Notes: Tour makes several changes to 2013 events

By Doug FergusonJuly 31, 2012, 10:07 pm

AKRON, Ohio – A shorter season on the PGA Tour in 2013 will mean slightly larger fields for as many as nine tournaments.

It's a move designed to help players who earn their cards through PGA Tour Qualifying School or the Tour. They are at the bottom of the priority rankings for getting into tournaments, and spots can be rare in the early part of the season with smaller fields due to limited daylight. If they didn't qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, they at least had four Fall Series tournaments to make up ground to get into the top 125 and keep their cards.

But next year is all about transition. The Tour season ends with the Tour Championship, and after the three-tournament series that effectively replaces Q-School, the new season (2013-14) will start in October. The Fall Series will be the start of the new year.

''You have four fewer tournaments, and that puts a strain on playing opportunities,'' said Andy Pazder, the Tour's chief of operations.

The Tour's policy board is asking certain tournaments to expand their fields for only 2013. Tournaments in March and April typically have 144 players because of earlier sunsets. Some of them are being asked to expand those fields to 156 players.

Pazder conceded that it puts the tournaments in a ''precarious position'' to make the cut on Friday. The pace is so slow at some spots that they can't make the cut by Friday even without expanding the fields. Among those expected to be left alone are Riviera, Honolulu and Pebble Beach, which recently reduced its field from 180 players to 156 players to improve the pace of the pro-am format.

The limited-field events are not off the hook. The Arnold Palmer Invitational, AT&T National and Colonial are likely to go from 120 players to 132 players. Spared from the list is the Memorial, run by Jack Nicklaus, which recently agreed to ramp up its field from 105 players to 120 players.

That's not the only boost for the Q-School and graduates.

Tournaments typically have eight sponsor exemptions - two designated for Tour members not eligible (such as John Daly), two for Q-School and graduates and four unrestricted. The formula for next year will be only two unrestricted exemptions and four exemptions set aside for Q-School and grads. The Tour is also doing away with the commissioner's exemption for foreign players, which is not used very much, anyway.

In all, it should create close to 90 additional spots to help alleviate not having four Fall Series events at the end of the year.

RYDER CUP PUSH: The next two weeks will decide the eight Americans who make the Ryder Cup team, and while there are plenty of points at stake, those on the outside have their work cut out for them.

Hunter Mahan occupies No. 8 in the standings, but he is $653,522 ahead of PGA champion Keegan Bradley in ninth place. The money (or points) is double at the PGA Championship, the final week to earn an automatic spot.

Bradley was left off the Presidents Cup team last year, even though his two wins included a major.

''I really want this pretty bad, and that can be a negative,'' Bradley said. ''I know that if I have a decent last end of the year, I'll be on that team. But this U.S. team is one of the strongest in recent history, I would say, with all major winners coming from America, except the British Open.''

Indeed, six of the top eight have either won multiple times (Tiger Woods, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Mahan) or won a major worth double points (Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson). The others are Matt Kuchar, who won The Players Championship, and Phil Mickelson, who won Pebble Beach, lost in a playoff at Riviera and tied for third at the Masters.

Missing from the top eight are some usual suspects - Dustin Johnson at No. 12, Steve Stricker at No. 13 and Jim Furyk, who has played on every U.S. team since making his debut in the 1997 Ryder Cup. Rickie Fowler is at No. 10 and Brandt Snedeker is No. 11.

Snedeker lost about 160 points on the final hole of the British Open when he made a bogey, Woods made a birdie, and they tied for third. If Snedeker had been in third place alone, he would be slightly ahead of Fowler.

A year ago, Snedeker could have made the U.S. team for the Presidents Cup by closing with a 1-over 72. Instead, he had a 74 in the BMW Championship and missed out.

''This is a position I'm used to,'' Snedeker said. ''Unfortunately, I've never been on the inside. I've been on the outside looking in. I've got to play well, and if I don't, I have nobody to blame but myself.''

Davis Love III will announce on Sept. 4 his four captain's picks. Just like making the team, it won't be easy.

PGA FIELD: William McGirt was closer than ever to playing in his first major championship.

In another example of how every shot counts, McGirt missed getting into the PGA Championship by $11. The PGA of America went down to No. 78 on its points list to fill the field of 156 players for next week at Kiawah Island. The points list is based on Tour earnings from the Bridgestone Invitational last year through the Canadian Open.

Jimmy Walker, who got the last spot, had $1,189,510. McGirt was at No. 79 with $1,189,499.

McGirt tied for second in the Canadian Open. Finishing in second place alone (he made bogey on the last hole) or winning would have sent him to Kiawah. Alas, all is not lost. McGirt is the first alternate, and two spots are held open in case the winners of the Reno-Tahoe Open or Bridgestone Invitational are not already eligible for the PGA Championship.

The PGA Championship fills out its field with special invitations, which essentially is a way for it to get as many from the top 100 in the world. But even those who fell out of the top 100 in the last few weeks were given exemptions - Michael Hoey of Northern Ireland, Thomas Aiken of South Africa and Robert Allenby. The PGA of America went down to No. 108 - Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand - for its invitations.

The PGA Championship has all of the top 108 players in the world ranking.

DIVOTS: The seventh hole at Bethpage Black, which played as a par 4 at 525 yards for the U.S. Open in 2009, will be returned to a par 5 for The Barclays later this month. That received strong approval from Phil Mickelson. ''I've always been a fan of the original designer's interests in how a golf hole is designed to play from its inception, as opposed to somebody else who comes in and tries to alter it for their own benefit or ego,'' he said, without mentioning names. ... British Open champion Ernie Els has already said he would return to the Open at CordeValle, part of the Fall Series. ... He is friends with Hasso Plattner, co-founder of SAP, who owns CordeValle. ... Every winner of a Tour event that awards full FedEx Cup points has qualified for the Bridgestone Invitational except for one - Ben Curtis, who lives 15 minutes from Firestone. Curtis won the Texas Open, which had the weakest field of the year.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Brendan Steele, tied for the lead going into the final round of the PGA Championship a year ago, is the fifth alternate this year.

FINAL WORD: ''I had trouble getting the butterflies to fly in formation.'' – William McGirt, in the final group for the first time on Tour at the Canadian Open. He finished one shot back of winner Scott Piercy.

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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.”