There are certain ways to determine a player’s position on golf’s meritocracy. Their golf bag is one of them.
Staff bags are standard issue at PGA TOUR events. A stand bag usually signifies that its owner has plenty of rungs to climb.
There’s only one sign more ominous than a stand bag: a logo-less hat. A player’s inability to find anyone to pay for the most visible space on his body is pretty much pro golf’s version of rock bottom.
You can usually count on a Cinderella story taking shape if a stand bag is getting some television time. Two recent examples of a stand bag appearing on a late-Sunday telecast are Austin Cook at last year’s Shell Houston Open and Jason Allred at the 2014 Northern Trust Open. Both players flirted with victory after Monday qualifying for the event.
Unfortunately, the stand bag is becoming more rare. The equipment trucks have extra staff bags, so players can usually switch to a bigger bag when they arrive at an event. Even amateurs can get one.
Fortunately, we were treated to another stand-bag Cinderella on Sunday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. There is no Monday qualifier for Pebble Beach, but Vaughn Taylor did start the week as an alternate. He started this season with the limited status afforded to past TOUR champions thanks to his wins in the Barracuda Championship in 2004 and 2005.
Taylor shot a final-round 65 at Pebble Beach to overcome a six-shot deficit to 54-hole leader Phil Mickelson. Taylor didn’t just overtake a Hall of Famer on one of the world’s finest courses. He beat a field that featured six of the top nine players in the world, including Jordan Spieth and Jason Day.
Contrast that to the previous two weeks, when Taylor was competing in Web.com Tour events in Panama and Colombia. He missed the cut, then had to withdraw the week before Pebble Beach after getting ill. He took the lighter staff bag to those events to avoid baggage fees.
Taylor has a staff bag at home, but one has to assume there will be a new one waiting for him when he arrives in Los Angeles for this week’s Northern Trust Open. He is, after all, a TOUR winner and a full member once again.
His Pebble Beach victory undoubtedly eased Taylor’s burdens. He doesn’t have to worry about getting into tournaments or keeping his card, and he can enjoy victor’s spoils such as a start in his hometown major, the Masters.
His caddie, on the other hand, will have to bear a bigger burden once the stand bag is shelved. Not that he minds.
Top five Microsoft insights
1. How long had it been since Vaughn Taylor won? His previous two PGA TOUR titles (at the Barracuda Championship in 2004 and 2005) came before the FedExCup era, which began in 2007. He last competed in the FedExCup Playoffs in 2011. He’d finished outside the top 150 in the FedExCup in each of the past three seasons. That will change this year. He currently ranks 15th.
2. PGA TOUR success came quickly for Taylor. He won in each of his first two seasons as a PGA TOUR member and made the Ryder Cup team in his third. The victory drought that followed was one of the longest on TOUR, though. He made 234 starts between his wins at the 2005 Barracuda and this year’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He was on seventh on TOUR in starts since 2005 without a win.
3. Putting is important, but it’s not always the key to victory. Taylor won with his ball-striking. Taylor was second this week in greens in regulation (75 percent) and third in proximity to the hole (25 feet, 3 inches). He was 52nd in strokes gained: putting (-0.45) this week, meaning he won despite putting worse than the average TOUR player. (Note: ShotLink and proximity stats only available from rounds played at Pebble Beach GL last week; greens in regulation available for all four rounds.)
4. Taylor’s final-round 65 matched the low score of the final round (Patrick Reed also shot 65). Taylor started the final round in eighth place, six shots behind 54-hole leader Phil Mickelson. The last player to make up a six-shot deficit in the final round at Pebble Beach? Phil Mickelson in 2012.
5. Mickelson lipped out a 5-foot birdie putt on 18 that would have forced a playoff with Taylor. In spite of that miss, Mickelson ranked second in strokes gained: putting (+2.69 strokes/round) for the week. He preceded the miss by making an 11-foot par putt at No. 16 and a 13-foot birdie putt at No. 17. (Note: Strokes gained: putting only calculated for rounds at Pebble Beach GL last week.)
Top three videos
1. You can expect emotions after a player ends a victory drought that has lasted more than a decade and regains his TOUR card. Vaughn Taylor got to share the stage with his son Locklyn.
Vaughn Taylor news conference after winning at AT&T Pebble Beach
2. En route to victory, Taylor got a couple nice bounces on this shot to set up a tap-in birdie at No. 15.
Vaughn Taylor gets lucky break on No. 15 at AT&T Pebble Beach
3. The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am highlights one of America’s golfing treasures. The tournament also allows for some lighter moments like this.
Justin Timberlake and Alfonso Ribeiro's dance off at AT&T Pebble Beach
1. Phil Mickelson’s runner-up at Pebble Beach gives him two top-3 finishes already this year, and he’s finished 11th or better in three of his four starts in 2016 (T3-MC-T11-2nd). He now ranks 16th in the FedExCup. Mickelson, 45, is always excited as Augusta National nears, but he has to be especially enthused this year. He was runner-up in 2015 in the midst of an otherwise disappointing season. Could he become the second-oldest Masters champion? We are coming up on the 30th anniversary of that historic Masters when the record for the oldest champion was set. Also, Mickelson would join elite company if he could win another Masters. It would be his fourth win at Augusta National. Only Jack Nicklaus (6 wins), Arnold Palmer (4) and Tiger Woods (4) have won four or more Masters.
2. Another Masters champion, Charl Schwartzel, was dominant last week in his native South Africa, winning the European Tour’s Tshwane Open by eight shots. It was his first start of 2016 and his second victory in three starts, all in South Africa. He also won the Alfred Dunhill Championship on Nov. 29, his first victory since winning the same tournament in December 2013. This year’s Masters will mark the five-year anniversary of Schwartzel’s win, when he birdied the final four holes to overtake Jason Day and Adam Scott.
3. Jonas Blixt’s third-place finish at Pebble Beach was his second top-10 in three starts (T6, Farmers Insurance Open), matching the number of top-10s he had in the past two seasons combined. Blixt barely kept his TOUR card last season. A T10 finish in the Regular Season finale, the Wyndham Championship, allowed him to finish 123rd in the FedExCup (the top 125 retain their cards). He spent the offseason working on his fundamentals with swing coach Jorge Parada, who had Blixt stand closer to the ball to keep his weight off his toes. Blixt, a two-time TOUR winner and 2014 Masters runner-up, is now 31st in the FedExCup with 346 points; he earned 471 all of last season.