Notes Aussie Masters eyeing Tiger coveted week

By Doug FergusonNovember 17, 2010, 2:35 am

MELBOURNE, Australia – Tiger Woods returning to Australia for the third straight year is a fairly safe bet considering the Presidents Cup will be held in 2011 at Royal Melbourne.

The question is how many times he plays Down Under, and that depends largely on the schedule.

IMG runs the Australian Masters, which it has invigorated by strengthening the field and the sandbelt courses on which it is played. Organizers want the same date for next year, only they suddenly have competition.

With the Presidents Cup set for Nov. 17-20, whatever event is the week before might get several players from the U.S. and International teams.

“We would like this date. It’s critical to us,” said Mark Steinberg, head of IMG’s global golf division. “We feel like we took on the risk by moving to this date a few years ago, going up against some big events, and we made it successful. We feel we deserve to keep the date, now that it’s a coveted date for next year.”

A year ago, the Aussie Masters was held the same week as the Hong Kong tournament, and both were co-sanctioned by the European Tour. This year, it went up against the Singapore Open, a top European Tour event that featured three major champions this year.

The Australasia Tour is contemplating putting the Australian Open (played in Sydney) or the Australian PGA Championship (Coolum) a week before the Presidents Cup. If that’s the case, Woods almost certainly won’t be playing.

Woods would like to see the Masters the week before the Presidents Cup, especially since it will be played at Kingston Heath, voted the top course in Australia. It would be back-to-back weeks on the famed sandbelt.

“I think it would not only be a great tournament, but great preparation for all the American players to come down and play,” he said.

The Australasian Tour is to meet Dec. 8 and should decide then what tournament goes in that spot.

IMG is contemplating creating exemptions for all Presidents Cup players.

Woods received a $3 million appearance fee – half of that paid by the Victorian government – but in his first year, a government study showed the economic return was more than $30 million. Despite sloppy weather, and Woods in Australia no longer a novelty, crowds still were far larger than Australia usually gets.

Steinberg said IMG was willing to make a multiyear commitment to the date and consider raising the purse from $1.5 million.


DISNEY DOINGS: For all the complaints about overseas tournaments taking away from Disney, why would the tournament want to change what it had this year? An exciting finish not just for the event, but for the final spots on the money list.

The PGA Tour tracks the movement of the 125th spot on the money list each week, and historically it does not change by more than $25,000. But on the final day of the season, the one-week change was a whopping $63,649.

Troy Merritt at No. 121 should have been safe all along, but he nearly tumbled out of the top 125 – he made it on the number – because so many players outside the top 125 were in contention. That’s a rarity.

Five players from the top 10 on the leaderboard started the week outside the top 125. That enabled three of them – Roland Thatcher, Michael Connell and Mark Wilson – to secure their cards for next year.


MASTERS LOOKAHEAD: J.B. Holmes made an eagle on his 17th hole (the par-5 eighth) at Disney to put himself in position for a Masters invitational. Then came a bogey from the bunker on his last hole, and he was out.

Heath Slocum, who played his final six holes in 1-under par and made a 7-foot par save on his final hole, tied with Holmes at 6-under 282 and retained the 30th spot on the PGA Tour money list by $1,439 over Holmes. The top 30 players receive invitations to the Masters.

Perhaps it’s only fitting Slocum edge him out, since he won a tournament this year (McGladrey Classic at Sea Island).

Holmes’ only way to Augusta National now is top 50 in the world the week before the Masters – he’s at No. 65 now and will slide even further over the next month – or to win a tournament.


A LESSON IN SCHEDULING: One key to Lee Westwood’s success was cutting back on his schedule – finding the right balance that keeps him sharp competitively but still feeling fresh when he plays. It’s one reason he no longer takes up PGA Tour membership.

But when told that Ryo Ishikawa of Japan played 17 consecutive weeks last year, Westwood signaled his approval.

“I played 17 in a row in 1996, and I won my first European Tour event that last week at the Scandinavian Masters,” said Westwood, who was 23 at the time. “It just felt like the right thing to do.”

Westwood felt he was young enough that playing such a big schedule was not a burden.

“I think some young kids don’t play enough,” he said.

Tiger Woods played at least 26 events his first three full seasons (including unofficial events). He said he spoke with Ishikawa about his schedule after their exhibition in Japan a few weeks ago.

What amazed Woods was hearing Ishikawa tell them that he prefers to work on swing changes at tournaments, in competition, instead of solely on the range. That’s where a big schedule helps the Japanese star, who won Sunday for the third time this year.


SHANGHAI PRECEDENT: PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem is not ready to count the HSBC Champions as official money on the PGA Tour, even though it’s a World Golf Championship, because it comes so late in the year – a week before the season-ender at Disney.

But there is precedent.

When the WGCs began in 1999, the American Express in Spain was held the week after the Tour Championship and counted toward the money list. The idea was to give the PGA Tour two blockbuster weeks at the end to decide the money title.

A number of Americans decided not to go to Valderrama, and the money list was never affected because Tiger Woods won by millions. Even so, there were players in Spain who could have affected the rest of the money list.

“I think the money list is less important than it used to be,” Finchem said. “As I said, we don’t view it as a big deal. We just made the call on this one, and for this period of time, we’re not going to do it. I don’t know what to tell you except we’ll continue to look at it.”


DIVOTS: Stewart Cink finished at No. 52 on the PGA Tour money list, his first time out of the top 50 since 2002 and only the second time since his first full season on tour in 1997. … The Masters (11-under 277) is the only tournament where Tiger Woods finished double digits under par this year. … Steve Elkington and Joe Durant finished inside the top 125 on the money list despite starting the year with only past champions status. Elkington got in 22 tournaments and finished 99th, while Durant played 19 times and wound up 124th. … Robert Garrigus became the first player since John Daly in 1995 to lead the PGA Tour in driving distance and win a tournament in the same year.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Sean O’Hair is the only American in the top 50 who is not yet eligible for the Masters.


FINAL WORD: “That aura thing, it helped him play better, but it didn’t make anyone else play worse.” – Geoff Ogilvy, on Tiger Woods.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.