Tag: Rory McIlroy

Scottie and Rory: PGA Tour’s Best in 2022

Scottie and Rory: Going Head-to-Head

Scottie Scheffler took home the Jack Nicklaus award as PGA Tour Player of the Year for 2022, and it was certainly well deserved after such a fantastic season—but it was definately not a “slam dunk” as some are saying. When you take a close look at the season Rory McIlroy put together, you pretty much need a razor blade to separate them.

The Majors

Scheffler’s win at The Masters was a brilliant performance, but keep in mind that Rory finished runner-up at Augusta with a magnificent final round 64 (a shot off the lowest rounds ever recorded at The Masters—63 by Nick Price in ’86 and again by Greg Norman in ’96).

Scottie also had a superb run at the 2022 U.S. Open, finishing a shot behind Matthew Fitzpatrick for runner-up. But remember that Rory was also among the leaders at The Country Club on Sunday afternoon, finishing with a T5.

Scottie Scheffler: 2022 Masters Champion

And while Scottie missed the cut at the PGA Championship, and was outside the top 20 at The Open Championship, Rory recorded a Top 10 at the PGA (8th) and finished 3rd at The Open.

In 16 rounds at the major championships in 2022, Rory recorded 9 rounds under 70 with a scoring average of 69.2, while Scottie recorded 7 rounds under 70 with a scoring average of 69.7.

Although Rory was unable to record a major win in 2022, finishing in the top 10 at all four majors is a rarely accomplished feat. Tiger did it in 2000 when he recorded a T5 at The Masters and then won the other 3 major championships. Jack did it 3 times (1971, 1973, 1974), Brooks Koepka did it in his fantastic 2019 season (win at the PGA, 2nd at the U.S. Open, T2 at The Masters and a T4 at The Open Championship) and Rickie Fowler recorded Top-5 finishes at all four majors in 2014 (including runner-up at the U.S. Open and The Open Championship).

Scottie gets the edge with a major win and a runner-up, but Rory had one of the most outstanding major championship seasons on record—so it’s pretty darn close.

McIlroy: Leads Tour in Scoring

The Tour Season

In addition to his Masters win, Scheffler recorded 3 regular tour wins (including the WGC Match Play Championship). McIlroy also recorded 3 regular season wins, including the Tour Championship. Rory made the cut in 14 of the 16 events he played in 2022 (88%) and recorded 10 Top 10 finishes (63%), while Scottie made the cut in 21 of 25 events (84%) with 11 Top-10’s (44%).

Scheffler: 3 Tours wins and Major Championship

From a performance standpoint, Rory led the Tour in scoring average at 68.7 and he was 2nd in driving distance at 321.3. Scottie was fourth in scoring average at 69.3 and 19th in driving distance at 311.6—but Scheffler was #1 in greens in regulation (72.3%) while Rory was #12 at 69.9 %.

Scheffler also recorded 3 regular season runner-up finishes—a T2 at the Houston Open, 2nd at the Charles Schwab Challenge and a T2 at the Tour Championship).

Both Scottie and Rory had phenomenal regular seasons on Tour, and from the numbers it looks pretty much like a flat-footed tie.

The FedEx Cup

Scottie Scheffler was No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings going into the Tour Championship, so under the new format he began the tournament at -10, six shots ahead of Rory who was No. 7 and began at -4.

Scheffler and McIlroy played flawless golf through the first 3 rounds, and both were -13 going into Sunday’s final round—but Scottie still held a six-shot advantage due to the FedEx standings adjustment (Scheffler was -23 and Rory was at -17).

Although Rory wasn’t able to put four fantastic rounds together at any of the 2022 major championships, he put the hammer down at the Tour Championship and fired a closing 66 to finish at -17 (21 under total with the adjustment). When Scheffler faltered with a final round 73 (20 under total), McIlroy had erased the massive deficit to take the championship—and also the FedEx Cup for a record third time.

McIlroy: Wins Tour Championship and FedEx Cup

The Wrap Up

Scottie Scheffler had a great year in 2022, and he will be a force to reckon with on the PGA Tour for many years to come. His win at The Masters, strong showing at the U.S. Open, and consistent performance throughout the year make it hard to argue with his choice as Player of the Year.

With his impressive comeback victory at the Tour Championship and third FedEx Cup, however, McIlroy closed the gap with Scottie to a photo finish—and most certainly not a Scheffler “slam dunk” as some are saying.

Rory played only 16 events on the PGA Tour in 2022 (he also played 2 on the DP World Tour, finishing 3rd at the Dubai Desert Classic and runner-up at the BMW PGA Championship), while Scottie played 25 Tour events, and that also moves the needle a bit more toward Scheffler—but we think Rory edged him by a nose with his third FedEx Cup.

One thing is for sure, the 2022-2023 PGA Tour season (and major championships) are going to be pretty exciting with Scottie and Rory going head-to-head.

When you put Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantley, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Jordan Spieth and Tony Finau into the mix, and then top it off with young stars like Sungjae Im, Cameron Young, Will Zalatoris and Victor Hoveland—2023 is shaping up to be one heck of a year on the PGA Tour.

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2022 Open Championship: Cam Smith unleashes the Wand

Cameron Smith: 2022 Champion Golfer
Diario AS (https://us.as.com/)

As The Open headed into the back nine on Sunday at St. Andrews, the engraver prepared to etch Rory McIlroy’s name on the Claret Jug. McIlroy stood at 17 under par, having opened up a 3 shot lead over young Victor Hoveland, and he was in complete control of his game. Rory had already recorded a runner-up at the Masters, T8 at the PGA and a T5 at the U.S. Open—and it seemed a certainty that his long awaited fifth major championship was at hand.

Anything can happen, however, on the back-nine of an Open Championship on Sunday, particularly at St. Andrews.

St. Andrews: The Old Course

When a thunderous cheer suddenly erupted from the 11th green, the name to be inscribed on the oldest Trophy in golf would have to wait a bit. Cameron Smith had just rolled in another putt, making consecutive birdies to get within 2 shots of McIlroy. Rory was on cruise control, bombing drives and hitting greens—but making no putts (his only birdie on the back nine came when he drove the green on 10, and 2-putted for a 3). Cam Smith, on the other hand, was making everything. At the 12th hole he drove it to the very front of the green, leaving a difficult eagle putt from over 70 feet—and drained an 11-footer for birdie to pull within 1 shot of Rory. On the 13th, Cam rolled in another birdie, this time from nearly 20-feet, to pull even with McIlroy at 18 under par. And on the Par 5 14th hole Smith completed a stretch of 5 consecutive birdie’s by knocking in a 5-footer that brought him to 19 under par, and the outright lead.

Rory: Top 10 at Four Majors in 2022

The Magic

The championship hung in the balance as Smith reached number 17, the famous “Road Hole,” still clinging to a 1 shot lead. A poor approach left him just under the steep faced bunker guarding the front left of the green, and the pin was tucked just behind it. With brilliant touch and steel nerve Cam pulled the putter once again, and using the contour surrounding the bunker, was able to give himself an opportunity to save par from 10 feet—and then calmly knocked it in.

 The 18th hole of the Old Course at St. Andrews is reachable with a well-struck tee shot, and one of the most exciting finishing holes in golf. While all eyes were on Rory, however, a powerful young phenom, 25-year-old Cameron Young, had quietly moved back into contention, pulling within 2 shots of Smith’s lead—and they were playing together in the second to last pairing.

Cam Smith: Unleashes the Wand
Golf Digest (https://www.golfdigest.com/)

After Smith hit a solid tee shot just short of the green, Young unleashed a bomb that settled pin-high with a very makeable eagle opportunity from just 17 feet—a putt that would draw him even with Smith at 19 under and force a playoff. Cam was also fully aware that Rory, still only a shot back at 18 under, was likely to reach the green at 18 and have an opportunity for eagle, or a 2- putt birdie that would move him to 19 under as well.

Facing a 75-foot putt up the slope with a sharp right to left break and maximum Open pressure, Cam smoothly rolled his ball to within 3 feet, where he tapped in to finish at 20 under par, a shot ahead of Cameron Young (who indeed made his eagle putt to finish at 19 under). When Rory failed to eagle the last, Cam added his name to the illustrious group who have won The Open on the Old Course, while setting a new scoring record at St. Andrews.

Cam Smith

His Open Championship victory is the latest in a breakout year for Cam. He won the Players back in March, and followed that up with a T3 at the Masters, a T13 at the PGA and a T13 at the Memorial. Ranked 7th on Tour in putting, I suppose it should not have been much of a surprise to see him roll it so beautifully at St. Andrews, but when you consider the venue and the pressure of closing at a major, it was a truly spectacular performance.

At 28 years of age, Smith has always carried himself with the confidence and swagger of a PGA Tour veteran. And with 5 Tour wins, including a major championship and Player’s Championship under his belt, Cam is in position to secure a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame—and the putter to make it happen.

Cameron Young

At 25-years old, in only his first season on Tour, Cameron Young will be a force on the PGA Tour for many years to come. In addition to his gutsy runner-up finish at The Open, Young recorded a T3 at the PGA back in May, runner-up finishes at The Genesis and Wells Fargo Championships, and T3’s at both the RBC Heritage and Sanderson Farms Championships.

Cameron Young: Power and Putting

While Young’s primary weapon is the driver (currently ranked 6th in distance from the tee at 318 yards), Cameron is lethal on the greens as well (8th on Tour in putting). That’s a powerhouse combination, and will make him a man to keep an eye on as the season rolls toward the FedEx Cup playoffs.

LIV

The LIV contingent made their presence felt at The Open, erasing a mediocre performance at the U.S Open, and no doubt bringing a smile to Greg Norman’s face. 10 of the 23 LIV players who competed at The Open made the cut, with Dustin Johnson (-13) and Bryson DeChambeau (-12) recording Top 10’s. Abraham Ancer and Sadom Kaewkanjana both finished at -11, among the Top 20.

Their play on Sunday was particularly impressive, as both Ancer and Kaewkanjana fired closing rounds of 65, with Bryson carding a 66.

The third LIV event is scheduled for July 29-31 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ.

Trump National, Bedminster NJ
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Measuring Greatness: Jack, Tiger, and the Young Stars on Tour

Jack and Tiger: A League of Their Own

While Major Championships and Tour wins define a player’s legacy, making cuts and recording Top-10’s are the most revealing measurement of success in professional golf. Not surprisingly, Jack and Tiger set the high-water mark for these criteria as well, and they are the standard of comparison when looking at the current group of highly talented young stars.

In the graphic below, Jack’s numbers include the entirety of his career, through his retirement at age 65—and it is particularly impressive that his percentage of Top-10 finishes remains so much higher than any player other than Tiger, even when his twilight years on Tour are included.

Athletes peak at different ages, and unfortunately, injury also plays a significant role. For Jack, his percentage of Top-10’s actually increased throughout his 30’s (his Top-10 percentage was 71.8% on his 30th birthday, and 74.5% when he turned 40). Tiger, on the other hand, built the bulk of his record in his 20’s, with serious physical issues beginning to impact his play almost immediately on turning 30. He lost significant portions of the 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2015 seasons, so although Tiger’s Top-10 percentage stood at 66.0% on his 30th birthday, it fell to 60.4% when he turned 40. And then he lost the entire 2015-2016 season following another back surgery.

Current players are at different stages in their career, so the best way to view performance is by looking at percentages, rather than just the totals. As shown in the graphic below, there is a vast gulf in Top-10 percentage between Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy (No.’s 1 and 2), and Dustin Johnson (No. 3).

Rory McIlroy and John Rahm: Separating themselves from the Field

Jon Rahm, at 27 years old, is only just entering the peak performance years of his career, and Rory, at 33, is at the height of his ability. Collin Morikawa, 25 years old, with the same Top-10 percentage as Dustin Johnson and a significantly higher cut percentage, has virtually his entire career before him. It will be fascinating to track the progress of the current group of talented young PGA Tour stars over the next decade and more, when viewed against the eye-popping numbers that Jack and Tiger put up.

Collen Morikawa: Two Majors at 25

Movers

Although Scottie Scheffler has the look of a much more “seasoned” pro, he only just turned 26 on June 21. On top of his Masters victory in April, and strong performance at the U.S. Open (T2), Scottie has made the cut in 18 of the 20 events he’s played this year while recording 9 Top-10’s (including 4 wins). When The Open Championship gets underway at St. Andrews in July, it’s a pretty safe bet that Scheffler will be on the leader board come Sunday.

Scheffler, Thomas and Spieth: Moving the Needle

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, boyhood rivals with 5 major championships between them, are both at the top of the list when it comes to making cuts and Top-10 percentage. Still in their 20’s, each is a lock for the World Golf Hall of Fame when the curtain comes down on their careers.

Will Zalatoris (No. 8), at 25 years old, has already recorded 6 Top-10’s in major championships. While he has yet to record his first Tour victory, his ball striking is second to none. Should Will begin to putt with more consistency, the possibilities are virtually limitless.

Players with Hall of Fame talent who have yet to reach 25 years of age include Victor Hoveland (No. 20), Sungjae Im (No. 23), and Joaquin Niemann (No. 28).

With so much talent currently on the PGA Tour, challenging the records of Jack and Tiger would seem an impossible task—but it makes for tremendous excitement week in and week out.

LIV

While LIV has picked off 7 of the Career Top 30, closer inspection reveals that the Tour hasn’t given up a whole heck of a lot. As a group, the PGA ex-pats played a total of 99 events in the 2021-2022 season, making just 66 cuts (66%) along with a grand total of 10 Top-10 Finishes (10%). Surprisingly, the star of the show is Abraham Ancer with 3 Top-10’s.

Mickelson, Johnson and Koepka: 4 Top-10’s combined in 2022

Perhaps it’s mostly related to age, with just one defector under 30 years old (Bryson DeChambeau). Two are soon to be 40 (Louis Oosthuizen–39 and Dustin Johnson–38), Sergio is 42, and Phil just turned 52.

Phil and Dustin have already punched their ticket to the World Golf Hall of Fame, but with only 1 major and 6 Tour wins, Sergio has become an extreme long shot (although his 22 worldwide wins give him an outside chance). Pat Reed with 1 major and 9 Tour wins, has removed himself from any consideration. Koepka, with 4 major championships, has closed out his PGA Tour career with a total of  only 8 wins—so his chances of getting to the Hall are now very much in doubt.

The Saudi’s have paid a boatload of money with this venture, but the quality of their purchases have thus far been questionable to say the least.          

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2022 U.S. Open: Rory Riding High for Battle in Brookline

Rory Hitting Stride for U.S. Open

With his impressive performance at the Canadian Open, it appears that Rory McIlroy is firing on all cylinders in pursuit of his fifth major championship heading into the U.S. Open. Unlike the PGA Championship where he opened with a magnificent 65 and then glided through the second and third rounds with 71 and 74 before finishing with a solid 68 (8th place), Rory kept his foot firmly on the gas from beginning to end last week, with rounds of 66, 68, and 65 before closing with a sizzling 62 (19 under total). Justin Thomas, brimming with confidence in the wake of his second major championship victory at the PGA, refused to make it easy for Rory in the final round, however. Thomas began the day 2 shots back of Rory at 9 under, and after reeling off six straight birdies from 6 through 11 and adding another at 14, he got to 17 under—within a shot of Rory’s lead. When McIlroy fanned his tee shot into the bunker on the par 3 16th and made bogey, they were tied going to the last two holes—and Rory had a downcast look about him as he left the green that’s been all too common in recent years.

By the time he reached the 17th tee Rory had gathered himself and, deciding to let the big dog eat, unleashed a 367-yard bomb that left only a wedge from 127 yards. He then stiffed his approach to 2 feet, and tapped in for birdie. When Thomas faltered with a bogey, Rory carried a 2-shot lead going to the last. At 18 he ripped another 300+ yard drive to the right fairway, once again stiffing his approach (4 feet this time), and tapped in for birdie and his second consecutive Canadian Open Championship.

When Rory kicks it up a notch in the face of a full-on stress test applied by the reigning PGA Champ, it should give the field at The Country Club something to ponder and have golf fans chomping at the bit.

Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas and John Rahm

The Contenders

Rory certainly looks to be in full control of his game, and it will be shocking if he is not among the leaders come Sunday. He will have a monumental task ahead though, because the field for the 2022 U.S. Open may be the deepest ever assembled for a golf championship. In addition to the red-hot Thomas, Scottie Scheffler, reigning Masters Champion, is at the top of his game as well—and no doubt casting a keen eye toward backing up his win at Augusta with another major championship. The most dangerous player in the field, however, may be Jon Rham. The career numbers Rham has put up on the PGA Tour thus far are eye-popping, and he is past due for his second major. In 120 starts, Jon has finished in the Top 10 an astounding 49% of the time—the highest of any player in the field. In addition, he’s made the cut in 90% of the events he’s entered—so he’s rarely off his game.

Although Jordan Spieth missed the cut at The Masters, he’s recorded a Top 10 in 3 of his last 5 starts, including a win at The Heritage, a runner-up at the Byron Nelson, and a T7 at the Charles Schwab Challenge. With 3 major championships on his resume, Jordan knows how to close under pressure—and his putter is second to none. Although Collin Morikawa has been treading water while making cuts since his strong finish at the Masters (5th), his driving accuracy and precision iron play is exactly what the USGA looks for in an Open Champ.

Jordan Spieth and Collin Morikawa

Based on his dismal season thus far, one might assume that Brooks Koepka will be lacking confidence when he tees it up at the 2022 U.S. Open today. Don’t count on it. After missing the cut as an amateur back in 2012, Koepka, has played the Open 7 times—recording 2 wins (back-to-back in 2017 and 2018), a runner up (2019), 2 T4’s (2014 and 2021) as well as a T13 in 2016 and a T18 in 2015. Koepka lives for major championship golf, and a win this week would go a long way toward healing the pain of yet another injury-plagued season. Perhaps, Tiger-like, he’ll summon a great performance with sheer will and fortitude.

Based on his uninspired performance at the LIV event in London, and with money no longer an incentive, it will be interesting to see what Dustin Johnson brings to the table at the Open. With so few opportunities to achieve anything meaningful in golf going forward, perhaps Dustin will make a statement. It would seem unlikely, but the talent is still there.

Young Guns: Sungjae Im, Joaquin Niemann and Victor Hoveland

The 2022 U.S. Open will also feature a host of mega-talented young stars on the verge of breaking loose at a major—and you can be assured a few will appear on the leaderboard as the championship rolls into the weekend. Will Zalatoris has already recorded 4 Top-10 finishes at major championships in only his second season on Tour, and 24-year-old Victor Hoveland has recorded 3 Tour wins while making the cut in 58 of the 64 events he’s played (91%). Sungjae Im, also 24 years old, has recorded 23 Tour Top-10’s, including 2 wins and a T8 at Augusta in April. Joaquin Niemann, 23 years old, has racked up 21 Top-10’s including 2 wins, and 25-year-old Sam Burns has already notched 4 wins on Tour (3 wins in 2022).

With McIlroy, Thomas, and Scheffler at the top of their game, and so many bright young stars who are poised to burst through at a major, this U.S. Open promises to be memorable indeed—and we are in for a spectacular weekend of golf.

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Rory Puts the Pedal Down at Southern Hills

Rory looks for 5th Major

Rory kicked into gear at the opening round of the PGA Championship on Thursday, and threatened to run away from the field when he moved to 6 under par through the first 14 holes. At that point he held a 3 shot lead over his closest competitor, Will Zilitoris, and it brought to mind the famous Bobby Jones quote about Jack Nicklaus “playing an entirely different game, and one which I’m not even familiar with.” At the end of the day Rory finished with a brilliant 5 under round of 65, one shot ahead of Zilatoris and Tom Hoge. In recent years we’ve seen only flashes of what Rory can do when firing on all cylinders, most notably the final round at the Masters in April when he tied the course record with a sizzling 64 and finished runner up to Scottie Scheffler.

The dry spell Rory’s had at the majors has been marked by extremely slow starts, breaking 70 in the first round only 5 times in the 24 major championships played since 2016—his best being 67 at Winged Foot in the 2020 U.S., where he finished in a tie for 8th. The difference yesterday was the putter, which came to life on the silky-smooth greens of Southern Hills with 7 birdies—the most in the field. The last time Rory shot 65 in the opening round at a major was the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, where he went on to a thumping 8 shot victory over runner-up Jason Day.

Rory: Hitting the Gas

Friday’s Challenge

The players who tee off early in the day have a considerable advantage, with relative calm and greens that are at least somewhat receptive. In Oklahoma the wind generally kicks up pretty good in the afternoon, and the greens start to dry out and firm up, making the already challenging approach shots at Southern Hills that much more difficult. Thursday’s round was true to form, as only five players broke par in the afternoon, in contrast to those teeing off in the morning where 17 players finished under par. Rory will be teeing it up in the afternoon on Friday, and he will need to pay close attention to his ball flight while maintaining the crisp ball striking that has been his trademark. Having grown up in Ireland however, and with an Open Championship under his belt, Rory is no stranger to the wind—so we will likely see another magnificent performance tee to green. The key will be the putter, and if Rory continues to roll it the way he did yesterday, chances are pretty good that he’ll put some additional distance between himself and the rest of the field going to the weekend.

Southern Hills: Bearing its Teeth

The Guy’s to Beat

Justin Thomas fired an opening round 67 in the tough conditions on Thursday afternoon, and followed that up with another solid 67 on Friday morning to finish at 6 under going to the weekend. Going for his second major championship, and one of the top ball strikers on Tour, Justin is the guy that will give Rory his biggest test. A few talented young stars hoping to notch their first major championship are also among the leaders, most notably Will Zilatoris (a shot behind after the first round), and Juaquin Niemann who fired a 68 in the tough conditions on Thursday afternoon. Brooks Koepka, lurking at 2 over par after a solid 67 on Friday morning, is poised to make a run as well (and like Rory, bag his 5th major championship).

Justin Thomas: Applying the Pressure

The Weekend

The great thing about major championships is that they really don’t start until Saturday. The conditions will be as difficult as they can get, and the pressure will continue to mount until reaching a peak on the back 9 Sunday afternoon. And the 2022 PGA is shaping up to be one of the great ones.

Video Highlights: Rory Round 1
Image by BBC (https://www.bbc.com/)

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Rory McIlroy: Primed and Ready for Southern Hills

Southern Hills Country Club, Tulsa Oklahoma

With all of the attention on Tiger’s second comeback start, speculation about what Phil has up his sleeve with LIV, and Scottie Scheffler adding a green jacket to his already fantastic 2022 season, Rory McIlroy is once again keeping a low profile as we head toward the PGA Championship. It’s been an eight-year draught for Rory in the major championships, but his game is primed and ready for an assault on Southern Hills—and it really should come as no surprise if he is raising the Wanamaker trophy on Sunday afternoon.

Rory: Primed and Ready

The Early Years (2006-2010)

Rory exploded onto the golf scene all the way back in 2006, when at 17 years old he won the European Amateur Championship and rose to No. 1 in the Amateur World Golf Rankings, earning a place in the field for the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie. Unknown in American circles, he immediately turned heads with a first round 68 (a shot ahead of Tiger), made the cut and took home the Silver Medal as low amateur. Aaron Oberholser, one of the best players on the PGA Tour at the time, was paired with McIlroy on Saturday. When asked what he thought after the round, Oberholser said “I watched him hit his opening tee shot and thought: ‘Man, who is this kid?’ He went on to describe Rory’s approach shot in the cold wind on the 4th hole: “He took the nine, put the ball back in his stance and the shot made a sound I’ll never forget. At that point I’d only ever heard one player make that sound with their irons: Tiger Woods. He just hit it so clean, so crisp and there was so much effortless speed at the bottom of the swing. The way he compressed the ball was unlike anything I’d ever seen apart from Tiger.”

Young Phenom
Image by Irish Golf Desk (https://www.irishgolfdesk.com/)

After competing as a member of the European Walker Cup team at Royal County Down, Rory turned pro and made the cut in 6 of the 8 tournaments he entered on the European Tour that year including two Top-10’s. In 2009 he recorded his first professional win at the Dubai Desert Classic while still a teenager (Rory turned 20 in May of 2009), and showed his pedigree by making the cut in all four major championships, including a T20 at The Masters, a T10 at the U.S. Open and a T3 at the PGA Championship. In 2010 Rory won his first PGA Tour Event at Quail Hollow, and continued his strong play at the majors with a T3 at the Open Championship and another T3 at the PGA.

Domination (2011-2015)

In 2011 Rory began to flex his muscle, adding another European Tour win at the UBS Hong Kong Open, and then followed up with an eight-shot victory in the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, dominating the field. From 2011 through 2015, McIlroy won 4 major championships (2011 U.S. Open, 2012 PGA, 2014 PGA, 2014 Open Championship), 2 World Golf Championships, 5 European Tour events, and 4 regular PGA tournaments. He also recorded 41 additional worldwide Top 10’s, led the European Tour in scoring average three times (‘11, ‘14, ‘15) and ranked first in scoring on the PGA Tour in scoring average twice (‘12, ‘14). At 26 years old, with 15 worldwide wins including 4 major championships, Rory entered the prime of his career on a pace that would put him with Jack and Tiger—if he could maintain it.

Dominating the Field

Cruise Control (2016-2021)

McIlroy has not won a major since his victory at the 2014 PGA Championship and given his monumental talent, that is almost impossible to believe. Rory is one of the nicest young men you will ever meet, and perhaps that is a contributing factor. Jack and Tiger were both cut from the same cloth, with a singular drive where winning (particularly major championships) was their central focus to the exclusion of just about everything else—and opponents were given no quarter should they foolishly try to stand in the way. Rory is different, he seems to view golf as a friendly game that he loves to play, and his fellow competitors as a bunch of guys that he would like to beat—but if not, well that’s OK too.

While Rory hasn’t recorded any major titles since 2014, his over-all record through the past six years is second only to Dustin Johnson. Since 2016 he has recorded 12 wins (9 PGA Tour and 3 European Tour), 12 Major Top-10’s, 32 PGA Tour Top 10’s, won the FedEx Cup, and made the cut in 87% of the tournaments he entered. For comparison, while Brooks Koepka won 4 majors, he recorded only 3 regular tour wins with 26 Top-10’s, and made the cut in 79% of the tournaments he entered over the same period.

Keep in mind that while Rory has been on tour for a long time, he only just turned 33 this month, and his talent and ability have not diminished in the least—so if he decides to turn off the cruise control and put the pedal to the metal, the field will be scrambling for cover.

Enjoying the Game

The Possibilities

Rory is coming off a runner-up at The Masters, where he closed with a spectacular 64 on Sunday and followed up with a 5th place finish at the Wells Fargo Championship. He currently stands 2nd on tour in scoring average, and 8th in driving distance. The only thing holding Rory back is the putter, where he currently ranks 81st on tour—but that can change in a heartbeat (he ranked 20th in 2021). The level of talent on the PGA may well be the highest it has ever been, with young stars like Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa, John Rahm, and Justin Thomas—but if Rory decides to kick it he can tap a gear that only Jack and Tiger ever possessed. And if that happens this week at Southern Hills, the field is in big trouble. Rory looks like he’s ready to go, and it is high time he add a fifth major championship to his resume. It’s also great when nice guys finish first every now and again—and let’s hope it is at the 2022 PGA.

Check out Rory’s swing on the GolfDay YouTube Channel
Image by BBC (https://www.bbc.com/)

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Golf Legends: Ranking the Top 30

The Masters: Honoring the Greats of the Game

As we enter Masters week at Augusta National, where the greats of the game are celebrated to a degree unmatched at any other major championship, it seems like a good time to examine the best who have ever teed it up, and see where they stand in relation to each other. Because Bobby Jones never competed as a professional, he is not included here—but feel free to place him among the top five, as you see fit. We have also included a group of top active PGA Tour players to see where they currently rate among the all-time greats, and consider their chances of joining golfs elite.

The Criteria

Because the major championships are the most demanding tests of golf with the deepest fields, the majors are given the most weight in our ratings, followed by tour wins, major runner-up, top 5 and top 10 finishes, as well as worldwide wins (wins on other tours, such as the European and Asian tours). Golf clubs and courses have evolved dramatically over the past century, so it is our view that the best way to evaluate a player is by his record against the other tour professionals at the time he was active—without consideration to scoring average, driving distance, etc.

The Ranking

Tiger and Jack

It is no surprise that Jack Nicklaus is at the top, followed closely by Tiger. Sam Snead rounds out the big three, with a wide margin between them and number four (Ben Hogan). Both Hogan and Snead’s ratings are negatively affected by World War II, when the majors (and all PGA events) were put on hold—while each was in his prime. Also, following the war, American golf dominated the international scene, with the U.S. winning six of the seven Ryder Cups played between 1947 and 1959 in overwhelming fashion, led by Hogan and Snead. With world-wide travel being a challenge, and neither feeling they needed to prove anything by competing at The Open (then known as The British Open), they pretty much ignored it—although they each made the trip once during that time (and both won—Snead by four shots in ’46 and Hogan by four in ’53). Snead played the British Open two more times later in his career, recording a T6 in 1962 at fifty years old. In addition, the ratings for Walter Hagan and Gene Sarazen are negatively affected because the Masters wasn’t founded until 1934, when Hagen was 42 years old and Sarazen was 34. Field depth and competition level also affect ratings and ranking, and this is addressed in the wrap-up.

The Chase: Tiger and Phil

If Tiger returns for the Masters this week, so too will his relentless pursuit of Jack. And should he somehow pull off another eye-popping win, as he did in 2019, Tiger will move within two of Jack’s record for major championship wins. With another major victory, a few more major Top 10’s and a couple of additional regular tour victories, Tiger will definitively move past Jack as the greatest of all time. Even if he doesn’t tee it up at the Masters this year, he is obviously getting close—and that means he may be seeing Jack in the rear-view mirror by as early as next year.

Phil, on the other hand, is conspicuously absent from the Masters this week. While it is not likely that Mickelson can reach Palmer and Player, he can most certainly add to his accomplishments (as demonstrated by Phil’s win at the PGA Championship last year), and put some distance between himself and those closest to him (Walter Hagan, Tom Watson, and Byron Nelson). And when he joins Tiger for the opening ceremony on the first tee at Augusta in the distant future, the current unpleasantness will undoubtedly be forgotten.

The Current Crop

The chance that anyone currently on tour can make a run at Jack and Tiger is extremely remote—making their accomplishments all the more amazing. Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson are the leaders among active players, followed by Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia.

Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson

At 32 years old, Rory still has a chance to move into the top ten, but he will need to pick up his pace. His last win at a major was eight years ago, and all four of his major victories came between 2011 and 2014. If his putter were to suddenly return from the dead, however, Rory would climb the list at lightning speed—with plenty of time to get near the top.

Dustin, at 37 years old, has enough time to break into the top twenty, but the group of talented youngsters behind him will make it a tough task.

Rory, Jordan and Justin

Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia

At 41 and 42 years old respectively, both Scott and Garcia appear to have enough left in the tank for a move into the top thirty. Both are fit and healthy, so if the youngsters’ edge over a bit, they should be able to take their seats.

Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose

Brooks Koepka is 31 years old, and he has ample time to muscle his way up the list. But while his record at the major championships is impressive, he will need to continue his performance at the majors while recording a significant number of additional regular tour wins along the way if he is to reach the top ten. The talent is there, but his motivation seems to be lacking when a major trophy is not on the line.

Justin Rose, at 41 years old, can still get to the top thirty–if his back can hold out for a few more years. Lately he has been getting off to fast starts, only to struggle on the back nine—an indication that the back is not so good. Justin still has that gorgeous golf swing with plenty of power, so if he can maintain his physical condition the top 30 is still within reach.

Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Jason Day

Jordan Spieth, at 28 years old, has plenty of time to make a move into the top twenty, or perhaps even the top ten. Jordan will have to put his foot down hard on the accelerator, however, to make that happen. Spieth won the last of his three majors back in 2017, although he showed signs of returning to form in 2021 with a runner-up at the Open Championship and a T3 at the Masters.

Justin Thomas, also 28 years old, and with a vast amount of talent, has plenty of time to make a move as well. With only one win, a Top 5 and three Top 10’s thus far in his career at the major championships, however, Justin will need to make his presence felt at the majors in a much bigger way as he heads into his thirties.

For Jason Day, at 34 years old, the clock has begun to tick. The talent and putting stroke appear to be intact, so if he can stay healthy there is still time for him to make a move.

Jon Rham, Bryson DeChambeau and Hideki Matsuyama

Jon Rham, Bryson DeChambeau and Hideki Matsuyama

At 27 years old, Jon Rham will be a force at the major championships for many years to come. Like Koepka, however, Rham will need to start packing on regular tour wins to move into the top thirty and beyond.

Bryson DeChambeau can certainly hit it, and at 28 years old a great many opportunities remain before him. He’s also a lot of fun to watch, so hopefully he can double down on his 2021 U.S. Open Championship and make a push to join the greats of the game.

With his win at the Masters in 2021, Hideki Matsuyama suddenly came back into focus as one of the top players on the PGA Tour. Having just turned 30 years old at the end of February, he’s got some time to beef up his record. Perhaps his Masters win will ignite a run?

Collin Morikawa

In only two full seasons on tour, Collin Morikawa has already notched two major championships and five regular tour wins. Of all the young guns currently on tour, Collin has the best chance to make a move on Jack and Tiger. If he can maintain his current pace for the next twenty-odd years, Collin will find himself among the top five players in golf history. But both Rory and Jordan were in similar positions when they were 24 years old, and neither were able to sustain it.

First there was Snead, then Jack, and now Tiger. Will Collin be the mega-star of the next generation? We’ll just have to watch as golf history continues to unfold before us.

The Wrap-Up

Nicklaus was up against Arnie, Gary Player, Tom Watson and Billy Casper. Tiger had Phil, Ernie Els, and a large cast of highly talented players to contend with. Sam Snead lost four years to the war at the height of his career (but conversely, he also chose to skip The Open throughout the ‘50s, which makes a statement about the level of competition at that time). There are other factors to consider as well, but hopefully our ratings and ranking can form a basis for debate. And we will continue to provide updates as Tiger makes his latest come-back, and the young stars seek to stake their claim among the legends of golf.

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The 2021 Ryder Cup

Whistling Straits, Haven WI

The 2021 Ryder Cup

Today begins the long-awaited, and highly anticipated 2021 Ryder Cup. With all the pent-up energy of waiting an extra year (postponed from 2020 due to COVID), and then being trapped inside for much of the time, you don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict the crowds will be even more motivated and raucous than usual. Tournament organizers briefly considered holding the competition without fans last year, but that idea was quickly dismissed after negative comments made by a number of players, most notably Brooks Koepka (“The fans make the event”). And the fans have been particularly important for the American side. Europe has taken the Cup in seven of the last ten competitions, including four of the last five, and the three won by the American side have all come on home soil. Prior to each, the general consensus would always be that the American team should dominate because they had so much depth of talent, yet somehow the Europeans, with a couple of stars and a host of no-names, would walk away with a shocking victory. Well, this year’s battle will be no different with a powerhouse American team going up against Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, what’s his name, and who’s that guy. Just don’t take it to the bank—the European players have been ingrained with a hate-to-lose attitude that goes all the way back to Seve Ballesteros. And two of their biggest victories have come right here (Oakland Hills in ’04 and Medinah in ’12). Something tells me this is going to be a special weekend.

The History

The first Ryder Cup was played in 1927 at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts, and named in honor of English businessman and golf enthusiast, Samuel Ryder. The American team, captained by Walter Hagen, pounded the Europeans led by Ted Ray with a thumping 9 1/2 to 2 1/2 victory. Until 1977, the European team consisted of only players from Great Britain and Ireland, and the American team dominated the competition, winning 21 of the 25 Ryder Cups played. Beginning in 1979 the rules were modified, allowing players from all of continental Europe to participate in the competition, and the tide began to turn. The American team, led by Jack Nicklaus, won handily in ‘79 and ‘81, but the 1983 Ryder Cup was extremely close as the Americans pulled out a tough 14 ½-13 ½ victory. In ’85 and ’87 the American teams went down to defeat, ushering in a period of intense competition and European ascension, led by the charismatic leadership of Seve Ballesteros. Since 1985, the European team has won 11 times, the American team 5 times, and there was one draw (1989). The last quarter century of Ryder Cup competition has produced some of the most memorable moments in sports history, including the “War on the Shore” (1991) and the “Miracle at Medinah” (2012) as the European team staged an incredible comeback victory following the tragic passing of Seve Ballesteros.

The Teams

The 2021 American team is captained by Steve Stricker, and includes a powerful group of big names, including Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth. Long hitting Tony Finau, a resurgent Harris English, up-and-coming Scottie Scheffler and the gritty Daniel Berger round out an incredibly deep cast of talented players. The European team, captained by 3-time major champion Padraig Harrington, will be anchored by Rory McIlroy and Jon Rham, two of the greatest players in the world. Backing them up will be seasoned veterans of Ryder Cup competition Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey. They will be joined by Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowery, a pair of solid professionals who don’t back down to anybody, as well as talented youngsters Victor Hoveland and Matthew Fitzpatrick. Tyrell Hatton and Bernd Wiesberger, two of the top players on the European tour, round out a tough European team.

The Venue

Whistling Straits, located in Haven WI, and host to three PGA Championships (2004, 2010 and 2015) will host the 2021 Ryder Cup. Home to two Pete Dye masterpieces (Irish/Straits) and opened in 1998, Whistling Straits is among the finest golf resorts in the World. The matches will be fought on the Straits course, which boasts a course rating of 77.2 and a slope of 152. Don’t miss a minute of what is sure to be some of the greatest golf you will ever see.

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2020 BMW and The Tour Championship Preview

East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta GA

The BMW Championship Wrap-Up

Last week concluded the BMW Championship, the final event leading up to the Tour Championship this weekend—and what a way to head into the final week of the PGA season. The back nine battle on Sunday between Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau was every bit as thrilling as “The Duel in Sun” between Jack and Tom Watson at Turnberry back in ’77, or the epic struggle between Phil and Henrik Stenson in the final round of the 2016 Open Championship. Cantlay and DeChambeau began the day tied for the lead, and it ended the same way as they each fired sizzling rounds of 66 and went to a playoff. Bryson ramped up the pressure throughout with titanic bombs off the tee, while Cantlay countered with steely discipline and tremendous nerve, making clutch putt after clutch putt. On the par 5 sixteenth, DeChambeau took a one-shot lead after making birdie, and on the par 3 seventeenth it looked like Cantlay was finished when his tee shot found the water. But he refused to quit, getting up and down from a hundred yards by canning yet another huge putt to stay within a shot after Bryson hit a poor chip and failed to convert his putt for par. On the eighteenth, Cantlay dug deep yet again, knocking in a twenty-foot birdie putt to force a playoff.  It took six holes of pressure packed thrills, but Patrick finally prevailed. With the win, Cantlay sits atop the FedEx Cup standings, just ahead of Tony Finau. It would seem too much to ask for another finish like this one, but with the cast of heavyweights who will be teeing it up at East Lake, anything can happen.

The Tour Championship

Today marks the first round of the season ending Tour Championship at famed East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia. The tournament was founded in 1987, and was originally played in November. However, in 2007 with the establishment of the FedEx Cup, the tournament was moved up to September. The field includes the top 30 players in the FedEx Cup points standings, and because of a format change adopted in 2019, Patrick Cantlay will start the tournament at -10, based on finishing first in the FedEx Cup point standings. Tony Finau, at second, will be starting at -8, while Bryson DeChambeau, sitting at number 3, will start at -7 and so on down to the last five players in the standings who will start at even par. Historically, the Tour Championship was structured such that a player could win the Tour Championship, but not win the FedEx Cup. The change in format now means that the winner of the Tour Championship will also take home the FedEx Cup (along with the $15 million that comes with it). With such a fantastic lead-up to the main event, it appears the PGA Tour season is headed for a final weekend of pure excitement—so don’t miss a minute.

The Course

East Lake Golf Club was founded in 1908, originally designed by Tom Bendelow, and remodeled by Donald Ross in 1913. The course was later updated by George Cobb and most recently by Reese Jones in 1994. In addition to the Tour Championship, the home course of the legendary Bobby Jones has hosted many prestigious championships over the years, including the 1950 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the 1963 Ryder Cup and the 2001 U.S. Amateur. With a USGA course rating of 76.2 and slope rating of 144, East Lake is a fitting test to crown the FedEx Cup champion each year.

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2021 Players Championship

TPC at Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach FL

The Arnold Palmer Invitational Wrap-Up

The Arnold Palmer Invitational concluded last week, with reigning U.S. Open Champion Bryson DeChambeau narrowly defeating a 47-year-old Lee Westwood. The final round offered plenty of excitement as Westwood, whose last tour win came at the St. Jude Classic back in 2010, fought tooth and nail with DeChambeau right down to final hole, only to lose by a single shot. Both men put on gutsy performances with everchanging gusty winds that made each shot a potential disaster. Jordan Spieth was once again in the mix on Sunday, continuing his run of solid play, but faltered on the back nine with bogeys on three of the last four holes. Still, he posted his third top five finish in his last four events (the other being a T15) and keeps knocking on the door in pursuit of his first win since the Open Championship in 2017 at Royal Birkdale. On a side note, Saturday’s round included a curious incident as tour veteran, Justin Rose, who started the day tied with Spieth and within four shots of the lead, suddenly walked off the course after making a nine on the par 4 third hole, leaving Jordan to play on alone. Rose later cited a back flare up as the reason he withdrew from the field mid-round. With DeChambeau’s victory, he catapulted to the top of the FedEx Cup standings, and heads to the Players Championship brimming with confidence.

The Players Championship

The Players Championship is one of the premier events on the PGA tour, often referred to as the “fifth major”. The Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass is an incredibly difficult test of golf, requiring not only power and precision, but a great deal of patience as well. Since the PGA Championship was moved from August to May, The Players will once again take place in March, the position it held in the tour schedule until 2007, when it was moved to May. Prior to 1982, when the TPC at Sawgrass became the permanent home, The Players was held at a number of different venues, including the Atlanta Country Club, Colonial Country Club, Inverrary Country Club, and Sawgrass Country Club. Some of the most memorable moments in golf history have occurred at The Players, including Gary Koch’s famous faux pas, “Better than most!” as Tiger Woods sank one of the greatest putts of all time on the Island Green 17th hole, Fred Couples raising his fist in celebration after making a lengthy eagle putt on the sixteenth hole en route to his second Players championship, and Fuzzy Zoeller famously wiping Greg Norman’s forehead with his towel following Norman’s victory with a record  score of -24. The Players is a very special event, and it takes a special player to win it. I can’t wait to see what is in store for us this year.

The Field

As always, the field for the Players will be the strongest and deepest on tour, with the possible exception of the major championships. In addition to the Arnold Palmer Invitational champion, Bryson DeChambeau, the field will include Rory McIlroy (reigning Players champion), Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantley. While the eventual winner will no doubt be among the leaders in total driving, he will also be the player who keeps his cool when things get dicey—as they always do at some point on this Pete Dye masterpiece.

TPC at Sawgrass

The Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass, (TPC at Sawgrass for short) is located in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida near Jacksonville. Established in 1980, the magnificent facility features two 18-hole Pete Dye layouts (the Stadium Course and the Valley Course) as well as one of the finest practice facilities in the country. TPC at Sawgrass is also the headquarters of the PGA Tour. The Stadium course was designed by legendary architect Pete Dye, with his wife Alice, a fine architect in her own right. Modifications were later made by PGA Tour architect Steve Wezloff. The Valley course was designed by Pete Dye along with Jerry Pate and Bobby Weed in 1987. The Stadium course carries a rating of 76.4 with a slope rating of 155. The inspiration for TPC Sawgrass began with Deane Beaman, long time Commissioner of the PGA Tour, who wanted to create a bold and distinctive venue for The Players Championship that would stand the test of time. The TPC at Sawgrass is open to the public and partnered with the Sawgrass Marriot Golf Resort & Spa. When you prepare your golf destination bucket list, be sure to list it right at the top.

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