Two players who might be good bets to win their first majors in 2017 won over the weekend. Sergio Garcia, who has spent far too long on the list of Best Players Never To Win A Major, and Hideki Matsuyama, who has been as hot as any golfer over the past four months, notched wins and will be good picks heading to Augusta.
Matsuyama won his second straight Waste Management Phoenix Open in a four-hole playoff, exactly as he did a year earlier. In 2016, he beat Rickie Fowler in extra holes, while this time it was Webb Simpson. It was the fourth career PGA Tour win for the 24-year-old, giving him more than any Japanese golfer.
In the last four months, Matsuyama has won five times in 10 starts around the world with two PGA Tour titles, two in Japan as well as the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December. He also has two runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour this season.
If there’s been one weak link in Matsuyama’s game, it’s been his putting, which has never been consistent. In Phoenix, he was ranked first in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and first in Strokes Gained: Around the Green. He was 47th in putting, which is a marked improvement from 103rd where he ended last year in that category. He’s worked exceptionally hard on that part of his game and this week, a tip he received on alignment also helped.
Meanwhile, Garcia earned his 30th worldwide win taking the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. He went wire to wire for the three-stroke victory over Henrik Stenson.
Now 37, Garcia has a remarkable 22 top-10 finishes in major championships including top-five performances in last year’s U.S. and British Opens. He’s been hunting for that first major since he took on Tiger Woods in the 1999 PGA Championship where he was the runner-up. But this recent showing isn’t going to change his approach to the Masters or any of the other majors.
“When I get to Augusta, U.S. Open, the British Open, PGA, I just want to do the best I can,” he told reporters after his victory, answering a question he’s had likely a thousand times. “Just like I try any other week. So that's not going to change.”
One thing that will be different for Garcia is his marital status. The Spaniard is getting hitched later this year to Angela Akins and it’s no surprise that this development has inspired his play of late.
“I think that when things are going well off the golf course,” he stated, “it's much easier to feel comfortable on a golf course, because there's no worries.”
Perhaps this carefree, happy Garcia might finally break through in one of this year’s four major events.
It was another solid week for Graham DeLaet at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, who posted a tie for ninth, his second top 10 of the season.
The Weyburn, Sask., product went into Sunday’s final round two shots back of the lead but wasn’t able to keep up with the torrid pace set by the others at the top of the crowded leaderboard. The hunt for the first victory continues.
While it’s still early in the year, there are some positive signs for DeLaet, who is regarded as one of the best PGA Tour players yet to record a victory. Notably, his putting has shown signs of improvement so far. In the Strokes Gained: Putting category, he’s ranked 54th on the PGA Tour with a mark of .408. Last year, he ended up in 139th spot in that ranking with a -.211. (The stat measures how a player does against the field in a particular category.)
However with the short game, DeLaet is still struggling. He’s ranked 208th in Strokes Gained: Around The Green, 24 spots worse than he ended 2016. That showed over the weekend when the Canadian struggled to get up and down on several occasions when he missed greens.
On the positive side, he’s no longer suffering from any of the yips he had last season. He’s overcome that issue and working to improve his play from 100 yards and in.
Overall, the best part of DeLaet’s performance so far might be that he appears to be playing without any back problems. While he’s admitted that he’ll never be 100 per cent, he looks strong and healthy. If that continues, his fine play should too.