The Year So Far Best Player Biggest Surprise
The West Coast swing usually sets the tone for the rest of the season, or at least builds excitement as golf heads toward The Players Championship and the Masters. This one had about as much buzz as the United States against Britain for the bronze medal in curling.
Four of eight tournaments were decided by three shots or more, and the Match Play Championship in effect ended with six holes remaining. Nine players won nine tournaments, which is not unusual and certainly not a bad thing, but there were no back-nine duels among the top players.
Then again, the top five players competed against each other only once.
Tiger Woods has played only nine rounds on the PGA Tour this year. Ernie Els did not show up until Riviera, and didn't stick around more than one day at La Costa. Seven of the nine winners were ranked outside the top 25 when the season began, the exceptions being Woods and David Toms.
Maybe the Florida swing couldn't get here fast enough.
Woods is the defending champion in the Ford Championship at Doral, where a year ago he rallied in a scintillating Sunday showdown against Phil Mickelson. Nine of the top 10 players in the world ranking are at the Blue Monster, and Ford didn't even have to pay them this year.
Woods already has won, in a playoff at the Buick Invitational. But even that conjures memories of a West Coast swing that fell flat. He won in somber fashion, after Jose Maria Olazabal missed a 4-foot par putt. Woods' last four wins worldwide have been in playoff, a trend that might age him.
Before moving forward, here are a few trends that emerged from two months on the West Coast:
The guy atop the money list is Rory Sabbatini, with a victory and two second-place finishes. He also has made the most significant climb in the world ranking, starting the year at No. 71 and moving up to No. 18.
But the best player was Chad Campbell.
Sabbatini had a chance to win only one tournament, which he did at Riviera. Campbell was tied for the lead going into the final round of the Sony Open before Toms beat him by five, he won the Bob Hope Classic, and he advanced to the quarterfinals of Match Play by beating Woods.
Jack Nicklaus was the last player to win a PGA Tour event during his tenure as Ryder Cup captain. Tom Lehman played as if he wants to be the next.
Lehman hasn't seriously threatened to win, but he had backdoor top 10s at Pebble Beach and Riviera, and advanced to the semifinals of the Accenture Match Play Championship. He is 10th in the Ryder Cup standings heading into the Florida Swing.
Any week in the Ryder Cup standings.
One reason Lehman as a playing-captain might be forgotten by the end of March is the new system that awards quadruple points this year, plus a 75-point bonus for winning. And those are just regular PGA Tour events.
J.B. Holmes, the 23-year-old rookie, won in Phoenix and was 10th in the standings. Arron Oberholser won his first PGA Tour event at Pebble Beach and moved up to sixth. Chris DiMarco was third at the start of the year, and could be out of the top 10 by the end of the week.
It might not be until after the British Open that Lehman has any idea how his team is shaping up, and whether he needs to worry about his putting or shirt sizes.
It seems ludicrous to raise questions about Phil Mickelson when he has finished in the top 10 at four of his first five tournaments. But Mickelson usually makes his mark on the West Coast swing, and this was only fourth time in his 14 full seasons on the PGA Tour that he didn't have a trophy upon arriving in Florida.
Vijay Singh now has gone 13 consecutive starts on the PGA Tour, his longest drought since 2002.
After winning Q-school straight out of college, J.B. Holmes pounded the TPC of Scottsdale into submission to win the FBR Open by seven shots. The kid is long, no doubt, but his age (23) and pedigree (played on the Walker Cup team last year) make his potential tantalizing.
Mike Weir must be having some serious self-doubts.
The Canadian who showed such grit in winning the Masters has wilted twice in the last three weeks. Tied for the lead at Pebble Beach, all he needed was a mediocre game to put heat on Oberholser, but Weir couldn't find the green with a wedge and stumbled to a 78. He had a 4-up lead with four holes to play on Geoff Ogilvy and appeared a lock to get into the quarterfinals until he missed three putts inside 12 feet to close the match, and lost in 21 holes.
Stuart Appleby made clutch putts on two of the last three holes to get into a playoff against Singh at Kapalua, then beat him with an exquisite bunker shot from behind the 18th green that nearly went in.
If not many remember that sequence, maybe they weren't watching.
And if they weren't watching, maybe it was because Woods, Mickelson and Retief Goosen didn't show up, and Els wasn't eligible for the winners-only event.
They all played together for the first time last week at La Costa, and they are together again at the Blue Monster, along with Singh. Perhaps that's what it takes for people to pay attention to the PGA Tour.
People used to say the tour didn't start until Doral.
This year, that might be the case.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys
After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.
There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.
It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.
It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.
“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.
In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.
Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”
Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.
“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”
Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.
Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.
If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.
For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.
Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.
Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.
While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.
When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?
Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.
After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.
The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.
That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.
The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.
While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.
Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.
Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.
“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”
The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?
Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'
John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.
That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.
Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.
Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid
Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.
Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.
Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.
World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.
Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.
Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain
The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.
Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.
"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."
Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.
Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.
Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.