Major parity a product of Woods' lull and greater depth

By Rex HoggardAugust 8, 2012, 5:17 pm

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – One man’s parity is another’s pendulum, at least when it comes to the shifting sands of competitive golf.

Consider the current state of the game which has been awash in competitive equality dating now to the 2008 PGA Championship. Of the 16 majors played since Padraig Harrington hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy at Oakland Hills there have been 16 different champions.

In team sports salary caps and revenue sharing produce that kind of parity, turns out in golf all one needs to level the playing field is a misfiring superstar and a newfound depth of field.

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“The quality of play combined with Tiger Woods’ struggles,” explained longtime Tour swing coach Jim McLean when asked about the phenomenon on Wednesday at the 94th PGA Championship. “It’s a turning of the page.”

Perhaps, but this is not, however, an entirely unfamiliar tome.

From the 1967 U.S. Open to the 1970 British Open, Jack Nicklaus endured the longest major slump while he was in the prime of his career, a run that featured 12 majors won by 11 different players.

That a similar run seems to be repeating itself at the same time that Woods is forging through the longest major drought of his career – it’s been four years and 13 Grand Slam starts since Woods last won on the game’s brightest stage – is not mutually exclusive.

Throughout golf’s history, the ebb and flow of the game’s alpha male could be measured at the majors.

From the ’83 British Open to the ’87 PGA Championship, there were 18 different major champions, a relative lull in the competitive landscape between the Nicklaus and Woods eras.

A similar run occurred from the ’90 PGA to the ’94 U.S. Open when there were 15 different winners for 15 majors. The exception to this rule came in the twilight of Nicklaus’ career between the 1980 PGA and his historic victory at the ’86 Masters, when 16 players won 20 majors, a run that included four majors for Tom Watson.

In golf these lulls are akin to the law of diminishing returns. Once-in-a-generation players are, by definition, rare; therefore it stands to reason that it would be a champion by committee approach filling time between legends.

Whether this is the natural evolution of the competitive landscape or a short lived anomaly caused by Woods’ Grand Slam slide is open to interpretation.

Through the first dozen years of his career, Woods won 30 percent of his major starts and averaged better than one Grand Slam victory per season. Since his one-legged masterpiece at Torrey Pines in 2008, however, he’s been shut out in the events that matter the most by a combination of injury, both physical and mental, and an ever-expanding field of contenders.

“Golf is getting deep,” Woods said on Tuesday at Kiawah, site of this week’s PGA Championship. “There’s so many guys with a chance to win. That’s kind of how sport is. The margins are getting smaller. If you’ve got margins that are that small you’re going to get guys who win once here and there.”

But that does little to clarify the debate: Did Woods open the door for all comers, or did they simply crash through uninvited?

That two of this season’s three major champions would be considered from the new generation – Masters winner Bubba Watson and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson – would suggest the latter.

“The younger generation now you’re seeing a lot more than 10 years ago,” Simpson said. “The main reason we’re in a great time is because you’ve got some of the more veteran players, the (Steve) Strickers, the (Phil) Mickelsons, the Woods, they’re still playing great golf, then you’ve got the middle generation and then the young guys like Rory (McIlroy) and Keegan (Bradley).”

But then Ernie Els’ victory last month at the British Open doesn’t exactly square with that reality.

Els, more so than any other player of Woods’ generation, has endured the most from Woods’ greatness. After finishing runner-up to Woods at the 2000 U.S. Open the Big Easy’s frustrations were clear when he was asked about the 15-stroke margin of victory.

“If you put Old Tom Morris with Tiger Woods, he'd probably beat him by 80 shots right now,” Els hissed at the time. “The guy is unbelievable, man. I guess he's the first guy to ever go into double figures in a U.S. Open. As you say, to win by 15 strokes, biggest margin in a major. I'm running out of words. Give me a break.”

But last month at Lytham, Els did what Woods had perfected over a dozen years, keep pace with the leaders late into Sunday and make your move when it counts – at the end. A player with a rebuilt knee, balky putter and fragile psyche doesn’t exactly fit the criteria of unbridled talent or tectonic shifts in golf’s hierarchy.

Nor does it seem likely the revolving door of major champions is about to come to an end, not if one considers the list of favorites this week on a soggy Ocean Course. After Woods, the odds makers have tabbed world No. 1 Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Adam Scott and Jason Dufner you pre-tournament favorites.

The only thing that foursome has in common is a missing major from the mantel. It’s a reality compounded by the PGA’s penchant for one-offs.

Three of the last four PGA winners were first-time major champions and half of the last 16 winners of “Glory’s Last Shot” are one-hit wonders. In short, the PGA is not likely going to be the cure for parity.

Whether this is a lull in Woods’ greatness, as some predict, or the new normal remains to be seen, but the only safe bet this week seems to be that the 17th different player will be celebrating late Sunday afternoon.

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Woods on firing shot into crowd: 'I kept moving them back'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:14 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It added up to another even-par round, but Tiger Woods had an eventful Friday at The Open.

His adventure started on the second hole, when he wiped a drive into the right rough. Standing awkwardly on the side of a mound, he prepared for a quick hook but instead fired one into the crowd that was hovering near the rope line.

“I kept moving them back,” he said. “I moved them back about 40 yards. I was trying to play for the grass to wrap the shaft around there and hit it left, and I was just trying to hold the face open as much as I possibly could. It grabbed the shaft and smothered it.

“I was very, very fortunate that I got far enough down there where I had a full wedge into the green.”

Woods bogeyed the hole, one of four on the day, and carded four birdies in his round of 71 at Carnoustie. When he walked off the course, he was in a tie for 30th, six shots off the clubhouse lead.

It’s the first time in five years – since the 2013 Open – that Woods has opened a major with consecutive rounds of par or better. He went on to tie for sixth that year at Muirfield.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.