The men's first major still looms next week at Augusta National and yet the condensed PGA Tour season has reached the turn with last week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play the 23rd of 46 events, which means it's time for GolfChannel.com’s annual mid-term grades.
Return of Rors. Even at the height of the second-guessing, Rory McIlroy remained convinced he was on the right path and that patience and his dedication to a long-term plan was all he needed.
The payoff was his convincing victory at last month’s Players Championship to punctuate what has already been an impressive season that includes top-10 finishes in all seven starts this year.
“I feel like I've managed the first … tournaments of the year very well, even with some noise around me, whether it is, he can't close, he can't play on Sundays, blah, blah, blah,” said McIlroy, who will hear plenty of noise next week when he heads to Augusta National to complete the career Grand Slam. GRADE: A+.
Overruled. The changes to the Rules of Golf this year began as a mild curiosity and ballooned into what would best be described as a frigid standoff between the rule makers and some of the game’s top players before calmer heads prevailed.
Rickie Fowler took exception to the new standard for drops from knee-height instead of shoulder-height during the WGC-Mexico Championship.
“We have been making fun of the knee drop for so long that it was ingrained, my first drop was going to be from knee. Like, this is an iconic moment. I get to drop from my knee and look, stupid,” Fowler said after being penalized for taking an incorrect drop from shoulder-height in Mexico.
A week later at the Honda Classic it was Justin Thomas taking aim at the new rule that doesn’t allow caddies to deliberately stand behind a player when they are taking a stance.
Eventually the Tour stepped in and called for peace and the USGA hired the always-popular Jason Gore as the association’s senior director of player relations to help smooth things over. GRADE: C-
Scheduled adjustments. It’s too early to take a proper deep dive on the overhauled Tour schedule with the bulk of the changes, including the PGA Championship moving to May and changes to the playoffs and the format for the Tour Championship still pending, but so far the implementation has been seamless.
Concerns over the crowded spring schedule were largely exaggerated with the Honda Classic, which had its lowest strength of field in a decade, taking the brunt of the adjustments. The field for the Arnold Palmer Invitational was better according to the Official World Golf Ranking than the 2018 tournament and the Valspar Championship was nearly identical to ’18. GRADE: Incomplete.
Anger management. Sergio Garcia has always been an emotional player but so far in 2019 the Spaniard has shown just one emotion on the golf course – anger.
In January, Garcia was disqualified from the Saudi International for serious misconduct after damaging several greens and during last week’s WGC-Match Play there were a few tense moments during his quarterfinal match against Matt Kuchar after Garcia raked a 4-inch putt that had not been conceded.
It’s been an eventful year for Garcia for all the wrong reasons. GRADE: D.
Keeping pace. Before he wheeled down Magnolia Lane for last year’s Masters, Tiger Woods had made five starts on the PGA Tour and posted two top-10 finishes. Considering the medical hurdles he had to clear it was an encouraging time for the 14-time major champion.
He will arrive at the year’s first major next week with an identical record as 2018: five starts on Tour and two top-10 finishes. He actually has more tournament rounds under his belt so far in ’19 (21) compared to last season (18). The difference this year is that expectations have predictably bubbled over.
He’s listed just behind McIlroy and Dustin Johnson as a favorite to win the Masters despite having not seriously contended this year, and his inconsistent putting continues to be an issue. He also missed the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a neck strain which is always concerning for a player with four back surgeries. GRADE: B.
Keeping up with Kuchar. Kuchar’s season has been the definition of extremes. He’s the only two-time winner on Tour with victories at the Mayakoba Golf Classic and Sony Open and he finished runner-up last week at the WGC-Match Play.
After Garcia he’s also spent the season under the most scrutiny following a bizarre incident with his local caddie last fall at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. Kuchar initially paid his local caddie, David Ortiz, $5,000 which is what the duo agreed to before the tournament.
When the story became public, Kuchar initially dug in against criticism but eventually relented and paid Ortiz an additional $45,000. Kuchar and Ortiz also met last month in Mexico City and reportedly cleared the air. GRADE: C+.