Tough Business Picking Major Champs These Days

By Rex HoggardAugust 12, 2010, 4:12 am
2010 PGA Championship

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Some call it parity, but the unfiltered truth is that what’s erupted in golf over the last 12 months borders on competitive anarchy.

First, the hard numbers: Five of the past six majors have been won by first-time Grand Slam champions. The trifecta atop the world’s golf marquee (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood) has combined for just two PGA Tour titles this year and in an ode to recent form the last competitive cards signed by those three added up to 77-78-WD respectively at Firestone.

In short, Nos. 1 (Woods), 2 (Mickelson) and 3 (Westwood) are either on a couch, or should be.

Perhaps not since 1997 when Woods made history with his maiden Masters title have the prognosticators been so utterly powerless in predicting a champion.

Even the experts in the United Kingdom betting houses flirted with the idea that Woods, along with Mickelson, should be an 8-to-1 co-favorite when play gets underway here at Whistling Straits for the 92nd PGA Championship. But then again, Woods played the final 18 at Firestone like an 18-handicap and the line was reset on Woods to a meek 16-to-1 behind Lefty.

Gone are the days when round pegs went into round holes on Sunday. All that seemed to end, at least metaphorically, at this championship last year when little-known Y.E. Yang did the unthinkable and ran down Woods on Sunday at a major.

“The days of no-names getting in contention on Sunday afternoon and backing up, it doesn’t really happen anymore,” Graeme McDowell said.

McDowell should know, he had only one gear at Pebble Beach, stormed past Dustin Johnson and never gave any mind to Ernie Els (No. 6 in the world) on his way to his first major championship.

The what, in practical terms, is simple enough. On Thursday at Whistling Straits 156 players will tee it up and no fewer than 100 have realistic title dreams. The why, however, is a little more cloudy.

Without question Woods no longer holds the mental edge over the field like he used to. He may still be No. 1, but he no longer takes the tee with a 1-up edge based on pure moxie.

Whether all that changed on Nov. 27 or the subsequent chapters is impossible to tell, but what is real among the frat brothers is that Superman no longer seems bulletproof. Not after going eight starts without a victory, the second-longest title drought to start a season. Or after 18 over par at Firestone, a course he’s owned in the past.

“I’ll be honest the feeling in the locker room is slightly different,” Paul Casey said. “Guys feel that this is very much, with the way (Woods) played the past week, this is wide open, and that’s not a feeling that a lot of guys have had before.”

There’s little doubt Woods will rediscover his mojo, but the rank-and-file – more so than those atop the ranking – seem intent on making the most of the lull in the storm.

And Woods is not the only alpha male misfiring when it matters.

Mickelson has had at least a half dozen chances to overtake Woods atop the world ranking with no crown to show for it. Sunday’s unsightly 78 at Firestone may have been the most high-profile miscue, but since his Masters victory Lefty has just three top 10s and has finished T-48, T-46 in his last two starts.

Westwood, on the DL for at least four more weeks with a calf injury, has been the most consistent player on the planet yet has just a single victory this year (St. Jude Classic) and was unable to keep pace with little-known Louis Oosthuizen at the Open Championship.

Even Els has not been as commanding as he was when he won twice earlier this year in Florida.

Yet what the headliners seem to have lost in cache’ those playing from the pack have used that void to fuel a collective confidence boost that has been years in the making.

“A top-50 tennis player in the world takes on Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, they have absolutely no chance,” McDowell said. “The No. 50 player in the world could beat Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or Steve Stricker or Lee Westwood any given day.”

Try 110th. That was Yang’s ranking when he won last year’s PGA. Or 54th, Oosthuizen at St. Andrews, or even McDowell’s relatively lofty spot in the world (36th) when he outlasted all at Pebble Beach.

Picking a winner on the PGA Tour has become hazardous duty, with a Ouija board and tarot cards every bit as helpful as a media guide and performance charts. The days of penciling Woods or Mickelson into an office pool have gone the way of three-shot par 5s and square grooves.

“This could very well be a Shaun Micheel type year,” said one longtime Tour observer on Wednesday at Whistling Straits. “A player that the public might consider a fluke but that we know is a very good player.”

Oh yeah, Micheel. Now he wouldn’t be a bad pick.

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Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.


A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

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Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

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5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

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Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”