Snedeker not concerned by 2014 summer schedule

By Doug FergusonJanuary 14, 2014, 6:24 pm

HONOLULU – Brandt Snedeker is a walking billboard for his summer plans.

Proudly displayed on the front of his golf shirt is ''Wyndham,'' which happens to be the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event in Greensboro, N.C., not so conveniently positioned between the PGA Championship and the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs.

On the sleeve of his shirt is ''RBC,'' the title sponsor of the Canadian Open, where Snedeker is the defending champion. Golf's third-oldest national championship also is in a tough spot on the schedule, held the week between the British Open and the Bridgestone Invitational. The latter is a World Golf Championship. And by the way, have you noticed the brand on Snedeker's cap and golf bag? That's right - Bridgestone.

When does he take a week off? Apparently, he doesn't.

''I'm playing the rest of the year, if that's what you mean,'' he said when asked about all the logos. ''It will be a long stretch. It will be nine in a row at the end of the year.''

With the Ryder Cup in Europe this year, the PGA Tour agreed to alter its schedule. The four FedEx Cup playoff events will be played over four straight weeks. That allows for one week off before players travel to Scotland for a week's worth of dinners and three days of golf at the end.

Snedeker has the worst of it, though Zach Johnson is not far behind.

Johnson has no corporate connections with Canada or Greensboro, but his big stretch starts a week before the British Open. The John Deere Classic is like a fifth major to the normal guy from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Johnson can't and won't miss that one. He'd love to play Greensboro, where he tied for fifth last year. But even if he doesn't play Canada or Greensboro, that's eight big events in 10 weeks.

''I hope I can get in a position where I can take one off,'' Johnson said. ''It worked for me last year. I had no choice, but it was fine.''

Johnson's brother got married the week of The Barclays, so he got a late start on the playoffs. No matter. Johnson won the BMW Championship and was among the five players who had a direct shot at the $10 million bonus.

But he made it clear that he would skip one playoff event if he could.

Some guys might not be in a position to take time off. Qualifying for the nine automatic Ryder Cup spots ends at the PGA Championship, and the three captain's picks are a few after that, which is known as ''audition time.'' Others could find themselves in a spot of trying to get to East Lake for the FedEx Cup finale.

''I think guys will skip for sure,'' Snedeker said. ''Everyone is going to take a hard look at the schedule. It will be interesting to see what guys do. I'm taking a little more time off in the middle of the year. We did it last year and it worked well. Just take a couple of three-week breaks.''

That's why no one should be alarmed to see Matt Kuchar taking a month off early in the year, or Adam Scott headed for a six-week hiatus from tournament golf. Tiger Woods has been playing one of the shortest schedules of any top star. He's good enough he can do that.

Graeme McDowell has never been in contention at the Bridgestone Invitational. He has finished out of the top 20 all but one time. He's giving serious thought to taking that week off – depending on his Ryder Cup status – to be fresh for the PGA's Tour grueling finishing kick.

''The key for me next year is to have something in the tank,'' he said. ''That's my goal, to be ready for that stretch.''

The Ryder Cup is the reason for cramming so many big tournaments into such a small space.

The last time the Ryder Cup was in Europe, the PGA Tour held three straight playoff events, took a week off, and then played the Tour Championship and Ryder Cup in successive weeks. The schedule didn't hurt the Americans as much as McDowell did that week in Wales.

The PGA of America is worried that the Americans are out of gas when they get to the Ryder Cup? It should be thankful for the FedEx Cup. It's no coincidence that the matches started getting close again after the FedEx Cup began in 2007. Four big events after the majors have kept these guys sharp more than it has worn them out.

Now, it appears that something will have to give.

If players aren't skipping a playoff event or a World Golf Championship, they'll cut back at some other point in the schedule.

''There's no point in getting to July and feeling you don't want to play golf, because the biggest golf is yet to be played in the two months after that,'' Scott said. ''You've got to be champing at the bit after the PGA. Those are four big weeks, and they're really important. That's why I don't come jumping out of the gate.''

The last time Scott played four weeks in a row?

''November,'' he said with a grin. He won the Australian PGA, the Australian Masters and the World Cup team title, and was runner-up at the Australian Open.

No one will be playing more than Snedeker, and he doesn't sound too worried about it. Nor should he, if recent history means anything.

Remember, it was only two years ago when Snedeker played eight straight weeks from the British Open through the BMW Championship. The tour had an off week, and then he won the Tour Championship (and FedEx Cup) and the Ryder Cup.

''It's not the end of the world,'' Snedeker said.

Getty Images

McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

Getty Images

Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

Getty Images

Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

Getty Images

McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.