Is it 2007 Yet
The beauty of a new season is the unknown. The players we just dont know about and the players well soon know plenty about.
Tis the Season and this column will be about numbers, using the Twelve Days of Christmas. Not trying to be cute (beyond just giving you the 12 subjects for the song in case youd forgotten). Instead (though you can hum along if youd like), Ill just give you a countdown using the number 12 to share some things that might just make you think about the year that was, the year that will be or just your love for the game and what it brings.
12. Drummers Drumming (Twelve Sure Bets to win a PGA TOUR event)
Some of these are easy. But as a whole, picking winners is never a lock. Heres 12, and while you can say that many were not that challenging, Id offer up the theory that if Ernie and Retief can go winless as they did in 2006, then who knows. I say each of these guys is sure to click at least once:
Woods, Mickelson, Furyk, Els, Singh, Toms, Immelman, Garcia, Scott, Goosen, Love, Ogilvy.
11. Pipers Piping (Eleven Pretty Safe Bets to win a PGA TOUR event)
These guys are no guarantee to find the winners circle. But if somebody said, you need to get away from the obvious, then I subscribe to the theory that this batch of 11 will hold a trophy in 2007:
Jerry Kelly, Steve Stricker, Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, Mike Weir, Ryan Palmer, Chad Campbell, Arron Olberholser, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink, Shaun Micheel.
10. Lords-a-Leaping (Ten Decent Bets to Get a First PGA TOUR win)
How in the world doesnt Harrison Frazar have a PGA TOUR win by now? Far too talented to keep this streak going. I say it ends. And Ill give you a list of 10 who I think can get rid of the donut beside their name:
Frazar, Brian Gay, Bill Haas, Justin Rose, Tim Clark. Brett Quigley, Daniel Chopra, Camilo Villegas, Nathan Green, Nick Watney.
9. Ladies Dancing (The Back Nine at Augusta 2007)
While its nine Ladies Dancing, well save the ladies for No. 8. This is about the years first PGA TOUR major. Much as I try right at this moment, I just cant see any way that Tiger Woods doesnt get Phil Mickelson to return the favor and slip a green over his shoulders. Woods battles Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson, David Toms and Luke Donald on the back nine, until about the 15th hole where it becomes clear that Woods has it in the bag. It makes three majors in a row, 13 overall and the only question is whether he continues a streak of consecutive PGA TOUR wins in the process.
8. Maids-a-Milking (Top 8 on the LPGA Money List)
Remember, its a Solheim Cup year so the season will already have some drama. But the money list in 2007 should be a wild ride once again. This time, its not Ochoa or Sorenstam who wins it. Karrie Webb proved a lot in 2006. Ochoa has clearly established herself as the rising star ' well see how she handles the pressure. Itll finish like this:
Karrie Webb, Annika Sorenstam, Christie Kerr, Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, Mi Hyun Kim, Natalie Gulbis, Ai Miyazato.
7. Swans-a-Swimming (The PGA TOURs Lucky 7)
Last year, 20 players who graduated either from the Nationwide Tour or PGA TOUR Qualifying Tournament were able to finish among the PGA TOURs Top 125 on the money list. Given that Chris Couch, Troy Matteson, Eric Axley, Brett Wetterich and J.B, Holmes counted themselves among the winners in 2006, wed better keep an eye on this years graduates. Heres a list of seven whove battled tough tours and tough times and who I believe will have their moments from either the Nationwide Tour or Q-School:
Paul Gow, Johnson Wagner, Anthony Kim, Matt Kuchar, Cameron Beckman, Dicky Pride, Bob May.
6. Geese-a-Laying (Six Foreign Born Players Ready to Make Noise)
Every year the invasion swells and it becomes tougher for the American up-n-comers to go ahead and come up. Its a worldwide game and here are six names to remember this year. One will be a PGA TOUR rookie, the others have been on tour and are ready to really make some noise:
Julieta Granata ' LPGA, Jarrod Lyle ' Nationwide Tour Graduate, Greg Owen ' PGA TOUR, Ian Poulter ' PGA TOUR, Justin Rose ' PGA TOUR.
5. Golden Rings (Five 50-Somethings Ready For Champions Tour)
Ah. Its great to be fifty. Ask Loren Roberts how hes doing these days. And this year the list of 50 year old birthday boys grows to include some other names. Watch out, because there they come. Nick Faldo, Nick Price, John Cook, Seve Ballesteros, Mark OMeara, Jeff Sluman. Together theyll provide the Champions Tour with some pizzazz. And look out Loren ' theyre after your money.
4. Calling Birds (The Four Major Winners)
When the PGA Grand Slam of Golf heads to Bermuda next Thanksgiving week, these are the guys who will be there:
Masters ' Woods slips past Fuyrk.
U.S. Open ' Furyk outlasts Woods and Els to win at Oakmont.
Open Championship ' Woods adds to Jean Van de Veldes pain by making birdie at Carnousties 18th en route to a four shot win.
PGA Championship ' at Southern Hills its Sergio Garcia breaking through at the site of Retief Goosens U.S, Open.
Els rounds out the foursome at the PGA Grand Slam by virtue of his consistent major record in 2007.
3. French Hens (The Three Most Intriguing Non-Majors)
This one is tough. Ill leave WGC events out of this because I actually believe that the playoff stretch run of the FedEX Cup will get far more water cooler conversation. But those events aside here are my three:
Mercedes-Benz Championship ' Will Tigers streak continue? Will Stuart Appleby win yet again? And selfishly, plenty of eyes will be on The Golf Channel as PGA TOUR coverage finds a new home.
EDS Byron Nelson Championship ' After Lord Byrons passing you can bet the field will be full of stars paying tribute and the trophy ceremony will be emotional. Winning it this year will be extra special.
The PLAYERS ' newly renovated course, new date in May and plenty of fireworks after the Masters and before the U.S. Open.
2. Turtle Doves (Two Most Perplexing Players Heading to 07)
Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. This one is easy for me. Each man could win multiple majors and also Player of the Year. Each one could continue along their most recent path and struggle a bit. I pick them because well be watching them as much as anyone. Word is that Phils coming out more fit than ever and at this stage Ernies knee can no longer be an issue. The feeling here is that each man wins early whether they win often is what Ill be waiting to see.
1. Partridge in a Pear Tree (One Player of the Year)
In two of the last three years on the PGA TOUR I picked Ernie Els. He hasnt been able to do it. This year, Im not taking the chance. Until somebody proves Tigers not the best, hes still the best.
Predictions are just that. And youll probably find plenty of reason to disagree. Thats just fine with me. I enjoy reading your take on my take. More than anything, Im looking forward to a new look PGA TOUR, the continuation of a great bit of LPGA momentum and some new fresh faces on the Champions Tour.
The fresh new beginning for The Golf Channel is pretty exciting too. I hope youll enjoy the ride along with us. Happy Holidays!
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers
CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.
Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.
While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.
“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”
Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.
“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”
Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close
CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.
McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.
“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”
The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.
“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”
He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.
“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”
Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence
CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.
Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.
Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.
It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.
“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”
Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.
“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”
Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection
CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.
Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.
Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.
“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”
Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.
“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”
Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.
“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”