THE BACK NINE: 9 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. A couple of weeks ago, Tiger Woods declared his strained left elbow “GED,” or “good enough,” for The Open Championship. It wasn’t until last week, however, that Woods started chipping and putting again. Late last week, he said on his website he is a “full go for the British Open,” adding, “I'm very confident that my left elbow strain won't be a problem and I will be able to hit all the shots I need to hit. That's why I took the time off, so it could heal, and I would feel comfortable playing again.” He’s still taking anti-inflammatory medication for the elbow and getting treatment, however.
2. As for Phil Mickelson, he arrives at Muirfield perhaps feeling as good as ever about his chances in the one major that has continually vexed him. He has just two career top 10s in The Open Championship -- a tie for second in 2011 and a third-place finish in 2004. “It's important to me, and it's probably the biggest challenge of my career is hitting the shots that are required here,” Mickelson said after his playoff victory in the Scottish Open. “To win here and to play well here, finally win on a links golf course, it really means a lot to me, and it also builds my confidence heading into future Scottish and British Opens. But, to win any Open Championship, whether it's the Scottish Open or the British Open, on links golf, you need some luck. You need a little bit of luck. You need some good breaks with your tee times; I had some good weather with my tee times this week. You need some good bounces. You just need a little bit of luck, as well as good play.”
3. Speaking of luck, Adam Scott didn’t have much of it over the final four holes at last year’s Open Championship. He’s never seen the tape of that final round but told me a few weeks ago that he’s tempted to watch it now that he has since won his first major championship. You can see what else he had to say in an exclusive and extensive Q&A here.
4. I don’t know what to make of Rory McIlroy’s chances this week, other than they don’t appear to be good. Most startling? These numbers: He ranks 129th in strokes gained-putting compared with 82nd last year, and he’s 165th in scrambling compared with 33rd a year ago. He has also gotten up and down only 53 percent of the time, down from 60.2 percent a year ago.
5. Luck has nothing to do with Steve Stricker’s play at the John Deere Classic. A three-time winner of the event, Stricker tied for 10th this year -- his seventh career top 10 in a dozen appearances in the event. With his 5-under 66 on Sunday, Stricker is now a collective 100 under over the last five years at TPC Deere Run.
6. The John Deere Classic has now produced 19 first-time winners with six of them coming since 2000 at TPC Deere Run -- Michael Clark in 2000; David Gossett, 2001; Mark Hensby, 2004; Sean O’Hair, 2005; John Senden, 2006; and Spieth this year. Just a hunch, but I think Spieth will be the best of that bunch.
7. Stat of the Week I: Spieth became the youngest winner on TOUR since Ralph Guldahl won the 1931 Santa Monica Open at the age of 19 years, 8 months and 3 days.
8. Stat of the Week II: In 1999, Sergio Garcia had four top 10s as a 19-year-old. Rory McIlroy didn’t have any on TOUR at that age. Spieth has six, including a win. That’s not to suggest the Texan will be better than or even as good as Garcia or McIlroy but it provides at least a little perspective on how good Spieth has been this season.
9. Stat of the Week III: This was already the seventh playoff of the 2013 season. None of the previous six made it beyond two holes. The five-hole playoff last week was the longest since John Huh defeated Robert Allenby on the eighth extra hole at last year’s Mayakoba Golf Classic.