By Sam McPherson
It was a quiet week for the PGA Tour. The Greenbrier Classic, scheduled for July 7 -10 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, was canceled a few weeks ago due to weather-related problems in the region. As a result, most of the top Tour players enjoyed a different kind of week leading up to the Open Championship this week at Royal Troon in Ayrshire, Scotland.
The break before this year’s third major is good time to reflect upon PGA season to date. Who are the PGA Tour’s shining stars so far, and what moments make them stand out?
Best Player: Jason Day. He’s already collected $6.3 million this year in just 13 starts, with three victories among them. Two of those wins were huge: the WGC-Dell Match Play event in March and the Players Championship in May, often referred to as the fifth major. Day also finished tied for third at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he clearly didn’t have his best game going. He ended 2015 as the No. 1 golfer and hasn’t lost any ground in 2016.
Best Putter: Jordan Spieth. The world’s No. 3 golfer has won two events so far, tied for second at the Masters and tied for third at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He’s done all this by leading the Tour in putts per round at just 27.44 putts every 18 holes. Spieth has kept his scoring average below 70 despite lacking the dominant form the golf world knows he’s capable of.
Best Driver: Colt Knost. Big Gravy has become a Tour fan favorite, due to his driving. In addition to hitting almost 74 percent of fairways off the tee to lead the Tour in driving accuracy, Knost also gives the average fan some hope. At 5-foot-9 and 215 pounds, Big Gravy makes every fan believe he, too, could be a PGA Tour player with a little practice. The payoff for Knost’s accuracy, of course, was a top-three finish at the Players Championship and a fourth-place finish the following week at the AT&T Byron Nelson.
Best Finisher: Dustin Johnson. In only 15 starts this year, Johnson has finished in the top 10 an incredible 10 times. He followed up his U.S. Open victory with a win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, casting aside that underachiever label forever. DJ’s moved up to No. 2 in the world rankings, but don’t expect him to stop there. Johnson might be primed for a Mickelson-like surge now into his mid-30s.
Next On The Tee: The Open Championship
Royal Troon is one of the grandest courses in all of championship golf, and this week the course will shine again for fans the world over. The winner of the Claret Jug will take home approximately $1.5 million Sunday, with an overall purse of around $8.45 million. Zach Johnson is the defending champion, after he shot 15-under at St. Andrews and then won a four-hole playoff. Day and Spieth each finished one shot back at 14-under par last year.
Overall, 16 former Open champions are expected in the field this week, including Zach Johnson, 2014 winner Rory McIlroy and 2013 winner Phil Mickelson. Two-time champions Ernie Els (2002, 2012) and Padraig Harrington (2007, 2008) also are expected to tee off on Thursday at Royal Troon. Harrington was the last defending champion to repeat at the Open Championship, while 2004 champion Todd Hamilton returns to Troon to try and win another Open on the same course.
This will be the ninth Open Championship played on the course in Ayrshire. Prior winners at Royal Troon include Hamilton, Justin Leonard (1997), Mark Calcavecchia (1989), Tom Watson (1982), Tom Weiskopf (1973), Arnold Palmer (1962) and Bobby Locke (1950). Overall, six American golfers have won the Open on this circuit.
The course itself has been around since 1878, although it initially had only five holes. In its current form, Royal Troon offers the shortest and the longest holes in the Open Championship course rotation. The famous Postage Stamp hole — No. 8 at 123 yards — has a very small green. On the other end of the spectrum, the 601-yard No. 6 hole, named Turnberry, is a true test of golf for even the biggest hitters.
The Royal Troon Golf Club course plays 7,190 yards long and is a par 71.
Favorites: Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth
Players to Watch: Sergio García, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf and fantasy sports for CBS Local. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach. Follow him on Twitter @sxmcp, because he’s quite prolific despite also being a college English professor and a certified copy editor.