2016 Majors In Review
Once again another summer passes and golf’s major championships are behind us. A couple weeks earlier thanks to the Olympics. This year I was excited with the group of courses as I have been to Augusta a couple times and played both Oakmont and Baltusrol. I always find it much more fun to watch a tournament on TV after you have played the course and know what the golfers face.
With that in mind let’s recap what we saw this year:
As with every year, the golf season up north seems to begin with The Masters. Something about seeing Augusta National on TV gets you ready for the upcoming season. This year’s tournament started out in exciting fashion. Last year’s winner, Jordan Spieth began where he left off 2015. An opening round 66 gave him a two shot lead.
Spieth built the lead to five in the second round but faltered on the back nine, something we will see again. He held a one shot lead over Rory McIlroy, setting up a Saturday round with two of the best in the world.
McIlroy faltered in the third round and shot 77 to fall out of contention. Spieth did not fare much better with a 73, but still maintained a one shot lead over Smylie Kaufman. It was a record setting seven straight rounds with the lead for Spieth. 58 year old Bernhard Langer, a two time champion was just two back and the powerhouse trio of Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, and young Englishman Danny Willett were three back going into Sunday.
Spieth started out brilliantly on Sunday and showed the poise he had in winning the year before. By the time he reached the tee on the tenth he held a five shot lead over Willett, who figured he was playing for second place. But as we have heard so many times, The Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday.
Spieth bogeyed ten and eleven, yet still held the lead on the twelfth tee. That’s when things unraveled for him. Two shots into Rae’s Creek and a quadruple bogey dropped him out of the lead. Willett birdied 13, 14, and 16 before finishing with two pars.
Meanwhile, Spieth recovered from the 7 at twelve and birdied 13 and 15. He needed two birdies on the last three and that didn’t happen. Willett became the first European since 1999 and Englishman since 1996 to capture The Masters.
While most will remember this Masters with Spieth’s collapse, we must look at Willett’s bogey free 67 in the final round. While others were losing their cool, Willett kept his on the back nine. He finished in style and is a deserving champion. I don’t think this will be the last Major we see him win.
The US Open
The US Open returned to Oakmont for the ninth time, the most of any course. This is a fitting venue and is my favorite inland course that I have played in the States. Oakmont is beautiful and difficult. After the removal of nearly every tree you can see sixteen holes from the clubhouse. Thick rough, over 200 bunkers, and fast greens make this a great test of golf.
Leading into the first round the course was playing firm and fast, exactly how the USGA wanted it. But when the tournament began, the first round was suspended three times and called off before the afternoon rounds could begin. Three inches of rain overnight and the firm conditions were lost to a soft golf course. This wasn’t the only time weather played a factor in the 2016 Majors.
It took until late Saturday morning for the field to settle out and the start of the third round. Dustin Johnson, last year’s runner-up, held a one shot lead over unknown Andrew Landry, playing in his first major. In fact, in the top ten Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk, and Lee Westwood were the best known players and Furyk the only Major winner.
Still trying to play catch up to the weather the third round was called by darkness with Johnson still having five holes to play. Play resumed on Sunday morning and Shane Lowry played his last four holes in two under and took a four shot lead over Johnson and Landry to start the final round.
Lowry and Landry were paired in the final group and the pressure of trying to win the US Open had its effect. Lowry finished with a 76 and Landry shot 78. Many were in contention going to the back nine with Johnson playing steady golf and holding the lead. Problem was, nobody knew how big of a lead.
It came up on the twelfth tee that the USGA was looking at whether Johnson caused his ball to move back on the fifth green. They said that it would be reviewed after the round, so he never knew how big the lead was, nor others to how far behind. This created difficulty in knowing how aggressive to play.
Johnson took all of that out of play with a brilliant 69 to win by four. After the USGA said he incurred a penalty it became a three shot victory. This penalty controversy overshadowed the tournament. People began to say it took away golfers policing themselves on the golf course and brought TV rulings more into play. This was a shame as Johnson is a fan favorite champion. As with Willett, I think we will see more of these Major wins for him.
The Open Championship
The Open returned to Royal Troon, a favorite in the Open rotation. It is a great links course that featured two nines that play completely different. You have a front nine that is getable by the field where you need to get some birdies. You then hang on through the back nine. The famous par 3 eighth, “Postage Stamp” hole, looms in the middle of the round.
This year’s tournament started out on a high note. 2013 champion Phil Mickelson opened with a 63, tying low round ever shot in a Major. Mickelson lipped out on the final hole for 62, a putt that seemed to be in the hole within inches. He held a three shot lead after the round.
Phil shot 69 in the second round and lead Henrik Stenson by one entering the weekend. Keegan Bradley and Soren Kjeldsen were three back and defending champion Zach Johnson was still in contention.
High winds impacted the third round and it was announced that the R&A opted not to mow the greens so they could play the round without issues of the ball moving when addressed. It was difficult for players to adjust to this with Stenson tying for low round of the day with a 68. That was enough for a one shot lead over Phil and set up a two man race as they were five clear of the rest of the field.
The final round ended up being one of the best duals in golf, equalizing the “Dual in the Sun” between Nicklaus and Watson in the 1977 Open. The lead changed hands or were tied many times on the front nine with Stenson recording five birdies and Mickelson a birdie and eagle. After Stenson bogeyed the 11th they were tied. Starting on the 14th hole Stenson recorded three straight birdies and built a two shot lead. Stenson closed with a birdie on eighteen for another record tying 63 and his 20-under total of 264 the lowest in Major history. He became the first Scandinavian man to win a Major.
Historic Baltusrol Golf Club was hosting its ninth Major championship and first since Phil Mickelson won the PGA there in 2005. One interesting thing about the Lower Course is it plays to a par 70 and you don’t play a par 5 until you finish with two straight on 17 and 18. The eighteenth is the site of Jack Nicklaus’ famous 1-iron in the 1967 US Open.
Weather played a factor is this championship as well. Rain and lightning caused many delays. These weather delays, combined with two weeks between the previous Major, made it hard to get excited for this championship.
Jimmy Walker opened with a 65 and a one shot lead to start the tournament. He followed that with a 66 and was tied at the halfway mark with Robert Streb, who shot 63. This was the third 63 in Majors this year. World #1 Jason Day was two back in his defense of the championship.
The third round was nearly a total wash-out as only 37 players finished the round and the leaders never teed off. With the forecast, many wondered why the PGA did not start play with threesomes off two tees. With that they probably could have gotten the round in on that day. The thought was that the TV networks were running the show. That backfired as they had nothing to show on Saturday afternoon except the rerun of last year’s tournament.
Golfers teed off at 7am on Sunday to get in the final 36 holes. This long day of golf proved not to be very exciting. The wet course played fairly easy from tee to green. Most struggled on the greens due to the amount of traffic for the day. During the final round 12 of the 18 holes did not record a score higher than bogey. Meaning nobody could make a charge, nor did any golfer falter.
It came down to Walker and Day on the last couple holes. Walker held a two shot lead most of the back nine and when he made birdie at 17 took a three shot lead. At the same moment Day hit his second shot on 18 to about 12 feet and made the putt for eagle to cut the lead to one. Walker played the final hole safe and sank a 3 footer for par and his first Major championship.
All in all this year’s Majors were anticlimactic. Instead of Willett winning, people talked about Spieth’s collapse. Instead of DJ’s first Major after many near misses, it was talk of the USGA rules decision. Talk all weekend at the PGA was the weather and the fantastic job the crew did just to get the course playable. It was The Open that produced the most excitement with two great players battling it out with terrific golf.
Next year’s lineup will make for interesting, if not exciting golf. We always have The Masters and the history that tournament brings. The US Open will be at Erin Hills in Wisconsin. I just played that course and while it is fairly open off the tee. The approaches to the greens will be very difficult as the greens have many roll-offs and some pin placements will be hard to get to. The bunkering is difficult and they could stretch the course out to 8,000 yards. It should be some exciting golf if the weather cooperates.
The Open returns to Royal Birkdale for the tenth time. It last hosted in 2008 when Padraig Harrington defended his title for back-to-back championships. Finally, the PGA goes to Quail Hollow in North Carolina. It will be its first Major championship, but the pros have seen this course before. It currently hosts the Wells Fargo Championship played every spring on the PGA Tour. With a well-known course it could prove to be exciting as well. Rory McIlroy has won there twice so he could be the favorite.