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Five things we learned: Saturday at the PGA

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When his lead reached a quintet of strokes after nine holes on Saturday, I was desperately searching for five different words that began with the voiceless labi0dental fricative phoneme /f/ to use to describe Phil Mickelson’s day-three. Why bother writing about anyone else if Lefty was going to run away with the tournament the day before it ended?

1. What might have been

After carving birdie on half of his first 10 holes, Mickelson became the first competitor to reach double digits under par this tournament. Three hours later, he had given back three strokes and barely kept a hold on the lead. By day’s end, he was one stroke in front of Brooks Koepka and had allowed a host of players back into contention. Had Mickelson been able to rocksteady to the clubhouse at 10 under, he would have compelled everyone to go for broke on Sunday.

2. The five-shot addendum

It is incredibly difficult to come back from more than five shots in the final round of the major championship. So many sticks have to fall into place: the leader has to crumble, the chasers have to play just not well enough to win, and the long shot hast to play the round of his life. If we hold to the five-shot addendum, nine golfers have a chance at winning the 2021 PGA Championship on Sunday. Let’s have a look at them and find out who we pick to win tomorrow.

3. Bryson, Joaquin, and Gary

You have two recent U.S. Open champions and one of the rising stars in the game in this ballot. DeChambeau’s length won’t help him as much as at other courses with so much trouble lurking.  Woodland has been adrift since winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, although that one sort of came out of nowhere. Difference here is, he’s coming from behind. Of the three, the young Chilean is our bet to take a run at the title on Sunday.

4. Branden, Kevin, and Christian

This is the trio with everything to gain and nothing to lose. Not a single major title among the three, with Grace coming closest at the U.S. Open in 2015 at Chambers Bay. Streelman is thrilled to even be here and is the type of one-off winner that the PGA Championship has a penchant for identifying. Bezuidenhout has a lot of upside, but his first time in true contention in a major suggests that he will spend most of the day sorting his emotions. The heat of the moment will be too strong for two-thirds of this grouping, but if we had to pick one, it would be Grace.

5. Louis, Brooks, and Phil

Each member of this trio has a major championship, and Koepka and Mickelson each has four or more. It seems impossible that one of them will not step up on Sunday and grab the Wanamaker trophy by both handles. Koepka is the guy we’d pick at any other time, but is the repaired knee reliable? Phil is the veteran in the group, and normally that would count for much, but is he too veteran? We’ll see. Finally, we have Louis. Eleven years removed from his win at St. Andrews, will the scar tissue that developed since be too restrictive? Perhaps.

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, much like Augusta National, simply will not allow someone to take an early lead and hold on for a victory. The champion will play 18 incredible holes Sunday, but who will it be?

Branden Grace. Why would we pick a likely favorite?

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

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Five things we learned: Friday at the PGA

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The winds were up on Kiawah Island on Friday, and one man took advantage of a morning tee time to work his way up the leaderboard and assume the top spot at the halfway point. The youth movement that surged on Thursday, stepped aside on Friday as the wily veterans took over the room.

The cut fell at 5 over, and an astonishing 81 players survived. Every golfer remaining is within 11 shots of the lead. Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course is not one that allows for big comebacks, but don’t count Harold Varner, Patrick Reed, and Jason Day out of the running. Stranger things happen.

Five things that we know we learned, that happened on Friday are laid out for you here.

1. Young Lefty

Phil Mickelson, who recently looked like a prime candidate for a leap to the Champion’s Tour, is tied at the top with Louis Oosthuizen. Phil began his day on the inward half, the side that has frayed the nerves through two days. He came home in 2 over, returning to even on the week through 27 holes. On the outward half, the California native coaxed five birdie putts into the hole for 31, the low nine of the first two days. Mickelson nearly doubled his driving accuracy from day one, and the results were apparent. The 2005 PGA Championship winner leads the strokes gained: overall category and is putting as if he were on his dining room carpet. It’s a killer combination, and he just might have a shot to stay near the lead on Saturday.

2. King Louis

South Africa’s British Open champion in 2010 still swings the club as he did during that magical week in St. Andrews. What was considered a coming-out party for a young champion turned into his sole major victory after his 2012 Masters playoff loss. Like Mickelson, Oousthuizen is far from a sure bet, but he’s a safe play for the oddsmakers. Guys like him win PGA Championships (think Jeff Sluman, Larry Nelson, Shawn Micheel), and his complete game has him on page one. No matter where he drives the ball, Louis gets it on the green in regulation. His putting and chipping have been exquisite, and he’s tied with Mickelson at 5 under, one shot clear of Brooks Koepka.

3. BK Broiler

Brooks is an enigma. He seems injured, but he played the Masters and is challenging at the PGA. He has won this august event two times and fears no golfer ahead nor behind. Brooks is grinding an ax, thanks to the November Masters win by Dustin Johnson. Something about DJ gets Brooke going like no other competitor. Former training partners and bros, Koepka wants no part of Lanky catching up in the majors department. Koepka had eagles Vegas-style, at the 7th and 11th holes. Both par 5’s that exceed 570 yards, he was on in two on both greens, and maneuvered longish putts into the hole for three. If he keeps doing things like that all weekend, he’ll have more margin for error than the rest of the chasers.

4. Grand Slam talk?

Hideki Matsuyama was minus-five on the day, before the requisite five at the last (seriously, how is it listed as a par 4?) dropped him to 3 under on the week, tied for fourth position with two members of the South African contingent. Matsuyama has confidence after breaking through the major glass ceiling at Augusta in April. His flatstick continues to save him. Consider how he butchered the 18th before holing a putt of seven feet for bogey. If there is a golfer that Koepka considers a threat, it’s Hideki. Koepka expects to dispatch Mickelson and Oosthuizen by the 10th tee on Saturday. The bearer of the green jacket will be there until the end.

5. #TeamOf20 update

Is 10 percent always 10 percent? Two of the twenty PGA professionals sit a 5 over or better, assured of weekend rounds at Kiawah. Brad Marek has looked like he belonged all week. Two rounds of 73 have him at 2 over on the week. Marek birdies and eagles like a tour pro, but he makes bogeys like a club pro. Is top 30 possible? Yes. Top 20? That would be massive. Any higher is super unlikely, but he’s putting on a nice show.

Ben Cook does not like the closing stretch. By closing stretch, we mean the final six holes, which we might as well call the closing third. The pro from John’s Island Club in Florida has played that portion in 4 over both days. Saturday and Sunday won’t be any easier, so for him to move up at all, he’ll need to go Full Lefty on the outward half. Can he? Sure. Will he? \_*_/. Thing is, he’s through to the weekend, and that’s worth a lot.

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Five things we learned: Thursday at the PGA Championship

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Let’s be honest: no matter where any of us find ourselves today, we wish that we were in a rented house at Kiawah Island, taking a nice leisurely walk to the Ocean Course for the 2021 PGA Championship. After the traffic snarls that marred the 2012 playing of the same championship, most observers wondered if the powers that be would wave a magic wand and make access issues disappear in a spectacular fashion. Instead of a wand, it was the latter stages of a pandemic that compelled the PGA to limit spectator access, sweeping  away traffic concerns.

There was much more that we learned on day one of this year’s tournament, so let’s sweep ourselves toward the five things that we learned on Thursday at the 2021 PGA Championship.

1. A sneeze away

For most of the day, a large number of competitors were a simple sneeze away from the top. The deepest anyone got in the morning round was 4 under par. By 4 p.m., the lead was at 3 under par, and it was a healthy and diverse contingent that occupied that rung on the ladder. Martin Laird stood on the 17th tee at four deep, but two bogeys later, was back at 2 under, one behind the quintet of early leaders. Keegan Bradley also reached the same figure, but made a late bogey of his own to fall back to 3 under, still tied for the lead late. In the end, six golfers stood at 3-under 69 after 18 holes were completed.

2. #TeamOf20

The PGA Championship is unique in that there is always a subset of qualifiers who formed their own brotherhood: the PGA Professionals who work at golf courses and clubs across the USA. This year #TeamOf20 was lead in the first round by Ben Cook of Michigan who posted an even-par 72.

3. Where there’s a Will…

The young man from the state of Texas and Wake Forest University, who set golf hearts a flutter in April at Augusta, returned for a command performance. He stood at two under par on the 18th tee, but gave one back on the closing hole. That puts him behind another youngster named Phil Mickelson, and he can’t win, can he?

4. Canada’s Corey Conners

The pride of Kent State University has been rising in the eyes of experts over the past two years. On Thursday at Kiawah, Conners started strong, played well in the middle, and closed with birdies and two of his final four holes to see is the lead by two strokes, at 5 under.

5. Which horse do we ride?

In order, Viktor Hovland, Sam Horsfield, Corey Conners, and Will Zalatoris. It’s great to have former champions Keegan Bradley and Brooks  Koepka near the top, but we are going with youth this week at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.

 

 

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Morning 9: Super League meeting “underwhelming” ? | A tough sell? | A different Kiawah test awaits

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Good Thursday morning, golf fans.
1 “Underwhelming”
Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard…”A group of managers representing some of the game’s biggest stars met with representatives from a proposed breakaway circuit Tuesday at Kiawah Island, but the meeting didn’t seem to bring any clarity to the situation.”
  • “One manager who attended the meeting characterized it as “underwhelming” and given how long representatives from the Super League Golf concept have been pushing for the new tour it’s likely going to continue to be a topic and a distraction for some time.”
  • “It’s a complete distraction,” Bryson DeChambeau said. “I would say from my perspective, I’d want to know what way to go and just let’s go, whatever it is. Whatever is best for the players and for the fans is what I would support.”
2. Bryson to unleash the beast
BBC report…”DeChambeau, who leads the PGA Tour in driving distance with an average of 322 yards, also warned those who do not hit it long will be in for a “tough week”.”
  • “This golf course is a beast,” said the US Open champion.”
  • “Hopefully I can unleash the beast, but you never know. I may hit it right or left, I don’t know. But I’d say for the most part you have to hit it pretty straight out here, even though I’m hitting it pretty far.”
3. Stricker restates interest in a Woods vice captaincy 
ESPN’s Bob Harig…”Stricker, speaking in advance of the PGA Championship at the Ocean Course on Wednesday, said Woods’ involvement with the team is welcome.”
  • “I’ve talked to him; I don’t know if we are there yet to commit to him being there,” Stricker said. “He’s still got a lot going on, and his spirits are great, though, as of late. We were on a Zoom call with him just last week, and he seems like he’s in a better place. He’s still got some ways to go.”
  • “But I’d love to have him there. Who wouldn’t, right? The guys really respect him, and he did a great job as [Presidents Cup] captain [in 2019], and he was an assistant of mine in 2017 [at the Presidents Cup] and he was unbelievable. He would do anything for you, and he’s totally, totally vested in the situation and the process, almost to the point of, he’s on it early and so much, it’s like, ‘Dude, we’ve still got months to go yet.’ He’s really good at being an assistant, and I’d love to have him be there if it’s at all possible.”
4. A tough sell? 
Eamon Lynch imagines the reality — and difficulty — on the ground of the Super Golf League…“Interest among players for the Super Golf League is a combination of many things: simmering resentment among top players that the Tour structure is too weighted toward rewarding mediocre performers, a simple desire to secure their financial futures, naked greed, or even a pressing need for cash to ameliorate past misadventures. Live like a Saudi prince and you’ll need a Saudi prince to bail you out.”
  • “But none of them can legitimately claim to be motivated by a desire for competition.”
  • “Imagine Gretzky having quit because Dancing on Ice offered more money. Or Jordan’s Bulls deciding that joining the Harlem Globetrotters was better than winning championships. Those who join the putative Saudi circuit are acknowledging that their competitive careers are over in any meaningful sense, that they’re no longer engaged in the pursuit of history or a legacy of excellence, or in measuring themselves against the greatest ever. It’s instead an admission that they’re not athletes but entertainers, mere vessels for marketing product, even if that product happens to be the currish reputation of a brutal regime.”
  • “But those philosophical matters aren’t even the most troublesome questions players who split will face…There would be a public relations war that rebel players seem fated to lose.”
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5. A different Kiawah test awaits
PGATour.com’s Ben Everill…”Nine years ago, this event was held in August. That means a much different challenge awaits this year’s field.”
  • “When Rory McIlroy destroyed the field with his eight-shot win in 2012 he was aided by summer storms that softened up the Ocean Course significantly over the weekend. There was also a searing swampy heat well into the 90s that felt like triple digits. And the winds never blew at full strength.”
  • “Weather forecasts are fickle, of course, but on the eve of this PGA Championship there is a 0% percent chance of rain, the temperatures are expected to be in the high 70s most of the week and the wind is due to sit around 15 mph with gusts towards the mid 20s. The wind will start the tournament out of the east and move to the northeast before flipping for the final round.”
6. On DJ’s knee
Tom D’Angelo, Palm Beach Post…”The world’s top-ranked golfer had his left knee checked out last week after withdrawing from the Byron Nelson. He spent the week at his home in Palm Beach County, had an MRI and put together a plan with his doctor and physiotherapist.”
  • “The result: He’s feeling better and just in time for the PGA Championship, which is being played in his home state.”
  • “It just didn’t feel right,” Johnson said about the knee he had arthroscopic surgery on 20 months ago. “I got an MRI, everything was fine … and just put together a little bit of a plan to get a little bit stronger. It feels good, though.”
7. Bryson’s toughest test? 
Golf Channel’s Ryan Laver…”Bryson DeChambeau, say hello to the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, at a shade under 7,900 yards the longest course in major championship history.”
  • “They would seem a perfect fit, bullies, both brawny and brutish, but it’s not that simple. This PGA Championship will be the most challenging test of his transformation.”
  • “It’s probably one of the hardest courses I’ve ever played,” DeChambeau said after his practice round Wednesday. “You can’t miss it in certain areas. You can’t bail out left or right. You’ve just got to have your ball-striking on the whole day, and if you don’t, you’re going to get penalized.”
8. The essence of a PGA Championship
Paul Sullivan for the NY Times…”With an eight-shot buffer, McIlroy beat a stacked field that succumbed to the course. He also set a record for margin of victory, besting the one set by Jack Nicklaus when he won his fifth P.G.A. Championship in 1980.”
  • “That is exactly the kind of excitement the P.G.A. of America seeks when it selects a course for its major championship. It wants a bunch of players to have a chance to win, but it’s also happy if one player puts on a master class and pulls away from everyone else.”
  • “Our philosophy is we want someone to win it, not lose it,” said Seth Waugh, chief executive of the P.G.A. of America, which holds the P.G.A. Championship and the Ryder Cup. “We want birdies and eagles and bogeys and others. We’re not trying to create a torture test. That’s not what we try to do.”
9. From the Tour Truck Report…
As you might expect, players aren’t making many substantial changes being made the week of a major championship. Nobody is looking to replace the starting quarterback the week of the Super Bowl (yes, I know there’s no WITB trade deadline in golf).
That said, we still have some interesting notes from the Ocean Course to bring your way ahead of the PGA Championship.
TaylorMade
  • In a surprising move, Dustin Johnson is reportedly putting a SIM2 Max in play (10.5 degrees) with a LA Golf prototype shaft.
  • Sergio Garcia has switched from the TP5x to the TP5 golf ball.
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