Surprising wins and a potential epic showdown

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Phil Mickelson and Michelle Wie both won on Sunday for the first time in a long time. Which was the bigger surprise?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Neither was a surprise to me.  Michelle Wie is loaded with talent, and she’s only 28, so I still expect big things of her.  Hopefully she’s stopped tinkering around with every aspect of her swing, and can be satisfied with what she’s doing now… although I must admit, her current upper-body-only technique makes me worry about future back injury.  At 47, Phil may never win again on the main Tour, but nothing would surprise me LESS if he did.  I wasn’t surprised that he won on Sunday, but I certainly was impressed.  I was never his biggest fan, but I concede that he’s one of the great players of the last 50 years.  If he can somehow win that U.S. Open that’s eluded him up to now, then he’ll enter all-time great territory.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): As nice as it was to see Michelle win, I think Phil is the bigger story, bigger surprise here. Michelle has never really lived up to her hype. Phil did, if not for Tiger he might be approaching 60 wins. Plus, Phil is in his late 40’s, and with a “movement” to youth and all their wins of late, Phil is the bigger surprise against a deep field too (Thomas, Garcia, DJ, Hatton, etc). Lefty beat them all.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: Wie’s victory is definitely a bigger surprise, particularly the way it came by sinking a very lengthy, difficult putt on the last hole. Phil is healthy, playing a lot and trending. For Michelle, two putting would have been terrific under the circumstances and that would have put her in a 5 way play-off where anything can happen. As far as a surprise in her career, the biggest surprise is her complete under-achievement. Granted injuries have played a role but so have her massive swing changes and course management strategies. I think she has been mismanaged as a golfer her entire career beginning as a junior. In spite of that, she does have quite a net worth, just not a full trophy case.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I was definitely more surprised that Wie won. That was only her fifth LPGA Tour title! I had to double check that stat when I heard it because it’s just so unbelievable. Wie has been playing on the LPGA Tour since she was 12 years old! I was a freshman in high school when she played in her first tournament (the LPGA Takefuji Classic) and I remember how everyone back then thought that she was going to be the LPGA’s answer to Tiger Woods. Yet, ever since the Big Wiesy got full-time status on the LPGA Tour in 2009, she has really struggled to win. We all thought that her U.S. Open win in 2014 would serve as a turning point in her career, but nothing really materialized from that. So, I’m hesitant to say that this win will be the catalyst for Wie’s second act or anything like that. But I do think there is something to be excited about here because Wie has clearly been playing very well so far in 2018 and appears to be in a very good place mentally. Let’s hope that continues.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I’m not surprised at either victory.  Two weeks ago we spoke in this forum about Phil winning and I thought he would win this year.  Perhaps I didn’t think it would come that soon, but he’s in great form, with four top-6 finishes in a row for the first time in his career!  And Wie has been playing great and knocking on the door for a while.  It’s surprising that she had gone so long without winning, because she’s often in the hunt, with top 16 finishes in her last five tourneys coming in.  She’s great for the game, so hopefully this leads to a big year that gets her near the top of the world golf rankings, where she ultimately belongs.  It’s crazy that she’s only 27!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Given the exploitive mismanagement of her teenage years that was followed by the hiatus for a taste of reality at Stanford, Wie surviving and coming back again is amazing. Phil has been showing that he can still do it all for months, while she was just demonstrating how many weird putting stances and strokes could be harnessed to miss putts. Sure he’s in his late 40s, she’s in her late 20s, but to Phil the reaction was: “Yess!” To Wie it was: “Really?”

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Wie’s victory was more of a shock than a surprise. As a teenager loaded with talent she looked like she could dominate the LPGA much the same way Tiger did on the PGA Tour but a combination of bad advice, injuries and constant swing changes meant she just got lost in the shuffle as newer talents emerged to win week after week. Phil has played really well of late so a win was realistic and, unlike some aging veterans achieving one final moment of glory after a lengthy dry spell, this one doesn’t look like the last gasp of a dying career. Lefty appears to be playing as well as he ever did, is energized and seems to have a lot left in the tank. More victories are likely. As for Wie, who knows? She might win next week or we may have to tune in again in 2022 to see if she can grab another one.

Mickelson showed on Sunday that he’s still Phil the Thrill and a fan favourite. With Tiger Woods rounding into form, it could set up another epic battle between the two, especially at Augusta. Both will be huge sentimental favourites. Can either be a real contender and who will have the better result at this year’s Masters?

Deeks: I think either player can be a real contender because Augusta always seems to draw out the most Augusta-experienced, most patient and most mature players (Bubba notwithstanding). Look at how Jack, and Tom Watson, have turned back the clock at Augusta well after their careers had sunsetted.  I’m not sure whether Woods is battle-ready, but Phil is definitely playing his best in years. I’d put a Wilfrid Laurier down on him.

Loughry: I think Phil has shown he’s much more consistent so he’s likely to be low out of the two at this point. Tiger just hasn’t played enough yet to judge what he’s capable of. I’d like to see Tiger in the last couple of groups making a charge. He knows exactly what shots are required on every hole and knows those greens. If he can execute…well, he would contend.

Schurman: Tiger or Phil at Augusta? Both have enjoyed success here and the course might favour Phil a tiny bit as a leftie being able to gain advantage around the doglegs. Neither one is a reliable driver but they both are among the best ever at surviving that shortcoming. Phil arrives at the tournament in great form while Tiger is trying to build his. Phil is a good bet to win but I’ve said repeatedly “don’t bet against Tiger”! It’s even money.

Kaplan: I think Phil is already a legitimate contender. Augusta National favours southpaws and Lefty has won their three times before. And if you haven’t noticed, Phil the Thrill is absolutely on fire right now. He may be 47, but he’s ranked 2nd in strokes gained with the putter, 2nd in strokes gained overall, and 8th in strokes gained approaching the green. I’m not nearly as convinced about Tiger’s chances at Augusta National until he shores up his tee game. You just can’t win on that course if you keep putting yourself out of position every hole.

Rule: Well, it’s easy to pick Phil as the one that has the better chance to succeed at Augusta because of how well he’s playing.  I would be surprised if he’s not in the conversation come Masters Sunday.  As for Tiger, that’s more of a crap-shoot.  He could be right there, or miss the cut by 10 in my mind.  But man, what an event that would be if both were in contention come Sunday.  It would be the highest rated golf tournament in television history!

Quinn: So far this season, it’s clear that the old guy has a lot in the tank and has shown a heck of a lot more than post-op Eldrick. Based on the WGC win alone, I think Phil has a real solid chance to contend for another jacket. Can’t say the same about Eldrick.

Mumford: Phil and Tiger are both contenders at Augusta any time they tee it up. Apart from their vast experience, the course sets up well for players that can be creative to take advantage of pin positions, wind and the occasional recovery shot. With the possible exception of Bubba Watson, nobody is more creative than this duo. Phil probably has the edge given his recent fine play but I expect both to be in contention on the last day.

The USGA announced a change to the playoff format for both the men’s and women’s professional Opens and Senior Opens, opting for a two-hole aggregate playoff (with sudden death to follow if required) instead of an 18-hole Monday playoff. That puts the U.S. Open on a similar footing to the Masters (sudden death), Open Championship (4-hole aggregate) and PGA Championship (3-hole aggregate) and all major championships should now finish on Sunday. Do you like the change and which tournament has the best playoff format?

Deeks: A solid and long-overdue decision, for a number of reasons.  I personally like the 3-hole aggregate format best.  Sudden death at Augusta may be the least fair, but it’s certainly more dramatic, and (Bubba notwithstanding) penalizes a player for a mistake.  But either way, finishing on Sunday just makes sense all-round.

Loughry: I like the finish on a Sunday if at all possible. Overall I like the change, it’s good all round.

Schurman: Few contests are as riveting as a sudden death play-off! However, given the impact victory has on a player’s life and career, everyone deserves the opportunity to overcome a bad break, a fortuitous shot by an opponent or quirky ruling. I like the idea of a two hole play-off and then sudden death. The NFL realized the unfairness of a one possession play-off except in the event of a touchdown. Two holes allows for ‘things’ to happen and it’s not ‘one and done’; three holes starts to take on a protective element and if you play four you might as well finish the front nine. The only thing I’d change is to alternate the driving order so each player has a chance to drive first. In a multi-player play-off, redraw on the next tee excluding any who have already driven first.

Kaplan: I strongly disagree with the change. I loved that the US Open had the potential of going to an 18-hole Monday playoff — 18 glorious extra holes of winner take all action! It was so unique, and served as the perfect justification for skipping school/work. But, alas, no more … I guess that means my new favourite major playoff format is the Open’s 4-hole aggregate system because it guarantees the most extra golf of any of the four majors. Sigh.

Rule: It was a necessary change.  There is very rarely any drama in a Monday finish and nobody gets to watch it! Just get the tournament done on Sunday like all other events, it just makes sense.  Interesting that they chose 2 holes, not sure I like that as much as the other options, but I guess they felt they had to be different.  There’s tons of daylight at the end of June, so that’s certainly not an issue.  Personally I like the idea of sudden victory playoffs. Why give someone a second chance in a playoff?

Quinn: Until the change, the U.S. Open had the worst format. Now I think it has the best. The Masters sudden victory (anyone remember Curt Gowdy?) can be too arbitrary; The Open is too long for TV as the sun sets; and the PGA’s three is just to be different but with no advantage. Two holes then sudden death is the best for all involved — live spectators, TV viewers, volunteers, and, oh ya, the TV networks.

Mumford: Great decision. It’s hard to imagine anyone liked the idea of a Monday playoff, certainly not the players, the spectators or the officials. Maybe the sponsors got some added benefit but the viewing audience on Monday was a fraction of the Sunday audience so even that’s small potatoes. I still like the idea of sudden death, or sudden victory if you prefer. A two hole playoff seems to be a recipe for prolonging something that needs to be decided immediately and doesn’t offer nearly as much drama. As Larry the Cable Guy says, “Git R Done!”

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