A Shorter Season Hold On

By Kraig KannMarch 4, 2005, 5:00 pm
MIAMI, Fl. -- Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson spoke their minds on Wednesday here at Doral Resort & Spa. They want a shorter PGA Tour season. Actually, theyd like PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem to make it happen in the next television contract (negotiations begin later this year) which slides into place in 2007.
Woods says hed like to see the season end on Labor Day, arguing that a PGA Tour season that wraps up alongside the football season is a battle thats not worth losing. And his schedule reflects his feelings. Woods played just two official stroke-play events last year after Labor Day.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods suggests a shorter season will lead to more meetings between the world's top players.
If you had a shorter season, wed (the top-ranked players in the world) be forced to play more against each other, Woods said. Its something Ive really been trying to get into Finchems ear about.'
Mickelson feels much like Woods, stating that history shows us the best players have never played more than about 22 events on average in any given season. For the record, Mickelson played 22 events himself in 2004, including four official tournaments after Labor Day.
As the argument goes, a current PGA Tour schedule that gives us 48 official events in a span of 44 weeks (dont forget the doubleheader weeks like Accenture Match Play and Chrysler Classic of Tucson) doesnt give golf fans the desired collection of true stars more than about half the time.
Lets be real. Woods and Mickelson are very important in all of this. They realize their position as the PGA Tours top two drawing cards, and thus their consistent presence is a big part of the network television puzzle. Network dollars, tournament purse dollars ' it all comes back to them. And theyre trying to protect their interests.
Also give them credit for efforts to try and bring up the level of competition among the games elite on a more regular basis.
You can bet Finchem ' whos rarely made a bogey in negotiations on behalf of his stars ' will have their thoughts in mind.
But Tiger and Phil, in my opinion, are being a bit selfish on this one. Lets step back a bit, fellas ' youre not the only guys on the PGA Tour. So heres a devils advocate viewpoint:
1. A shortened schedule makes it look like theyre playing more. Twenty or 22 events out of 32 sounds a lot better than 20 or 22 out of 44.
2. No matter how many anyone else plays, Woods and Mickelson neednt play more than 20 or so events to guarantee a run at the money title and about three to four to lock up playing privileges as a top-125 money list man for the next year. (Heck, each could win two of those starts.) They choose their schedule as they see fit anyhow, so what do they care?
3. Playing 20 events out of a possible 44 is already baseballs equivalent to a Barry Bonds playing just 75 of 162 games. Or Shaquille ONeal saying he only wants to play home games for the Miami Heat. Yes, the MLB and NBA schedules run shorter in weeks or months but the players are ' for the most part ' in uniform more often during their sports respective seasons. Some would argue that membership in golfs top league should require a player to travel and compete each and every week.
4. What happens to Q-School or the Nationwide Tour graduates? A shortened season ultimately means far fewer starts and less opportunity to play. What am I graduating to? Youre telling the young up-and-comers that while they own a PGA Tour card, the chances of actually keeping it, given a tour schedule reduced to, say, 32 events, are diminished.
5. Bottom line - a shortened schedule requires dumping tournaments off the schedule, and it will no doubt be the events that they dont regularly play anyhow. So why hurt the events they already dont support?
All this said, I just cant see Tim Finchem lopping off perhaps a quarter of the season in such dramatic fashion. During tough economic times, theres been plenty of hospitable goodwill and a good amount of corporate cash tossed the way of the PGA Tour over the years by smaller cities who realize a good thing when they have it. And while business is businesstelling tournaments to go pound the sand in your bunkers would be cruel.
Go ahead; try telling folks in Tucson (Chrysler Classic of Tucson) or Milwaukee (U.S. Bank Championship of Milwaukee) or Moline, Ill. (John Deere Classic) or Endicott, N.Y. (B.C. Open) that theyre being squeezed out of the tour schedule. It wont be pretty. Trust me; Ive been to all four of those events. Even without a strong showing of the games superstars each year, youd be hard pressed to find a more supportive foursome of events on the entire schedule.
By no means am I saying those events I mentioned would be the first to go under the Woods/Mickelson Plan for 2007 and beyond. But the comments made this week only add to an inferiority complex that some events have to begin with.
Didnt Tiger say Hello world in Milwaukee? Didnt Phil Mickelson ' the amateur ' put on the conquistador helmet as champion in Tucson?
Dont forget ones roots. And if, dare they say, youre going to take away their tour stop maybe you ought to think about giving those cities the WGC events. Hey Milwaukee ' Heres the Accenture Match Play. Or, Hey Tucson ' Heres the American Express Invitational. After all, doesnt each city in the league at some point get the MLB, NBA or NHL All-Star games? Spread the wealth; dont cash in a tournament citys enthusiastic existence.
For now, it seems to me that what Woods and Mickelson are pulling for is an exclusive tour for stars only. A Worlds Best Tour if you willa la what Greg Norman was talking about and harshly criticized for years ago.
Hey, Im all for Tiger and Phil having the chance to go head-to-head more often, but at the expense of your very own players and most supportive communities? The PGA Tour is about charityso lets be charitable while reasonable.
And who says things are so bad any how? Not me. How about you?
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
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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.