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Being No. 1 (and not Tiger) rarely equates to major wins

By John AntoniniJune 11, 2018, 1:50 pm

Dustin Johnson’s victory at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic returned him to the No. 1 spot in the world rankings, a position he relinquished to Justin Thomas after The Players Championship. It also gives him a chance to accomplish something at the U.S. Open he wasn’t able to do the last time he was No. 1, something only four other players have been able to do. He will try to become the fifth player to win a major championship as the No. 1 player in the world.

In the 32-year history of the Official World Golf Ranking only Ian Woosnam, Fred Couples, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have won major championships while on top. Woods did it 11 times, the others one time each for a total of 14 major victories by a world No. 1.

There have been 129 majors since the advent of the ranking, meaning the top player in the world has won 10.8 percent of the majors played. If you take Woods out of the equation – Tiger won 11 of 55 majors held while he was No. 1 – the leader of the world ranking has won three of 77 majors. 

That’s such a stunning sentence that it bears repeating. When the No. 1 player in the world is not named Tiger Woods, he has won three times in 77 majors. We’ll try to explain that staggering number as we take a trip through the history of the ranking. And after we do, we will also explain why this summer just might provide us with the first No. 1 player to win a major since McIlroy at the 2014 PGA Championship.

A little background:

The OWGR was launched prior to the 1986 Masters, the impetus coming from The R & A, which was looking for a way to properly invite qualified players to the Open Championship, and with a boost from IMG’s Mark McCormack, who published a ranking system in his year-end annual. Bernhard Langer was the first No. 1 player and when he finished T-16 in the 1986 Masters, he became the first No. 1 who failed to win a major.

Less than a month later, Seve Ballesteros took over the top spot from Langer and proceeded to finish no better than T-6 in the three majors in which he was world No. 1. Then came Greg Norman, who was 0-for-7 with one “did not play” in his eight majors, the first time he was the lead Shark. Ballesteros and Norman traded places atop the ranking two more times. None would win a major in that span.

It wasn’t until Woosnam won the 1991 Masters, the 21st major played after the ranking was launched, that the No. 1 player in the world was victorious. A year later, Couples won the Masters as world No. 1. For the remainder of the century, no top-ranked player would win a major championship.


Players who have won a major while ranked No. 1 in the world

Masters Tournament U.S. Open Open Championship PGA Championship
Ian Woosnam, 1991 Tiger Woods, 2000 Tiger Woods, 2000 Tiger Woods, 2000
Fred Couples, 1992 Tiger Woods, 2002 Tiger Woods, 2005 Tiger Woods, 2006
Tiger Woods, 2001 Tiger Woods, 2004 Tiger Woods, 2006 Tiger Woods, 2007
Tiger Woods 2002     Rory McIlroy, 2014

Naturally, Woods broke the streak, and did so with a vengeance.

Woods moved to No. 1 in the world for the first time in June 1997. He didn’t win any of the first eight majors played while he was No. 1, breaking through for the first time at the 2000 U.S. Open. He would win the next three majors to complete the Tiger Slam. As we stated earlier, Woods was No. 1 for 55 majors. He won 11 of them.

The last of his victories was also the last time the No. 1 player in the world won the U.S. Open. Playing despite damage to the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and with two stress fractures in his left tibia, Woods beat Rocco Mediate in a 91-hole grind at Torrey Pines in June 2008.  Since then, the world No. 1 has won just one of 39 majors – McIlroy at Kiawah Island in ’14.

So, why doesn’t the best player in the world win more majors?    

The easiest answer is: Winning is hard, for everyone. The difference between the best player and the 10th-best player in the world is minimal. It’s not much more between No. 1 and No. 50. Want proof? Look at how many “upsets” occur at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

But let’s not use a tournament where the vagaries of match play prove this point. Let’s use scoring average instead. In this age of modern statistical analysis scoring average might seem archaic, but it is the end result of every other statistic.

Johnson was the No. 1 player in the world rankings at the end of the 2017 season. He was seventh on the PGA Tour in scoring average at 69.55. There was a one-stroke difference between Johnson and the 52nd player on Tour in scoring average (Seamus Power). That’s pretty small. It’s the difference between one player knocking in a 20-foot putt and another coming up one roll short. It’s the difference between one player getting a lucky bounce off the slope onto a green, while the other gets a bounce into a bunker. It’s the difference between … well, you get the idea.

For certain, Johnson and Power played different tournaments with different strength of fields. Johnson played The Open the same week Power played the Barbasol Championship. But quite a few players who ranked between Johnson and Power in scoring average also played in The Open, and would you believe that 24 of those players finished better than Johnson at Royal Birkdale? Sure you believe it, because on any given week every one of those players can be just as good as DJ. In fact, the winner that week, Jordan Spieth, actually led the Tour in scoring average.



And Spieth, with the lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour, won just three of the 23 Tour events (13 percent) he played last year. Johnson, the world No. 1, won four times in 20 starts (20 percent); although he wasn’t No. 1 for all of them.

Those are good percentages. Actually, they’re stellar percentages.

Winning 20 percent of your tournaments is really, really good. Rickie Fowler was second in scoring average and ended 2017 ranked seventh in the world. He won one time in 21 starts on Tour. Paul Casey – fifth in scoring and 14th on the year-end ranking – didn’t win at all on Tour.

In the 21 years since Woods first became the world’s No. 1 player, the top-ranked player has played in 417 PGA Tour events. He has won 91 times, or 21.8 percent. Of course, Woods accounts for most of those victories. If you eliminate his 68 wins in 249 starts, you are left with 23 wins by the world No. 1 in 168 starts (13.7 percent).

That’s all Tour events. When the No. 1 player in the world is not named Tiger Woods and he plays on the PGA Tour, he wins less than 14 percent of the time. If it’s that hard for the world No. 1 to win in Hartford or Houston or Honolulu, it must mean that …

Winning majors is harder. Major fields are strong and deep, with all four of them inviting at least the top 50 players in the world. The top 10 players in the world rarely appear in the same event unless it’s a major championship. It reasonable to believe that if the top player wins just 14 percent of the time in which he plays a regular event, with less than half the top 10 or top 50 present, it would be twice as hard to win a major with every star in the field hungry for one of the game’s four most important championships.

In fact, while the world No. 1 has only won 14 majors, players ranked No. 2 through No. 5 have won 27 times:

  • No. 2: 7 major wins
  • No. 3: 9 major wins
  • No. 4: 5 major wins
  • No. 5: 6 major wins

Four players even moved from No. 2 to No. 1 after winning a major. They were Nick Faldo at the 1992 Open Championship, Nick Price at the 1994 PGA, and Woods at the 1999 PGA and the 2005 Masters.

Which brings us to our next point.

The No. 1 player on the world ranking is not necessarily the best player in the world. There is a difference. Take Price, for example. He moved to No. 1 after winning the ‘94 PGA Championship, but there’s no question he was already the best player in the world. Price won the 1992 PGA Championship, four times on the PGA Tour in 1993 and won three times in six starts coming into the ’94 PGA. The No. 1 player going into that major was Norman. Sure, Norman won The Players that March and had three runner-up finishes in his previous eight starts, but Price was winning. He was clearly No. 1. The ranking hadn’t figure that out yet.

More recently, Spieth, with four wins in 15 starts during the spring and summer of 2015, had been the best player in the world for several months before he became the No. 1 player in August. In fact, by the time Spieth moved to No. 1, Jason Day was the best player in the world. The ranking math didn’t work out for him until after he won the BMW Championship, his fourth victory in six starts.

Which is a roundabout way of getting to the final point mentioned way back at the top of this story. That this summer, the No. 1 player – DJ, JT or someone else – stands a good chance of winning a major championship.

We told you earlier that since June 1997, players whose initials are not TW won 23 times in 168 starts while ranked No. 1. Now look at how many of those wins came almost immediately after there was a change at the top of the world ranking.

Five times a player won in his first start at No. 1. Three more came in his second start at No. 1. Three more came in his third start.

It appears that when the top spot on the world ranking is in flux, when the No. 1 spot has just been taken over, the new leader is still playing well enough to win. Even if that means winning a major.

Which, if you’re Dustin Johnson, is good news, indeed.

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Watch: Wagner saves season with walk-off eagle dunk

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 18, 2018, 2:45 am

Johnson Wagner kept his FedExCup Playoff hopes alive on Friday at the Wyndham Championship ... and he did it in dramatic fashion.

Needing a birdie on his final hole of the day to make the cut on the number, Johnson used a 9-iron from 153 yards out to dunk his approach for eagle to get inside the cut line.

Johnson's eagle at the last gave him a 66 for the day and earned him two more rounds to try and get inside the FedExCup top 125 for next week's start of the postseason, The Northern Trust.

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S.H. Park, Salas co-lead rain-soaked Indy Women

By Associated PressAugust 18, 2018, 1:42 am

INDIANAPOLIS - Sung Hyun Park relied on the same, steady style that has helped make her one of the LPGA's top players. When her putts kept rolling in Friday, she was virtually unbeatable.

Park shot a 9-under 63 for a share of the lead with Lizette Salas during the suspended second round of the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

''The best round of the year,'' the South Korean player said through an interpreter. ''My putting overall was what really helped.''

Salas, the first-round leader after a 62, had a 69 to match Park at 13 under at Brickyard Crossing. Danielle Kang and Nasa Hataoka were two shots back.

''It was going to be hard to top that 62 yesterday but I stayed patient,'' Salas said. ''This was a completely different golf course, so I had to change my mentality a little bit and I had to forget about the 62 in a way and just go back to what I was doing.''

Park has two majors and four overall LPGA victories the last two years, winning the U.S. Women's Open and CP Women's Open last year and the Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic and KPMG Women's PGA Championship this season.

Nothing rattled Park on a sticky, overcast day.

''I worked on my short game the most, especially measuring the distances,'' Park said. ''It paid off.''

After more rain drenched the already saturated layout around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Park completed the round by putting out in a downpour that forced the afternoon groups to contend with a delay of nearly four hours.


Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship


In between the showers, the world's fourth-ranked player performed like a two-time major champion.

She birdied three of the first five holes to reach 7 under, started the back nine with three straight birdies then took the lead with her ninth and final birdie of the day on the par-4 17th.

Salas took a different tack one day after tying Mike McCullough's course-record 62.

Rather than take advantage of the course's soft greens, the 29-year-old American needed patience Friday. She opened with 12 consecutive pars then made three straight birdies on Nos. 4-6. After her first bogey of the tournament, on the par-4 eighth, Salas closed out the round with another birdie to tie Park.

Salas hasn't won since the 2014 Kingsmill Championship, but she's developed a real affinity for the Indy course where she's had five consecutive sub-par rounds dating to last year's fifth-place finish.

Kang, who kept Salas composed during a 77-minute rain delay Thursday, had a 68 to get to 11 under.

''I've been giving myself a lot of birdie chances,'' Kang said. ''That was my goal this week. I just have been feeling like I was in a little bit of a funk, so I told my caddie we were just going to pick a number, play my game, forget all the swing thoughts, forget everything and just kind of play it by feel.''

Kang hasn't recorded a bogey over the first 36 holes and is in contention for her first tour victory last year's KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

Hataoka shot 69.

Angel Yin, the 19-year-old Californian who was tied for second with Hataoka after the first round, was 10 under with eight holes left. Yin was tied for fifth with Thidapa Suwannapura of Thailand and Amy Yang of South Korea, who also had eight holes to go.

Defending champion Lexi Thompson started on the back nine and birdied the par-3 12th and the par-4 16th. She was 6 under with 10 holes remaining in the second round.

And the course could change dramatically as it dries out.

Saturday's forecast calls for partly cloudy conditions with highs in the low 80s and Sunday is supposed to be mostly sunny with highs in the mid-80s.

Park promises to be ready for whatever weather arrives.

''I'm going to do really well,'' she said. ''I feel really good about my game, especially my short game. And it's just about the weather now, so hopefully the weather is good.''

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Snapshot of 2018 U.S. Amateur semifinalists

By Ryan LavnerAugust 18, 2018, 1:39 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – A U.S. Amateur Championship that began with 7,463 entries has been whittled down to just four players.

Saturday morning’s semifinals not only will determine the two finalists for the most prestigious title in amateur golf, but also the players who will receive a likely invitation to the 2019 Masters and U.S. Open – the greatest consolation prize in all of sports.

It's Devon Bling vs. Isaiah Salinda. 

And Cole Hammer vs. Viktor Hovland. 

Here’s a snapshot of those left competing at Pebble Beach:



DEVON BLING

In Bling’s player profile, he wrote that his mother, Sara, always wanted to see him compete in USGA championships.

Unfortunately, she never got the opportunity – she passed away in 2013, to a mysterious ailment, when Devon was only 13.

“It took us totally by surprise,” he said Friday night. “In an instant, she was there and totally healthy, and the next day she was gone.”

The sense of loss was massive – Sara was always there, shuttling Devon to tournaments, walking with his group, supporting him.

“Losing her was extremely difficult for my family,” he said. “I know she’s still in my heart and looking down on me, and I’m just hoping to make her proud.”

Bling, now a sophomore at UCLA, has blossomed into a solid player who had yet to take his star turn. That’s beginning to change here at Pebble Beach, where his brother and father are whooping for his many great shots.

They had plenty of reason to cheer Friday, after Bling flipped a late deficit and beat Davis Riley, 1 up, to advance to the semifinals.

Bling led at only one point all match – when it mattered most, after the 18th hole.

He took an aggressive line on the par-5 finishing hole, taking driver left of the tree in the middle of the fairway, while Riley, playing conservatively after twice putting driver into the water during practice rounds, flared his long iron into the greenside bunker. Bling rifled his approach into the greenside bunker and splashed out to 3 ½ feet for the decisive birdie.

“I couldn’t be happier,” he said.



VIKTOR HOVLAND

Most golf fans’ only introduction to Hovland came last month. Playing on a sponsor exemption at the European Open, the Oklahoma State junior double-pumped during his backswing, regrouped and then drilled his tee shots.

It was a swing drill that had crept into his full swing.

“That helped for a little while,” Hovland said. “I found the center of the clubface and found the shot that I could hit on almost every hole.”

Aggressive, straight tee balls have been the key to his success this week at Pebble Beach. He’s been able to set the tone and continue to apply pressure on his opponents by consistently finding the fairway.   

Paired with a scorching-hot putter, Hovland sure doesn’t have the look of a player who counts only one tournament title outside of his native Norway.

He's been manhandling his opponents at the U.S. Amateur.

After trouncing Austin Squires, 7 and 6, on Friday – matching the largest margin of victory in a U.S. Amateur quarterfinal – Hovland has now led after 45 of 57 holes.

He led throughout a Round of 16 thumping of Kristoffer Reitan.

He led throughout a quarterfinal dismantling of Squires, too.

In his last two matches, he’s a combined 9 under par and has won 16 of his last 23 holes.

“I think I’ve definitely had the game to win more, but I’ve made a few bad decisions here and there and it adds up to you start being too far behind,” said Hovland, who won a college event last season at the Floridian. “My putter also hasn’t been good enough. My ball-striking hasn’t been super flashy, but it’s been consistent. It’s hard to win tournaments if you’re not putting well.”

He's swinging freely and making plenty of putts so far.



COLE HAMMER

The hottest player in amateur golf ran his match-play record this year to 17-1 after a 3-and-2 victory over Alex Fitzpatrick.

Playing the younger brother of 2013 U.S. Amateur champion Matt Fitzpatrick, Hammer went 3 under for his first five holes Friday and never gave his opponent a chance. He kept the ball in play, putted for birdie on nearly every hole and scrambled on the rare occasion he was out of position. In a near-impossible spot short and left of the ninth green, he played a soft pitch that landed on the crest of the hill and funneled into the cup for an unlikely birdie.

“It was one of those one-in-a-million shots that just happened to go in,” he said.

They all seem to be dropping recently.

The incoming freshman at Texas won the Azalea Invitational at the start of the year, teamed with Garrett Barber to take the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, reached the semifinals of the U.S. Junior, went wire to wire at the Western Amateur and now has reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur.

“I’ve played a ton of match play this year and come back from deficits,” he said, “and that speaks to the confidence I have and knowing I can get it done.”



ISAIAH SALINDA

After narrowly escaping in his Round of 16 match, Salinda once again dodged a worthy opponent on Friday afternoon.  

Salinda built a 4-up lead through five holes but was only one hole clear as he headed to the back nine. On six separate occasions, Gordon hit the lip of the cup on a putt or chip, allowing Salinda to stay in front down the stretch.

On 16, the Stanford senior finally put Gordon away: From 150 yards, he hit a controlled 9-iron that landed in the perfect spot, spun left and came within an inch of dropping for eagle. The conceded birdie gave him a 2-up cushion that he used to eventually win, 2 and 1.

“He’s a really good player,” Salinda said, “and I expected him to fight back.”

Salinda, who recently won the Pacific Coast Amateur, is playing in his first USGA event. Six times he’s been the first or second alternate out of a U.S. Junior or U.S. Amateur qualifier in Northern California. The trick this time was to head to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he qualified after playing the Trans-Miss Amateur.

Salinda won’t need to worry about qualifying next year – he’s already exempt into next year’s event.

He could earn a spot in even bigger events – the 2019 Masters and U.S. Open – with another win Saturday.

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Garcia among bubble boys keeping playoff hopes alive

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 12:34 am

Sergio Garcia gave himself a chance to keep his perfect FedExCup Playoffs record going with his rally Friday at the Wyndham Championship.

D.A. Points moved into position to make a historic leap into the postseason.

And Johnson Wagner dunked his last shot of the day from long range to keep his hopes of making the playoffs alive.

But the day didn’t end nearly as well for Tyrone Van Aswegen’s FedExCup hopes.

Van Aswegen didn’t do himself any favors trying to hold on to the 125th spot on the FedExCup points list. He missed the cut by a shot.

Only the top 125 advance to The Northern Trust and next week’s start to the playoffs.

Van Aswegen wasn’t alone among “bubble boys” missing the cut. No. 122 Jhonattan Vegas, No. 123 Seamus Power, No. 124 Martin Piller, No. 126 Chad Campbell and No. 127 Robert Garrigus all failed to make the weekend.

Garcia is among 13 players who have advanced to the FedExCup Playoffs every year since they began in 2007, but his run was in jeopardy of ending starting the week. He’s 131st on the FedExCup points list

With a 65 Friday following his opening round 66, Garcia is in more than a great position to advance. He’s in position to win the Wyndham. He is tied for fourth, five shots off the lead. The day ended with Garcia projected to move up to 118th on the FedExCup points list.


Wyndham Championship: Full-field scores | Full coverage

Current FedExCup points list


“I'm just going to try to keep building on the things that I did well these first two days,” Garcia said. “Whatever happens, happens. Like I said at the beginning of the week, if I have a great weekend, then it will be great. If I don't have a great weekend, it will still be great because

I'll get to rest.”

Points started the week 214th on the FedExCup points list. With back-to-back 64s, he trails only Brandt Snedeker going into the weekend. He can crack the top 125, but only with a win. Nobody has ever started the Wyndham Championship that far back in points and qualified for the playoffs. Davis Love III was 186th when he won and advanced in 2015.

Wagner, 136th on the FedExCup points list, went to spectacular lengths Friday to keep his playoff hopes alive. He was outside the cut line until holing his 153-yard approach at the last.

Bill Haas, who is among those 13 players to have qualified for the playoffs every year, started the week 150th in points. He can keep his perfect playoff record going with a big weekend. He shot 68 Friday to make the cut. He’s tied for 52nd in the tournament.