PGA Championship 2014: Winners and Losers from the Season's Final Major
No amount of rain falling on Valhalla Golf Club could put out the fires set in the final round of the 96th PGA Championship. In fact, the only thing that threatened to put an end to this tournament was the lights turning off. Rory McIlroy provided all the electricity Valhalla ever needed.
The weekend at Valhalla was one of the most electric two days of golf anybody has ever seen. The golfers with the hottest hands went low, taking full advantage of the rain-soaked fairways and greens. The leader was anywhere among the final three groups making every shot a cliffhanger.
Not everyone had a tournament to remember. Some had a tournament they’d rather forget. There was Bubba Watson's meltdown on the course, Tiger Woods’ senseless commitment to play Friday’s back nine and the slow disintegration of the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
But there were plenty of winners too in the PGA Championship, and you’re just going to have to read on to find out who they are.
Winner: The 'Baby-Faced Killer'
The amazing streak Rory McIlroy is on continues. Make it three tournaments in a row: two of them majors. With this 16-under finish at Valhalla, Rory became the third-youngest player to win four majors since 1872. The others? Tiger and Jack. The one-name club.
CBS commentator David Feherty called him a “baby-faced killer.” And so he was.
McIlroy was down by as many as two strokes at one point while he spun his tires on the front nine. Then he ran a 3-wood burner up the 10th fairway en route to a fist-pumping eagle. McIlroy said during the CBS broadcast:
It's been incredible. I didn't think in my wildest dreams I'd have a summer like this. I've played the best golf of my life. I really gutted it out today. It was a little different than the previous major wins that I've had. I think I showed a lot of guts out there to get this one done.
What more can be said about this guy? He spent much of his round waiting on the group ahead of him. He went as long as 15 minutes between shots, saw the situation he was hitting into and still delivered some of the most clutch shots we’ve seen all year.
Player of the Year is his, and now it’s on to Augusta to see if he can pull off the career Grand Slam and run his major winning streak to three in a row.
Loser: Bubba Watson
Watson has found himself caught between his faith and a hard place. For anybody who follows the game of golf—and Watson in particular—they know he wears his religion on his sleeve the way a war general wears his stripes.
So when Watson delivers f-bombs with Tigeresque aplomb, people are going to call him out.
Golf Digest’s Dave Kindred wrote, “After a bad drive early in the round, Bubba said to [caddie Ted] Scott, and television's boom mikes sent it across America, ‘It don't matter what I do, man. It don't matter. It's f----g horses--t.’”
Watson draws attention to himself like someone eating a dozen donuts when telling people they should be eating a well-rounded Cobb salad.
Watson made the cut but failed to take advantage of a course that was perfectly suited for his game.
Watson, to his credit, tweeted, “Sorry for my actions today! Trying to get better as person. Thanks to all who support me. #yallDontGiveUpOnMe."
Winner: Past Major Winners
Take a look at that leaderboard. The PGA Championship was loaded with past winners of majors from 44-year-old Phil Mickelson to 25-year-old McIlroy.
How huge was Mickelson? His final-round 66 put him in sole possession of second place. He ultimately lost the momentum he earned after draining an incredible par save on 12. Mickelson spoke with CBS after his round:
It was good for me to get back in the mix and to feel the pressure and be in the thick of it. I lost some steam there on 12 after I made that good par putt. I wasn't able to get a couple of birdies coming in like I needed to. It was sure fun getting off to a quick start and getting into the thick of it.
Ernie Els hung a 30 on the front nine (to go to 10 under at the time) and finished at 11 under. He had played poorly leading up to the PGA, missing the cut at the Quicken Loans National and The Open Championship. He was T26 at the Bridgestone Invitational, yet he found the game that had won him three majors in his career.
After a lackluster Day 3, Jim Furyk—the 2003 U.S. Open winner—shot a five-under 66 in the final round to shoot a 12-under for the championship.
Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen fared well too to finish at T15.
Loser: Tiger Woods
This can be argued in any number of ways. On the one hand, his back-to-back 74s have that loser stink. Woods never had his game together. Why he teed off at Valhalla Golf Club is anyone’s guess.
The gains he made in his rehab to get to this point defied everybody’s expectations. That was a major step forward. Coming back as early as he did? Four steps back. We can get into hypotheticals as to how strong he’d be had he just sat out the rest of the year and built his game up in secret, but that’s silly. It appears he’ll have plenty of time now.
Instead he missed the cut in the Quicken Loans. He made the cut at The Open Championship and followed his driver on a tour of Royal Liverpool you usually have to pay a premium for. He then withdrew from the final round at the Bridgestone Invitational with back spasms.
The PGA Championship was no better. He had just three birdies in his two rounds and battled back spasms for 12 holes on Friday. He drew the ire of his former coach Butch Harmon, a man who thought Woods should have withdrawn.
Ian O’Connor, an ESPN.com columnist and radio host, wrote,
Playing hurt? Rubbing some dirt on it? Hey, it's the American way. But as it turned out, Woods had no business competing in a major this week. He said the back spasms that caused him to withdraw at Firestone on Sunday had settled, and that they had nothing to do with the back injury that caused him to undergo significant surgery March 31.
If anything, the play of Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Kenny Perry and Vijay Singh should give Woods hope that he can still win tournaments into his 40s. It all comes down to health and letting the body heal. Thirty-eight isn’t 28.
Every time you sharpen the pencil, it gets shorter and shorter. Woods is grinding close to a nub, but he can still write. He just needs to take the time, and now he has all the time he should need.
Please, Tom Watson, do not invite this guy to play on the Ryder Cup team. Do him a favor.
Winner: Valhalla's Grounds Crew
The good people at Valhalla Golf Club had their hands full this weekend. Just about every day brought with it rain in all forms: drizzles and deluges. No more was that true than on Sunday.
Rain puddled up all over the course, squishing up the midsoles of shoes during the storm. One minute the course looked unplayable, then 15 minutes after that, the water found its way into the amazing drainage system in place.
Crew and volunteers squeegeed the course with rollers and kept play moving right along.
This has more to do with the rain itself rather than the grounds crew, but thanks to that precipitation, it softened the course and the greens to such an extent that these pros were able to take aim at these pins and go low.
The U.S. Open is a usually a time to watch these golfers squirm around the course. The PGA Championship is a chance to see them turn it loose, and thanks to the rain—and Valhalla’s crew—we saw just that this week.
Loser: U.S. Ryder Cup Team
Matt Kuchar withdrew from the tournament with back spasms on Day 1.
By the end of Day 1, Jason Dufner, last year’s PGA Championship winner, withdrew with pain in his neck.
Woods, whose only chance at making the team is at the hand of Tom Watson’s magic wand, is still battling back issues following surgery.
Then there’s Dustin Johnson getting admonished by Wayne Gretzky for alleged drug abuse.
Hollie McKay of Fox News reported a PGA Tour insider saying, "[Johnson's} had drug problems for a while and the PGA always tried to keep it on the low. But because of his high-profile relationship, people figured it would come out sooner or later."
There’s still a solid roster of American players, but the PGA Championship pruned some major limbs off the American Ryder Cup tree.
Captain Tom Watson told Steve DiMeglio of USA Today, “There's concern with what is happening to the team. But there is time for recovery. And there will be a lot of golf played between now and Sept. 2. That's the magical day I make the picks.”
Winner: Bernd Wiesberger
How do you go from making just two cuts in six majors to playing in the final pairing? Ask Bernd Wiesberger. He’s the only one who would know.
Wiesberger, the most famous Austrian this side of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Amadeus Mozart, stuck his approaches and played like a man who has been in this position before.
The past few renewals of the PGA Championship have introduced people to fresh names such as Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, Martin Kaymer and Y.E. Yang.
Wiesberger didn't fold on Sunday; he was just window dressing to the freak show going on around him. When McIlroy stomped on the accelerator with an eagle on 10, Wiesberger made par and faded into the recesses ultimately finishing nine under and T15, a 13-spot drop.
All in all, he put in a valiant effort and proved to himself and everyone watching that he can be yet another horse in the strong stable of European horses taking these tournaments by storm.
Loser: Henrik Stenson's Bid on 18
It’s hard to knock Henrik Stenson’s round. For a time he shared the lead at 15 under (he'd finished T3 at 14 under), and he did what he had to do on 18: He had to go for it.
You hate to suggest that a guy failing to record a tournament-saving eagle on the par-five 18th makes him a loser. Three-putting 14 put him in this spot in the first place.
Stenson didn’t hit driver off the tee, leaving himself with a muddy ball and another 3-wood to go for the green in two. His ball hooked far to the left. As Nick Faldo, CBS’ analyst, put it, “That’s more like the middle of a rugby pitch.”
Stenson left his third shot short. His subsequent chip came close to the hole. He’d be forced to putt for par, a disappointing par, and a 14-under finish.
His final round was as solid as they come. He just couldn’t make the requisite birdies down the stretch to keep pace with McIlroy.
Stenson hasn’t been on the scene as long as Sergio Garcia (often considered the best player without a major). Suffice it to say, Stenson is the best player yet to win a major.
Winner: Rickie Fowler
Rickie Fowler swings his drivers, irons and his putter with the most confidence on tour. Somehow Fowler grows more confident in the majors. That has been the case in 2014.
He finished T5 in the Masters, T2 in the U.S. Open and T2 in The Open Championship. The only other two golfers to do that in a single year were the Golden Bear and Tiger Woods. Add a T3 to his 2014 resume now.
Fowler said during the CBS broadcast:
This is the first one that hurts. I played well today and put myself in some positions. Unfortunately I made a couple bad swings on the back nine. This one definitely hurts the most. The performance in the majors is definitely something I’ll look back on and I’ll be proud of.
Before he dropped a stroke back on the 14th, Fowler shared the lead at 15 under with clutch, confident putting. For someone so young, he has the presence of a player who belongs in these moments.
He may not have won a major this year, but he was the most consistent in all four, finishing in the top five in every one from April to August.
Loser: The Par-4 Fourth
When all the holes get together for a post-tournament drink (do they need any more fluids?), no hole will be hazed more than the par-four fourth hole.
This hole gave up seven eagles on Saturday alone. The scoring average on the fourth on Saturday was 3.3108, and it was 3.7273 for the tournament overall. This hole just begged to be picked apart.
It was a drivable par-four, and several golfers, including Lee Westwood and Kenny Perry, found no problem eagling. As for the birdies? This hole gave up 149 birdies overall and 41 on Day 3.
As for the other holes? Hole 18 can feel four's pain. It gave up 20 eagles, though it was a par-five.
The bullies on the block were Holes 2, 6 and 16. They were the king bogey holes and can boast making these pros sweat it out.