Burning a Trail to Firestone
Competing against the five-time major champion are his fellow 1999 U.S. Ryder Cup Team members, the members of both the recently named 2000 U.S. and International Presidents Cup Teams and the top twelve players from the European Tour's current Order of Merit.
The last of those qualifications has caused quite a stir among European-born players. Last year, members of the 1999 European Ryder Cup Team were invited to Akron. That was expected to be the case in 2000, until the European Tour decided to replace those players with the top twelve on their Order of Merit. The reason -- to try and entice many of Europe's best (who have been playing more tournaments stateside) to compete on their home soil.
The decision to alter the qualification has affected nine players: Jesper Parnevik, Jean Van de Velde, Jarmo Sandelin, Sergio Garcia, Paul Lawrie, Gary Orr, Phillip Price, Paul McGinley and Ian Woosnam.
Parnevik, Van de Velde, Sandelin, Garcia and Lawrie are out. Orr, Price, McGinley and Woosnam are in.
This has infuriated those left on the outside, particularly Parnevik. The Swede announced his decision to quit the European Tour (though he will probably try to rejoin next season to qualify for the Ryder Cup.)
This week, Parnevik will be resting his ailing hip, while Garcia and Van de Velde will be in Nevada for the Reno-Tahoe Open. Lawrie is back home, playing in the Scottish PGA Championship. Sandelin, well, he's probably laying out his wardrobe for his next start.
In all, 37 players are in the NEC field. David Duval is not in attendance, neither is Vijay Singh. For the third time in his last three expected starts, Duval has been forced to withdraw from an event due to his continued battle with back pain. The world's #3 ranked player withdrew prior to The International three weeks ago; as well as last week's PGA Championship.
Singh withdrew Wednesday due to a sprained left forearm. This year's Masters champion made news last week at Valhalla by firing his caddie, Dave Renwick. Renwick, who recently married, looped for Singh for both of his major victories (1998 PGA Championship.)
Last year, Woods defeated Phil Mickelson by a shot to win the NEC. It marked the third consecutive year Mickelson has finished runner-up at this event. After winning the tournament - formerly known as the NEC World Series of Golf - in 1996, the lefty has come up short to Greg Norman in 1997 and David Duval in 1998.
If Mickelson can regain his winning form of '96, he'll garner a paycheck of $1 million - first prize in the $5 million purse. Currently, the three-time 2000 PGA TOUR winner is over $3.5 million behind Woods.
Tiger will be making his 100th career TOUR start (including as an amateur) this week. His first start came at Riviera in 1992. The 16-year-old Woods missed the cut at the Nissan Open. Since then, Woods has missed only two cuts in 85 professional starts. In that time, he's won 22 times and has collected over $18 million in earnings.
This is the second of four WGC events in 2000. Darren Clarke defeated Woods in the finals of the first event, the Andersen Consulting World Match Play Championship. The third event, the American Express Championship (which Tiger will also defend), will be contested in November; with the fourth, the EMC World Cup, taking place in December.
McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School
One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.
McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.
It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.
McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).
Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).
Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.
Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award
The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.
The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.
Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.
The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.
A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.
Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4
Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.
Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.
South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.
Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.
The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.
Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout
It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.
Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.
Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.
"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."
Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.
Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.