Each week, our panel of writers will be asked a question about the game of golf. Topics will range from their predictions for the Tour season to what they would order from the concession stand at Augusta National Golf Club. No subject is off limits for this esteemed group.
Over the weekend, Tiger put on a vintage performance in Round 3 at The Genesis Open. He shot 65 and vaulted up the leaderboard. We saw him make a similar charge at last year’s PGA Championship on his way to a second place finish. Tiger is known as one of (if not the) greatest closers in the history of golf. With that in mind…
This week’s question: When they are in contention on a Sunday, which current golfer do you think the competition finds the most intimidating?
Frank Laterza: Justin Thomas – This is a loaded question, with 2 major variables: weather and course. But we’ll consider all things neutral, and I think currently most people would answer Justin Thomas. His biggest weakness, as we saw this past weekend, is wind. Otherwise, he is top 40 in putting and first in SG: Approach and SG: Total. He has the moxie to get the job done, and has a history of hot rounds with a 59 at Sony and a 63 at Erin Hills. The man I deem to be the best player in the world, no one wants to see JT coming on a Sunday.
Jack Corrigan: Brooks Koepka – I thought about this long and hard after Justin Thomas blew his lead this past weekend, because he seemed to be the guy. The answer became clear though: Brooks Koepka. He does not have the consistency of JT, the ego of Tiger Woods, or the flow of Justin Rose, but he has something right now that none of them do – no fear. Anytime Brooks is in the mix, he wins and has no regard for human life. This guy has that killer mentality and even when the likes of Tiger, JT, or Dustin are chasing him or right with him, I feel it gets him going even more. We saw it at the US Open and the PGA Championship. This guy lives for the moment, and I believe people get nervous when they see his name lurking.
Jake Mulholland: Brooks Koepka – There is no man on tour with greater confidence than Brooks. With only four PGA Tour victories (five if you count the CJ Cup win in October), it is an anomaly to think that this man has three major wins to his name. Despite the low victory count, I believe that Brooks incites the most fear in competitors’ hearts and minds. When he is on, he is unstoppable. If he stays out of his own way, you may as well chalk up another W for Koepka.
Kevin Walsh: Brooks Koepka – Another fantastic question. Quite frankly, this would have been very easy 4-5 years ago. I would have said Rory and not skipped a beat. But since his dominant run, he has had numerous nagging injuries and poor finishes when he has been in contention. I personally think his intimidation factor has severely waned. No golfer, in my mind, has stepped into the void of being THE dominant figure, and I think that will continue for some time. One reason being most of the top players seem to be very close friends, and right or wrong that probably removes part of the desire to be a true alpha dog. Tiger wasn’t buddy-buddy with his competitors, and Rory, while probably more liked, didn’t seem to be either. That being said, I will go with Brooks Koepka as the most intimidating presence on tour. Brooks only has 4 wins, but 3 of them are Majors. He stared the best fields in the face on the biggest stage and did not back down. Playing with him, especially when he’s playing well on Sunday, must be intimidating. Power fade after power fade, followed by dart after dart. He’s shown a knack for hitting big putts as well. Brooks also fits the mold; he’s big, strong, and doesn’t care what you think. His recent media wave of calling out other pros will tell you that much. If there is one guy on Tour that players don’t want to see in the lead or near the lead on Sunday, I would bet my money it’s Brooks.
Mike McNamara: Justin Rose – This may be a safe pick as JR currently sits atop the World Rankings, but this is a man that RARELY beats himself on a Sunday when he is in contention. Players know when they see his name stalking the top of a leaderboard that they are going to have to go beat him versus hanging on for victory. Rose has always been a player that does not let one mistake affect his next shot, and many times answers seemingly costly bogeys with a birdie on the following hole. A world-class player with a short memory and a history of playing elite golf on the biggest of stages is not a name that opposing players want to see coming at them on a Sunday.
Tony Kasper: Justin Rose – He is not the most intimidating presence physically, as that title would go to Tiger, DJ, or Brooks. His mentality is what sets him apart. He is as consistent in his approach as anyone on Tour. He does not compound mistakes to present an opportunity for opponents to capitalize on a bad shot or bad hole. His game is just so solid right now, with seemingly no weaknesses. As the world’s top ranked player, Rose won’t sneak up on anybody when they see his name near the top of the leaderboard. Nevertheless, the other players on Tour know they will have to raise their game to his level to beat him.
Sean Carney: Dustin Johnson – I still think seeing the last name “Woods” in the hunt on Sunday is the most intimidating to many golfers, and as the season progresses, he will be the answer to this question. Until then, I am going with DJ. For starters, if you are in his group, the length of his driver is extremely intimidating, as he will consistently hit his tee shots 30+ yards past yours. Given this, he can make hard holes easy and rip wedges in. He can fill it up very quickly. Additionally, one part of his game that always gets overlooked his is mental fortitude. Johnson’s demeanor never really changes: never too high, never too low. I think that is a huge advantage for him being able to chase on Sunday or hold a lead.
Bear: Tiger Woods – This may be the easy answer, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the correct answer. I personally cannot imagine a scarier thing on a golf course than having a lead in the group ahead of Tiger, and hearing the galleries erupt after a huge Tiger shot, shaking the ground below my feet. When Tiger is a comin’, the youngin’s start mis-puttin’. On the other side, when Tiger has a lead, he is undoubtedly the best closer ever. He has a 96% conversion rate of 54 hole leads. That is just absurd. So yes, the answer is Tiger Woods.
Sam Scherman: Tiger Woods – Sometimes the obvious answer is the right one. I debated whether to pick an up-and-comer like Xander/JT/Spieth (before the last few months), but when I look at Tiger’s 54-hole conversion rate, an ungodly 44 of 46 (96%), or his 36-hole conversion rate, 43 of 80 (54%), it’s impossible for me to call anyone but him the greatest closer of all time. For my staggering stat of the day, Tiger has a 16-1 all time playoff record on both the PGA and European Tours, with his only loss coming in the 1998 Nissan Open. There are different time periods all over the place, but winning conversion rates after 54 holes sits in the range from about 40-65% over the last 20 years or so, which makes Tiger’s ability to close even more of an anomaly. When you see Tiger at the top or see him charging on a Saturday or Sunday, you take pause. I’m paraphrasing this because I don’t remember the exact quote from his recent “30 for 30” on ESPN, but it was something along the lines of “If I have a lead, whether it’s 1 shot, or 10, or we’re tied… I win.” No one else has ever dominated in this fashion in golf… and no one ever will.