Scott Pilots Bogey Train to Buckleville.

Stevie Williams Denied Further Greatness.

In the days leading up to the Open Championship, we heard a lot about how hard the course at Lytham was going to play.  Then for three days, the wind disappeared and the players found a stern, but manageable test.  On Sunday, we got a taste of what a wind-swept event might have looked like.  Even a moderate breeze turned the lush course into a beast and the players, especially those in the later groups saw their scores balloon into the seventies.  Even with the lack of red numbers, the majority of the round felt like a coronation for Adam Scott.  Tiger Woods made an early triple bogey, Graeme McDowell never looked comfortable and Scott’s lead remained robust as he played conservative golf.  The Australian was operating under almost no pressure until Ernie Els starting grouping together some back nine birdies.  

There’s never been much question about Adam Scott as a ball-striker.  The possessor of “Tiger’s Old Swing,” Scott creates the kind of contact that Lytham has typically rewarded, but after the long putter turned balky–his ball-striking began to suffer as well.  It was moments after Els’ birdie roar from 18 that Scott overcooked an approach on 17 and made a bogey that dropped him into a tie with Els.  When his tee shot on 18 found one of Lytham’s famous bunkers, the outcome felt decided.  Scott’s four closing bogeys put him in unfortunate company when it comes to discussing collapses in a Major Championship.  There was nothing spectacular, no one horrific shot that turned the tide, but the trophy was nonetheless handed to Ernie Els.  

Perhaps Ernie was owed one like this, after his own disappointments and after he failed to gain entry into this year’s Masters.  Ernie has his own, long-documented struggles with the putter so the two deciding putts on 18 Sunday in some ways were a reversal of fortune for the South African.  Els was once a great clutch putter, winning two US Opens, matching Tiger Woods putt for putt in a Presidents Cup playoff–Ernie has made plenty of big putts.  He just hadn’t been making them lately, and when he did find himself in contention he never made the putt like did on the final hole Sunday.  

Ernie will be a popular champion, not quite as sentimental as last year’s winner, Darren Clarke, but Els has always been very popular in Europe.  An Open Champion is always revered, and now Ernie joins the far more elite company of multiple gold medal winners.  Other than reviving Ernie’s career (he was nowhere on my radar for the week), we can glean a few more takeaways from golf’s most global Major.  

1.  Tiger again faltered over a Major Championship weekend.  On the biggest stages, it still doesn’t look like Tiger trusts his driver.  That’s one of the few places where Tiger doesn’t look comfortable.  His irons weren’t deadly accurate this week, but if he get’s a different bounce at six, he’s possibly in position to take advantage of Scott’s gift.  And, the manner in which this ended, should provide hope to any top player.  If you can hang around in a Major these days, you never know what will happen in the end.  

2.  Phil Mickelson was a total train wreck.  It’s hard to pinpoint what’s going on with Phil.  Is it attention span?  Is he not 100% healthy?  There was a time when golfers had shorter primes.  Equipment, guys like Vijay Singh have made us assume everyone can compete into their late-40s, but that wasn’t always the case.  Phil still looks fearless out there, but I wonder how much willingness he has to go back to the drawing board at this point in his career.  He’s been out there for a long time, and you start to wonder about the cumulative grind.  He’s far from done, but he appears to be turning it on less and less in recent months.  

3.  It’s now been five majors since Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open by lapping by field and was given his own “era.”  In those five events he’s rarely showed form and a decent start this week dissolved into a poor finish.  If Rory had opened with a 67 at last year’s Open he would have been handed the trophy.  A year later, and he’s already back to being just another 1st day story.  

4.  With so many guys winning majors, I think it adds focus to the players who the guys who continually come up short.  You can now put Scott on a list with guys like #1 Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker–what are they all waiting for?  Back when Tiger won almost 1/2 the majors you could argue that the futility of golfers like Mickelson or Monty, or even Els was understandable, but now each major starts wide-open.  It doesn’t make much sense to me how these guys can win multiple times a season and yet look so pedestrian in the biggest events.  The Schwartzels, Bradleys and Watsons of the world have obviously figured out something these guys have not.  

5.  With the Ryder Cup on the horizon in the Fall, I wonder if the Europeans are losing footing as favorites?  Coming into the week, they still held the top-3 spots in the rankings, but Americans resided in spots 4-8.  They also have 11 of the top 20, compared to just six for the Euros.  The Americans always used to hold the edge in the rankings and it was the European’s strong team play and clutch putting that carried them through. When the talent started to even out, the Americans were subject to a couple of blowouts.  With an influx of young talent and Tiger returning to form, we could be headed for another close contest at Medinah.  

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10 thoughts on “Scott Pilots Bogey Train to Buckleville.

  1. I’m not sure if it’s a case where Tiger altered our standards for closing, or if we actually are seeing an unusual amount of collapses.

    Or maybe we just remember the buckles more? Off the top of my head in recent memory:

    Convincing/Non Buckles: Schwartzel, Oosthuizen, McIlroy, Mickelson, YE Yang(?)

    Buckles: McIlroy, Scott, Johnson x 2, Watney, Dufner

    I don’t know, are the courses playing a part? Even the non-buckle winners, guys like Darren Clarke, Webb, etc are kind of just emerging from the scrap heap as guys fall off. Last man standing type of stuff.

  2. I’m not sure if it’s Tiger not trusting his driver or it’s Tiger trusting his overall approach. The whole weekend he staunchly played for accuracy off the tee and being at specific distances versus grip/rip. Personally i would have liked to see him go after it more on Sunday and put more pressure, but he stuck to his guns. Do you think it’s a lack of trust in the driver or that his game plan all week had been long irons/wood off the tees? Also, his short irons were noticeably less accurate than I recall them being. In my head, from 180 in, Tiger was always a makeable birdie putt away-think 10-12 feet. Only now, it seems he’s hitting wedges long, leaving 30-40 foot birdie putts with 7-9 iron in his hand. Thoughts?

    Maybe a little bit of payback on Scott for that BS phantom ruling on his ball moving.

  3. There seems to be a consensus that Tiger is not even close to what he once was from inside of 150 yds.

    Some people also think he’s still not really swinging that great, it’s just he’s put together something that works pretty well and on a hot week/good putting week, he can still win.

    I think if he started hitting driver, he’d have been all over the place. The only way he was going to win was by making no mistakes, hoping for tough conditions. Because he was going to hit a bunch of fairways laying up, but that’s going to limit your birdies.

    I’m just not sure what his knee allows him to do–swing wise. He definitely was limping when he climbed out of that bunker on Sunday. I feel like he’s pretty stuck swinging a certain way, because if he doesn’t, he’s going to be back on the shelf.

  4. I agere with the theory that his knee is a huge problem. I think he’s out there with the Tiger version of an old-man swing. There’s no way of looking at the way that his whole left side dips/buckles/mini-caves during the swing that he’s intentionally choosing to swing that way. It’s got to be that the knee is just not strong enough to generate the torque any more.

  5. And as for Phil, his chances are really dwindling simply as a function of age. Here is the list of people who have won major championships at his age or older in our viewing lifetimes (assuming 1986 to be within that range, which is debatable):

    Tom Kite (42, 1992 U.S. Open)
    Payne Stewart (42, 1999 U.S. Open)
    Ben Crenshaw (43, 1995 Masters)
    Ray Floyd (43, 1986 U.S. Open)
    Hale Irwin (45, 1990 U.S. Open)
    Jack Nicklaus (46, 1986 Masters)

  6. There seems to be a distinction between having a successful career in your 40s and still winning majors in your 40s. You look at someone like Vijay who won 22 times in 40s, but only 1 major–and only 1 top 10 in a major in his last 6 years. He’s won 14 regular events since his last major. You can look to even lesser guys, late bloomers like Stricker and he’s won a lot, but also no majors.

    I think in terms of majors, guys can hang around longer, but everything points to it being much harder to close in your 40s. It’s not uncommon now for old guys to make a run at a Major–Fred, Greg Norman, Calc a few years back at the British (and t-9 this year), but to actually win one appears to still be a rare feat.

    Even among your list, you’re talking planets aligning. Tom Kite won that US Open in almost unplayable conditions the last day, Crenshaw was too short to play the course just a couple of years later and he made every putt he looked at, Irwin obviously rolled in a 50-footer–otherwise, he’s in the near miss category with Tom Watson. Stewart’s career was cut short, and Nicklaus was at worst the 2nd best player ever and he needed one hot round and a lot of help.

    Ray Floyd is probably the best older player in majors in our lifetime, he had 8 top 10s after 44 and could have won 2 Masters. Watson has 8 as well. Nicklaus had only 6 top-10s after 44. Fred Couples has 4 since 44,

    A lot of this is attributable to ball-striking and Augusta National. So, I think Phil will be a legitimate threat at Augusta for a few more years, then have more years of being a sentimental threat, but he looks to be approaching a time when he’s not a top player in the world and not a week in, week out favorite. I feel a bit reactionary saying that, considering his pebble/riviera run earlier this year, but he hasn’t had a great year since 2009, and has only two top-10s in his last 9 majors.

  7. mailbag: i cannot reconcile my attraction to adam scott and my repulsion to stevie williams? where does a fan get to stand? confused. Q

  8. loved the stevie caption on that photo. i think i kind of like the state of golf where these tournaments are wide open and there’s a huge list of players that could win. Or maybe it’s just a nice change of pace from seeing a few people dominate. As a whole this hurts golf though right? people like to see domination, the media can build up the story and the legends, i.e. tiger from a few years ago.
    as far as sports go i think golf is at the top of the list of being the most difficult to close out or being the most prone to choking. you have so much time to think while you hit these shots and there are no external forces helping you hit the ball, its 100% created by the golfer…if that makes sense

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