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Opinion & Analysis

10 PGA Tour players who will rise (or fall) in 2014

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With the 2014 PGA Tour season starting, I wanted to give the readers a look at a few players on Tour that I feel will be on the rise and falling for the season. The data below is the player’s 2013 metrics.

Players on the Rise

colsaerts.625.redington

NICOLAS COLSAERTS

Table 01

Colsaerts was the hot prospect headed for the Tour in 2013 coming off splendid play at the 2012 Ryder Cup. He generates a ton of club head speed and is one of the longer hitters on Tour. He was also eighth in approach shots from the rough and fourth in approach shots from the fairway. Thus, he’s an excellent iron player if he keeps the ball in play. He actually drove the ball quite well for most of the season, but he regressed toward the end of the year.

The reason why I like Colsaerts is that he hits it so long and hits it so well with his irons that the only part of the game that held him back was on and around the greens. And where he excelled with his irons was in the ever-important Danger Zone. He also was first in shots from 225-to-250 yards.

Colsaerts was saddled with the strongest strength of schedule on Tour last year, while only ranking 100th in Purse Size per Event. I believe that he can get used to the greens along with working on his putting in the offseason that he will have much more success in 2014. As I have mentioned in Pro Golf Synopsis, the biggest statistical advantage that distance provides is it allows the golfer to putt overcome poor putting. This is due to the par-5’s on Tour playing more like par-4’s for long hitters such as Colsaerts. Therefore, he can still be a mediocre putter on Tour and have a big year. He just needs to stop putting like one of the worst putters on Tour.

CHARLES HOWELL III

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Table 02

Howell has been one of the most overrated ballstrikers in recent years and subsequently one of the most underrated in terms of short game and putting. What has happened is that he has steepened his angle of attack with the driver over time. I have written about this in Pro Golf Synopsis, where the most common trait of a golfer who “loses their driving” on Tour is the one who starts to struggle with his accuracy off the tee and to counter that he tries to fly the ball lower by hitting more and more downward on the ball. This may provide some initial relief for the golfer, but eventually he not only starts losing distance off the tee, but he becomes more inaccurate and imprecise off the tee as well.

Here is a look at Howell’s radar metrics during the past three years:

Table 1

Frustrated, Howell started to work with Grant Waite for much of the second half of 2013 in order to improve shallow out his attack angle. Here is a look of his radar metrics in the fall 2013-2014 season:

Table 2

This created a noticeable improvement in his ballstriking in the 2013-2014 fall season. Here is a look at his rankings in the key ballstriking metrics in those tournaments he played in:

Table 05

Granted, his rankings in these events is out of roughly 120 players versus his cumulative rankings in 2013 being out of 190 players. But, he is currently in the top-10th percentile in driving and entirely better from each of the zones. With his club head speed, putting and short game he can take this much improved ballstriking and set target for having a spectacular 2014.

MATT JONES

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Table 06

Jones’ metrics may not impress many golfers. Last year I wrote about how PGA Tour players only need to be average or better in four areas of the game.

  • Driving Effectiveness
  • Danger Zone (175 to 225 yards) Play
  • Putts Gained
  • Short Game Shots from 10 to 20 yards

There is a very strong correlation between Tour players that finish in the top-half in these categories and their success on Tour. Not only do golfers that achieve “The Power of Being Average” usually keep their cards, but they tend to have wildly successful seasons. Jones finished a very respectable 49th on the money list. But even more impressive was his ranking of 29th in Adjusted Scoring Average. His Purse Size per Event is likely to improve and if he has the talent to achieve each of the “Big Four” areas of the game, he has a good chance to carrying it over to 2014 and having a terrific season.

JOHN SENDEN

John-Senden

Table 07

While Senden’s metrics were not impressive, 2013 was a down year for him. Senden is well known for his ballstriking and is usually one of the premier ballstrikers on Tour from off the tee and on shots longer than 175 yards.

Since Senden did not lose any club head speed, I believe that he will regain his ballstriking in 2014. Furthermore, he was hampered by his inability to make putts from longer than 15 feet. He ranked 153rd in make percentage from long distance and historically that metric means he should progress toward the mean.

JOSH TEATER

josh_teater_1_lg

Table 08

Teater just missed finishing in the top half of “The Big Four” (Driving Effectiveness, Danger Zone, Short Game Shots and Putts Gained) as he ranked 96th in Putts Gained.

If there are worries about his game, he tends to miss a high percentage of the time to the right (60.5 percent) and that his ranking in Adjusted Scoring Average (82nd) should have been much better given his key performance metrics. This indicates that Teater may have some issues with his strategy.

In the end, it is difficult to take away from a player that almost executed “The Big Four” and did it against top-tier competition. Furthermore, parts of his issues with the putter were from long distance as he ranked 138th in make percentage from beyond 15 feet. This should progress toward the mean in 2014.

PLAYERS ON THE DECLINE

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JOHN MERRICK

Table 09

Typically, Merrick has been a very good driver of the ball and has had some issues with his iron play. In the past two seasons, he has made strides to improve his iron play, but his driving has regressed. Last year he started off the season as one of the premier Danger Zone players on Tour, while driving the ball very effectively and putting well to win his first-ever PGA Tour event, the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.

Since then, Merrick has only made an average of $35,566 per event played, which would have ranked 105th on Tour. Merrick benefited from playing a fairly soft schedule that had a fairly high purse size per event. Those two rankings should be more similar in 2014, which means that his strength of schedule should become tougher while his average Purse Size per Event should drop slightly and that would make it more difficult for him to have success.

DEREK ERNST

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Table 10

Ernst benefited from his surprise victory at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow after making it through the Monday qualifier. He was a good driver of the ball in 2013, but did not do much well beside that. He performed poorly in each of the zones and was the second worst on Tour on short game shots from 10-to-20 yards. He was also a mediocre putter.

That does not make for good prospects in 2014, and he finished out the 2013 missing nine of his past 13 cuts with a best finish of T-44th. One of the big things Ernst has going for him is his world-class club head speed. If he can use that speed to his advantage and start bombing shots off the tee, all he needs is one good week of golf and he can get into contention for another victory. But since he does not hit it as far as his club head speed indicates, I have my doubts that will happen.

HUNTER MAHAN

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Table 11

Mahan’s game has always been his impeccable driving of the ball. He generates about average club head speed and is above average in distance off the tee. But, he has an uncanny ability to hit a ton of fairways (66.6 percent) given his distance off the tee. The problem for Mahan has been his Danger Zone play and his Short Game from 10-to-20 yards. Mahan is an underrated putter, but was also saved by ranking 39th in Putts Made Percentage from 15 to 25 feet. That should regress toward the mean in 2014 and that means that his performance should dip as well if he everything remains the same. I still see him as ranking in the top 100 on the Money List, if not the top 50. But, I feel he will have a down year when I look at the data.

CHRIS STROUD

Chris Stroud

Table 12

Stroud had that incredible chip-in on the 72nd hole of the Travelers to force a playoff, and had a fine year overall as he finished 55th on the PGA Tour money list.

We can see some of the reasons why I do not favor his prospects in 2014. He drove it poorly (164th) and he is a short hitter off the tee. He also performed poorly from the Danger Zone. Where he made it up was from the Safe Zone and with his putting and short-game play. So he did a good job of getting the ball up near the green in regulation and could often putt and chip his way to par and birdie.

Most of his driving issues were consistency related. He hit a decent amount of fairways (62.4 percent), but ranked 137th in Fairway Bunker Percentage and 147th in Missed Fairway — Other Percentage (shots that find the water, trees, O.B, result in rescue shots, etc). Short and crooked is a hard way to make it on Tour.

Stroud also ranked 50th in make percentage on putts from longer than 15 feet. That should regress toward the mean and will cost him strokes in 2014.

JONAS BLIXT

blixt.625.trotman

Table 13

If you look at Blixt’s 2013 season, we see a golfer that only played well in four tournaments. He had a T-26th finish at the British Open, a T-11th finish at Colonial, a fourth-place finish at Oak Hill and a victory at The Greenbrier. Outside of those tournaments, he usually missed the cut or finished poorly.

Blixt did this through good, but streaky putting and a good short game. The chart below shows Blixt’s streaky putting throughout the year:

Table 14

Anything below -0.5 is quite poor and above +0.5 is quite good. Blixt ran through some extreme highs and lows throughout the season, which created a trend line that was very streaky. He was on fire with the putter after Sawgrass and it is very unlikely he will be able to keep up that pace in 2014.

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at ProGolfSynopsis@yahoo.com or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Pingback: 10 Players Who Will Rise (or Fall) in 2015 | Golf Gear Select

  2. Pingback: 10 Players Who Will Rise (or Fall) in 2015 | GolfClick.net | Blog

  3. AIPM

    Mar 31, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Good call on John Senden… Stats only go so far, but so far these have been pretty well judged.

  4. topnotch17

    Jan 10, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Nerd alert!

  5. AHG Anderson

    Jan 10, 2014 at 8:42 am

    I like the use of stats in this way and since Tour pros and caddies and others subscribe to them then that tells us all we need to know; they work and they help the pro focus on where he needs to improve or consolidate. Of course there’s speculation in all sports or all walks of life but having access to such data can only be a good thing; it doesn’t promise how the future season might pan out but then unless you have a crystal ball then nothing else can either. Those guys who don’t rate what they are being told here are those I’d imagine who flunked out at school in math; they can’t interpret the data so they diss it as being useless – open your minds to the 21st century you cavemen!

  6. Brian

    Jan 8, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Any thoughts on Graham Delaet for 2014? He seemed to do well in 2013, especially after he went to the short putter.

    • Richie Hunt

      Jan 9, 2014 at 10:22 am

      He should do well because he typically performs well in the key metrics to being consistently successful…driving and Danger Zone play. He’s one of the very best ballstrikers on Tour.

  7. gunmetal

    Jan 7, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    I think these data would be pretty valuable to the players. I would want know where I need get better. I agree with everyone on the list except for Colsearts and Mahan. I watched Nicolas at done event in China a few weeks ago and wasn’t at all impressed. One week at the Ryder cup (thanks for that timing, btw) isn’t enough to convince me. I do live to watch him swing, though. Mahan knows how to win. I think this was his first year not winning in a long time. He’ll be fine.

  8. Mike

    Jan 6, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Well numbers don’t lie. It’s like making your pick in horse racing. Look at the numbers and you are right with some luck.

  9. JnRadioActive

    Jan 6, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    If i had a dollar for everytime I heard it was going to be the year of Chucky 3 Sticks… well I’d have 6 or 7 dollars anyway…

    • Jeff

      Oct 10, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      Great comment. Chuckie 3 sticks saves his best for practice rounds at Isleworth.

  10. Homer Simpson

    Jan 6, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    Here we go again…useless speculation exactly.

  11. Evan

    Jan 6, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Useless speculation. The players create the data, not the data creates the player. Player’s 2014 season success will depend upon:

    1. Talent
    2. Hard Work
    3. A little luck

    That’s it, that’s all… good luck digging into the stats after the tournament has left town.

    • JM

      Jan 6, 2014 at 8:11 pm

      I think all the writer is saying is that the data is a reflection of the players game as far as strengths/weaknesses

      The stats show how a particular player “should” fare over the course of a year long season given past performance metrics and trends.

      Of course, some players will just get hot some weeks and it may be enough to win or skew overall stats.

      And of couse some players will improve parts of their game and others will regress in certain areas. It is the players who can improve in certain key areas that may be weak, without having their areas of strength regress that will have successful seasons typically

      • Evan

        Jan 7, 2014 at 6:34 pm

        Yes, I know what the writer is saying… what I am saying is that even with stats in hand, it is still pure speculation. Does he probably have a slightly better chance at predicting success on tour considering he follows these guys and studies the numbers? Sure, but it’s still pure speculation. RH might be a wealthy man if he had a formula to pick success in golf… he’d live in Vegas, not Orlando.

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Gear Dive: Mizuno’s Chris Voshall speaks on Brooks Koepka’s U.S. Open-winning irons

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Mizuno’s Chief Engineer Chris Voshall speaks on how Brooks Koepka was the one that almost got away, and why Mizuno irons are still secretly the most popular on Tour. Also, a couple of Tiger/Rory nuggets that may surprise a few people. It’s an hour geek-out with one of the true gems in the club biz. Enjoy!

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

Listen to the full podcast below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Hear It, Feel It, Believe It: A Better Bunker Method

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The following is an excerpt from Mike Dowd‘s upcoming novel, “Coming Home.” 

After picking the last of the balls on the driving range, Tyler cornered Mack as he hit a few shots from the old practice bunker to wind down at the end of the day. Mack was hitting one after another, alternating between the three flags on the practice green and tossing them up about as softly as if he was actually lobbing them each up there underhanded.

Tyler just stood there, mesmerized at first by the mindless ease with which Mack executed the shot. Bunker shots, Tyler silently lamented, were likely the biggest hole in his game, and so after Mack had holed his third ball in a couple of dozen, Tyler finally decided he had to ask him a question.

“What are you thinking about on that shot, Mack?” Tyler interrupted him suddenly.

Mack hit one more that just lipped out of the closest hole, paused a few seconds, and then looked up at his protégé in what Tyler could only interpret as a look of confusion.

“What am I thinking about?” he finally replied. “I don’t know, Tyler… I’d hate to think how I’d be hittin’ ‘em if I actually started thinking.”

Tyler gave Mack a slightly exasperated look and put his hands on his hips as he shook his head. “You know what I mean. Your technique. I guess I should have said what exactly are you doing there from a mechanics standpoint? How do you get it to just land so softly and roll out without checking?”

Mack seemed to be genuinely considering Tyler’s more elaborately articulated question, and after a moment began, more slowly this time, as if he was simplifying his response for the benefit of a slightly thick-headed young student who wasn’t getting his point.

“You can’t think about technique, Tyler… at least not while you’re playing,” Mack replied. “There’s no quicker path back to your father’s garage than to start thinking while you’re swinging, especially thinking about technique. That’s my job.”

“Mack,” Tyler insisted, “How am I supposed to learn to hit that shot without understanding the technique? I’ve got to do something different than what I’m doing now. I’m putting too much spin on my shots, and I can’t always tell when it’s going to check and when it’s going to release a little. How do I fix that?”

“Well, not by thinking, certainly,” Mack fired right back as if it was the most ridiculous line of inquiry he’d ever heard. “A good bunker shot can be heard, Tyler, and felt, but you can’t do either of those if you’re focused on your technique. You feel it inside of you before you even think about actually hitting it. Watch, and listen.”

With that Mack swung down at the sand and made a thump sound as his club went through the soft upper layer of sand and bounced on the firmer sand below.

“You hear that?” Mack asked. “That’s what a good bunker shot sounds like. If you can hear it, then you can feel it. If you can feel it, then you can make it, but you can’t make that sound until you hear it first. Your body takes care o’ the rest. You don’t have to actually tell it what to do.”

Tyler still looked puzzled, but, knowing Mack as he did, this was the kind of explanation he knew he should have expected. Coach Pohl would have gone into an eight-part dissertation on grip, stance, club path, release points, weight transfer, and so forth, and Tyler suddenly realized how much he’d come to adopt his college coach’s way of thinking in the past four years. Mack though? He just said you’ve got to hear it.

“Get in here,” Mack said suddenly, gesturing to the bunker and offering the wedge to Tyler. “Now close your eyes.”

“What?!” Tyler almost protested.

“Just do it, will ya’?” Mack insisted.

“Okay, okay,” Tyler replied, humoring his coach.

“Can you hear it?” Mack asked.

“Hear what?” Tyler answered. “All I hear is you.”

“Hear that sound, that thump.” It was Mack’s turn to be exasperated now. “It was only moments ago when I made it for you. Can’t you still hear it?”

“Oh, remember it you mean,” Tyler said. “Okay, I know what you mean now. I remember it.”

“No, you obviously don’t know what I mean,” Mack replied. “I wanted to know if you can hear it, in your mind, hear the actual sound. Not remember that I’d made it. There’s a big difference.”

Tyler suddenly did feel kind of dumb. He wasn’t picking up what Mack was getting at, at least not exactly how he wanted him to get it, and so he sat there with his eyes closed and gripped the club like he was going to hit a shot, waggled it a bit as if he was getting ready, and then opened his eyes again.

“Okay,” he said suddenly. “I think I can hear it now.”

“Don’t open your eyes,” Mack almost hissed. “Now make it, make that sound. Make that thump.”

Tyler swung down sharply and buried the head of the wedge into the sand where it almost stopped before exiting.

“That’s not a thump,” Mack said shaking his head. “That’s a thud. You can’t even get the ball out with that pitiful effort. Give me that!”

He took the wedge back from Tyler and said, “Now watch and listen.”

Mack made a handful of swings at the sand, each one resulting in a soft thump as the club bottomed out and then deposited a handful of sand out of the bunker. Tyler watched each time as the head of the club came up sharply, went down again, hit the sand, and came back up abruptly in a slightly abbreviated elliptical arc. Each time Tyler listened to the sound, embedding it as he studied how the club entered and exited the sand. Mack stopped suddenly and handed the club back to Tyler.

“Now you make that sound,” he said, “and as you do remember how it feels in your hands, your forearms, your chest, and most importantly in your head.”

“What?” Tyler asked, looking back up at Mack, confused at his last comment.

“Just do it,” Mack said. “Hear it, feel it, then do it, but don’t do it before you can hear it and feel it. Now close your eyes.”

Tyler did as he was told, closing his eyes and then settling his feet in as he tried to picture in his mind what Mack had been doing. At first, he just stood there waggling the club until he could see the image in his mind of Mack hitting the sand repeatedly, and then he could hear the soft thump as the club hit the sand. He started to swing but was interrupted by Mack’s voice.

“Can you feel it?” Mack said. “Don’t go until you can feel it.”

“Well, at first I could see the image in my mind of you hitting that shot over and over again,” Tyler said, opening his eyes and looking at Mack, “and then I could hear it. It sort of followed right in behind it.”

“Ah, the image is a good starting point, but you can’t just see it and hear it, you need to feel it,” Mack replied, pointing to his head. “Feel it in here, and then you can feel it here,” he continued, putting his hands together like he was gripping a club. “Now close your eyes again.”

“Okay,” Tyler said, not sure he was getting it, but finally bought in. He settled in again and began waggling the club until he could see Mack swinging and hear the subtle thump of the sand. He let it just loop in his mind, over and over again, until suddenly he could feel it like he was the one doing it, and then he swung.

Thump came the sound as the flange of his wedge hit the sand. It was his swing, but it was different, maybe not to the naked eye, but in the speed, the level of tension, and the release. He opened his eyes again, almost tentatively, and looked at Mack with a combination of curiosity and amazement.

“I felt it that time,” Tyler said in a voice that seemed to resonate within from somewhere in the past. It almost sounded like Jackie’s in its exuberance.

“Yes… good,” Mack replied patiently. “Now close your eyes and do it again, but make sure you can feel it before you pull the trigger.”

Tyler settled in again, waited until, like the last time, he could see it, hear it, and then finally feel it… Thump… Something was slightly different this time, though, and Tyler opened his eyes to notice Mack kneeling down next to him. He had quietly deposited a ball into the place where Tyler had swung. Tyler looked up in the direction of the green and the target flag he had been aiming toward just in time to see a ball slow to a gentle stop about four inches from the flag.

“How’d you do that?” Tyler said, almost in wonder now.

“I didn’t,” Mack replied. “You did. You just had to stop thinking. See it, hear it, and feel it. Once you feel it, you can believe it. Anything more is more than we need. Any questions?”

As Mack turned to walk up out of the bunker, Tyler just stood there shaking his head a moment, looking at the spot in the sand, and then back up at the green as if to confirm the ball he’d seen roll to stop was still there. “I guess I’ve still got a lot to learn.”

“Well… yes and no,” Mack said cryptically as he turned back to look at him. “You pretty much know how to hit all the shots, Tyler. You’ve hit every one of them at one time or another. You’ve just got to learn how to empty your head of all those instructions so you can focus on finding the shot you need when you need it. It’s in there somewhere.”

“It’s hard to explain,” Tyler said, “but a lot of times I walk up and think I somehow just instinctively know what shot to hit without even thinking about it. I just kind of see it and feel it. It’s when I start to analyze things a bit more closely, factoring in all the things I know are important to consider like the wind, keeping away from the short side, where I want to putt from, and the best trajectory or shot shape for the situation, that I often start to second guess that feeling.”

“Ever heard the saying paralysis from analysis?” Mack asked. “It pretty much describes those moments.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Tyler replied, “but all that information is important. You have to consider everything and not just make a rash decision.”

“Sure, information is important, but you can’t get lost in it,” Mack countered. “Whether it’s golf, or just about anything else in life, Tyler, you need to learn to trust your gut. You’ve hit hundreds of thousands of shots in your life, Tyler. All those shots leave a mark. They leave an indelible little mark that gets filed away in your brain subconsciously, getting stacked one on top of the other. And after years of playing the game, those stacks and stacks of shots create an instinctive reaction to each situation. It’s like gravity. It pulls you in a certain direction so much that most of the time you almost know what club you should hit before you even know the yardage. Trust that, Tyler. Go with it, and know that first instinct comes from experience. There’s more wisdom in those gut reactions than just about anything else.”

“Thank you,” Tyler said after considering it a moment. “I think that’ll really help.”

“You’re welcome,” Mack replied. “Now rake that bunker for me and clean the balls off the green. I want to get things closed up before dark.”

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Opinion & Analysis

5 things we learned on Saturday at the 2018 U.S. Open

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Whoops, we did it again. While not as dramatic as the 7th hole concern of 2004, the Saturday of 2018 seemed eerily familiar. The commentators were divided on the question of whether the USGA was pleased with the playing conditions. The suggestion was, the grass in the rough was higher than necessary, and the cuts of the fairway and greens were just a bit too close of a shave. No matter, everyone finished and the band played on. The hashtag #KeepShinnyWeird didn’t trend, but Saturday the 16th was certainly not ordinary. Five weird things we learned, on the way.

5) Phil’s breaking point

It wasn’t violent. No outburst or hysteria. We’d seen Phil leap in triumph at Augusta. Now we’ve seen the Mickelson jog, albeit under most different circumstances. Near as we can determine, for a moment Phil forgot that he was playing a U.S. Open. After belting a downhill, sliding bogey putt well past the mark, the left-handed one discerned that the orb would not come to rest for quite some time: a lower tier beckoned. As if dancing a Tarantella, Phil sprang toward the ball and gave it a spank while still it moved. Just like that, his quadruple-bogey 8 become a 10, thanks to the 2 strokes for striking a moving ball penalty. In true warrior fashion, Mickelson accepted the penalty without questions, intimating that it saved him another stroke or two in the end. Yeesh. Phil, we feel you.

4) DJ’s front-nine free fall

Just as unlikely as Phil’s whack-and-walk was Dustin Johnson’s front nine of 41. The cool gunslinger of Thursday-Friday faced the same turmoil as the other 66 golfers remaining, and the outward nine did not go according to his plan. DJ got past the opening hole with par, after making bogey there on Friday. Number two was another story. Double bogey on the long par three was followed by 4 bogeys in 5 holes, beginning with the 4th. The irony once again was, Johnson struggled on holes that the field did not necessarily find difficult. Hole No. 2 was the 10th-ranked hole for difficulty on day 3, while 4 and 7 were 13th and 11th-ranked, respectively. Hole No. 6 and 8 did fall in the more difficult half, but not by much. At day’s end, however, the tall drink of water remained in contention for his second U.S. Open title.

3) The firm of Berger and Finau

Each likely anticipated no more than a top-15 placing after 3 days, despite posting the two low rounds of the day, 4-under 66. Those efforts brought them from +7 to +3 for the tournament, but Johnson and the other leaders had yet to tee off. Every indication was lower and deeper; then the winds picked up, blustery like the 100 acre wood of Winnie The Pooh. Both golfers posted 6 birdies against 2 bogeys, to play themselves into the cauldron of contention. Berger has one top-10 finish in major events, while Finau has 2. None of those three came in a U.S. Open, so a win tomorrow by either golfer would qualify as an absolute shock.

2) Recent winners fared well

In addition to Johnson, the 2016 champion, Justin Rose (2013) and Brooks Koepka (2017) found themselves near or in the lead for most of the afternoon. Since Shinnecock Hills offers much of what characterizes links golf, it should come as no surprise that 2016 British Open champion Henrik Stenson is also within a handful of strokes of the top spot. Rose played the best tee-to-green golf of the leaders on Saturday, but was unable to coax legitimate birdie efforts from his putter. Koepka was the most impressive putter of the day, making up to 60-feet bombs and consistently holing the clutch par saves. On another note, given his victories at Chambers Bay (2015 U.S. Open) and Royal Birkdale (2017 British Open), the missed cut by Jordan Spieth was the week’s biggest surprise.

1) The wind

The most unpredictable of nature’s weapons, the winds of Shinnecock Hills exposed flaws in the course preparation. Areas that would have held off-line putts, were dried out enough to escort those efforts off the shortest grass, into the runoff compartments. The zephyrs pushed tee balls and approach shots just far enough astray to bring all the danger zones into the recipe. Prediction for tomorrow is, any golfer within 5 shots of the lead has a chance at the title. A Miller-esque round of 63 would bring anyone into contention, if the wind continues to blow. No event appreciates drama more than the U.S. Open, and Sunday at Shinnecock promises plenty of it.

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