HSBC Champions: WGC red-headed stepchild

By Doug FergusonNovember 1, 2011, 6:23 pm

SHANGHAI – Except for the red carpet in bunkers on the practice range, signs posted in English and Chinese, and bicycles competing with BMWs for space on the road, the HSBC Champions looks like any other World Golf Championship.

Too bad the PGA Tour doesn’t see it that way.

The Tour opened itself to criticism – and even silly whispers of a conspiracy – by deciding to wait until after the HSBC Champions before sending ballots for its postseason awards. The tournament counts as an official win if a PGA Tour member is holding the trophy Sunday at Sheshan International, so it was the right decision to wait

For those who saw ballot delay as a slight against Luke Donald, they’re missing the point.

The only bias this exposed was how the PGA Tour continues to treat this WGC differently from the other three. Otherwise, there is no way it would have forgotten that the season really didn’t end when Donald ran off six straight birdies, shot 64 to win at Disney and establish himself the clear favorite as player of the year.

And the bias looks even worse considering the other “world” events are all played in America.

“This should be treated as the rest,” Thomas Bjorn said. “It comes at a time when certain people are not going to play, but that’s the nature of the beast. It’s a world-class field on a fantastic golf course. There’s a couple of players missing, but not too many. This event has everything it needs. It showcases the game in this part of the world. And this is where the future is lying financially for golf.”

The Tour makes a reasonable argument for giving the HSBC Champions only partial status.

Because of where it falls on the calendar and on the globe, many of its stars aren’t playing as much. The HSBC Champions has the fewest percentage of PGA Tour players (44 percent compared with about 70 percent for the other WGCs), thus the Tour is hesitant to award all its perks when the majority of the field is not already a member.

Fair enough.

But if any player wins against this field, is that not worthy of PGA Tour membership?

“I don’t think it can be both ways,” Nick Watney said. “If it’s a WGC event, it should count as official money. It should be all or nothing. I don’t understand how it can be an official win, but not be official money. It’s kind of like, ‘Who do we think we are?’ Yeah, you can put our name on it, but we’re not going to count it toward our Tour. I just don’t get it.”

Why shouldn’t it count as official money?

Remember, when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem first introduced the WGCs more than a decade ago, the idea was to end the season with back-to-back blockbuster events – the Tour Championship and a World Golf Championship in Spain. Of course, this was before the FedEx Cup came along, and before Europe began tapping into the lucrative Asian market.

The problem with counting this toward the PGA Tour money list was the guy hitting balls Tuesday afternoon between Hunter Mahan and Rory McIlroy. It was Bobby Gates, and if the name sounds familiar, he was the one who missed a 7-foot par putt on his final hole at Disney that ultimately cost him his card.

Gates wound up at No. 126 on the money list by $1,431. If the HSBC Champions counted as official money, he would be guaranteed at least $25,000 and assured of finishing in the top 125.

“It is weird to be here at a World Golf Championship before I go back to Q-School,” Gates said. “But it’s a bonus to be here. It’s a WGC, and the best in the world are here. I’m one of those anomalies.”

This is where it gets a bit muddled – for Gates and Jim Herman, an American who finished 196th on the money list.

Both were on the Nationwide Tour last year when they won in consecutive weeks Down Under – Gates in New Zealand, Herman in Australia. Because those events were co-sanctioned with the Australasian Tour, both finished high enough on the Australasian Tour’s money list that they got into the HSBC Champions through the allotment of spots awarded that tour.

Is it fair that Gates gets into a WGC event when some 70 guys ahead of him on the money list weren’t even eligible?

Probably not.

Then again, the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone and the Cadillac Championship at Doral always seem to have a few players who raise two questions: Who is this guy, and how did he get in this field? It shouldn’t matter that in this case they happen to be Americans.

The solutions are simple.

The HSBC Champions will be played a week before Disney next year. There is no reason it shouldn’t count as official money. If the money list means that much, a player should be willing to travel to Shanghai. And if players aren’t eligible, they can always play better.

What might help is increasing talk about starting a new PGA Tour season – the money list and FedEx Cup points – with the Fall Series. In that case, the HSBC Champions and even the Asia Pacific Classic in Malaysia could be part of the schedule.

The Tour delayed sending out awards ballots out of fairness to the players in Shanghai, and out of respect to the title sponsor. That should not be dismissed lightly. HSBC is aware that it is not looked upon in the same way as the other WGCs.

“Is it something we’d like to see worked on? Absolutely,” said Giles Morgan, head of sponsorship for HSBC. “It’s less important for us. This is a showcase for golf in China. It’s a relatively new market for golf, and a hugely important market for HSBC. At the same time, we believe this is a World Golf Championship, and therefore we want all the best players in the world.”

Maybe more of them would come if it counted.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.