Is it tougher than ever to win for the first time?
With his one-stroke victory at the Byron Nelson Championship, Brett Wetterich became the fifth first-time winner on the PGA Tour this season, joining J.B. Holmes, Arron Oberholser, Aaron Baddeley and Chris Couch before him.
Is it becoming easier for players to break through for their initial victory? Tougher? The same as always? And which of the aforementioned five is the biggest surprise? Our experts answer these questions in this edition of Fact or Fiction.
Bob Harig, contributor, ESPN.com: FACT. It is not so much the talent at the top (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson) that makes it difficult to win. It is the number of players who can win in any given week. The depth of the fields, meaning a wider-ranging array of players capable of victory, makes it hard for anyone to win.
Ron Sirak, executive editor, Golf World: FACT. It's simply a matter of math. The more first-time winners there are, the more players there are with experience winning. That makes it more difficult.
Jason Sobel, golf editor, ESPN.com: FICTION. With so many events (officially, there are 48 tournaments on the 2006 schedule) and so many elite players taking time off during the season (most top players will compete in only 20-25 tournaments), the door is open for more first-timers to squeeze into the champions-only field at Kapalua.
Brian Wacker, associate editor, GolfDigest.com: FICTION. There's arguably more parity on the PGA Tour right now than ever before. Not that it's easy to win, especially for the first time, but with only three players having won more than once this year it's clear these guys really are good. If anyone out there predicted Wetterich would win last week's Nelson, or any other tournament this year, I have a lottery ticket I'd like you to fill out.
Sirak: FICTION. J.B. Holmes was the most surprising first-time winner, although we were certainly disappointed that he changed the name he goes by from John Holmes. However, that name change was no surprise.
Sobel: FICTION. Wetterich is no young pup; at 32, he's in his fifth PGA Tour season and has plenty of experience on lesser tours around the country. Instead, the title of most surprising first-time winner goes to Holmes. Sure, he was a stud at the University of Kentucky and dominated the field at Qualifying School, but no one could have predicted a tour victory for Holmes just four starts into his rookie season.
Wacker: FACT. Although it's true Wetterich finished T-6 in Houston and T-4 in New Orleans, there's no way anyone saw this coming after he missed 17 cuts in 28 events last year. Maybe we should have, though. Wetterich is in the top 10 in driving distance, greens in regulation and birdie average after his victory. The fact is, though, players like Wetterich get overshadowed, even by guys like Oberholser, because there is so much depth on tour.
Harig: FICTION. Couch wins this award. There had been little to suggest he could win, and he made the cut on the number in New Orleans before going on to win.
Sobel: DAVID TOMS. Colonial is one of Toms' favorite venues, as evidenced by four top-10 finishes in his past six starts there. It's about time for a win.
Sirak: CHAD CAMPBELL. Colonial is a ball striker's golf course, and what better person to win on Hogan's Alley than a Texas native who can strike his ball with the best of them.
Harig: JUSTIN LEONARD. He loves the venue, makes the cut at Colonial every year. Now, he breaks through for his first win of the year.
Wacker: JIM FURYK. After finally breaking through for his first win of '06 two weeks ago at the Wachovia, Furyk can join the ranks of the elite with his second victory of the season at a course that sets up well for him. A fairways and greens machine, he finished T-5 here in '03 and T-8 in 2000. One other note about Furyk, who missed the cut last week. Excluding 2004, when Furyk came back from injury late in the year, he hasn't missed the cut two weeks in a row since 2002.
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