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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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Golf Channel, Loch Lomond Partner on Claret Jug Tour Ahead of 147TH Open

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJune 18, 2018, 9:35 pm

Award-Winning Independent Scotcb Whisky Sponsoring Tour to Select U.S. Cities; Will Include Special Tastings and Opportunities for Fans to Engage with Golf’s Most Storied Trophy

Golf Channel and Loch Lomond Group are partnering on a promotional tour with the Claret Jug – golf’s most iconic trophy, first awarded in 1873 to the winner of The Open – to select U.S. cities in advance of the 147TH Open at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. Loch Lomond Whisky’s sponsorship of the tour further enhances the brand’s existing five-year partnership with the R&A as the official spirit of The Open, initially announced in February.

“We are proud to partner with Golf Channel to support this tour of golf’s most iconic trophy,” said Colin Matthews, CEO of Loch Lomond Group. “Whisky and golf are two of Scotland’s greatest gifts to the world, and following the news of our recent partnership with the R&A for The Open, being a part of the Claret Jug tour was a perfect fit for Loch Lomond Group to further showcase our commitment to the game.”

“The Loch Lomond Group could not be a more natural fit to sponsor the Claret Jug tour,” said Tom Knapp, senior vice president of golf sponsorship, NBC Sports Group. “Much like the storied history that accompanies the Claret Jug, Loch Lomond’s Scottish roots trace back centuries ago, and their aspirations to align with golf’s most celebrated traditions will resonate with a broad range of consumers in addition to golf fans and whisky enthusiasts.”

The tour kicks off today in Austin, Texas, and will culminate on Wednesday, July 11 at the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe one week prior to The Open. Those wishing to engage with the Claret Jug will have an opportunity at one of several tour stops being staged at Topgolf locations in select cities. The tour will feature a custom, authentic Scottish pub where consumers (of age) can sample Loch Lomond’s portfolio of whiskies in the spirit of golf’s original championship and the Claret Jug. The Claret Jug also will make special pop-up visits to select GolfNow course partners located within some of the designated tour markets.

(All Times Local)

Monday, June 18                    Austin, Texas              (Topgolf, 5:30-8:30 p.m.)

Tuesday, June 19                    Houston                      (Topgolf, 5-8 p.m.)

Wednesday, June 20               Jacksonville, Fla.        (Topgolf, 6-9 p.m.)

Monday, June 25                    Orlando, Fla.               (Topgolf, 6-9 p.m.)

Wednesday, July 4                 Washington D.C.        (Topgolf, 5:30-8:30 p.m. – Ashburn, Va.)

Monday, July 9                       Edison, N.J.                (Topgolf, Time TBA)

Wednesday, July 11               Lake Tahoe, Nev.       American Century Championship (On Course)

Fans interacting with the Claret Jug and Loch Lomond during the course of the tour are encouraged to share their experience using the hashtag, #ClaretJug on social media, and tag @TheOpen and @LochLomondMalts on Twitter and Instagram.

NBC Sports Group is the exclusive U.S. television home of the 147TH Open from Carnoustie, with nearly 50 live hours of tournament coverage, Thursday-Sunday, July 19-22. The Claret Jug is presented each July to the winner of The Open, with the winner also being given the title of “Champion Golfer of the Year” until the following year’s event is staged. The Claret Jug is one of the most storied trophies in all of sports; first presented to the 1873 winner of The Open, Tom Kidd. Each year, the winner’s name is engraved on to the trophy, forever etched into the history of golf’s original championship. It is customary for the Champion Golfer of the Year to drink a favorite alcoholic beverage from the Claret Jug in celebration of the victory.

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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).