Players Set for Season Finale
Hearn holds down fourth spot on the Canadian Tour money list but his triumph in Calgary, and the subsequent exemption onto the PGA Tours premier feeder circuit, has opened the door for another player to sneak in and grab one of the coveted top two spots on the Order of Merit and, more importantly, gain an exemption into the second stage of PGA Tour qualifying school.
With this weeks $225,000 event closing out the 2004 schedule, Hearn, with $58,461 in Canadian Tour earnings this season, was one of just three players in a position to overtake Miamis Erik Compton, who has pocketed $85,876 to date.
One year ago, Jon Mills of Oshawa, Ontario became the first Canadian to win the money crown since some guy by the name of Mike Weir did it six years prior. Mills, who is close friends with Hearn, would advance to the final stage of PGA Q-School later that fall and nail down a Nationwide card for this year. On Sunday afternoon in Calgary, Mills placed eighth.
Compton finished 16th in Calgary and has decided to roll the dice this week and pass on the Bay Mills Open Players Championship to tee it up as the Nationwide Tour rolls into Utah. Once the dust settles Sunday afternoon in Michigan, we will see if the decision was a wise one.
The law of averages would seem to be on Comptons side. With two wins under his belt this season, Compton leads fellow countryman Stephen Woodard by just over $6,000. Only Woodard ($79,420), Sutterfield ($63, 951) and Hearn ($58,461) can combine to knock Compton to third spot, and with the latter now taking his swings on the Nationwide, that number has been reduced by one.
Woodard is coming off back-to-back wins in Edmonton and Montreal, the first player in four years to do that, and will go for the three-peat this week. A win here and the 31-year-old North Carolina native would become the first player in Tour history with three straight triumphs. A Woodard or Sutterfield triumph in Michigan, along with the $36,000 winners check, would mean an Order of Merit championship. Should Sutterfield finish second, the $21,600 payday would leave him $300 short of catching Compton.
With Compton just over $22,000 away from Eduardo Ferrara, last years 70th place finisher on the Nationwide money list, a target which would get him full-time status on the circuit, Compton admits his decision was not an easy one.
It was really a tough decision for me, said Compton. I played in Bay Mills last year, and it was a fantastic tournament and an excellent course. Ive told everyone the past few weeks how great this Tour is, and Davids win (Sunday) just proves that point. Our top players can compete with the best. The Canadian Tour has been awesome to me, and I know Im taking a chance this week. Anything can happen. Right now, I am in position on the Nationwide Tour to take it to the next level, and Ive got to give it a shot.
But the top two spots on the Canadian Tour money list are certainly not the only perks on the line this week. Once checks are dished out Sunday afternoon, the top six off the Order of Merit will be exempted into the Bell Canadian Open, to be staged Sept. 9-12 at Glen Abbey.
The next 20 will gain a berth in the final qualifying phase for the BCO, which this year marks its 100th anniversary as Canadas national championship.
Also up for grabs this week is the Srixon Stroke Average Award, handed out to the player with the lowest scoring average for the year. It should not come as any surprise that Compton also leads in that category with a 69.36 average. The former U.S. Walker and Palmer Cup team member is the only player with a sub-70 ranking for the season, followed by Woodard (70.02), Hearn (70.06) and Sutterfield (70.17).
The Most Improved Canadian and International Player award is given to the player with the greatest improvement in earnings and scoring average combined from the previous season. Woodard would seem to be a lock for the International honor after making $79,420 this season, $61,628 more than he did in 2003, and shaving more than a full stroke off his average.
On the Canadian side, Hearn has taken home just over $39,000 more than last season, but his average (70.06) is pretty much identical to 2003, when his 70.08 score was second to American Michael Harris. Craig Taylor of Hunter River, P.E.I, (+$26,701, avg. dropped from 71.60 to 71.38) will also be in the hunt for the Canadian award should he fare well this week.
Dan Swanson of Vancouver, B.C., with $19,691 in earnings, would seem to be in the drivers seat to win Canadian Rookie of the Year, while Will Moore of Dallas, Tex. ($23,568) is the player to catch for International Rookie kudos.
Opening round action gets underway Thursday at the scenic 7,101-yard, par-72 Wild Bluff GC in Northern Michigan, just a stones throw away from the Canadian border.
The Golf Channel will once again broadcast all four rounds of the Bay Mills Open Players Championship live (TGC - Live Thursday 1 p.m. ET).
Another player to keep an eye on this week will be Mario Tiziani of Chanhassen, Minn., who seems to be at his best when playing at opposite ends of the International Bridge spanning Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. and Michigan. During the Tours first visit to Wild Bluff in 2002, Tiziani placed second to Jeff Quinney. Last season, Tiziani won his intital Tour crown at the Northern Ontario Open in the Soo and followed that up with a fifth-place result at the season-ender in Brimley.
Rodney Butcher of Tampa, Fla. made four strolls through Wild Bluff last summer and came out with a 10-under 278 total to win his first Tour event by five shots. Mills came in second, good enough to give him the money title
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.