This may come as a surprise to those who don’t start paying attention to golf until the Masters, but this week’s Valero Texas Open is the official turn of the PGA Tour season.
San Antonio is the 24th of 47 Tour events, which means it’s time for mid-term grades with a nod to an exceedingly busy second half of the season – which will include three majors, a Ryder Cup, Olympics and FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Jordan Spieth (B-). Things started well enough with an eight-stroke romp at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but they haven’t been the same since.
Spieth dropped out of the top spot in the World Golf Ranking last month, failed to post a top-5 finish on the Tour until Augusta National and blew a five-stroke lead with nine holes to play at the Masters.
Along the way Spieth made stops in Abu Dhabi and Singapore, which some believe has left the 22 year old in a perpetual state of jetlag. Spieth seemed to acknowledge as much before leaving Abu Dhabi in January.
“I'll get back to the [PGA] Tour schedule and reevaluate how next season will finish up into the New Year,” he said.
Still, Spieth came within nine holes of winning his second consecutive green jacket and he will have plenty of starts to change the narrative before the final putt drops.
Olympics (C). Vijay Singh seemed to open the door last week when he withdrew his name from the Olympic field, although given the Fijian’s history with the Tour (the two sides are currently locked in an extended legal battle) it wasn’t exactly a surprise.
Even this week’s news that Adam Scott would not make the trip to Rio was not a shocking revelation considering the Australian’s unwavering insistence that the Olympics has never been a top priority for him.
News on Thursday, however, that Louis Oosthuizen has also removed his name from Olympic consideration qualified as a genuine concern.
Like Singh and Scott, Oosthuizen cited scheduling issues for skipping the Games and the crowded late-season line up always promised to be a challenge (the last 12 weeks of the season include seven must-play events for top players).
“The IGF understands the challenges players face in terms of scheduling this summer and it is regrettable to see a few leading players withdraw,” International Golf Federation president Peter Dawson said in a statement. “Real history will be made at this year's Olympic competitions and it is our belief that the unique experience of competing will live forever with athletes that take part.”
Eventually the competition will decide the relative success of golf’s return to the Olympics and there’s no reason to doubt the event will be compelling, but more withdrawals could certainly become a distraction.
Tim Finchem (B). The commissioner’s current contract was schedule to expire this June and there has been a succession plan in place – deputy commissioner Jay Monahan is reportedly running the day-to-day operations of the circuit – for months, but late last month the Tour announced Finchem is going to hang around a bit longer.
Finchem has regularly referenced a few projects he wants to complete before stepping down, which likely include the next round of television contracts.
Opinions vary on Finchem, but it’s tough to look at his record and not acknowledge he’s made the Tour better and bigger; but it’s also tough to ignore the need to embrace change.
“In the years to come, you will see the Tour doing things that maybe right now you would be surprised that we would think in that context,” Finchem said earlier this year at Doral.
Finchem’s legacy has already been written, but on this front progress is paved down a different path.
Jason Day (A). Because you can’t dole out an “A+” without a major, but the Australian has otherwise been a model of production this season.
Highlighted by back-to-back victories at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and WGC-Dell Match Play, Day overtook Spieth atop the World Golf Ranking last month and doesn’t appear interested in giving it up any time soon.
Day’s play, and his story, is easy to overlook. He enjoys the relative anonymity of not being Spieth or Rory McIlroy and would much rather spend a quiet afternoon at home with his family than entertaining the world via social media.
But his play – in eight starts he has seven top-25 finishes – has lived up to even the most unrealistically lofty standards, which is saying something after the year he had in 2015.
European Ryder Cup team (A). This is not looking good for the U.S. team and captain Davis Love III.
Although anything that happens in April shouldn’t impact the outcome of the matches in October, there’s no denying that the Continent is building plenty of momentum.
While the normal cast of European characters has played solid this season – Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson – it’s the newcomers that may be the most concerning for Love.
Following his victory at the Masters, Danny Willett is starting to look like the kind of European that runs the tables on the Americans every two years; and Matthew Fitzpatrick is a name U.S. fans should get used to hearing.
Tiger Woods (Incomplete). It’s become a common assessment for the former world No. 1, but then what grade can you give a player who has made just eight Tour starts in the last year?
News on Friday that Woods may be planning a return to the Tour in two weeks at the Wells Fargo Championship is an encouraging sign from a player who sounded like he had more questions than answers last December.
But the real question is what can one expect from a 40 year old fresh off multiple back procedures?
If Woods follows his normal schedule, he would have around eight events remaining in the 2015-16 season (he’s currently not qualified for the World Golf Championships, FedEx Cup playoffs or Olympics).
That’s not exactly a lot of time to kick off the dust and make a statement.