World Golf Championships Losing Some Sizzle

By Associated PressAugust 29, 2006, 4:00 pm
World GolfNo one would have stopped Shiv Kapur for an autograph if not for the golf shoes on his feet and the caddie at his side as he walked toward the practice range at Firestone.
Even some of the players at the Bridgestone Invitational wondered who he was.
Instead of checking out his swing -- a dead giveaway that Kapur was a player -- they looked on his bag for a name.
That didn't help, either.
Kapur is a 24-year-old from New Delhi, polished and polite. He plays primarily on the Asian Tour, where his victory late last year in the Volvo Masters made him eligible for a World Golf Championship that included 48 of the top 50 in the world.
He checked in at No. 192.
But it's players like Kapur who make these different from run-of-the-mill PGA Tour events.
With so much money on the PGA Tour, and so much global competition everywhere from Torrey Pines to Warwick Hills, the identity of the World Golf Championships now comes from players no one can identify.
'There are a lot of guys I've seen this week that I didn't know who they were,' David Toms said. 'But that's part of world golf now. And it is a World Golf Championship. More power to them. If they can qualify, everybody else on our tour has a chance to qualify, too.'
A year ago, the mystery man was Mark Cayeux of Zimbabwe.
He qualified for Firestone by winning the Tour Championship in South Africa, and his first trip to America was unforgettable. He barely had found his locker when the pairings were released, and Cayeux was in the first group off No. 10 with Tiger Woods.
It wasn't nearly as nerve-racking for Kapur, nor was it his first trip to the United States.
'I spent four years at Purdue,' he said. 'I'm a Midwestern boy.'
How he got from India to Purdue is another story, although it was amusing to hear Shapur tell how he expected to go a few months during the winter with limited golf, only to find out his first year that the ground didn't thaw until April.
'It was a bit of a rude welcome,' he said with a laugh. 'But it was OK. I was able to catch up on my studies.'
Kapur kept a bad start from getting worse with birdies on his last three holes in the first round for a 72, but that was his best score of the week. He wound up at 13-over 293 and finished 65th out of 78 players, earning $35,000.
His next stop is the European tour, with the ultimate goal of joining the PGA Tour.
Chances are, you will hear from him again.
As for the international players with more cache -- Padraig Harrington, Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Bjorn, Trevor Immelman -- they have become part of the PGA Tour landscape.
And they don't stand out at the World Golf Championships the way they once did.
There were 25 international players who had their PGA Tour cards in 1999, the first year of the World Golf Championships. Now there are 69 foreign players on the PGA Tour
Prize money was $7.5 million at Firestone. It was $6 million at the Wachovia Championship.
There are times when it's hard to tell the difference between the two.
Sure, the WGC events are top-heavy with the best players because at least the top 50 in the world are eligible for them. But with limited fields, that means fewer players for Woods to beat. And you have to wonder how hard some of them are trying, especially since there is no cut and the money is guaranteed.
Mark Hensby withdrew from the PGA Championship with a foot injury. A week later, he managed to tee it up in the Bridgestone Invitational, finished 19 shots behind and took home $39,500.
The acronym is WGC. Maybe it should be ATM.
The Bridgestone Invitational still feels important, for no other reason than Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and all the best players were in the field. The buzz came from Woods winning his fourth straight tournament, and from a course like Firestone South, universally accepted as one of the best tracks on tour.
But the WGCs no longer feel as unique as they once did.
'We've got more top players here on a regular basis. Everybody in the world is wanting to get here,' PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. 'That has changed the face of the tour a little bit. The number of times during the year the vast majority of players are competing against each other is different than it was eight years ago. That was one of the purposes.
'From a player perspective, I could see why it's a little less unique,' he added. 'But that's what they wanted. Tiger talks about it all the time. We're getting our mission accomplished.'
Finchem sees no decrease in support or interest, and the 5.9 TV rating in the final round was the highest of any event this side of a major.
Woods says it's easy for him to get fired up for the WGCs because the best in the world are competing. Or maybe because it has become his annual annuity. He has played in 23 of them (including two World Cups) and earned more than $15 million.
The next one is the American Express Championship outside London the last week in September (Woods is the defending champion), and if the trend continues, expect a number of Americans to decide that's either too far away or too dangerous.
Next year, Amex becomes the CA Championship and will be played every year at Doral.
Think that won't look and feel like a regular PGA Tour event?
And with so much emphasis on the FedEx Cup next year, the WGCs are likely to slide even further into obscurity, notable only because of a large purse, a small field and players like Shiv Kapur.
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 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 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.