2018 Year In Review: 20-1
Take yourself back in time. Go back ten, or maybe, fifteen years. Tell your past self that in 2018, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will not only be cool with each other, but that they’ll be tight enough to have practice rounds together at major championships, and that they’ll go on a whirlwind press tour together to promote a PPV match between them for $9 million. Tell your past self that throughout all of this, the two have been adamant that the frosty relationship the two had was more of a media concoction than one built on actual animosity. If your past self has stopped laughing at you, feel free, I guess, to tell them about the actual match, which was some combination of good, bad, and awful all at the same time.
The idea of Tiger and Phil playing a televised match is, on its face, a great idea. For better or worse, they are still the two of the five or six biggest draws in the sport, depending on what you think of Phil, and realistically, golf tournaments and broadcasts could use someone shaking the tree a little bit anyway. How we got to the final product, and what it ended up looking like, featured some stumbling blocks though, that should be rectifiable for future iterations, and let’s be honest: this isn’t the last you’ve seen of this concept.
Back in July, Phil basically let the cat out of the bag, telling Alan Shipnuck that the match was supposed to happen on July 3rd, but it hit some snags. From there, everyone knew that it was probably going to happen, but it was just a matter of figuring out the details. I don’t know if Phil let everyone in on the surprise before they were ready, but that would seem like the case given that the rollout of the event made the American Ryder Cup team seem organized. For weeks, no one was talking about things like the date, the course, the format, and how much it was going to cost. What we did get a bunch of very real, and very much not manufactured, trash talk from the two on Twitter, and a poster promoting the event where Tiger appears to be playing left handed.
When details did start to trickle out, people seemed cool about the Thanksgiving weekend timeslot, and it was an opportunity to see Shadow Creek. Match play made the most sense, so that was cool, as was the concept of the two players being mic’d up while they were making side bets. The $20 cost, which I didn’t personally find an issue with, drew some ire, but people seemed to get over that as well.
There was, of course, the little thing about how the two were playing for a massive purse, and how that wasn’t exactly the best look for a game that is already thought of as rich and exclusionary. That was magnified by the fact that of anyone who plays professionally, you’d figure that Tiger and Phil are two guys who don’t really need that kind of cash. Brendan Porath summed it up perfectly in the lead-up:
“This is purely a profit-seeking entertainment sideshow. There are many people with their hand in this experiment trying to make some money. Both players are making buckets of cash regardless of whether they win or lose. Agents are making out nice. TV Executives will be doing just fine. PR people got some Thanksgiving week work. The PGA Tour is taking a cut.
Tiger and Phil want to make money. The very important people with big titles all around this want to make money. The head-to-head game is the vessel for it.”
Some cool stuff was promised from a broadcast perspective prior to the event, but once it actually started, there were major problems. First off, there was a technical malfunction at the start of the broadcast, and basically, everyone who used B/R Live was getting the coverage for free. Issues with the purchasing button basically forced Turner to give the event out for nothing, which seems suboptimal for those who were attempting to make as much money as possible. Good for the fans though. #GrowTheGame, and all that.
With that all settled, we were treated to a pretty decent show, with some cool elements that you might end up seeing down the line. Live win probabilities are interesting on a number of levels, the camera work was good, and if there’s one thing that’s more obvious than anything, it’s that we need more events that put live mics on players. Anything that lets the fans in, and gets them closer to the action and the decisions that get made, is a good thing. Of course, there was a lot of complaining about the announcers, namely Peter Jacobsen, for talking way too much.
For the most part though, it was a pretty entertaining event, even if it wasn’t exactly what everyone had kinda wanted and hoped for from the beginning. Sure, there were too many cooks in the kitchen, but ultimately, it’s a concept that has potential and one that I’d wager we’re going to see an awful lot more of going forward.
Oh, and Phil won in extra holes.
Getting your first win as a professional is a landmark moment. Usually, the way it’s supposed to go is that the first win comes in a relatively minor event on tour, followed by a larger event, and then a major championship. The thought is that there’s a learning curve associated with winning on each of those stages. Some do it faster than others, and some take different paths, which is one of the things that ends up making golf at this level very interesting.
Rarely though do we see a player make their first win a major championship, but that’s exactly what happened in April when Pernilla Lindberg won the ANA Inspiration. Lindberg, a 32 year old from Sweden, has been a solid tour pro since about 2012, and has made at least 25 starts on the LPGA Tour every since 2013, but coming into 2018, her only top-10 finish in a major championship came at the 2015 U.S. Open. In a field of the best women’s players in the world, the 95th ranked Lindberg was not expected to come away with the trophy.
Lindberg started hot, opening with a 7-under par 65 to lead the tournament after the first round. Rounds of 67 and 70 would follow, and Lindberg carried a three shot lead into Sunday, looking for not only her first major championship, but her first ever professional victory.
Bogeys on two of the first three holes dropped her into a tie with playing partner Amy Olson, and after getting on track around the turn, Lindberg played steadily throughout the back nine, but needed a birdie on the last to get into a playoff. Lindberg would make that birdie, setting up a three-way playoff between herself, Jennifer Song, and seven-time major champion Inbee Park. The three ladies made their way back to the 18th tee, and while Song was eliminated on the second hole, Park and Lindberg played the 18th FOUR times. You know the joke that we always make about how the “cameras make it look lighter than it is”? Well, this time, it was plainly obvious: it was damn dark.
After hitting that putt, Lindberg and Park had to come back the next day to finish out, and thankfully, they didn’t just play the 18th over, and over again. Lindberg would end it on the eighth playoff hole with a 30-foot bomb on the 10th hole.
With that, Lindberg had her first professional win, in a major championship against Inbee Park, a living legend in the women’s game. Pretty cool.
Slow play is nothing new on the PGA Tour, even though officials seem to have this massive hesitancy to actually enforce it. However, the epidemic may have hit a new low back in January during the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open.
The final group of J.B. Holmes, Alex Noren, and Ryan Palmer were on the par-5 18th, with Jason Day waiting in the clubhouse at 10-under par. Noren was tied with Day, with Palmer one shot back. Holmes, after a string of bogeys on the back nine, was now two back and needed an eagle to tie Day at the top. Palmer laid up down the fairway, and would wedge it close for a tap-in birdie to tie Day.
With Noren waiting to hit his shot to try and win his first PGA Tour event, Holmes waited for the wind to settle down. He waited, and waited, and waited. Four minutes and ten seconds later, after much back and forth with his caddie, Holmes pulled out a wedge and laid up into the rough, instead of going for the green when he needed an eagle to win.
Four minutes. And ten seconds. Laid up. A shortened (somehow) version of the video is below.
There are so many things to dissect here. First, Holmes needed an eagle to have a chance at a playoff with Day, and he’s one of the biggest hitters on tour. To me, there’s one play in that situation, and it’s not laying up to attempt to hole a wedge from 90 yards. Second, I understand that Holmes is looking out for himself, but what he did to Alex Noren, essentially icing him before he hit his shot, is absolutely brutal.
Third, the group was coming up on six hours to play eighteen holes, and yes, there were extenuating circumstances that week that would have made play longer, but not that much longer. Luke Donald’s tweet above is correct that the officials should have stepped in at some point earlier, but also, there are rules about how long you have to hit a shot, and the maximum of 40-50 seconds depending on situation is a far, far cry from the 250 seconds that Holmes took.
So, Noren waits out Holmes, and blasts his approach well over the green and nearly down the tunnel, and off the golf course. Noren manages to get in with a par to get into the playoff with Palmer and Day, which Day would go on to win on the sixth extra hole, knocking Noren out with a birdie.
The story was far from over though, and in the aftermath, Holmes’ decision was definitely given way more play than anything to do with Day winning the golf tournament. Holmes defended himself to Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte, saying that he didn’t realize how long the whole thing was taking, and that if Noren was bothered by it, he could have played first. Noren, to the best of my knowledge, has never said that it impacted him one way or the other, but how could it not?
Justin Thomas weighed in on it, defending Holmes, and suggesting that if he were in the same position, he would have probably done the same thing. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan also defended Holmes, saying that it’s hard to win on tour, before committing to keeping an eye on slow play instead of actually, you know, enforcing the rules. Brooks Koepka jumped in, and said that the only way to stop it is to actually penalize the players, which couldn’t be more correct. Basically, Holmes’ decision created a shitstorm that engulfed the tour for an entire week, and to this day, has yet to find a resolution.
That resolution, to me, is simple: penalize the players when they break the rules that have been in place for as long as I can remember, and if possible, post the data on who has the fastest and slowest average round times. That second bit would probably ruffle some feathers, and have people talking about edge cases, but it’s a good first step to actually fixing a problem that has needed a solution for far too long.
Even though he will never admit it publicly, it’s pretty obvious that the Phil Mickelson is nearing the end of his time as an elite professional. That’s not to say that he can’t be effective, entertaining, and even win more tournaments, but it’s plainly obvious at this stage that he’s just not the player he once was, and that’s totally fine! At 48 years old, he shouldn’t be the player he once was, and with all of the young talent coming up on the PGA Tour, it’s fair to expect that he’ll continue to be passed by players who can hit it further and straighter than he does now.
At the end of 2018, it’ll be the seventh year in the last eight that Phil will not finish the year inside the top-10 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Again, not a knock because it’s really hard to get into the top-10, but it’s a sign that he’s more likely than not to keep sliding. There is still some game in him though, and he proved that early in the year.
After a slow start, Phil posted good finishes in Phoenix (T5), at Pebble (T2), and at Riviera (T6) before heading to Mexico for the WGC-Mexico Championship. In the 2017 tournament, Phil put on a show for the ages in Saturday’s third round, and back in March, he put himself in a position to win the tournament after a Saturday 65. He was able to get into the final group alongside Shubhankar Sharma. While Sharma faded slightly, Phil was able to get to 16-under par with two holes to play. In front of him though, Justin Thomas was coming off of a bogey and he was playing the last hole.
The hole out got Thomas to 16-under as well, tying Phil at the top of the leaderboard. The two went to the short par-3 17th to start the playoff, and with Thomas long in the rough, and eventually dealing with a careless cameraman, Phil put his ball onto the green and hit a putt that by all accounts, should have dropped in.
Thomas would go on to miss his par putt, and Phil had his first win on the PGA Tour in nearly five years. The rest of his season wasn’t great, with one top-10 finish in his final eighteen starts and a terrible performance in the Ryder Cup, but at least he found the winner’s circle again. Despite his confidence, I can’t get behind him for another seven wins, and I have no idea how many more he’s going to get. As I’ve said in the past, appreciate what we have with him now because there’s never going to be another one.
2018 was a weird year in terms of upheaval at the top of the game. Every year, players drop out of the top-10, and in some cases, they drop way out, but if you had asked me at the beginning of the year which players were the most certain to remain inside the top-10 from the end of 2017, I think I would have said that I was most confident in Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Hideki Matsuyama. DJ, of course, was just fine with his three wins, but both Spieth and Matsuyama were nowhere near as good as we would have expected, and they dropped hard. We’ll get to Spieth later, but what the hell happened to Matsuyama in 2018?
Things seemed to be fine early on with good finishes at Kapalua and Torrey Pines, but he withdrew from Phoenix with a wrist injury, and wasn’t seen for six weeks. When he came back, he was fine, but it took him nearly six months to post another top-10. His playoffs were pretty good, but after that, he was pretty nondescript as he heads toward 2019.
So, those were the results, but what about statistically? When you look at his numbers, he was actually pretty good. From a strokes gained standpoint, he finished 13th on tour in SG: Total, and 6th in Approach. He was slightly worse around the green, but much better when he was putting, posting his best ever SG: Putting mark at a positive .132. He was quite a bit worse off the tee in 2018, but still not terrible.
There was a lot of talk throughout the year about what was wrong with him, and when you look back on it, there really doesn’t appear to be much of anything. There’s no doubting that the results weren’t really what he was looking for, but his SG: Total mark was actually better in 2018 than it was in 2017, meaning he was gaining more shots on the field per round than he was the year before. The injury at the beginning of the year set him back, but Matsuyama’s struggles in 2018 feel more like a random occurrence of events than anything to really be worried about. Assuming there are no lingering effects from the wrist injury, he’s going to be just fine and he’ll win multiple times in 2019.
I talked about this earlier when mentioning Brooke Henderson’s win at the Canadian Open, but being able to win your national title is something special, and given how often Americans win the U.S. Open, I feel like it’s something that my neighbours to the south don’t appreciate enough.
Georgia Hall grew up in Bournemouth, which is a little more than two hours south of London. She got her name from being born during Masters week in 1996 when England’s Nick Faldo captured his third green jacket, so yeah, there’s a long golf connection with Hall and her family. Hall entered the week at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham as the 39th ranked player in the world, and after rounds of 67-68-69, she was in second place, one shot back of Pornanong Phatlum going into the final round. The two went back and forth all day, trading the lead until Phatlum made a double bogey on the 17th.
Hall, with her dad on the bag, was able to come in with a bogey to win her first major championship, and again, her national open.
Randall Mell wrote a great piece for Golf Channel explaining Hall’s journey, and I don’t want to spoil anything from it, so just go read it. It’s a great bit on the family connection, and sacrifices that families like the Hall’s and many others have made in order to allow their children to achieve their dreams.
Each of the major golf tours now features a season long race, and a playoff format. For the cynics, it’s an artificial way of enhancing tournaments that wouldn’t otherwise get a ton of attention, but the flip side to that is obvious: more tournaments, for higher purses, create events where there are more eyeballs. It’s become a necessity in the game these days to declare a winner, and it’s fine. It can feel a little forced at times, but it’s fine.
The four big tours: PGA, European, LPGA and Web.com are all making changes to their versions for 2019, ranging from small to batshit insane crazy, so let’s take a look.
- Web.com: Playoffs end on Labour Day, moving from four events down to three, mirroring the new PGA Tour schedule.
- LPGA: The final tournament, the CME Group Tour Championship, will have double the prize fund ($5 million). Everyone in the field can win the first place prize of $1.5 million, as the points up to that point are erased. The purse is the largest ever in women’s golf.
- European Tour: The new system looks to essentially make it easier for regular members of the European Tour to climb the Race to Dubai. The point system was too skewed towards the majors and WGCs, whereas now, the points awarded will be a little more evenly spread out, making it harder for players like Patrick Reed to quickly climb the Race to Dubai without playing much in Europe.
- PGA Tour: Four playoff events moved down to three, and instead of resetting the points at the Tour Championship, the players at the top of the standings will essentially be given a head start on the rest of the field. From the press release linked above: “The FedExCup points leader after the first two Playoffs events will begin the TOUR Championship at 10-under par. The next four players will start at 8-under through 5-under, respectively. The next five will begin at 4-under, regressing by one stroke per five players until those ranked Nos. 26-30 start at even par.”
There really isn’t much to say about the Web or LPGA changes, and the European Tour stuff makes a ton of sense. But the PGA Tour, just…
Simplifying the FedEx Cup standings and the point race makes a ton of sense, even if it means that we won’t get treated to seeing Steve Sands on golf’s version of the electoral map in the playoffs. But, doing this, where players are getting such a crazy advantage over the rest of the field is, frankly, a disaster in my mind.
Just take this year as an example, where Tiger won at East Lake. He would have been in the 2-under par group, eight shots behind Bryson DeChambeau, and he never would have had a chance to win. That’s an extreme example, obviously, but there’s also something else in the release: the winner of the tournament, even if they are ten shots ahead of the field, is getting credit for the victory as if it’s a regular event! For a sport that often talks about historical significance, giving someone credit for a win in which they are ten shots ahead is ludicrous, and completely invalidates everything that a win is supposed to stand for.
East Lake has hosted the Tour Championship every year since 2004, as well as 1998, 2000, and 2002. The winning score in those events has gone past 13-under par a grand total of two times, and has been under 10-under par six times, meaning that historically, it hasn’t been a birdie fest. It has been a fair test that produces a decent winning score, and now, a 10-under par starting point is going to be very difficult to catch unless someone melts down.
Don’t like it. Granted, the FedEx Cup has changed a ton over the years, and this is a first crack, so I doubt that it’ll stay this way for very long, but it’ll likely be some variation of this, and it just feels artificial.
Hey, so we can all agree on something, right? The golf ball goes really, really far now. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the PGA Tour, playing in a Mid-Am, or hacking it around your local muni, the ball is going further now than it ever has, and hey, the people in charge of the game have finally started to realize it!
Back in March, the USGA and R&A released their annual distance report, and while they didn’t find anything concerning in the last few years, they changed their tune based on what they saw in the 2017 data. Their research found that across all of the tested tours, the increase in driving distance was more than three yards from 2016. This report was on the heels of comments made by both Mike Davis and Martin Slumbers on the issue the previous month, with this quote from Davis standing out, in particular:
“We see a future where a player’s score continues to be fundamentally dictated by his or her athletic and course management skills, not just an over-reliance on equipment and technology.”
Wally Uihlein, former president of Titleist, shot down concerns about distance, as did players like Jimmy Walker and Lucas Glover, all of whom have obvious interests to protect that don’t include golf courses. The most notable comment on the whole issue may have come from Masters Chairman Fred Ridley back in April. Augusta National, in the process of lengthening the par-4 5th hole, are one of the few courses that can continue to buy land in an attempt to suit the modern game, but even that will have its limits at some point. Ridley, in his annual pre-tournament press conference, suggested that something needs to be done.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with this, and I don’t think anyone out there does, either. What I do know is that for the first time in the modern era, everyone that has the power to actually do something is talking about some kind of distance reform. Whether that means rolling back the ball, or changing the equipment, I don’t know. But, what I do know is that this conversation is far from over, and we’ll be hearing a lot more about it over the next twelve months.
Protecting the golf courses around the world, and making them more sustainable is something that we should all be for, and it’s good to know that those in charge are finally taking it seriously.
Twitter, for the most part, is not a place where people go to agree and be happy. One thing that everyone can all agree on though is that the coverage gap from Golf Channel to CBS on weekends, typically from 2:30 to 3:00 PM ET, is downright awful. Recently, that gap has been taken down from 30 minutes to 15, but it’s still terrible, and in an era where everything is accessible via an internet connection, it’s inexcusable. This has also historically been made worse by the fact that CBS often has a college basketball game on in the lead-up to the event, and that game almost never ends on time, so coverage is even later than what is on the schedule.
Everyone bitches about this, and has for years. Twitter tends to be the place where they vent, and no tournament was worse for the coverage gap than Saturday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Over an hour with no shots! As you can imagine, the vitriol that was produced online was astronomical, and whoever was manning the CBS family of social channels was getting hit left, right, and center. What was shocking though was that after years of complaints, they actually listened.
It was an incredibly massive step in the right direction. While the gap still existed, at least we knew that we weren’t going to have to wait even longer to see important stretches of golf on the weekend. Thankfully, the NLU crew kept us entertained the following week, and several after that with their ‘Live from the Coverage Gap’ show that is one of the best ideas to come out in the last twelve months.
Of course, we weren’t quite done yet, as we still had other potential coverage issues to sort out. In addition to the coverage gap, golf fans in North America are often left scrambling when the weather gets in the way. With an outdoor sport, it’s unavoidable that weather will cause issues at some point, and unfortunately, the PGA Tour will have to move tee times up in the event of an incoming storm. There’s nothing they can do about that, but the TV coverage of these events in North America is terrible, as tape delayed coverage is usually the best you can hope for. This is in spite of the fact that the networks are producing their same coverage. Now, you can find shady live streams of the event because Sky Sports in the UK does go up live with the video from the American networks, but you know, that shouldn’t be a hoop that you have to jump through to watch live golf.
This year, the Memorial was once again dealing with weather issues, and times had to be moved up significantly. However, Tiger was in contention going into the final round, sitting five shots back of Bryson DeChambeau’s lead, which obviously heightened everyone’s interest in watching live. So, Golf Channel actually went up live at 8:30 am and did their usual two hours and fifteen minutes before throwing it over to CBS, who streamed the final round live on their website, as well as on PGA Tour Live. Was it perfect? No, but again, at least it was a step in the right direction away from what we had been getting for the previous few years.
Look, we’re still not at a point where we should be 100% satisfied with golf coverage as it compares to other sports, but 2018 was a shift in the right direction, and we should all be thrilled about that. I don’t know that all of the complaining we have done over the years got through, or that those in charge finally just came to their senses, but be happy. We did it.
From the second that Bryson DeChambeau emerged on the scene as a professional, we knew a few things. First, he was completely different than anyone we’d ever seen from an approach standpoint. Sure, we’ve seen weird and eccentric players before, but no one in recent memory even comes close to the way that Bryson thinks about the game, and that’s great. Golf needs more characters, and whether you love him or hate him, Bryson is definitely a character.
Secondly, we also found out pretty quickly that there was an incredibly gifted player underneath all of the crazy, which is good because if there wasn’t, he probably would have been looked at as a low rent, modern day version of Mac O’Grady. How quickly it was all going to come together was anyone’s guess, but it didn’t take long to realize that he was going to have success.
That success came through in a massive way in 2018. After his first win on the PGA Tour at the John Deere in 2017, Bryson started 2018 as the 99th ranked player in the world, and after a few close calls, he had his first win of 2018 at the Memorial, taking Jack’s tournament in a playoff over Byeong-hun An and Kyle Stanley. He didn’t really make much noise after that until the playoffs when he went insane, winning both the Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies Championship.
These two wins removed any doubt whatsoever of him being on the Ryder Cup team, and even though he wasn’t as good as he would have hoped in France, he capped off 2018 by winning again in Vegas in November. Still though, as impressive as winning four times on the PGA Tour is, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention all of the other stuff that happened with Bryson in 2018, because it really shows that we got the full experience over the last twelve months. You’ll also notice that Brendan Porath is the source for a lot of this because, of course he’s the source for a lot of this.
- It starts back in February during Phoenix Open week when Bryson let us in on a little secret: he had to put new clubs in the bag because he was hitting it too good.
- We move to May where Bryson was in the Sky Zone at the Players Championship, breaking down the “Science of Putting”, complaining about not having exact numbers to go on while doing his explanations.
- He got into a fight with the USGA over the use of a compass, just over a year after he fought them on a non-conforming putter.
- He completely lost it on the range at the Open Championship:
- And lastly, I think, he announced that he’ll be putting with the flagstick in at every event in 2019, with the exception of the U.S. Open because of the “coefficient of restitution of the flagstick”.
We don’t deserve Bryson, guys. Be thankful, every single day, that he exists and we have access to his mind, his content, and his ability on the golf course. He’s a treat.
The 2016 Ryder Cup wasn’t quite as bad for Europe as the 2014 Ryder Cup was for the Americans, but it obviously wasn’t good. The 17-11 final score in favour of the Americans was actually probably a little kind to the Europeans, who aside from Rory, Thomas Pieters, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, were basically terrible, and with the young American talent on the way, there were a lot of people who thought that the 2018 version would be another romp for the United States.
It was a romp, alright. At the end of it, Thomas Bjorn’s European side crushed Jim Furyk’s Americans 17.5-10.5, and there were points during the match where it didn’t even feel like it was that close. The striking thing about it was that the Americans were actually ahead 3-1 after the opening session! The only match that the Euros were able to take in the Friday morning fourball session was Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood taking down Tiger and Patrick Reed, which was definitely a sign of things to come.
In the afternoon, Europe swept the foursomes, which was the first time they had ever swept an entire foursome session at the Ryder Cup, and none of the matches were even close. The Saturday morning session continued the dominance, with Europe taking three of the four matches, and seven of the past eight. Going into the Sunday singles, Europe was up 10-6, and even though there were points on Sunday when it looked like the U.S. might have a slight chance, it was never really all that close, and Europe won the session by three leading to the seven point victory.
I’ll get to the American struggles in a second, but here are the things that stood out to me from the European side:
- Molinari going undefeated was obviously the story of the week, and it was a perfect example of how certain players can fit courses. Molinari is a short hitter, but has always just hit the ball on a string, which is exactly what you needed at Le Golf National, which punished anything that was slightly offline.
- Their records don’t necessarily show it, but I feel like having Paul Casey and Ian Poulter there was a big deal, especially for a side that, much like 2016, had a lot of rookies that could have easily folded.
- This video was also shown to the European team the night before the event started. How much of an impact did it have? I have no idea, but it’s an inspired bit of footage, and a great wrap up on the week given that they ended up winning despite being looked at as underdogs the whole time.
- Alex Noren is a stud.
- How crazy would it have sounded if you had said before the event started that the Europeans would dominate with none of Rory, Justin Rose, or Jon Rahm finishing with winning records?
- Watching Tommy Fleetwood celebrate with the fans, is an image that will never leave me. It’s one of the lasting memories of 2018, without question.
It was just a masterful display of golf, but there’s also the other side to the story, and that is somehow way, way more newsworthy than the European victory. Let’s get to it now.
So, as I already stated: the Americans were the favourites, at least on paper and with the bookmakers, to win this event and to win it handily. They had a great mix of young talent and veterans, and the only player ranked outside of the top-20 in the world was Phil Mickelson. Contrast that with the European side, who were running five rookies out there and had to rely on out of form veterans to fill out the squad, and it looked as though Europe had a potential disaster on their hands.
One thing they did have going for them at the start of the week was control of the course. With the home team getting to handle the course setup, Thomas Bjorn followed the standard European tradition of making it incredibly penal to miss the fairway, with thick and juicy rough that would have made Sandy Tatum proud. Typically, that is how European captains have set up their courses because it suits their players, and this was no different. While the Americans were running a group of bombers out there, the Europeans had more players that leaned towards the precision game over brute strength. As a starting point, this flummoxed the Americans, who outside of the first session, couldn’t seem to find the fairway whatsoever.
The Europeans were simply better on the course than the Americans, and the final tally showed that, quite obviously. Jim Furyk’s captain’s picks were dreadful, with Phil, Tiger, and Bryson all going winless, while Tony Finau went a very respectable 2-1.
- Phil, for some reason, was sent out in foursomes instead of fourballs, and was benched until singles. His foursome match with Bryson against Sergio and Noren was a complete disaster, with the Americans 7 down after the opening nine. This included the par-5 3rd hole, where Phil took iron out off the tee because he was worried about putting it in the water, and he then proceeded to put it in the water. Phil also then conceded from the tee to Molinari in singles, clinching the Ryder Cup for Europe. Not good.
- Tiger was coming off of a good playoff run, and his unreal win at the Tour Championship. He played in four matches, and honestly, just never looked comfortable from his first shot. I don’t know if he was tired from all of the previous events, or if something else was going on, but he just didn’t seem into it. He wore like three more layers than everyone else, too, which was weird.
- Bryson got stuck with both of them in their team matchups, and by all rights, should have earned a halve against Noren in the singles, but Noren’s bomb on the 18th secured another point for Europe. It felt like Bryson just didn’t get a fair shake in his first ever team event given the play of his partners.
Okay, but there was so much more that came out of the Jim Furyk led American Ryder Cup team in the days and weeks that followed. Yes, the team played terribly, and Tiger and Phil didn’t do enough, etc. There was a reported fight between Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson, both on the flight over to France and at the team party after it was over, which has been flatly denied by all parties, but most of the drama has surrounded Patrick Reed.
It all started, somehow, with a rumoured burner Twitter account with Justine Reed’s name attached. The account, of which the owner has still yet to be verified, was lobbing criticism towards the U.S. team about the break up of the Spieth / Reed pairing. It was then followed up by this article in the New York Times by Karen Crouse. Reed, who wasn’t paired with Jordan Spieth at all during the event, was clearly not happy about the arrangement, given that it had worked so well in the past with the two as partners. When asked about it at the post-event press conference, Spieth said that Furyk kept the team in the loop on all of the decisions being made about pairings, but Reed didn’t see it that way and, according to Crouse, “felt blindsided” when Furyk broke them up. From Crouse’s article:
“The issue’s obviously with Jordan not wanting to play with me,” Reed said, adding, “I don’t have any issue with Jordan. When it comes right down to it, I don’t care if I like the person I’m paired with or if the person likes me as long as it works and it sets up the team for success. He and I know how to make each other better. We know how to get the job done.”
Spicy! Captain America, throwing the Golden Child and everyone else involved under the bus, was not how I expected the post-Ryder Cup analysis to begin. Even better was the ending to Crouse’s story where Reed suggested that the Europeans do a better job of leaving their egos at the door, which is just an excellent insight into the man who made the entire event about himself once it was over. It’s especially delectable given that his poor play was one of the reasons why the team was so thoroughly vanquished, but I digress. After Crouse’s article, this story was not going to die anytime soon, and man, did we ever get some rebuttals.
Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post spoke to a source from the team that said Reed was “full of shit”, suggesting that he was one who wanted to play with Tiger, and that Reed “begged” for it. The same source also suggested that Reed would have shot 83 on his own on Saturday, and that Furyk was a great captain, with one bad egg that ruined the bunch. Furyk, for his part, shot down claims that the pairings were a surprise, suggesting that everyone knew weeks in advance about who they would be playing with, which was backed up by Justin Thomas.
We’re not done though! Reed spoke with Cannizzaro back in November ahead of the Hero World Challenge, and Reed, seemingly determined to burn every bridge to the ground, said that he hadn’t spoken with Spieth in the aftermath. He also said that he thought there was a double standard when it came to criticism of process at the Ryder Cup, referring to how Phil Mickelson was praised for his shivving of Tom Watson at Gleneagles in 2014. So, where are we at, here?
We have a blowout loss in the Ryder Cup, and we have one of the best players in the world, taking shots at pretty much anyone within range. That player, who is the defending Masters champion, has a sterling on-course record in the Ryder Cup despite what happened this year, and is young enough to star on the team, theoretically, for the next 10-15 years. Given everything that has happened in the last few months, it’s very easy to see a scenario where not a single person involved wants him on the team.
This is going to be fascinating to watch. Obviously Reed has every right to be on the team, and he’s going to be in the mix for automatic spots, you’d figure, for quite some time. But, how do you go out and take him if he doesn’t make it on his own? How do you throw someone like this into the mix if he’s taking shots at everyone? If he makes it on points, does he sit until singles? Would he even want to do that? There are so many questions here, and I guess it’s possible that it all blows over at some point, but it’s also just as likely that it doesn’t, and that feels like a big problem for those in charge.
The Presidents Cup this year is in December at Royal Melbourne where Tiger is the captain, and potentially, a playing one. What he does with Reed will likely be the biggest question he faces by far.
Augusta National, like the game itself, has both highs and lows in its past. For all that it has done to #GrowTheGame around the world, the club has a history that they would surely like to have erased from memory. To date, there are only four female members of the club, and the idea that a women’s event could be held someday at Augusta National has long been nothing but a pipedream.
While there hasn’t been an influx of women invited to the club, the idea that there would never be a women’s event held there went away back in April. In his pre-tournament press conference, Masters chairman Fred Ridley announced that starting in 2019, Augusta National would host a yearly Women’s Amateur event the week before the Masters.
The winner of the event will gain entry to the next five women’s amateur events at Augusta National, as well as the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open and the 2019 Women’s British Open, as long as she remains an amateur. Perhaps even more interestingly, the event will not be broadcast by CBS, as NBC will be taking the reigns and broadcasting the final round live, which, I’m sure makes those at CBS just over the moon happy and not at all nervous about the idea that someone else has entered their sandbox.
When I heard this news, I was sitting in the Atlanta airport on my way back to Toronto after spending time with a great group of guys at Sweetens Cove. It struck me that the combination of the trip that I was just on, and this announcement, is exactly what the game should be instead of what it has been, and that we might actually get there at some point. That’s an overly grandiose way to think obviously, but this is a massive deal, even if it feels like the smallest of possible steps. We all get cynical about the #GrowTheGame movement, but this is actually something that puts the game into a better light, and it has the potential to get more people to pick up clubs and understand why we all think so much of golf in the first place.
Ridley is in a tremendous position of power as chairman of Augusta National, and he’s starting to make some statements and moves that will attempt to finally bring the club to the place that many think it needs to be at in 2019. Whether it gets there or not is a different question entirely, but don’t underestimate this move. It means a lot, and I can’t wait to watch it in April.
The story of Jarrod Lyle’s fight with cancer was a very public one over the last few years. As a player, Lyle was obviously very gifted to be able to make it to the highest level, but his battle is what he became known for. Back in July, Lyle and his family announced that Lyle had decided to stop treatment in his third battle with acute myeloid leukaemia, opting to go into palliative care. Little more than a week later, Lyle had passed at the age of 36. He is survived by his wife Briony, and two daughters, Lusi and Jemma.
In the aftermath, the outpouring of emotion from the golf world was tremendous, as you would expect. Players donned all kinds of yellow in Lyle’s honour at Bellerive for the PGA Championship, and all kinds of donations were made to the Lyle family. Lyle’s time was cut short, but it was painfully obvious in his passing that he was an incredibly beloved figure on tour.
The tribute that hit home the most though actually came prior to Lyle’s passing. Robert Allenby penned a piece for the Players Voice that is a must read. You may need some tissues to get through it, but believe me: it’s worth your time.
Let’s just go right to the video.
Six months later, I’m still in absolute shock that the video above exists. To be clear, the video above would be shocking if it featured a lesser known player, or one that has been prone to blowups in the past. If you told me that Spencer Levin did that, I would be a little less shocked, but shocked, nonetheless. The fact that Phil Mickelson, one of the greatest players and ambassadors that the game has ever seen, so brazenly broke the rules at the U.S. Open is something that I still cannot comprehend, and the fact that he was allowed to play on Sunday is even more confusing, especially in the light of Phil’s comments after it all happened.
I’m not going to get into a whole “this rule overrides this one, because of this clause, yada yada” discussion because those in charge of the game have made it far too easy to get yourself into a rules pretzel when doing that, but here’s the thing: Phil admitted on national television that he intentionally hit a moving ball because he didn’t want to play it from where it was going to be after it ran past the hole. He deliberately gave himself an advantage, and then because of that pretzel mentioned above, he knew he potentially had a slight bit of cover for doing something that he knew was wrong. He also knew that his stature, and the pretzel, would make it hard for the USGA to do the right thing and disqualify him for the rest of the tournament. For someone who has usually been about doing things the right way, it was a shitty way to handle a situation of his own doing where he lost his damn mind. The fact that he apologized for it afterwards, and apparently offered to withdraw from the tournament, is fine, I guess, but it doesn’t undo what he did.
We can talk all day long about the USGA, and how their relationship with the players is a tenuous one at best because of how they set up golf courses, but only one player in the field did something like this on a day where everyone was frustrated. I think that anyone who has read me over the years knows that I’m not a stickler on the rules of the game, and that I think for the most part, that the rules are too complicated and could use a rework. I also think that what he did was kinda funny and ridiculous in addition to a breach of the rules. But, how else are we supposed to view what happened here? He broke the rules, and did it intentionally, as he mentioned on the air. Kyle Porter, I think, summed it up best for everyone with this article in the aftermath.
What I’m less certain of is what this does to Phil’s legacy. When we end up writing the postmortem on his career, where does this incident fall? In a game based almost entirely on etiquette, honour, and the rules, does this go in the opening paragraph? Does it get mentioned at all? Is anyone going to care? I don’t have a good answer to those questions. As Kyle mentioned, this incident and the USGA’s kid gloves handling of it, have set a bad precedent moving forward. That much, I am sure of.
Phil Mickelson should have been disqualified at Shinnecock. He knows it, the USGA knows it, and the fact that he wasn’t made everyone involved look bad.
Coming into 2018, if you asked me to predict who would be at the top of the Official World Golf Rankings twelve months out, my answer likely would have been Jordan Spieth. Since he arrived on the scene a few years ago, Spieth has had his ups and downs, but for the most part, he’s been a model of consistency. Above all of the other star players at the top of the world, Spieth would have felt like the safe pick; where Dustin, Brooks, and Rory felt potentially too inconsistent, and we weren’t sure if Justin Thomas or Jon Rahm were ready to be elevated into that conversation. I feel confident in saying that no one was thinking about Justin Rose, Bryson DeChambeau or Jason Day, either.
Instead, as the calendar turns towards 2019, Spieth is not only not at the top spot, but he now sits behind Tiger Woods in the rankings, a year after he finished a scant 654 places ahead of him on the same list. So, what happened? How did we get here?
From a purely results standpoint, 2018 was the first year of his professional career that Spieth didn’t pick up a victory. 2018 also saw the fewest amount of top-10 finishes in Spieth’s career (five) and the most missed cuts he’s had since his 2013 rookie season (also five). Think about it: aside from the opening 65 and closing 64 at Augusta, where he nearly chased Patrick Reed down, and a good run at the Ryder Cup alongside Justin Thomas, how much do you really remember from Spieth’s season that was positive? Granted, part of that is on us as fans and people who cover the game in that the expectations are astronomical for Spieth compared to others, but still, there wasn’t a whole lot to remember from Spieth’s 2018 that was overly positive. I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you that as well.
Okay, but what do the numbers say? When you look at his strokes gained stats, they paint a better picture than the results do in that they show he wasn’t that bad. Instead, they show that for the most part, Spieth went from truly elite in 2017 to simply good in 2018. In 2017, no one gained more shots on the field per round than Spieth, as he picked up nearly two shots per round on everyone else. A year later, that number was down to .830, which is still really good, but 32nd place is a long way from 1st. Here’s what it looks like broken down by each category:
Basically, Spieth was roughly the same off the tee, but his nosedive in approach play from the best in the game to 33rd cost him half a shot per round, which led to the massive drop in tee to green. Once he got on the greens as well, the putting wasn’t as on point, dropping significantly for the second consecutive year, and Spieth actually rated out as a negative on the greens for the first time with a decent enough sample size.
This is what led to Spieth missing the Tour Championship, finishing 31st in the FedEx Cup. It stands to reason that if he can improve his approach game in 2019, that he’ll be just fine and he’ll get back into the winner’s circle. Yes, the putting is an issue that needs addressing, but the first step is going to be getting the ball in a better position to begin with, and that starts with his irons and wedges. Unfortunately for Spieth, he wasn’t great after the Ryder Cup, with a T55 in Vegas and a missed cut at Mayakoba. Granted, those are relatively minor events on the schedule and not something to be overly concerned with, but given his struggles through 2018, it wasn’t exactly the best way to end the year as he heads toward 2019.
I’m always the first person to talk about how difficult the game is, and that there isn’t anything to worry about when someone at this level struggles over a short period of time. I fully believe that to be the case with Spieth as well, and I’m not worried at all about what this means for his 2019. I still think he’s a generational talent, with that completely unquantifiable ‘it factor’ that makes him special, and it’s something that he has more of than any other top player in the game. Still though, it was weird as hell to not have him in the picture over the last twelve months, and it would be even weirder to not have him make an impact in 2019.
Don’t bet on that happening. 2019 will be a huge year for Jordan Spieth.
There has been a lot of Patrick Reed in this top 100, and while most of it would be viewed in a negative light by those of you reading this, there’s one thing that is completely undeniable: the man is extremely gifted at hitting a golf ball. It feels crazy to say this, but with all of the other nonsense that has gone on around him over the last few months, it almost feels like people have forgotten that he won the Masters.
Yeah, that actually happened! What didn’t actually happen though was a great battle on Sunday between Reed and his playing partner. Rory McIlroy sat three back of Reed going into the final round after a brilliant third round 65. It was the kind of round that made everyone remember that not only is McIlroy probably the most gifted player in the world, but that more than anyone else, he’s built for the course in a way that few have been in the last fifty years. Of course, Greg Norman was also viewed in the same exact light, but I digress. McIlroy, for his part, gave us an incredible quote on Saturday night as well, suggesting that as a non-major champion, that the pressure was actually all on Reed, and not him, in his chase for the career grand slam.
The combination of an opening bogey by Reed, and a birdie by McIlroy on 2, cut Reed’s lead down to one shot, and it really felt like we might get a battle of epic proportions on Masters Sunday. It never happened, unfortunately. On a final day when the course was extremely gettable, McIlroy ballooned to shoot a 74, which was better than only four players. I still wonder about his short eagle miss on the 2nd, and how if it dropped, it may have changed things for him given that he was now tied at the top. It might not have, but it’s an interesting thing to think about nonetheless.
Reed opened up a four shot lead on the back nine, and with no real pressure from his playing partner, it was up to players further back to turn up the heat. Rickie Fowler sat four back to start the day, with Jordan Spieth seven shots behind. Both guys went on absolute heaters at various points on the final day, but Reed’s steady play was enough to hold off Fowler by one, Spieth by two, and Rory by six. Patrick Reed was now a Masters champion.
It’s weird to say that the ending of the Masters felt anticlimactic, and that on some level, it was a letdown, but that’s kinda what it felt like. Reed, for all of his talent, is as I have documented repeatedly on this list, a divisive figure and has a checkered past to prove it as well. In addition to the divisiveness that he has shown us on the course, Alan Shipnuck gave us a look behind the Reed curtain in a story for GOLF.com that became a major talking point in the aftermath of the event. There’s no doubting that one of Spieth, Fowler, or McIlroy would have been the more popular choice to win the event if you asked the fans, and maybe even those in charge at Augusta National as well.
That’s obviously not the way it works, though. Patrick Reed put on a tremendous display of ball striking at the Masters, helicoptering his way through Augusta National with surgical like precision, and showing once again, that he is one of the most talented players in the world.
For the longest time, my take on Francesco Molinari has been that he’s essentially the Italian version of Charles Howell III: incredible ballstriker, who will always keep their card because of that, but ultimately, will struggle to win because of issues once they get to the green. Howell and Molinari are fantastic, and are two of the most underrated players of their generation, but it’s fair to say that Molinari’s 2018 separated the two a little bit.
Molinari’s consistency over the years has been remarkable. He’s rarely outside of the top-50 in the world, and in a game now that relies so much on massive amounts of distance, he’s going about it in a completely different way. His game has always been about precision, and never being more than a few yards off of his target line. That kind of player is slowly being eliminated on the biggest stages because they’re bringing a knife to the Cameron Champ bazooka fight, and unless it’s the sharpest and most expensive knife in the store, there’s no way that they can keep up.
Molinari’s year didn’t really start out all that promising, either. He had a few good finishes on the PGA Tour, but hadn’t posted a top-10 when he teed it up for the first time on the European Tour at the BMW PGA Championship, the tour’s flagship event. Molinari posted weekend scores of 66-68 to hold off future Ryder Cup teammates Rory McIlroy and Alex Noren to win his first tournament in over two years.
It was the start of an unbelievable run for Molinari where you could absolutely argue that he was the best player in the world from May to July. After the win at Wentworth, Molinari went to Gardagolf CC for the Italian Open, looking to win his national open for a third time. He would have done it if it wasn’t for another future Ryder Cup teammate, Thorbjorn Olesen, who fired a final round 64 to beat Molinari by one. Molinari’s next stop was Shinnecock Hills and the U.S. Open, where he finished in a tie for 25th. Red hot streak over, right? No chance.
Molinari stayed in the U.S. after Shinnecock and played in the Quicken Loans National. After rounds of 67-65-65, Molinari was in the driver’s seat to win for the second time in four starts, and he did exactly that, but he did it by shooting a scintillating 62, sharing the round of the week with Abraham Ancer and Kevin Streelman and boat racing the field by eight shots. It was a masterful ball striking fiesta that was an absolute joy to watch.
Molinari’s next start was at the John Deere, where much like the Quicken Loans, it was a runaway win, but this time for Michael Kim, who won by eight over a group of players that included Molinari. Next up was the Open Championship at Carnoustie, and yeah, he did it again.
On a day where big names were all around him, including Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, and Tiger Woods, Molinari played an incredibly steady final round to take his first major championship, and the first for his native Italy. Molinari had some good finishes after the Open, but his red hot streak was over after Carnoustie…until he returned to the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2012.
Molinari teamed with Tommy Fleetwood for all four matches, and they went undefeated thanks to, once again, an excellent ball striking display from both men. Molinari capped off the event by defeating Phil Mickelson in singles, and clinching the final point for Europe.
Just think about where we were at a year ago with Molinari. He was a good player, who would contend in a few tournaments, maybe win one, and would just go about his business as a really solid tour pro. We left the year with Molinari winning three times, including a major championship, going undefeated at the Ryder Cup, and taking the Race to Dubai. I’m not going to say that this approaches some of the best seasons of all-time by an individual player, but man, it’s honestly one of the most impressive seasons I can remember, and it came from a guy that you never would have expected it from either, which makes it even better.
I have no idea what to expect out of Francesco Molinari in 2019, but I can’t wait to see what he puts together.
You know it’s a crazy year when a guy wins two major championships, and he’s not the story of the last twelve months, but that fact doesn’t diminish anything about what Brooks Koepka did in 2018. He was incredible, and what’s even crazier is that you’d have to think that there were times early in the year where he wondered when he would be able to play.
Koepka was battling a wrist injury at the end of 2017, and thought that he was healthy enough to play the season opener at Kapalua. That turned out to be the furthest thing from the truth, as the reigning U.S. Open champion posted rounds of 78-74-78-75 at the Tournament of Champions, and what was stranger was that Koepka and his team had no idea what was wrong. Eventually, they determined that Koepka had partially torn a tendon in the wrist, and his hope was that after resting, he would be able to make it back in time for the Masters.
He didn’t make it back for the Masters, but came back for the Zurich, teaming (oddly) with Marc Turnesa, and was able to play in four events leading up to his U.S. Open defense at Shinnecock Hills. While everyone was laying into the USGA for a variety of things, Koepka went about his business, rebounding from an opening round 75 to post rounds of 66-72-68, barely scraping past Tommy Fleetwood, who shot a Sunday 63. Koepka became the first player to defend his U.S. Open title since Curtis Strange in 1989.
Koepka then went to Bellerive and dominated, holding off a star studded leaderboard that included Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, and Jon Rahm.
He went to France for the Ryder Cup, and wasn’t great, but certainly wasn’t the reason why that team failed, and he finished his year by taking the CJ Cup by four over Gary Woodland.
It’s strange with Koepka. In a year where he won two major championships, and reached world number one, it’s actually really difficult to come up with things to say about him other than the obvious platitudes about him being so damn good at what he does. Part of that, I think, is that unlike some of the other players at the top of the game, we just don’t really know that much about him and in fairness to him, it’s possible that people haven’t done a good enough job of trying to get there.
Aside from our fascination with him as a big game hunter, and a player who bludgeons the ball, what do we really know about the guy? Oddly, that to me is the story of 2018 as it relates to Brooks Koepka. The game is there, quite obviously. You can’t have the kind of success that he has had to date in his career without being incredibly talented, but clearly, there’s a disconnect here somewhere, right?
How can he make people care more about him and how good he is at golf? He probably shouldn’t have to of course, but I’m not sure how else to go about describing how we look at Koepka, his season, and where he goes from here.
Brooks Koepka makes the game look so, so easy at times. He is a star that requires more attention than he is currently getting, and he very clearly isn’t going anywhere. I’m very interested in seeing where this goes over the next twelve months.
I guess, hello again, huh?
I’m going to go on the assumption that I don’t really need to run you guys through the history of Tiger’s injuries, surgeries, and all of the attempted comebacks, but I do want to take you back to one specific moment in time. We’re going back to February of 2017, and the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic.
After missing the cut, and looking rusty as hell the week before at the Farmers Insurance Open, Tiger boarded a flight and went to Dubai to play. I’ve watched Tiger play a lot of bad golf over the last few years, but this was the worst that I had ever seen him. It wasn’t just that he looked rusty like he did the week before at Torrey, it’s that he looked miserable, and the way he was walking, it seemed pretty clear that he was hurt, even if him and Mark Steinberg declared him healthy. I’ll never forget watching him struggle getting in and out of bunkers, walking around like someone had stabbed him in the back with a knife. He withdrew after an opening round 77, with Steinberg suggesting that he had hurt his back after the round at dinner, not beforehand, and that he’d be heading home for treatment. A few months later, Tiger was under the knife again for surgery on his back.
I’ve been on the record on every platform possible that I thought Tiger could come back and be a factor if he was healthy, with the reasoning that the last time we saw him healthy, he won five times. That night, though, watching him struggle around the course in Dubai, I thought it was over. Hearing the news that he had gone in for another surgery only cemented that thought. Then came the DUI, and the fact that he needed to go into rehab to deal with his addictions, and at that point, I’m sure that none of us knew if we’d ever see him again on a golf course.
Then, we started to hear reports of him getting better, and that he was actually looking good on the course. The Hero came and went, and he played well. He looked strong, and more importantly, he didn’t look like he was in any discomfort while taking swings at speeds that bordered on the ridiculous.
When 2018 started, everyone seemed cautiously optimistic, and there was steady progress even if there were stumbling blocks along the way. The solo 12th at Honda was the first sign that things were looking up, and he followed that by finishing as the runner-up to Paul Casey at the Valspar, and a T5 at Bay Hill. Both events featured Tiger, at various points, in the lead. Good tournaments followed, along with some bad ones, but where it really kicked into high gear for me was watching him play the Open at Carnoustie.
“Along with that sorcery on 10, his approach on the 6th on Sunday was stunning. The wind had shifted from the previous few days, making the 582 yard hole an absolute beast, playing directly into the unrelenting Scottish breeze. The bunkers that were not in play over the last few days were all of a sudden very much a factor, with David Feherty suggesting that, unlike the first three rounds, it was now a three shot hole for everyone. Tiger had 304 yards into the wind, and belted a bullet of a 3-wood right at the green, chasing after it to give himself a better look. When it stopped just short of the green, he was able to two-putt for a birdie on a hole that played at 15-over par for the day.”
It was eerily reminiscent of the guy that we used to watch. The guy who used his distance to dominate and overpower a field that, frankly, just couldn’t keep up. The same guy who, by all reports, was having trouble walking just over a year ago. In this whole unlikely story, its been the most stunning part of this comeback.
- Gary Koch: “There’s some of that speed we were talking about, John, that quick rebound. Obviously getting through the ball beautifully, getting up on his toes.”
- Johnny Miller: “Everything looks like a go.”
- Koch: “Yeah, it really does.”
- Miller: “There’s no reason why he can’t start winning again. Absolutely no reason.”
Johnny was right. There was no reason why he couldn’t start winning again, which obviously brings us to the Tour Championship, and his 80th win on the PGA Tour.
I’m not sure that I’ve seen something like this in my entire life as a sports fan. Watching the fans completely take over the fairway, surrounding Tiger and all of the security, who must have realized there was no point in trying to contain them all, was unbelievable.
Will you ever forget where you were when you saw that happen live? The individual round, a final round 71 at East Lake, isn’t going to be what we remember. That scene approaching the 18th green is what we will remember, and largely, I think, because of what it represented. If Tiger had won a few tournaments over the last few years, not a single person would have rushed the security like they did at East Lake. The cheers would have been there, obviously, but there were points during that final round where the Tour Championship felt more like a World Cup match than a golf tournament.
That scene represented the journey, not the destination. Tiger always had his detractors, but they were also always outnumbered by the people who wanted to see him succeed; who wanted to see him dominate a field of the best players in the world, who were always at least a step or two behind him. That round in Dubai, and all of the other failed comeback attempts before it, built up to this incredible moment that was never supposed to happen. That walk up the 18th was a release for all of the pent up frustration that Tiger and those fans dealt with over the last few years, as the career of one of the greatest athletes of all time was taken away from them before they were ready to let go.
For Tiger, it meant one more win on the ledger, and validation that he could still do this. He got to show the young players on tour that he wasn’t just some ghost hanging around on the range, and he was able to show his kids the guy that everyone obsessed over for years before they were born. For the fans, it was a chance to see one of the best ever be exactly that. It was a moment that we’ll never forget because we never thought it would happen in the first place.
It was the story, and the moment of 2018.