Fall no longer afterthought, even for Tour's big names

By Rex HoggardNovember 21, 2015, 10:30 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – As a rule in professional golf, the fall has not normally been a time when dreams come true.

The time after the Tour Championship has traditionally been the realm of newcomers or journeymen looking to start something special or salvage a season, respectively, but one word has changed all that – wraparound.

With the introduction of the wraparound schedule on the PGA Tour last season, these once competitive afterthoughts have become something greater than the sum of their parts.

The results speak for themselves.

Last week in Mexico, a former major winner and perennial Ryder Cup star turned what was his worst year on Tour into a reason to enjoy the holidays.

It’s an even more vivid example of the increased importance of the fall schedule that Graeme McDowell followed his victory on Monday in Mexico with a drive north to play this week’s RSM Classic, where he again finds himself in the hunt following a third-round 65 that left him alone in third place.

When the Tour set out on the wraparound experiment, the thinking went that the top players, your Graeme McDowells, would play the WGC-HSBC Champions and maybe the CIMB Classic, two no-cut stops in Asia, while the bottom half of the Tour marquee would fill out the full-field stops.

Each week, however, the tee sheets have surprised.

At the season-opening Frys.com Open it was Justin Rose and Charl Schwartzel, a week later in Las Vegas it was Angel Cabrera and Webb Simpson, while McDowell and Keegan Bradley highlighted the field last week at the OHL Classic.

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As Tour officials initially predicted, players have realized that taking the fall off is no longer a luxury that many can afford.

“I feel like the fall events are going to keep building,” said McDowell, who played just one fall stop (WGC-HSBC Champions) last season “You see a guy get off to a fast start and for me teeing off at the Honda Classic [next spring] it’s not enough if you want to compete against these guys.”

Simply put, spotting the field five or six starts is a mathematical gamble many players can no longer take now that success is measured in points and playoff starts.

Last season it was Sangmoon Bae – who won the Frys.com Open and added a top-5 finish at the CIMB Classic – who kick-started a year that ended with the South Korean making his first start at the Tour Championship.

This season it’s been Jason Bohn, who lost last week’s playoff to McDowell and also finished in the top 3 at the Frys.com Open and Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, who has banked a substantial FedEx Cup point total before the New Year (Bohn’s 560 points would have been good enough to rank inside the top 100 on last year’s FedEx Cup list).

It’s not as though players cherish the idea of getting back to work so quickly after last season – and Boo Weekley spoke for many earlier this fall when he lamented the lack of an offseason – but the alternative is too uncertain.

“I don’t know that players by and large are thrilled about it, but you feel an obligation to play so you don’t get your doors blown off [in the FedEx Cup race],” said Charles Howell III, who is making his fifth start of the season this week at Sea Island Resort. “But the neat thing is the guys are playing. It’s working making it part of the FedEx Cup and if the alternative is not having events this is a much better option.”

The Tour fueled this upgrade by giving fall events full FedEx Cup points and Augusta National helped with invitations to the Masters for fall winners.

Statistically, the plan has worked.

Of the five full-field fall events, the Las Vegas stop and Frys.com Open have both enjoyed substantial increases in the number of world ranking points awarded, while the other three events have maintained their field strength since the invent of the wraparound season.

But it’s with the players where the events have taken on a greater degree of importance, as evidenced by this week’s tee sheet, which includes the likes of Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar. Put another way, the rank-and-file are voting with their appearance, whatever the motivation is to forego an extended offseason.

“I’m not guaranteed anything this season so I have to play,” said Kevin Kisner, who holds a three-stroke lead heading into Sunday’s final round at the RSM Classic. “You can’t get that far behind on this Tour anymore.”

Nor can players afford to treat the fall as an afterthought anymore.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry