Who could have predicted storms hammering the PGA Championship in St. Louis in August? After a birdiefest start to the second round, heavy storms came for the afternoon wave and wiped out play. They will restart at 8 a.m. ET on Saturday, and then the third round will begin sometime just after 11 a.m. with the players going off two tees in groups of three. During the rain delay, I put together some notes on a few of the impressive, amusing, and infuriating things I’d seen on Friday at the PGA.
What Rory and JT can learn from Tiger
Tiger Woods didn’t look particularly comfortable on Friday afternoon. He was a ball of sweat and sighing constantly and sometimes looked exhausted after finishing a hole. Even with that, the rain delay maybe hurt him most. He was cooking on a course that was for the taking.
Tiger is unlikely to win, but it is so much better to have him putting on a show instead of making those depressing marches to missed cuts. That’s what this looked like on Thursday morning, when he started 3-over through his first two holes. Now he jumped 25 more spots up the leaderboard on Friday with a 3-under start in his first eight holes of the second round.
At the end of the first round on Golf Channel’s Live From the PGA, Rich Lerner asked Brandel Chamblee how Tiger looked and stacked up to Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, the two superstar 20-somethings that have resided near the top of the world rankings in Tiger’s absence. Instead of trying to stack Tiger up to the two young guns, Chamblee’s response captured what was so striking about 42-year-old’s first round:
“I think they [Rory and JT] would have learned something from him … What this round lacked in cleanliness, so to speak, it made up for with tenacity. The fact that he was able to gut it out. The ability to self-correct in the middle of a round is beautiful.”
Now Tiger has to reset again first thing Saturday morning and try to continue that streak he put together in the first eight holes Friday afternoon. Regardless of what happens, the comeback from that disaster of a start to this point right now was a reminder of one of the hallmarks of Tiger’s dominance: getting the most out of a day when it starts poorly or you may not feel most comfortable. We saw another eventual Hall-of-Famer do that on Friday too…
Jordan Spieth is probably not going to complete the career slam this week. But I thought his Friday morning round was one of his most impressive this season. Granted, his round was among just a few that we could actually watch on Friday.
I caught him on the range on Golf Channel on Thursday night and he looked, well, a little lost. He was hitting drivers and appeared exasperated almost immediately after contact throughout the clip. It was late. It was the end of a long, insufferably hot day and he had an early tee time on Friday. This came after a season of looking lost and frustrated and a week of what looked like absolute grinding on the putting green trying to figure it out.
You did not expect great results in the second round. Then he came back Friday morning and posted a bogey-free 66 to move well inside the cut line and in a position to potentially contend if things get crazy on the weekend. At one point, he blocked one into a hazard on a par-5 and erupted (for golf!) in a moment of frustration.
After that, he laid up, nearly holed out a wedge for a miracle birdie, and converted a par-saving putt. It was a fantastic par, especially after he’d just been raging moments before in the hazard.
The par was emblematic of Spieth getting a 66 round during a week when he’s clearly searching for a few things in multiple parts of his game. For me, it was so damn impressive, indicative of what Chamblee noted about Tiger above, and what you’d hope some of Spieth’s contemporaries could adopt.
If a tree falls in the forest …
I’ve come to understand that there are many, many well-paid positions in golf with job functions and purposes that are quite hard to discern. Many have jobs just to say “no” to things without thought, while others have jobs just to say “yes” to every harebrained, awful idea. There are also many smart people in golf, and many of them are involved with this week’s major championship.
I understand that there is a contract and that contract calls for TV coverage starting at 2 p.m. But those smart people needed to figure it out — that deal may have felt appropriate in 2009. It is not now.
We were scheduled for six hours of coverage in a day that was going to have 12-plus hours of golf. The U.S. Open and British Open have 10 and 14-hour broadcasts for each of the first two rounds. The PGA has six. That is already not good! Then we got a rain delay that washed out play just 2.5 hours into the afternoon TV coverage. Meanwhile, NINE players shot 65 or lower in a morning wave we couldn’t watch.
Going back 30 years, this is the only major championship round with more than 7 rounds of 65 or lower. There have been 9 recorded already today.
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) August 10, 2018
The morning felt lethargic and directionless as we sat in the dark, confined to streaming of just one group. That group was fine to watch, but none of them shot those super low rounds and with just three players on one stream, so much time is spent watching them wait on a tee box or walk to a green.
This is an issue, contract aside, that should have been troubleshooted in the past few years by the smart parties involved. Come up with new contract. Come up with a more robust stream offering. Getting angry about the coverage is tired and I’m not even upset about the actual production or coverage of the golf. It’s just the lack of coverage at all and Friday’s sputtering start followed by a washed-out TV window just illuminated how big a miss it was that this antiquated arrangement wasn’t re-negotiated or re-formatted years ago.
It can’t happen and it so diminishes the PGA.
Phil Mickelson was dressed like Ron Rivera going to some mid-August meet-and-greet cocktail hour with season ticket holders. Then I saw during the rain delay that Ian Poulter was in the same get-up. I like Poulter as a character and think the hate can get excessive. But you know how you know your outfit is an airball? When Ian Poulter has the same ensemble going.
Phil should have gone to the button-down look. I suppose Poulter can be the Mike Shula in this scenario.
What to make of Rory
I give Rory McIlroy credit for admitting he has a problem. As soon as I heard the question on Tuesday during his press conference, I cringed a little bit. It was direct and didn’t dance around the elephant in the room, starting with, “Somebody told me this morning they think that you are aware that have you a mechanical problem with your wedges…” Ouch!
Instead of denying no such problem exists, or acting huffy and offended, Rory took the question straight on and admitted it and added some context on why he thinks there’s an issue. The answer was revelatory and not defiant:
I think, obviously, last week [at Firestone] highlighted a couple of things. And, yeah, for sure, I think what makes me so good with the driver is sometimes what makes me inconsistent with the wedges and hand speed and body speed and rotation, and the fact that sometimes you need a lot of separation in your upper and lower body with the driver in your hand but you don’t need that separation with a wedge in your hand.
So I think that looking at, I had a good chat with Thomas Bjorn about it last year in Scotland, and he said one of the reasons that I’m such a good wedge player is the same reason that I’m not a very good driver of the ball, and it’s the opposite with me. So it’s just about trying to find that blend. I’ve definitely become a little more rotational in my swing over the past couple of years, and some of that is through bad habit and some of that is through injury.
So I do give him credit: the first part is acknowledging you have a problem. He’s done it publicly.
Now, what to do about it? His numbers from wedge ranges this year aren’t as horrific as in recent years, but it does appear to be in his head. His wedges at Firestone were bad and there have been several gross ones at the PGA. It came to a head before the rain delay, when he bombed one absolutely nowhere close to the target from just 103 yards away. The result was a miracle par-save up-and-down from a bunker. That can’t be happening from 100 yards out on an relatively easy setup and that is what makes Rory one of the more frustrating watches right now. He’s the best driver of a generation and is bombing it past Tiger and JT in St. Louis and then wasting much of that advantage. This course is just perfect for his strengths, begging him to dominate it.
As I wrote Thursday: hey, he held the lead with like three holes to go in a major just a couple weeks ago and was playing in a Sunday final pairing of a loaded WGC just four days ago. Almost every other player coming in with those results we’d call hot and trending. Then you watch him hit a 360-yard drive and struggle to save par. I have no idea what to think anymore with Rory. I vacillate between disappointment, frustration, (perhaps misguided) hope, and rationalizing.