Stat attack!: WGC-HSBC Champions preview

By John AntoniniNovember 4, 2014, 7:33 pm

With the WGC-HSBC Champions event taking place in China this week, there’s no better time to take a look the best traveling golfer on the pro tour. More then 20 countries are represented in the field at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, and although Americans have won five of the last seven WGC events, it’s an international star and an international tour that takes center stage this week. 

This is the fifth event of the 2014-15 PGA Tour season. More importantly it is the second event in the Final Series on the European Tour, as that circuit counts down toward its 2013-14 season finale in Dubai later this month. Eleven of the 12 players on Europe’s Ryder Cup team are present in China – all except Rory McIlroy, who’s taking time off to prepare for a lawsuit against his former management company – but one player is worth eyeing more than any other. Sergio Garcia (shown), now third on the Official World Golf Ranking, just might be the world’s best traveling golfer.

Garcia has four runner-up finishes in his last eight PGA Tour starts, and all have come in different parts of the world – Connecticut, England, Ohio* and Malaysia. In the last 12 months he has played in 10 different countries, with wins in Thailand and Qatar and runner-ups in four. For his career, he has five official victories in Asia, one less than Australian Adam Scott as the best total among players in this week’s field. (*-Granted Connecticut and Ohio aren’t that far apart, but try telling someone from New England that his climate is the same as that of the Great Lakes region.)

Sergio Garcia travels in the last 12 months (since the 2013 HSBC Champions)

 Country Events Best finish
 United States 13 2 WGC-Bridgestone, T-2 Travelers
 England 2 T-2 British Open
 China 1 4 WGC-HSBC Champions
 South Africa 1 T-2 Nedbank
 Thailand 1 Won Thailand Golf Championship
 Abu Dhabi 1 T-19 Abu Dhabi Championship
 Qatar 1 Won Commercialbank Qatar Masters
 Spain 1 T-38 Spanish Open
 Germany 1 T-12 BMW International Open
 Malaysia 1 T-2 CIMB Classic

Career wins in Asia for the top players in the WGC-HSBC Champions field

 Player World
2 6 2002 Qatar Masters, 2005 Johnnie Walker Classic (China), 2005 Singapore Open, 2006 Singapore Open, 2008 Qatar Masters, 2010 Singapore Open 
3 5 2002 Korean Open, 2008 HSBC Champions (China), 2012 Iskandar Johor Open (Malaysia), 2013 Thailand Golf Championship, 2014 Qatar Masters
5 2 2006 Qatar Masters, 2007 Dubai Desert Classic
6 1 2002 Chunichi Crowns (Japan)
12 0  
13 4 2008 Abu Dhabi, 2010 Abu Dhabi, 2011 Abu Dhabi, 2011 HSBC Champions (China)
14 0  
17 1 2008 Ballantine’s Championship (South Korea)

Missing from the résumé

As good as Garcia has played around the world, there are a few things missing from his record. The 34-year-old Spaniard notably has not won a major championship, and because his HSBC Champions win came before the tournament came under the World Golf Championships umbrella, he also does not have a WGC victory. He’s one of two players in the world’s top 10 who have not won either type of championship.

Highest-ranked players without a major or a WGC victory

 Player World rank Best major Best WGC
 Sergio Garcia 3 2, four times 2, 2014 Bridgestone
 Rickie Fowler 10 2, two times T-2, 2011 Bridgestone
 Billy Horschel 12 T-4, 2013 U.S. T-17, 2014 Match Play
 Jordan Spieth 14 2, 2014 Masters T-5, 2014 Match Play
 Jimmy Walker 18 T-7, 2014 PGA T-17, 2014 Match Play
 Victor Dubuisson 19 T-7, 2014 PGA T-2, 2014 Match Play

International accounting

Garcia’s runner-up finish at the CIMB Classic pushed him past the $33 million mark in PGA Tour earnings for his career. He’s ninth on the Tour's the all-time money list, and he has made more money than any other European-born player. He’s the third-ranked international player, trailing Vijay Singh and Ernie Els.

Most PGA Tour earnings by an international player

 Player Rank Career earnings
 Vijay Singh  3 $68,591,424
 Ernie Els 5 47,744,740
 Sergio Garcia 9 38,295,986
 Adam Scott 10 37,297,653
 Luke Donald 14 32,242,519
 K.J. Choi 17 30,039,243
 Justin Rose 18 29,204,533
 Retief Goosen 19 28,976,691
 Stuart Appleby 20 28,844,685

Watch out for Poulter

Garcia has played the HSBC four times, making a return to the tournament with a fourth-place finish in 2013 after an absence of four years. He is one of just three past champions in this week’s field - with Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer – as Dustin Johnson, last year’s winner, is still on a leave of absence from professional golf. Two-time winner Phil Mickelson chose not to play, and as of Tuesday afternoon, 2010 champ Francesco Molinari was still on the alternate list. 

Poulter represents Garcia’s greatest challenge. The Englishman won in 2012 and was runner-up in 2013, having posted identical 21-under scores each year. He’s the only player to score 20-under or less two times in the HSBC Champions event.

Poulter is one of seven players who have won multiple WGC events. Tiger Woods (18) and Geoff Ogilvy (3) are the only players with more WGC titles than Poulter, who is tied with Darren Clarke, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Hunter Mahan at two wins. 

Poulter has seven top-five finishes in WGC events, one fewer than Garcia. Tiger Woods is the only player with more than 10 top-five finishes, his 25 easily outdistances runner-up Ernie Els, who has nine.

Lowest 72-hole scores in the HSBC Champions: 2005-2013

 Total Year Player Scores Finish
 -24 2013 Dustin Johnson 69-63-66-66—264 Won
 -21 2013 Ian Poulter 71-67-63-66—267 2
 -21 2012 Ian Poulter 69-68-65-65—267 Won
 -20 2013 Graeme McDowell 69-69-64-66—268 3
 -20 2011 Martin Kaymer 69-68-68-63—268 Won
 -20 2005 David Howell 65-67-68-68—268 Won

The most top-five finishes in World Golf Championships history

 Player Top-fives Wins
 Tiger Woods 25 18
 Ernie Els 9 2
 Phil Mickelson 8 2
 Rory McIlroy 8 1
 Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia 8 0
 Ian Poulter 7 2
 Justin Rose, Stewart Cink, Vijay Singh 7 1
 Retief Goosen 7 0

One final thought: Scott and Watson are among those players making their season debuts this week. Scott has had better luck in his career in season openers than Watson. Although neither player has ever won his first PGA Tour start of the season, Scott does have six top-10 finishes with a runner-up at the 2007 Tournament of Champions. Watson has only finished in the top 10 of his season debut two times in his career.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.