Great performances - not dominance - theme of new era

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2014, 8:00 pm

HOYLAKE, England – Players can’t pinpoint the exact moment when golf’s era of dominance ended, and, really, they don’t have to. The point is that it’s over.

For years, Tiger Woods’ superior play stunted the careers of immensely talented players. Now 38, he’s no longer the biggest hitter on the PGA Tour (Bubba Watson), or the best scorer (Sergio Garcia), or the best ball-striker (Adam Scott), or the best putter (Graeme McDowell).

That’s not a knock on Woods, a five-time winner a year ago. That’s simply a statement of how deep the talent pool has become.

Heck, not even Woods himself can ignore the new world order, saying last week, “It gets harder every year, just because the fields get deeper. The margin is so much smaller. It’s only going to continue to be the case.”

And that was before Rory McIlroy’s latest tour de force, the surest sign yet that we’re in the midst of a new era in golf. Unlike the oppressive one that preceded it, this period is defined by a handful of all-or-nothing, go-for-broke studs whose careers will more resemble Phil Mickelson’s occasional brilliance than Woods’ sustained dominance.

Since Woods last won a major, in June 2008, 19 different players have captured one of the Grand Slam events. That’s a stark contrast to the 24 majors pre-Torrey, when Tiger and Phil scooped up nine of the titles – or 38 percent – in that span.


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McIlroy is the only player with a major hat trick over the past six years, which only underscores the point: Any of the top 25 players in the world are capable of putting a stranglehold on a tournament if everything perfectly aligns.

More than ever, there is a sense that the game is cracked wide open, that anyone can win on a given week.

That’s what happened with Bubba Watson, who slipped into his second green jacket with a virtuoso performance. That’s what happened with Martin Kaymer, who raced out to a huge lead at Pinehurst and then stiff-armed the field over the weekend. And that’s what happened again last week with McIlroy, who sealed the Open with a pair of eagles in his last three holes in Round 3.

Three extravagantly talented players. Three big-time victories.

“You never want to discount the possibility of someone coming along and dominating,” Mickelson said, “but nobody has really asserted themselves week-in, week-out the way Tiger did for such a long period of time. We’ll have great performances, like Rory this week and like Kaymer at the U.S. Open, but it’s very hard to do that week-in, week-out the way Tiger did. That’s why it was so impressive what he did.”

Outsized expectations accompanied both Watson and Kaymer in the wake of their second major victories, yet an encore proved difficult. An in-form Watson missed the cut in his next major start at Pinehurst, while a red-hot Kaymer finished 70th at Hoylake.

Those expectations (for the PGA and beyond) are now colossal for McIlroy, who at 25 became the third-youngest player to win the first three legs of the career Grand Slam.

With booming drives and timely putting, McIlroy reminded everyone at Royal Liverpool that his A-game is unmatched. Of course, the challenge – for Bubba, for Martin, for Rory – is sustaining that sublime form over a few months, a season, or a half-decade.

Only Woods – with a career winning percentage north of 25 percent – has been able to master that.

McIlroy briefly fell off after his redemptive 2011 U.S. Open victory. In late 2012, he added three more worldwide titles after the PGA, but then went quiet for a year and a half while dealing with equipment changes, lawsuits and breakups.

Now, as he returns to the spotlight, he finds a crowded landscape with more players who are bigger, faster, stronger, better.

“There are too many good players now,” McDowell said. “It’s so deep. It’s so strong. Everyone is so good. It’s very hard to dominate the way (Woods) did. Someone like Rory or Adam Scott maybe could do it; they’re that good. But so is everyone else, unfortunately.

“That type of dominance, I don’t think we’re going to see that again for a while unless somebody comes out who has perfected the imperfectable. These guys, the best players in the world, they’re playing pretty close to as good as you can play, really.”

Earlier this year McIlroy opined that the game desperately needed a player who could “stamp his authority,” but until this point, no one had taken the significant step forward. Just this year alone Jimmy Walker, Zach Johnson, Justin Rose, Watson and Kaymer have all staked their claim as the game’s hottest player, but their form proved fleeting.

After another eye-opening performance, there is little doubt that McIlroy possesses the most upside, but his yearlong dry spell cost him the No. 1 ranking. Having dropped all the way to 11th at one point, not even two big titles in the past month could propel him back to the top spot.

Golf is a momentum sport, and no one has a bigger head of steam at the moment than McIlroy. As he gushed Sunday night, “I want to be the guy that goes on and wins majors regularly.”

So did the others. In this era, it’s easier said than done.

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 5:00 pm

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams have advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals will be contested on Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.

Scoring:

TV Times (all times ET):

Tuesday
11AM-conclusion: Match-play quarterfinals (Click here to watch live)
4-8PM: Match-play semifinals

Wednesday
4-8PM: Match-play finals

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Davis: USGA learned from setup errors at Shinnecock

By Will GrayMay 22, 2018, 4:51 pm

With the U.S. Open set to return to Shinnecock Hills for the first time in 14 years, USGA executive director Mike Davis insists that his organization has learned from the setup mistakes that marred the event the last time it was played on the Southampton, N.Y., layout.

Retief Goosen held off Phil Mickelson to win his second U.S. Open back in 2004, but the lasting image from the tournament may have been tournament officials spraying down the seventh green by hand during the final round after the putting surface had become nearly unplayable. With the course pushed to the brink over the first three days, stiff winds sucked out any remaining moisture and players struggled to stay on the greens with 30-foot putts, let alone approach shots.

Speaking to repoters at U.S. Open media day, Davis offered candid reflections about the missteps that led to the course overshadowing the play during that infamous final round.

"I would just say that it was 14 years ago. It was a different time, it was different people, and we as an organzation, we learned from it," Davis said. "When you set up a U.S. Open, it is golf's ultimate test. It's probably set up closer to the edge than any other event in golf, and I think that the difference then versus now is we have a lot more technology, a lot more data in our hands.

"And frankly, ladies and gentlemen, what really happened then was just a lack of water."

Davis pointed to enhancements like firmness and moisture readings for the greens that weren't available in 2004, and he noted that meterological data has evolved in the years since. With another chance to get his hands on one of the USGA's favorite venues, he remains confident that tournament officials will be able to better navigate the thin line between demanding and impossible this time around.

"There are parts that I think we learned from, and so I think we're happy that we have a mulligan this time," Davis said. "It was certainly a bogey last time. In fact maybe even a double bogey, and equitable stroke control perhaps kicked in."

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UCLA junior Vu named WGCA Player of the Year

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 3:23 pm

UCLA junior Lilia Vu was named Player of the Year on Tuesday by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association (WGCA).

Vu recorded the lowest full-season scoring average (70.37) in UCLA history. Her four tournament wins tied the school record for most victories in a single season.

Vu was also named to the WGCA All-America first team. Here's a look at the other players who joined her on the prestigious list:

WGCA First Team All-Americans

  • Maria Fassi, Junior, University of Arkansas
  • Kristen Gillman, Sophomore, University of Alabama
  • Jillian Hollis, Junior, University of Georgia
  • Cheyenne Knight, Junior, University of Alabama
  • Jennifer Kupcho, Junior, Wake Forest University
  • Andrea Lee, Sophomore, Stanford University
  • Leona Maguire, Senior, Duke University
  • Sophia Schubert, Senior, University of Texas
  • Lauren Stephenson, Junior, University of Alabama
  • Maddie Szeryk, Senior, Texas A&M University
  • Patty Tavatanakit, Freshman, UCLA
  • Lilia Vu, Junior, UCLA
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Stroud's caddie wins annual PGA Tour caddie tournament

By Rex HoggardMay 22, 2018, 3:15 pm

Casey Clendenon, who caddies for Chris Stroud, won the gross division of the annual PGA Tour caddie tournament on Monday, shooting a 5-under 66 at Trinity Forest Golf Club, site of last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson.

Scott Tway (65), who caddies for Brian Harman, won the net division by two strokes over Wayne Birch, Troy Merritt’s caddie.

Kyle Bradley, Jonathan Byrd’s caddie, took second place with a 71 in the gross division.

The tournament was organized by the Association of Professional Tour Caddies, and proceeds from the event went to two charities. The APTC donated $20,000 to Greg Chalmers’ charity, MAXimumChances.org, which aids families living with autism. The association also donated $10,000 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.