Tiger Woods rallied from four shots back to catch and pass 54-hole leader Spencer Levin and Sunday’s back-nine leader Rory Sabbatini to win the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village by two shots. Woods began the round trailing Levin by four shots but three early birdies got his motor running. He found himself digging and grinding as bogeys on eight and 10 found him three off the lead. Woods was ready for the challenge as he birdied three of the final four holes to post nine-under-par 279 to win the Memorial for his fifth time. Rory Sabbatini and Andres Romero were joint-second place at seven-under 281. Third-round leader Spencer Levin and Daniel Summerhays carded five-under 283 to share fourth.
Here we go again! Is he back? Is he making his next “run” at Jack’s majors record? Is he the odds-on favorite to win at Olympic Club for the U.S. Open? Well, I’ll try to answer these questions the best I can. Here’s what I do know: Woods loves winning and he loves winning in Ohio. He’s now won times at Jack’s tournament and has another seven wins up I-71 at WGC-Bridgestone in Akron. Most guys don’t have 12 career-wins. Tiger Woods ain’t most guys. Woods has now won just as many times as Jack Nicklaus, 73, in his career. Woods 73rd win comes at age 36. Nicklaus’s 73rd victory came at age 46 at Augusta. The comparisons will never stop until the day Tiger quits or breaks Nicklaus’s record so you might as well sit back and enjoy the ride. Sam Snead, who has 83 wins and is first all time, won his 73rd tournament when he was in his early 40’s. The naysayers will point out that this was not a major and nobody should be excited. The naysayers obviously aren’t fantasy golf geeks like we are.
Woods now has won twice in 2012 at courses he absolutely destroys, Bay Hill and Muirfield Village. He has a dozen wins combined in these events as well with seven at Bay Hill and now five at Muirfield Village. He’s seemed to most comfortable at places he’s dominated without question over the years. He didn’t feel well on Saturday as he played with a fever and limped in with two bogeys on 16 and 18 to post 73. He brushed that finish plus his illness away to fire the joint-low round of the day on Sunday, 67, which included birdies on 15, 16 and 18 to close out. Woods had a classic “Woods” moment when his delicate chip and run from the rough on 16 found the bottom of the cup for birdie. Cue: Tiger roar. Just to remove any doubt, Woods hit it to just under nine feet on 18. His final putt of the day was a birdie which gave him a two shot lead at the time and was plenty to secure his 73rd career win.
Woods was not the “automatic” choice this week across the board like we saw last week (gulp, except for me…) with Zach Johnson and for good reason. After finishes of T40 (the Masters), CUT (WFC) and T40 (THE PLAYERS) Woods was far from guaranteed anything on the golf course. After his second victory of 2012, the fantasy world will once again have to face the question of whether or not Woods returns to “automatic selection” status. I would argue at WGC-Bridgestone this would be an excellent plan. At the U.S. Open, I’m not so sure. Everyone thought after his runaway performance at API that Woods would waltz down Magnolia Lane and smoke the field at Augusta. Didn’t happen that way, did it?
Woods is ranked in the top 30 of everything on TOUR but he really seems to feed off his putter. Leading the TOUR in GIR, Woods will have plenty of birdie opportunities throughout his rounds even if his tee ball isn’t cooperating. His putting numbers weren’t fantastic this week but his result was because he took advantage when he had to and rarely found himself in deep trouble. This combination will work wonders at Olympic Club but the question that has not been answered this year by Woods can he perform at this level in back-to-back events. With as many fairways and greens as he’s been hitting he has to be the man to beat at the U.S. Open
Déjà vu All Over Again?
Woods has now come-from-behind in three of his all-time-best five victories at Memorial. Woods average margin of victory is almost four shots (3.86) better than his nearest competitors.
Woods has now won the Memorial and the API in the same season four times in his career. Woods joins Hunter Mahan and Jason Dufner as the only three players to have multiple wins on TOUR in 2012. Now, we don’t have to hear about all of that pesky “should he be a Captain’s Pick for the Ryder Cup” nonsense for the rest of the summer.
The last 14 of 23 players in stroke play events who led after 54 holes on Tour have lost the lead in the final round. Spencer Levin has now hit this list twice in 2012 as he was the 54-hole leader going into Sunday at WMPO and this week at the Memorial. Since 1999 Woods has now played 41 of 44 rounds at the Memorial at par or better.
The Red, White and Blue have now won 10 of the last 11 FedExCup events dating back to Luke Donald’s win at TC. Carl Pettersson is the other “non-U.S.” winner as he captured the RBC Heritage.
With this victory, Tiger Woods earns $1,116,000 and 500 FedExCup points. Woods is now third in the FedExCup standings, trailing leader Jason Dufner.
Young Guns versus Old Guns
In 24 tournaments in 2012 the “Young” versus “Old” has seen the “Middle” continue to pull away as Tiger Woods hit the board for the not-too-old and not-too-young in the last two events. The “Middle” guys now have the lead versus “Young” guys 12-10 while the “Old” folks have two wins.
For the “Young”, in order of victory on the calendar, Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24), Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan (29 at the time of his TWO wins), Rory McIlroy (now 23), Justin Rose (31) and Rickie Fowler (23) have cashed.
The “Middle” now has victories from Mark Wilson (37), George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34), Tiger Woods (36) TWICE, Bubba Watson (33), Carl Pettersson (34), Ben Curtis (34), Matt Kuchar (33), Jason Dufner (35) TWICE, Zach Johnson (36) and now Woods again increase the season-long lead.
The “Old” guys that have hoisted the trophy are Steve Stricker (44) and Phil Mickelson (41).
Andres Romero: The Argentinean-birdie machine was up to his old tricks again this week as he led the field in birdies with 20, finished T4 GIR and was sixth in strokes gained-putting. That’s a pretty simple formula. He was one of four players to post 67 to tie for the low round on Sunday. This was Romero’s first top-10 performance since his back-to-back top fives at RBC Canadian and The Greenbrier last summer. This year he has struggled mightily as his best finish has only been T20 at PRO back in early March. Romero had only played this event once, T23 in 2010 and was 148th GIR and 127th strokes gained-putting in 2012 coming into this week. Excellent job if you had him marked for a cut made let alone a T2 this week! I did not!
Rory Sabbatini: The “other” Rory this week who posted the tournament that everyone thought “the” Rory, McIlroy, would as Sabbatini finished T2. As with Romero, Sabbatini was also struggling in 2012 with his only top-10 finish being T9 at the season-opener HTOC. Statistics don’t tell us everything but they can be our guide. Sabbatini entered the week 152nd in GIR and 137th strokes gained-putting. He had also MC in three of his last four events with the other being T47 last week at CPIC with four rounds of 71. For the week Sabbatini was T11 GIR and 39th strokes-gained putting and that helped him take the lead at eight-under after back-to-back birdies on 12 and 13. Sabbatini eventually ran out of gas and couldn’t keep pace with Woods’ finish but he can’t be upset with the way he played this week. Again, I did not have Sabbatini on the radar this week for the Memorial but I will next year as he’s now hit the top 18 in his last five trips to Dublin.
Daniel Summerhays: Anyone noticing a pattern here in the top five outside of Woods? Summerhays parlayed excellent putting with excellent iron play to claim his first top 10 in a “main event” on TOUR in 2012. Summerhays had previously finished T5 (Mayakoba) opposite the WGC-Match Play and T7 (PRO) opposite of the WGC-CC. In the seven events after his T7, he’s MC three times and his best finish in that stretch was T29 (VTO). His T4 is his best career posting.
Spencer Levin: The 54-hole leader for the second time on TOUR this season looked for nine holes that he had finally figured out how to close the deal. He was making everything in sight for pars and was generally steady from tee to green. His biggest advantage of the day, I thought, was that he was NOT paired with a certain-someone who tends to put undue pressure on his playing opponents (see: Fowler, Rickie 84). Levin went out in 35 and had a three-shot lead as he made the turn. No sooner than I was starting to write my glowing coming-of-age wrap up on Levin’s first win in 115 TOUR events did the wheels again come off. Bogeys on 10 and 12 combined with a double on 13 and his three-shot lead was now a distant memory. I’ll give Levin this: He doesn’t quit or go away. He finished T9 the week after his first capitulation at WMPO and currently stands 27th in the FedExCup standings after his T4 this week. Levin led the field in putting, and he had to, because he was 69th GIR.
Matt Every: The “all or nothing” season of Matt Every keeps fantasy players guessing on which week is going to be which as 2012 rolls along. In 15 events in 2012 Every, with today’s T6, has now hit the top 10 in five of those starts. He has also missed eight cuts. I’m trying to figure out a pattern here so see if you can help me out. He began 2012 with T6 (Sony) and then missed consecutive cuts only to bookend those MC with a T3 (Mayakoba). Following along yet? After a streak of MC, T48, CUT, T24, he MC (SHO) and followed that up with T8 (RBC) and T2 (VTO). Time to jump on, right!?!? Of course he MC his next three events before hitting the top 10 this week at a course he’s never played before. If you hate stats, fine. If you love form, fine. If you like “horses-for-courses”, fine. If you can figure out what Matt Every’s going to do his next time out, PLEASE CALL ME!!!
Jonathan Byrd: Byrd’s history at Memorial continues to make him an “automatic” choice for this tournament and his T6 this week will do nothing to dissuade me from rating him next year. Byrd has now made five cuts on the bounce and has hit the top 12 in his last four outings. Byrd never chirps too much or has his name all over the place but you have to realize that he is currently playing excellent golf. He has played 18 of his last 20 rounds in par or better. Giddy-up!
Justin Rose: I like how his game is coming along as we approach the U.S. Open where he will be one of my top players. The part of Rose’s game that makes me a bit nervous has been his putting and this week didn’t do anything to alleviate those concerns. Rose finished in the 60’s in all three major putting categories but his excellent tee-to-green play gave him plenty of chances to grind out par and find the top 10 with an eighth-place finish. Rose finished T2 last week at Wentworth and has not MC in 11 TOUR events this year. In those 11 events he has hit the top 10 five times. He hits plenty of fairways and plenty of greens and that’s why he’s on my radar for Olympic Club in two weeks.
Greg Owen: Another player who shot 67 on Sunday to vault up the leaderboard, Owen was helped by T4 GIR which led to seven birdies against two bogeys. Owen moved up 27 spots into T9, tying his finish at AT&T Pebble Beach for his best of the season. Owen is GIR machine (currently 12th on TOUR) yet he struggles to hole bushels of putts and this combination can be deadly as evidenced by his 18 birdies (T5) and his 16 bogeys (T10) this week. He has made the cut in 11 of 15 events this season with five finishes inside the top 25. You might want to keep an eye on him in some of the “lighter” fields as 2012 hits summer time.
Aaron Baddeley: Welcome back, “Badds!” The fantasy world is happy to see you again! For a while there, I wondered aloud when we might see you back in THIS part of the column. Since his 12th-place finish at WGC-CC at Doral, Baddeley has entered six events and has MC in exactly half of those. The other half wasn’t much better as he mustered finishes of T40, T65 and T63. His first round this week, 69, was his only round under-par but his steady play found him T9 for the week. Baddeley struggled off the tee and into the greens but his putter saved his bacon this week as he was T2 in strokes gained-putting. This is the Australian’s first top 10 since his fourth-place at AT&T Pebble Beach. That’s a long time between for a player of his magnitude.
Ryo Ishikawa: The youthful Japanese got the attention of the TOUR earlier this season with his runner-up finish at PRO. The enigma is still baffling fantasy players in 2012 as since that finish Ishikawa has MC three times and his only finish was T53 (API). The knock on Ishikawa is that he won’t be taken seriously until he plays and wins on this TOUR, not in Asia. This week was a step in the right direction especially with the field that teed it up. Sure he’s 20 until September but in 36-career starts, he’s hit the top 10 exactly four times so remember that moving forward in 2012.
“Hey, whatever happened to…”
Luke Donald: New week, same world No. 1! Donald finished Sunday with 68 to move him up 24 places on the leaderboard to claim 12th place alone. Donald had it going on Thursday but a double on 18 knocked him back to one-under. He struggled on Friday and Saturday for consistency and finally found it on Sunday. He’s an automatic pick for weekly players no matter the game.
Rory McIlroy: Form is temporary; class is permanent. Remember this going forward with young McIlroy. There is no doubt he can golf his ball and his U.S. Open title validates that. As does his victory at Honda this year. As did his runner-up to Hunter Mahan at WGC-Match Play. The concern with McIlroy’s game right now is that he not missing the cut by one shot or is making a ton of birdies and getting unlucky. He’s not playing with any consistency and he now has one event to get that sorted out before he faces the toughest test of golf on the planet, the U.S. Open. Nothing short of a podium finish at Memphis will convince me going into the Olympic Club that his game is ready to win again. The U.S. Open is not where guys break out of slumps.
Bubba Watson: After a week that included his music festival, “Bubba Bash” and being tailed for 40 minutes around the Columbus-area by some nut-job in a car, it’s no wonder why the reigning Masters champion did not make the cut this week. Watson has been fantasy gold this year with all of his finishes being T18 or better. Since his first major victory, Watson has had his two worst finishes of 2012. Winning a major changes your life. Ask Graeme McDowell. Or Charl Schwartzel. Or Louis Oosthuizen. Heck, even Rory McIlroy didn’t tear it up immediately after his first major victory either. I’m interested to see what his schedule will be for the rest of the summer as this was his first event since the end of April at Zurich. Watson might just have too much going on in his life right now to keep distracting him from fairways and greens. Be warned.
Rickie Fowler: Wow. Raise your hand if you saw that coming on Sunday. FOUR pars in 18 holes? Seriously? 84? Fowler started the day three behind Levin and all alone in third place. I guess playing with Tiger still has an effect with people on Sunday. Fowler had no problems with Woods on Thursday or Friday at THE PLAYERS but somehow, someway, Folwer imploded on Sunday. He tied Billy Hurley III for the worst round of the tournament. I’ll give Fowler some credit. He didn’t WD with “mental fatigue” after he shot 40 going out and getting steamrolled by Woods. Wow, I can’t remember the last time a guy who coming off T10, WIN, T2 and T5 in his last four starts shot 80-ANYTHING in a non-U.S./British Open. Shocking. I’ll write it off to a very poor day until I hear otherwise.
Phil Mickelson: Mickelson WD after Thursday’s round of 79 citing “mental fatigue”. Imagine Mickelson’s “mental fatigue” at Olympic Club in two weeks if he’s spraying the ball all over God’s green Earth like he did on the back nine on Thursday. It’s within the rules of the game to WD and I get it. I don’t have to like it, but I get it. For fantasy golfers, that’s a chance you take with going with a guy who listens to the beat of his own drummer. Mike Weir didn’t cite “mental fatigue” yet he’s only broken par twice in 19 rounds in 2012 as he comes off an elbow injury. He shot 83-81 and missed the cut this week. He made 11 bogeys and seven doubles yet didn’t quit. Those Canadians are mentally tough.