PGA Tour widening gap in world ranking points

By Doug FergusonDecember 29, 2015, 7:35 pm

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley laid out ambitious plans with hopes of becoming a ''viable alternative'' to the PGA Tour.

That starts with an increase in prize money, and he went so far as to say that it would make more sense for the European Tour's flagship event to be the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai ($8 million purse) instead of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth ($5 million purse) because of the money.

Another measure of the mountain he has to climb is the world ranking.

The gap continues to widen in the average ranking points for PGA Tour events compared with Europe - up an average of one point this year, two points from 2012.

Including the four majors and the four World Golf Championships, the PGA Tour averaged 56.4 points for the winner compared with 42.2 points for the European Tour. That's a difference of 14.2 points, up from 13.3 points a year ago.

Throw out the majors (each worth 100 points) and the WGCs, and the PGA Tour offered an average of 49.5 points compared with 32.9 points for the European Tour.

The European Tour had six regular events that offered 50 points or more, including the BMW PGA Championship, which is guaranteed 64 points as the flagship event. The PGA Tour had seven events that offered 60 points or more, including The Players Championship, which is guaranteed 80 points (The Players actually has a stronger field by raw numbers than three of the majors).

The four events in The Finals Series for the Race to Dubai offered an average of 53 points to the winner. The four FedEx Cup playoff events on the PGA Tour awarded an average of 68.5 points to the winner.

Pelley is aware he needs time to become a viable option, and his target is the next generation of players.

''That's not going to happen necessarily in 2016,'' Pelley said last month in Dubai. ''You'll start to see it happen in 2017. You'll start to see it come to fruition in 2018. We definitely in three to five years will have a viable alternative, so that 17-, 18-, 19-year-old doesn't necessarily need to go to America to be able to make as much money as they possibly can.''


SETTING THE BAR HIGH: Jordan Spieth and caddie Michael Greller have made a bet each of their three years. Greller sets a number of times Spieth must hole out from off the green, and if he surpasses the number, Greller has to take him for dinner. Of course, Spieth gets to invite anyone he wants, and last year in San Diego there were about 20 guests on Greller's tab.

Based on what he did last year, the new number for Spieth to beat is 20. Only it doesn't start next week at Kapalua.

''He talked me into starting in Australia,'' Greller said, shaking his head.

Spieth holed out with an 8-iron on the 17th hole at the Australian Open. A week later, Spieth made a hole-in-one at Albany Golf Club on his second hole of the Hero World Challenge.

Alas, there was one sliver of good news.

''He wanted anything over 100 yards to count as double,'' Greller said in the Bahamas. ''So it would be four if I had gone for that.''

Holing out in the majors, however, still counts double.


HORSCHEL'S OUTLOOK: Billy Horschel wanted to be the first player to win the FedEx Cup in consecutive years. Not only did he fail to make it to the Tour Championship, he didn't make it back to Kapalua for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

Horschel is known as a streaky player. He had a big run in the spring of 2013 when he won in New Orleans, and then had only four top 10s in his next 39 events. He had a great run in September 2014 when he won the BMW Championship and Tour Championship to capture the FedEx Cup, and he has had only three top 10s in 30 tournaments worldwide since then.

He thinks he knows the fix.

''We played a lot with Jordan (Spieth), a lot with Zach (Johnson). We see them hit it 10 to 15 feet on average, and I'm hitting it 20 to 30,'' Horschel said. ''For me to be a more consistent player and have those runs last longer than a four- to five-week stretch, my short game and wedge play need to be more consistent.''

Horschel said he has worked so hard on his short game the last few months that ''I'm sick of hitting wedges.''

''If we look back at 2016, the reason I'll have had a great year is because I put in all the time on my wedge play, and it's a result of it,'' he said.


IT'S ALL ABOUT TIMING: Imagine if Rickie Fowler could blend his last two seasons.

Last year was all about the majors. Fowler in 2014 joined Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to finish in the top five at all four majors (Jordan Spieth did it this year). The only problem was Fowler didn't win any of them. In fact, he didn't win at all.

This year, he won a career-high three times - The Players Championship, Scottish Open and a FedEx Cup playoff event at the Deutsche Bank Championship. But the majors were somewhat of a bust. He shot 81-73 to miss the cut in the U.S. Open, and he finished a combined 37 shots behind in the other three majors.

So how do you have a year of big wins and big chances in majors?

''No clue,'' Fowler said with a smile. ''I've been trying to figure that out. I don't think there's a justifiable answer. It's just timing, when you get hot. You can only prepare so much and be ready to play. But actually getting it to happen at the right time?''

So which year would he rather have? He was plenty happy with this one.

''Holding trophies feels a lot better,'' Fowler said.


BACK TO TORREY? Adam Scott wants to play two times during the West Coast swing. One will be the Sony Open because Honolulu is on his way back from Australia. He loves Riviera, where he won in 2005 when it was reduced to 36 holes because of rain. Then again, Torrey Pines makes more sense because of the schedule. He could hang out in Hawaii an extra week and then tee it up the next week in San Diego.

Scott hasn't been to Torrey Pines since the 2008 U.S. Open. And he hasn't seen the North Course since he was a teenager.

He played the 1994 Junior World Championship and tied for 20th. Trevor Immelman was the runner-up that year, losing in a playoff to a kid named Ben Flam.

Also in the field that week: Jose Luis Campra, who now caddies for Emiliano Grillo, and Joe Skovron, the caddie for Rickie Fowler.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Of the 14 players who have won the Masters and British Open, two are not yet in the World Golf Hall of Fame - Tiger Woods and Zach Johnson.


FINAL WORD: ''They weren't like Jordan and Rory, winning multiple majors in their early 20s. There was really only Tiger doing that at the time.'' - Adam Scott, comparing young players today with his generation.

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

Getty Images

McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''