Athlon Counts Down the 20 Golfers to Watch for Majors Season
They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2013 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.
Born: Aug. 8, 1985, Raleigh, N.C. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 3|2012 Wins (Worldwide): 1| 2012 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,436,758 (17th) | World Ranking: 19
Brandel Chamblee's Take
Simpson hits so many great iron shots from 50-175 yards that he consistently puts himself in scoring position, and at 27 years old he has many great years ahead of him. Look for 2013 to be a continuation of his last two years on Tour, when he finished 2nd and 17th on the money list, respectively, and in 2012 won the U.S. Open in just his fifth major championship start.
Major Championship Résumé
Masters - T44
U.S. Open - 1
British Open - DNP
PGA Championship - Cut
Best Career Finishes:
Masters - T44 (2012)
U.S. Open - 1 (2012)
British Open - T16 (2011)
PGA Championship - Cut (2011, 2012)
Top-10 Finishes: 1
Top-25 Finishes: 3
Missed Cuts: 2
Athlon's 2013 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 20 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, reigning FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy closed his season in style as he birdied the final five holes to come from behind and win on Sunday in Dubai and that helped him increase his lead in this week's world rankings.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - World No. 1 Rory McIlroy closed his season in style as he birdied the final five holes to come from behind and win on Sunday in Dubai and that helped him increase his lead in this week's world rankings.
McIlroy's lead atop the rankings went from 3.53 average points to 4.33.
Luke Donald shared third behind McIlroy, but still lost ground in the rankings. Donald was again followed by Tiger Woods, who will host his World Challenge starting on Thursday.
Justin Rose took second behind McIlroy and moved up three spots to No. 4 in the latest rankings. Adam Scott remained in fifth, while Lee Westwood was down two to six and Louis Oosthuizen dropped one to seventh.
Jason Dufner held steady at No. 8 and was followed by Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker and Bubba Watson. Ian Poulter and Phil Mickelson exchanged spots with Poulter up to 12th.
Steve Stricker, Keegan Bradley and Nick Watney remained in the 14th to 16th positions. Peter Hanson jumped two to 17, which bumped Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson down a spot apiece to 18 and 19. Ernie Els was 20th again this week.
With this week's Children's Miracle Network Classic, another PGA Tour season draws to a close, meaning that it's time to hand out some hardware.
Player of the Year — Rory McIlroy
Rory doesn't need any accolades from us for vindication; if you believe the unconfirmed reports, he's already cashed in on his remarkable season with a $250 million deal from Nike. Judging from his 2012 season, it'll be money well spent for the Swoosh. The world's No. 1 player enjoyed stunning success on both sides of the pond, leading both the PGA and European Tours in earnings (provided he has a solid finish in this weekend's Singapore Open). His four wins were the most in a single season by any player not named Tiger Woods since 2005. He won the PGA Championship by eight strokes, then won two FedExCup playoff events (the Deutsche Bank and BMW). Throw in girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, and the guy's pretty much got it all right now. Runner-up: Brandt Snedeker
Snedeker won the FedExCup on the strength of one of the greatest displays of putting that the game has seen. On one day in September, Sneds won the Cup and the $10 million payout along with the Tour Championship and its $1.4 million winner's check. Not a bad day's work.
Round of the Year and Worst Collapse
These two unfolded concurrently, so we present them as one category. The agony and the ecstasy of golf were on full display in the final round of the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and when it was over, Ernie Els had his second Claret Jug and fourth major, and Adam Scott had first-hand knowledge of what it feels like to be Greg Norman. Or Jason Dufner. On a day when the field was retreating like Napoleon from Russia, Els posted a back-9 4-under 32 for a final-round 68 in the stiffening breezes of Royal Lytham, rolling in a clutch birdie on the 72nd hole before grabbing a sandwich and watching Scott implode with bogeys on the final four holes. It was an utterly shocking turn of events on a day that seemed like a Scott coronation until the heartbreaking conclusion. Runner-up: The U.S. and European Teams on Ryder Cup Sunday
In Ryder Cup singles play, the U.S. team gagged away a 10-6 lead, losing the Cup 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 to an inspired European team that made every clutch putt down the stretch.
Shot of the Year — Bubba Watson, The Masters
After a day that included a double eagle and two holes in one, Bubba's shot in the playoff at 10 — where he curved a hook off the pine straw to within 15 feet — will be the one they'll still be talking about at the 2050 Champions Dinner. Runner-up: Louis Oosthuizen
Before Masters Sunday 2012, there had been 19,809 rounds at The Masters, but this was a first: a double eagle at No. 2. Had Oostie gone on to win, his shot would rank No. 1; as it is, he'll have to settle for second in The Masters and second on our list.
Best Performance — Rory McIlroy, PGA Championship
Twenty-one years after the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island brought the world's greatest players to their knees at the 1991 Ryder Cup in the famed "War by the Shore," Rory McIlroy turned the tables on Pete Dye's seaside creation, subduing the Ocean Course and an elite field in winning his second major championship in two years. In posting 13-under and winning by eight strokes, McIlroy reprised his eight-shot win at the 2011 U.S. Open, becoming the first player in golf history to earn his first two major wins in such dominant fashion.
Round of the Year (Non-Major Edition) — Tommy Gainey, McGladrey Classic
You might not have noticed, but Two Gloves won his first Tour event by sprinting to the finish line with a final-round 60 at Sea Island. Seven shots behind when the day began, the former insulation specialist flirted with a 59, needing only 24 putts and had seven straight 3's on his card on the back nine.
Biggest Disappointment — Tiger Woods
It's tough to call a three-win season a disappointment, but such is life for Tiger Woods, who failed to contend in a major (unless you count the British Open, where he finished T3 but was a non-factor on the final day) and seems stuck on 14 in his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' career record. On the upside, he did pass Jack in the all-time wins column and now stands at 74, to Jack's 73. More alarming for Tiger is his lack of final-round mojo; his final round average at the four majors in 2012 was 73.
Young, Annoying Overachiever of the Year — Tianlang Guan
The 14-year-old from China won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship to earn an invitation to the 2013 Masters. The kid's probably shorter than Adam Scott's belly putter, but he'll be at Augusta in April with Rory, Tiger, Phil and the rest.
Controversy of the Year — The Belly Putter
Speaking of belly putters, it's a debate that seems destined to reach a head soon, especially since two of this year's majors were won by players using long putters — Webb Simpson (U.S. Open) and Ernie Els (British Open). Tiger Woods has finally weighed in, telling the R&A that the putter should be equal or shorter than the shortest club in the bag. But if they were such an advantage, wouldn't everybody be using them? Whatever the case, we need a definitive word from golf's governing bodies, which we'll probably get in 2013.
- by Rob Doster
Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster
KEEGAN BRADLEY WON A MAJOR WITH AN ANCHORED PUTTER. WAS IT THE START OF A TREND?
It could be D-day for long putters. Are they legal or illegal? A weapon or crutch? A trend or fad?
The United States Golf Association could be ready to speak out on the matter. The USGA and the R&A — golf’s two governing bodies — met at the U.S. Open to talk about the long and belly putters anchored into the body. Results of those discussions will be addressed publicly at the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
The putters continue to stir up plenty of debate in golf circles. Either you're for them, or against them, with little area for compromise.
Purists believe they should be banned. Players using long and belly putters just a few years ago were labeled as bad putters who had gotten desperate, but it's hard to argue against the bulging bank accounts of the players using them today. The stereotype that long putters are just for old guys with frayed nerves on The Champions Tour no longer applies.
Long and belly putters dominated the PGA Tour last season, winning nine times. Keegan Bradley became the first player to win a major with one "anchored" to his body. He used the Odyssey White Hot XG Sabertooth Belly Putter at the PGA Championship last August. This season, Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club with a long putter, joining Bradley in the major winner’s circle on the strength of the elongated flatstick.
Bill Haas captured the 2011 Tour Championship and the $10 million Fed-Ex Cup with his. Adam Scott's major resurgence was sparked by a long putter. He plowed through the field at the Bridgestone Invitational, a World Golf Championship. Even Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Jim Furyk tinkered with them in competition.
Equipment manufacturers are eager to cash in on the craze. They're releasing more styles and retail stores are devoting more space to them. TaylorMade Golf boldly predicted a 400 percent sales increase for its Corza Ghost Putter and the Ghost Spider Putter brands this season.
There are many points of view on the subject, but ultimately, the USGA and R&A will have the final say. Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director, believes a decision is forthcoming by the end of the year.
Athlon's 2012 Preview Predicted Big Things for Simpson
For some casual fans, it may seem like Webb Simpson came out of nowhere. For Athlon and Brandel Chamblee, though, Simpson's breakthrough is not that surprising. Here's what we had to say about Simpson in our 2012 preview back in February, when we ranked him No. 12 among our 20 players to watch in the 2012 majors.
Born: Aug. 8, 1985, Raleigh, N.C. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 2|2011 Wins (Worldwide): 2| 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $6,347,353 | World Ranking: 8
Brandel Chamblee's Take:
One of the biggest surprises of 2011 was the play of Webb Simpson and his improvements over his first two years on Tour. Webb gained yardage and improved every other aspect of his game, as evidenced by his being ranked No. 1 in the All Around category on Tour. Not surprisingly, he also won twice. His 110 putts at the U.S Open represented the lowest total in the field, and at the British Open he had 111, a number that was bettered by only two players.
His combination of length and accuracy with all clubs, his ability to get out of the rough and his knack for putting fast greens well make him a player to watch in every event, and in particular at the majors in 2012.
Major Championship Résumé
Masters - DNP
U.S. Open - T14
British Open - T16
PGA Championship - Cut
Best Career Finishes:
Masters - n/a
U.S. Open - T14 (2011)
British Open - T16 (2011)
PGA Championship - Cut (2011)
Top-10 Finishes: 0
Top-25 Finishes: 2
Missed Cuts: 1
Webb Simpson is our national champion, and contrary to the naysayers who'll claim he backed into it, a 68-68 weekend on one of the toughest golf courses in U.S. Open history is the definition of earning it.
Simpson, who was six shots off the lead when Saturday dawned, was the only player to break par in both of the final two rounds on his way to posting a 1-over 281, although he had to sweat out a birdie putt on 18 by Graeme McDowell before claiming his third career PGA Tour win and first major championship. The 26-year-old Simpson was playing in only his second U.S. Open, and at a tournament where par is gold, it took a delicate par save on 18 to seal the win. Simpson chipped to four feet from a gnarly greenside lie, then coaxed in a ticklish slider to close his 68.
McDowell and playing partner Jim Furyk both had plenty of golf left to play when Simpson posted his number, and while McDowell was able to get close with a birdie at 17 and a makeable birdie look at 18, Furyk squandered what might prove to be his last best chance to win a second major, failing to make a birdie during his final-round 74 and bogeying three of his final six holes.
And thus ends Northern Ireland's two-year stranglehold on America's championship; McDowell won at Pebble Beach two years ago, and Rory McIlroy dominated at Congressional in 2011.
Some proclaimed that the tournament was over after Tiger Woods' 69-70 start gave him a share of the 36-hole lead. Thankfully, I wasn't one of them — but I thought it. Unfortunately, Tiger's comeback remains a work in progress. His 75-73 weekend is one of the bitterest disappointments of his career, but Olympic Club's fearsome sextet of opening holes deserve much of the credit. Tiger bogeyed three of the first six on Saturday on his way to a crushing 75, and he played the opening six holes at 6-over on Sunday. For the tournament, the field was more than 1,000 strokes over par on holes 1-6. Brutal.