When he said you can forget 2010, the year he won the U.S. Open, that “this was my best year in the majors,” Graeme McDowell was telling the truth. The man from Northern Ireland was a force in the majors this season, and you could use his performances as evidence that he has taken his game to another level.
Of the 12 players who made the cut in all four majors, Adam Scott (6 under for 16 rounds) and McDowell (4 under) were the most consistent and the only ones under par on the toughest courses in the most demanding productions.
Now, if you change your vantage point, you might consider one player to have performed better in the majors, because he’s the only one of the 12 to have finished top 10 in three of them. If you guessed Ian Poulter, give yourself a birdie. The Englishman was seventh at the Masters, T-9 at the Open Championship and T-3 at the PGA. For the season, he played the 16 major rounds in 2 over.
Curiously, those who won the majors weren’t part of the 12 who made a clean sweep in making the cuts. Bubba Watson won the Masters but missed the cut in the U.S. Open. Webb Simpson followed his U.S. Open win by skipping the Open Championship and missing the cut at the PGA. Ernie Els, it’s still hard to believe, did not qualify for the Masters, and PGA Championship winner Rory McIlroy missed the cut at Augusta.
Scott and McDowell were major fixtures, the only players to finish within the top 15 in all four (Poulter was T-41 at the U.S. Open) and had it been a 16-round stroke-play event, they would have finished 1-2. Here’s how that leaderboard would have looked:
- Adam Scott, 6 under
- Graeme McDowell, 4 under
- Ian Poulter, 2 over
- Padraig Harrington, 3 over
- Tiger Woods, 7 over
- Jim Furyk, 8 over
- Jason Dufner, 8 over
- Steve Stricker, 12 over
- Fredrik Jacobson, 16 over
- Keegan Bradley, 20 over
- Francesco Molinari, 20over
- Zach Johnson, 26 over
Of those names, only Jacobson and Molinari managed to go without a top 10 in the majors, though the Swede did record two top 20s.
You could say that Scott has discovered himself in these majors, having finished no worse than joint 15th in each of the last five majors, while McDowell improved greatly over 2011 when he missed the cut in both the Open Championship and PGA.
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THAT WAS MORE LIKE IT: Though he’s had a consistent presence on the world stage for the last six years, when Steve Stricker closed with a 71 to finish at 3-under 285 in the 94th PGA Championship, it was his first top 10 in a major since the 2009 Masters.
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NO, HE WASN’T THERE FOR THE HOT DOGS: Folks passing by a concession stand at the PGA Championship may have done a double-take when they saw Phil Mickelson hitting warm-up balls close by. Wasn’t he a good distance from the practice range?
He sure was, but as always with the left-hander, there was a method to his madness. Despite the massive expenditures for building small villages at the Ocean Course, club officials came up short on the range. There was only one direction to hit balls, and when the wind was consistently coming in right-to-left, it drove players nuts. Trying to prepare for 18 holes of various wind shots, when players went to the warm-up but had only one wind in which to practice.
It was especially confounding to a left-hander such as Mickelson, even more so because on this day he was going to start off the 10th and for the first few holes he was going to have a wind totally opposite of what it was on the range.
HAS ANYONE SEEN THE SKIPPER? Not that they were stranded quite like Gilligan and the folks from the S.S. Minnow, because players who stayed at The Sanctuary, the swank hotel near the Ocean Course, were surely in a luxurious setting.
But getting around was a challenge, and given the minimum of dining options on Kiawah Island, reservations had to be made well in advance and were difficult to come by. As a result, room service and pizza actually were the way to go for many, much to their chagrin.
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BREAK TIME: After finishing his second round in the PGA Championship, which had left him outside the cut, Stewart Cink was talking with a colleague and mentioned that he probably would tee it up next at the tournament in Las Vegas.
Given that he’s talking Sept. 27 and this was Aug. 10, it sounded so strange. Yet the reality is, Cink isn’t qualified for the FedEx Cup playoffs, and that brings a lengthy break into the equation. He’s 135th in the FedEx standings, but won’t play the Wyndham Championship this week in a last-ditch effort to get into the top 125, so he’s looking at a seven-week break.
It demonstrates the fickleness of this game, for when he left the PGA Championship just three summers ago, Cink was No. 10 in the world, and he’s been a competitor in 17 of the 20 playoff tournaments since they debuted in 2007.
FINAL RUSH: While many of the game’s marquee names can take a deep breath and recover from their Kiawah Island experience, it’s crunch time for some of their colleagues at this week’s Wyndham Championship.
While it may not capture the public’s fancy, at least not on par with the annual pennant races, the push to get into the FedEx Cup playoffs is very real for some.
Presently, Rod Pampling holds down the 125th and final spot into the playoff series, which will begin with The Barclays on Aug. 23. Plenty can draw motivation from Heath Slocum, who barely qualified for the playoffs in 2009, then took home a million-dollar payday by winning the first playoff, The Barclays.
Of those sitting 120th through 140th, everybody will be in attendance in Greensboro, N.C., save for Retief Goosen (127th), Cink, and Kris Blanks (138th), who is shelved with a shoulder injury.
NEW TEAM, OLD TEAM: Trevor Immelman made a big push to solidify his FedEx Cup standing, but faded with a fourth-round 76 to finish T-27. It was enough to move him from 127th to 122nd in the playoff standings, but given that he was 3 under through 54 holes, it could have been much better.
Still, Immelman was encouraged by his play.
He also confirmed that he’s working with Claude Harmon III but emphasizes it’s not a huge move. “I worked with him for years while I played in Europe,” said Immelman, who had been working with David Leadbetter. “I called (Harmon) and ran a few questions by him, then went down to West Palm (Beach) to see him and here we are.”
FAREWELL, KIAWAH: When a fellow caddie asked Mike “Fluff” Cowan how he’d describe the Ocean Course, the word used was “vast.”
Hard to argue with that, because the venue for the 94th PGA Championship was a sprawling, wind-swept property that was contrived in many areas, spectacular in others, and unique in some parts. For everyone, it was a task just to get there each morning. While the media complaints were many, the lasting impression was this: Cheers to the thousands of people who took nearly four to six hours of their day (two to three hours each way) to take in the golf and to walk a most difficult golf course. They deserve the credit.
And with that, it’s time to put Kiawah Island in the rear-view mirror, but before we do, some parting shots from the 94th PGA Championship:
• Rory McIlroy was brilliant at the start and finish, bogey-free in both a first-round 67 and a final-round 66. But as proof that his short game was crisp Sunday, consider that he had a clean scorecard while hitting just 10 greens, as opposed to the 15 in Round 1.
• Keegan Bradley had everything on the menu at the par-5 11th: a 3, 4, 5 and 6.
• How difficult was the 497-yard, par-4 13th? The top 10 names on the final leaderboard played it in 10 over, with just two birdies combined.
• From the Go Figure, Dept.: Naturally, the guy who finished dead last of those 72 who made the cut, Cameron Tringale, made three birdies at the 13th.
• It took until Round 4, but Graeme McDowell figured out the par-5 seventh, making birdie. He had bogeyed it each of the first three days.
• While McIlroy played the par 5s in 8 under, Tiger Woods was just 3 under – six birdies and three bogeys.
• For the season, Woods in the majors was a combined 8 under Thursday and Friday, 15 over Saturday and Sunday.
• John Daly (T-18) had his best finish in the majors since the 2005 Open Championship. Of course, that’s not hard when you consider what he had done in 15 majors since St. Andrews that year: 10 missed cuts or withdrawals, and a best finish of joint 27th.
• The long and short of it was no problem for Robert Garrigus. He was 10 under on the par 5s, 1 under on the par 3s. But the middle? Ouch, he was 11 over on the par 4s.
• What about the par-4 third confused John Senden? He played it in 4 over, though for the field it rated as fourth-easiest.
• Retief Goosen bogeyed the par-4 18th all four days.
• Ryo Ishikawa was 7 over for the tournament – 11 over on holes 14-18.
• From the Poor Finish Dept.: Austrian Bernd Wiesberger was 1 over for the tournament through 30 holes, more than comfortable position since 6 over would make the cut. He proceeded to bogey each of the next six holes and miss by one.