Floridas Fab Four

By Rex HoggardMarch 18, 2009, 4:00 pm
PGA Tour (75x100)In 2007 PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem took his bat and his glove headed for summer, that is to say he shuffled the competitive landscape by moving the Players Championship out of the Florida Swing, and Augusta Nationals consuming shadow, to the drier confines of May.
The fifth major got its bouncy conditions and an unobstructed view, and the four-event lineup that remained in the Sunshine State received a scheduling nip/tuck that continues to take shape. The new and improved version of the Florida Swing is much more demanding than the warm and fuzzy version that used to welcome players from the West Coast.
Whereas before the extreme makeover players headed east in search of warmer climes and easier conditions, the Tour arrives in Florida with white knuckles firmly gripping clubs and an indifference to what has become a sliding scale of success.
Theyre all pretty hard, Dudley Hart reasoned last Saturday following Round 2 of the WGC-CA Championship. This (Doral) is pretty good, its a different mix in each tournament.
Which among Floridas Fab Four Tour venues is the toughest remains a matter of opinion. What is not in doubt is the increased difficulty of the overall swing.
Since 2007 when the Players moved to May and the Tampa, Fla.-area stop filled the void, the collective scoring average for the swing was 6 over par (2007) and 2.76 over par (2008). By comparison, the average in 2006, when the swing included the Players, Doral, Bay Hill and Honda Classic was 1.8 over par, .56 over in 05 and 1.28 over in 04.
During the post-Players-move years, TPC Sawgrass anchored the swing, both literally and in scoring average, followed in order by Bay Hill, the Honda Classic venues ' a haphazard collection of residential layouts ' and Doral.
The modern swing, however, is the Benjamin Button-version of the old lineup. The Honda Classic leads off the swing with PGA National, statistically and consensually the most demanding of the current four.
Its almost reversed a little bit, Hart said. We start out at the toughest and kind of work our way backwards. It used to be the easiest to the hardest, now its reversed.
PGA National was the toughest of the four in 2008 (71.82 stroke average and ninth toughest on Tour), which dovetails with most players opinions,
The Honda stepped up big time, you could hold a major there, said Ken Duke.
In 2007 Bay Hill statistically ranked the toughest on the swing ' seventh toughest on Tour, one spot ahead of PGA National ' but some subtleties in the rankings are lost to the creative accounting of course set-up. After the 2006 tournament, Bay Hill officials lopped two strokes off par, rewriting the scorecard from a par 72 to 70, and jumped from 19th toughest in 06 to seventh in 07.
Doral may claim to be a Monster, but in the new swing its widely considered the meekest of the bunch, ranking the easiest among the four the last two years.
Everybody talks about (Doral), but there are only two or three really tough holes, Ben Curtis said. No. 1 is more like a par 4 and 18 is more like a par 5. This is the easiest we play in Florida.
Its a far cry from the fearsome layout that regularly ranked among the circuits most demanding when it debuted in the 1960s and 70s but the game and the swing have in some ways outgrown Doral.
Doral was probably harder before guys started hitting it so far and there was more rough, Hart said. (Doral) is a bombers course. If you can carry it 280 yards off the tee its always an advantage.
For the CA Championship, one player likened the rough to what is found at most resorts, that is to say non-existent, but in Dorals defense a lingering drought in south Florida limited the growing period. Officials also did not overseed the Blue Monster with winter grasses this year, making the layout play unusually hard and fast, which only made the long-hitters longer.
Overseed always plays easier, said Hart, noting that this weeks layout at Innisbrook and next week at Bay Hill will both be overseeded. The greens are always softer compared to non-overseeded Bermudagrass, which is the hardest thing to play out of. You get so many more flyers out that stuff.
The agronomic combination led to one of the lowest scoring averages in years (70.91) and a 19-under 269 winning total. There was more red, than blue at Doral, a dramatic shift in the way things used to be, but then change seems to be the only constant for a Florida Swing in flux.

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  • 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 GolfChannel.com. “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.