Category archive: Dustin Johnson

Johnson's tee shot tests a greenside mike

June, 12, 2014
06/12/14
3:26
PM ET

Dustin Johnson (inadvertently) rocks the greenside mike during the first round of the U.S. Open.

Masters favorites look to refine their game

April, 1, 2014
04/01/14
1:06
PM ET

The Shell Houston Open has embraced its reality as a Masters tuneup since earning a pre-Augusta spot on the PGA Tour schedule in 2007. The Rees Jones design does its best to replicate what players will face next week at Augusta National, and elite players have responded by making Humble, Texas, part of their annual schedule.

Trivia question

The first Houston Open was held in 1946. Both the winner and runner-up were Texans. Who were they? Answer below

While many of the world's best have made Redstone (now called the Golf Club of Houston) their final tuning grounds before the season's first major, winning the Houston Open hasn't been a harbinger of Masters triumph.

Of the seven winners at the Houston Open since 2007, only Anthony Kim (T-3, 2010) has gone on to finish in the top 10 at Augusta. The other six players in that group made the cut at the Masters, each finishing somewhere between T-38 and T-12.

Some of the biggest names in the sport don't need to win this week to give themselves adequate propulsion down Magnolia Lane. However, good play at the Golf Club of Houston would make them bigger contenders entering the Masters.

This week's Numbers Game breaks down what a handful of the game's biggest names will be looking to refine, fix or otherwise improve upon at the Shell Houston Open.


Phil Mickelson -- Rest vs. momentum: Will he or won't he play? The lefty withdrew Saturday in San Antonio with a pulled muscle in his side, leaving this week in Houston in doubt. Mickelson's 2014 on the PGA Tour has been one to forget so far -- six starts and three finishes (with two withdrawals and a missed cut), none of those coming in the top 10.

Logic suggests that resting a 43-year-old body the week before Augusta would be the best approach. But in this instance, as is often the case, logic and statistics disagree. The numbers say Mickelson has to come into Augusta with some kind of high finish under his belt.

Mickelson has 10 top-five finishes in his career at the Masters. He had at least one top-10 finish on the PGA Tour in the same year preceding each of those high finishes. In all but two of those instances, he entered the Masters with at least one PGA Tour victory that season.


Rory McIlroy -- Ironing it out: Now that Tiger Woods is out of the mix, McIlroy enters the 2014 Masters as the co-favorite along with Adam Scott (each at 10-1 odds). The golf-viewing public's last strong memory of the world's seventh-ranked player, however, was his double-bogey/bogey/birdie finish to get into a playoff at the Honda Classic, which was ultimately won by Russell Henley.

In McIlroy's two major championship wins, he was a greens-in-regulation machine, hitting them 76.4 percent of the time. Rory hit just 10 of 18 greens Sunday at Honda but was tied for eighth in GIR at Doral two weeks later.

It's a tired subject for McIlroy, but since his club switch before the 2013 season, his iron play truly hasn't been the same. In 2012, McIlroy tied for the lead on the PGA Tour in average approach shot proximity from the fairway (28 feet, 1 inch). In 2013, his rank slipped to T-24, and he is tied for 55th in this young season.

It will be interesting to see if McIlroy's iron play comes into form this week. In 2013, he played the Valero Texas Open in the week before the Masters, finishing second. His approach shot average from the fairway? An average of 23 feet, 2 inches -- best in the field.


Dustin Johnson -- Rust-proofing: He has finished T-6 or better in every PGA Tour stroke-play event he's participated in during the 2013-14 season. He leads the PGA Tour in greens in regulation, birdie average, scoring average and all-around ranking. His strokes gained-putting rank has jumped 106 spots this season to 11th. At 29 years old, he is a top-10 player in the world, with six top-10 finishes in majors since 2009.

For Johnson, it's not so much that he has anything to "work on" this week in Houston -- more that the bomber is shaking the rust off. DJ's last start came at Doral three weeks ago, where he finished T-4. That's exactly where he finished at Houston in 2013, firing four below-par rounds before heading to Augusta, where he finished T-13 -- his best career Masters result.


Matt Kuchar -- Sunday struggles: The world's 11th-ranked player opened 2014 with a pair of top-10 finishes in Hawaii. He and his family apparently enjoyed it, because they then stayed for the next month on an extended vacation.

Trivia answer

Question: The first Houston Open was held in 1946. Both the winner and runner-up were Texans. Who were they?

Answer: Byron Nelson held off Ben Hogan by two shots.

We at Numbers Game push our ferocious jealousy aside while pointing out that since returning from Hawaii, Kuchar has not cracked 74 in the final round on the PGA Tour (a combined plus-eight in three Sunday rounds).

Kuchar has finished in the top eight in each of the last two years at Augusta, but if he wants to claim his first major, he will need to figure out his fourth-round issue. In his last 11 final rounds in majors, he has broken par just once. And since 2011, he has never ranked higher than 35th on the Tour in final-round scoring average.

Sony Open of Hawaii experts' picks

January, 9, 2013
01/09/13
10:17
AM ET

Each week of the season, our experts will share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows the track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who could take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.

This week's tournament: The Sony Open of Hawaii at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Want another opinion? Check out ESPN.com's FOREcaster page.

Horse for the Course


Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf analyst: Brian Gay
Dude hasn't missed a cut here since 2000! He's got three top-10s, and his worst finish was a tie for 54th. I'd say that's a pretty solid horse for this course. This is not a bomber's course which plays perfectly for a guy whose average off the tee is only 278 yards.

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Davis Love III
At 48, DL3 is ancient by regular tour standards, but he can still play, especially at tour stalwarts like Waialae, where he shot a 60 in the first round of the 1994 Sony Open. He would finish second that year and since then he's had four top-5s in the season's first full-field event.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Jerry Kelly
A regular at Waialae, Kelly hasn't missed the tournament in years and has six top-10s, including a victory, in his past 13 appearances.

Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: Zach Johnson
Waialae Country Club doesn't favor the bombers, which is perfect for the short-hitting Johnson, winner of the 2009 Sony Open in Hawaii.


Birdie Buster


Michael Collins: Michael Thompson
After missing the cut in his first try in 2011, the lessons he learned were put to really good use and resulted in a tie for sixth last year. Expect another solid week from this Alabama alum still on a high from another national championship.

Farrell Evans: Tommy Gainey
Golf's blue-collar man had a tie for sixth at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. His game is sharp, and he's ready to play as many as it takes to earn his first trip to the Masters.

Bob Harig: Dustin Johnson
He doesn't have much time to regroup after his win at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but he comes in on a roll and seemingly geared up for a big season after his seventh PGA Tour victory.

Kevin Maguire:Patrick Reed
The Monday qualifier extraordinaire doesn't have to go that route this week now that he's got his tour card for 2013. Coming off his Q-school performance, expect a fast start to the season for Reed.


Super Sleeper


Michael Collins: Ben Kohles
Two starts, two wins last year on the Web.com Tour, so what else would we expect other than a top-5 finish on his first start as a member of the PGA Tour? He's not the longest hitter out there, but on this par-70 course, you don't have to be.

Farrell Evans: Luke Guthrie
In 2012, the 22-year-old former Illinois star won twice on the Web.com Tour in just 10 starts. Those back-to-back victories came after four top-10s in his first five starts after turning pro in the summer. He had a tie for fifth at the John Deere Classic and now he's a rookie on the biggest stage in golf. So don't be surprised to see him contend this week at the Sony.

Bob Harig: Russ Cochran
The Champions Tour player Monday qualified for the event, which is a victory in itself. He's using the opportunity to gear up for next week's Champions Tour opener on the Big Island.

Kevin Maguire: Tim Clark
After battling injuries and what will surely be talk about the anchor ban, Clark's had success at the Sony Open in the past, finishing T-2 as recently as 2011.


Winner


Michael Collins: Steve Marino
Coming off a year of injury where he only made six starts and missed four of those cuts, Marino is ready to do something only one other player has done (Jerry Kelly in '02) since this became the Sony Open in 1999 ... make this event his first PGA Tour victory.

Farrell Evans: Dustin Johnson
If DJ can win Sony, he will have played 126 holes in seven days. His caddie, Bobby Brown, might not love slogging that heavy staff bag around Waialae, but his boss will have a nice, easy stride while shooting four sub-70 rounds to get his eighth career win.

Bob Harig: Charles Howell III
Making his 13th straight appearance in the tournament, Howell is determined to get off to a fast start and qualify for the Masters. He tied for second last year and has six top-5s in the tournament.

Kevin Maguire: Tommy Gainey
Despite never playing well at the Sony Open, the man who led the PGA Tour in 2012 in total driving (combining ranks for both distance and accuracy) is coming off a strong showing at Kapalua and will ride that wave all the way to his second PGA Tour victory.

Southern California, you've got a tough act to follow this week.

After a tremendous weekend at Pebble Beach that ended with a brilliant final round by Phil Mickelson, the Tour moves to historic Riviera CC this week for the Northern Trust Open.

Trivia question

Top-ranked amateurs Patrick Cantlay and Jordan Spieth will be in the field this week at Riviera. Who is the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event? (Answer below)
If the tournament's field is any indication, though, it may be able to provide a fitting follow-up to Pebble. Four of the top 10 players in the world (including world No. 1 Luke Donald) will be in the field, as well as 14 different major champions.

Numbers Game this week will primarily focus on the week ahead at Riviera, but we would be remiss if we didn't delve a bit into the numbers surrounding Sunday's polarized pairing of Mickelson and Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach. Polarized in terms of the scores posted, that is.

A few of the key numerals that stood out:

7: On Saturday, Woods was a perfect 14-for-14 on putts of 10 feet or shorter. Sunday, Tiger missed seven of those putts (16-for-23). Tiger's "strokes gained  putting" total on Sunday was a staggering minus-5.23. Phil Mickelson's, by comparison, was plus-4.78. This means that on the putting surface alone, Phil was an amazing 10 full strokes better than Tiger on Sunday -- something your eyes alone probably deduced.

13: In Tiger's two starts this year at Abu Dhabi and Pebble, he had a legitimate shot on Sunday at closing the deal and snapping his winless drought (which now stands at 27 official worldwide events, and 22 PGA Tour starts). And each of those Sundays, he was beaten by his playing partner. Robert Rock shot 70 (Woods, 72) at Abu Dhabi, and Mickelson a sparkling 64 at Pebble Beach (Woods, 75). A 13-stroke difference when you combine the two.

5: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have played together five times in the final round of a tournament since 2007. In all five of those rounds, Mickelson shot the lower score. Phil's total "margin of victory," if you will, in those five rounds, is 19 shots (11 of which came Sunday).

The most important two numbers from Sunday, though: zero, which is how many bogeys Mickelson made Sunday, and 40, as in Phil becoming the ninth member of the PGA Tour 40-win club.


Three on the tee has plenty to choose from in an elite field this week. How about an amateur to keep an eye on? Numbers Game calls to the tee:

PATRICK CANTLAY Last year, the lowest score shot on the PGA Tour came from an amateur. Patrick Cantlay's 60 (10-under) at the Travelers Championship last June was the highlight of his PGA Tour season, but it might not have been his most impressive feat. The UCLA junior made the cut in all five of his starts, and finished in the top 25 in four of them.

Cantlay, the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world (according to the R&A), will have company in the prodigy department this week, though. World No. 2 Jordan Spieth, a freshman at Texas, will make his fourth career PGA Tour start this week at Riviera. Spieth has helped lead the Longhorns to four straight team victories and a No. 1 ranking.

By the way, the Division I men's golf championship will be held at Riviera beginning May 29. Expect Cantlay and Spieth to be fighting for that title.

LUKE DONALD: Last year's PGA Tour Player of the Year makes his 2012 debut this week. Donald's last PGA Tour season was brilliantly consistent: He finished in the top 10 in 14 of 19 events last year en route to winning the scoring average title (68.86). Donald's flat stick make him his money -- in addition to leading the circuit in earnings and scoring, he was first on Tour in "strokes gained  putting," putting average, and 3-putt avoidance.

Donald's worst score on the PGA Tour in 2011 came in the second round of the Northern Trust. An 8-over 78 gave him his first and only missed cut of the year. In his next start, though, he never trailed in any match at the WGC-Accenture Match Play en route to victory.

For the world No. 1, though, 2012 will be about his performance in majors. Donald only had 12 rounds (out of 67) over par in sanctioned PGA Tour events last year. Six of those 12 rounds came in major championships.

DUSTIN JOHNSON: The world's 10th-ranked player will tee it up for the fifth straight week (that includes his withdrawal back at the Humana Challenge). Though he finished tied for fifth last weekend at Pebble Beach, maybe the bomber could use a week off.

Johnson is a combined 18-under in the first round over the past three events. That number is 1 under in the second round, 1 over in the third round, and 2 over in the final round. Is Johnson's repaired knee possibly still nagging him as these tournaments progress? It's something to keep an eye on this week at Riviera, especially if he goes low early.


Trivia answer

Question: Top-ranked amateurs Patrick Cantlay and Jordan Spieth will be in the field this week at Riviera. Who is the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event?

Answer: Phil Mickelson, 1991 Northern Telecom Open

Don't be surprised if you see a lot of low numbers early on in rounds this week at Riviera.

The first hole at Riviera, a 503-yard par 5, was the easiest hole on the PGA Tour in 2011. In fact, it's ranked among the three easiest holes on Tour in each of the past three seasons. There have been 90 eagles made on the first hole at Riviera since 2009. That's 18 more than any other hole on Tour in that span.

To succeed at the Northern Trust, taking advantage of the first hole is a must. Each of the last three winners of this event have eagled the first hole at least once during the tournament. Since 2006, the winners of this event have played the first hole to a combined score of 25 under par.

Justin Ray is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He has contributed to ESPN's golf coverage since joining the network out of college in 2008. He is based in Austin, Texas, with the new Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.

Three players to watch at Pebble Beach

February, 7, 2012
02/07/12
4:20
AM ET
Few courses around the world can match the beauty of Pebble Beach Golf Links.

"Beautiful" isn't the adjective one would use to describe some of Bill Murray's wardrobe choices.

Trivia question

Before Spencer Levin last week, who was the last player to lose a 6-shot lead with 18 holes to play on the PGA Tour? (Answer below)

Regardless of Murray's choice of headwear last year, he left with the trophy. The "Caddyshack" star teamed with D.A. Points for a 2-stroke victory over Hunter Mahan at the 2011 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Three on the tee fails to include Carl Spackler this week, but does give you the numbers behind three players to watch this week at Pebble:

SPENCER LEVIN: For every great reclamation story in sports, there's a player or team on the other side that takes the brunt end of defeat. In the PGA Tour career file of Kyle Stanley, that dubious description belongs to Levin, who frittered away a 6-shot lead he held entering the final round of last week's Waste Management Open.

Levin's blown 6-stroke advantage is tied for the largest 54-hole lead lost in PGA Tour history. Before Levin, it had been done five other times -- most famously at the 1996 Masters by Greg Norman.

Could we see another redemption story this weekend? Levin will be in the field at Pebble Beach, where he has just one top-10 finish in three starts in this event, but has scored very well. Ten of Levin's 11 career rounds in the Pro-Am have been below par, and he's a combined 21-under here in three starts.

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Pebble Beach has been the site of two of Johnson's greatest accomplishments on the PGA Tour -- victories in this event in 2009 and 2010. It was also the site of his most regrettable front nine. At the 2010 U.S. Open, Johnson started the final round with a 3-shot lead. He was 6-over through his first four holes, and before he knew it he had carded a final-round 82.

The world's 10th-ranked player (he's the highest in the field this week) has struggled a bit on the greens in his return from offseason knee surgery. Through two completed events, Johnson is 146th in strokes gained -- putting, 135th in total putting and 152nd in putting inside 10 feet. A familiar venue (and another week playing at full speed) could be the recipe to get him back on track this week.

HUNTER MAHAN: After missing the cut last week in Qatar, the 21st-ranked player in the world will look for his third straight top-10 finish in official PGA Tour events this week. Mahan finished tied for sixth at Torrey Pines in his season debut, and closed 2011 with a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship.

Mahan was exceptional in his runner-up finish at this event a year ago, finishing tied for fourth in the field in greens in regulation (53-for-72, 73.6 percent). Mahan's track record here isn't great -- 2011 was his only top-10 finish in this event -- and he missed the cut at the 2010 U.S. Open.


Tiger Woods makes his 2012 PGA Tour debut this week at Pebble Beach, a place he undoubtedly has some fond memories of. Woods of course had one of the most impressive displays in major championship history at the 2000 U.S. Open, when he won by 15 shots. It's the largest margin of victory for anyone in a major.

This will be Tiger's first start at this event since 2002. The winless streak for Woods in official worldwide events since his last victory (remembering that December's Chevron isn't in the "official" category) is now 26 events. His PGA Tour winless streak now stands at 22.

Tiger has been exceptional at Pebble Beach on the weekend during his career, with a career scoring average of 68.92 (at this event and in the two U.S. Opens he played held at Pebble). Eight of his career 13 PGA Tour weekend rounds have been below 70, including five rounds of 67 or lower.

Compare that, though, to his weekend numbers during the winless stretch on this tour. Since Tiger's last PGA Tour victory at the 2009 BMW Championship, his third- and fourth-round scoring average is 70.80. Of his 35 weekend rounds during that span, just 12 have been in the 60s (34.3 percent). Only four of Tiger's 12 weekend rounds on the PGA Tour last year were sub-70.

Should Woods snap his drought in his home state of California, it would be a familiar sight for Golden State golf fans. Tiger has won 13 times on the PGA Tour in California. That's his highest total in any state, with Florida coming in second (12 wins). Woods has won 11 times in Ohio and seven times each in Georgia and Illinois.

Trivia answer

Question: Before Spencer Levin last week, who was the last player to lose a 6-shot lead with 18 holes to play on the PGA Tour?

Answer: Sergio Garcia at the 2005 Wachovia Championship.

In 15 full seasons of the PGA Tour, Tiger has won his season debut six times, and finished in the top 10 in 13 of those starts. However, this will be the first time in Woods' career that he has opened his PGA Tour season at Pebble Beach.

Woods has opened his season eight times at the then-named Mercedes Championships, and five times at Torrey Pines, including last year. Pebble is the fourth different course to host Woods' PGA Tour season debut over the past four years. The other events since 2009: the WGC-Accenture Match Play, Masters and the aforementioned Torrey Pines.

Justin Ray is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He has contributed to ESPN's golf coverage since joining the network out of college in 2008. He is based in Austin, Texas, with the new Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.

Fourth start often produces Mickelson win

February, 15, 2011
02/15/11
9:33
AM ET

Through three starts this year, Phil Mickelson looks to be positioning himself for a remarkable 2011.

Trivia question

Jhonattan Vegas makes his first career start at the Northern Trust Open this week. Vegas won in his third event of the year, the earliest by a rookie since 2001. What rookie won in his second event that year? (Answer below.)

Mickelson has just one round worse than par out of 12 this year and has broken 70 eight times. His scoring average of 68.40 is first on tour in the young season and he's just 0.29 average points behind Tiger Woods for third in the Official World Golf Ranking.

This kind of start isn't unprecedented for Phil: it's the seventh time since 1995 that he has had either two or three top-10 finishes in his first three PGA Tour starts of the year. As you might expect, this bodes well for how he fares at Augusta: The two years Phil finished in the top-10 in each of his first three starts (2004 and 2006), he won the Masters.

The last time he did it was 2008. Mickelson went on to finish tied for fifth that year at Augusta National. In 2003, it meant a third place finish, as it did in 1996.

Last weekend, a few of the commentators during the broadcast remarked about Mickelson's current PGA Tour schedule. The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was his third straight start. Lefty will also be teeing it up this weekend at Riviera and has said he will play the WGC-Accenture Match Play the following week, giving him five straight weeks of competition on tour.

This five-week run seems like an oddity at first glance, especially for a player of Phil's magnitude. The most consecutive weeks Mickelson played on tour last year was three. However, this really is not anything new for Lefty, and a pretty remarkable trend emerges when you dive into his personal successes and the specifics of playing this many times in a row.

In 2009, Mickelson played a similar schedule -- five straight starts from the then-named FBR Open through the Match Play. The fourth in that string of starts (like he'll be making this week) came at the Northern Trust. Phil's finish: win.

In 2008, Mickelson did just the same thing, making five straight starts from Torrey Pines through the Match Play. The fourth in that string of starts (once again, as he'll be making this week) was at the Northern Trust. Phil won that week, too.

In 2007, Mickelson played in six straight PGA Tour events, from the Bob Hope through the Match Play. The fourth in that string of starts was Pebble Beach. Phil won that week. The fourth time's the charm, apparently.

Does this mean Mickelson is a lock this week at Riviera? Of course not. But it does offer some perspective regarding Mickelson's penchant for playing a busy schedule at the beginning of the year -- a string that takes the tour through Phil's native California and his former home, Arizona.

Mickelson has had great success at Riviera, especially in recent years. Lefty has a win or second-place finish in three of the last four years (he finished T-45 at Riviera last year). Twelve of his last 16 rounds in the event have been at par or better, and six times in the last four years Lefty has fired a 66 or lower. That includes a winning year in 2009 -- when he shot an opening 63 and a 62 on Saturday.


Speaking of hot starts, your defending champion this week is world No. 8 Steve Stricker. Stricker makes his first start stateside since his venture to the Middle East a few weeks ago for the Qatar Masters. Though that event didn't finish as well as he would have liked (T-45), Stricker went T-4, T-9 for the Hawaii swing -- shooting all eight rounds better than par in the process.

Stricker has five wins since the beginning of 2009 on the PGA Tour. That's more on this circuit in that span than Mickelson (4), Jim Furyk (3) and Ernie Els (2) and as many as the European contingent of the current world top-10 combined (Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald). Granted, the Euros play predominantly on the other side of the ocean, but it does give some perspective on how successful Stricker has been over the last couple years.

In fact, the only player with more PGA Tour wins since the beginning of 2009 is Tiger Woods, who won six times in '09. Remember when Woods unstoppable and No. 1 in the world?

In addition to that, Stricker also holds the tour's longest active cuts made streak with 25 -- the last time he failed to make a 36-hole cut was at the 2009 PGA Championship.


Three On The Tee: Three things about players in this week's field that you didn't previously know. It's information that will undoubtedly change your life.

Trivia answer

Question: Jhonattan Vegas makes his first career start at the Northern Trust Open this week. Vegas won in his third event of the year, the earliest by a rookie since 2001. What rookie won in his second event that year?

Answer: Garrett Willis, who won the Touchstone Energy Tucson Open in his second event of 2001.

Dustin Johnson: DJ missed on his bid to three-peat at Pebble last week, but he's got all year to accomplish something that hasn't been done on the PGA Tour in a long time. With a win in 2011, Johnson will have won in four consecutive years coming out of college. The last player to do that? Tiger Woods, who did it from 1996 to 1999. Johnson has improved every year in this event: a T-59 in 2008, a T-10 in 2009 and a tie for third a year ago.

Mark Wilson: The FedExCup standings leader has won twice this year through five events. That's the fastest anyone on tour has won twice in eight years. In 2003, Ernie Els won both legs of the Hawaii swing, the Mercedes Championships and the Sony Open in a playoff.

Ryo Ishikawa: At 19 years old and ranked 40th in the world, Ishikawa makes his third straight start at Riviera this week, thanks to a commissioner's exemption. He has yet to finish inside the top-10 in a PGA Tour stroke-play event but has been in a good place entering the weekend at this particular event: last year, Ryo was tied for fourth entering the weekend.

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008 and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.

In a classic example of enacting a local rule, this week the European Tour has deemed all sand at the Volvo Golf Champions to be waste areas, not bunkers.

That means any sand on the course is not considered a hazard, and players can take practice swings, ground their clubs and remove loose impediments.

That is in stark contrast to what occurred last year at the PGA Championship, where all sand on the Whistling Straits course was deemed to be a hazard.

Dustin Johnson wasn't aware of that and grounded his club on the 18th hole the final day, costing him a two-stroke penalty and a spot in a playoff won by Martin Kaymer.

"We have taken this decision to provide clarity for the players given that the rules in the two areas are so very different,'' said Andy McFee, chief referee, according to the European Tour's website. "The golf course is absolutely fine, but the blurring of the boundaries between desert and bunker, whilst visually attractive, potentially provides a major problem of definition.

"As this is common throughout the course and not restricted to the odd situation here and there, we felt this was the best way to exercise our duty to define the course properly.''

The same stipulation was put in place for the 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island.

Interestingly, the United States Golf Association's rules of golf do not define such areas. A natural sandy area is typically not considered a hazard, but local rules can be put in place to define them.

"It is the reverse of the situation prevalent at Whistling Straits last year during the 2010 US PGA Championship,'' McFee said. "On that course, there are 1200 sand areas and the vast majority of them look like bunkers, so the clarity was provided by declaring them all bunkers.

"At The Royal Golf Club, many of the questionable areas look like and merge into desert, so we are going to treat them as desert."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

We're planting a seed in the desert

February, 15, 2010
02/15/10
2:15
PM ET

After spending much of his career as the underappreciated PGA Tour journeyman, Steve Stricker finds himself in an unfamiliar position this week as the overall No. 1 seed at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. The high ranking is an unlikely scenario for the 2001 winner of this event -- when he was the 55th seed overall and the 13th seed in his bracket.

Trivia question

Steve Stricker is the top overall seed this week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. How many times has the top seed failed to advance to the "final four" of the event? (Answer below.)

Stricker is just the fourth different No. 1 seed all time in the tournament: Ernie Els held the distinction in 2001, Vijay Singh in 2005 and Tiger Woods nine different times. Tiger is the only No. 1 seed to win, doing so three times.

Golf fans know that this isn't the NCAA tournament when it comes to low seeds advancing deep into the tournament. At the Match Play, very low seeds often advance and a few have won the whole thing.

• There have been more winners of this tournament from overall seeds of 14 or worse (six) than of better than 14 (five).

• As many overall seeds of 50 or higher (3) have won the event as No. 1 seeds.

• A No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, yet the equivalent of a No. 16 won this tournament in 2002: Kevin Sutherland was the 62nd-seeded golfer in the event when he was victorious.

• The "Final Four" of the event has represented this trend as well. Last year, only one overall top-10 seed, No. 8 Geoff Ogilvy, made the final four. Since 2005, there have been 15 double-digit overall seeds in the final four, and just five single-digit overall seeds.

• Three different times in the event's history, every seed in the final four has been 20th or lower most recently in 2006, when -- guess who -- 52nd seed Ogilvy won.


Speaking of Ogilvy, the defending champion enters this event with a 17-2 career record in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. In just four career starts in the event, he's ascended to fifth on the career wins list. Two of the four men ahead of him on the list, Woods and Davis Love III, are not in the field this year.

The only other multiple champion of this event is Woods, who has won the tournament three times. While Woods has been the overall top seed for each victory, Ogilvy has taken distinctively different routes. Ogilvy won as the eighth seed last year, and as the 52nd seed in 2006. He enters this week as the No. 10 seed overall and will face Alexander Noren of Sweden in the first round.


Regardless of who wins, golf fans can only hope the event is as closely played as the other tournaments so far this year on tour. Five of the first six events of the year have been decided by 1 stroke, and the only one that wasn't -- Steve Stricker's win at Riviera -- was decided by 2.

Compare that to 2009, when just three of the first six events were decided by 2 shots or less. Tournaments have been decided by a combined total of 10 more shots through six events last year than this year.


With his win last week, Dustin Johnson might have ascended to the top of the "young guns" pack among Americans on the PGA Tour. Johnson, who is just 25, became the first player since Woods to win in his first three seasons on the PGA Tour (a note -- Retief Goosen joined the PGA Tour in 2001 after winning the U.S. Open, and subsequently won the next two seasons).

Johnson is the second American currently in his 20s to have three or more PGA Tour victories. Sean O'Hair, 27, has won three times -- the '04 John Deere, '08 Transitions and '09 Quail Hollow. Australian Adam Scott (six wins) is the only other player in his 20s with three or more PGA Tour wins.

Johnson joined a collection of great names as back-to-back winners at Pebble Beach. The others to do it: Sam Snead, Cary Middlecoff, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Mark O'Meara. Sam Snead also won the event in back-to-back years, but it was before the tournament was held at Pebble.

Since 1936, there have been nine occasions in the United States when a major championship was contested on a course that also hosted a PGA Tour event that same season. Woods (2000 and 2008), Jack Nicklaus (1972) and Ben Hogan (1948) are the only players to win both the PGA Tour event and the major championship that were held on the same course in the same year. Johnson will try to join this amazing list later this year.


The play of David Duval was one of the great stories of this past weekend, as he posted four rounds in the 60s and finished tied for second. Duval of course also finished T-2 at last year's U.S. Open, but before then hadn't even finished in the top 10 since 2002.

The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was Duval's first event with four rounds in the 60s at a 72-hole event since the 2001 Buick Challenge when he lost in a playoff to Chris DiMarco. Duval did open with four rounds in the 60s at the 2002 Bob Hope Classic and 2002 Invensys Classic at Las Vegas, 90-hole events. At the Hope he closed with a 70 and in Las Vegas, Duval posted a final-round 71.

It seems like ages ago when Duval was the world's No. 1 golfer and the apparent top challenger to an era owned by Woods. From 1997 to 2001, Duval won 13 times on the PGA Tour, and finished in the top 10 in 47 of 112 events (or about 42 percent of the time). He made the cut in more than 85 percent of his PGA Tour starts.

Trivia answer

Question: Steve Stricker is the top overall seed this week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. How many times has the top seed failed to advance to the "final four" of the event?

Answer: Six times in 11 years, including last year, when Tiger Woods was eliminated in the second round by Tim Clark.

Duval's been winless since then, and has finished in the top 10 just four times since '02 -- or 2.7 percent of the time. His cuts made percentage -- 34.9 -- is lower than the top-10 percentage he enjoyed in his prime.

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008, and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." He is a 2007 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he studied convergence media. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.

Is Stricker now the best without a major?

February, 8, 2010
02/08/10
2:16
PM ET

Having won four times in the last two years, tallied four straight top-10 finishes on tour and finished in the top three in six events since the end of last May, Steve Stricker has sparked conversation that he is one of the most under-the-radar stars in sports in the last few years. His unlikely ascension to second in the Official World Golf Rankings has many tabbing him to win his first major in 2010.

But is Stricker the best current player never to have won a major? This week the tour visits Pebble Beach, site of this year's U.S. Open, so why not visit the thought?

Trivia question

Steve Stricker, who entered the final round at last week's Northern Trust Open with a commanding 6-stroke lead, saw his lead dwindle to 2 shots before holding on for the win. Who was the last player to lose a PGA Tour event after holding a 6-shot lead entering the final round? (Answer below.)

A year ago, we compiled a formula that measured the careers of the best players never to have won a major and called it the "Almost Index." At the time, Stricker ranked fifth by that measure, behind Sergio Garcia, Kenny Perry, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy. The formula took into consideration PGA Tour and European Tour career accomplishments, with a heavy emphasis on finishes in majors. Because we always show our work at Numbers Game, the formula breaks down as such:

(2 + [PGA Tour top-10 pct.]) + (1 + [European Tour top-10 pct.]) + PGA Tour wins + (Euro Tour wins x 0.5) + ([Top-10 pct. in majors x 100] x .25) + (major points x 0.1) = Almost Index

Major points are collected as such: Players are awarded points for every major in which they finish in the top 10, on a scale from 1 to 9. A second-place finish is worth 9, a T-2 is 8.5, a third is 8 and so on, with the scale ending at T-10 (0.5 points).

Stricker had an Almost Index score of 17.144 in August, and has seen it bumped to 18.457 after last week's win at the Northern Trust Open. Look at the numbers of the five aforementioned golfers (who still rank as the top five in the Almost Index) before last year's PGA Championship and where they sit heading into this weekend's event:

Almost Index: Then and now

Player Before '09 PGA Today
Sergio Garcia 30.649 30.227
Kenny Perry 22.434 22.360
Lee Westwood 21.997 23.122
Steve Stricker 17.144 18.457
Rory McIlroy 17.332 17.413

This is no mathematical bible for identifying the best golfer never to have won a major, merely a guide and a conversation starter. But now you too can impress your friends with statistical nerdery and a bit of substance to support the notion that Stricker has yet to attain one of the most reluctantly owned titles in pro sports.


While we're on the topic of majors, this week's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am undoubtedly will spark all kinds of U.S. Open predictions. Since 2000, the site of the U.S. Open has twice been the site of a PGA Tour event earlier in the year: at Torrey Pines in 2008 and at Pebble in 2000. In each of those instances, the winner of that tournament went on to win the U.S. Open later in the year. And on both occasions, the man who won those tournaments was Tiger Woods.


The defending champion for this week's PGA Tour event is Dustin Johnson, who enters Pebble Beach fresh off a Sunday 66, which staked him to a T-3 finish at Riviera. But in theory, last weekend could have gone much better for Johnson, who held his first career 36-hole lead before shooting a 74 in Round 3. Eight of Johnson's 14 rounds this year have been in the 60s, and he remains one of the biggest hitters on tour, currently sitting at fourth in driving distance (298.8 yards).

Johnson led the field in driving distance in this event last year, en route to his second career PGA Tour win. In three of the past five years, the winner of this event has finished in the top four in driving distance among members of the tournament field. Phil Mickelson was fourth when he won in 2007 and third in 2005.


Speaking of the world's new No. 3 golfer, it's another week, another California course at which Mickelson has had prior success. Phil has won at Pebble Beach three times, but he missed the cut as the defending champion in '08 and didn't fare much better last year (T-55). This comes after finishes of third, first, T-38 and first in a four-year span from 2004-07.

Mickelson's Achilles' heel in last week's event was a four-hole stretch, from 13 to 16, that he played in 6-over for the tournament. He hit only 2 of 8 possible fairways, half the greens in regulation, and failed to save par either time he hit into the bunker on 15. Phil's wildness off the tee is nothing new, but he has been especially shaky to start this season. He has yet to hit more than eight fairways in a round (through two events) and altogether has missed more of them (58) than he has hit (54).


Padraig Harrington -- currently ranked 10th in the world -- will try to rebound this week after missing the cut at Riviera. His 72-73 snapped a streak of six straight top-10 finishes in official PGA Tour events for Paddy, dating back to the WGC-Bridgestone last August.

This will mark the fourth consecutive year Harrington has played in the Pebble Beach event. Since contending finishes in 2007 and '08 at Riviera (T-3rd, seventh), success has been fleeting for Harrington during February's California swing. In four starts, he has missed the cut three times and finished T-24.

Trivia answer

Question: Steve Stricker, who entered the final round at last week's Northern Trust Open with a commanding 6-stroke lead, saw his lead dwindle to 2 shots before holding on for the win. Who was the last player to lose a PGA Tour event after holding a 6-shot lead entering the final round?

Answer: Sergio Garcia, at the 2005 Wachovia Championship.

Ten years ago, when the U.S. Open was played at Pebble -- and the field was playing for second, light years behind Tiger Woods -- Harrington was tied for third through 54 holes and wound up tied for fifth. At the time, it tied for his best finish in a major championship.

One can imagine that Harrington hopes to play like the Woods of 2000 this week at Pebble Beach -- and beyond.

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008, and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." He is a 2007 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he studied convergence media. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.