Notes: Hadley, others still playing for Masters invitation

By Doug FergusonMarch 25, 2014, 6:08 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Texas Open is the last chance for players to crack the top 50 in the world ranking and earn a spot in the Masters.

The drama is lacking this year.

Richard Sterne is No. 53 and George Coetzee is No. 55 – except they're not in the field at San Antonio. The only players at the Valero Texas Open who can move into the top 50 are Chesson Hadley (No. 56) and Ryan Palmer (No. 62). Everyone else who could make it to the top 50 would have to win – and that's an automatic invitation, anyway.

Without any movement, Stephen Gallacher of Scotland (who won Dubai) is the only player who will have moved into the top 50 since the end of last year.

Augusta National began relying on the world ranking in 2000, only it was slightly different. The top 50 at the end of the preceding year received invitations, along with the top 50 a month before the Masters. Starting in 2003, the final cutoff was moved to one week before the Masters.

The club has never said why it takes the top 50 at the end of a calendar year. Perhaps it's so players can make travel arrangements, or perhaps it was to give an advantage to overseas players, who compete deep into the year. PGA Tour members have more avenues to qualify throughout the season.

But imagine what would happen if there was only one cutoff for the top 50 in the world, and it followed the Florida swing.

Matteo Manassero (51), Branden Grace (57), David Lynn (65) and Peter Hanson (70) all were in the top 50 in December. They would have spent the Florida swing trying to stay in the top 50 or move back in. That change might be something for Augusta National to consider if it feels the field is getting too close to 100 players.

As it is, the Masters virtually is assured of having fewer than 100 players for the 48th straight year. But just barely.


FURYK FOUNDATION: Jim Furyk never minded showing up for a charity event, especially if another athlete asked him.

Furyk said he had a harder time asking others to help him. Nevertheless, he assembled quite a crew last weekend for the fourth ''Furyk & Friends Concert and Celebrity Golf Classic” at Sawgrass Country Club.

He raised $450,000 at last count for the Jim and Tabitha Furyk Foundation, which serves needy children and families in the Jacksonville area. The event now has raised over $1.2 million since it began in 2011.

Among those who participated were Reggie Jackson, Lynn Swann and Jerome Bettis, along with golfers Davis Love III, Zach Johnson and Justin Leonard.


THE APPLE DIDN'T FALL FAR: Few players are as confident as Ian Poulter. Geoff Ogilvy once told about playing with Poulter for the first time with Justin Rose and Rose's brother, right after Poulter had earned his European Tour card. He said Poulter talked about how he would win in Europe as a rookie and eventually move onto the PGA Tour and all the big events. ''He couldn't even beat Justin's brother that day,'' Ogilvy said.

Sure enough, Poulter won the Italian Open as a rookie. He reached as high as No. 5 in the world and has become Europe's best performer in the Ryder Cup.

Sunday at Bay Hill, he was on the putting green as his 9-year-old son, Luke, watched him from the side. Someone turned to Poulter's son and playfully said, ''Luke, how long until you're out here?'' The boy didn't blink.

''Two years,'' he said.

Poulter heard the conversation and burst into laughter, telling his son, ''Luke, don't you change.''


GMAC AND MAHAN: Graeme McDowell and Hunter Mahanhave been paired twice in the last month - the third round of the Match Play Championship, and the third round at Bay Hill. They mainly are linked by the final match of the 2010 Ryder Cup, which McDowell won to clinch victory for Europe.

But they go even further back than that.

McDowell was asked Saturday if he had even blown a big lead, and he could only think of the NCAA Championship in 2002 on the Scarlett Course at Ohio State. He won six tournaments his last year at Alabama-Birmingham. Playing only for the individual medal, he had a one-shot lead over Mahan, the best from Oklahoma State.

''I threw up all over myself in the last round,'' McDowell said. ''We were individuals because we played so well, but our team was well back. That was the first time I played with him. We're playing together a bit more lately. He's a great player. I enjoy playing with him. I love the way he hits it.''

McDowell closed with a 74 that day in Ohio. Mahan had a 72. Both were overtaken by Troy Matteson, who won the NCAA title with a 67.

Mahan's memory wasn't as clear.

''I don't remember much about that that,'' Mahan said. ''But I knew about Graeme because he was winning all these tournaments. And it's kind of unusual to get some Irish kid at Alabama-Birmingham.''


MOLINARI MOVEMENT: Francesco Molinari of Italy tied for fifth at Bay Hill, leaving him 39 points (FedEx Cup) away from being able to take up special temporary membership on the PGA Tour. That would allow him unlimited exemptions the rest of the year.

Molinari would need to be at least equal to No. 125 – either FedEx Cup points or money - after the Wyndham Championship, which would make him eligible for a PGA Tour card next season. But that assumes he wants to play more in America.

He has been one of the few European players from the top 50 who has not shown an inclination to be a PGA Tour member. The other is Paul Lawrie. Molinari had a chance a few years ago when he tied for third at Doral, but he chose to stay in Europe.

''It was not great timing,'' he said. ''We had just moved to London and my son was born.''

And now?

''You never know,'' Molinari said before going into the weekend at Bay Hill. ''The best players in the world are playing here, and you want to challenge yourself.''

Molinari won the HSBC Champions in its first year as a World Golf Championship in 2010, but the PGA Tour did not treat it as a regular WGC (complete with official money and a three-year exemption) until last year.


DIVOTS: Nick Watney returns to work next week in the Shell Houston Open, his first tournament as a father. His wife, Amber, gave birth to their first child the day after the Cadillac Championship. They named their daughter Harper. ... Karrie Webb has won 11 times on the LPGA Tour (including a major) since her 2005 induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame. The 39-year-old Australian won in Phoenix for her 41st career LPGA title. ''I probably celebrate those wins a lot more than I used to,'' she said. ... Poppy Hills is open again. The course that once was part of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-am reopened last week after an overhaul by original architect Robert Trent Jones II. Even though Poppy has been replaced by Monterey Peninsula at the AT&T, it will be part of the rotation for the First Tee Open on the Champions Tour.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Major champions played in the final group in three of the four PGA Tour events on the Florida swing - Rory McIlroy at the Honda Classic, Jason Dufner at Doral and Adam Scott at Bay Hill. None went on to win.


FINAL WORD: ''Arnold Palmer was on 16 and he gave me the thumbs-up. It's kind of hard to hit a shot when you're in contention and he's looking at you.'' – Erik Compton, who tied for fifth in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

 

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “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.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”