Nationwide Tour Two Words that Rile the Euros

By Associated PressSeptember 19, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesSTRAFFAN, Ireland -- They might be the two dirtiest words at this Ryder Cup.
Nationwide Tour.
One sure way to rally the Europeans is to mention a tour that riles them. They don't have anything against the PGA Tour's minor leagues, and some of them -- Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey -- even played there when they were starting out.
It's this idea that the Nationwide is the second-best tour in golf that makes them seethe.
'From a European standpoint, it's disappointing to hear that because of our results in the Ryder Cup the last few years,' Luke Donald said Tuesday. 'We've dominated, really, in the last five Ryder Cups. To say that the Nationwide is stronger than the European Tour ... I'm not sure who's saying it. I'm not sure whether these guys have played in Europe.'
Go to any search engine and type in the words 'Nationwide Tour' and 'second-best,' and there is no shortage of bulletin-board material, even if you might have a hard time recognizing the names.
'There's no doubt whatsoever in my mind that it's the second-best tour in the world,' said someone named Fran Quinn Jr., who has spent the better part of a dozen years on the Nationwide Tour.
Fueling the debate this week at The K Club is the U.S. roster. Nine of the 12 players on the American team have won Nationwide Tour events, and three of them -- Stewart Cink (1996), Chad Campbell (2001) and Zach Johnson (2003) -- were Nationwide player of the year.
'I think that's very cool,' U.S. captain Tom Lehman said. 'I'm proud of that.'
And well he should be.
Lehman was bouncing between South Africa and the California mini-tours when the PGA Tour created this feeder system in 1990. It was called the Hogan Tour back then, but Lehman was player of the year and went on to do great things -- British Open champion, PGA Tour money title and No. 1 in the world.
'It's a tremendous tour, no doubt about that,' Lehman said.
But better than Europe?
'All over the world, there's great golf being played,' Lehman said. 'I think whoever said that was probably a little over-exuberant.'
The only American team members who never played on the Nationwide Tour are Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Scott Verplank. Woods was playing on sponsors' exemptions when he won his fifth start as a pro in 1996, and has since added 52 more PGA TOUR titles. Mickelson and Verplank both won PGA Tour events while still in college.
If anything, such humble roots might show the grit of this U.S. team. Not many are prone to taking anything for granted.
So why does it bug Europe?
It started two years ago, when Ryan Palmer held off a late charge by Woods to win the Funai Classic at Disney. He had toiled on smaller tours until earning his PGA Tour card, and he talked about what it took for him to reach the top.
'I knew I could win because I won the year before on the Nationwide Tour, which is one of the best tours in the world next to the PGA Tour,' he said that day.
One certainly could argue the merits. In this current drought of 29 majors without a European winner, five major champions once played the Nationwide Tour, a list that includes Ernie Els.
But it's another example of how the European camp feels it gets no respect from the Americans. And it really stings when the Europeans hear it from players hardly anyone knows.
Like someone named Tyler Williamson, now in his sixth straight year in the minors.
'The Nationwide Tour is arguably the second-best tour in the world, so it's not like it's a total letdown not playing out there,' Williamson said a few years ago.
Or Matt Hendrix.
'I feel like this is probably where I should be, spending a year on arguably the second-best tour in the world, getting experience that will help in my preparation when I make the next step.'
And he wasn't talking about Europe.
Casey tread carefully about the topic last week at Wentworth, in part because of some anti-American comments he made at the World Cup last year. Still, he has heard the comparisons.
'I just smile,' Casey said. 'It is a very strong tour. And obviously, the PGA Tour is the strongest in the world. So that doesn't really annoy me. At the end of the day, you just look at the world ranking.'
Indeed, that's a good place to start.
Europe has eight players in the top 20, half of whom play primarily on the European tour.
The Americans only have five in the top 20.
Or maybe the Ryder Cup would be a good gauge. Perhaps someone should round up the best 12 players from the Nationwide Tour and let them take on Europe. Then again, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and America's best can't seem to beat the Europeans.
And ultimately, that might be one reason why Europe has done so well.
It is kicked around as a second-class tour, with small purses and weak fields in tournaments played on shoddy courses in remote corners of the world. The Ryder Cup is its chance to show it's not the kid with hand-me-down clothes from the other side of the tracks.
'We're the country cousins,' Padraig Harrington said. 'The European Tour has a chip on its shoulder.'
And it only gets bigger whenever someone mentions the Nationwide Tour.
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    Pepperell among co-leaders early in Qatar

    By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 5:06 pm

    DOHA, Qatar – Eddie PepperellGregory Havret, and Aaron Rai made the most of calm early morning conditions at Doha Golf Club to set the pace in the opening round of the Qatar Masters at 7-under-par 65 on Thursday.

    Havret went bogey free, Pepperell made one bogey and eight birdies, while fellow English golfer Rai eagled his last hole to add to five birdies.

    One shot behind the leaders were four players, including former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari of Italy and former champion Alvaro Quiros of Spain.

    Defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea started with a 68, and Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma of India shot 69 despite a double bogey on the 15th hole.

    Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters

    Pepperell, who is fast gaining a reputation on the European Tour for his irreverent tweets and meaningful blogs, showed his clubs can also do an equal amount of talking after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Malaysia.

    Pepperell birdied Nos. 10, 11, 14, 16 and 18 with a single blemish on 13 after starting on the back nine. He made three more birdies on his back nine.

    He was joined on top of the leaderboard by Havret, who made five birdies in six holes from the sixth, and Rai, who eagled the last.

    ''I surprised myself, really,'' said Pepperell, who finished third in Portugal and Netherlands last year.

    ''I've made some changes this week with personnel, so I've been working on a couple of new things and I surprised myself out there with how well I managed to trust it.

    ''I hit some quality tee shots, that's the area I feel that I've been struggling with a bit lately. We had a good time.

    ''It's definitely a bigger picture for me this week than tomorrow and indeed the weekend. I'm not overly-fussed about my early season form.”

    Molinari, a three-time champion on the tour including last year in Morocco, started with eight straight pars, and then made seven birdies in his last 10 holes, including a chip-in for birdie on the last.

    ''I hit every green apart from the last one. I hit a lot of fairways, I had a lot of chances for birdie,'' said Edoardo, the older brother of Francesco.

    ''Last week in Oman, I had a decent week, I had a bad first round and then three very good rounds. It's been the case for the last few weeks so my focus this week was to try and get a good start.''

    Oliver Fisher of England was the best among the afternoon groups with a 6-under 66, joining Molinari, Quiros and Germany's Marcel Schneider in a tie for fourth.

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    Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

    By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 4:45 pm

    Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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    Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

    The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

    How to watch:

    Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream:

    Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream:

    Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6PM ET

    Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6PM ET

    Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

    Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

    Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.

    Notables in the field:

    Tiger Woods

    • Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

    • Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

    • Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.

    Rickie Fowler

    • The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

    • Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

    • On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 

    Rory McIlroy

    • It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

    • McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

    • Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13). 

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    Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand

    By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 1:01 pm

    CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.

    Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.

    ''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.

    ''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''

    Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

    Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.

    Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.

    ''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.

    Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.

    Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.

    ''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.

    She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.

    Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.