So it finally happened yesterday---Tiger Woods could not close out a major championship when leading after 54 holes. His record in that area was, and still is, stunning. Entering yesterday, Tiger had held the lead 50 times in his career at the end of the third round. He had won on 47 of those occasions. Before this past weekend, Tiger had held the 54-hole lead 14 times in majors and had won on every single of those occasions.
But yesterday, a little-known 110th ranked player, Y.E.Yang stepped up and ended all that. It was virtually inevitable that Tiger’s streak would end one of these days, and the chances were always greater that it would end at the hands of a talented golfer who was playing with house money, so to speak. Still, the way it transpired was surprising in that Tiger did not play badly. I would have guessed that one of these Sundays he would have a bad day with his driver and irons and put himself into too much trouble while someone else went relatively low. I would have never guessed that Tiger would hit the ball relatively well, hit so many greens but then miss so many putts inside 15 feet to give up the lead---more on the field’s putting in general in a moment.
Congrats to Yang because he did what he needed to do. He played solidly all day and made two great shots when they mattered---the chip in at 14 and the phenomenal approach on 18. He did get a few breaks, like when he pushed his approach on 16 and his ball landed a foot from deep trouble (and two yards from total disaster) on 16. But often contenders get some breaks on Sundays and the champions take advantage of them.
All that having been said, that last round was painful to watch because of what I thought to be really bad course set-up. The PGA set up the pins really poorly. In every major there are always a couple of greens on which nobody can read the subtle breaks (and the commentator, on cue, goes, "nobody has been able to read this/get it to the hole/ keep it on the high side/get within 6 ft from there" etc). In this final round, it seemed like that was every freaking putt on every freaking green by every freaking player. I think they figured that the course became a dart board after the rains yesterday---and with more rain last night and in the forecast it was gonna be there for the taking---so they decided to put the pins not only in difficult locations (which is normal for Sundays, esp in majors) but also in micro-break locations within them. Ask your local greenskeeper and he'll tell you that he can put every pin in such a location that you will make a 10 ft putt only by chance---they can put it in places where, for instance, the last 2 inches have unreadable breaks or slopes---and at tournament speeds, that means lip-outs and burnt edges. Well, the PGA sure busted those locations out yesterday. I happened to see Els miss a putt just to the right on one hole, and then later on the same hole Lucas Glover (who was then in contention) hit the same put inside Els' line and it looked great---till the damn thing dived left at the end and ended up horseshoe-ing back to Glover…..I mean, what the hell was that? That was basically an un-makeable putt from inside 10 ft on the safe side of the green! The end result was that nobody could make a putt and nobody could make a run. Who the hell thought that was a good idea? Especially after Saturday, when the tournament came alive because a handful of guys made deep runs!
Several players---McIlroy, Glover, Westwood, to name a few---made mini-runs early in their rounds (mostly by hitting it very close to the pin on several holes) and got within a couple of shots of the lead but were derailed by their inability to make longer putts later for birdies or to save pars. Heck, just between Yang and Woods, I think they missed over a dozen putts from inside 15 feet---and these were good putts, well struck, that just missed. That doesn’t make for good competition or viewing. From what I saw of the coverage, there was an anomalously large number of well-struck putts that missed---- they burned the edges or lipped out or dived away at the end. When no one in the field can make putts with any consistency from the 10 ft range, the pin locations are absurd.
A stunning stat from yesterday was that nobody----not one player---broke 70. In every tournament, on Sunday, there are many players who tee off early with virtually no chance to win; of these, there are always a couple or a few that shoot 69s or 68s or better because they are playing stress-free and trying to make a top-10 and improve their paycheck. Most of them play with the mentality that a 60th place finish is really no different from a 40th place finish so they may as well try for the top-10 or 15 and earn more money and Ryder Cup points etc, so they go for it and play aggressively. Actually, I looked this up: (Go to the ‘SCORING’ tab on this link and click “Final results with money.pdf”, if interested. If I link directly to the list, it crashes the browser---dunno why) Anyway, in this tournament 6-over par got you 43rd place and a paycheck of just over $21K. Six shots worse (12 over par) got you 73rd place and a paycheck of just over $13K [So once you are on the low end of the scale you don’t have much to lose by doing worse---even for a struggling golfer on the PGA Tour, $8K is not serious money]. But 6 shots better (Even par) got you 10th place and a paycheck of over $150K (and Ryder cup points, FedEx cup points etc). So there is quite a bit of incentive for all the golfers under 30th place after the 3rd round to just go for it on Sunday---a few shots worse don’t make much of a difference, while a few shots better can pay off handsomely. And if 40 golfers take on a course aggressively, you’d think that at least 2 or 3 of them will come out with decent scores in the 60s.
The fact that no one scored below 70 is telling---yes, the course was windy but I don’t think that wasn’t the main reason, because the greens were soft and there were plenty of chances to get somewhat close to the pins for birdies and par-saves. But it just seemed like nobody could make a putt. I mean nobody. Heck, the signature shot of the tournament, and the one that really won it, was Yang’s chip in from off the green from like 50 feet---one that he was realistically trying to get to within 3 feet for a tap-in birdie but that happened to drop. A one-in-a-million shot. I’d love to know what the low round of putts was on Sunday, or what the field average was, but I can’t find that info.
The tournament would have been a lot more fun if the PGA had tried to give the players a few more makeable putts with the pin locations. We could have seen someone charge from further back, we could have seen Tiger and Yang exchange blows (they both hit great putts that narrowly missed on several occasions---can you imagine the excitement and tension if those putts had dropped?).
Anyways, it was historic, if dull and frustrating to watch.
I have thoughts on the famed Tiger-Sunday-mystique and the media’s spin on it but that will have to wait. This rant has gone on long enough already.---
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