PGA Tour to Redefine Its Season

By Associated PressNovember 2, 2005, 5:00 pm
2005 Tour ChampionshipATLANTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods walked wearily across the parking lot in twilight Wednesday, recalling the year he played eight consecutive weeks as he wrapped up his record-setting 2000 season.
 
``I was wiped out at the end of the year,'' he said.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods prepares for the Tour Championship in Wednesday's practice round.
Woods might want to get used to playing long stretches under a new PGA Tour schedule in 2007 that commissioner Tim Finchem said would include the ``most impactful series of events in the history of our sport.''
 
It includes a season-long points race called the FedEx Cup. It features three blockbluster events leading to the Tour Championship, which would end in September, with a payoff that Finchem said likely will be the largest of any playoff system in sports.
 
About the only thing missing were the details.
 
Finchem delivered a skeletal sketch of the new season, conceding that he has not figured out where all the pieces fit and how the points race will work. The idea was to make golf look like other sports at the end of the year.
 
``We're really the only sport that doesn't have a stronger finish than our regular season,'' he said.
 
Top players rarely compete in the same tournaments once the major championships end in August. Four of the top five players in the world -- Woods, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen and Ernie Els -- played together in four tournaments before the Masters.
 
Goosen skipped a World Golf Championship last month, while Mickelson is not at the Tour Championship.
 
Under the new model, the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone would precede the PGA Championship. One week later would be the start of the Championship Series, in which points accrued since January would be prorated going into three straight tournaments, with the top 30 eligible for the Tour Championship.
 
``If you want to win the cup series, you're going to have to play those events,'' Woods said. ``It's going to be a lot -- six out of seven events at the end of the year, then probably a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. That's a lot of golf, but after that, you're pretty much done, which is great.''
 
It is similar to the Chase for the championship that NASCAR began last year, in which the top 10 drivers of the season compete in the final 10 races for the title.
 
``We go so far into the football season, and so far into the fall, that we haven't been able to get the kind of strength we see in other sports,'' Finchem said. ``We're the only major sport that doesn't have a playoff system.''
 
The first step is taking the model to TV negotiations, expected to begin later this month.
 
``We have given a general flavor of the direction we're going with our television partners,'' Finchem said. ``They see the possibilities in terms of strengthening our overall product.''
 
Some players still expressed concerns.
 
Chris DiMarco noted that Singh, who has missed the last two cuts, might not be eligible for the Tour Championship. Woods also missed the cut the last time he played, two weeks ago at Disney.
 
Even if a player were to win all four majors, it's conceivable he would not win the FedEx Cup or even make it to the Tour Championship.
 
``What's the worse-case scenario? That our Super Bowl doesn't have all the marquee players,'' David Toms said.
 
Finchem did not say how many players would be eligible to win the FedEx Cup, although he said the three events in the Championship Series would have 144 players.
 
The Associated Press first reported the new model in July, and tour officials have been tweaking the concept since. They still are unsure how the points system will work, and Finchem said there was much work left.
 
``I've met with Tim five times, and I've heard five different things,'' Woods said.
 
Multiple sources involved in the discussion, all speaking on condition of anonymity because the tournaments have not been announced, have said the three events leading to the Tour Championship would be the Barclays Classic in New York, the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston and the Western Open. The Western Open is still dealing with sponsorship issues and a decision on where to play.
 
Golf World magazine reported last week that the Western Open might be rotated among such markets as Minnesota, Indianapolis, Chicago and St. Louis. Finchem mentioned that Bellerive outside St. Louis was supposed to host the American Express Championship, an event canceled because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
 
The heart of the season will be shorter.
 
But for those tournaments concerned they might get knocked off the schedule, Finchem said there would be six or seven other events after the Tour Championship in which players could try to earn their tour cards for next year.
 
That section of the season would be called the ``Quest for the Card,'' although Woods said he would not play any of those tournaments, and other top players also would be taking time off.
 
Still, Finchem believes a season-long points race, coupled with a Tour Championship in September, would mean more top players in the same tournament.
 
Related Links:
Full Coverage - The Tour Championship
 
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.