Rory McIlroy could have made this list if his poor form from the Masters Tournament (T40) through the Open Championship (T60) had continued.
Fortunately, with a victory at the PGA Championship and two consecutive FedEx Cup wins, Mr. McIlroy has removed himself from this discussion entirely. In fact, Rory has stepped through the door of “is he entering a Tiger Woods 1999-00 stretch of form,” as Golf Digest’s Sam Weinman evaluated in a piece earlier this week.
Underachievement is ultimately a subjective assessment. Only individuals have a true grasp of their own abilities and the headwinds they face. In looking over the popular indicators of success on the PGA Tour for the year, however, there are a number of big name players who have grossly underperformed in 2012.
Hunter Mahan did win twice in 2012, although his Shell Houston Open victory carries significantly less weight than his win at the Accenture Match Play.
I believe Mahan (along with Dustin Johnson) to be the best American PGA Tour player without a major victory. Johnson is exempt from this list because of his injury-related absence this year.
Mahan's best finish in a major this year was a tie for 12th at the Masters. He has not taken the step forward since 2010 that I hoped he would. In that year, he also won a relatively minor tournament and a WGC event and made the cut in three of four majors.
Mahan has also returned to 20th place in the Official World Golf Rankings after shooting 80, 77 on the weekend at the BMW Championship last week. He had previously climbed as high as 4th place following his victory at the Shell Houston, but to my earlier point, he was ranked 18th at the end of the 2010 season.
Perhaps Mahan has plateaued, but as the flat-brimmed Californian failed to contend for a major this year, he has underachieved.
A perennial favorite on the “underachieving” and “most disappointing” lists, Charles Howell III has done it (not done it) again this year.
Howell has fallen from 61 to 92 in the OWGR over the course of 2012. On the plus side, he was ranked as low as 126 in 2011. This is merely splitting hairs on the overgrown head of under-performance.
The Georgian missed the cut in two of four majors, but played in all four majors for the first time since 2008. In contrast to 2011, when Chucky Three Sticks finished in the top 10 7 times, he managed only one top 10 this year and hasn’t earned $1,000,000, thus far.
The aforementioned T2 finish at the season opening Sony event in Hawaii was the high water mark of Howell’s 2012 season. He missed the cut in the last two majors of the season and failed to break par at the shooting gallery at Crooked Stick last week, earning him a pre-Tour Championship exit from the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Poor putting, mediocre approaches, and abominable sand play & scrambling have been Howell’s undoing in 2012. His scoring average is up almost a whole stroke from 2011.
In short, statistically, and with respect to performance, the golfer is going in the wrong direction. For Howell, 2012 continues a career of empty hype and failed promise.
Falling 100 spots in the Official World Golf Ranking this year, Camilo Villegas is in danger of becoming the Anna Kournikova of men’s golf.
Villegas was ranked 26th in the world when he posed nude for ESPN The Magazine’s “Body Issue” in 2010. Let us hope that wasn’t the pinnacle of his career. The Hombre Araña has missed the cut in three of the four majors since that point and has had only one top 10.
The Colombian is currently positioned 164th on the money list and has earned only $357,718 this year, his lowest total since earning his Tour card in 2006.
The problem, statistically speaking, is that the Spider Man routine isn’t working. He’s 144th in Strokes Gained, the essential metric of putting success and is well below average inside of 15 feet. Not good when you’re hitting almost 67% of your greens in regulation.
Additionally, he’s outside the top 150 in both scrambling and sand save percentage, which speaks to a lack of focus and practice time. Villegas’ final round scoring average has ballooned from 70.17 last year to above par (72.64) this year, which is very disheartening from someone who has traditionally improved as a tournament has progressed.
Maybe he’s spending too much time in the gym. Maybe he’s drinking too much of the Red Bull he endorses to hole a putt. Either of the two would be preferable to the third explanation for Villegas’ recent underachievement: complacency.
The Spaniard has performed marginally better this year than in 2011, the majors exempted. He has a win. He’s still alive in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and he’s made 15 of 16 cuts.
García’s 2012 performance thus far is only good in light of lowered expectations for El Niño. There is no player in recent memory who would have won several major championships that paid Dr. Bob Rotella or Earl Woods a visit.
García is resurgent this year, but that is only in comparison to the expectations we have had for him. García won twice in 2001 and as recently as 2008 notched 6 top 10’s in 19 events, including a T2 at the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.
In 2011, Sergio made the cut in all four majors and finished in the top 10 twice, but didn’t challenge the lead at any point during Darren Clarke and Rory McIlory’s respective victories.
Sergio has made a ridiculous jump in Strokes Gained – Putting this year, moving from 144th to 18th place, which should lead to more victories for a historically abysmal putter. A glorious Final Round Scoring Average of 71.67 (117th), however, has him fleeing from, rather than chasing down, PGA Tour wins.
Westwood’s dismissal of both his coach and caddie after missing the cut at the PGA was widely reported and can be taken as a significant sign of the golfer’s discontent.
The Englishman contended at the Masters this year and, were it not for an errant tee shot that may still be residing atop a tree at the Olympic Club, he might have been the one encountering the Birdman, not Webb Simpson.
It is, however, another major-less year for one of the finest ballstrikers in the world. His putting betrays an otherwise stellar game and if he were merely competent in that department, he’d surely have won a major by now.
Westwood is, according to the OWGR, the second best player in the world to not have won a major.
Although he has played well this year, his performance has dropped off from 2010 levels, in which had two second place finishes in majors.
Since 2009 Westwood has been a player for him failing to win a major makes a season necessarily incomplete. By definition, then, Lee Westwood is an underachiever in 2012 and continues to wear the uncomfortable mantle of “one of the world’s best players without a major.”
The world number one for much of this season, Luke Donald had only one top 10 in a major this year and was unconvincing in the other three, missing the cut at the U.S. Open. In fact, Donald has never finished better than a tie for 12th at that litmus test of truly great golfers in his career.
With 15 of 16 cuts on the PGA Tour this season and 8 top 25’s (7 top 10’s), Donald is a model of consistently good, perhaps very good, play. He is not, however, a major champion or a player currently capable of contending in majors.
For the most part, Donald plays well in significant tournaments that are not majors, but doesn’t show the same mettle when in the four biggest tournaments of the year. As he was recently the “official” best golfer in the world, only one top 10 in a major this year simply won’t do.
The overarching narrative of Adam Scott’s career is that he has an abundance of talent—more than enough to win majors. He does not have, however, the intangible “other stuff” to win a major.
The hypothesis was absurdly, almost tragicomically, supported over the final four holes at Royal Lytham in this year’s Open Championship.
14 of 15 cuts, playing at the Tour Championship next week, Scott has had a good year. Good, however, isn’t good enough for the player who adopted Tiger Woods’ swing.
There is something to be said for detachment from outcomes and maintaining an even keel emotionally, as Scott demonstrated immediately following his bungling of the Open Championship. Such a mindset is dangerously close to complacency, however, which is the enemy of the first-rate performer in every arena.
Scott likes to surf and is something of a jet-setter, currently residing in Switzerland, but to label him as a Sergio García-esque shirker of work would be misguided. Adam Scott works many hours a day in the gym, on the range, and on the course to make himself a better golfer. There is no disputing, denying, or discounting this fact.
The real problem is that Scott, at age 32, has come to terms with the narrative of underachievement. He has heard the story and he lends credence to it, even if he does not adopt it as wholly true.
All statistics courtesy of PGATour.com and OfficialWorldGolfRanking.com