BlogPrelude to the Valspar Championship

by Sal Johnson

Players Championship

Golf has seen some remarkable things in the last 392 days. The man of the moment is Scottie Scheffler, who won his six PGA Tour events in that span, but we must also include Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy. Between the three, they have won 16 events around the world, and we can easily say that the Big-3 in golf is Scheffler, Rahm (6 wins), and McIlroy (4 wins).
There is no doubt about how great Rahm and McIlroy have been not only in the last 13 months but career-wise, both have Hall of Fame careers.
Still, we are seeing some remarkable things come from Scheffler. The first thing we can say about Scheffler is that he is very low maintenance. Since turning pro in 2018, he has had very few lows. Between the PGA and Korn Ferry Tours, he has played in 117 events as a professional and has made 100 cuts for an average of 85.5%. In that period, he had only missed back-to-back cuts three times and had a stretch in 2020 when he missed three cuts in a row. All this shows how consistently Scheffler has played.
Since Scheffler joined the PGA Tour in 2020, in looking at his record and his stats, Scheffler has been the most consistent player. The reason behind that is his tee-to-green game is very solid. In Strokes Gained off-the-tee, he is 1st this year and since joining the Tour, has not been worst than 37th (in 2022). In Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green, he is also 1st this year, and his worst year was in 2021 when he was T-21st. Scheffler leads in Greens in Regulation. Since joining the Tour, his worst year was in 2021, when he was 45th. He produces a lot of offense. This year he is 7th in birdie average, which ties for his worst standings since joining the Tour. In Strokes Gained around the green, he is 21st this year. His worst finish was in 2020 when he was 58th. Now if you look at a possible weakness, it would be putting. This year he is 100th in Strokes Gained Putting. His worst finish on Tour was in 2020 when he was 117th. Sure, Scheffler is 129th in putting inside ten feet, but when he contends, those stats are better. The point is from tee to green; around the green, he is the best, most consistent player on Tour. If you compare Scheffler to both Rahm and McIlroy, they have more experience in events, which gives them a nod, but Scheffler is catching up.
What makes Scheffler so low maintenance is his overall attitude. He wants to be the best, like everybody else on the PGA Tour, but you don’t see Scheffler grabbing any advantage in equipment or coaching. First is his coach Randy Smith. Scheffler has been with him since he was eight years old. Smith has said that their relationship is straightforward. Since Scheffler was young, Smith has only had to fine-tune things that have been the reason for their success. Scottie Scheffler’s caddie is Ted Scott. Scott had previously caddied for Bubba Watson for 15 years, but that partnership ended in September 2021. Scott wanted to become a teacher then, but Scheffler asked him to caddy. They started their relationship at the 2022 RSM Classic. At that time, Scheffler had played two full seasons as a regular on the PGA Tour, and in those 56 events, he had a pretty good record, with 17 top-tens. He was still looking for that first win. He had five top-three finishes, including two 2nd place finishes. He came to the RSM on a high-finishing runner-up the week before at Houston. He went to the RSM Classic 17th in the World Rankings, and as a team, Scheffler and Scott finished T-57th. It took Scheffler five events with Scott before the duo recorded their first victory at the Phoenix Open. Three weeks later, they won again at the Arnold Palmer and then again at the WGC-Match Play. Many fellow pros felt that this partnership had made Scheffler a better player, and when they went to the Masters, they had a lot of momentum. Scheffler had just become first in the World Rankings, and Scheffler had on the bag a person that could help him dearly at Augusta. Scott was on the bag for Bubba Watson for both his Masters wins, so Scott knew a thing or two about Augusta. Scheffler played tremendously and beat Rory McIlroy by three shots. He looked very comfortable, and Scott knew when to talk to Scheffler and give him the prudent information he needed. The duo has been together for 30 events; in those 30 events, he has 12 top-five finishes and won $22.5 million.
All of these are keys to why Scheffler has become so good. It also helps that he isn’t looking to upgrade his equipment as many other pros do. Scheffler’s Philosophy has always been to get better with the stuff he plays with.
So you can see the reasons for Scottie doing so well. The one failure at the Tour Championship was that he blew a six-shot lead on the final nine to lose that event, and the FedExCup points list was costly. That nine holes could have been one of the more expensive nine holes in golf as it cost him just over $12 million. Still, he got a share of 2nd, which paid him $5.75 million. Since then, very little has gone wrong. After finishing T-45th at the CJ Cup, he has been rock solid. In nine events, his worst finish was T-12th at the Genesis, and with his win in Phoenix and the Players, he is primed for the Match Play and the Masters.
In looking for the keys to his Players’ victory, it’s just what has worked for him. He was 1st in Strokes Gained tee-to-green as he gained 17 shots on the field. He was 1st in Greens in Regulation and was the longest driver for the week. Scheffler ruled the weekend as he only made three bogeys in his last two rounds. He did it on a challenging course that has punished third-round leaders before. Since the Players first was played at TPC Sawgrass, 51 players have either had the third-round lead or a share of the lead. Of those players, 16 have gone on to win, but the scoring average of the 51 players is 72.9. The scoring average of those 35 that didn’t win was 74.3, so you can see how hard it is to win with the third-round lead. Scheffler shot 69, as he was one of seven winners to shoot 69 or lower with the lead.
Now, to sum up what Scheffler has done by winning six times in a span of 392 days, going back to 1970, here is the fastest player to win six events in the least amount of days. Remember that some of these players, like Tiger and Jack, did it multiple times in less than 400 days. This was their best:

  • Tiger Woods, in 105 days with wins at the 2000 Memorial, U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship, WGC-NEC, and Canadian Open.
  • David Duval In 217 days with wins at the 1998 NEC World Series of Golf, Michelob, 1999 Sentry TofC, American Express, Players, and BellSouth
  • Jack Nicklaus in 351 days with wins at the 1975 Doral Open, Heritage Classic, Masters, PGA Championship, World Open, and 1976 Players.

So it’s easy to see how important Scottie Scheffler has become. He will never be a Tiger Woods. That mark will be hard to beat by anyone in the decades ahead. But of all the players on Tour right now, Scottie is pretty damn good and could easily be the best right now.

How could Rory McIlroy miss the cut?:

He was the tournament favorite, and everyone was shocked that he shot 76-73 to miss the cut. We have seen the ups and downs of Rory in the past, but when he finished T-2nd, many thought he could be unbeatable leading up to the Masters, but that wasn’t the case. After he won the Tour Championship, Rory was on a tear, winning the CJ Cup and the Dubai Desert Classic. In that period, he played six events, and his worst finish was 4th. So many were surprised when he started at Phoenix, finished T-32nd, and then was T-29th at Genesis. Many wonder if Rory’s vocal focus against LIV Golf could be a problem, it takes up a lot of time and energy. Rory has been the most prominent voice of players. He is now constantly asked about his feelings on LIV Golf, and could all of this bring him down? Rory has admitted that he may be sacrificing his performance in leading his fight against LIV Golf. With all of the changes the PGA Tour announced in the days leading up to the Championship, McIlroy spent a lot of time answering media questions, and you know he was probably spending time going over all those changes. Distractions are the most significant cause of poor play, and maybe this has caught up with him. Frankly, you have to wonder if he knows this is a problem. How will he avoid this at the Match Play and the Masters? Rory drove the man poorly at the Players. He hit only 13 of 28 fairways. Throughout 36 holes, McIlroy made six bogeys and two double bogeys. Both the double was because of poor driving, and of the six bogeys, he missed the fairway on five of the six holes. McIlroy also only hit 20 of 36 greens, and of the eight holes, he was over par on missed seven of the greens. Putting wasn’t great, and the same in scrambling, so McIlroy has a lot to work on. One thing that he had no control over, which is a problem, is his driver. He had been using the same driver since the FedExCup playoffs and felt very comfortable with it. But at Genesis, he was forced to switch drivers because the face of the driver was worn down, and he thought it could be ruled illegal. So he used a similar TaylorMade driver at Geneses but felt uncomfortable with it. During the week, he tweaked the loft and other things but still hasn’t felt uncomfortable with it. Funny, but Collin Morikawa has experienced a similar problem and has been all over the spectrum. He was 2nd at the Sentry Toff, rd at the Farmers, and T-6th at the Genesis. But he missed the cut at Phoenix and Palmer in between before finishing T-13th at the Players. This shows the degree of precision as a driver change for you, and I may be simple, but it can sometimes be troubling for the best players in the world.

So close but so far away for Lee

Min Woo Lee was one player that had a lot at stake on Sunday. A regular member of the DP World Tour since 2019, Lee won the 2020 Handa Vic Open and the 2021 Genesis Scottish Open. That opened up some doors in 2022. Lee got to play in the majors and eight non-major PGA Tour events. He got into the Korn Ferry Finals to secure a PGA Tour card, but in three starts, he missed the cut twice, and his T-26th at the Albertsons Boise Open wasn’t enough to get his card. On returning to the DP Tour, in his last six events in 2022 was able to place in the top-12 in four of those events.
He had an excellent start to the 2023 DP season; he was T-4th at the Australian PGA Championship, 3rd at the Australian Open, T-2nd at the Abu Dhabi Championship, and T-13th at the Dubai Desert Classic. After finishing T-12th at the 2022 DP Season-ending event at the DP World Tour Championship, Lee was 61st in the World Rankings. With his good finishes at his start to the 2023 DP season, he got to 49th in the Official World Golf Rankings after Dubai. This opened up some more doors with Lee getting invites due to that, and foreign sponsor exempts to the Honda, Arnold Palmer, and Players. He also had another thing to play for, if he could maintain a T-50th or better World Golf Ranking after the Match Play, he would get into the Masters.
He finished T-26th at the Honda but missed the cut at the Arnold Palmer. He was still 50th in the World Rankings to enter the Players Championship. With rounds of 68-70-66, Lee went into the final round in 2nd place, just two shots back of the leader Scottie Scheffler. For Lee, the final round was more than getting into the Masters. If he could finish 4th or better, he could secure a special temporary status on the PGA Tour. With a birdie at the first hole on Sunday, Lee got a share of the lead when leader Scottie Scheffler made a bogey. Things soured as Lee hit a bad drive at four and, after laying up short of the water, put his third shot into the lake, which led to a triple-bogey 7. But when a poor drive at 11 led to a double-bogey 7, it dropped him out of the race for a 4th-place finish. Thanks to birdies at 16 and 17th, Lee finished T-6th, and his shot at temporary status on the PGA Tour has been put on hold for the time being. The good news is that he could climb to 45th on the World Rankings, and his top-ten got him into the Valspar Championship, but when this got posted at 4 pm, he wasn’t in the field and will probably not play (will update if this changes). His world ranking also will get him into the Match Play in two weeks, so the prospect of him playing in the Masters is outstanding as he should be able to stay inside the 50.

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