Tiger, Rory and More Sound Off as FedEx Battle Resumes
It's Round 3 of the battle for the FedExCup. Fresh off scorching the TPC Boston layout this past weekend, the best players in the world converge on Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., for the BMW Championship. Here are the top 5 in FedExCup points through the Deutsche Bank Championship:
Player Points Behind
1. Rory McIlroy --
2. Nick Watney 1,331
3. Tiger Woods 1,382
4. Brandt Snedeker 1,605
5. Louis Oosthuizen 1,890
What They're Saying on the eve of the BMW:
Rory McIlroy On being paired with Tiger Woods at the Deutsche Bank: "I think it definitely creates some more interest for the fans and for golf in general. I don't see any challenge in it. I mean, I think it's just good fun. It's good fun to be out there and have such an atmosphere and such a buzz around a grouping like that, and it's just nice to be a part of."
On being in "the zone": "I think the most important thing when that does happen, you have to realize it's happening and just get out of your own way and just completely just play one shot at a time. Obviously you're hitting the ball well, you're just trying to hit it in the fairway, hit it on the green, hole the putt, go to the next hole, do it all over again. That's what you're trying to do.
"There's some weeks where golf does seem as simple as that, and when you're on like that, it's obviously a great feeling. It's very difficult to play like that all the time, and that's why it's the great players, they learn to win when they're not playing their best. That's something, I've said this before, that I still feel like I'm learning to do. I think I sort of did that for a little bit of last week. I struggled to close out the tournament, but a couple of crucial up‑and‑downs on the way in, which helped, and that's what the great players do; they find a way."
Tiger Woods On facing personal and professional challenges: "I think it's put a different perspective on things. Losing a parent and having the birth of two kids put things in better perspective for me. The wins are fantastic, but the losses aren't what they used to be, because I get to talk to my kids at night. It makes things‑‑ it puts things in a proper perspective, for sure."
On being golf's first $100 million man: "Well, it just means that I've come along at the right time. We've had purse increases. We've had a lot of things go our way. I've won some tournaments, yes, but as I said last week, Sam Snead won more tournaments than I did, and obviously he didn't make the money that I did, just because it was a different era. I happened to come along at the right time when TV was booming and our commissioner did some fantastic deals with TV, and our purses just leapt by a lot. I think that all that said, I'm not opposed to it; put it that way."
On the state of his game: "I'm certainly hitting it further and straighter. I don't curve the ball as much as I used to. Granted, it's a function of the golf ball just not moving as much, but also I think where I'm coming from, I just don't arc it, I don't come as far from the inside like I used to. With that being said, my shot pattern is much tighter now.
"And the only thing I really struggle with is my aim, is aiming closer to the middle of the fairway or closer to flags because I'm used to shaping it so much either way. That's something that's taken me a little while to get accustomed to because I've done it for so long. It's just an adjustment that I've had to make gradually over time."
Phil Mickelson On the state of his game: "I think the last three or four months where my game has just been a little south, I was just kind of searching for something different. I've been trying to piece my game back together. Finally my irons came back first. I started hitting a lot of good iron shots. My driver has now come around where I'm hitting it really well off the tee. And the last thing was putting, and I feel really good with it. I feel like the touch is there and it's a very stress‑free way to putt because the ball is starting on line."
On whether Tiger Woods will win more majors: "Oh, yeah, unfortunately. His game looks tremendous."
Defending Champion Justin Rose
"I think low scores for sure. Any time you give us soft greens, which they are obviously due to the weather, I think when you have soft greens certainly the first couple rounds, and the way things go in a tournament, how long, how difficult a golf course, if it's soft, guys tend to go low."
It's Glory's Last Shot for 2012, and for the losers, it will be a long wait for Augusta 2013. Here's a rundown of players who could be kissing the Wanamaker Trophy come Sunday afternoon during the 2012 PGA Championship, and a few who won't.
Contender: Dustin Johnson
Playing in his home state of South Carolina, Johnson could finally harness that otherworldly talent and win his first major. The longer and tougher the course, the better his chances, and Kiawah fits the bill. He has five top-10 finishes in majors in the last four years, including two top 10s at the British Open. The links-style layout of the Ocean Course will make Johnson feel right at home.
Best Career Finish, PGA: T5 Last Year: Cut
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Contender: Rory McIlroy
Rory gives himself a grade of B for his season thus far. A win at the Ocean Course would bump up that GPA. It's been a frustrating season for McIlroy, but he has two third-place finishes at the PGA in the last three years. His top-5 finish at the WGC-Bridgestone and his confident demeanor point to a strong showing this week.
Best Career PGA Finish: T3 Last Year: T64
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Contender: Keegan Bradley
The defending champion backed into the title last year thanks to Jason Dufner's collapse, but he might not need such cooperation this time. Bradley has a major, a WGC and a Rookie of the Year award in the last 365 days. He could be the first player to defend a major title successfully since Tiger Woods won the PGA in 2006-07.
Best Career PGA Finish: 1 Last Year: 1
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Contender: Tiger Woods
Tiger's in the midst of the least celebrated three-win season in history, but a PGA Championship win could turn a solid season into a career renaissance. Tiger's major drought now extends to a once-unimaginable 17 majors, and Nicklaus' total of 18 is starting to look more remote. All that does, though, is make Woods hungrier than he's been in a long time.
Best Career PGA Finish: 1 (4 times) Last Year: Cut
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Contender: Matt Kuchar
Kooch comes straight from central casting for PGA contenders: a consistent ballstriker looking for his major breakthrough. He's knocked on the door twice this season with top 10s at The Masters and British Open, and his win at The Players proves he can outlast an elite field.
Best Career PGA Finish: T10 Last Year: T19
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Pretender: Lee Westwood
The world's No. 3 player has seen the bottom drop out of a once-promising season thanks to sloppy play around the green, and the PGA is historically his worst major. Not a favorable combination.
Best Career PGA Finish: T3 Last Year: T8
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Pretender: Phil Mickelson
Lefty hasn't posted a top 10 since May, and he's lost it off the tee (168th in driving accuracy). Normally for Mickelson, how he's playing leading into a major is not a reliable indicator, but it's hard to overlook his struggles this season.
Best Career PGA Finish: 1 Last Year: T19
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Pretender: Adam Scott
Scott's mental scars following his epic British Open collapse are bound to run deep. His attempt to jump back on the horse at the Bridgestone resulted in some lackluster play. His confidence with the belly has to be a little shaken right now.
Ernie Els' win in the British Open marked the fourth major championship of his remarkable career, and the third decade in which he's won a major. He's now tied with Phil Mickelson in career majors, which begs the question: Who's the second-best player of the Tiger Woods era in golf? A side-by-side comparison doesn't exactly clear things up, but let's try it anyway.
The Case for Mickelson
• 40 career PGA Tour wins, tied for ninth all time
• Three Masters wins, tied for fourth-most all time
• 33 top-10 finishes in major championships
• A record five second-place finishes at the U.S. Open
• Five runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour money list
• Multiple PGA Tour wins in 13 seasons
The Case for Els
• 19 PGA Tour wins, 27 European Tour wins
• Multiple Open wins on both sides of the Atlantic, joining Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Walter Hagen, Lee Trevino and Bobby Jones
• 33 top-10 finishes in major championships
• Two Orders of Merit for top money-winner on the European Tour
• The all-time money leader on the European Tour
• Unlike Mickelson, Els briefly ascended to the top spot in the World Golf Ranking on three separate occasions
Mickelson's go-for-broke style, one that has produced heroic shots like the pine straw 5-iron at The Masters, has earned him many fans, but it has also given rise to some truly tragic moments, like his 72nd hole meltdown at Winged Foot when that elusive first U.S. Open win was in his grasp. Even throughout the Woods era, Lefty has been the people's choice, a latter-day Arnold Palmer who has thrilled and disappointed his throngs of followers in equal measure. His legendary short game is pure magic, but his persistent wildness off the tee is identifiable for duffers everywhere. Mickelson's battle with arthritis and wife Amy's battle with breast cancer have added to his everyman appeal.
Els' effortless game gives off a totally different vibe. His smooth, syrupy swing is the game's gold standard, in a class all time with Sam Snead's. His relatable struggles with the putter also endear him to his legion of fans, and his son's battle with autism has linked him to a worthy cause.
Both guys exude class, although there are persistent whispers among Tour insiders that Lefty isn't all that popular with his fellow players (FIGJAM, anyone?).
It's close, but we'll go with Mickelson. His three wins in the world's most prestigious tournament — one of which denied Els a lone Masters win — nudge him slightly ahead of Els' multiple Open wins. Lefty hasn't distinguished himself in Ryder Cup play, but he has outshined Els at the Presidents Cup, giving him an edge in international team competition. Lefty has come close more often in majors, with 18 top-3 finishes to Els' 14.
Els has probably had a greater worldwide impact, but Mickelson has been the slightly better player.
What do you think?
Rory McIlroy—Let's start with the defending champion. Yes, he's been hit or miss this year, and no one has successfully defended a U.S. Open title since Curtis Strange in 1989. But the kid has all the necessary talent and poise, and his recent work paid off with a contending performance in Memphis that was derailed by one swing. He'll put up a credible title defense.
Tiger Woods—We might as well stipulate that Tiger's the favorite heading into this year's Open. When we last saw him, he was giving us glimpses of vintage Tiger, winning the Memorial with what Jack Nicklaus called possibly the greatest shot he had ever seen. Woods renews his pursuit of Nicklaus' 18 majors in the same state where he won his last, the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Tiger will be eager to outshine his playing partners in rounds 1 and 2 — Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson.
Phil Mickelson—Speaking of Lefty, if we based this solely on desire, the tournament's over before it starts. Mickelson wants this tournament more than any other, having posted a record five runner-up finishes at our national championship. We're tempted to think this tournament owes him one, but he was last seen withdrawing from the Memorial citing fatigue, a somewhat troubling red flag. Tiger seems to bring out the best in him, so he could find himself in contention heading to the weekend.
Lee Westwood—The consensus Best Player Without a Major, Westwood has a remarkable seven top-3 finishes in majors since 2008, including a T3 at the Open last year. He also had a T7 at the Open in 1998, proving that he knows his way around Olympic. He's coming off one of the most dominant performances of his career, a five-shot win on the European Tour. It just might be his time.
Luke Donald—No. 1 in the world but unloved and unappreciated, Donald could silence his doubters once and for all at Olympic. Doesn't seem likely, though — he's never posted a top 10 at a U.S. Open, and his lack of length would seem to rule him out at a monster track like Olympic. Still, he's likely to keep it in the fairway, and he's a good enough putter to hang around.
Dustin Johnson—You might think it's premature to include DJ on this list so soon after a prolonged injury absence. But he was so good on a tough track in Memphis, and he's so crazy long off the tee, that it wouldn't surprise us to see him on the leaderboard on Sunday. But winning's another matter; he's got some mental hurdles to clear after coming agonizingly close in other majors.
Matt Kuchar—Kooch had a T3 at The Masters, and he finished T14 in the 1998 U.S. Open at Olympic as an amateur. His ballstriking is as good as anyone's; he's third in scoring on Tour and 10th in greens in regulation. If he can get some putts to drop, he'll contend.
Bubba Watson—A Bubba Slam? Is it conceivable? Not really, but neither was a Watson win at Augusta (Bubba, not Tom). He'll show up at Olympic, pink driver in tow, ready to attack one of the toughest tracks in major championship history and steal some of the spotlight from playing partners Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. If nothing else, it'll be entertaining.
One of the greatest shots in Masters history wasn't enough to beat Bubba Watson, who outlasted Louis Oosthuizen in a two-hole playoff to become the third lefthander to win a Green Jacket. Watson earns his first major championship in his second major playoff after falling to Martin Kaymer in extra holes at the 2010 PGA Championship.
From Tiger to Furyk, Athlon Announces the 20 Golfers to Watch for Majors Season
Now that it's Masters week, it's time to decide who this year's major players will be, and we've done that for you. They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Throughout the month of March, we unveiled Athlon Sports’ 20 players to follow for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.
Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods paired together in final round of AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
By winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Phil Mickelson earned his 40th career PGA Tour victory and proved he still has the mojo to win another major championship — having already won three times at The Masters (2004, ’06, ’10) and once at the PGA Championship (2005).
With Tiger Woods' old caddy Stevie Williams on the bag and a suddenly trusty putter under his chin, Scott has leapt into the conversation for best player in the world right now. His dominant win at the Bridgestone showed that he could win on a tough track against a major-caliber field — exactly what he's facing this week. Still only 31, Scott could finally be poised to deliver on all that promise.
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Rory is an all-American golfer who just happens to be Irish. By his own admission, he dislikes the unpredictability of links golf and prefers good old American target golf, where his superior shotmaking can shine brightest. In other words, he's a perfect candidate to win multiple PGA Championships. He almost won this event at Whistling Straits last year. Get ready to see plenty more of Rory stateside in coming years.
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Ladies and gentleman, the last American to win a major. That's right - Mickelson's 2010 Masters win was glory's last shot for the Yanks. The drought almost ended at Royal St. Georges, though. For 11 holes on Sunday at the British Open, Lefty was electric, firing at pins and draining putts in vintage Mickelson fashion. Can he harness that magic for four days in the Georgia heat? The last time the PGA visited Atlanta Athletic Club, Mickelson had a win snatched away by David Toms' epic up-and-down on the 72nd hole. Lefty's major window is slowly closing, and he wants this tournament desperately. Maybe too desperately.
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It's hard to ignore the No. 1 player in the World Golf Ranking, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I'll say it again: Donald has to prove it on a major Sunday. He's getting closer; his record this season in the elite-field WGC events — a win, a T6 and a T2 — is stellar, and he was in contention at the Masters. The PGA seems like a likely spot for a breakthrough, a la Payne Stewart circa 1989.
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The defending PGA Champion has been a disappointment this season. Other than a January win in Abu Dhabi and a brief reign atop the World Golf Ranking, Kaymer has been largely invisible, missing the cut at The Masters and failing to contend at either the U.S. or British Opens. His talent is undeniable, though, and we can only hope that he contends so we can catch a glimpse of world-class WAG Allison Micheletti.
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Day has done everything but win this season, finishing T2 at The Masters, second at the U.S. Open and T4 at the Bridgestone and surging to seventh in the World Golf Ranking. He's played his best golf this season south of the Mason-Dixon line, and he'll hold up in the sweltering conditions. Basically, the kid's a major waiting to happen, and it could happen this week.
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Speaking of Southern-fried talent, Kuchar is a former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket who'll feel like he's on home turf this week. But after posting eight top-10 finishes through the Memorial, Kuchar has backslid in recent weeks, missing the cut at the British and Canadian Opens, and his major resume doesn't exactly scream contender. But familiar surroundings and a friendly, supportive crowd could carry Kooch to that elusive breakthrough.
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Over the last 14 months, DJ has melted down in the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open when it was his tournament to lose; lost a spot in a playoff to a untimely grounded club at the 2010 PGA; and lost the 2011 British on a wayward 2-iron shot lost out of bounds. It's fair to wonder if this insanely talented 27-year-old can handle the big stage. But if Mickelson comparisons are fair — and I think they are — that means that there are majors in this guy's future. Don't be surprised if he's on the leaderboard on Sunday.
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Stricker just keeps chugging along, his post-40 renaissance in full bloom. He's won twice this year, including his third straight win at the John Deere Classic. But ever since his runner-up finish to Vijay Singh at the 1998 PGA, he really hasn't come close to winning a major. For now, he's firmly ensconced in Kenny Perry territory — great career, but in history's second tier. A major could change that.
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A year ago, this tournament was Watney's to lose, and lose it he did, squandering a three-shot lead with a final-round 81 at Whistling Straits. Watney enters the PGA as the leader in FedExCup points, a nice accomplishment but sorry substitute for major glory. Still, Watney has won twice this year against major-caliber fields, at the WGC-Cadillac and the AT&T. He's as likely a candidate as any to end America's major drought, which is now six tournaments long.
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This was supposed to be Westwood's breakthrough season. Hasn't happened. Aside from wins in Korea and Indonesia, Westwood has been MIA for most of this season, aside from an essentially meaningless T3 at the Rory-dominated U.S. Open, and he's still stinging from a stunning missed cut at the British. Still, it's impossible to dismiss Westwood's six top-three finishes in his last eight majors. He'll be lurking this week.
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Is Woods really a contender this week? Probably not, but if I didn't include him, he'd go out and win the thing for sure. Woods, whose last Tour win came at the 2009 BMW, continues to shed sponsors and supporters and had to endure the spectacle of his former caddie outshining him at his comeback tournament. He's cornered right now, which means he's dangerous. At least I hope so — a toothless Tiger is no good for anyone.