Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Fantasy Golf: The PGA Championship Preview

You know the crazy thing about what now appears to be the prolonged but inevitable demise of Tiger Woods? It's happening at what could be the start of one of the greatest runs the game of golf has ever had and, by great runs, I mean a stretch when the best players in the game distinguish themselves by dominating the majors. I'm talking about a stretch like the one from the 1971 U.S. Open through the 1975 PGA Championship when 14 of the 19 majors were won by Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson (those four would ultimately combine to win 41 majors). I'm not saying we're going to see that kind of concentrated dominance over the next five years because there is too much depth but, before we start lamenting the onset of golf's post-Tiger Dark Ages, let's consider the following:

(1) We have not had an outlier win a major since Keegan Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship and it turned-out that he was Ryder Cup material unlike Rich Beem, Todd Hamilton and Shaun Micheel. Since Bradley, your major winners have been: Rory McIlroy (2), Bubba Watson (2), Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, Jason Dufner, Martin Kaymer, Ernie Els and Webb Simpson. Everyone of those guys has won multiple majors, played on a Ryder Cup team or both. I know Simpson has fallen off the radar but when he won the 2012 U.S. Open, no one was asking "where did that guy come from? In fact, we'd be more likely to ask that question if he won a major now (as the guys who drafted Simpson early in season long leagues ruefully nod their heads).

(2) We actually have a decent battle for best player in the world between Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott though we need Scott to win his second major before McIlroy wins his fourth to legitimize it. On the other hand, Scott could also be the Fred Couples "Nice Guy/Sweet Swing/One Major" of his generation but he still has some time to exceed that label and he appears to be more focused than Freddie. Then again, I've seen tuna sandwiches that have appeared more focused than Freddie.

If you're heading to Valhalla this week,
don't forget to pick-up something for
the Mrs. (Wings not included). 
(3) We have what could be an epic mano e mano battle brewing on the horizon in McIlroy v. Jordan Spieth. Remember that before he found his footing in the majors, McIlroy took his lumps with a disappointing final round performance at Augusta just like Spieth did this year. If Spieth can find a way to win one before the end of 2015 to get ahead of expectations, then we may get the rivalry that Tiger and Phil were never quite able to deliver. Rory is only 25 and Spieth is 21. And don't look now but here comes 25 year old Rickie Fowler who actually gets my kids' attention which is saying something considering he's not a South American soccer player. Rickie has three top fives in the last three majors. (Holy shite, did I actually just start a sentence with "and don't look now . . .? Hack alert).

With that current state of the game in mind, let's take a closer look at the Tiger era which we will define as the period from his first major win at Augusta in 1997 through his last at the 2008 U.S. Open. The only players who won more than two majors during that forty-two major stretch were Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh with three each. Your other multiple major winners during that eleven and a half years were Retief Goosen, Mark O'Meara and Ernie Els. The next best player to win one was Jim Furyk. If we're playing word association with those last four guys, I'm coming-up with "bland", "mayonnaise" and "J.C. Penney." (Yeah . . . so what's your point?) My point is that as far as all-star casts go, the Tiger era wasn't exactly A Bridge Too Far* so maybe what we're in the process of losing with a comet that's about to flameout, we can regain in the form of a brightly lit night sky (yup, we're in full hack mode now).

So this week the question before us is whether or not this trend of quality major winners will continue. I've given up on the notion that we're going to have a nail-biter anytime soon after Rory's British Open win was the sixth in a row to be decided by two or more strokes so I'm left to root for a worthy champion. There are four players who could really move the needle with a win at Valhalla (not including Tiger who would blow the needle off the dial but that ain't happening). Rory could do it by winning his fourth. Phil Mickelson could do it by winning his sixth. And Jordan Spieth or Rickie Fowler could do it by winning their first. Then you have the players who could make the needle tremble like Justin Rose and Adam Scott who could re-enter the best player in the world discussion with a second major, Sergio Garcia who could deliver the "monkey off the back" story by winning his first or Bubba Watson** who could enter the Vijay Singh, Nick Price Hale Irwin historically respectable zone by winning his third. (Martin Kaymer and Angel Cabrera could also win a third but no one outside of the people who set their TV's to automatically turn-on to the Golf Channel would care if they did).

I think we're going to see a needle mover or at least a needle shaker and for the love of Harry Vardon's freakin' ghost I hope we get some late Sunday drama this time. (I've been watching Tiger's 2000 PGA Championship playoff win over Bob May one hole at a time for about a week and I feel like it's the most exciting golf I've watched in over a year . . . probably because it is). I do not, however, think it's going to be Rory. I had to get all the way to the 31st player on the odds list who was Shane Lowry at 100 to 1 before I saw a name that made me say, "no way" and there are players with longer odds who I could see winning like Chris Kirk and Brendan Steele. Someone who drives it a bit straighter than Rory does this week is going to edge him out but he will be in the mix. He's playing too well not to be. So Rickie Fowler gets the top spot in the rankings because he's the best option I have left. After that, it's the usual suspects with my standard three potential longer shots mixed into the second five.  

The PGA Championship Favorites
Hey there Miss Kentucky.
How you doin'?

1. Rory McIlroy - 5 to 1
2. Adam Scott - 12 to 1
3. Sergio Garcia - 18 to 1
4. Justin Rose - 18 to 1
5. Rickie Fowler - 22 to 1
6. Henrik Stenson - 25 to 1
7. Phil Mickelson - 25 to 1
8. Keegan Bradley - 28 to 1
9. Matt Kuchar - 30 to 1
10. Bubba Watson - 33 to 1

The FGR One and Done Picks

1. Rickie Fowler
2. Justin Rose
3. Sergio Garcia
4. Rory McIlroy
5. Matt Kuchar
6. Ryan Moore
7. Adam Scott
8. Victor Dubuisson
9. Jim Furyk
10. Marc Leishman

Hopefully you read between the lines last week and recognized that putting Tiger at the top of the list was a Hail Mary thrown by a desperate man while standing on his last leg with nothing left to lose but the shirt on his back. (That would be me). The operative words in my analysis were meant to be "I could easily see Rory McIlroy tear-off three wins from now through the Tour Championship, he's got three top 10's in five starts at the Bridgestone and I already wasted him at Doral. Sounds like a winning formula to me." And it was. I'm not sure how I left Sergio, arguably the second best golfer on the planet at this moment, off the list but I did. In hindsight, I should have put an APB out on Jason Dufner's 2014 season before giving him a spot. Apparently someone is still nursing the hangover from their first major title last year. Not that I blame him. If I had won a major last year and felt comfortable about my Ryder Cup spot, I would have devoted 2014 to discovering the world's most delicious taco and drinking out of the new Heineken fountain I had installed in my living room.

Last Week's Report Card: B+
Yup. The grimacing one handed follow
through pretty much sums-up my season.

1. Tiger Woods - W/D
2. Rory McIlroy - 1st
3. Adam Scott - T8th
4. Rickie Fowler - T8th
5. Steve Stricker - T63rd
6. Jim Furyk - T15th
7. Jordan Spieth - 49th
8. Jason Dufner - T66th
9. Justin Rose - T4th
10. Henrik Stenson - T19th

Footnotes

* Yeah I could have taken the easy way out there and gone with something obvious like Ocean's Eleven or The Avengers but the FGR mission statement dictates that we skew old whenever and wherever possible. Not to mention, I'd put A Bridge Too Far up against any all-star cast competition. Check-out this lineup: Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Elliott Gould and Ryan O'Neal. Not to mention John Ratzenberger who would later go on to greater fame in a little role we like to call "Cliff from Cheers." On the A Bridge Too Far Dream Team, however, he was basically Christian Laetner.

** Bubba has two things working against him from a boosting the game standpoint that I don't think most casual golf fans realize. First, he's 35 years old so he's not as young as lot of people have been led to believe by all of his "look at me" hyjinx like driving the General Lee and doing the Golf Boys videos. Second, and I'm going to tread lightly here because by all accounts he's a good dude when it comes to the things we say we want in our athletes (family first, charitable, etc.) but there is a large segment of the die hard golf audience who would rather see just about anyone else win. I can't tell you why but I assure you that it's out there.

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