Simpson, Donald know what needs to be done

By Randall MellOctober 19, 2011, 4:43 pm

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – It’s cut-throat simple for the big prize this time.

It’s man-to-man offense with no head-scratching scenarios to complicate and muddle the drama.

Webb Simpson and Luke Donald square off at the season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Classic this week to determine who will win the PGA Tour money title and the Arnold Palmer Trophy that goes with it. Yes, the PGA Tour Player of the Year award may also hang in the balance as a bonus gift to the winner, but this week is ultimately about the money.

At No. 1 on the financial list, Simpson is $363,029 ahead of Donald, who’s No. 2.

By deciding to tee it up together in the Fall Series finale at Disney World, this duo has turned back the clock to a time when players didn’t need calculators and spread sheets to figure out where they stood in the game’s pecking order. They’ve returned to a time when the sport’s best, as Paul Azinger likes to say, knew what they were choking for.

In today’s game, a player is never really sure how a putt at tournament’s end will impact his world ranking with divisors and points convoluting calculations.

The FedEx Cup playoff system is so confusing Bill Haas didn’t immediately know he won the $10 million playoff jackpot after capturing the Tour Championship.

Simpson and Donald will have a good idea what they’re choking for this week.

“I know what I need to do,” Donald said Wednesday morning. “It’s not going to be easy, but it would be great to go out there and try to win this event. Hopefully, that will be good enough to win the money title.”

Donald must win or finish no lower than a two-way tie for second to have a chance to win the money title.

If Donald wins, he forces Simpson to finish solo second to take the money title. If Donald finishes solo second, Simpson must finish solo eighth or better to stay atop the money list. If Donald ties for second with one other player, Simpson can still claim the title with money earned in a two-way tie for 22nd or four-way tie for 21st.

“You don’t want to think about it too much while you’re playing,” Simpson said. “But at the same time, it’s nice to know, ‘Hey, if he does this, or I do this, it’s done.’ There are not as many variables to be accounted for.”

The last time Simpson and Donald saw each other, they were sitting with their families in the clubhouse at the end of the Tour Championship trying to figure out the complicated scenarios that would win one the FedEx Cup.

“It was a little weird,” Simpson said. “We were both trying to figure out if we were going to beat each other.”

Simpson ended up claiming second in the FedEx Cup playoffs, Donald third.

Adding to the intrigue this week, Donald and Simpson have been paired together for the first two rounds. They go off at 8:20 a.m. Thursday on the Palm Course, 12:20 p.m. Friday on the Magnolia.

“It will obviously be somewhat new to me, because I’ve never been in this situation before,” Simpson said. “But I think my No. 1 goal/challenge will be to not get too involved in what he’s doing.”

With world rankings rising in importance, with the FedEx Cup playoffs becoming a focal point, with Tiger Woods making money races irrelevant in runaways, the money title has lost some luster in recent years. Simpson and Donald are making it relevant again. The money title looms as a potential decisive factor in voting for PGA Tour Player of the Year. The money title comes with a nice bonus in a five-year exemption.

“I know I’m up against Luke, Keegan [Bradley] and Nick [Watney], who’ve all had great years,” Simpson said. “But I think playing well this week would only help.”

For Donald, whose three worldwide victories this year include only one PGA Tour title, winning the money title might be what he needs to tip the voting balance in his favor. He’s won nearly as much money playing seven fewer events than Simpson.

“Obviously, I feel like if I played as many events as Webb I probably wouldn’t be in this situation,” Donald said. “But, I choose to play both tours.”

Donald is seeking to become the first player to win the money titles on the PGA Tour and European Tour in the same season. Though Tiger Woods won the most money on both those tours six times, he wasn’t a member of the European Tour and thus wasn’t eligible for its Order of Merit.

The player ballots for voting for PGA Tour Player of the Year are due to be mailed out on Oct. 25. The Player Advisory Council nominates candidates that will appear on the ballot. Simpson, Donald and Keegan Bradley are likely the frontrunners with two-time winners Nick Watney, Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson and Mark Wilson in the mix.

The ballot comes with no definition as to what “Player of the Year” means.

Though Donald has just the one victory, he’s proven himself with the two other international titles, with his No. 1 ranking, with remarkable consistency on both tours.

“It’s a pretty plain palate, just a tick in the box,” Donald said of the ballot. “I think there probably needs to be a little bit more guidelines as to what you’re really voting on. Are my accomplishments outside of the PGA Tour being considered? Or was it just my play on the PGA Tour?

“(It) needs to be clarified to the players. Yeah, it’s a tricky one, Player of the Year. It’s obviously subjective on what the players think. When voting, the players will consider a few things outside of the money, in terms of not just wins, but the Vardon Trophy and the stroke average.”

Donald leads the PGA Tour in scoring average (68.86) with Simpson second (69.23).

“I guess I’m trying to toot my own horn a little bit,” Donald said. “But the domination in the world rankings and how many points I’ve earned this year . . . I’ve won three times around the world, only once in the U.S. Hopefully, these are things that will be considered.”

Simpson and Donald are similar type players who have both been consistent factors.

Simpson has the two PGA Tour victories, plus two losses in playoffs, among his 11 top-10 finishes in 25 starts. Donald has finished first, second or third five times among his 13 top-10 results in 18 PGA Tour starts.

“We’ve had similar years,” Simpson said. “His finishes, when you look at his stats and mine, they seem to be similar. In terms of our game, I hit it just a little farther than he does, but I don’t think there are too many differences in the way we play.”

The similarities are giving the PGA Tour its tightest money race in years. There’s a possibility a player could overtake the money leader in the season’s final event for the first time since Tom Lehman won the Tour Championship to overtake Phil Mickelson in 1996. And it’s cut-throat simple with no head-spinning calculations required.

Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale

By Associated Press, Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 1:50 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.

At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.

Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.

In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.

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Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.

Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.

Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.

''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.

''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''

Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.

''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.

''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''

Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.

Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.

''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''

Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 12:16 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.

Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.

''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''

The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.

''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''

The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.

''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'

Joel Dahmen had a 64.

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''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.

''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.

''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.

''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.

Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.

''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.

Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.

Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.

Co-leader Smith credits Foley's influence

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:33 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sarah Jane Smith is making the most of the devoted efforts of Sean Foley this week.

Foley’s prize pupil, Justin Rose, is in the hunt at the World Tour Championship in the United Arab Emirates, looking to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but Foley isn’t there with him.

Foley promised to help Smith this week, and he’s living up to the pledge, making the trip to Naples.

“At 33, Sarah is in her prime,” Foley told “She is going to hold a trophy at some point. She is too skilled not to win.”

Foley's extra attention is paying off for Smith.

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With a 6-under-par 66, Smith moved into early contention to make her first LPGA title memorable at the CME Group Tour Championship. She’s tied for the first-round lead with Taiwan rookie Peiyun Chien.

“I just seem to play my best with him,” Smith said.

Foley, the former coach to Tiger Woods, was No. 10 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 teacher rankings released this fall.

Foley sees a lot coming together in Smith’s game. She is a 12-year veteran building some momentum. She tied for third at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year and is coming off three consecutive top-15 finishes in Asia. She is sixth on tour in birdies this season. 

“As a coach, you try to get a player to see something in themselves that is already there,” Foley said.

Rose, by the way, opened with a 6-under-par 66 in Dubai and is one shot off the lead.

Seeking awards sweep, Park 1 off lead

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:03 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park made a strong start in her bid to make LPGA history with an epic sweep of the year’s major awards.

Park opened the CME Group Tour Championship Thursday with a 5-under-par 67, moving her a shot off the lead.

Park is looking to join Nancy Lopez as the only players to win the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park has already clinched the Rookie of the Year Award.

Park, 24, can also walk away with the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Race to the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot.

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Nobody has ever swept all those awards.

There’s even more for Park to claim. She can also take back the Rolex world No. 1 ranking. She’s No. 2, just two hundredths of a point behind Shanshan Feng.

“I think the course suits my game really well,” Park said through a translator. “I think I can play well in the next rounds.”

Park played the course just once before Thursday’s start, in Wednesday’s pro-am.

The reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion, Park won twice this year. She also won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open this summer.