Bunker Shots All for One
Sony Open in Hawaii
Pros born in the Tiger Woods’ era were beneficiaries of a financial windfall.
Woods helped make so many of his fellow pros rich.
Nine PGA Tour pros made $1 million or more in official money winnings the first year he teed it up as a pro in 1996.
Last season, 91 of them earned $1 million or more.
There was a curse to being born in the Woods’ era, though. Paul Azinger said it back when Woods put a choke hold on the No. 1 spot in the world rankings. He said it had to be depressing for gifted players of Woods’ generation to know they had virtually no shot at being No. 1 during their careers.
With Woods so deep in hiding, his throne looks vulnerable for the first time in almost five years.
Geoff Ogilvy might not have been the first player to sense an unexpected opening, but he was the first to voice it.
Before winning the SBS Championship last week, Ogilvy wondered aloud about the possibility that a new No. 1 could emerge this season.
If Woods doesn’t return by the Masters, it becomes a real possibility, with Official World Golf Ranking guardians estimating that Woods’ loss of rankings points could make him open to toppling as early as June, should he not add to his totals.
“I never really thought about it,” Steve Stricker, No. 3 in the world, said at last week’s season-opener.
The sense that an opportunity to be No. 1 is actually possible won’t take hold until Woods begins missing events he typically plays. If he’s out for the San Diego Open in two weeks, his traditional season-opener, and the Accenture Match Play Championship in five weeks, an event he has won three times, we’ll see his enormous lead in ranking points begin to shrink. If he skips the CA Championship at Doral and Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, sites where he has combined to win nine times, there will be some intrigue. If he bypasses the Masters in April, his fall as No. 1 may feel imminent.
As for now, we’re still waiting for the PGA Tour season to feel like it has started in earnest.
The Sony Open in Hawaii this week is the first full-field event of the year, but Stricker is the only player among the top-10 in the world rankings entered. Six of the top 20 are scheduled to tee it up. The field, as it did last week, will feature all four reigning major championship winners
Stance: John Daly irritated some golf observers last week when he chastised Bob Hope Classic organizers for rejecting his request for a sponsor’s exemption. He hasn’t, after all, been a factor in a PGA Tour event since 2005, when he finished second to Tiger Woods at the WGC-American Express Championship. The last of his five PGA Tour titles was in ’04. He has missed the cut or withdrawn in 30 of his last 47 PGA Tour starts. He’s No. 427 in the world. There are good reasons Hope officials passed on Daly. Still, with the Sony Open granting him a sponsor’s exemption this week, Daly has a chance to show them they gave up on him too early. You know other tournament directors will be watching to see if Daly has any magic left to give them.
Takeaway: In his weekly diary on his Web site, Ernie Els wrote that he’s cutting down his international travel this year and will focus more on PGA Tour events. He’s planning to play eight PGA Tour events before the Masters without a trip overseas. In fact, he won’t play his first overseas event until the BMW PGA Championship in May. That was his fourth overseas event last year. He’s cutting the Qatar Masters, Dubai Desert Classic and Ballantine’s Championship in South Korea off of the first half of his schedule from last season. Els tees it up as a 40-year-old for the first time in a PGA Tour event this week. He turned 40 after the Presidents Cup in October. You know Els wants a green jack before he retires, and Waialae is the kind of place that can rekindle memories of his best form. He won there in 2003 and ’04. Vijay Singh also will be looking to get off to a good start after knee surgery early last year set up a disappointing season.
Bunker shot: Winning in his debut as a PGA Tour member is asking too much, but Rickie Fowler could inject some healing power into the start of a season that badly needs some medicinal remedy. Fowler’s popularity would explode with a victory early in this season. It would be more than a nice diversion from the dreary Woods’ episode. It would be confirmation that Fowler’s a star in the making.
Wendy’s Champions Skins Game
The silly season isn’t over yet, not for the Champions Tour, and that’s something to be thankful for if you still enjoy seeing the legends of the game play.
Fred Couples won’t make his official Champions Tour debut until next week’s Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii, but he unofficially becomes a senior circuit member this weekend when he teams with Nick Price at the Wendy’s Champions Skins Game. Jack Nicklaus teams with Tom Watson and Gary Player teams with Loren Roberts. Fuzzy Zoeller and Ben Crenshaw are back as defending champions. The event will be played Saturday and Sunday at Ka’anapali Golf Resort’s Royal Ka’anapali Course on the island of Maui. There’s no live TV with airing delayed until the February 27-28 weekend. It’s an alternate-shot team event with a $770,000 purse.
Stance: Couples is capable of bringing a jolt of new excitement to the Champions Tour. His big swing and charisma will make golf fans pay more attention to the senior circuit, if he plays enough, because he’s still interested in playing PGA Tour events. With Woods missing from the PGA Tour, there’s an opportunity to ratchet up the senior circuit’s appeal.
Takeaway: The Champions Tour welcomes a strong freshman class this year. Couples isn’t the only appealing player coming aboard. Paul Azinger and Corey Pavin are already eligible for the Champions Tour. Mark Calcavecchia becomes eligible June 12 and Kenny Perry on Aug. 10.
Bunker shots: One of the charms of golf is that we can still watch Nicklaus and Watson compete together even though Nicklaus turns 70 on Jan. 21 and Watson turned 60 last fall. They’re worth watching just to relive the memories and hear their stories, but Watson showed he still has game nearly winning the British Open last summer and Nicklaus didn’t fare badly in an exhibition that included Woods at the Memorial last spring.
Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'
John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.
That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.
Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.
Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid
Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.
Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.
Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.
World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.
Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.
Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain
The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.
Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.
"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."
Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.
Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.
Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.
Rose (62) sets blistering pace in Indonesia
JAKARTA, Indonesia – Justin Rose shot a 10-under 62 Thursday to take a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Indonesian Masters.
Rose, starting on the back nine at Royale Jakarta Golf Club, had five birdies to go out in 31, then birdied four of five holes midway through his final nine and another birdie on his last hole in the $750,000 tournament.
Gunn Charoenkul (64) was in second place and Kim Giwhan and Phachara Khongwatmai (both 65) were tied for third.
Brandt Snedeker shot 72. Ranked 51st in the world, the American is aiming for a strong finish in Jakarta to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.