Roll Call for the Class of 05

By Jerry FoltzNovember 5, 2005, 5:00 pm
As the sun set on Prattville, Ala., on the first day after daylight savings time expired, the final chapter was written on the 2005 Nationwide Tour season. The early darkness of Sunday evening was obscured by the beaming smiles of the 20 graduates and their families as the celebrations continued well into the night.
 
While the future had already been decided for the top 15 or 16 heading into the Nationwide Tour Championship, there were still a few spots left to be decided. In the end, the finality of having their PGA Tour card in hand gave all the graduates time to relish the recognition of their achievements.
 
David Branshaw
David Branshaw earned a trip to the PGA Tour thanks to his Nationwide Tour Championship victory.
Only two spots changed hands at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Capitol Hill. Former PGA Tour winner Tom Scherrer fell from 19th to 22nd at the season finale, and PGA Tour star-in-waiting Bill Haas will have to wait for another chance at the PGA Tour. He entered the week 21st on the money list (effectively 20th due to a late-season regulation change known as the Jason Gore Rule), but fell to 23rd on the heels of a disappointing final-round 75 on the Senator course.
 
It's an even split amongst the 20 graduates ' 10 rookies and 10 returning former members of the PGA Tour. After witnessing a year's worth of their accomplishments, it's hard to imagine that they won't all stay on the PGA Tour for many, many years; however, the statistics don't lie, and right now the statistics from the past two seasons only add to the confusion.
 
The class of 2003 has enjoyed unprecedented success the past two seasons with eight of the 20 members of that class now having earned PGA Tour victories ' five last year and three this year. But the class of 2004, to the surprise of many, has yet to earn a single win. Only three of last year's graduates currently reside within the top-125 on the money list.
 
For the next two months, the 20 members of the class of 2005 will prepare themselves for the opportunity of a lifetime. Thoughts of stardom, success, and the spoils of achievement at the highest level will certainly cross their minds. Their goals and dreams may vary for next year, but one constant will remain, and that is to not come back to the Nationwide Tour.
 
Here's a quick rundown of the top-21 from my perspective:
 
21. Bubba Watson
Although winless in three years on the Nationwide Tour, Bubba's incredible length will be a huge asset wherever he plays. His somewhat reckless-abandon approach will be a source of both frustration and notoriety for Bubba, but a hot streak or two could take care of business. And as he matures as a player, he'll learn to reign it in and focus more on the scoring clubs.
 
20. Jeff Gove
At 34-years-old, Jeff has been at this for a while. He's got more degrees than a thermometer ' he's now a three-time graduate of the Nationwide Tour. He's an extremely accurate ball-striker, and the success that has eluded him on the PGA Tour is hard to define, except to say that Jeff always seems to play his best late in the year, and it's tough to fight from behind down the stretch on the PGA Tour.
 
19. Charley Hoffman
Charley will be a rookie on the PGA Tour next year and odds are he's going to take his flowing locks with him ' a coif that earned him the nickname of Harry Dunne of Dumb and Dumber fame. Plenty of power, wonderful mechanics, and tremendous heart will help him comb his way through the PGA Tour.
 
18. Nathan Green
The 30-year-old Australian has shown constant improvement in his three seasons on the Nationwide Tour. This year, he had one of the quietest seasons in history. It didn't seem as though he contended very often, but he was always lurking within striking distance of the lead. That kind of consistency is greatly rewarded on the PGA Tour.
 
17. Vance Veazey
With three career wins on the Nationwide Tour, including the season-opening BellSouth Panama Championship this year, Vance's talent has never been in doubt. He's an extremely nice person which may be to his detriment on tour. He never says no to a request, and he doesn't want to stomp his opponents as passionately as many others. It would be great to see Vance prove that nice guys can finish first.
 
16. Eric Axley
Eric seems to possess that which can't be taught ' belief in oneself. He started the season with no status. What that means is that he basically had no place to play that could advance his career. Making the cut is difficult enough as a qualifier, but he did the only thing that could change his career in one week ' he won at the Rex Hospital Open early in the year. Then he entered the final event of the season 27th on the money list needing at least a second-place finish to complete the storybook season. Guess what? He finished runner-up at the Nationwide Tour Championship.
 
15. Jason Schultz
Also a rookie next year, Jason celebrated a great season by earning his PGA Tour card. He was presented that card five days after his wife presented him with their first child ' a daughter born Tuesday. Life certainly does come at you fast. Jason is an extremely tough competitor who will do whatever is necessary to bring out the best in himself. He could be the sleeper pick of the crop this year.
 
14. Greg Chalmers
Greg has long been considered a world-class player, but the 32-year-old Aussie left-hander had never won in six years on the PGA Tour. He lost his PGA Tour card in '04 and wasted no time in getting it back, and along with it, came the confidence that got him there in the first place.
 
13. Camilo Villegas
The ultra-fit, ultra-talented Columbian also started the year with no status, but stardom seemed to be his destiny from the first day he teed it up on the Nationwide Tour. I think he's probably the purest natural ball-striker ever to come through the Nationwide Tour. He works every shot as though he's a generation or two past his time (his clothing choices may suggest the same), but he consistently fought a balky putter late in the week.
 
12. Roger Tambellini
Roger Tambellini
Roger Tambellini will be playing on the PGA Tour for the second time in three years.
This is Roger's second trip to the PGA Tour, having finished 181st on the money list in 2004. He has improved immensely in the seven years I've known him, and I believe his best golf is still ahead of him. He's another one of those soft-spoken nice guys that gives you the feeling that he might be too nice for his own good. But he has a very solid all-around game.
 
11. David McKenzie
David will be a 38-year-old rookie next year. That may suggest career journeyman status, but his game is anything but mediocre. A technician on the course, David finally broke through this year with his first win after a great many close calls. If he can resist his perfectionist urges next year, he'll do great.
 
10. Kris Cox
Returning to the PGA Tour for the second time, Kris will continue to do that which he's done since turning pro; he'll attract fans and make friends. His ever-present smile, pleasant demeanor, and outstanding level of talent will make him a popular player. Those who know him best compare him to Bo Van Pelt in terms of the success he should enjoy in the near future.
 
9. Matthew Goggin
Probably the most misunderstood, or at least misperceived player on the Nationwide Tour. He has a tendency to look downright mad or grumpy on the course, but nothing could be further from the truth. He's a gifted player with the typical self-deprecating Australian sense of humor, and a quick wit. He's inherently shy yet extremely fun to be around. He's also been a world-beater in waiting for some time. When he realizes how good he is, the gloves will be off.
 
8. Shane Bertsch
The incarnation of Fred Funk. Not blessed with huge power, Shane plays a very impressive game of precision. He's also added length of late. He's known for fighting for every shot on the course and has the short-game prowess to scrap and grind out decent rounds even when the ball isn't going where he's aiming. Side note: best fisherman on tour.
 
7. David Branshaw
His gritty performance at the Nationwide Tour Championship earned him many fans. Coming in needing a second-place finish to win his card, he did one better ' he won the tournament. Don't worry about him changing if he goes on to big things because he is the genuine article when it comes to character. Hopefully, he won't feel out of place when he gets back out to the PGA Tour next year for his second trip ' he definitely belongs.
 
6. Jerry Smith
I was surprised when Jerry made it to the tour for the first time, and even more surprised when he finished 85th in earnings in 2001. Then he lost his card and had no Nationwide Tour status. What'd he do? He went to the mini-tours at the age of 40 to work his way back. He led the money list on the Gateway Tour in '04, and returned to the Nationwide Tour this year. He simply knows how to 'play' golf. No guru's, no magic, just plain old posting the best number he can. He's made a believer out of me.
 
5. Jon Mills
Wow is the only word I can use to describe how far the 27-year-old Canadian has come in a very short time. So far in fact, that many of the Nationwide Tour faithful say he could burst onto the PGA Tour landscape next year in a big way. His game has all the necessary elements ' power, touch and guts. And he also won't make any enemies in the process. Great kid, great talent.
 
4. Steven Bowditch
One year ago, he lived in a tent and a car. Four months later he'd secured a PGA Tour card for '06 by winning the Jacob's Creek Open in his native Australia and losing a playoff the following week in New Zealand. That put him over the $200K mark faster than anyone in history. He'll likely miss as many cuts as he makes because of his go-for-broke internal chemistry, but he's a blast to watch. And when he's on, he can overpower both the course, and possibly even the competition at ANY level. Oh yea, he's 22.
 
3. Chris Couch
Streaky, very streaky. I'm not sure I've ever seen a player whose fluctuations in confidence are as drastic as Chris'. Fearless is also his preferred style of play. Consistency is his primary goal, but I'd give him a far greater chance of winning multiple times next year than being consistent ' not that that's a bad thing. He's been down this path (to the PGA Tour) before, and nobody wants to prove that they belong out there permanently more than Chris Couch.
 
2. Jason Gore
Incredible player. Incredible person. Incredible smile. He'll be a permanent star for many years.
 
1. Troy Matteson
Disciplined and extremely businesslike in his approach to his craft. The soon-to-be 26-year-old former first-team All-America broke Zach Johnson's single-season earnings record, along with many other records. He was the guy to beat every time he teed off, and it shouldn't take long before he earns a similar level of respect on the PGA Tour. He's wonderful with the media, and when he lets his guard down a bit, you get a glimpse of his witty character. But don't expect to see that too much on the course because when it's time to work, he really works. Next year, and I think for many years to come, his clubs will do plenty of speaking for him.
 
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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.

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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.