5. Jimmy Walker. Three wins before the month of March. The Renowned of the Wraparound (catchy, right?) can put things into cruise control and still make the Ryder Cup team.

4. Harris English. Leads the PGA Tour with six top-10s and hasn’t MC’d since August. Bold prediction: He wins again before he misses another cut.

3. Dustin Johnson. He might be a bad-decision first-ballot Hall of Famer. And yet, things seem to work.

2. Bubba Watson. Last four starts: 2-9-Win-2. Nobody ever thought he could win a Masters, but now lots of people think he could win two. Hmmm.

1. Patrick Reed. Top-five? The brash 23-year-old backed it up. Or maybe he actually held back. According to my list, he could have gone all Muhammad Ali on us: “I am the greatest!”


1. Bubba Watson: Those pair of 64s on the weekend to win Northern Trust get your attention. So do the T-2s at the WGC-Cadillac and Waste Management Phoenix Open.

2. Patrick Reed: Two wins already this calendar year, enough said . . . Unless, of course, Patrick wishes to expand on these matters.

3. Jimmy Walker: Two wins this calendar year keep him radiating heat.

4. Dustin Johnson: In four stroke-play starts in PGA Tour events this year, he has finished second twice, fourth once and T-6.

5. Jason Day: In three PGA Tour starts this year, he has a win (Accenture Match Play) and a T-2 (Farmers Insurance Open).


Ranking the best players in the game at any given point in time is a soft science if ever there was one, but my current list would be topped by Rory McIlroy. The former world No. 1 is showing signs of returning to that lofty perch, with near-misses in Abu Dhabi and Palm Beach Gardens serving as recent highlights. When he’s in form, few can keep pace, and McIlroy appears to be finding his game just in time for Augusta.

Next on my list would be two of the game’s biggest bombers: Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson. Bubba gets the nod over DJ because of his win at Riviera last month, but both have spent nearly all of 2014 inside the top 10, and both contended down the stretch at Doral.

Accenture champ Jason Day would follow in fourth, despite the thumb injury that led to his withdrawal last week in Miami. The Aussie also won the World Cup in his homeland late last year, opened his 2014 campaign with a runner-up finish at Torrey Pines and has clearly demonstrated an ability to contend – and win – against even elite fields.

Rounding out my top five is Zach Johnson, who has been firing on all cylinders since last summer. The 37-year-old has hoisted three trophies since September, including a victory at the winners-only stop in Kapalua to start the year – which he followed with two more top-10s. Johnson is among the best in the game from 125 yards and in, and he’s been able to translate that skill into consistently low scores for several months.

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USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.

After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

“When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

“They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”

By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

“I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

“They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”

But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

“To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

“I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”

But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

“It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.

@bubbawatson on Instagram

Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow

By Grill Room TeamJune 18, 2018, 5:40 pm

Bubba Watson missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills following rounds of 77-74, but that didn't stop him from enjoying his weekend.

Watson played alongside Jason Day and eventual champion Brooks Koepka in Rounds 1 and 2, and somehow this body ink slipped by us on Thursday.

Got autographed by defending @usopengolf Champ @bkoepka!! #NeverShoweringAgain

A post shared by Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) on

And while we're sure Bubba would have rather been in contention over the weekend, we're also sure that taking your son to meet the second most famous minor-league baseball player who ever lived was a lot more fun than getting your teeth kicked in by Shinnecock Hills over the weekend, as just about everyone not named Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood did.

Already in Hartford, Watson will be going for his third Travelers Championship trophy this week, following wins in 2010 and 2015.

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Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it

By Nick MentaJune 18, 2018, 3:09 pm

There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.

The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."

Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.

Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).

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Ryder Cup race: Mickelson out, Simpson in

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 2:34 pm

There's a new man at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup race following the U.S. Open, and there's also a familiar name now on the outside looking in.

Brooks Koepka's successful title defense vaulted him to the top of the American points race, up four spots and ensuring he'll be on the team Jim Furyk takes to Paris in September. Dustin Johnson's third-place finish moved him past Patrick Reed at No. 2, while Webb Simpson entered the top eight after a a tie for 10th.

While Bryson DeChambeau remained at No. 9, Phil Mickelson dropped two spots to No. 10. Tony Finau, who finished alone in fifth, went from 16th to 13th, while Tiger Woods fell two spots to No. 37.

Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Patrick Reed

4. Justin Thomas

5. Jordan Spieth

6. Rickie Fowler

7. Bubba Watson

8. Webb Simpson


9. Bryson DeChambeau

10. Phil Mickelson

11. Matt Kuchar

12. Brian Harman

On the European side, England's Tommy Fleetwood took a big stride toward securing his first Ryder Cup appearance with a runner-up finish that included a Sunday 63 while countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick snuck into a qualifying spot after tying for 12th.

Here's a look at the updated Euro standings, with the top four from both points lists joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn at Le Golf National:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Tommy Fleetwood

4. Francesco Molinari


5. Thorbjorn Olesen

6. Ross Fisher

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Rory McIlroy

3. Alex Noren

4. Matthew Fitzpatrick


5. Ian Poulter

6. Rafael Cabrera-Bello