As you warned in your US PGA preview, did Matsuyama peak slightly too early at Bridgestone and run out of steam?
Image credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images
I was worried about him, but he got off to such a good start initially at the US PGA Championship. I mean, a 64 on the second day? No-one thought there was a 64 out there. But the early performances all piled the pressure onto him to win. And it’s not just winning a major on his shoulders, it’s being the first Asian major winner – with over 50 journalists and camera crew trailing him everywhere he went.
There was a lot of expectation, and I think it was more that he succumbed to the pressure than peaked too early. However, he is still only 25, and the experience of having led for two rounds will do him good. I have long said, you have to lose majors before winning them.
Tom Watson is a good example, it took him a fair few years to win one – but he then won eight more! Even Jack Nicklaus – he holds the record with 18 major titles, but came second 19 times, and third nine times. The margins are extremely fine, and Matsuyama is too good a player not to win a major soon.
We were both expecting Rory McIlroy to do well, but he put in a subdued performance. Just how much has the rib injury affected him?
I think he definitely is still being affected by the rib injury. I put him in the same category as Jason Day, they’re both very physical players who spend a lot of time in the gym. Because of their heightened physique, if anything goes wrong – it tends to have a long-lasting effect. Not only did the injury affect Rory’s schedule, it is still affecting his game – despite the pain coming and going.
Going forward, I compare him to Andy Murray and Roger Federer. All three are supreme athletes using every muscle going, but the two tennis players were savvy enough to realise that a week’s break here and there is not good enough – an extended break was needed to get back to their best. Perhaps Rory is looking at other athletes and realising that with the major season over – with just the Tour Championship to defend and the Race to Dubai left – perhaps he should focus on being fit for the Masters next year instead.
Naturally writing off the rest of this year would be a big sacrifice, but we’ll see where his priorities are.
If he does take a break, when do you think he would be back?
Well, even if he does take a break – it doesn’t mean he can just turn up at The Masters and swing. His rehabilitation will be with a view to fully utilise the warm-up tournaments. Even the greats need at least three or four competitions before they tee up at a major. Rory will be aiming to be fully fit by the Players Championship, so playing competitively by January or February at the latest.
Image credit: David Davies/PA
Fitness-wise, does Rory take the driver too much?
Rory is now the furthest driver on tour, nearly 320 yards on average – putting him ahead of Dustin Johnson. The driving stats can be misleading, of course, mainly because Rory takes the driver more than anyone else. Courses on average tend to have a few holes where the driver is necessary – but not all!
Dustin Johnson, meanwhile, although he drives a lot for such a long hitter, is more comfortable occasionally taking a 3-wood or even a long iron.
You can tell why Rory always comes back to his driver, it’s his best club. It’s the longest, and usually, the straightest. At Oakmost last year, when he decided to take irons off the tee and try to be defensive, he was all over the place.
When the driver starts to miss the fairway, that’s where the issues arise – as we saw in the US PGA. What’s more, if you’re driving so often and so far, it’s going to put a lot of strain on the body and highlight any weaknesses. Before you know it, Rory’s rib injury has flared up again. You can’t say the two aren’t related. He could stand to rein in the distance a little for the good of his health.
Should we expect a decision over Rory’s caddie any time soon?
I wouldn’t say so, no. He seems happy enough with Harry Diamond at the moment, and apart from Harry deciding he’s not up for it, I don’t see why Rory won’t continue their arrangement for the time being.
How encouraging was it to see Jason Day back to his best?
I was delighted to see him playing well again. His scores were very good – 70, 66, 77 and 70 – it was just the last hole of the third round that sunk him.
It was a tough day on a tough course, and to finish with a quadruple bogey was the final straw. It was a bad tee shot into trouble on the left, and went downhill from there, hitting shots without thinking and not getting the ball back in play when he had the chance.
For someone who is usually so considered with his shots, his anger got the better of him there – potentially his frustration at a difficult year boiling over. However, he deserves great credit for getting back to a level head and an excellent final round.
Image credit: Quail Hollow Golf Club
Did the increased difficulty of Quail’s Hollow surprise a few players?
The US PGA is a lot like the US Open, they don’t like players winning in double digits. The organisers reduced the par to 71, which didn’t help either. If par had been 72, the winning score would probably have been around -12 – hence why they changed it. As a result, they got -8, which is just about acceptable to those in charge.
I think the only thing that would have unnerved them was Matsuyama’s 64 in the second round. As I said, no-one was expecting a score that low – particularly when Molinari did the same that day too! Predominantly I think that was down to the weather, it softened the course up and took some of its teeth away.
Overall, the US PGA will be happy with the winning score, but they will be even more delighted with the winner. Justin Thomas comes from a family of club professionals – and the PGA Championship is historically a tournament for club professionals!
It is run by the PGA of America – unlike the US Open which is run by an amateur body, unlike our Open which is run by the R&A and unlike the Masters which is run by a committee. That means there are 20 club pros in the mix, historically as much as 40%! Let’s be honest, in the early days it should not have been a major – but it managed it.
So, when I say Justin Thomas was the winner the US PGA will have wanted most, it’s because his father and grandfather were both club professionals, exactly the example the PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) wished to set – giving professional golf instruction a real boost.
To give Justin Thomas his credit, it was no surprise that he won – he’s such a talented player that most were surprised he hadn’t won a major sooner!
You’ve previously said that Phil Mickelson “will regret” his split with Bones. Did you see signs of it already this weekend?
Phil Mickelson is at the age now where he simply isn’t going to play great week in and week out. It wasn’t a US PGA course that suited him – it was long, it was tight. For someone so inconsistent off the tee, it was set up to punish his game, and it did. Even so, by his standards, a missed cut is a bad blow.
When I saw him getting frustrated and sloppy towards the end of Friday, I did think about him missing his caddie’s influence. It’s unlikely that his brother will be able to replicate the same working relationship the two had.
With Brooks Koepka winning the US Open, Spieth winning the Open and Justin Thomas winning the US PGA, are the US the favourites for next year’s Ryder Cup?
Naturally, the USA have the momentum – having won at Hazeltine. Their biggest test now is to beat Europe in Europe – something they haven’t managed since I was the captain in 1993 at The Belfry!
If we add in Dustin Johnson, and even Patrick Reed, to that list of top players, the US look a formidable force – but there is a chance their youth will become inexperience at the crucial moments. Of course, there are plenty of major winners in the potential squad, but there’s nothing quite like Ryder Cup pressure.
The other advantage for Europe is that the course, France’s national course, is one that European players will be familiar with. Thomas Bjorn will also know who plays best in the conditions. It was the same benefit we had at Valderrama and Gleneagles. When the Ryder Cup is in the USA, it’s usually at courses that even American players will only play once every 10 years or so, meaning there wasn’t the same advantage.
As it stands, the strength of the US team on paper should worry Europe, but it’s a long way to the Ryder Cup.