Final Grades for Golf's Top Stars at the 2014 Major Championships
There can be no denying the PGA Championship was one of the most exciting major championships in a while, with Rory McIlroy holding off several challengers to win in the Kentucky darkness.
The television viewing audience certainly thought so, as CBS reported a 6.0 rating (via Will Gray of GolfChannel.com). That was a 36 percent jump from last year's final round, according to the network.
With the tournament in the books, it's time to pass out grades to some of the top players.
Can you guess what kind of grades McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson received?
How about Bubba Watson?
Check out the following list and see what you think.
Is it possible to award more than one "A+" here?
That was a very, very special performance authored by not only the world's No. 1-ranked player but also the game's most dominant player since the days a few other notable names were capable of such things.
And for those who contend that distance isn't all it's cracked up to be, McIlroy has won three straight tournaments, including a pair of back-to-back majors and did so by overpowering those three courses.
That's not to say the rest of his game didn't contribute greatly to the PGA Championship because it did. His awesome display of power was complemented by a great iron game that allowed him to hit 69.44 percent of his greens in regulation.
If there was any doubt before this summer, all of it should be erased now. McIlroy is the face of golf, now and in the future.
"Obviously, Rory played great this week, and he's been a deserving champion the last three tournaments," said Rickie Fowler (via Sportal.com). "He's playing quite good right now. Best player in the world, hands down. We'll see if we can sneak one [major] away from him at some point."
In the darkness at Valhalla Golf Club Sunday, Fowler admitted his latest top-five finish in a major championship hurt. It was great to hear him say that because the satisfaction of being the best player in a major without a win can only last so long.
“This is probably the one that hurts the most for me with the majors this year. The first three were a lot of fun, obviously to be in great positions and to get great finishes,” Fowler said (via Michael Whitmer of the The Boston Globe). “This one I felt like I could go out today and win it.”
Fowler's summer of 2014 is eclipsed only by the guy who won two majors, McIlroy. The youngster in Oklahoma State orange is on the verge of superstardom, a step that will take place when he finally wins one of golf's biggest events.
He held a three-shot lead early on the back nine Sunday, but he couldn't close the deal against a very determined McIlroy.
If, indeed, he learns from the things he experienced this year, golf fans have much to look forward to in terms of battles between him and McIlroy.
Mickelson is well-known for his runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open, six, if you're keeping score at home.
He's also finished 30 times over the course of his PGA Tour career. The 30th, of course, came Sunday in the PGA Championship where a rejuvenated Mickelson showed plenty of past brilliance and was in contention all the way to the 72nd hole.
Mickelson's inspired play thrilled his fans and the galleries at Valhalla and gave hope that whatever he found while posting that 63 in the final round at Firestone might actually have turned around a very mediocre season for him.
But Mickelson's disappointment in the outcome, which could have dramatically changed had he holed an eagle putt on the 18th hole, comes in the fact that at age 44, great chances like this can't be allowed to get away.
He shot 66 in the final round, played the best he could and became relevant again. For that he deserves high marks.
Jason Day wasn't a central figure in the Sunday afternoon drama that played out at Valhalla, but he did make some noise that sent out the signal he might be ready to play the way the golf world expected him to.
Thumb and wrist injuries had taken away all of the promise of his victory in the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play as he tried to get healthy most of the year.
And when he was finally able to start swinging the club, he developed a case of the hooks. As the PGA Championship wore on, Day and his swing coach opted to weaken his grip, which not only helped with the hook, but it also took pressure off the injured thumb.
During TNT's broadcast, analyst Ian-Baker Finch (via Emily Kay of SBnation) was blown away by the move.
"Wow, that’s pretty amazing stuff, having a grip change when you’re running fourth in a major championship," he said. "That is difficult, to concentrate on your game enough to win a major, compete in a major, when you’re trying to get used to a grip change."
Day didn't win, he finished 15th, but he gets credit for that considering the circumstances.
Another major, another 72 holes of Adam Scott hovering near the edge of contention in the biggest tournaments of the year.
As has been the case for most of the year, there was little excitement in his game. His best round, a third-round 66, was sandwiched between rounds of 71-69-69. Other than his victory in the Colonial earlier in the year, he's just never been a big factor.
No doubt it's been disappointing for him, especially since he took over the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking in May and held it until Rory McIlroy won the Open Championship.
It was more of the same at Valhalla and while Scott certainly can make a run at the FedEx Cup and Tour Championship, another year of majors has gone by.
That leaves Scott one more season before he'll no longer be able to use his anchored putting stroke.
Now that looked something like Henrik Stenson, circa 2013.
The man who dominated golf on both sides of the ocean had struggled all season to regain that form, but his T3 gives him a pair of top-20 finishes in his last two starts.
But he threw a pair of 66s and a 67 at Valhalla. Stenson wasn't quite as good in a round of 71, but he likes what he's seeing in his game.
"It was a good try, and I'm just very happy with the progress I made with my game in the last 10 days," Stenson said, per The Associated Press (via Fox News). "I'll get more chances. I'm not worried."
The Swedish native may not be worried, but based on what he did in the PGA Championship, perhaps the rest of those who qualify for the FedEx Cup Playoffs might be a little concerned.
Bubba Watson won the Masters green jackets in 2012 and 2014.
That makes him a two-time major champion.
The fact he's not been a serious contender in any other major certainly raises questions about him in terms of being able to win elsewhere in other majors.
He finished T65, didn't post a round in the 60s and hit only 58 percent of his fairways and greens. But that was an improvement over how he played in the U.S. Open and British Open. He missed the cut in both of those.
About the only thing worse than his play at Valhalla was his behavior. Dave Kindred broke down the Watson circus on GolfDigest.com, explaining some of the reasons why Watson rubs people the wrong way.
All in all, it was not a very good week for Bubba Watson.
Stats are courtesy of PGATour.com.