On Sunday of the Travelers Championship, Jim Furyk set the scoring bar on the PGA Tour by going where no man had ever been before – a 58.
It’s not that unique a number in golf because it has been achieved before. Ryo Ishikawa also shot a 12-under par 58, also on a Sunday, to win The Crowns on the Japan Golf Tour in 2010, while Jason Bohn and Stephan Jaegar matched his effort on the Canadian and the Web.com Tour respectively.
And even though the American media failed to recognise Ishikawa’s effort, it must be pointed out that the course set-up in Japan Golf Tour, on an average, is much tougher than on the PGA Tour. The Canadian and the Web.com Tour are developmental tours.
But let’s face it, after 59 was shot six times on the PGA Tour, 58 was the Holy Grail. And for Furyk to get to that mark is an astonishing fact, given he is one of the six men who have shot a 59 before.
There is a debate going on about whether the 59s of David Duval, Chip Beck and Al Gieberger were greater than Furyk’s 58. The first three gentlemen in the 59 Club were playing on par-72 courses, thus needing to shoot 13-under par to reach their 59s, while Furyk was 12-under par for 58 on the par-70 TPC River Highlands course.
I personally think the par for the course does not matter. My argument is this – if it is a par-72 course, it will have four par-5 holes, which are much easier for tour pros to make birdies on, compared to par- 4s and par-3s.
"I think someday, someone is going to shoot 58 on the PGA TOUR ..." --Jim Furyk after shooting 59 in 2013 https://t.co/BSsvZIZlhQ— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 10, 2016
Most par-70 courses have only two par-5s, as was the case with TPC River Highlands. Astonishingly, Furyk did not make a birdie on either of the two par-5s en route to 58.
And then there are some who contend that Furyk’s 59 was a bigger achievement than his 58, because he beat the field by more shots during his 2013 round at the 2013 BMW Championship.
At Conway Farms, he beat the average score of the field by 11.61 shots, while last Sunday, he was ‘only’ 10.8 shots better than the field. The best sub-60 score by this yardstick would be Duval’s, who was 12.6 shots better than the field.
This is a much better argument, but it does not take into consideration many things, like the weather. The 59 at the BMW Championship was played earlier in the round and the wind may have picked up later.
A few critics have pointed out that Furyk’s effort came when he had no pressure. He was never in contention and things would have been a lot different if he was playing in the last couple of groups.
Honestly, I see no reason why there should be any comparison. Breaking the 60 barrier is as tough as winning majors, if not tougher. After all, we have far more major winners than players who have scored in the 50s.
Many top stars, including Tiger Woods haven’t even come close to sniffing a 59 in tournament conditions.
Another issue is the spate of low scores we are experiencing lately. Furyk’s 58 came a week after Jaeger posted a similar number at the Ellie Mae Classic on the Web.com Tour.
In the majors, a round of 63 was unthinkable until Johnny Miller achieved it in the 1973 US Open at Oakmont. From then to the 2016 Masters, 25 players managed to match that score in 151 major championships. Remarkably, four 63s have come in the last three majors – Hiroshi Iwata at the US Open, Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson at the Open Championship and Robert Streb in the PGA Championship.
Furyk also neither has the classic swing nor the length off the tee many fans believe is key to low scoring, and yet, he’s breached 60 twice.
Furyk’s homemade swing is one of the most unorthodox on the PGA Tour, once described by David Feherty as an “octopus falling out of a tree”. And he is 182nd in the list of driving distance, a whopping 45 yards behind leader Dustin Johnson’s average drives of 313.9 yards.
The equipment industry received a massive jolt last week when Nike Golf announced they are shutting down their equipment business. It was a surprise, especially considering they have players like Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods as part of their superstar roster, and even as early as this year, they signed up several young and upcoming stars, including Brooks Koepka.
Many theories exist as to why their business was hurting. Some believe Nike was responsible for ruining the endorsement market by paying outrageous amounts to top stars. But while Woods was still able to make those numbers look good by return on investment, once he started to struggle, so did Nike Golf.
The other reason is while Nike did amazing things in America, they hardly did anything of note in Asia, which is now the place to be and the only market that is growing at a pace that matters. They did sign up China’s Li Haotong, but ignored Indians, Thais and other Asians.
And finally, they also never came out with any club, especially fast-selling items like drivers and putters, that became iconic.
The success of established players in the business like Callaway, PING and TaylorMade is partly because of the fact how good and successful their new driver launches have been.
“The 59 was a great accomplishment. I’m a little flabbergasted that I had the opportunity to break 60 again and was able to do so and to do it with a 58. It’s amazing. I guess I look at it is it’s one day versus a career, but it’s also one day that no one else on the PGA Tour has ever done”. – Jim Furyk, when asked to compare his US Open and 17 PGA Tour wins against the 59 and the 58 he shot.
When talking of the four majors, the PGA Championship, more often than not, receives a step-brotherly treatment from fans.
Which is rather unfair, considering the tournament manages to pull the best quality field year-on-year (2016 was exceptionally good, considering it had the highest weightage in the history of world rankings as 97 out of top-100 players teed up), is always played on some of the classiest golf courses in America, and the course set-up and weather conditions are fair.
As a contest this year, it will pale in comparison to the astounding climax served up by Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson two weeks ago at Royal Troon. But that applies to every other tournament as well. The 2016 Open will remain etched in the minds of fans as one of the most sensational in the history of the sport.
And yet, the steely determination shown by Jimmy Walker in winning his first major title, and the doggedness with which 2015 champion and world No1 Jason Day chased him down the stretch will make the battle at Baltusrol an unforgettable one.
As we have always done the week after a major, here are our ratings from the PGA Championship…
JIMMY WALKER (10/10)
The turnaround in the fortunes of the quiet Texan is complete with his first major victory. The 37 year-old turned pro in 2001, but the first of his five regular PGA Tour wins came as recently as 2013.
Walker did not come to Baltusrol in the best of forms, having missed the cut at the Open Championship and without any top-10s since finishing sixth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship. But he was brilliant from tee to green the moment he hit his first shot in New Jersey.
The final round was spectacular for the wire-to-wire champion as he made pars on each of the front nine holes, and despite the mounting pressure from his challengers, made three birdies coming in.
Known more for his astonishing pictures of distant planets and galaxies, this amateur astrophotographer has now firmly established himself as a star himself.
JASON DAY (10/10)
I usually reserve 10 only for the champion, but will make an exception for the Australian runner-up this time.
To begin with, Day did not have the best of starts to the tournament.
Two-over par after 25 holes and in distinct danger of missing the cut, his lack of preparation for the tournament was showing.
Because of his own, and then his wife’s ill-health, Day had played just one practice round at Baltusrol before his opening round. But he made seven birdies in eight holes from the eighth hole onwards in the second round, and finally fell short of the winning number by one shot.
And yet, he did produce the shot of the tournament, a stunning two-iron second shot from 260 yards on the par-5 final hole which got him an eagle and piled on the pressure on Walker.
BROOKS KOEPKA (9/10)
The American finished tied fourth at eight-under par, but it was truly a heroic effort from the man who is on the verge of qualifying for the Ryder Cup.
Koepka, who missed the Open Championship and has been out of action for more than a month because of an ankle injury, somehow played through the pain and things became that much more difficult for him when the thunderstorm forced him to pay 36 holes on Sunday. Despite all that, the 2014 European Tour Rookie of the Year was just sensational.
HENRIK STENSON (8/10)
It’s not easy to follow a major win with another, but the Swede almost pulled it off before running out of steam on the back nine of the final round. An unfortunate double bogey on the 15th hole denied him a finish better than tied-seventh.
BRANDEN GRACE (8/10)
Statistically speaking, the South African world No10 is now the second- best player in the world after Rickie Fowler not to win a major. Another superb outing for him with a tied-fourth place.
TYRRELL HATTON (8/10)
The young Englishman may not have won any tournament so far in his career, but he is definitely one to watch in the future. Hatton’s followed his runners-up finish at Scottish Open with a fifth place at The Open and now a tied 10th at PGA Championship.
JORDAN SPIETH (6/10)
From the 12th hole onwards on the final day of the Masters, it just did not happen in the majors this year for Spieth. The tied 13th at Baltusrol was his best effort after Augusta, but with his putting under pressure, he has definitely not been the Spieth we all know.
PHIL MICKELSON (5/10)
A lot was expected from the American veteran, especially after the fantastic show in the Open, and given the fact that he was the champion in Baltusrol in 2005. With a tied 33rd place, he was a big disappointment.
LEE WESTWOOD (4/10)
With his horse ‘Hoof It’ winning the opening race in Glorious Goodwood on Saturday, it was thought an inspired Westwood will turn it around at Baltusrol over the weekend. That did not happen and the Englishman, worryingly for Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke, slipped with a 73 and 75.
RORY MCILROY (2/10)
A second missed cut in the majors – after the US Open – is extremely poor by McIlroy’s standards. The world No4 was easily the best in the field driving from tee to green, but it was on and around the green that he put up a nightmarish performance.
DUSTIN JOHNSON (1/10)
The hottest player in the world was nowhere in the reckoning. He made only two birdies in the two rounds he played, and two doubles and seven bogeys completed his misery.
Among the many things which emerged from the recentlyconcluded PGA Championship, this is the most significant one – Jason Day thoroughly deserves the world No1 status and will continue to be at the helm for the foreseeable future.
In a tournament in which he was beaten by one shot by Jimmy Walker, Day showed that in all the talk about the ‘Big Three’, or ‘Big Four’ if you include Dustin Johnson, he is slowly but surely opening up a huge gap against the others.
Forget his stats – which are actually very impressive and almost Tiger Woods-like in the past one year – a couple of facts at Baltusrol have added to his growing legend.
The first was how well he played despite the disrupted preparation he had for the tournament. He first picked up a virus on the eve of the tournament, and then spent an anxious night attending his wife at a hospital when she suffered from an allergic reaction on Tuesday.
All of that led to just one practice round around the famous AW Tillinghast-designed course. That’s not how you want to go into a major championship, especially on a tricky golf course where you haven’t played any tournament before.
And then there was that sensational 2-iron second shot he drilled into the 18th green in the final round on Sunday evening. He wasn’t aware that Walker was looking at a birdie putt a group behind him to increase his lead to three shots.
Believing he trailed by two shots, Day knew he needed nothing less than an eagle to give himself a chance of winning. And eagle is exactly what Day made. That is also the reason why he deserves the No1 crown.
Through the years, the most dominant golfers in the history of the sport have been the ones who have consistently been able to produce the shots that matter in pressure situation, whether it be Ben Hogan’s one-iron at Merion’s 18th, Arnold Palmer driving the green on Cherry Hills’ first, or Woods’ chipin on the 16th at Augusta National.
The greatest golfers have been able to dictate terms, something that Day has been doing on a regular basis now. The most remarkable thing about Day is his ability to raise his game during the major championships. He now has 13 top-10 finishes in 25 major appearances, which is a staggering 52 per cent.
In comparison, Woods has 50 per cent top-10s, Nicklaus 45 per cent and Rory McIlroy 44 per cent. Obviously, 25 majors is just a fraction of what Woods and Nicklaus have played, and with just one win, Day is nowhere near Woods’ tally of 14 majors and Nicklaus’ 18, but it shows how consistent he has been, and how he is giving himself chances to win.
Wow, Jason Day. WOW.— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) July 31, 2016
Now tied for the lead. https://t.co/QezxJCnvlf
As far as the top-five players in the world rankings are concerned, Day has the most number of points gained in 2016, which is the most useful data to show he is the best player of the lot.
He also has the most number of wins – three, compared to two each by Johnson, Spieth and Stenson, and one by McIlroy. No wonder Day has opened up a lead of nearly three average points over the second-ranked Johnson.
The only blip in Day’s season is that he could not win a major championship. But we really have been spoiled by Woods in recent years. Winning majors is tough, and it has been amply proven this year with four first-time champions wining the four big ones – Danny Willett at the Masters, Johnson at the US Open, Henrik Stenson at the Open Championship and Walker at the PGA Championship.
All four are strong players, and so is everyone inside the top-20 of world rankings. On their day, each one of them can take on any quality of field and win. It is remarkable that Day manages to stay ahead of such a chasing pack.