Weekly 18: Mad, mad golf world

By Jason SobelMarch 12, 2012, 1:30 pm

For the better part of three days, the TPC Blue Monster course failed to look very threatening, instead more closely resembling an animated Smurf.

The track yielded so many eagles that even the hair of new owner Donald Trump was standing on end.

In the final round, though, it was another group of Eagles whose words about a Monster rang truer than any: “They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast.'

When it was over, it was Justin Rose whose steely knives had done the most damage to the beast, earning his fourth career PGA Tour victory by a single stroke over Bubba Watson. This week’s edition of the W18 begins with the idea that Rose is on the verge of even bigger accomplishments.

1. A Rose By Any Other Name

For those who clicked over from the festivities at Doral in favor of the NCAA’s Selection Sunday, here’s a quick summary: Justin Rose won his conference championship and is now one of the top seeds entering next month’s Big Dance at Augusta National Golf Club.

The tournament currently known as the WGC-Cadillac Championship has been contested since 1999 on a half-dozen different courses around the world, but enjoys one common bond amongst its champions. Other than last year’s winner, Nick Watney, all previous titleholders had either won a major before winning this event or won one shortly thereafter – or both.

Granted, that list includes the name Tiger Woods on six separate occasions, but the point is hardly moot: Winning this tournament is a pretty good indicator of a player’s ability to win a major.

Rose may be adding his name to that list very soon, too.

I’ve contended since his BMW Championship title last year that Rose is on the right path toward reaching that success and nothing he’s done lately has altered my view of that imminent prosperity.

He tends to agree.

“No doubt about it, if you look at the tournaments I've won, Jack's tournament [Memorial], Tiger's tournament [AT&T National], a playoff event over here [BMW] and now a World Golf Championship [Cadillac], the progression is really, really nice,” Rose said. “The only thing that really is the next level up is a major. But not to say that I'm at that stage in my career where I'm only focusing on the majors; I think there's a lot more for me to do in the game than to get to that point. But no doubt, I feel my game is getting ready for that. 

“You've got to not maybe put too much emphasis on the majors. I just have to keep preparing well and keep doing what I'm doing at the moment and hopefully you just put yourself in the right situation at the right time.”

A major championship seems like it’s been predestined for Rose ever since he finished in a share of fourth place as a 17-year-old amateur at the 1998 Open Championship.

Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, Rose is still searching for such notoriety, but if his play over the past 24 months – and this past week, in particular – is any indicator, he may finally claim that long-awaited major title this year. Hey, it could even happen next month.

2. What I Learned

I learned that no matter what Tiger Woods does, he’ll always be wrong in the eyes of some fans. Here is a sampling of tweets I received after his withdrawal on Sunday: 

“I knew he was still injured!” (Funny. Didn’t hear anyone making that claim after he shot a final-round 62 last week.)

“He’s just a quitter and a sore loser!” (In 278 career PGA Tour starts, he has withdrawn exactly five times – or once every three years.) 

“He would have kept going if he was in contention!” (Well, yeah. No kidding. Same goes for every other player on Tour. If you’re injured, but in contention, you gut it out; if you’re injured and out of the mix, there’s no point in risking further damage to the injury.) 

Conspiracy theories aside, the truth is, Woods was close to regaining top form before injuring himself once again. We don’t yet know the extent of the left Achilles injury, but if it was enough to force him from the event, then it’s enough to cause plenty of concern. I’ve never understood claims – in golf or other sports – from fans who consider athletes “soft” for repeatedly getting injured. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. Tiger didn’t hurt himself on purpose or through any fault of his own, so why is there such a backlash against him right now? Well, as we’ve learned when it comes to him, such criticism will always exist, no matter what.

For a more complete look at What We Learned, click here.

Three Up

Gil Hanse

3. Gil Hanse

Without a doubt, there hasn’t been as momentous a week for a golf course architect as the one enjoyed by Gil Hanse over the past seven days.

The Pennsylvania-based designer received the call from the IOC to build the Olympic course for golf’s return to the games four years from now in Rio de Janeiro, then showed up 24 hours later at Doral, as Donald Trump’s appointee to redo the Blue Monster.

Being awarded the Olympics gig, in particular, is noteworthy for Hanse, who is known for producing such acclaimed tracks as Castle Stuart and Boston Golf Club. He was given the job over design firms featuring bigger names such as Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Gary Player.

I can’t add much to the Hanse story that hasn’t been told in recent days, other than to say this is a win for purveyors of any specific craft.

Think about it: If you have a clogged sink, would you rather call a jack-of-all-trades who also paints and installs light fixtures? Or would you rather call a plumber who specializes in fixing that particular issue?

Unlike the other candidates, Hanse isn’t a retired golfer, doesn’t have his own clothing line and doesn’t host any golf tournaments. He is a golf course architect. That’s all.

And that should bode well for the project over the next four years.

4. Rory McIlroy

More than a few observers noted the symbolism when, just as Tiger Woods was getting into his car after withdrawing during the final round, McIlroy holed a bunker shot on the 12th hole for birdie. Not that I think these upcoming years will wholly be the “Rory Era” and nor do I believe that Woods is done, but if you’re seeking a tangible passing-of-the-torch moment, well, there you go.

For those who still aren’t willing to buy into the Rory hype, you had exactly 24 hours to gloat about your theory. Following his win at the Honda Classic, McIlroy jetted off to New York to visit girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, played a point against Maria Sharapova, then posted an opening-round 73, after which he said he felt “flat.”

Since then? The No. 1-ranked player went 69-65-67 to finish in solo third place – his fifth top-5 finish in five worldwide starts this season.

As I wrote in this column after his runner-up result at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, I think Rory has made the leap into Tiger’s former territory in just one aspect of his game – consistency. Over his first few seasons, he was just as likely to win as finish 25th or 50th or miss the cut. Now, even without his A-game for all rounds, McIlroy can and will contend nearly every single time he tees it up.

There aren’t many players in the history of the game for whom we can make that claim. But Rory is proving it true with each start.

5. George McNeill

It wasn’t so long ago that McNeill was a club professional in South Florida. I’ve had many conversation with Sunshine State pros who not only remember playing both competitive and friendly matches against him, but remember getting into his pocket on more than one occasion, too.

Well, those pockets are much deeper now, following his second career PGA Tour victory at the Puerto Rico Open, where he held off Ryo Ishikawa with three straight birdies to close and win by two.

Even after Sunday’s triumph, McNeill recalled his club professional days.

“In between playing the Nationwide Tour and getting on PGA Tour, there was about an eight-month stretch in there where I gave up competitive golf and went to work in a golf pro shop,” he said of his days at Shadow Wood in Bonita Springs and The Forest in Fort Myers. “I realized that I really don't want to do that, and that kind of drove me back to playing competitive golf again.”

Such a humble background doesn’t prevent McNeill from thinking big, though. When asked his plans for the remainder of the season, he joked, “To win 12 more times.”

There are plenty of Florida section pros who wouldn’t mind seeing that at all.

Three Down

Sergio Garcia

6. Sergio Garcia

He was cruising along at 5 under through his opening nine holes on Thursday … and that’s when things started going horribly wrong.

Garcia followed with six bogeys in his next eight holes, then a triple at the last, when he yanked two into the agua.

But that was nothing compared with what happened on Sunday.

On the par-4 third hole, Garcia hit four balls into the water en route to making a 12 – yes, the dreaded octo-bogey.

I’m still bullish – as I’ve been for a while – on Sergio’s long-term chances to win multiple majors – but his propensity for going from good to bad to worse can’t be considered a good sign.

7. Olympics website

As we know, golf will return to the Olympic Games in 2016. Apparently, the IOC – or whoever runs their website – assumes that just because the game hasn’t been part of the festivities for decades, we don’t understand how it’s played.

And so they offer this handy description of the game: “The athletes compete individually on grass fields that have different configurations. There are varied Golf courses leading to holes with orange-size diameter. The goal is to roll the ball into the hole with the fewer number of strikes as possible.”

Roll the ball? Strikes? Sounds more like bowling than golf.

To the person who wrote that description of golf, allow me to quote famed bowler The Dude: “Obviously you're not a golfer.”

8. Zack Miller

Poor Zack finds himself in the Three Down section for the second time in a month, but it’s not because I’m picking on him. In fact, what he’s done in the past few weeks is pretty impressive.

Miller received plenty of ink late last month when he posted scores of 81-92 at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. Since then, he’s missed a cut on the Nationwide Tour and missed another on the PGA Tour, failing to cash at the Puerto Rico Open this week.

A quick check of his last five rounds, though, shows steady improvement, with successive scores of 92-82-81-80-75.

I’m no math whiz, but that current pace could have him posting 59 by mid-summer.

9. Stat of the Week

I can’t be certain this stat doesn’t share a record, but I can be positive there’s never been a number that’s better.

In the opening round of the Puerto Rico Open, Brendon de Jonge played the four par-3 holes in a collective 5 under par.

That would be birdies on the sixth, eighth and 11th holes, then an ace on the 16th.

For the round, he shot 3-under 69, with a dozen pars and a pair of bogeys on all other holes.

10. Quote of the Week

“I'm going to say this off the record even though we are on live television. I'm hearing rumors about getting the U.S. Women's Open.” – Donald Trump.

Note to The Donald: The press room is not Las Vegas. What happens in the press room doesn’t stay in the press room.

As many of my colleagues on site noted, this may have been the first instance ever in which the interview subject during a press conference asked for something off the record in front of a room full of reporters and TV cameras.

Oh, and on the record, Trump was referring to the 2017 edition of the U.S. Women’s Open, which is rumored to be going to Trump Bedminster in New Jersey.   Click for more Quotes of the Week

11. Video Mailbag

The Grey Goose 19th Hole team examines how long Rory McIlroy will hold the No. 1 ranking in this Grey Goose Internet Extra.

Three Wishes

Augusta National

12. I wish there was a Selection Sunday in golf.

Watching the nail-biting and fretting over which teams reached the NCAA Tournament and which were left out got me thinking that golf should have a similar section process once per year.

So here’s what I’m thinking…

We can all agree that the Official World Golf Ranking isn’t the ultimate barometer of talent and performance, right? And we concur that entry into the Masters field is the best invitation for a player all year?

With that in mind, Augusta National officials should institute Selection Sunday.

Much like the NCAA hoops tourney, there would be automatic berths. Let’s keep all past champions and PGA Tour regular season winners, but add winners from select European Tour events and instead cut back from top-50 to top-20 on the OWGR at year’s end and two weeks prior.

And also like the college tournament, plenty of at-large berths would be available. Would there be controversy surrounding those who made it and those who didn’t? Of course. But the process wouldn’t be any more fickle than the current format, in which one player can make the field over another because he earned more ranking points at last year’s Singapore Open.

Hey, if the ANGC folks can offer a special invitation to any player anyway (see: Ishikawa, Ryo), then it isn’t that much of a stretch to leave, say, about one-third of the field to arbitrary choices, while obviously employing such factors as recent form, ranking and past results in the decision making process.

Much like the NCAA process, it would get people talking about the Masters for weeks ahead of time, with Selection Sunday serving as must-see TV for those who care about the tournament.

13. I wish William Willett received more credit.

After waking up Sunday morning with an hour less sleep, but an hour more daylight at day's end, I tweeted the following:

I remain convinced that Daylight Saving Time was the idea of some scientist who just wanted to play golf after work all summer.

Many tweeters responded by half-kidding that he should win a Nobel Prize, but really, I was only half-kidding myself. So I did a little research and learned that while New Zealand entomologist G.V. Hudson first expressed the idea, the man who championed its cause was William Willett, a British scientist who indeed just wanted to play golf after work all summer.

Though his idea wasn't enacted until the 1960s, in his 1907 pamphlet 'The Waste of Daylight,' Willett wrote: 'Everyone appreciates the long light evenings. Everyone laments their shrinkage as the days grow shorter, and nearly everyone has given utterance to a regret that the clear bright light of early mornings, during Spring and Summer months, is so seldom seen or used.'

So there you go. The next time you're finishing up on the 18th green three hours after racing out of the office, give thanks to Willett. And maybe a posthumous Nobel Prize isn't such a bad idea after all.

14. I wish the new “Golden Age” surfaces as we may expect.

Here’s my take on what seems like a new era in the game: Golf on cusp of new Golden Age

15. Tweets of the Week

One of the benefits of social media is the ability to find out news faster than ever before. Another is opportunity to see others’ reaction to such news.

On Thursday, it was revealed that PGA Tour member Jarrod Lyle is undergoing a recurrence of the leukemia that he battled as a teenager. Lyle will have a long fight with the disease, but support from his peers spread like wildfire on Twitter within 24 hours of the news. Here’s a sampling of some of those tweets:

@Arjunatwal My thoughts and prayers with jarrod Lyle.. Stay tough bud..we are all thinking of you and can't wait to see you back on tour

@DJohnsonPGA Good morning!! Happy Friday!! Today is a new day - but my condolences go out to Jarrod Lyle and his family while he fights leukemia #support

@JasonGore59 Golf is insignificant when you consider my friend Jarrod Lyle has to fight against Leukemia again. You beat it once, you'll beat it again.

@Brendan_Steele Thoughts and love Jarrod Lyle. One of the great guys in the world. You have all our support to beat this thing.

@PaulAzinger Wishing Jarrod Lyle well..First child due this week, has just found out that he faces a recurrence of Leukemia.

@aronpricePGA Good luck to Jarrod Lyle. You have beaten it once you will beat it again. The whole golf world is behind you.

@elkpga Just spoke to Jarrod Lyle .. His spirits are high ... Looking forward to the birth of his 1st child tonight....knows what he's in 4... Ready

@BillyHo_Golf Very sad news about Jarrod Lyle! He's a great dude and I fully expect him to make a full recovery! He did it once and he will do it again

@IanJamesPoulter We are hoping Jarod Lyle makes a full and speedy recovery, best wishes to him & his wife they are expecting their first child soon as well.

@Nitties23 All my positive thoughts go out to Jarod Lyle... Great bloke with a huge heart.. Beat it again brother and show you kid who's the daddy!

16. Photo of the Week

Earlier in the Three Down section, I mentioned the Olympic website entry for golf. Well, there’s a photo, too – and apparently the IOC is expecting a major comeback for former PGA Championship runner-up Bob May four years from now.

Here’s the pic: http://www.rio2016.org/en/the-games/sports/olympic/golf

And as pointed out by @Decker_Brian, that photo is unmistakably May: http://beta.images.theglobeandmail.com/archive/01277/bobmay_1277819gm-a.jpg

View all Photos of the Week.

17. From the Inbox

With golf’s place in the Olympic Games part of this week’s news, Ross Schade of Iowa writes in with a question about what it will mean to players:

Where would an Olympic gold medal rank against other accomplishments? Four majors? One major? WGC title? John Deere Classic?

My easy answer is that there is no answer. That’s because winning a gold medal will mean different things for different players. For some, it may rank as greater than a major; for others, it could be less than a regular season PGA Tour or LPGA win.

That’s not a copout. It’s the truth.

One thing I can be sure about: The ones who play the best in Rio de Janeiro will be the ones for whom it means the most.

18. And the Winner Is…

K.J. Choi

It’s been a slow start to the season for K.J. Choi, who finished T-5 at the season-opener in Maui, but hasn’t fared better than 24th in four starts since.

There’s no better place for him to get back on the right track than Tampa.

That’s especially true in even-numbered years, as he won the tournament now called the Transitions Championship in 2002 and 2006, and finished solo second in 2010.

Expect another even-handed performance this week.

LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:56 am

NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.

Parity reigned.

Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.

Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.

Here’s a summary of the big prizes:

Rolex Player of the Year
Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.

It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.

Vare Trophy
Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.

There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.

CME Globe $1 million prize
Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.

By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.

LPGA money-winning title
Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.

The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.

Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking
The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.

Rolex Rookie of the Year
Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Ko ends first winless season with T-16 at CME

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:07 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko carved a hybrid 3-iron to 15 feet and ended the most intensely scrutinized year of her young career with a birdie Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

“Nice to finish the season on a high note,” Ko said after posting a 3-under-par 69, good for a tie for 16th. “Obviously, not a top-10 finish, but I played really solid. I feel like I finished the season off pretty strong.”

Ko posted two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a tie for fifth in her last eight starts.

“Ever since Indy [in early September], I played really good and put myself in good positions,” Ko said. “I felt like the confidence factor was definitely higher than during the middle of the year. I had some opportunities, looks for wins.”

Sunday marked the end of Ko’s first winless season since she began playing LPGA events at 15 years old.

Let the record show, she left with a smile, eager to travel to South Korea to spend the next month with family after playing a charity event in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Much was made of Ko beginning the year with sweeping changes, with new equipment (PXG), a new coach (Gary Gilchrist) and a new caddie (Peter Godfrey).

In the final summary, it wasn’t a Ko-like year, not by the crazy high standards she has set.

She saw her run of 85 consecutive weeks at No. 1 end in June. She arrived in Naples holding on to the No. 8 ranking. She ends the year 13th on the LPGA money list with $1,177,450 in earnings. It’s the first time she hasn’t finished among the top three in money in her four full years on tour. She did log 11 top-10 finishes overall, three second-place finishes.

How did she evaluate her season?

“I feel like it was a better year than everyone else thinks, like `Lydia is in a slump,’” Ko said. “I feel like I played solid.

“It's a season that, obviously, I learned a lot from ... the mental aspect of saying, `Hey, get over the bads and kind of move on.’”

Ko said she learned a lot watching Stacy Lewis deal with her run of second-place finishes after winning so much.

“Winning a championship is a huge deal, but, sometimes, it's overrated when you haven't won,” Ko said. “Like, you're still playing well, but just haven't won. I kind of feel like it's been that kind of year.

“I think everybody has little ups and downs.”

For Ariya, Lexi, finish was fabulous, frustrating

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 12:47 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Lexi Thompson can take a punch.

You have to give her that.

So can Ariya Jutanugarn, who beat Thompson in the gut-wrenching conclusion to the CME Group Tour Championship Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

They both distinguished themselves overcoming adversity this season.

The problem for Thompson now is that she’ll have to wait two months to show her resolve again. She will go into the long offseason with the memory of missing a 2-foot putt for par that could have won her the championship, her first Rolex Player of the Year Award and her first Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Thompson took home the CME Globe $1 million jackpot and Vare Trophy for low scoring as nice consolation prizes, but the Sunday finish was a lot like her season.

It was so close to being spectacular.

She was so close to dominating this year.

That last 2-foot putt Sunday would have put Thompson in the clubhouse at 15 under, with a one-shot lead, which would have added so much more pressure to Jutanugarn as she closed out.

Instead of needing to birdie the final two holes to force a playoff, Jutanugarn only needed to birdie one of them to assure extra holes. She went birdie-birdie anyway.

Thompson was on the practice putting green when she heard the day’s last roar, when Jutanugarn rolled in a 15-foot birdie to beat her.

“It wasn’t the way I wanted to end it,” Thompson said of the short miss. “I don’t really know what happened there. It just happens. I guess it’s golf.”

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Thompson was asked if the weight of everything at stake affected her.

“No, honestly, I wasn’t thinking about it,” she said. “I putted great the whole day. I guess, maybe, there was just a little bit of adrenaline.

“We all go through situations we don’t like sometimes.”

Thompson endured more than she wanted this year.

She won twice, but there were six second-place finishes, including Sunday’s. There were three losses in playoffs.

There was the heart-wrenching blow at the ANA Inspiration, the season’s first major, when she looked as if she were going to run away with the title before getting blindsided by a four-shot penalty in the final round. There were two shots when a viewer email led to a penalty for mismarking her ball on a green in the third round, and two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Thompson was in tears finishing that Sunday at Mission Hills, but she won a legion of new fans in the way she fought back before losing in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

There was more heartache later in the spring, when Thompson’s mother, Judy, was diagnosed with uterine cancer, requiring surgery to remove a tumor and then radiation.

For Thompson fans, Sunday’s missed 2-foot putt was a cruel final blow to the year.

This time, there were no tears from Lexi afterward.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds . . . it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said. “This won’t either.”

After Thompson bounced back from the ANA loss to win the Kingsmill Invitational in May, she acknowledged how the loss motivated her.

“I'm as determined as any other person out here,” Thompson said. “We all want to win. I have a little bit more drive now.”

She was so close this year to elevating herself as the one true rock star in the women’s game. She will have a long offseason to turn Sunday’s disappointment into yet more fuel to get there.

Thompson will prepare for next year knowing Jutanugarn may be ramping her game back up to dominante, too.

Jutanugarn looked as if she were going to become a rock star after winning five times last year to claim the Rolex Player of the Year Award and then rising to No. 1 with a victory at the Manulife Classic back in May, but it didn’t happen.

Jutanugarn struggled through a summer-long slump.

She failed to make a cut in six of seven starts. It wasn’t as miserable a slump as she endured two years ago, when she missed 10 consecutive cuts, but it was troubling.

“Even though I played so badly the last few months, I learned a lot,” Jutanugarn said. “I’m growing up a lot, and I’m really ready to have some fun next year.”

Her surgically repaired shoulder was bothering her again, but it was more than that.

“This time it was more about becoming No. 1,” said Gary Gilchrist, her coach. “I think all of the responsibilities got to her.”

Gilchrist said he could see a different focus in Jutanugarn this week. He credited Vision 54s Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott for helping her deal with all the pressure that has mounted with her growing status.

“It’s been a long process,” Nilsson said. “She’s felt too much expectation from everybody else, where she loses focus on what she can do.”

Marriott said they asked Jutanugarn to come up with something she wanted to do to make herself proud this week, instead of worrying about what would please everyone else.

It worked.

“I told my caddie, Les [Luark], that thinking about the No. 1 ranking wasn’t going to help me be a better golfer,” Jutanugarn said. “I wanted people to say, `Oh this girl, she’s really happy.’ That was my goal, to have fun.”

Late Sunday, hoisting the trophy, Jutanugarn looked like she was having a lot of fun.

Thomas vs. Rose could be Ryder Cup highlight

By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:40 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – For those still digesting the end of 2017 – the European Tour did, after all, just wrap up its season in Dubai on Sunday – consider that the PGA Tour is already nearly one-fifth of the way into a new edition.

The Tour has already crowned eight champions as the game banks into the winter break, and there are some interesting trends that have emerged from the fall.

Dueling Justins: While Justin Thomas picked up where he left off last season, winning the inaugural CJ Cup in October just three weeks after claiming the FedExCup and wrapping up Player of the Year honors; Justin Rose seems poised to challenge for next year’s low Justin honors.

The Englishman hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since August and won back-to-back starts (WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open) before closing his year with a tie for fourth place in Dubai.

Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk: Justin v. Justin next September in Paris could be fun.

Youth served. Just in case anyone was thinking the pendulum might be swinging back in the direction of experience over youthful exuberance – 41-year-old Pat Perez did put the veterans on the board this season with his victory at the CIMB Classic – Patrick Cantlay solidified his spot as genuine phenom.

Following an injury-plagued start to his career, Cantlay got back on track this year, needing just a dozen starts to qualify for the Tour Championship. He went next level earlier this month with his playoff victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

They say these trends come and go in professional golf, but as the average age of winners continues to trend lower and lower it’s safe to say 25 is the new 35 on Tour.

A feel for it. For all the science that has become such a big part of the game – from TrackMan analysis to ShotLink statistics – it was refreshing to hear that Patton Kizzire’s breakthrough victory at the OHL Classic came down to a hunch.

With the tournament on the line and Rickie Fowler poised just a stroke back, Kizzire’s tee shot at the 72nd hole came to rest in an awkward spot that forced him to stand close to his approach shot to keep his feet out of the sand. His 8-iron approach shot sailed to 25 feet and he two-putted for par.

And how far did he have for that pivotal approach?

“I have no idea,” he laughed.

Fall facelift. Although the moving parts of the 2018-19 schedule appear to be still in flux, how the changes will impact the fall schedule is coming into focus.

The Tour’s goal is to end the season on Labor Day, which means the fall portion of the schedule will begin a month earlier than it does now. While many see that as a chance for the circuit to embrace a true offseason, it’s becoming increasingly clear that won’t be the case.

The more likely scenario is an earlier finish followed by a possible team competition, either the Ryder or Presidents cup, before the Tour kicks off a new season in mid-September, which means events currently played before the Tour Championship will slide to the fall schedule.

“So if you slide it back, somebody has to jump ahead. The mechanics of it,” said Davis Love III, host of the RSM Classic and a member of the Tour’s policy board. “I’m still going to go complain and beg for my day, but I also understand when they say, this is your date, make it work, then we'll make it work.”

While 2019 promises to bring plenty of change to the Tour, know that the wraparound season and fall golf are here to stay.

Product protection. Speaking of the fall schedule and the likely plan to expand the post-Tour Championship landscape, officials should also use the platform to embrace some protections for these events.

Consider that the RSM Classic featured the third-strongest field last week according to the Official World Golf Ranking, behind the season-ending tournament in Dubai on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour.

The winner in Dubai received 50 World Ranking points, a marquee event that has historically been deeper than that week’s Tour stop, while the Dunlop Phoenix winner, Brooks Koepka, won 32 points. Austin Cook collected 30 points for his victory at Sea Island Resort.

All told, the Japan event had four players in the field from the top 50 in the world, including world No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama; while the highest-ranked player at the RSM Classic was Matt Kuchar at 15th and there were seven players from the top 50 at Sea Island Resort.

Under Tour rules, Koepka, as well as any other Tour members who competed either in Japan or Dubai, had to be granted conflicting-event releases by the circuit.

Although keeping players from participating in tournaments overseas is not an option, it may be time for the circuit to reconsider the conflicting-event policy if the result is a scenario like last week that relegates a Tour event to third on the international dance card.