Thoughts, Sergio & Hideki’s wins

A couple of winners that could be the best in 2017

I know we have talked a lot about great players, especially after seeing what Justin Thomas has done this year, but last week two players won who I think has a really good chance of winning a major this year. First we had Sergio Garcia win at Dubai, he shot a bogey-free final round 69 for a wire-to-wire three shot win over Henrik Stenson. For Garcia it was his 12th win on the European Tour and officially goes on the radar screen when we start talking about those that can win WGC and majors in the upcoming months. Second we have Hideki Matsuyama, now we have seen what he has done in the last month but defending his title at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last week has increase the blimp size on our radar scope. For fantasy golf players these two bring up some series choices and frankly some problems because they are good a lot of times and then get as stone cold, which creates problems for us in choosing them in future tournaments

Let’s first talk about Sergio’s win in Dubai:
Hard to believe that it’s been almost 18 years since we first saw a 19 year-old Sergio chasing Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club. He turned pro in 1999 after finishing T-38th in the Masters as an amateur. Couple of weeks later in his first PGA Tour start he finished T-3rd at the Byron Nelson and a month later finished T-11th at the Memorial. Month after that he won the Irish Open, but really became famous at the PGA Championship. His big moment came in the final round when he was just a shot behind Tiger and hit his tee shot right on the 16th fairway, up against a giant red oak. it was a dangerous shot since the ball was lying on the root of the tree, he hit the shot with his eyes closed and sprinted up the fairway to see the ball land on the green. Tiger went on to win that event, but with the advent of videotape the shot has been viewed millions of times as Garcia’s coming out party on the PGA Tour.
Sergio became a bigger hero when he played on the Ryder Cup team the next month and has been a top player not only on the European Tour but also the PGA Tour.
The biggest problem for Sergio was the fact that he was thought of as a Tiger killer, someone that could go mano-a-mano with Woods, but that never really happened. Sergio also had problems at major championship, getting in contention but never being able to hit that right shot at the right time to win. Over the course of a decade this seem to get worst and to this day Sergio is probably the best active player not to win a major.
Sergio was also a very eligible bachelor and at one time a beer company made a series of commercials depicting Sergio as this James Bond type of ladies man. He had a serious of relationship and many criticized him for his sometimes ill-advised comments and immature behavior, but one relationship that seem to hurt him the most was with Greg Norman’s daughter Morgan Leigh. After being together several years it ended in 2009 and after that Garcia had a tough time snapping back and not feeling ready to play. In 2010 he took the whole second half of the year off. He got better but was not the same Sergio that we knew from 1999 through 2008. Since Morgan Leigh he was linked with other woman, but none of them had the staying powers until he met Angela Akins. At the time she was a reporter for Golf Channel, but she left that post and spent more time with Sergio. The relationship brought a new serenity into his life and last month they announced they would be getting married in 2017. Garcia has always been very open about things and he said after his win in Dubai that thanks to Akins it’s much easier to feel comfortable on a golf course and that there are no worries for him.

So all of this spells success and at Dubai it showed in his game. Garcia was easy going and didn’t show any signs of stress which we have seen from him. Realistically we were looking for him to play in Qatar in which he has made 11 starts winning in 2014 and finishing in the top-seven, seven of his 11 starts. But he wasn’t there and turned up in Dubai and place that in 7 previous starts he never broke into the top-ten and missed two cuts. So for many Garcia never was on their scopes because he never played well on the course. But all of that changed with an opening round 65 followed by rounds of 67-68-69. Garcia achieved this by doing what he does best perfect ball striking. Of all the players in the field he finished T-2nd in fairway accuracy and 3rd in driving distance. But the really cool stat was that he led in greens hit and with 22 birdies had the most of anyone during the week. This was his 250th career start on the European Tour and what he did best was not get caught up when playing partner Henrik Stenson started making birdies at 6 and then 10. When stenson birdied 13 and 14 he got within a shot of Garcia, who still played cool and made birdie at 15, while Stenson was making bogey on the hole. With that the tournament was pretty much wrapped up.
It was his 12th win on the European Tour, the first since the 2014 Qatar Masters. His next stop will come next week at Riviera in the Genesis Open on a course that suits his game. The one thing that Garcia seems to be able to contain is his putting, that for years has been his achilles heal. If he puts normally and is able to not strain on putts inside of seven feet he does well. The big question is if this win is just like his Qatar win of 2014 or even his Byron Nelson win from last year, something that he shows steady improvement on. In the majors Garcia has never been any good at the Masters, probably because of his putting but he never showed that he could do well in Dubai and now has won it. Frankly the courses for the U.S. Open, Erin Hills, the British Open Royal Birkdale and the PGA Quail Hollow set up good for him and I see him contending in them. I also think he will play well next week at Riviera and at the WGC-Mexico Championship.
But the key for us all, Sergio seems to be back and we are going to see a lot of him in 2017.

So is Hideki Matsuyama’s good play a sign of him possibly winning a major?
Since the moment I saw him play for the first time as an 19 year-old amateur at the Masters I have always known he would do great things. Not only does he hit the ball a long way, but is very straight and is a craftsman on hitting greens. I never watch Jumbo Ozaki play golf but I would say that Matsuyama is the best player that has come out of Asia. This is a bold statement, I am saying that along with Japan I can throw in all of Asia, he is that good of a player.
For this week Matsuyama controlled things at TPC Scottsdale. He was first in strokes gained Tee-To-Green and Approach-the-green as he was T-6th in Driving accuracy and T-2nd in Greens hit. He averaged getting it to 31 feet on hole proximity and even rough proximity he was the best of anyone in the field. Matsuyama’s game was very sharp, but it’s been sharp for the last six months.
Look at what he has done in all his professional starts since the last week in July:

T-4th PGA Championship Baltusrol G.C. – 4 rounds in the 60s, under par – 9 under for week – $405,000
T-3rd Wyndham Championship Sedgefield C.C. – 4 rounds in the 60s, under par – 15 under for week – $324,800
Cut Barclays Classic Bethpage – 1 round even, 1 round over par – 4 over for week – $0
T-15 Deutsche Bank TPC Boston – 2 rounds in the 60s, 4 rds under par – 8 under for week – $131,750
T-24 BMW Championship Crooked Stick G.C. – 2 rounds in the 60s, 3 rds under par – 6 under for week – $65,769
5 Tour Championship East Lake G.C. – 3 rounds in the 60s, 3 rds under par – 6 under for week – $340,000
Win Japan Open Satama G.C. – 2 rounds in the 60s, 2 rds under par – 5 under for week – $335,917
2nd CIMB Classic Kuala Lumpur G&CC – 4 rounds in the 60s, under par – 20 under for week – $756,000
Win WGC-HSBC Champions Sheshan International – 4 rounds in the 60s, under par – 23 under for week – $1,620,000
Win Taiheiyo Masters Taiheiyo Club – 4 rounds in the 60s, under par – 23 under for week – $335,917
Win Hero World Challenge Albany – 3 rounds in the 60s, 3 rds under par – 18 under for week – $1,000,000
2 SBS T of Champions Plantation Kapalua – 3 rds in the 60s, 4 rds under par – 19 under for week – $712,000
T27 Sony Hawaii Waialae C.C. – 4 rounds in the 60s, under par – 11 under for week – $39,100
T33 Farmers Insurance Torrey Pines – 0 rounds in the 60s, 3 rds under par – 4 under for week – $35,398
Win WM Phoenix Open TPC Scottsdale – – 4 rounds in the 60s, under par – 17 under for week – $1,206,000

Events Played: 15
Events Won: 5
Events finished 2nd: 2
Events in top-five: 10
Events in top-35: 14
Scoring Average: 68.10
To par total: 180 under par
Rounds Played: 58
Rounds in the 60s: 43
Rounds under par: 50
Money Won: $7,307,651

It’s easy to say he has played the best of anyone. But how did this happen? Or is it his age and gaining more maturity and skill? Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee traces it to the help that fellow Hiroshi Iwata has given him. Iwata is credited for shooting 63 at Whistling Straits during the 2014 PGA Championship and he help Matsuyama by giving him a device to help him line up putts. You see just like with Garcia, Matsuyama has never been that great in putts inside 10 feet but with this new device he has gotten better. But look at his stats this week in Phoenix, from tee to green almost flawless. But on putting he still struggled. From six feet and in he only missed one putt out of 61. But over 10 feet he was terrible only making four putts during the week. While Webb Simpson, who Matsuyama beat in the playoffs made 356 feet, 11 inches of putts, Hideki only made 237 feet, 2 inches of putts, only four players in the field were worst. But Hideki is getting better and with some more experience could be contending in a lot more events, including the World Golf Championship events and the four majors. At the same time I am not convinced that Matsuyama can play all courses great. We do know that he can play great at TPC Scottsdale, his game told us that this week. But will he be able to play well in two weeks in L.A. at the Genesis Open? He did finish T-4th in 2015, but his other years he was T-11th last year and T-23rd in 2014. But the question will be, will his streak continue or stall like it did at the Sony Open and Farmers. I see it only getting stronger as Matsuyama gets stronger each week he plays.
Other Players:
Webb Simpson showed that his game is back.
As he said after his round on Sunday, he game hasn’t been very sharp since he contended last at the Quicken Loans in June. But after the CareerBuilders he was completely lost, he paid a visit to Billy Harmon who helped him with a lot of thoughts The meeting gave him more confidence which carried over to this week. The good news on that, he is playing this week in the AT&T so he may be on your short list for players to pick.

Louis Oosthuizen and Rickie Fowler showed that they could be ready…
Both shot final round 65s and with it the thought that maybe it’s time to look them over. As for the bad news neither are playing at Pebble and right now they aren’t signed up for L.A. Hopefully they will still show some good form when they play Next

Byeong Hun An seemed in good shape but things didn’t work out. He made four bogeys and five pars on the back nine, for a final round 73. But does this put a bad mark on him? Yes and no, An has is still young and finding his way. Will he contend again soon, probably. But his game needs a bit of confidence to get him over this hurdle.

Jordan Spieth finished T-9th and maybe this is a good sign that he is ready to win again.

John Rahm was able to finish T-16th as we can see that he is ready to win again.

Phil Mickelson is showing signs of playing better and with him in the field at Pebble and Genesis maybe it’s time for him to really be in the battle.

Tiger Woods, gosh this came out of left field. What concerns me the most was his walking, it didn’t seem Tiger-like and I have to wonder if his back was bothering him. Maybe it was the change of pace on having to fly over commercially that caused it, but I still think Tiger will make a nice comeback.

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