It’s “All-World” at THE PLAYERS

This week is the almost-a-major started by former PGA Tour commissioner Dean Beman, THE PLAYERS played over the ever challenging TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course with perhaps the most famous hole in golf, the island green par-3 17th. Printable descriptions of Sawgrass, a creation of Pete and Alice Dye, might include long, fairly tight, lots of water and challenging greens.

The greens have all been redone since last year and several other changes will offer challenges to the field which includes 48 of the top 50 in the world rankings. In addition to new putting surfaces players will contend with a new lake between the sixth and seventh holes and the redesign of number 12 into a risk/reward drivable par-4.

Candidates to hoist the trophy next Sunday include last year’s champion Jason Day who at the time held the top spot in the world rankings. Unfortunately for Day his level of play so far in 2016-2017 after a back problem in the fall hasn’t been exactly stellar with only one top 10 and missing the cut at his last outing, the Zurich Classic.

And there’s another factor that doesn’t bode well for the Australian, no champion has ever successfully defended. In fact Rickie Fowler missed the cut in 2016 after his thrilling playoff win in 2015.

Speaking of Fowler he’s our pick for the most likely former winner to win at Sawgrass. Outside of the missed cut in New Orleans his worse finish since January was a tie for 16th at the WGC-Mexico Championship and includes his win at the Honda Classic plus a nice tie for 11th at the Masters.

In the mix come next Sunday but probably not in the running for various reasons are world number two Rory McIlroy, Olympic bronze medalist Justin Rose and Kevin Chappell a first time winner at the Valero Texas Open. Chappell was the runner-up in 2016 to Day so he plays the Dye’s creation well.

No discussion of potential winners would be complete without Jordan Spieth who had a win early in the year and five top-tens this season. His last five starts though are not exactly spectacular with a T-12, T-30, Cut, T-11 and fourth at the Zurich Classic. He’s such a good player though it’s tough to count him out of any competition.

Well any way now down to my picks.

Most Likely Former Champion to Win: Rickie Fowler as discussed above.

Most Likely Rookie to Win: Jon Rahm – Is there any other choice? Watching Rahm is exciting. He’s long off the tee, a crisp iron player, deft around the greens and a superb putter. Rahm was a factor at the Wells Fargo last week, finishing in fourth, even though he started the final round with a bogey plus on the par-5 sixth made a six and he is usually great on the par-5s.

Most Likely Recent Major Winner to win: Sergio Garcia – the volatile Spaniard hasn’t played in this country since his Masters win last month but seemed to exhibit a maturity in the taming of Augusta possibly related to his coming marriage and the influence of his fiancée. He was going to be my pick for THE PLAYERS until “All-World” Dustin Johnson returned to the Wells Fargo Championship.

Most Likely “Go to the Bank” Player to Win: Dustin Johnson – We all were wondering if the back injury from that fall the day before the Master began was Ok…it is. DJ, my new “All-World,” was masterful at the Wells Fargo attempting to make it his fourth win in a row. Though he wasn’t successful, his closing 67 was tied for low round of the day and put him in a tie for second. Rusty, maybe, sometimes having an issue with distance control with his irons but averaging almost 311 yards off the tee and hitting almost 60% of the fairways his game is obviously in shape to win at Sawgrass. This guy is really hard to bet against.

 

The Mistake Jason Didn’t Make

day_tmagJason Day is the world’s number one ranked golfer though Dustin Johnson with his superlative play this summer is gaining on him and a lot depends on the outcome at East Lake Country Club in two weeks at the Tour Championship.

However, that not the point of this column.

The point is to congratulate Day for not making the same mistake numerous other stars have made (including Payne Stewart after he won his first major) of switching equipment companies. Often what happens is though the star is being paid lots of money to play the new clubs, they don’t perform like the old clubs.

Many struggle for months if not an entire season trying to recapture the winning magic they had found in the old sticks.

Of course, as soon as winning a few tournaments or a major pushes a player higher in the golf consumer’s consciousness equipment makers line up offering significant monetary inducements to drop the clubs that made them famous and take on new ones.

Day hasn’t done that, in fact he had already re-upped with his club company TaylorMade Golf several months ago in advance of the contract renewal date at the end of the year.

What he didn’t continue was his contract with TMaG’s parent company adidas to wear their shoes and apparel.

Therefore the announcement he had signed with Nike to endorse shoes and apparel for a reported $10 million annually was not a huge surprise. Day not only will continue with TMaG for his clubs he can’t play Nike clubs since they dropped out of that part of the business last month.

So congratulations to Jason Day for not making a potentially disastrous choice.

Fix the World Golf Rankings…Please

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I was on my second cup of coffee when my computer beeped informing me another press release had hit my inbox. The title was “Jason Day takes over as world’s top ranked golfer.”

What? Neither Day nor Jordan Spieth played this past week but because of the calculation used to determine spots on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) sponsored by all the major men’s professional tours around the world, Day “leapt” ahead by 0.0272 points with a total of 12.4235.

Day had a great year no doubt with six wins including the PGA but Spieth had a career-highlight year winning five times including the U.S. Open and Masters plus a second behind Day at the PGA, a T4 at the Open and was a member of the U.S. Team that won the President’s Cup over Day’s Internationals.

Want some more? Spieth was number one in the FedCup standings, won the FedCup and $22 million making him the highest earner ever on Tour and of course he was voted unanimously as Player of the Year. All this and he’s 22 years of age contrasting with his “old man” rival Day whose coming birthday in November will be 28.

The OWGR may be a wonderful mathematical exercise in performance statistical analysis but lacks credibility with fans and therefore misses the mark. How can a system that deservedly puts Tiger Woods at number one for 683 weeks (that’s over 13 years) change number ones when the players don’t play as was the case this time?

World ranking determines invitations to some tournaments plus who gets to play in exhibitions for appearance fees coupled with endorsement contracts that easily run into the millions.

However, the biggest reason to fix the Official World Golf Rankings system is credibility with fans because if the fans don’t understand how it’s done there’s little chance it will be believed.

To accomplish this, there’s no question there are problems. For example–simple question – does anyone think Jason Day is “better” than Jordan Spieth? Tough call for sure. Or how about yesterday’s Frys.com winner Emiliano Grillo earning almost four times the number of points Matt Kuchar did for taking the Fiji International. Kuchar moved to 13th in the world while Grillo went from 72 to 36. The quality of the field certainly figures into it but such are the complexities and judgements one has to face if rankings are done.

Fan understanding of the calculation makes all the difference and right now most PGA Tour players can’t explain the FedEx Cup points system much less the OWGR calculation.

Photo courtesy of Jordan Spieth & the Presidents Cup