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BlogPrelude to the Wyndham Championship

Wyndham Championship

August 13th – 16th, 2020

Sedgefield Country Club

Greensboro, NC

Par: 70 / Yardage: 7,127

Purse: $6.4 million

with $1,152,000 to the winner

Defending Champion:
J.T. Poston

by Sal Johnson

Founder, Chief Data Officer, GOLFstats

E-mail me at:
sal@golfstats.com

So how is the Wyndham Championship going to top last week’s PGA Championship?
The answer is simple, it’s not. The reason is elementary, if you were to the name the top most exciting tournaments in golf over the last 50 years or so and take out those sentimental wins like Tiger winning the Masters last year or Nicklaus winning at Augusta in 1986, last week’s PGA Championship could be in the top-ten. It had all of the elements to make it great, like the fact that you look at the 12 players that finished in the top-ten, only one Joel Dahmen would be classified as someone that didn’t belong there.  The rest were all bona fide stars in golf today. At the beginning of the third round, 16 players were within four shots of the lead and you had to figure in order for someone to break out they would have to shot a 63 or a 64. Collin Morikawa shot 64 and combine with his third-round 65 his total of 129 was the lowest final 36 hole score in major championship history.
Morikawa had one of five bogey-free rounds on Sunday but what made it stand out was several big moments. The first came on the first hole when he dumped his second shot into a greenside bunker, came out 22 feet away and made the putt.  He said after the round if he didn’t make that par, he probably wouldn’t have won.  He also found himself in trouble on the sixth hole and made a 25 footer to save par. But the next key moment was at the 14th hole when his second shot came up short of the green. At the time he was tied with six others and Morikawa holed the shot from 54 feet for his fourth and last birdie of the day. But the fireworks weren’t over. Paul Casey tied Morikawa with a birdie on 16 and while waiting on the 17th tee was watching Morikawa on 16. Now earlier in the week he had told other players that he wasn’t planning on going for the green at the par-4 16th hole but did try on Friday and it wasn’t a good experience as he drove it into the trees and scrambled for par. But with the tees up and Morikawa knowing he needed a boast, he took out his driver and hit that perfect shot, that landed perfectly and got that perfect bounce and stopped 7 feet, 1 inch away. “Brilliant shot,” Paul Casey said after his round. “Nothing I can do except tip my hat. It was a phenomenal shot.”
The only thing that disappointed Morikawa is the fact that there wasn’t a crowd to watch and let out that big cheer over the shot. Still to make the shot one of the best he had to make the putt which he did. Tens of millions around the world watched it, but it will go down in history as one of the greatest shots down the stretch in a major that very few saw? In the 1935 Masters in the final round on the 15th hole, Gene Sarazen found himself three shots back of the leader Craig Wood on the 15th hole with a decision. From 250 yards out he didn’t have a very good lie and was debating if the risk of carrying the pond in front of the par-5 was worth it. He was playing with Walter Hagen, who was getting impatient because he had a date and wanted to finish faster so he was watching along with Bobby Jones who just happened to be in the area along with a small cluster of no more than 50 people watching. Sarazen holed out the shot for a double-eagle two and the next day beat Wood in a playoff. The shot is today probably the most famous clutch shot in golf, something that will be hard to top. The equivalent would probably be if Morikawa would have holed the tee shot, that is how far-fetching Sarazen’s shot is. As Sarazen grew older, one of the things that bothered him but he also found it enjoying was the number of people that would come up to him years later and claim that they were in the gallery watching. Sarazen would smile and thank them knowing full well that they were just one of the other 50,000 well-wishers who said they were there but Gene knew over the 65 years that he lived who was in the gallery, it was that small. He had an old friend that at the Masters he lunched with and I saw a little routine that they loved doing in front of folks that asked him how many really saw the shot. Sarazen would start it by answering the question, “22.” Sarazen’s friend would immediately deadpan to Sarazen, “So Gene, how many people say they saw the shot?” Then Gene would say, “Twenty-two thousand,” and his face would change to a big smile and then laughter from all around them. Wonder in a few years and for the rest of his life if Morikawa will have the same thing happen to him, since only about 22 people saw the shot for real.

Have to say this, after this week we now know that Collin Morikawa is the real thing. He may not be the next Tiger Woods and may not be able to match his record, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him win 50 times on the PGA Tour with ten of those being majors. I say that because of one important element that he is improving in his game, around the greens and putting. Those were to the two things that have been missing in the year since he turned pro and it seems in looking at his stats those have improved. Still, he was able to win on slow Muirfield Village greens at the Workday and greens at Harding Park that isn’t the same speed and with the same undulations that they will see at Winged Foot. Come next month will be Morikawa’s first real test, from tee to green we know he is the real thing, but can he master hard greens like those at the U.S. Open and Augusta National? Time will tell.

Have to say a bit disappointed for Paul Casey, in past majors and he has now played in 64 of them he has never seem to play a part in many of them. He was T-3rd at the British Open at St. Andrews in 2010 and was T-7th at the 2008 British, but other than five top-tens in the Masters, the best being a T-4th in 2016, he has not been great in majors. But his game really looked sharp and if not for Morikawa you sensed that he could have kept it together and won. Like Morikawa, he is great from tee to green but always has not putted well.  But his big fault is never really seemed to want to put in the extra effort to get to the next level. He has made a lot of money and in some cases that prevent some from not achieving more and Casey is in this boat, so maybe in his later years he can change that and possibly win a major. As for this week, look for him to have a great week, Sedgefield is right up his alley.

Dustin Johnson is probably now what Greg Norman was like in the 80s and 90s, a great player who just can’t close the deal. His game is wonderful and it wasn’t like he was bad on Sunday, he shot 68 in a round of four birdies and two bogeys. But Johnson seems to do dumb things at the wrong time, the biggest example was on Sunday on the 10th hole. At the time he was tied for the lead at 10 under par and playing the par-5, 10th hole which was the easiest on the course. He hit a great drive and had 198 left. He hit a 5-iron and with lot’s of room right, pulled it into the greenside bunker, the worst possible place to be in. He wasn’t able to make a birdie and stuff like this is the reason he doesn’t win more majors. Johnson has now played in 44 majors and along with his 2016 win in the U.S. Open now has five 2nd place finishes, his second runner-up in the PGA Championship. He is good, been in the top-ten in 18, almost half of the majors he has played in.

Another player who five years ago we thought would be one of the best but never achieved that was Jason Day. Most of his problems stem from injuries which he hasn’t been able to overcome, but over the last month, he has found something to keep his painful back at bay, plus been able to play great again. Day played his last 27 holes bogey-free and at five-under and his big sin on Sunday was not making birdie on 16. He drove it into a bunker and came out 18 feet away and missed, with that and so many around him his chances were pretty much dead. He isn’t playing this week but should be a major focus for the playoffs and with the U.S. Open just a month away, will be a person on our minds at Winged Foot.

We can give Matthew Wolff a warm welcome to major championship golf as he made his debate and finished T-4th. He really wasn’t in the running but his eagle at ten and birdies at 16 and 18 made his final day 65 wonder if we will see a lot of him in the future. Same with other young stars like Tony Finau, Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, and Cameron Champ who all were on the leaderboard sometime on Sunday. They all showed that they will all be in our future and will have many other chances in the years and decades ahead.

Last we have to talk about two others that were in contention. First was defending champion Brooks Koepka. When Koepka made a birdie on 18 on Saturday, he had this funny smile on his face that made you wonder if he was going to run the tables on Sunday. He then went in front of the media and the world and was a bit arrogant, a trait which is ok when you win but can backfire when you don’t. Many found his remarks on Dustin Johnson winning only once in the majors over the top and Koepka received the wrath from many, including Rory McIlroy. Let’s face it, Koepka will never be either a politician or an ambassador to a foreign country. The last person in the world I am going to hire as my spokesperson is Brooks Koepka who won’t hold back his true feelings. For some, this is welcoming and great, but for others its over the top and arrogant. Let’s just say his cockiness from Saturday wasn’t much of a help on Sunday as he made four bogeys on the front nine and with two birdies and bogeys at 16 and 18 shot 74 and fell into a T-29th. The good news he moved up to 92nd in the FedExCup race so will play in the Playoffs. He is also playing this week and may be good, in his last start he was T-6th in 2015 so he will be one to watch.

Last is Bryson DeChambeau and we really don’t know what to say. He was three shots back and I feel if he could have been a bit smarter could have won. But I bet that if I said that to DeChambeau’s face he would have said “Hogwash,” but in a different tone and different word. In some ways, he reminds me of John Daly, grip it, and rip it. But that would be an insult to Bryson who thinks everything out while Daly just grips it and rips it. I can see that the long-distance charm of Byrce’s game is wearing thin with the media. Already we are hearing that Tony Finau and Cameron Champ could be longer than DeChambeau. But who cares, what I find intriguing about DeChambeau is that you always have to worry about him. It’s not about his long game, his iron play is good, he is good around the greens and putts well which means he can give that offensive explosion at any time. Yes on Sunday DeChambeau looked like Tiger Woods on his first seven holes, but then with bogeys at 8 and 9, he was unable to make birdie at ten seemed to lose the championship. Still, he had eight holes and made birdies on two of them, he has that kind of way with him that you never know what to expect, a bit like Phil Mickelson had in his prime.

As I said this week’s Wyndham’s will be a bit of a letdown. Being wedged between the PGA Championship and the FedExCup Playoffs is a problem, only 16 top-50 players in the field with only six top-25 players with Webb Simpson, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, and Paul Casey.  Still, the course is a joy and we can all come down after a great PGA Championship.

Comments

  1. Douglas R says:

    Hi Sal. I can’t seem to find how many points are given out for the Fex Ex Playoffs at the Wyndham. For example, how many is awarded to the winner? Or 10th place? Or 25th? Etc etc. I can see who’s on the bubble by looking at the rankings, but it could be useful to see who get’s in the Playoffs with a win or a T5 etc. They may have a little extra motivation. Those who already a lock may not be as focused. Appreciate any direction on this. Thanks!

  2. Douglas R says:

    Actually, I think I just found the distribution list, unless it changed for the new schedule considering Covid. And I guess it all depends where everyone finishes, correct? For example, if Burgoon finishes in 44th place for 12 points, he’d pull ahead of Schwartzel. But he wouldn’t pull ahead if Schwartzel earns a point or two. Am I getting the gist of that right? Thanks again.

  3. I have not gotten into it let, but the point system should be the same as last year.
    The only difference this year, there is no fear of losing a tour card. For those in position 126 they won’t have to attend Korn Ferry Finals as they will be exempt for another year, because of COVID. Frankly many will question that this week, but I think that legally the tour may have had to do it to prevent lawsuits from those that said they lost the 13 events canceled and with those events they could have regained their cards. Very trickly problem.

  4. Douglas R says:

    Gotcha. Thanks for the info. Didn’t even take into consideration tour cards. Could prove to be valuable.

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