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Breaking down The Challenge: Japan Skins—pros and cons for each player

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For the first time in over a decade, the PGA Tour will have a skins game event on its calendar, with Tiger Woods, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama, and Rory McIlroy participating in “The Challenge: Japan Skins.” With the abundance of star power in their foursome, here’s a quick look at why each of them may or may not walk away with the most skins at the end of their round.

Tiger Woods

PROS: The skins game system and exhibition match atmosphere will be a new experience for his competitors, but Woods has played in these types of events before. The excitement and pageantry from the event will be a familiar setting for him, and he may have an intimidation factor in his favor. The reigning Masters champion still can catch fire during a round, as well. For the 2018-19 PGA Tour season, his five-hole streak of scoring birdie or better during a single round was the longest such stretch among his fellow skins game participants. If he creates a similar streak on Monday, it may result in a profitable day on the course.

CONS: Tiger hasn’t played a competitive round in over two months, with his last start coming at the BMW Championship in mid-August. The competitive juices may take a while to get going, and coupled with his recent knee surgery, the rust on his game may be on full display.

Jason Day

PROS: With the skins game format rewarding aggressive play, Day will look to capitalize with his par-breaking ability. During the 2018-19 season, he made birdie or better on 22.9% of the holes he played. Additionally, he seems to like this time of the year; over the past couple of seasons, the Aussie has played very well in the month of October on the PGA Tour. In 2017 and 2018, his worst finish on the Asian swing of the schedule was T-11. He continued his good play in Asia with a T31 finish at The CJ Cup in South Korea this week.

CONS: While he a solid season on tour, it wasn’t to the same standard Day normally displays. He missed five cuts, the most times he missed weekend play since 2010. Prior to The CJ Cup, he missed the cut in two of his past four PGA Tour starts.

Hideki Matsuyama

PROS: Playing in his native Japan, Matsuyama looks to continue his great success in his home country. While he has enjoyed international success, he’s even better at home, with eight of his 14 professional wins coming in Japan. Additionally, Matsuyama can fill the scorecard with red numbers with the best of them. The Japanese star was third-best on the PGA Tour in total birdies during the 2018-19 campaign. His birdie barrages helped him finish tied-fifth for most sub-par rounds for the most recent season. Spurred on by his countrymen, the golfer representing the host nation will look to put on a show, and he has the firepower to do so.

CONS: The support of the crowd in Japan may be a double-edged sword, and the pressure to perform well may throw Matsuyama off his game. If the skins come to a putting contest, he will have the biggest challenge of all the competitors. His strokes-gained-putting statistic was the worst of all four competitors for the previous PGA Tour campaign.

Rory McIlroy

PROS: The reigning PGA Player of the Year may be the favorite on Monday. He played well throughout the season, with wins scattered throughout the calendar. His most recent play was hot, as he finished the campaign with a win at the Tour Championship. Among the leaders in nearly all the scoring categories, his competitors will have to be on top of their game to win skins from the Northern Irishman. McIlroy was the best on Tour in scoring average, helped by his making birdie or better on nearly 26% of all holes he played. His scoring average was even lower during later tee times, and with the finish to be set under floodlights, the bulk of the competition will occur during McIlroy’s favorite time of day.

CONS: Like Woods, this event will be McIlroy’s first since August. Not having played in nearly two months, coupled with this event being his first foray in an exhibition skins match, may be a disadvantage.

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Benedict has been involved in sports his entire life. In addition to participating on the playing field, he loves talking and discussing every facet of the game.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Harry

    Oct 21, 2019 at 10:34 am

    I watched. Sadly, this was amateur hour. Sure there were good shots, but these guys were NOT competing. They showed up for the huge appearance fees. And it showed. Laughing after blown shots, using irons to putt, total lack of focus. Yes, this match sucked.

  2. JP

    Oct 20, 2019 at 8:05 pm

    Rory and Hideki are taking this thing down. Tiger and Jason are in poor form. Unless this is scripted, it will be between two people only.

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Callaway Golf Tour Rep Simon Wood

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In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny sits down with Callaway Golf Tour Rep Simon Wood on MD5, his Top 3 Callaway wedges of all time and the excitement of launching Jaws on Tour.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Birdie holes and other myths

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I am an ardent observer of self-destructive things I see golfers do and hear golfers say, and one that really gets me is when I hear someone stand on the tee and proclaim, “This is a birdie hole.”
Really? How do you know when you haven’t even hit your drive yet, much less your approach? If you’re a 12 handicap, let’s say, there are really only 5-6 “par” holes out here; how can you think this one is a “birdie hole”?

This game is tough, and making birdies is the toughest achievement out there. Very few are made without hitting two better-than-average shots, or at least one remarkable one, whether the approach or the putt. Think about that for a minute. You could be a scratch golfer and never make one! Eighteen pars and a bogey or or two will get you to scratch on most courses. If you are an 8 handicap, that means you average about 82 or so, which equates to 8 pars and 10 bogeys in a round – what are you doing thinking about making a birdie at all, much less while on the tee?

My advice is that if you are a 10 handicap or higher, your singular thought on the tee should be to not make a double or higher. Chances are you don’t hit the driver 280-plus and you don’t hit even half the fairways. If you track your rounds, I’d bet you will find a high relativity of drives out of the fairway to doubles (or worse) put on the scorecard.

So let’s assume you got off the tee well, now what? When you face your approach shot, my advice is to figure out which side of the green gives you the best chance of getting up and down and the least odds of facing a short-side difficult pitch. And there’s never anything wrong with targeting the fat middle of the green, regardless of where the pin is located. On most courses, a ball in the dead center of the green will give you a half dozen or more reasonable putts, and the rest will not be overly long or difficult. The next round you play, just stand in the middle of the green after you are done and survey the putt that ball position would have given you.

Here’s another interesting and enlightening drill for you if you find yourself out for a day of learning on the golf course. On each hole, after your drive and approach, play a second ball from the “safe” side of the green, just as if you had missed your approach to this safe side. Then hit a pitch or chip and putt it out. Keep that score on along with the score you actually made and see how you come out.

I’ve been blessed to have played to a low handicap my whole life, and I am an entrepreneur…but I really do not have a gambler personality. On the golf course, I want to have fun, and I’ve learned that trying to save pars from the short side really doesn’t deliver that. If I’m tuned in to my game, I play the safe side of fairways off the tee and the safe side of the hole with my approaches. I make my share of birdies, and keep big numbers and bogeys on short holes to a minimum by taking this approach.

Of course, I find a 73 or 74 with only one or two birdies more fun than a 78 with 3 or 4. You might not.

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Opinion & Analysis

Requiem for a push cart

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I can’t believe it’s over. In the last four years, you have been with me for 3,686 holes. But I understand you are just too tired to go on. Your break is busted. Your wheels rattle. It’s time for you to retire, I understand, but it makes me sad nonetheless; Hogan, my trusted push cart.

It is hard to believe that was 4 years ago! Oh, how the time has passed! How many great memories we have! Hundreds of rounds and thousands of miles. Our amazing travels, playing with great friends, meeting new people, and of course love! I will never forget the first time you meet Mary ClickGear. The way she rolled up, four wheels, wearing that beautiful pink trimmed outfit. How your umbrella all of a sudden burst open and how embarrassed you were. HA! It was amazing, my friend, and I am so glad we got to share the moments together.

There were also the bad times: my struggles with putting yips, then chipping yips, then putting and chipping yips together. Yet through it, you stood resolute beside me.

I also remember your dark times, like when you got called “overweight” at the airport or shortly after how you tried to thrust yourself in a lake (destroying my brand new rangefinder). In these times, I tried to be a source of strength for you and show you how much our time together meant to me.

What I will remember most is your enduring love. During the past four years, many have come and gone (including the M5 irons, the Ping G500 irons, Apex irons, a Ping putter, an Odyssey putter, a long putter, belly putter, three Scotty Camerons, and another Ping putter) but through good and bad, there was one thing I could count on: you. Always steads. Quick to hold my drink or my umbrella. Never judging when I took time for ball-hawking. Always down for a walk, regardless of the weather! A true friend!

That’s why yesterday, our last round together, was so special. I know you were hurting, that right wheel barely holding on and the lingering joint pain, but you never complained. Until the end; you were there for every shot and for that I am truly grateful. I hope you noticed the tears going up 18. They were real and deserved; you were the best push cart ever, my friend!

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