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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Koepka has his chance 'to earn' his way to No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:09 am

There won't need to be any wonky math involved. He won't have to settle for finally reaching the the top via some kind of mathematical reset while he's sitting at home on the couch (or more likely working out in the gym).

No, Brooks Koepka on Sunday in South Korea will have a chance to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking the way every player would most want to - with a victory.

On the strength of a bogey-free round of 5-under 67 Saturday, Koepka will enter the final round of the CJ Cup four clear of Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, with six more players five behind.

The tournament is Koepka's to lose, and so too is the No. 1 ranking. So long as Justin Thomas doesn't somehow defend his title from 12 shots back, Koepka can supplant Dustin Johnson atop the rankings with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

"It was something I wanted to do. I always wanted to become World No. 1 in a week that I was playing," Koepka said Saturday. "I thought like I could really earn it and not have a week off where it just so happens that you bump up. No, it would be very special, and to do it here would be nice and hopefully get to world No. 1 and cap it off with a win, I don't think there would be much better."

It would be a fitting end to this breakthrough year for Koepka, who successfully defended his U.S. Open title and then added his third major victory at the PGA Championship en route to claiming the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award. Oddly enough, given how his career has unfolded, this would be Koepka's fifth Tour victory but only his second in a non-major.

"My confidence has always been pretty high," Koepka said. "Anytime you can win three majors you're going to be feeling pretty good about yourself. To do what I've done over the last two years has been special, but I'm looking to build on that."

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Ahead by four, No. 1 ranking within Koepka's grasp

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 5:48 am

Following a closing birdie and a third-round 67 at Nine Bridges, Brooks Koepka will take a four-shot lead over Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy into final round of the CJ Cup. Here's how Koepka separated himself from the field in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-13), Poulter (-9), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-8), Cameron Smith (-8), Jaime Lovemark (-8), Pat Perez (-8), Gary Woodland (-8), Chez Reavie (-8)

What it means: Koepka is in search of his fifth PGA Tour victory and – believe it or not – only his second non-major. The three-time major champion’s only other win came all the way back in February 2015, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One behind overnight leader Scott Piercy to start the day, Koepka opened with eight straight pars and birdied Nos. 9 and 10 to take the outright lead at 10 under par. He added three more circles at 14, 17 and 18 to close out a bogey-free round of 5 under and go ahead by ahead by four. He'll be chased on Sunday by Piercy, a four-time PGA Tour winner who won the Zurich Classic earlier this year alongside Billy Horschel, and by Poulter, who ended a five-year worldwide winless drought back in April and is coming off a 2-2 performance at the Ryder Cup, with a Sunday singles victory over current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Speaking of which, unless Justin Thomas finds a way to win this tournament from 12 back, Koepka will for the first time ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Round of the day: Four players – Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ted Potter Jr., Jason Day and Brendan Steele – shot 7-under 65 Saturday. Day played his first four holes in 2 over and his final 14 in 9 under.

Best of the rest: Paul Casey, Hideki Matsuyama and Emiliano Grillo signed for 66. Casey went seven straight holes without a par, Matusyama was bogey-free, and Grillo did all his damage on the back nine after nine consecutive pars on the front.

Biggest disappointment: The only previous winner of this event, world No. 4 Justin Thomas entered the week with a chance to take back the No. 1 ranking with a successful title defense. But rounds of 73-70-72 have him 1 under for the week. Thomas played his back nine in 1 over Saturday with six pars, a birdie, a quadruple bogey and a closing eagle.

Shot of the day: Koepka flying his tee shot 330 yards to the front edge of the green at the par-4 14th and going on to two-putt for birdie.

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Watch: Koepka flies ball 330 yards, drives green

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 20, 2018, 4:44 am

It's a good thing par doesn't actually matter in tournament play, because if it did, the PGA Tour would have to consider 350-yard par-3s, and even those might not stop Brooks Koeopka.

Already ahead by two during Saturday's third round at the CJ Cup in South Korea, Koepka drove the green at the par-4 14th, carrying his ball 330 yards to the front edge.

The back-to-back U.S. Open champ would go on to two-putt for birdie and push his lead to three.

... The USGA is going to try that 350-yard par-3 idea, isn't it?

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Bend it like Garcia? Sergio scores in player-caddie soccer match

By Grill Room TeamOctober 20, 2018, 2:44 am

Sergio Garcia has always been able to work his golf ball from left to right, but he's also - apparently - proficient at playing a draw with a soccer ball.

This year's Adalucia Valderrama Masters is suffering through some weather issues. But the highlight of the week - and, according to the Felipe Aguilar, "the year" - was always going to be the event's player-caddie soccer match, which you can see here:

The standout highlight? This bending, left-footed(!) strike from defending champion Sergio Garcia:

"Just a little bit of fun with the caddies and some of the players," Garcia nonchalantly says in the video. "Yeah, just a little bit of running and it was good fun."

Garcia, a diehard Real Madrid fan who kicked off El Clasico in his green jacket back in 2016, has previously appeared in professional matches for CF Borriol, a Tercera Division club in Spain. 

"It's good fun and whenever I'm around I get to practice with them a little bit and play a little bit here and there. This season, I've played probably five games, so not a lot, but I enjoy it," Garcia told CNN back in 2013.