Punch Shot: Who is the second-best American player?

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 5, 2013, 2:00 pm

There's no question who is the best American player right now: Tiger Woods, currently ranked No. 2 in the world. But who is the second-best American? That one isn't so cut and dried. We asked our writers for their picks. 


It's Phil Mickelson – and I'll let Brandt Snedeker explain why:

“You have to win majors and win tournaments to be recognized as an elite player,” Snedeker said when I asked him Sunday if he fits that profile. “And I haven't done nearly enough of that, you know. I'm playing great right now. I'm as high as I have ever been in the world ranking and all that kind of stuff, but you have to win tournaments to validate that. I haven't done it.”

Snedeker has been great at times in recent months – six top-six finishes in his last eight starts – just as Jason Dufner has been great at times in the past year, and Bubba Watson has been great at times in the past few years.

When we're talking 'best,' though, I take that to mean a combination of most talented and most accomplished. Mickelson wins each of those battles against his competition.

This doesn't stem from one win in Phoenix this past weekend; it's after years of performing at a high level over and over again. Others are very, very good, but if we're talking about the 'best' American player outside of Tiger Woods, only Mickelson fits that profile.


Jason Dufner.

Peculiar timing, perhaps, since his missed cut at the Phoenix Open was his first weekend off in more than a year. But before his MC last week, Duf hadn’t finished outside the top 30 since July. Before his MC last week, he hadn’t finished outside the top 20 in his last eight worldwide starts, which saw him in Australia, China, Hawaii and Abu Dhabi.

Over the course of those 22 consecutive made cuts, he has not only become one of the most consistent performers in the biggest events – holding a share of the 36-hole lead at the Masters, finishing T-4 at the U.S. Open, posting respectable finishes at both the British Open and PGA – he has won twice while rising as high as No. 7 in the world.

What’s most encouraging about Dufner is that he continues to improve, particularly on the greens, where his strokes gained-putting improved from 180th in 2010 to 78th last year. Coupled with ball-striking prowess – last year he was third in total driving and seventh in greens in regulation – it’s reasonable to suggest that a major Sunday could be looming for the second-best American player.


Phil Mickelson.

While you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get with Mickelson, you can bank on getting more wins than any American this side of Tiger Woods.

If you’re looking for the best active American winner besides Woods, then you need not look beyond Lefty.

Mickelson’s victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Sunday was his 41st PGA Tour title. That’s one more than the combined total of the next eight Americans not named Woods. That’s one more than the combined total of Brandt Snedeker (4), Bubba Watson (4), Jason Dufner (2), Steve Stricker (12), Keegan Bradley (3), Webb Simpson (3), Dustin Johnson (7) and Nick Watney (5).

Yes, Phil is closing in on his 43rd birthday early this summer, but he has now won in each of the last 10 seasons, the longest active PGA Tour winning streak. He’s still winning. He wins more than any American not named Woods.


Not only is Brandt Snedeker the second-best American right now, he’s been the planet’s top player (non-living legend division) the last fortnight.

But even before his consecutive runner-up showings to Tiger Woods (Farmers Insurance Open) and Phil Mickelson (Waste Management Phoenix Open), Snedeker was ascending to star status thanks to the game’s most reliable putting stroke and a new-found confidence in his ball-striking.

The metamorphosis began last fall as pressure mounted for him to play his way onto Davis Love III’s U.S. Ryder Cup team. Although Snedeker came up short – Love made him one of his four captain’s picks – he began the FedEx Cup Playoffs with a runner-up showing at The Barclays and cruised to a three-stroke victory and $10 million payday at East Lake.

Sixth-ranked Snedeker is also fresh off his first off-season in three years that didn’t include a major hip surgery which only seemed to fuel his confidence. No player has earned more world ranking points this season (77) and if not for No. 2 Woods and No. 10 Mickelson’s historic performances he would be a virtual lock to become the first FedEx Cup champion to play the Tour Championship the following season.

The world ranking doesn’t always get it right, but on this the math is unmistakable – Sneds is the second-best American right now.


Brandt Snedeker.

Sure, he only has a fraction of Phil Mickelson’s career wins. And unlike Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley, he doesn’t have a major title to his name. But if you ask me to name the best American golfer after Tiger Woods, in the here and now, I’m going with Snedeker.

It’s easy to overreact to what we’ve just seen. So while I was as impressed as anyone else by Mickelson’s win this past week in Phoenix, I have to balance that both with his significant struggles during the second half of 2012 and questions of how consistently Lefty – at age 43 – can produce the form we saw at TPC Scottsdale. Right now, the American player whose consistency is least in question is Snedeker. His FedEx Cup win has promptly been followed by three top-three finishes early in 2013, and the Vanderbilt alum has quickly ascended to status as the best putter in the game. He’s been inside the top 10 once out of every three times he’s teed it up since 2011 – consistency only Webb Simpson can rival among his American peers. Perhaps most importantly, he appears unsatisfied by runner-up finishes each of the last two weeks.

Admittedly, I may be buying a bit low on Snedeker, basing my view largely on current form but also somewhat on his expected performance over the coming months. But let’s put it this way: if you’re having a “best player not to have won a major” discussion in September, I don’t think Snedeker will be eligible for inclusion.

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Country singer Owen shoots 86 in Web.com debut

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:51 pm

Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Web.com Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.

Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.

Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Web.com Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.

Full-field scores from the Nashville Golf Open

Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.

While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:

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New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:30 pm

After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.

The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.

"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."

The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.

"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.

Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.

"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."

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McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 24, 2018, 6:56 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.

Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.

The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.

McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.

''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''

McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.

After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.

Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.

Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.

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Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 6:45 pm

After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.

The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.

"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."

Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."

Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.

Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.

"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."