08/23/2016

Tiger who?

The 2015-16 PGA Tour regular season wrapped up without a single ball being hit from Tiger Woods for the first time since his amateur days over 20 years ago.  While Tiger rehabs from injuries and contemplates when (if?) he’ll reenter the fray, plenty of talented youngsters are ready to grab the baton and run.

Chief among those is Jordan Spieth.  The 23-year-old Texan had a season for the ages last year as he came “this” close to a Grand Slam and he started this season the same way he left off.  Spieth posted a ridiculous 30-under at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii and cruised to an 8-shot win.  Same old, same old right?  Well, not quite. 

At Augusta, he toyed with the field for 63 holes and then completely fell apart over the final 9.  His 5-shot lead disappeared after rinsing two in Rae’s Creek at the 12th and England’s Danny Willett was the beneficiary of Spieth’s implosion, claiming his first major after a brilliant final round 67. Spieth’s heartbreak went viral.

But the player of the year for the first half of the season wasn’t Willett or Spieth, it was without a doubt Jason Day. 

The Aussie won three times before mid-May including the Players Championship and the WGC Match Play.  Day claimed the top spot in the world rankings and squashed any talk of a new “Big Three” in golf.  It was Day vs. the field.  Only, it really wasn’t.  You see, Day didn’t win the rest of the year and despite a solid showing in the majors his career total remains at one.

Dustin Johnson’s major total also stands at one.  His long-awaited breakthrough finally came at the U.S. Open at Oakmont as he overcame the course, the field and the USGA’s controversial ruling to remove his name from the Best Player to Never Win a Major list.  DJ then followed up with a win at Firestone to put his name firmly in the Player of the Year race.

As did Sweden’s Henrik Stenson who put on a show for the ages at Royal Troon.  Stenson and Phil Mickelson finished 11 shots clear of the field at the Open Championship.  Lefty began the final round one back of Stenson, shot a 65 and lost by three.  That’s because Stenson closed with a record-tying 63, made 10 birdies and posted 20-under in a major for just the second time in history.  A few weeks later Stenson won the silver medal in the Rio Summer Olympics to put around his Claret Jug.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fm4BC_LgRCI

The Olympics caused the summer season to be condensed as the PGA Championship was held just two weeks after the Open Championship, and the Olympics two weeks after the PGA.  Many of the world’s best (Day, Spieth, DJ, Rory) stayed away from Rio for various reasons but those who did play, did so with great national pride and passion.  England’s Justin Rose became the first Olympic gold medalist in golf since 1904, while American Matt Kuchar rounded out the podium with a bronze.

Jimmy Walker made it a clean sweep of first-time major winners by holding his nerve to make a clinching par on the 18th hole to edge Day at the PGA.  All four major winners this year should play a significant role in determining which side will win the Ryder Cup later this year.

If you were to sum up the 2015-16 PGA Tour season in one word it would be parity.  Sixteen golfers claimed their maiden PGA Tour win.  That’s up from 11 last season.  Every time it looked like someone might separate from the pack, they eased off the gas just enough to let the field catch up.  Expect a tight race for POY honors and also expect a whole host of players to continue the ball into next season.