Earl's Recent Past Golf Blog's

August 13, 2018

2018 PGA Championship - A sign of things to come?

"Fairways and Greens" is the old golfers' motto to shoot consistent low scores. That especially holds true for major championships. Course strategy and position golf have been hallmark ingredients that champions have demonstrated in tackling major course setups. However a new age of golfer has emerged. A few years ago, I used the term NASCAR golf to describe Jason Day's victory at Whistling Straits. It was all out-peddle to the metal golf with very little held back. The last three U.S. Open winners used that approach. Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy play that style. Brooks Koepka has a finely tuned body, swing, and mental makeup that excels at record speeds. Like a top racecar designed to perform at high speeds, Brooks lets go of doubt and plays to his strength. When you drive it 320 yards and hit 75% of the fairways you are going to have a distinct advantage over the position golfer, even if that position golfer is Tiger Woods!

Tiger Woods had a wonderful week. He battled every day and finished only two shots back in second place. There were many "what if" moments that could've made it even more interesting. On the last day alone, he had two bogies; a rim out; a missed short birdie putt on 1; a putt that stopped ΒΌ inch short of the cup; and a wayward tee shot on 17 that cost him a chance at birdie. But the rest of the round was magic. He battled with everything he had, but Brooks didn't blink and firmly put his stamp on this championship.

Truth is that Brooks Koepka had more game then Tiger and the rest of the field this week. Tiger was playing strategic golf and leaving himself 150 to 170 yard shots to the green. Brooks went with driver and had 90 to 120 yards left to the green. Even with Tiger's conservative approach, Brooks hit more fairways then Tiger. Approaching from an average of 50 yards closer to the pin, Brooks' average birdie putt was considerably closer than those playing from much further back. Looking back at Koepka's final round, his "what if" moments could have made it a runaway like Tiger used to do. He missed five putts inside 8 feet and a couple more from 11 and 12 feet. Still, he made his final round 66 look easy and without drama.

With three major wins in the last 14 months, Brooks now is a verifiable star. He validated his 2017 U.S. Open championship by defending his title at Shinnecock Hills. Winning at Bellerive and the manner in which he dominated makes you think that we will see many more titles in his future. Drive it that far and straight and you can make any course much easier. His game has no holes in it, other that the fact that he only seems motivated to excel in grand slam championships. Tiger on the other hand has a problem with his driver. This is nothing new, but with the new age of golfers like Koepka, Thomas, Johnson, McIlroy, Day, Rahm, and others, Tiger cannot afford to lose opportunities with erratic drives.

What Tiger has shown this year is that he is capable to win and that most parts of his game are in major championship caliber form. I am not sure that Tiger will adopt the NASCAR mentality and go all out with every tee shot, but I do believe if he is to win more majors, he must use his driver more and attack. He has gotten this far in his comeback, so I don't see why he can't figure out the last piece of the puzzle.

July 23, 2018

The Best Player won the Open Championship

Carnoustie played as short and easy as it could possibly play for a major championship and still it proved to be a formidable test for the best players in the world. Carnoustie demands precise ball striking and a steady nerve. Francisco Molinari flew under radar as he played with Tiger Woods in the third to last group on Sunday. All eyes were on Tiger as he claimed the lead with eight holes to play. However, Francisco was matching Tiger's play with solid play of his own. Shortly in a stretch of 15 minutes, a double bogie and bogie spelled the end of Tiger's realistic chances. But Carnoustie did that to almost everyone in the field. Kisner, Spieth, Schauffele, Chappell all made a double bogie in their last round. Only Molinari was able to avoid the trouble and record a bogie free last round to claim the victory.

Even in a benign state, Carnoustie was still able to inflict its' punishment for the errant golf shot. Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Sergio Garcia, Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm, and Bubba Watson couldn't survive the cut. World ranked players like Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott, and Zack Johnson were in contention on the weekend, but didn't have staying power to avoid the disaster that this course can dish out on every hole. The last day featured wind that steadly blew between 15 and 25 miles an hour. Because of the change in conditions, the favorites to bring home the trophy changed. Anyone within five shots of the lead had a chance with the best ball strikers having the best chance. Woods, Rose, McIlroy, Fleetwood, and Molinari where the best candidates to make a run at the Claret Jug. In the end only Francisco was able to avoid the mistakes that sunk all his competitors.

The four players that finished two shots back in second place all could've won this championship. All lacked one or two clutch shots that could've been the difference. Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy were surging at the end and just ran out of holes. Xander Schauffele had the best chance, but just didn't finish the deal. He did hit some pressure shots, but couldn't convert the putts. I don't believe he choked, but just wasn't up to the challenge this time. His composure and overall game make me believe he will be a major winner before too long. Jordan Spieth's showing is a bit of a mystery. A terrible decision on the par five 6th hole resulted in a double bogie. The mistake brought him down to six under par, which he held until the easy par five 14th hole. There he three putted from 40 feet for a par. A birdie there and he would be tied for the lead. From that point on, he didn't look like a four time major champion. Last year he played the final five holes in five under par. This year he didn't have the game or gumption to compete down the stretch. That's a mystery to me!

Tiger Woods played good enough to win, but so did four or five other players. His decision to play conservative the first two rounds cost him the ability to shoot lower numbers. By hitting irons off the tee, he effectively played the course 1,000 yards longer. Occasionally there was over 100 yards difference between his iron tee shot and those that hit driver. He was hitting second shots from 210 to 230 yards, while others were hitting wedges from much closer. At this level of play, you can't give up that type of yardage. Saturday he changed his strategy and the result was his best score in a major since shooting 66 at the Masters in 2011. Yes, he briefly held the lead with eight to play, but I think his play the first two rounds cost him this championship. The television coverage of Tiger showed almost every shot. I watched 80% of his shots this week. Balance, rhythm, composure was excellent. It appeared that he had his "A" game working for him. In the past, with that game, he wins. Tiger still has one more piece of the puzzle to figure out. Watch out, when (not if) he does, it might be historic.

The "Champion Golfer of the Year" was clearly the best golfer this week. Great ball striking and a cool demeanor was the successful combination for this year's Open Champion. Francisco Molinari's win is a little bit of a surprise, but not if you look at his stellar career. He "won" this Championship by doing what was required on a demanding golf course. Carnoustie held up to the challenge again and won and produced a rightful winner that deserves the British accolade, "Well done."

 

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