PGA Championship 2015: Biggest Winners and Losers from Whistling Straits

Lindsay GibbsFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2015

PGA Championship 2015: Biggest Winners and Losers from Whistling Straits

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    The 2015 PGA Championship is in the books, and it's hard to imagine a more incredible end to a more incredible major season.

    Jason Day, who has come so close to becoming a major champion so often over the past five years, finally walked away as the champion at Whistling Straits.

    Jordan Spieth, a legend in the making, finished second and ended up becoming the world No. 1.

    Branden Grace finished in third place, Justin Rose finished in fourth and Brooks Koepka and Anirban Lahiri finished tied for fifth.

    It was a week of birdies and meltdowns, youngsters behaving like veterans and veterans behaving like youngsters. 

    Here are all of the winners and losers from a fantastic finale to the major season.

Winner: Jason Day

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    At long last, it was Jason Day's day to shine.

    After nine top-10 finishes at majors since debuting on the major stage at the 2010 British Open, the 27-year-old finally finished in first place at the 2015 PGA Championship.

    His 20 under par was the lowest aggregate score in major history. 

    While Day shot 25 birdies and two eagles this week, it was a par during his final round that impressed me the most. On the ninth hole on Sunday, Day's nerves finally started to show when he chunked a fairway shot for a paltry 45 yards.

    It looked like a meltdown was on the horizon, and yet he still managed to compose himself and save par. 

    His resiliency, something that had been missing late into Sundays at majors before, is why he is finally walking away as a major champion.

    "It's been a long journey," an emotional Day said on CBS after his round. "Just to stand in front of a crowd like this and win the PGA Championship is special."

Loser: Dustin Johnson

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    Once again, Dustin Johnson got off to a fast start at a major championship and looked like he would contend for a title. Once again, he couldn't finish the job.

    Johnson shot a 66 on Thursday to lead the field at six under par after the first 18 holes, but he didn't stay atop the leaderboard for long. He shot a 73 on Friday and a 68 on Saturday to head into Sunday six shots back of the leader.

    Then, he demolished any hopes of a miracle comeback with a quadruple bogey on the opening hole of his final round.

    Johnson bounced back really well from that, shooting six birdies, two eagles and only three bogeys the rest of his tumultuous round to finish tied for seventh, but he unfortunately only started playing well when it didn't matter anymore.

    There were a lot of eyes on Johnson at Whistling Straits, the site where he missed out on the 2010 PGA Championship playoff due to a two-stroke bunker penalty on the 72nd hole.

    It would have been a great story if Johnson could have triumphed at the 2015 PGA Championship, especially considering his close misses at majors this year—he lost the U.S. Open after a three-putt on the final hole and shot back-to-back 75s after leading the British Open through two rounds.

    But instead, Johnson's woes continued, and he'll head into 2016 still without a major championship to his name.

Winner: Jordan Spieth, Your New World No. 1

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    Jason Day ended up being too much for Jordan Spieth on Sunday, and the 22-year-old Masters and U.S. Open champion had to settle for second place at the final major of the year.

    But don't let that fool you; Spieth still walked away a winner.

    Spieth's solo second-place finish was good enough to take away the world No. 1 ranking from Rory McIlroy. That fact was far from lost on him.

    "It's an unbelievable feeling," Spieth said in an interview on CBS after the round. "So much work has been put in since we turned professional, what a year it's been."

    Also, Spieth's runner-up finish carded him the best aggregate score at majors in one season in golf history, per Golf Central

    The young American also continued to impress with his attitude, congratulating Day for good shots during their final round and handling the press (and pressure) like a veteran.

    It's been remarkable to watch Spieth break out this season, and there's no doubt that he deserves to be the current face of the game. It will be exciting to see what he does next.

Loser: The Defending Champion

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    Look, this was not a disaster of a tournament for Rory McIlroy. After missing over 50 days of competitive golf due to a torn ankle ligament, McIlroy shot nine under par and finished in 17th place at Whistling Straits. It could have been far worse.

    However, this tournament and entire major season will still likely go down as a disappointment for McIlroy.

    Not only did he lose the No. 1 ranking to Spieth, but he failed to win a major during a year when he was playing some of his best golf, week in and week out. As Tiger Woods will tell you, prime years don't last forever.

    Still, McIlroy was staying positive and chalking up his missed opportunity to rust.

    "I have shown a lot of good signs this week and a lot of positives that I can take with me on to the next few weeks of the season," the Northern Irishman told reporters on Saturday, via ASAP Sports.

Winner: Phil Mickelson's Inner Child

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    Phil Mickelson didn't win his sixth major championship this week at the PGA Championship, and he never really even contended for the title.

    But that doesn't mean he didn't provide entertainment in a way that only Phil can.

    On Friday on the eighth hole, the 45-year-old unleashed his inner child by sitting on a flimsy piece of cardboard and sliding down a hill at Whistling Straits to get to his golf ball.

    It was even more amazing than it sounds. 

    “I got going a little faster than I thought I would,” Mickelson said, according to Randall Mell of Golf Channel. “I was surprised how fast I got going.”

    He had fun on the course in a more conventional way over the weekend, shooting nine birdies on Saturday and holing out for an eagle on Sunday.

    He didn't match his runner-up finish from last year, but Mickelson did manage to shoot a 66 on Saturday and a 69 on Sunday to finish tied for 18th. One way or another, Lefty is determined to stay in the mix.

Loser: Tiger Woods

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Another major, another major disappointment for Tiger Woods. This is now the norm, it seems.

    After showing some signs of life at the Quicken Loans National earlier this month, where he finished tied for 18th and hit three rounds in the 60s, Woods bounced back to the bottom at the PGA Championship, missing the cut.

    On Thursday, Woods shot a 75, and on Friday and Saturday morning—due to bad weather the second round had to be completed on Saturday—he shot a 73. 

    "For the first time in his career, the 39-year-old Woods has missed four cuts in a season," ESPN's Bob Harig wrote. "He has played his last seven rounds in major championships over par, also a career first."

    Woods is getting no closer to his elusive championship form, and as the years tick by, the hope that he will ever hoist a major trophy again continues to vanish.

Winner: Hiroshi Iwata's Friday

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    The lowest round of this PGA Championship didn't belong to Spieth or Day, or any of the familiar names of golf.

    Instead, it belonged to Hiroshi Iwata, a 31-year-old Japanese golfer who entered the PGA Championship ranked No. 102 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

    Iwata shot a 63 on Friday, with eight birdies and an eagle, to tie the lowest round in major championship history. 

    As Bleacher Report's Art Spander reported, Iwata enjoyed the attention that came with his great round, and he even wanted more.

    Iwata seemed no less excited to be interviewed than he was to shoot that record score. “I have seen these kind of media centers on TV,” he said after being asked to appear. "But I’m honored to be here. But I thought there would be more people, more media.”

    He added a 77 on Thursday, a 70 on Saturday and a 71 on Sunday to end the tournament at seven under par, tied for 21st.

    This was by far his best finish at a major ever—he had never made a cut before.

Loser: John Daly's Golf Club

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    Every golf tournament needs a good meltdown, and while Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson both did their best, John Daly ran away with the Best Meltdown award at this tournament.

    Daly won the PGA Championship back in 1991, and while nobody was expecting him to repeat that feat in 2015, he was in contention to make the cut midway through his second round.

    Then, disaster struck. On the par-three eighth, Daly hit his tee shot into the water three times. After his fourth tee shot, which he hit very conservatively to avoid the water at all costs, he launched his driver into the water.

    Daly ended up shooting a 10 on that hole, for a rare septuple bogey. Needless to say, he didn't make the cut.

    "I've always said, 'You throw a club, it shows you care,'" Daly said after his round, as the AFP reported (via Yahoo).

    There are a lot of reasons to question Daly; his passion is not one of them.

Winner: Whistling Straits

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    Take a bow, Whistling Straits. What a fantastic golf course this turned out to be.

    This links-style course had the best of both worlds: There were plenty of birdie opportunities out there, but at the same time, there were enough hazards in place that a double bogey was always a possibility.

    That anything-can-happen layout made for four days of nonstop thrills and drama. Even those who hit more bogeys than birdies could appreciate it.

    “It’s a terrific golf course, if devilish,” Tiger Woods said on Thursday, as Bill Pennington of the New York Times reported.

    “[Course designer] Pete Dye gives you plenty of room for your shots, but boy, if you miss those spots where you’re aiming, it’s going to be awfully penal.

    Overall, Whistling Straits provided the perfect backdrop for the final major of the season. Exciting but not too difficult, scenic but still varied. It helped that with the exception of the storm on Friday evening, the weather was great, too.

Loser: The British Open Champion

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    Zach Johnson solidified his Hall of Fame candidacy last month with his huge playoff win at the British Open. It was his second major championship win, after the 2007 Masters.

    But if anyone thought we were at the beginning of the Zach Johnson Era, that thought was stomped out this week at Whistling Straits, as he failed to make the cut.

    Johnson particularly struggled with his driving, a woe that led to 10 bogeys through two rounds.

    "You can kind of figure it out when you're missing it one direction, but when you're missing it both directions, it's difficult," he told reporters, via ASAP Sports.

    Golf is a brutal, unforgiving sport. But at least Johnson has the Claret Jug for comfort.

Winner: The 20-Somethings

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    This has been the year for the 20-somethings of golf to truly shine.

    I'm not just talking about 27-year-old Jason Day, who won this PGA Championship. Or 22-year-old Jordan Spieth, who had one of the best major seasons in the history of the sport and finished second. Or 26-year-old Rory McIlroy, who needs no introduction.

    Looking at the top 20 finishers at the PGA Championship is a who's who of the future of the game, and it is an impressive and diverse group. 

    There's 27-year-old South African Branden Grace, who bested his tie for fourth at the U.S. Open to finish in third place all by himself at Whistling Straits.

    Then there's 25-year-old Brooks Koepka, who notched his third top-10 finish at a major in his last seven starts with a tie for fifth.

    Anirban Lahiri, 28, continued to smash records for Indian golf with a tie for fifth; another South African, 29-year-old George Coetzee, had his best finish at a major in a tie for seventh.

    Tied for 10th? Twenty-eight-year-old American Robert Streb and 25-year-old American Tony Finau, both also with a career-best finish at a major.

    Rounding out the 20-something leaderboard is 28-year-old Swede David Lingmerth and 26-year-old American Russell Henley, both tied for 12th; McIlroy at 17th; and 25-year-old Frenchman Victor Dubuisson and 22-year-old American Justin Thomas, both tied for 18th.

Loser: Anyone Who Missed the 2015 Golf Majors

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    This has been one of the best years of major golf I can remember. The storylines have been ridiculously historic, and the drama has been even better.

    The only major without an overwhelmingly entertaining final round was the Masters, which more than made up for it: It began with Rory McIlroy going for his Career Grand Slam and third major in a row, and it ended with Jordan Spieth becoming the first wire-to-wire Masters winner since 1976 and the second-youngest winner in Masters history.

    The last three majors of the season all included back-nine drama on Sunday.

    At the U.S. Open, despite the universally panned Chambers Bay course, there were multiple lead changes on the back nine, culminating in Johnson's 72nd-hole collapse, which gave Spieth his historic second major in a row.

    Then we had Spieth barely failing to enter a three-way playoff at the British Open, which Zach Johnson eventually won over Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman.

    This week, Day was able to keep the drama to a minimum at the very end, but not without a push by his playing partner Spieth, and with scoreboard pressure by Branden Grace and Justin Rose.

    For this major season to end with Spieth getting to No. 1 and fan favorite Day finally winning his first major was just perfect.

    Sure, on occasion, golf can be a bit boring. But you certainly wouldn't know that if you watched the majors this year. Is there any way to move the Masters to next month?