Majors Can Be Major Confusion

By George WhiteAugust 25, 2005, 4:00 pm
OK, this is it. Promise ' with a capital P. No more majors ' this year, at least.
The Champions Tour has its final one this weekend in the Portland area ' the JELD-WEN Tradition. After that, schools out. No more biggies.
Unless you count the American Express World Golf Championships event. Oh ' and the Tour Championship. Did I mention the Charles Schwab Cup Championship ' the Champions Tours Tour Championship? Or the ADT Championship, the LPGAs tour championship? And uh youve got to throw the Presidents Cup in there, too.
But lets not get touchy here ' this is the last week for major tournaments. Starting with the LPGAs Kraft Nabisco Championship in March, weve staggered through 13 of them. The LPGA had four, the PGA Tour four and the Champions Tour five. After a while its impossible to keep up with them, much less give each of them the attention that the organizations think they deserve.
Lets see ' it started in March with the womens Kraft Nabisco Championship, then progressed two weeks later to the Masters in April. The women wouldnt another major until June, but the Champions Tour got cranked up the end of May with the Senior PGA Championship.
It had been slow going until then. But in June, things really began humming. On three out of four weeks, a major was played somewhere. First, it was the McDonalds LPGA Championship ' Presented by Coca Cola, of course. Then the USGA started its biggie schedule with the U.S. Open. That was the second week. Then the women had their Open the third week ' the U.S. Womens Open.
Whew! But wait ' July was upon us, and everyone celebrated a major. The Champions Tour, as a matter of fact, had three that month. The Ford Senior Players Championship was the first week. The British Open was the second week. Then the elders came right back with the Senior British Open the third week. And the fourth week we were treated to TWO majors ' the Champions Tour had the U.S. Senior Open Championship, the women had the Weetabix Womens British Open.
Double whew! The seniors, in case you are scoring, unreeled three majors in succession from their schedule! And their little brothers, along with the women, each had one.
The women were by now all done. What ' all over with the majors? They started the end of March, had a couple in June two weeks apart, and were down the road after the Womens British.
Not so the men. Now its August, and we just had the PGA Championship. And this week ends the seemingly never-ending march of majors with the Tradition.
The women, actually, have had seven different majors, though they have been scattered out over time. There was the Western Open from 1930 to 1967 ' in fact, it was the only womens major until 1936.
One womens major ' the Titleholders ' was held from 1937 until 1942, took a recess during the war years, and returned in 1946 and was played until 1966. The Titleholders ' which was played in Augusta, incidentally, though not at Augusta National ' attempted a comeback in 1972. But it lasted this time only one year ' by 73, it was gone. So from 73 until 1979, there was a decided dearth of womens championships ' only two.
Then along came the du Maurier, named for the Canadian cigarette that was the sponsor until the Canadian government became uncomfortable with tobacco advertising. So, from 1979 until the government lowered the boom in 2000, Canada had a major championship. Then, when the du Maurier was dissolved, in stepped the Womens British. And thus the saga of the LPGA schedule, where the women have had four majors off-and-on since 1955. Just dont make me try to say which four were majors in any given year. Or which years there were only three majors.
And ' did you know that the LPGA majors had no cuts until 1971?
The Champions Tour ' nee Seniors ' started in 1980 and immediately had to have majors - of course! The PGA of America first had a tournament for the older gents in 1937, so that one was a natural. But in 1980, when the tour was formed, the U.S. Senior Open joined in. The Ford Senior Players began three years later, in 1983, but it was called the Senior Tournament Players Championship, then went through a period when Mazda was sponsor before switching rides and going with Ford in 1993.
The Tradition sprang up in 1989 in the Phoenix area and was dubbed a major immediately, largely due to the efforts of Jack Nicklaus. And the Senior British? That is an IMG tournament that began in 1987 and was added to the majors rota 2003 to give the seniors a championship in Europe.
And the four other majors ' the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA? No one knows who first began calling them majors. And no one is for certain when they first became majors. The U.S., British and PGA seem naturals. The Masters was not originally meant as a major when it debuted in 1934. It was only meant as an event where Bobby Jones could entertain his friends ' it wasnt even called the Masters. But around 1936, 37, it was considered a major ' whatever that meant at the time.
And early in the 1900s, the majors were considered the U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Open, the British Amateur and the British Open. That was the four that Jones won in 1930 during his Grand Slam year. And the Western Open was considered by some to be a major during the early years ' it began way back in 1899.
Now, though, its official ' there are four majors. And, five Champions Tour majors ' does it still seem weird not calling it the Senior Tour? And, four LPGA ' er, womens ' majors.
That is, until next year.

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Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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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.

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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.

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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.