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Bubba Watson

Aug 02, 2016 | 09:51 am

Ryder/Olympic Irony

The PGA Championship results have produced a reshuffling of the names at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup team qualifying race. Jimmy Walker’s victory launched him from 29th place to 4th while Brooks Koepka, finishing in the top four, moved into fifth place on the list of eight automatic qualifiers. With four weeks to go, the top eight are Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Walker, Koepka, Zach Johnson, J.B. Holmes, and Brandt Snedeker. Captain Davis Love will make three of his picks the week of August 29 with a fourth pick coming at the conclusion of the Fedex Cup playoffs on September 25, the Sunday before Ryder Cup week. So who should the four be? A strong case could be made for players 9-12 on the current points list—Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar, and Rickie Fowler—not just because of their point totals but because they will be the four U.S. representatives at the Olympic Games. By going to Rio, they will take themselves out of the points competition for one crucial week, when the John Deere Classic will be played and other players will be allowed to earn points and jump up the list. There’s something not only ironic but wrong in that—by representing their nation, these four have no choice but to imperil their chances of representing their nation. 

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Aug 01, 2016 | 06:39 am

Lessons From The PGA Championship

First Time’s A Charm. So it was for all four major-championship victors, all first-time major winners, this year. But to be honest, Dustin Johnson (U.S. Open) and Henrik Stenson (Open Championship) were on that “best to never win a major” list, meaning their wins were somewhat expected if not now then soon. But Danny Willett and PGA champion Jimmy Walker (above)? Both were big surprises.

Although the Masters was Willett’s fifth victory since 2012, he hadn’t done much in the majors until this past April, and since then he went T37, T53, and T79 in the two Opens and the PGA, and he missed the cut at The Players. In Europe, other than a third at the BMW PGA Championship, his other half-dozen or so finishes were well down the leaderboard.

As for Walker, he had a couple of top-10s on Tour earlier this year, a few finishes in the 20s, and some missed cuts. He was a long way from his three-win season in 2014, when he climbed as high as 10th in the world. If he gets back in the zone he rode in a few years back—is a wire-to-wire PGA an omen?—his first major could be the start of something big.

Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. A good crew can beat bad weather. The team taking care of the Lower Course at Baltusrol did an amazing job getting the course ready for a round-and-a-half on Sunday. Honestly, we're surprised the tournament got finished before Monday.

No Re-Shuffle. Because of the bad weather, which meant nearly half the field had to finish the third round Sunday morning, the PGA of America made the decision not to stop after the third round and make new pairings based on where players stood. If they had, Walker and Jason Day would have played together in the final group; instead, Day was in the penultimate group, one ahead of Walker. Would it have mattered had they gone head-to-head? Would we have had another Stenson-Mickelson-type finish? We'll never know.

The Rules Rule. Jordan Spieth and Rules official Bruce Gregory did everything properly on the 7th hole Friday when Spieth’s ball came to rest in casual water. After all the other brouhahas this summer, it’s almost possible to excuse the Rules ranters on Twitter and elsewhere. Almost. But sometimes—no, make that most of the time—the Rules experts get it right.

The Hole Truth. However, it is harder to understand—and excuse—the incorrect pin sheet given to the first group to play the 10th hole on Friday. Let’s hope that never happens again.

If The Ryder Cup Were Held Today… The U.S. team would seem to have a slight edge, based on the PGA results. Even though Dustin Johnson, currently number-one in Ryder Cup points, missed the cut, there were solid performances from Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, Zach Johnson, and Phil Mickelson. And Walker, who went into the PGA in 29th place in points, is sure to get at least a close look from Davis Love III as a captain’s pick. For the Europeans, Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer played well, as did Justin Rose, Soren Kjeldsen, Tyrrell Hatton, and Paul Casey. However, with the strong performances of Jason Day, Branden Grace, and Hideki Matsuyama, it’s a good thing the Presidents Cup is more than a year away.

Pro Golf Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint. Walker is 37 years old, turned pro in 2001, and had three wins on the Nationwide Tour between 2004 and '07. He first played the PGA Tour in 2006 but it took him a few years to settle in. He had five Tour victories between 2013 and ‘15, including two at the Sony Open in Hawaii (winning the second, in 2015, by 9 strokes). Before yesterday, his best finish in a major was a tie for 7th in the PGA in 2014; in fact, he’d had only three top-10 finishes in 17 appearances. And he’d missed the cut in both the U.S. Open and Open Championship this summer. (He was T29 at Augusta.)

Wiki Leaks? If you happened to be online while the leaders were playing the last few holes yesterday, you might have noticed that with four holes to play, Wikipedia had already awarded Walker the PGA title. You might want to check there first before you place your next golf bet.

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Jul 29, 2016 | 08:51 am

The Difference is on the Greens

The greens at Baltusrol are a mix of poa annua and bent grasses, and while they may be smooth and beautiful in the morning, they become tricky over the course of the day. The difficult grass in that mix is poa annua, which grows at a different rate – much faster – than the bent grass. After a cut and roll in the morning leaves smooth greens for early groups, the poa begins to grow and create a bumpier playing surface in the afternoon.

The result yesterday was some of the best players in the world struggling with the flat stick. Rory McIlroy missed every putt outside of seven feet, Jason Day made two longer than six feet, and Jordan Spieth even addressed the greens in his post-round press conference. The winner this week won’t let the greens bother him. If the greens become too bumpy, you might also expect to see a winner from a western state, where bumpy poa annua greens are the norm (remember Tiger’s bumpy putt to get into the 2008 U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines?).

To watch live action from Baltusrol, have a look at this feed from the PGA Championship.

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Jul 28, 2016 | 06:11 am

PGA Championship: Things To Think About

The year’s final major begins today, and with it come a number of interesting stories. As you follow the action from Baltusrol, here’s what people will be talking about.

The Weather. In a word, yuck. Just like the rest of the country, the New York metropolitan area has been hot and sticky the last few days. Baltusrol is only 25 miles from midtown Manhattan, and the local forecast calls for heat (high 80s to low 90s) and humidity Thursday and Saturday, thunderstorms Friday and Sunday.

The Olympics. The teams for Rio have been set, and a number of notables—including Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer, Padraig Harrington, and all four players from the U.S. (Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar)—will be heading south soon after the PGA is over, and after a busy season that also included travel and tough conditions at Oakmont and Royal Troon. Furthermore, a number of PGA/Olympic players are committed to next week’s Travelers Invitational first, including defending champion Bubba Watson, Kuchar, Reed, and Harrington (and probably others, as well, who have yet to commit), meaning there may be some very tired globetrotters on the greens the next few weeks.

The Not-So-Big Three. Among the players we thought would have had a major by now this year are Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, and Jason Day. This is their last chance in 2016.

The First-Timers. One reason the trio above hasn’t added a major this year are Danny Willett (Masters), Dustin Johnson (U.S. Open), and Stenson (Open Championship). Three majors, three first-time winners. Will another first-timer win at Baltusrol?

Is It Their Time? The best players yet to win a major in this week’s PGA field include Garcia, Fowler, Reed, Brandt Snedeker, Paul Casey, Luke Donald, and Lee Westwood.

More Fight In Phil? After his sensational week at Troon, can Mickelson find the magic again?

Continental Drift. Of the four majors, the PGA is the least welcoming to winners from across the Atlantic. Only six players from Europe and the UK have won the championship since it began in 1916 (Jim Barnes, in 1916 and ’19, and McIlroy ,in 2012 and ’14, won it twice each). Harrington’s victory in 2008 was the first European win since Tommy Armour in 1930. And there has been only one winner from Continental Europe, Germany’s Martin Kaymer in 2010.

Baltusrol’s Past Champions. Past winners of majors at Baltusrol include both heavyweights and lesser-knowns. Which category will add a name on Sunday?

1903 U.S. Open          Willie Anderson

1915 U.S. Open          Jerome Travers (amateur)

1936 U.S. Open         Tony Manero

1954 U.S. Open         Ed Furgol

1961 Women’s Open  Mickey Wright

1967 U.S. Open         Jack Nicklaus

1980 U.S. Open         Jack Nicklaus

1985 Women’s Open  Kathy Baker

1993 U.S. Open         Lee Janzen

2005 PGA                   Phil Mickelson

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