It isn’t time to overreact to a couple of our superstars struggling a bit with their games, but as we get set for the start of the first World Golf Championships event of 2016, I feel it’s an important four days for two of the three top-ranked golfers in the world.
It seems like forever ago, by media standards, that Jordan Spieth shot 30-under par to win the first event of the calendar year by eight shots, never shooting over 67 over the course of those four days and slamming the door on the idea of a "junior slump" for Spieth.
For Rory McIlroy, it’s been a whopping four worldwide tournaments since his last win, so obviously it’s time to lose our minds about the No. 3 player in the world.
Overreacting is what sports fans do. We enjoy the moment when it happens, and forget about it far too soon after the fact. Remember when Tiger Woods hit that golf shot in the simulator at his house? You’d think NASA found another planet in the Solar System with life forms and Ikeas and a new way to practice yoga.
We love wondering "what’s next?" or "what’s wrong?" or "who was better?!"
For Spieth and Rory, it isn’t about their recent play as much as it is about the jam-packed schedule they will both be facing over the next five weeks.
After Doral this weekend, the PGA Tour goes to the Valspar Championship, where Spieth will be playing since he’s the defending champion (Rory will surely skip that one). Then we go Bay Hill, WGC-Match Play, Shell Houston Open and all of a sudden, it’s Masters week (your handy countdown to the start of the Masters is right here.
I would predict that Spieth plays Valspar, WGC-Match Play, Houston and the Masters, skipping out on just Bay Hill. For Rory, I think after passing on Valspar week, it’ll be a run up to the Masters that may or may not include a start in Houston, depending on how he feels about his game (he skipped Houston in 2015, but played there in ’14).
Considering Spieth has had one solid, Spiethian round since the Hyundai (his 66 at Pebble Beach was bogey-free and impressive, his 68 at Riviera included eight birdies, but a lot of mistakes that he talked about after his round there in L.A.), this week will be important just to get back on track. Players miss cuts, even the best in the world, but bouncing back this week will be crucial for the psyche of Spieth as he really starts focusing on Augusta National and his defense of the green jacket (a reminder: he’s played the Masters twice, and has been beaten by exactly one person in two years).
For Rory, it’s a different feel. The 26-year-old hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since May, and has yet to card a top-10 in this wraparound season. His missed cut at the Honda Classic comes on the heels of a "who saw that coming?" 75 in the final round of the Northern Trust Open, where Rory eagled the first hole to grab a share of the lead only to bogey seven of his next 15 holes, adding just the lone birdie of his day on the 18th where he was simply a face for fans to cheer for and nothing more.
It was a brutal final round for Rory, and the missed cut following it didn’t help. He also posted a video on Instagram of him practicing putting left-hand low (crosshand), which would be a big chance for the normally traditional putter of the golf ball (it also could be a drill, but still an interesting subtweet from Rory with that post).
Also, in the least surprising news of the week, Rory and Spieth are paired together at Doral, alongside No. 2 in the world Jason Day, so it’ll be both players in full view of each other as they try to build a bit of momentum as their schedules really gear up and the first major is within pimento cheese-smelling distance.
With all that said, it’s time for some mailbag questions. As always, send them over to me via Twitter at @shanebacon or on Facebook for lengthier questions right here. Let’s go.
@shanebacon Is Scott now a safe bet to place top 10 at the Masters?
Bacon: The win at the Honda was huge, of course, not just because he used the short putter, but because he had to beat names like Sergio Garcia, Justin Thomas, Graeme McDowell, Rickie Fowler and others. The bogey on the 16th wasn’t ideal, but he hit some great shots down the stretch on some of the toughest holes these guys will see all year, and allowed himself a relaxing walk up the 18th after finding the fairway at the par-5.
As for your question about a top-10 at the Masters, sure, I think it’s absolutely a possibility considering his top-10 percentage since 2011.
Of all the big names on Tour, Scott ranks above all of them in top-10 percentage in majors since ’11. Take a look at some of the numbers (and missed starts are taken into account here … also Jordan Spieth’s sample size, while impressive, is just half of what these others players have started so he wasn’t included):
Scott — 55 percent
Jason Day — 45 percent
Rory — 44.4 percent
Dustin Johnson — 38.8 percent
Fowler — 30 percent
Justin Rose — 30 percent
Phil Mickelson — 30 percent
Bubba Watson — 10 percent
That’s pretty crazy stuff, considering he has just the lone win, but the confidence he’s showing with the short putter and the way he’s swinging looks like it’ll be another big major year for Scott. Will he win another green jacket this year? I’d say the likelihood is better for him to finally pick up the Claret Jug that’s been avoiding him for all these years. In Scott’s last four starts at the Open, he’s finished second, T-3, T-5 and T-10. I see him contending at Royal Troon just as much as I see him being a serious factor on Sunday at Augusta, and I’d say the odds are better for both of those to happen than neither.
@shanebacon how insane was it to leave JT out of the Ryder Cup dinner?! I don't care where he was ranked that's just incompetence
Bacon: It was confusing more than it was insane. I get that they invited just the top 40 to the Ryder Cup dinner at Jack Nicklaus’ house last week, but isn’t Justin Thomas on a short list of players that have the game to play their way onto Davis Love III’s squad this year?
In 39 PGA Tour starts since 2015, Thomas has 19 top-25s and 10 top-10s, not to mention a win and nearly his own Rickie Fowler "I’m going to win in the most dramatic fashion ever after a poll came out saying I"m the most overrated golfer on Tour" moment last week at the Honda (a screwy lie in the bunker on the 71st hole led to a double-bogey for Thomas … if not for that, Scott would have at least had to look over his shoulder if Thomas hadn’t got such a bad break and was able to make par).
If the idea of a Ryder Cup "team building" dinner is to bring guys closer together, up the chemistry in the room and allow players to chat with other veterans (Jack, Phil, Tiger, Furyk) about the process, isn’t it just as much a deterrent to the players that just missed out on the opportunity? I think so.
I keep getting the feeling that the Americans are overthinking this whole Ryder Cup thing. The Europeans have been whooping Team USA at this event for years, but it isn’t because Darren Clarke is calling everyone over for pints of Guinness and Ian Poulter charades. It’s because these guys grow up playing golf together, love and understand the process of team competition and team format, and mesh well together. It might just be the attitude of the European golfer (more laid back, more accepting of everyone, more exciting to be in a team room just yukking it up with buddies), but a dinner with a whole bunch of dudes, a lot of which won’t be in red, white and blue come September seems more like a publicity stunt than it does a way to give the Americans an advantage early in Ryder Cup season (Even Nicklaus himself told Bob Harig at ESPN, "I can’t imagine how them coming over to have dinner at an old man’s house is going to help any").
I appreciate the attempts by Love and Nicklaus and everyone. At least they’re doing something. But I get the feeling that a lot of this is bells and whistles so all of us at home can nod our collective heads and say, "See, this is our year!"
My advice to every captain of the Ryder Cup continues to stay the same; call Paul Azinger, ask him exactly what to do, and copy it like he’s the smart kid sitting next to you in Biology.
@shanebacon does the 🇺🇸 media underestimate the "other" euro top 30 guys under 30 (Willet, Lowry, Sullivan)
Bacon: Absolutely we do, but it isn’t just the Europeans. Branden Grace continues to be a major factor at all the big events, moving all the way up to 10th in the world a week ago (he dropped to 11th this week). Hideki Matsuyama still doesn’t seem to get the same media bump as some of the other young guys out there, despite continuing to be a consistent monster. Willett is going to win a major soon if he can stay out of his own way down the stretch on Sunday, and Andy Sullivan is one of those guys that scares the hell out of me as a Ryder Cupper. He’s just nasty, and has that type of game where he wants to play the best in the world, not shy away from them.
Golf is so global now that it’s worth a reminder at times that while Spieth, Day, Rory, Rickie and Bubba are incredible, the world is full of other names that can do similar things on any given week.
@shanebacon@FOXSports What's the worst Bacon name joke you've heard, the most frequent, and the best one? – Jimmy Fowler
Bacon: The one that always confuses me is when I say "Bacon" and people ask me how to spell that (I’m no Mensa member, but I believe there is really only one way to spell "bacon").
People ask me all the time if I’m related to Kevin Bacon. I’ve started to say yes. "Yes, he’s my older brother, we don’t talk anymore, he owes me a few thousand bucks." It really throws them off.
As for "best Bacon joke," the best one will be the first. Also, on that topic of "Jimmy Fowler," a request to the PGA Tour team; can you ask a lot of the top named players the biggest mistake of their name they’ve ever heard on the first tee and put that together in a snackable video? I would love to hear what Kiradech Aphibarnrat had to say on that subject!
@shanebacon Which current golfer would make for the best golf announcer/analyst and why?
Bacon: It has to be Phil, right? He wouldn’t be scared to throw out his honest opinion, much like Johnny Miller does, would go on those equipment rants that would have us all scratching our head but would be extremely entertaining, and has the name and resume to be the lead on basically any broadcast team he wants if he ever decided to jump up in the booth.
Plus, as Phil ages, maybe he starts to share some stories of the Tour from back in the day.
I’m not sure there is another answer out there. Phil would be killer, but he would never do it because he A) loves his family and will spend a ton of time with them when he hangs up his spikes and B) has made so much money he probably won’t need to pick up another gig after golf.
Bacon: The fact that he gives Bones the single veto each year on a crazy shot he wants to pull off is the most Phil thing that has ever existed.
I loved what Jim Mackay had to say on Alan Shipnuck’s podcast last year about the veto process and how he’s tried to stretch it a bit more over the years.
"Technically I do (only get one veto per year), but there’s been some controversy of late about that because I’ve tried to use them overseas and he’s trying to tell me it’s domestic only."
Just … so … Phil. Imagine any other relationship like this; these two have been together since 1992, and he still only lets him take a club out of his hands and suggest another shot one time each season. That’s my favorite. I’ve said this 8,003,201 times at this point, but we will all really, really miss Phil Mickelson when he isn’t a part of our professional golf lives.
Bacon: I had to end with this question because it was the one that I thought about all week and the one that kept me up at night. I actually was making notes on my phone hitting range balls, at the gym, watching television; I went over so many options here.
My initial thought was the wedge in the playoff that Bubba Watson hit at the Masters in 2012. It’s such an underrated great golf shot and such an impossible one to pull off, even for the best in the world.
I’ve really thought about the golf equivalent of Steph Curry this year, and think the answer is Bubba. While Curry is more MVP-quality than Bubba, I think the simple fact that he can pull off shots that other pros can’t makes him Bubba-esque.
But then I thought about it and decided, the only equivalent to this is Tiger Woods when he was dominant.
Think about how many people on this planet play basketball. Now think about how many professional basketball players there are. Europe, China, Australia, the U.S. … basketball is a global game. Now think about how much better Curry is at shooting than all of them.
Tiger in his prime is the equivalent because he was so much better than everyone else, and he was able to pull off shots that nobody else could.
So my pick for the best golf equivalent to that Steph shot, when you factor in the moment, the difficulty of it and the confidence to say "screw it, I’m pulling up from here because I think it’s our best option to end this game right this moment," is this one:
Tiger Woods’ second shot on the 18th hole at the 2000 Canadian Open — This fits the mold of what Steph did so well because:
A) It happened in a non-major (like Curry’s shot happened in the regular season);
B) It was a shot that absolutely nobody on the planet would try to pull off no matter how insane they are/were;
C) It’s a shot that nobody could pull off at the moment except Tiger;
D) Tiger had something to play for (as did Steph) … Curry and his Warriors are trying to break the Bulls’ record for most regular season wins ever, and Woods was playing for the first Triple Crown in golf (U.S. Open, British Open and Canadian Open) since Lee Trevino did it in ’71.
It also fits because it came during the peak of Tiger’s career, with him coming off three majors in a row and it capped off a ninth (!) win of the season for Woods. Basically Tiger looked at his lie in the bunker, looked at the green some 216 yards away over a lake, and thought, "Yep, 6-iron is the play."
AND THEN HE PULLED IT OFF!
That was an absolutely insane golf shot. Insane. Crazy, insane, stupid, impressive, incredible, unbelievable, and is as good a golf example as I could find to the Steph pull-up against the Thunder.
I thought of Bubba’s wedge, Tiger’s putt at the 2001 Players ("better than most!"), the Jack Nicklaus tee shot at 16 in 1986, and even Mickelson going from the pine straw at the Masters in ’10, but I feel that bunker shot that Woods hit was as unbelievable in the moment as any golf shot he may have ever hit in a non-major.
So that’s my answer. Let me know what you think on Twitter and in the comments, agree or disagree.