With the PGA Tour’s regular season just past its halfway point, here is a look at some of the highs and lows so far:
x- Charl Schwartzel winning a major championship isn’t necessarily a surprise. As talented as the young South African is, it was only a matter of time before he was hoisting a major championship trophy. The surprise was that it happened so soon, the major where he did it and how he finished.
Schwartzel birdied the final four holes at Augusta National to win The Masters and earn his first major championship. His four-birdie finish will go down as one of the best in the tournament’s history.
And for drama, with the number of players who had a chance to win at the end and the number of big shots down the stretch, few Masters can rival this year’s.
x- Jhonattan Vegas had a simple goal while playing on the Nationwide Tour: Become the first player from Venezuela to play on the PGA Tour. Vegas one-upped himself by winning the Bob Hope Classic, the third event of the season.
Vegas has struggled a bit since, but he’s guaranteed himself two more years on tour to pad his victory total.
x- Luke Donald hasn’t captured the No. 1 spot in the world, but perhaps no one has played better than him to this point. He won the WGC Match Play Championship and made the cut in six other events – and he has never finished outside the top 10 in any of them.
His only blemish this year: a missed cut at the Northern Trust Open, his first event of the season.
x- Mark Wilson, a 36-year-old veteran, won two of his first three events this season, doubling his career win total.
x- Bubba Watson earned his long-awaited first PGA Tour victory last season. This season, he’s been one of the best players on Tour with two wins. Going into the Crowne Plaza Invitational, he leads Donald in the FedEx Cup standings by a narrow margin.
x- Brandt Snedeker won his first PGA Tour event as a rookie in 2007 (the Wyndham Championship). He went more than three years without another, but that changed a few weeks ago when he defeated none other than the planet’s hottest player, Donald, in a playoff at The Heritage.
The win denied Donald his chance to take over the No. 1 spot in the world.
x- Naturally, this section has to start with Tiger Woods.
He’s playing poorly. He’s hurt. He reverted to his former surly ways.
He says he’ll be back for the U.S. Open, but will it matter? It’s been written on this site before: Woods is going to find out that coming back from injuries is a little harder to do in his mid-30s than it was in his mid-20s.
If this goes on much longer, we have to seriously start asking the question whether Woods will be the same again.
x- Sure, Phil Mickelson won the Houston Open. Problem was that it set him up as the favorite for The Masters and, at the same time, for a huge disappointment.
He finished T27 at Augusta and was never in contention. In fact, he hasn’t done well in any of the events where big-time players should excel. He was pedestrian at the Match Play Championship as well as The Players and was terrible at the WGC Cadillac Championship.
There’s still plenty of time for Mickelson to salvage his season with three more majors and two more WGCs to go. But, so far, he’s been anything but Wonder-Phil.
x- As well as Martin Kaymer played in the second half of last season, he’s been that mediocre in the first half of this season. He got out of the gate strong with a second place at the WGC Match Play. For some odd reason, he tried to revamp his swing for The Masters, and the results were nothing short of rancid.
He was horrible in his next event, the Wells Fargo Championship, though he did finish a respectable T19 at The Players.
Like Mickelson, he has plenty of time to win some big tournaments. But his stay at No. 1 in the world was brief and unspectacular.
x- Jim Furyk entered the season as the reigning FedEx Cup champion, but he hasn’t played particularly well so far. Outside of a couple of T9 finishes, he’s been middle-of-the-road at best.
x- The American players have continued to lose ground to Europe – and the rest of the world continues to narrow the gap as well. European players occupy the top three spots in the latest Official World Golf Ranking and five of the top six spots.
Of the four biggest tournaments played so far this year – two WGCs, The Masters and The Players – an American has won exactly one. That was Nick Watney’s triumph at the WGC Cadillac Championship.
The other WGC (Match Play) was won by Donald from England, Schwartzel, from South Africa, won The Masters, and South Korea’s K.J. Choi won The Players.
Overseas players have won seven of the 21 events on the PGA Tour schedule so far.
It’s a trend that’s good for golf as a whole, but will Americans continue to embrace the home-based PGA Tour if their own players aren’t winning more?
– Chuck Curti