The Leap

By Jason SobelJanuary 4, 2012, 5:42 pm

The question always comes up this time of year from fans inquiring about the Next Big Thing to hit the scene.

“Which golfers are going to step it up this year?”

The answer is always tricky, as it involves some amalgamation of big names reaching their potential, journeymen enjoying better performances and youngsters rapidly improving.

As such, I have devised this annual column called The Leap. Its premise is simple: I predict 10 players who will fare better this upcoming season, establishing themselves as part of a higher tier of competitor.

Last year – like all years – was hit and miss. Jason Day did indeed become a top-10 player, and it could be argued that Charl Schwartzel and Thorbjorn Olesen should have earned Rookie of the Year honors on their respective tours. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for Paul Casey to claim a major championship, Fredrik Andersson-Hed to reach the top 10 in Europe and singular-named-sensation Siddikur to jump into the world’s top 100.

This year’s list is sure to have a few more hits and misses. We’ll find out which is which as the 2012 campaign unfolds starting this week. (Click here to view photo gallery)

Sergio Garcia

The Leap: Major champion

No, this section of the column wasn’t accidentally reprinted from a 1999 edition – but it could have been. Garcia seemed destined for many majors early in his career, but 13 years after his rally around Medinah, he’s still seeking that breakthrough win.

It’s finally coming this year. Always one of the game’s best players tee to green, Garcia’s putting has come around recently, as evidenced by his two late-season European Tour victories. More importantly, he’s now in the right frame of mind. No longer the petulant, scowling brat on the course, he appears to have found an inner peace and renewed confidence in himself and energy toward finding success.

Coming off a year in which he made the cut at all four majors and finished 12th or better in the final three, Garcia is primed to claim that elusive hardware. It’s been a long time coming.


Justin Rose

The Leap: Major championship contender

I know what you’re thinking: “This isn’t a leap. He’s already contended.”

True. Rose was T-4 at the Open Championship as a 17-year-old amateur in 1998, but he’s failed to match that mark in 30 subsequent major championship appearances as a professional. That all changes this year. Rose has matured into a player capable of finding his name high on a major leaderboard deep into a Sunday afternoon.

Can he win one? Absolutely. One of the best things about his game is that it’s suited for any of the majors. Will he win one? Maybe not this year, but he’ll be in serious contention for at least one or two of them.


Gary Woodland

The Leap: Top 10 in OWGR

“It” can’t be explained. Certain athletes have “it” – that special something that separates them from the pack. Woodland has “it.”

The former college hoopster exudes confidence on the course. Not cockiness, but the inner knowledge that he owns as much talent as anyone and can put it all together at any moment. Those moments will come early and often this year. Coming off a season in which he posted a half dozen top-10s and won the Transitions Championship, the longest hitter on Tour is on the verge of superstardom.

He enters the season as No. 52 in the world, but we’ve seen how fluid and flexible those numbers can be. With a few healthy results, any player can make a big move in a hurry. Woodland will be one of those players this season.


Nicolas Colsaerts

The Leap: Top 25 in OWGR

Coming off a breakthrough European Tour season in which he won the Volvo China Open, made a run at the Volvo World Match Play Championship and finished top 10 in three other non-Volvo events, Colsaerts is starting to establish himself as an elite talent.

With a sturdy build that recalls Martin Kaymer, this Belgium native averaged 303 yards per drive in 2011 and hit more than three-quarters of his greens in regulation. He’ll really benefit from the rich-get-richer philosophy in today’s game. As he moves up in the world ranking, he’ll get into more big-time events – which in turn offer more world ranking points and will help move him even higher.

Starting the year at 72nd in the world, expect a move of some 50 spots by year’s end. It wouldn’t be the biggest leap in OWGR history by any means, but it would vault Colsearts into the upper echelon of pros.


Kyle Stanley

The Leap: Top 10 on PGA Tour money list

Perhaps the biggest leap of last season was made by Webb Simpson, who went from outside No. 200 in the world to 10th at year’s end after winning twice and finishing second on the money list.

Simpson was 25 at the beginning of last year; Stanley will be 24. Simpson was entering his third season; Stanley is entering his second. Simpson had six previous top-10 results; Stanley has four. And perhaps most importantly in this whole Lincoln-had-a-secretary-named-Kennedy coincidence is the fact that Simpson had former pro Paul Tesori on the bag, while Stanley will counter with Brett Waldman, who is coming off a full year on the Nationwide circuit.

Last year, Stanley made the cut in 22 of 28 starts and earned more than $1.5 million. Those numbers are only going to get better this year, as he continues his ascension toward becoming one of the better week-in, week-out players on the PGA Tour.


Jason Dufner

The Leap: Ryder Cup team member

Most fans know him for the ignominious distinction of blowing the PGA Championship down the stretch and succumbing to Keegan Bradley in a playoff. While it’s true that was his biggest headline-maker, Dufner is more than a one-hit – or one-mishit – wonder.

A solid ball striker with nerves of Teflon, he’s past due to earn his maiden PGA Tour victory this year. Not only will it happen, but with continued consistent play and guaranteed starts in each of the majors and WGC events, expect him to earn enough points to be playing for Davis Love III at Medinah later this year.


Spencer Levin

The Leap: PGA Tour tournament winner

Highly acclaimed as a top-ranked amateur, it’s taken Levin more time than expected to reach stardom in the big leagues. He may be on the verge, though.

In 2011, he finished in the top 25 in 13 of his 31 starts on the PGA Tour, with six top-10s and a playoff loss at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. He’s a fiery competitor and the type of guy who won’t falter in the spotlight when he’s in title contention. And it may come sooner rather than later. The West Coast kid typically plays some of his best golf in that part of the country over the season’s first two months.


Jason Kokrak

The Leap: PGA Tour Rookie of the Year

The PGA Tour freshmen class of 2011 may never again be duplicated. It included six winners who combined for seven titles, including a pair of major champions in Charl Schwartzel and Keegan Bradley.

It would be foolish to expect anything close to that from the 2012 crop of rookies, but that doesn’t mean the group is without talent. Noh Seung-Yul, Ted Potter, Jr. and Harris English will be among the success stories, but no one will fare better than Kokrak. A two-time winner on the Nationwide Tour last year, he was also the driving distance leader at a whopping 318.6 yards per drive. That type of length will translate well on the big tour this season.


Caroline Hedwall

The Leap: Top 10 in Rolex Rankings

It’s tough to figure which of the following was more unbelievable during the 2011 season: That this 22-year-old Swede would break through with four victories on the Ladies European Tour in her rookie campaign? Or that such a fruitful performance chart vaulted her to only 37th on the year-end Rolex Rankings?

Whatever the case, Hedwall should only continue to find more prosperity this year, while that quartet of titles remains on her ledger. You don’t have to understand how the ranking works to realize that adding on to such totals will only heighten her profile. Expect more wins for the super sophomore – and enough strong results to boost her into the world’s top 10 by year’s end.


Branden Grace

The Leap: European Tour tournament winner

If there’s one stat which shows the true potential of this 23-year-old from South Africa, it’s his scoring average, which last season ranked ninth on the Euro circuit, behind only a bevy of household names.

Granted, that number came in limited action, but this year should be different. Grace finished T10 at Q-School to secure his playing privileges. With additional appearances should come additional opportunities to find success. He already owns a victory on the Sunshine Tour at a young age. He’s ready to take the next big step on a bigger tour this year.

South Korean LPGA stars lead KLPGA team

By Randall MellNovember 24, 2017, 10:32 pm

South Korea’s LPGA team of all-stars took the early lead Friday on the Korean LPGA Tour in a team event featuring twice as much star power as this year’s Solheim Cup did.

Eight of the world’s top 20 players are teeing it up in the ING Life Champions Trophy/ Inbee Park Invitational in Gyeongju. There were only four players among the top 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings when the United States defeated Europe in Des Moines, Iowa.

Park led the LPGA team to a 3 ½-to-2 ½ lead on the first day.

Park, who has been recuperating from a back injury for most of the second half of this season, teamed with Jeongeun Lee5 to defeat Hye Jin Choi and Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4, in the lead-off four-ball match.

So Yeon Ryu and Park, former world No. 1s and LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Award winners, will be the marquee pairing on Saturday. They will lead off foursomes against Ji Young Kim and Min Sun Kim.

Nine of the 11 South Koreans who won LPGA events this year are competing. Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim are the only two who aren’t.

The fourball results:

LPGA’s Inbee Park/ Jeongeun Lee5 def. Hye Jin Choi/Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4.

LPGA’s Mirim Lee/Amy Yang def.  Ji Hyun Oh/Min Sun Kim, 3 and 1.

LPGA’s M.J. Hur/Mi Hyang Lee halved Ji Hyun Kim/Ji Young Kim.

KLPGA’s Ha Na Jang/Sun Woo Bae def. Sei Young Kim/Hyo Joo Kim, 5 and 4.

LPGA’s Na Yeon Choi/Jenny Shin halved Jin Young Ko/Da Yeon Lee

LPGA’s In Gee Chun/Eun Hee Ji halved Jeongeun Lee6/Char Young Kim.

NOTE: The KPGA uses numerals after a player’s name to distinguish players with the exact same name.

 

Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer

By Rex HoggardNovember 24, 2017, 5:40 pm

In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.

Made Cut

The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.

Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.

“I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”

Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.

Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.

This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.

Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.

Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.

The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.

Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III‏) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”

Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”

The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.

First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.

“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”

A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.

“The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.

For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.

Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.

“I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”

Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?

“Oh, yeah,” he told Golf.com. “Way by.”

Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.

Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.


Missed Cut

Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.

Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.

“That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”

Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.

While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.

Trump playing 'quickly' with Tiger, DJ

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 24, 2017, 1:33 pm

Updated at 11:14 a.m. ET

An Instagram user known as hwalks posted photos to her account that included images of Tiger Woods, President Trump and Dustin Johnson Friday at Trump National, as well as video of Woods' swing.


Here are some other social media posts that have surfaced:


Original story:

Tiger Woods is scheduled to make his return to competition next week at his Hero World Challenge. But first, a (quick) round with the President.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he was going to play at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., alongside Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.



Woods and President Trump previously played last December. Trump, who, according to trumpgolfcount.com has played 75 rounds since taking over the presidency, has also played over the last year with Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Hideki Matsuyama.

Chawrasia leads major champs in Hong Kong

By Associated PressNovember 24, 2017, 1:19 pm

HONG KONG – S.S.P. Chawrasia extended his lead at the Hong Kong Open to two strokes Friday after a 4-under 66 in the second round.

Chawrasia, who had led by one at the Hong Kong Golf Club, is at 9-under 131 overall and took as much as a five-stroke lead at one point.

''Yesterday I was putting very well, and today, also I make some up and downs. I saved a couple of short putts. That's why I think I'm leading by two shots most probably,'' the Indian said. ''The next two days, I'm just looking forward.''


Full-field scores from the UBS Hong Kong Open


Thomas Aiken (64) is second, followed by Alexander Bjork (66), Joakim Lagergren (66), Poom Saksansin (68) and Julian Suri (67) at 5 under 135.

Aiken's round was the lowest of the tournament.

''It is tough out there. The greens are really firm. You've got to hit the fairway,'' Aiken said. ''If you get above the holes, putts can get away from you.''

Justin Rose (69) had six birdies, but three bogeys and a double-bogey at the par 3 12th kept him at 3 under for the tournament.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia (71), playing for the first time in Hong Kong, was at even par, as was defending champion Sam Brazel (71) and 2014 champion Scott Hend (67).

''I have to play better,'' Garcia said. ''The way I felt like I played, it's difficult. This kind of course, you need to play well to shoot a good score.''