Sign 'o the times: PGA Tour not the destination it used to be

By Doug FergusonAugust 2, 2011, 10:51 pm

AKRON, Ohio – There was a time when Martin Kaymer couldn’t get to America fast enough.

First came the inspiration from Tiger Woods’ incomparable 2000 season, when he won three straight majors among his 10 titles around the world. It was enough for the 15-year-old German to start dreaming of the PGA Tour, a chance to compete against Woods and the rest of the best players, to show them that he could play.

Then came a chance to go to PGA National in South Florida with his German national team.

“At that stage, I was still in school and couldn’t go,” Kaymer said Tuesday. “I said to my dad, ‘I really want to go there. Is it not possible you can take me out of school for a week or two weeks?’ He said, ‘Just keep working and you will play on the PGA Tour one year and then you will be there all year long.”’

Now that he’s a major champion, which comes with a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, Kaymer no longer is in such a hurry.

And why should he be?

Golf has changed so much over the last 10 years that America, once the ultimate destination for the best players from all corners of the globe, now is no more than an occasional detour for so many Europeans.

The World Golf Championships, such as this week’s Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, used to offer a taste of the PGA Tour with enormous prize money, impeccable conditions and a chance to compete against the best in the world.

Kaymer now gets enough of that while based in Europe.

He can play 12 times on the PGA Tour, which includes four majors and three World Golf Championships. That leaves him five other events to play, which is ample. He can still pick the best events to play in Europe and other parts of the world.

It’s a formula that appears to be working.

Kaymer, who won the PGA Championship last year and already has nine wins at age 26, stayed at No. 1 in the world earlier this year for two months. And while he lives part-time in Arizona, he has no immediate plans to join the PGA Tour.

“I can’t tell when it’s going to be,” he said. “At the moment, I like my position that I can play a little bit in Europe, a little bit in America. I play all the tournaments I want to play, so there’s no need to join only the European Tour or only the PGA Tour or both. I don’t need to join the PGA Tour.”

He is not alone. Three of the four major champions are not PGA Tour members.

The PGA Tour is not as strong without them, though it remains the strongest tour in the world, and that isn’t likely to change any time soon. It’s easy to get swept up over Europeans dominating the world ranking – 11 of the top 25, including Nos. 1-2-3 – by overlooking the fact that America still attracts most of the best players from Asia, Australia, South Africa, South America and its fair share of Europeans.

That’s why it has the strongest fields each week, with about a half-dozen exceptions.

Europe, however, has more than held its own since it looked to be doomsday five years ago. It was in 2006 when the PGA Tour announced its new FedEx Cup competition, complete with $35 million in bonus money and $10 million to the winner. It also made plans to move The Players Championship to May.

European Tour chief executive George O’Grady gathered two dozen players at La Costa during the Match Play Championship in 2006 to figure out how to proceed. The message that emerged from that meeting was that the European Tour was worth fighting for.

It is more than holding its own.

The FedEx Cup has not been enticing to all. Lee Westwood, who has joined the PGA Tour a couple of times, found no point in playing a full American schedule because the bonus series is right about the time his kids are on summer vacation. U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy tried the PGA Tour last year, then decided it was too much golf at the wrong time of the season at this stage in his career.

Darren Clarke, fresh off his popular British Open win, hasn’t made up his mind about returning to America, but he said enough Tuesday to indicate that he was better off at home in Northern Ireland to spend more time with his two sons.

Clarke is 42 and has been around long enough to notice a change in the landscape of golf.

“I was a member of the PGA Tour, and I was proud to be a member of the PGA Tour, and I wanted to be a member of the PGA Tour,” he said. “Now with the way that game is on a much more global basis, the European Tour is pretty good, as well. We in Europe have got the majority of the top 10 players in the world right now. We’re pretty fortunate, and we have some players who deserve to be in those positions.”

A decade ago, Clarke figured the only way to move up in the ranking was to play more in America because that’s where all the best were playing. Now, there is ample opportunity to pick up big ranking points in Abu Dhabi, Scotland, Shanghai and Singapore.

“The necessity to be a PGA Tour member is not quite there like it used to be,” Clarke said. “A lot of guys will take up opportunities to be members, but at my stage in my career when I’m 42, do I need to join the PGA Tour again?”

Kaymer is only 26 and asking the same thing.

“I just don’t want to play tournaments because I have to play,” he said, alluding to the PGA Tour’s minimum requirement of 15 events. “If I go there, I want to play well. I want to enjoy being there. And if you travel to some countries or if you play too many tournaments, I don’t think that you can enjoy every tournament you play.”

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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.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.